Seventh day missing
It seemed as thought she had just closed her eyes when she felt Vin squeeze her hand. The long night was over and although there was no reasonable explanation for what had happened, neither Vin or Kelli questioned it. They knew that somehow it all connected to Chris and that it would not end until he was back with the family. Both of them hurt knowing that Chris had to endure his hell alone.
The Texan had been unable to sleep and walked the room most of the night to ease the pain in his leg that had only worsened as the night progressed. Then the nausea came and the uncontrollable chills that invaded his body that had left him weak. As the hours passed, breathing became difficult and every muscle in his body ached. Finally, sometime after daybreak Vin was released from his night of torment.
“Time to get up baby,” the Texan was already dressed and holding a cup of coffee for her. She had been so busy taking care of him through all of this that she was not taking care of herself and he was concerned about her, so he had let her sleep for a couple of hours.
“You okay?” Kelli squeezed his hand back, Vin looked as if he had taken a trip through hell and she was damned sure he had not slept at all. She was also concerned that since last night, he had refused to let her bind his shoulder again and he had to be in some pain.
“Yeah, just tired and sore, but I’ll survive.” He was aware that as bad as it had been for him, having Kelli with him made it bearable.
“Give me five minutes and I’ll be ready to go.” She took the offered coffee and a good morning kiss that turned into a long much-needed hug for both of them.
Vin was reluctant to let her go, but finally relented and with a sound pat to her butt released her. “Take your time Texas; it’s only a two hour drive from here.”
He slept most of the way to Pagosa Springs and they arrived a little before noon; everyone had agreed to meet at a local restaurant to plan their next move. Buck decided on a booth at the back so they could have some privacy. When Nathan took one look at Tanner’s condition, Kelli knew he was ready to explode. She caught his attention, begging him with her eyes not to and she was immensely relieved when he complied with her unspoken request.
Buck witnessed the exchange and decided for once to wait before he said anything out of line. “Hey, it’s good to see you both, take a load off and join us. Josiah and Ezra are getting the area police activity reports from the sheriff and will be here in a few minutes. Once we all eat, I’ll go over what JD sent and we can go from there.”
Tanner waited until Kelli slid into the booth and then sat next to her. “The sooner we get started, the better, Bucklin.”
Josiah and Ezra joined them before Buck could comment and they were concerned by the Texan’s appearance, but neither said a word, choosing to wait until Vin was ready to explain. “We found a couple of reports that sound promising.” Sanchez allowed Vin to take the papers from him as they sat down.
The waitress came to take their order and after she left, Nathan could not stand it any longer.
“Vin, does your appearance have anything to do with Chris?”
“The Texan looked up with pain evident in his eyes. Chris has everything to do with it! “He sighed; he felt he did owe his brothers an explanation.” The closer we get, the more I can feel what’s happenin’ with him, but for the life of me I don’t have the slightest idea what it is. His thoughts are so mixed up, I don’t know what or even if he’s tryin’ to communicate. Last night was bad and it’s only gonna get worse if we can’t find him soon.”
Jackson persisted, “Vin, I know it’s hard, but I want to make sure I have what Chris will need when we get to him. “Can you describe what it feels like?
The Texan was at a loss to describe it, but tried to list the things he felt.” Intense tremors of pain, nausea, dry mouth, muscle cramps, cold flashes and it’s hard to breath. What the hell else do you want to know?” He snapped at the medic.
“Disorientation, mood swings, aggressiveness, itchin’, sweatin’ and drowsiness, too.” Kelli told Nathan. “You have any idea what it could mean?”
Nathan could think of one thing that would cause all of that and he knew he was right, but prayed that he was wrong. He swore softly, but everyone heard him. “Withdrawal, the sonofabitch is drugging him.”
Drugs? Are you sure, Nathan? Buck could not imagine Chris Larabee on drugs.
“It sounds like withdrawal symptoms of opioids such as demerol, morphine, heroin, dilaudid and oxycontin to name a few. There are other symptoms of course and side effects, but judging by the way Vin looks and what he feels it is a top consideration. If that bastard is giving him this stuff, it could be real bad for Chris.”
“You know it would fit with his profile. We know Jack is a user and if he could get Chris addicted he would feel that they are more equal. Not to mention what it could do to mess up Chris’ life, which is what Jack wants to do. Causing the loss of his job, personal ruin, stopping his marriage and total degradation would all fit his plans.” Josiah could see this as a feasible possibility.
“You all talk like Chris could let this happen. I know him he would fight like hell against it!” Buck was angry.
“Buck, he might not have a choice and if Jack is injecting him on a regular basis, addiction is a probability. Despite what people believe, this is not just a question of will power! Your mind alters when you’re given enough drugs. Jack’s had seven days to work on it and with enough drugs…” Nathan did not want to finish his thoughts, but he knew what he needed to take with him.
“Then gentlemen, we need to insure that he is not successful. Whatever we need we will acquire it and with family support we’ll help Chris through this.” Ezra quietly stated.
“Ez is right, but first we have to find him.” Vin started to say more, but the waitress arrived with their food. He was not hungry and if Kelli had not pushed him, he would not have eaten anything. They finished their meal and returned to business.
Buck dug out the background report on Lester that JD had faxed to them this morning. Lester Smite is a two-time loser; he served four years for assault of a prostitute in California and another three for assault in Arizona.”
Vin pulled one of the police reports and quickly stood up. “Arboles, a man that fits Smite’s description assaulted a prostitute two days ago after tearing up a local bar. That is close enough to Navajo Lake for me, let’s go talk to her.
“Okay, but from here on out we stay together.” Buck was not only concerned about Vin, but Kelli did not look much better. He reminded himself that it had just been a little over a week ago, he thought that they were both lost to them. “I’ do not intend to lose any member of my family today.”
It took less than forty minutes to reach Arboles, but another hour to locate the woman named Becky Morris. Vin decided that Buck and Ezra should interview the woman that was still showing the bruises from her assault, while the rest of them waited with the vehicles.
Once Buck showed her his identification, she invited them inside her small apartment. “Miss Morris, we’re sorry about what happened to you, but hope that you can identify the man responsible.” Wilmington spread three pictures on the table. “Do you recognize any of these men?”
Becky looked at the pictures and was hesitant to answer. “I don’t know…he said he’d come back and kill me if I told.”
“Miss Morris, I assure you that this man will not be allowed to come near you. With your assistance we can put him in jail for a very long time.” Ezra tried the Standish persuasion. “You will not even have to testify, all we need is a positive identification and any information he may have given as to his location.”
