Chris reined his horse in front of Mary's place. He hadn't planned to see her or anyone at Christmas but she had invited him. When he hesitated, she added "Billy would really like it if you'd come."
So here he was, but only for a little while. He took off his hat as Mary let him in. The house was warm and neat, and there was a faint scent of cedar and pine.
Billy burst into the room, charging straight towards the gunslinger. "Hey, Chris! Merry Christmas!"
"Whoa! Slow down, pardner. Merry Christmas." Chris grinned and hunkered down to about eye level with Billy. "I brought a present for ya."
He opened his dark blue shirt, pulled out a small, black, squirming bundle, and handed it to the boy.
Billy gasped with delight and disbelief. "A PUPPY! For me?"
"Thought you might like to have him. Vin said you wrote to Santa for a dog to play with. "
Billy ran to Mary, holding up the furry creature. "Look, Ma! Look what Chris brung me!"
Mary looked at the dog, then at Chris. Finally she turned to Billy. "Go play with him outside, all right?"
As soon as Billy was gone, Mary turned to Chris. She didn't seem pleased. "He's too young to take proper care of a pet. I really wish you had consulted with me first."
Chris stood there a moment and said nothing. At last he nodded. "You're right, Mary. I didn't think, and I'm sorry."
Billy came back inside, carrying the puppy in his arms. He looked into the faces of the adults in the room and his smile vanished. "Can I keep him, Ma?"
"Well, Billy..." She looked at Chris helplessly.
Chris knelt in front of Billy. "Tell ya what, pardner. We'll keep him at my place. When you come over, he's your dog. But you gotta make sure he's fed an' all. Maybe if you can show your mama you can take good care of him, she'll let you keep 'im here some day."
Billy's face lit up again. "I'd like that. I'd like that fine! Can I, Ma? I'll take care of him!"
Mary relented at last. "All right. But if you don't, he can't come to live here, remember."
"I will!" Billy started to go outside to play with the puppy again. Suddenly he stopped to look at Chris. "I don't have a present for you, " he said sadly.
"Forget it." Chris grinned, but Billy didn't look consoled by that.
Chris and Mary stood in silence for a moment.
"Thank you," she said at last. "That was a big help."
"You were right. I should've asked you first." He paused, then put on his hat. "I should be going,"
Chris stood out front for a moment, watching Billy and the dog. He thought of how much he would've wanted to see this scene played out with his own son. He would have wanted Adam to have a dog of his own to play with. It was only fitting a boy should have a dog, after all.
"Chris, you gonna take him now?" Billy reluctantly held out the animal. Chris took it from him gently. "Maybe you oughta keep him for good."
Chris knelt in front of the boy. "No, Billy. When you visit, he's your dog for the day."
Billy's eyes widened. "Hey! I just thought of what I could give *you* as a Christmas present!"
Billy smiled, his eyes sparkling. "Since you don't have one, maybe when I'm there, I could be your little boy for the day?"
Chris grinned and gave him a hug. "I'd like that...I'd like that fine."