The woman considered the men in front of her and sighed. “This one and he said he was staying at a cabin on Navajo Lake. Now will you go?” She identified Lester Smite.
Both men stood, but Buck had one last question. “Did he happen to say what part of the lake this cabin was on?”
Becky Morris shook her head, “No, he only said that if I fought him he would drag me out to his cabin and kill me. ‘Give in or die a slow, painful death in the next fifteen minutes, bitch’. Those were his exact words.”
“Thank you for your cooperation, Miss.” Ezra shut the door behind them and they rushed out to meet the others. Buck relayed the information from Miss Morris to Vin.
“Get on the phone and have the Sheriff meet us at the entrance to the lake off highway 151. Tell him we need someone who knows that place from front to back and bring what manpower he can to assist us.” The Texan took the keys from Kelli and was in the truck before Buck could finish dialing.
*Not much longer Chris, but dammit you need to help me out here!*
Chris yanked at the damn chain that held him back, but it would not budge. He heard Jack raising hell at the kids and their cries of fear. He knew that they were paying the price for his failed attempt to escape. Suddenly a door slammed and silence filled the air.
*God, what had he done? Vin… you gotta help them…It’s my fault! Help them please…VIN! Lake…cabin.* Chris sensed that the Texan was close and he was positive that he was not coming alone. In spite of not wanting them to see him like this, those children needed help and he knew that their only chance would be for an outside rescue because he was in no condition to do it. The room was spinning and every part of his body was on fire, but he was determined to stay conscious long enough to give Tanner an opportunity to find them.
It seemed like an eternity before Jack returned and raised voices said that he was not alone.
“Dammit Jack, last night proved that the bastard is not as weak as you thought! We need to cover our ass and get the hell out of here!” Lester was highly agitated and would not be quiet. “That sonofabitch has to die!”
”Shut the fuck up and let me think!” Jack yelled back at him.
“Think all you want to, but you and I both know those brats won’t last twenty-four hours in that shed. Hell, they’ll ’freeze long before that and we can make it look like he did it!” Lester paced and thought out his plan. “Yeah, that will work. He locks them up to die and then kill himself! All you have to do is overdose the bastard and we’re in the clear!”
“Lester, I’m still in charge and we’ll do this my way, not yours!” Jack was having second thoughts. Hell, he wanted Chris to suffer but killing him and the kids was more than he had planned. He just wanted them out of the way for a while until he could decide what to do. “They’re only kids Lester, I can’t let them die and Chris may be a sorry bastard but he is my brother.”
“You’re soft Jack and I’m not going back to prison because of it!
“Then leave Lester, I’ll finish up here and when I’m far enough away I’ll make an anonymous call to the authorities to find them.” Jack may be many things, but he would not become a murderer. “Go on, take a new Identity and half the money we put up, no one will connect you to this. GO! Get the hell out!”
“I’ll go, but I’m taking all the money, you won’t need it where you are going. That brother of yours is a federal cop and he will throw your stupid ass in jail!” Lester grabbed his things and headed for the door. He had no intention of letting Chris live, but he would wait down the road until after Jack left to kill him and if he didn’t leave soon enough …then Jack would have to die, too.
Jack did not argue with him, the money was not all that important to him. It was never about money, all he had ever wanted was to feel that he was somebody that counted and to belong. But he had never measured up to Chris and everyone in his life had rejected him. Well, almost everyone, Carol didn’t and his mother did not push him away. Once upon a time Chris didn’t either.
He opened the door to the other room and stared at the man curled up on the floor.
“Ah Chris, what happened to us? I remember when mama died, I was only six and when I cried, the old man backhanded me across the room. You came in and stood up to him, told him to leave me alone…After he left, you held me and let me cry for hours. As I got older though, you started to shove me away, just like he did. Why? What did I do that was so awful to make you hate me?
Chris listened to the man in front of him talking, but he only heard the little boy that cried all night for their mother. “I never hated you Jack, I just knew that the more I tried to protect you the angrier it made dad and he always took it out on you, so I stopped. I always thought we would have time to…but you left and we did not get the time to make it right again.”
Jack sat silently for a minute. “I thought seeing you like this would make me feel better… but it doesn’t change a damn thing.” He stood up with a sigh. “I’m leaving, after your little escapade last night it’s too risky to stay any longer. The kids are locked in the shed down by the lake. Maybe you can find some place to stick them because I sure as hell do not want them with me. When I get far enough away from here, I will make a phone call and send someone to help you, that is what I had planned along, anyway. I want the world to see you on your knees.”
“Don’t go! You have not done so much that you can’t make up for it. I’ll help you.” Chris knew in his heart that if Jack walked out, he would never see him again and dammit, no matter what he had done he was still his brother. “Help me out of here and we’ll face it together.”
“You were always an optimist Chris, I help you and I go to jail, we both know that.”
“Maybe you do, but it won’t be forever and I can still help you, if you let me. Dammit, Jack, Jason and Andi deserve better from you than what the old man gave us! Don’t let him win!”
God how he wanted to believe him, but Jack Larabee had lost the ability to trust anyone when Carol died and he knew that it was too late to try to change, now. “Chris …You expect me to believe that after everything I have done to you that you would be willing to help me? Sorry brother, I quit believing in fairy tales years ago. I do have a parting gift for you though, something to remember me by.” He reached into his pocket for one more syringe.
“Jack, don’t do this…” Chris felt the needle and knew that his brother was lost to him forever.
Outside Lester was getting tired of waiting. “Ten more minutes Jack and if you’re still here, then you both die.”
The County Sheriff met The MCAT agents at the entrance and had a local man with them that knew the lake well.
“There is only one place on this side of the lake that has cabins and that is on what they call the Tiffany shoreline.” The sheriff showed them the area on the map.
“Wait,” before Vin followed the sheriff he open the locked box in the back of the truck. The sharpshooter brought out two rifles, he handed one to Kelli and kept the other one for himself. “Now we’re ready, let’s go.”
The road wound around to a deeper part of the campgrounds until they reach an area with three cabins. Vin ordered everyone out of their vehicles and had them split up to cover all three. The sheriff and his deputies hung back to cover any escape routes.
Buck and Ezra took the first one and it did not take long to find that it was empty. “Damn, nothing here, except a couple of field mice.” Buck was disappointed, but they quickly moved on to join Nathan and Josiah at the second one.
Vin moved quietly and Kelli stayed back far enough to cover his back. The third cabin was the closest to the lake and he could hear the water as it lapped against the shoreline. They were less than a thousand feet from the New Mexico border and it had to be at least twenty degrees out here. Suddenly all his senses were screaming at him, Chris was nearby and in immediate danger. The Texan ran toward the cabin.
*Chris talk to me, what in the hell is going on? DAMMIT CHRIS, STAY WITH ME!*
Inside Jack had stayed to watch Chris fight a losing battle with the heroin that invaded his veins. He knew exactly when Chris lost control of his body, his eyes half-closed, he could not move without a great effort to do so, his breathing became shallow and the flush look to his skin was a dead giveaway. Jack knew that the effects would last long enough that even after he called in to the authorities, they would find a man drugged and disoriented when they arrived. He laid the syringe next to his brother’s still body and took the key to the chain out of his pocket. He would take the chain away, so there was no evidence left that Chris had been a captive and held here against his will.
A voice from the doorway surprised him. “You just do not know when to quit do you, Jack”
“What the hell are you doing back here, Lester?”
“I came to finish my plan and you just became a big part of it. Too bad Jack, you should have left instead of staying around to watch your brother’s little trip.” Lester threw two more syringes at Jack. “Now you can join him in a double suicide, I filled those myself and II guarantee you’ll have one last great trip.” Lester raised his gun and pointed it at Jack.
“You’re fucking crazy! I’m not doing it, I’m leaving now!”
“I don’t think so! I guess this will be a murder-suicide instead.” Lester turned the gun on Chris and cocked the hammer of his .38. “Say good-bye to your brother, Jack”
A rifle shot from the cabin doorway killed Lester instantly, but not before, he had pulled the trigger.
Vin knew the man he shot was dead before he hit the floor, but he had heard the other shot and did not know what damage the .38 had wrought. He ran into the room and his heart stopped when he saw the blond head of the man on the floor, he checked for a pulse and found none. The picture JD had made did not do justice to how much the two brothers looked alike. Tanner kicked the .38 across the room and turned to the man curled up in the corner.
“Chris?” Vin dropped to his knees next to his brother and gently lifted him into his arms, a groan confirmed that he was still alive. “God Chris, what did they do to you?”
Kelli stood at the door and took in the scene before her. She cried tears of relief to see that her father was alive and tears of grief for his brother that evidently died from a bullet meant to kill Chris. “The others heard the shots and Nathan is on his way. How is he?”
“He’s still with us Kel, that’s all I know for sure. See if you can find a key for this damn chain, so we can get him out of this room.”
Nathan rushed in, followed by Buck, Josiah and Ezra; it was Standish who saw the small key laying on the ground between Chris and Jack. “Try this!”
The key worked and Vin remove the chain, taking charge, he began to issue orders. “Ezra, go and stall the sheriff until I yell for you. Nathan can we move him?”
Jackson had found the syringes on the floor and after a swift examination determined that Chris was under the influence of drugs. “Yeah, except for his leg, we can’t do much until he comes down anyway and that could take four or five hours. Apparently, the bastard injected him not long ago and from the looks of the needle marks on his arms it has been a regular thing. Josiah and I will move him, you and Buck do whatever you are gonna do in here.” Nathan did not ask what Vin had planned, but he trusted that the Texan would protect Chris anyway that was necessary.
“Get him on the couch and find any drug paraphernalia in there, get it out of sight. Buck, start working this room as a murder scene.” Tanner saw the questioning look in Wilmington’s eyes. “Just do it Buck and follow my lead. Chris is not gonna lose his career over this mess, not if I can help it.”
“I’ll do what I have to; I hope you have a plan though.” Buck agreed.
Vin put his hand on Buck’s shoulder. “Working on one,” Tanner went into the main room. “Nathan?”
“His leg has a cut that’s badly infected and he’s running a low grade fever, otherwise it’s only bruises and the drugs as much as I can tell. He needs a hospital…”
“No! We take him to a hospital in this condition and he never works as an agent again. Do what you can Nathan and somehow we’ll get what you need to treat him.” Vin was determined not to let Jack win and Jackson did not argue with him.
“Vin, the kids aren’t in the cabin and I’ve looked everywhere.” Kelli spoke calmly, but her urgent message was clear.
“They can’t be far…Josiah go out and ask the Sheriff to organize a search for them and tell him I’ll have a statement for his report after we find them. Oh and tell him to call the county coroner to pick up the bodies, give him Metfield’s information and tell him no one touches them until Bones gets here, Raphael can fly him in.”
“You want Raphael to bring forensics as well?” Josiah waited for an answer.
“No, after I give my statement to the sheriff this is over, we need Bones though to arrange the transport and for a death certificate on Jack. Have Cordova bring enough team members to drive our vehicles back. I want to get Chris to the ranch ASAP and the chopper is the fastest way I know.” Josiah went outside. “Nathan, call Rain tell her …ask her what she can get for us and she’d better prepare Linda.”
Buck walked in. “I have it all down, open and shut case. Smite intended to murder Jack, your shot killed Lester in an attempt to stop him, but his .38 discharged first and the bullet entered Jack’s heart, he was probably dead before he hit the floor.”
Vin nodded, “That’s what it looked like to me. They evidentially had Chris in here because he was sick and he never heard a thing.” He waited to see if anyone wanted to dispute that report. “Coroner should be on his way, Nathan stay with Chris, we still have two more Larabees to find.”
Outside the wind had picked up and it was colder than thirty minutes ago. Kelli put their rifles back inside the lock box and grabbed some blankets from her truck, as an afterthought she picked up the brown teddy bear. She, Vin and Ezra headed toward the water. Buck and Josiah checked the area behind the cabin, while the Sheriff’s men searched further out.
“Jason! Jason Larabee!” Tanner shouted, hoping that the boy would answer.
Kelli placed a hand on Vin’s arm, “He probably won’t trust a man’s voice, you track and I’ll yell.” The Texan agreed. “Jason, my name is Kelli and I have a blanket for you and Andi! Jason, I know you’re out here, please let me help you!” They all waited to see if he answered.
She tried again. “Jason Larabee! I know y’all are cold and scared, but all I want to do is give you this blanket. Think about Andi, she’s so little and I know you want to protect her!”
Ezra encouraged her to continue. “Keep trying, if he thinks it’s his decision he just might answer.”
“There are a lot of footprints leading toward the lake.’ Vin showed them and they all feared that they may be too late to help.
“JASON! Andi needs to stay warm and you can help her do that with this blanket! Just let me know where you are, please!” A knocking sound came from just ahead of them. “That’s it Jason, keep knocking!”
“Here! I think this might be it,” Vin suddenly yelled and he ran forward to a small shed. It had a bar across the door; Tanner removed it and opened the door. As soon as he saw the two small, huddled forms inside, he stepped back so Kelli could keep talking to the child. “Jason it’s good to meet you at last and this is Andi, right?” The boy shook his head and looked at the offered blanket. “I’d like to sit here and talk to you, if that’s okay with you.” Kelli again held out the blanket. After some uncertainty, Jason finally took it. She watched as he covered his sister and noted that he did not bother to cover himself. She handed him a second blanket, which he did not hesitate to grab. Then he sat silently, watching her. It was a bit unnerving to see a child that small stare at her like that, but she would sit here in the cold all night if necessary. She was not going home without them.
“Jason, my name is Kelli and we came all the way from Denver to find you and my dad, we’ve been very worried about y’all.”
A small voice chimed in, “Jason, like Chris’ d… daughter?”
“Is Chris your dad?” Jason asked tentatively.
“Yes, he is Jason.”
“He’s sick and needs a doctor.”
Andi stuck her hand out from under the blanket and then she reached for Kelli’s hair. ”Why your hair red?”
She was not sure which child to answer first, but decided to try both. “We have a doctor with Chris and my hair is red because…I guess the same reason yours is yellow. We were just born that way.”
Andi suddenly moved closer to the lady with the red hair, not caring that the blanket slipped away and ignoring Jason’s command to stay back. She reached for the brown teddy bear she had seen. “Jason, look, she has your mama’s bear.”
Jason looked at the bear, and suddenly there was a look of deep longing on his face. He didn’t say anything though or try to get it, he only looked at it. Kelli made a big deal about wrapping the blanket around Andi, “Good Lord, child you do know how to squirm. Jason could you hold this bear for me? I think Andi has ants in her pants.”
Andi giggled and hesitantly Jason took the bear, he looked up in amazement. “He looks almost new. How did you do that?”
“I had help. A friend of Chris’ had him cleaned and doctored up a bit, I hope you don’t mind.” Kelli decided to jump in with both feet. “Jason, I really would like for you and Andi to go home with us. My husband and I are gonna take Chris back to Denver and want y’all to stay with us for a while on a ranch called the Larabee 7.”
“You hear, Jason? The ranch, Chris said they lived on his ranch too, Kelli and… and….” She screwed up her little face, trying to recall the name.
“Vin,” Jason said reluctantly. “What about my dad, he’ll be mad.”
“He won’t be coming with us and we have papers from a judge that says he’s not allowed to be mad about it. I understand it has to be your decision, but we would like for both of you to be with us. Chris will be there, too.”
After having heard Jason mention his name, Vin decided it was time to see if he would be welcome in this little group. He sat down next to Kelli and introduced himself. “Jason ‘m Vin and we really would like it if y’all came to stay with us.”
Jason looked at him and clutched his bear to his chest. “You are Vin? You… you were the one who f… found us! Chris said you would find us! And… and the ranch is true too?”
“Yep, it is.”
“Chris said we could stay.”
“And see the horses!” Andi chimed in excitedly. “He said!”
“And it’s true, y’all can stay with us on the ranch,” Vin said softly, wanting very much to reassure the two kids. “Chris don’t lie.”
“I wanna see Chris,” Jason suddenly stated, standing up. “He needs a doctor and he said we could come with him.”
“Chris is very sick, Jason,” Kelli said softly. She had managed to coach Andi into her lap, where the girl was sitting totally at ease now, but still with her eyes on her brother. It was clear she would follow whatever Jason decided.
“I know,” Jason said a bit condescendingly, “I took care of him. I wanna see him!” There was a stubborn line on his face now. “Mee too!” Andi immediately piped up.
Vin and Kelli looked at each other. “Guess they know what to expect,” Vin said softly. “Maybe we’d better let them see him.” Behind them Ezra stood up and left for the cabin, to warn Nathan the kids wanted to see Chris and to make sure they wouldn’t see their dead father.
Fortunately, the coroner had already collected the bodies to take to Bayfield by the time they got back to the cabin and Kelli took the children inside to stand beside Chris, while Vin gave his statement to the Sheriff, who had no problem closing the report on the shooting. All that was left to do was move Chris to Josiah’s SUV and leave for Bayfield to meet Raphael.
Jason looked up from Chris’ still form and asked Nathan,” Are you the doctor?”
“Yes I guess I am, my name is Nathan and right now Chris is resting, but he’s going to be okay.”
Kelli introduced the kids to the rest of the family. “This is Ezra; he helped find you in the shack. You already met Nathan and this is Buck, he took your bear to the bear doctor for you. This man Is Josiah and he helps take care of all of us from time to time. Y’all this is Jason and Andi, they have accepted our invitation to stay with the family on the ranch.”
They all smiled at the kids and said hello, taking care not to get too close when they saw how the two stayed near Chris, even though he was barely conscious.
Vin, knelt down beside Jason. At least he and Kelli seemed to have gained some trust from the two children. “Is there any of your stuff here that you want to take with you?”
The child looked at the floor, “No sir. We don’t have any more than what we’re wearin’ and Andi’s doll.”
The Texan watched the child. “Jason, ‘m up here not on the floor and you have nothin’ to be ashamed about. It’s okay. We have time before we have to meet the helicopter in Bayfield.” He grinned when he saw the boy look up suddenly. “Yep that’s right; we’ll go to the ranch in a helicopter. Chris needs to be in a proper bed real soon, don’t you think? Now, how about on the way, we stop and get y’all a change of clothes at the store? Would that be okay with you?”
Jason made a point to look the Texan in the eye. “Yes sir that would be fine.”
Buck spoke up.” Tell you what, Josiah, Nathan and I are taking Chris with us, we will meet you at the airfield. I happen to know that Ezra is a great shopper and he can follow you guys in my truck, help with the clothes and then we’ll all be together on the way home.”
“Excellent suggestion Buck, I am positive that my expertise will be valuable in selecting apparel for Master Jason and Miss Andria”. Ezra spoke with an exaggerated southern drawl and was delighted to hear Andi giggle about it.
“Well then, how about I get y’all settled in my truck so we can go?’ Kelli picked up Andi, but Jason hung back with Vin and closer to Chris.
Nathan did not want to move Chris until the kids were gone and walked to the door with Tanner. Jason drew even closer to Chris and Andi squirmed so much that Kelli felt it better to stay close as well. Ezra drew Jason’s attention long enough for Nathan to tell Vin what was necessary.
“Rain will have antibiotics, an IV set up and the Buprenorphin we‘ll need to help him as he goes through detoxification. From what I found, he was given demerol and heroin, I’ll warn you now that it’s gonna be rough though. Give us enough time to get him settled on the chopper and then we will leave when you get there. Also you had better be prepared to deal with Linda; Rain said she was on the warpath about not taking Chris to the hospital.”
“I reckon that we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it, Nate.” Tanner knew there would be a battle, but he was not going to back down. “I appreciate your support on this and when he’s able I know Chris will too.”
Nathan nodded his response and then had one more question. “What are you gonna tell Jason if he asked about his father?”
“The truth. Now I had better convince those kids that they will be going where Chris goes, even if it’s not in the same car. Damn, but I hate how scared they are, ‘specially the boy. He’s seen too much.”
“He seems to trust you and Kelli, that’s a start,” Nathan said softly, also looking at the two children. “It will be alright Vin, you’ll see. At least they will be safe for the time being and we are gonna keep them that way.
“Yeah, we will.” Tanner vowed, before walking back to his wife and the two children.
To Ezra’s dismay, the only place to shop in Bayfield was the local Wal-Mart. When they arrived, Andi was asleep in Vin’s lap and Jason declared that he was too dirty to go inside the store. He elected to stay with the Texan in the truck, leaving Kelli and Ezra to shop.
“Okay Ez, we’ll take two baskets. One is for Jason and one is for Andi.” Kelli started with the basics, toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioners, brushes, combs, and some hair ribbon for Andi. Ezra worked on Jason’s outfitting and Kelli on Andi’s clothes. “Remember Ez, nothing fancy and we’ll meet back here by the shoes in…twenty minutes.”
Twenty minutes later Kelli was waiting on Ezra and mentally checking off what she had for Andi. She believed she had everything except the shoes and started to work on them while she waited for Standish.
Five minutes later, he showed up. “Master Jason is all set, from underwear to pajamas, up to and including a new coat. I also took the liberty of acquiring a travel bag for each child.”
“Good thinkin’, all we need to do is finish with shoes and they should be set.” Kelli looked around Ezra and saw that he had picked out a few additional items. “Ezra, what in the hell is all that?”
“Just a few games for the game cube that I found on sale and maybe a couple of extra toys for them.” Ezra had indeed found a few things on ‘sale’.
Kelli just shook her head and laughed. “I thought Tanner was bad about toys, but I think you have him beat. Remind me never to send you two together to the toy store. Let’s get out of here before Vin sends out a search party”
When they checked out Ezra insisted on paying for Jason’s things. Kelli did not argue because she had spent just as much on Andi. When they got to the truck, Vin decided they had both lost their minds, but he and Jason made room in the back for all the purchases. He did make them pack into the travel bags the most urgent things that the kids required and the rest would be in the truck when it was driven back to Denver.
“Raphael would never get off the ground will all of that.” Vin made up his mind that he was going to be in charge of the next shopping trip they took. He did however remove the blankets and made sure that each child had on their new coat.
When they reached the airfield, Nathan and Chris were already on board and Raphael had the heaters on high. The children hung back with Kelli and Vin until they saw Chris was on board as well. “Will… will you come too?” Jason asked Vin shyly.
“I will, right after I have told these guys here what to do, alright? Kelli stays with you though and Ezra too. They’ll help you in the ‘chopper and let you see Chris for a moment before you have to get into your seats. That okay?” Jason nodded tersely and followed Kelli, who was carrying Andi again. Ezra followed close, keeping an eye on the young boy, leaving Vin free to arrange everything else.
Justin, Mark and Ross were driving back with the vehicles. Buck gave Mark his keys and told him to take Dr. Medfield to the Coroners office. Once there Bones would prepare the bodies for transport and arrange for the paperwork to get them back to Denver. They would go back by commercial air and he would stay with them until they were in his home territory.
Ross would drive Josiah’s SUV and was waiting on instructions from Justin
Vin gave Justin Kelli’s keys, “You’re in command, just make sure y’all get back safely and stick together. Charge what you need to on this.” Tanner gave him his credit card that he used for MCAT expenses. “We’ll see y’all tomorrow sometime. If you have any problems, call me.” He did warn him about the guns locked in the back.
The Texan was the last one to board. He looked at his watch, with a little luck they would be at the ranch before eight. He strapped in with Jason next to him and signaled for Raphael to take off.
For better or worse, they were on their way home with all Larabees accounted for.
“Linda Catharina Dubois! What in the hell do you think you are doing?” Matt was ready to come down on her hard, if she did not get back in that bed. “You heard what Dr. Ryder told you!”
“I cannot just lie here while Chris needs me to get him medical attention! I can’t believe they won’t take him to a hospital!” Linda tried again to get up, but Matt stopped her.
“Linda, you hear me out! I will not even pretend to know what is going on, but if I have learned one thing this week, it’s that this family takes care of family! If they are bringing Chris here, it must be for a damned good reason and you will wait to find out what that reason is. Do you understand?”
Throwing herself back against the pillow, Linda huffed, “I cannot believe that you of all people are defending this family to me.”
“Scary, isn’t it?” Matt grinned. “Look, I may have jumped to some hasty conclusion when I first arrived and I’ll admit that my judgment was clouded by jealously. Nevertheless, as I have watched this unique family unfold, it has been an eye-opening experience for me. Considering that the only blood relationships are among the children, plus Kelli and Chris of course, they all seemed closer than some families reared together. I cannot believe that any one of them would risk Chris’ life for any reason. Trust them to do what’s best for him.”
A long-suffering sigh was part of his answer. “I do trust them and you are right. No one would risk Chris’ life on a whim, but…dammit I need to know what is happening.”
“I am sure that all will be revealed to you soon after they arrive, but you must follow your own doctor’s orders. Do not make them have to worry over you, too. From what Rain told us they have enough on their plate at the moment.” Matt recognized the signs of reason returning to his sister’s thinking. “Now, shall we continue our game of cards or do you want me to read to you?”
Rain Jackson smiled as she stepped back from the doorway; Mr. Matthew Dubois just inched up a notch in her estimation of him. Keeping Linda calm through what was to come would be a full-time job and Rain was more than glad to have Matt’s assistance. *Keep this up Mr. Dubois and you just might become a part of this ‘wild bunch’, yet.*
Sometime during the two-hour flight, Chris awoke. His mouth was too dry to talk, but he knew he should remember something very important…however, he was at a complete loss to know what.
*Chris, we’re all here and you’re safe, just relax.*
*Yep, it’s me and we are on our way home, Cowboy.*
*Jason and Andi are here with us, safe ‘n sound.*
*I’m sorry…co…couldn’t…help…damn it hurts.*
Vin was not the only one that noticed that Chris was awake, Nathan watched his patient closely and did what he could to ease his distress.
Nathan leaned over and whispered, “We’re right here with you, Chris, if it gets too bad squeeze my hand as hard as you need to.” He placed Larabee’s hand over his.” It won’t be long and we’ll be home, Rain has some medicine waiting for you that will help.”
“Th...anks,” Chris rasped.
“No thanks are necessary, save your voice for the important stuff.” Nathan was not surprised to see Chris drift back to sleep. Drowsiness was one of the side effects of opiate use; he wished the other side effects were as non-threatening. Unfortunately, Chris was in for quite a battle, pain, depression, anger, cramps, nausea and anxiety were just some of the discomforts ahead for him. It would be at least ten days before the withdrawal symptoms were no longer threatening, but the Buprenorphin would make it more bearable. It would take up to a month before all of the symptoms disappeared; even then, he may have mood swings or depression to face. Not to mention that he would have to be tested for aids and he had the possibility of contracting hepatitis from the needles.
Nathan observed the worried faces of the other men on board and knew that Chris would not be taking on this battle alone. Two little kids were looking on anxiously as well and he smiled at them. “Jason, Andi, he'll be alright,. He keeps fallin' asleep right now, but that's a good thing, don't worry." Andi seemed relieved, but Jason kept staring at Chris for a long time. It was Vin who finally managed to get the boy's attention and have him look outside instead of at Chris.
Raphael let them know that they would be setting down at the ranch in less than fifteen minutes. After a group discussion earlier, they had all agreed that the true details of what happened at Navajo Lake would stay within the family. When Chris was ready, Vin was elected to tell him what he could not remember. The world would only know that Chris Larabee was back at home and the kidnappers were dead. To protect the kids, there would be no mention of the family connection or the children, one of Jack’s aliases would be used for the press release.
Cordova was great; he set them down right in front of the ranch house, which meant they could take Chris directly inside. Josiah carried him to the guest bedroom that Rain had set up with a hospital bed and an IV ready to go.
Nathan kissed his wife hello. “Baby, how did you manage all this in such a short time?” he was amazed at what she had accomplished.
“I have my connections and a few favors that were owed to me.” Rain immediately went over to check on Chris and start his IV. “Guys, I know you all want to be in here, but give me some time with my patient first.”
“I think she is kicking us out.” Josiah smiled at Rain. “We’ll be just down the hall if you need anything.”
Nathan stayed to help Rain, while Buck, Vin and Josiah moved to the den. Ezra was at the Tanner home with Kelli, helping with the kids. There had been some commotion at first when the two children realized they were not going to go with Chris, but finally Vin and Kelli had managed to convince them that the other house was part of the ranch too and they would be seeing Chris soon. These kids really needed reassurances, they were going to make sure Jason, and Andi would feel safe and secure again.
At the ranch house Buck was still upset about the condition Andi and Jason were in when they found them. “I am going to call Inez and see if the girls are still up. I really need to hear their voices about now.” He was sure that talking to Sarah and Maria would make him feel better.
“Go ahead Buck,” Vin sighed. “Josiah you probably should call Mal. I reckon that I need to go see Linda and explain a few things.”
Josiah patted the Texan on the shoulder. “Need someone to cover your back, brother?”
“No, but you might want to call JD and fill him in on what’s going on, ‘m sure he’s walkin’ the floor waitin’ to hear.”
Sanchez nodded and watched Vin walk down the hall to the master bedroom. He whispered a prayer before he dialed his home number.
Tanner knocked on the door.
“Come in,” Linda yelled and when she saw that it was Vin started in with questions. “How is Chris? Rain said that he was ill, what is wrong with him? Is his leg okay? Why didn’t you take him to a hospital? Why can’t he be in here with me? Did you get the bastard that hurt him?”
“Damn woman, take a breath!” Vin moved closer to the bedside. “I’ll tell you everythin’, just slow down.” He was not happy to see Matt in the room and knew that he would have to choose his words carefully. “First off, how are you?”
“I am fine, tell me about Chris.” Linda answered impatiently.
“Perhaps I should leave and let you two talk alone.” Matt offered.
“No Matt, you can stay.” Linda stopped him from leaving. “You are family, too.” She glared at Tanner, daring him to make her brother leave.
Vin knew there was nothing he could do, but trust that Matt would be reasonable. “What I am going to tell you stays in the family and it’s not what you’ll be seein’ in the paper.” He looked directly at Matt when he spoke.
Matt felt some assurance was called for, “You have my word. Nothing leaves this room to anyone.”
“Chris’ original leg injury is aggravated and as soon as we can we’ll have the doctor look at it, but there are other more pressin’ issues that we have to deal with first. He has an additional cut on that same leg that is infected; Rain already has him on a high dose of antibiotics for that.’ Vin hesitated. “Dammit, there is no easy way to tell you so I guess straight on is the best way. He was drugged, Linda.”
“Drugged? How and why is that a problem?
“For the last seven days he was given injections of demerol and heroin. The intent was to get him addicted and ‘m afraid it worked. Chris’ is gonna be sufferin’ withdrawal symptoms that will be rough going from a while. If we took him to a hospital, it would go on his medical records and he could lose his job. Jack would win and ‘m not gonna let that happen.”
“There are worse things that could happen than to lose his job, Vin”
“Not for Chris, if he quits by his own choice fine, but to have that choice taken away from him…No, there is nothing worse than that for a man as independent as he is. It would eat away at him the rest of his life.”
“Wouldn’t he get better treatment in a hospital, though?”
“Rain and Nathan can handle it here. The rest of us will take turns being with him, but no hospital. Chris would not want outsiders to see him this way, hell he don’t even want you and Kelli to see him like this.”
“Chris can be too stubborn sometimes for his own good, you know that. His life in too important to take chances with, Vin.” Linda could be stubborn too, “I want him in a real hospital.”
“Sorry Linda, I know you’re worried about him and I would like you to be in agreement with what I decided because it would be easier, but I won’t change my mind. I have his POA and until he says different, ‘m not backin’ down. I respect Chris too much to do somethin’ against what he would want and he is gonna need our support to get through this.” Vin stood up. “Rain will explain to you in more detail tomorrow what will happen and Kel will be over then to talk to you.”
Matt had been silent until now. “Do what you need to Tanner, Linda will stay in bed and behave if I have to borrow some rope to keep her there.”
Linda shot her brother a look that was meant to cause pain. “Matt, you can’t possibly agree with him!”
“This is just as hard for them as it is for you and right now, it sounds like a sensible solution to a complex situation. Give it a chance to work, Linda.”
Vin was surprised by Matt’s support, but glad that he only had one Dubois to worry about. One was enough; he hoped that Kelli could get through to her when they talked. He nodded his appreciation to Matt. “Sleep on it Linda and think about what Chris would do. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Looks as if I don’t have any other choice, for now, goodnight Vin.” The temperature in the room dropped at least ten degrees with her words.
Once he was out the door the Texan ran into Josiah. “JD will be here in the morning, he’s driving Justin’s car over so he’ll have a way to take Mark and Ross to theirs when they get in tomorrow. I also talked Buck into going home to see his family and Ezra is staying over in case we need him.”
“That’ll work, ‘m gonna see Chris and then go check on Kel and the kids.”
“Go on in, Rain is catching some sleep with Terrell, but Nathan and I will be here all night and if anything changes, I know where to find you. “ Josiah explained.
At first, he thought Chris was asleep, but when Nathan moved over for Vin to get closer, Larabee turned his head and tied to talk. “Kids really okay?”
“Hell yeah, they’re at our house, bein’ spoiled as we speak, ‘m not sure who’s worse at it, Kel or Ezra.”
“You need to…get custody…protect them.”
“Already done, we had the judge’s approval three days ago. They are safe Chris and they are gonna stay that way. Quit worryin’ about ‘em and concentrate on gettin’ better.’
“I’m all fucked up…you…should’ve left me.”
“Never Chris, anymore than you would leave one of us. We have your back on this one Cowboy and we will get through it together”
“Together…not sure, I’m worth it”
Vin knew it was not the real Chris talking, but all the same he didn’t like hearing it. “I’m sure, so deal with it, Larabee.”
“I…don’t want Linda or Kel or kids to see m...me like this.” Chris cried out and balled up as a chill ran through his body. Nathan moved forward when Chris began to groan and his body convulsed uncontrollably.
“I‘ve got this Vin, go hug those kids for me. Chris and I have a long night ahead of us. Go on now, we’ll be okay.” Nathan shooed Vin out the door.
Between the two of them, Kelli and Ezra had the children fed, bathed, and into clean clothes before Standish left for the main house. The second bedroom of the Tanner home had already been made over as a child’s room when Kelli and Vin were authorized for emergency foster care. It had two twin-sized beds and was kid friendly. However, convincing Jason that it was okay to sleep in a real bed and even mess it up was a challenge.
“Jason, I don’t care if you mess up the bed, we can fix it back tomorrow.” Kelli tried to convince him. “It is not a problem, really “This had been going on for the last ten minutes and everything she tried had failed to sway the little boy.
“Thank you, but we would rather sleep on the floor, ma’am.” Andi nodded her head to agree with anything Jason said.
“Could you at least tell me why?” Kelli sighed in frustration. She could not let them sleep on the cold floor and was running out of ideas on how to persuade them to use the bed willingly. Forcing them was not something she wanted to do.
The child shrugged his shoulder, “Just what we’re used to.”
Vin stood silently in the doorway watching and found it amusing to see three stubborn Larabees butt heads. Of course, Kelli was outnumbered and in way over her experience level with kids. He figured she could use a little help. “Jason, could I see you for a minute please?” The Texan did not miss the rigid stance that the boy took when he heard his voice or how nervous Andi became.
“Yes sir.” The child walked over, fully expecting a spanking for being disobedient.
Instead, Vin crouched down and whispered something in his ear. When he finished, Jason leaned back and looked at him with surprise. “Promise?”
“Promise,” Tanner grinned.
Jason ran over grabbed Andi’s hand and crawled into one of the beds with her without more argument. A moment later two pair of huge eyes looked at the Tanners from beneath the soft blankets.
Kelli was not sure what had just happened, but whatever it was, it was a good thing. “Goodnight.” She joined Vin at the door. Tanner flipped the big light off, leaving the smaller nightlight on, said his own goodnight to the kids, and led Kelli into the other room.
“I saved you somethin’ to eat, I’ll heat it up and you can tell me your secret for getting’ through to Jason.” Kelli wrapped her arm around her Texan as they walked into the kitchen.
Vin sat down, the day’s events were catching up to him and he was tired. Kelli warmed his food and sat with him while he ate. “I promised Jason I would be the first one in their room in the mornin’ and if there was any accident during the night, I’d help him wash the sheets before you knew about it.”
“That’s what had him so worried, I would never…”
“Easy Kel, I know you wouldn’t, but for a six year old that has taken more than one spankin’ over it, it’s a big deal.” Vin picked up his glass for some water. “Actually, I think to someone it was a major infraction of the rules and it didn’t matter who did it, Jason was punished for it.”
“How did you know?”
“Before my grandfather came for me, after my mama died, I was in a group home for a couple of weeks and one of the boys always slept on the floor there. One day he told me why and I guess seein’ Jason balk at sleepin’ on the bed jogged that memory.”
“We’ll I reckon you get to be the first one up in the mornin’. Now tell me about Chris and how Linda took the news.”
“Chris is havin’ a rough time of it, but no more than we expected. He does not want you or Linda or the kids to see him though.”
“It wouldn’t bother me, after what I saw of him at the cabin, but I can see where it would bother him so I’ll respect that for now.”
“When I saw Linda, her brother was with her and surprisingly he agreed with what we did. It was a completely different story though with Linda. I hope you can make her see reason about it tomorrow when you talk to her.”
Kelli knew how stubborn Linda could get when she set her mind to it. “I’ll do what I can, but no promises.” She saw how much the day had worn on him. “You need sleep, tomorrow will be another long day and I do not intend to see you get sick.” Together they rinsed the dishes, checked on the kids that finally had given in to sleep and turned everything off on their way to the bedroom.
Vin wrapped his arms around Kelli and let himself relax for the first time since early this morning, but he still had more on his mind. “I plan to tell Jason about his dad in the morning, he deserves to know the truth and I don’t want him to be afraid of Jack showin’ up to take him and Andi.” Vin actually had decided earlier, but had not had the chance to talk to Kelli about it until now. “After he knows, then we’ll talk to Andi.”
“It’s the right thing to do; I don’t want them to hear about it by accident and then we have to decide about funeral arrangements. He may have been a sonofabitch, but he was still their dad and Chris’ brother.” Kelli had given it some thought, too.
Tanner had already considered that. “If Chris is up to it, he can decide how to handle it; we can stall for a few days and see how it works out. I also want to talk to Travis Monday and arrange some time off for all of us to take turns being with Chris.” She heard him take a long deep sigh and softly say, “Lord, it never ends.”
Kelli decided than for tonight it ended right here for Vin. “Yeah it does, at least for a few hours. You, Tanner are going to take a shower and hit the bed, if you weren’t so wore out I’d make you forget all your problems.” She pushed him toward the bathroom and started the water for him while he undressed. Before she knew what had happened, the Texan had her pulled into the shower with him.
After a long passionate kissed he grinned, “I may be tried baby, but ‘m not dead. Now just how did you plan to make me forget my problems?”
Nathan looked at the clock, it was only three, but it had already been one very long night. Doses of Buprenorphin could help ease the symptoms of withdrawal, but Chris wanted to do this without the aid of more drugs and refused to take anything that might help him. Consequently, he was in pain and felt terrible, it was only in the last hour or so that he made much sense with his words.
“How long will it take, Nathan? Chris’ eyes remained hooded, but he watched every expression on Jackson’s face.
It was not hard for Nathan to understand what Chris was asking. “Without using the Buprenorphin, the first three or four days will be hell, it will take maybe ten days to get through the hardest parts and some of it will hang on for near a month. Since they used needles…we must also consider the possibility of aids or hepatitis.”
“He…not they…just Jack…what happened to him?”
This was not a question that Nathan wanted to hear, Vin was supposed to answer this one. “He’s dead Chris, I wasn’t there so I can’t tell you how, but Vin saw it happen and he can tell you more, I’m sorry.”
Chris swallowed hard, he knew Jack was lost to him, but in spite of what he had done, he was blood related. “Not your fault, he made his choice. I want you to keep the others away…don’t want them to see me.”
“Now Chris, that just ain’t possible. I’d have to shoot Vin to keep him out and Buck, well he expects to be here, too. Ezra and JD want to help, right along with Josiah. I need Rain to keep watch on that leg infection and she is the only doctor in the house.”
“Vin gets here…send him in…by himself, nobody else. Nobody else!” Chris knew that Vin would do what he asked and that the others might not like it, but they would listen to him. “I’m tired, want to sleep now,” he turned his back to the medic and ended the conversation.
The Texan quietly slipped out of bed careful not to wake Kelli, he knew that she needed to rest, especially after last night and the incredible way she took care of him. He placed an extra quilt over her with a feeling of satisfaction; she was not the only one that knew how to take care of a stubborn Tanner. In the bathroom, he took a good look in the mirror, smiling when he saw the visible evidence of last night’s passionate encounter on his shoulder.
Tanner had a long list of things to accomplish today and he wanted to get started. *Vin, make time to take care of that woman because she damn well makes the time to take care of you.* He decided, that he needed to shave, too, promising himself to take on the scruffy look occasionally for his redhead. He then headed to the kitchen to start the coffee.
Next on the list was his promise to Jason and he continued on to the kid’s room. Fortunately, there were no accidents during the night, both children were awake and he found Jason in a mini-battle with his sister. Andi was stubbornly refusing her brother’s efforts to help her change out of her pajamas into day clothes.
“Mornin’ Jason, need some assistance?” Vin smiled; he recognized the determined look on Andi’s face, he had been on the receiving end of that same look often enough from Kelli to know that Jason had his hands full.
Jason expelled a frustrated sigh. “Andi thinks I’m trying to get rid of her new sleeping clothes and won’t take them off.”
Vin studied the problem for a minute, picked up her new warmer outfit and knelt down in front of the little girl. “Tell you what, you can hide your pajamas under the pillow for tonight and this will be warm enough for you to go outside later to see the horses.”
Andi looked at the jeans and sweater that Vin was holding, thought about seeing the horses and started pulling off her pajamas. The Texan helped her with the new clothes and handed the pj’s to her brother. “Jason, would you put these under Andi’s pillow so she can find them tonight?” The boy halfway folded them and then jammed the pink pj’s under Andi’s pillow, allowing Vin to help his sister with her hair. She sat still long enough for the Texan to pull her hair up and then jumped off the bed.
Tanner helped a struggling Jason make the bed as Andi danced in front of the full-length mirror on the door, admiring her new clothes. “Thanks…Vin.” He hastily added, “Kelli said it was okay to call you that, but I won’t if you don’t like it.” Jason squirmed nervously.
“Vin is just fine, you’re family Jason, Kelli is your cousin and as her husband that make me your cousin, too.” He was pleased to see the child relax. “Now, we’re gonna get breakfast going before she wakes up and we’ll let her sleep for a bit.” The trio made their way to the kitchen, when the Texan showed them what they could do to help.
Kelli was not sure what woke her, the empty bed, the smell of coffee or the sounds coming from the opposite side of the house. A glance at the bedside clock told her it was just after six in the morning and curiosity led her to the kitchen.
Standing in the doorway, the scene before her melted her heart. Andi, with her hair in a ponytail, dressed in jeans and a purple sweater, stood on a chair in front of the counter helping Vin make pancakes. Jason wearing his new jeans and a green shirt was carrying a platter of bacon to the table that he obviously had painstakingly set for four.
Jason set the platter down and when he looked up saw her. "Hi Jason, did you sleep well?" she asked, smiling at him. He hastily sat the platter of bacon on the table and then nodded at her, smiling back a bit guardedly. At least he was smiling, Kelli thought relieved.
Vin lifted Andi off the chair and sat her at the table while Jason took the plate of pancakes. “Morning Texas, breakfast is ready. “ Vin kissed her and made a big production of pulling out a chair for her to join them at the table, much to the delight of the two little Larabees. Andi giggled and there was laughter in Jason's eyes. Vin grinned at her as he whispered, “Rested enough, sleepy head?”
Her eyes promised retaliation for that comment, but she played along. “Wow, this looks great! “ A hot cup of coffee set in front of her cooled her thoughts of payback and gained the Texan another kiss.
Andi smiled up at the redhead. “We hepped.”
Swallowing a bite of pancake, Kelli answered. “I can see that and this is delicious.” They worked their way though an enjoyable breakfast and cleared the table when everyone was finished. The kids wolfed down their food, but were full a lot sooner then Vin or Kelli had expected from two growing kids. While Andi and Jason seemed thoroughly happy with what they had been eating, delighted was even a better word, the two Tanners looked at each other grimly. The evening before they had thought the two had eaten so little because they were too tired, but now they both felt it was due to the fact they had had too little to eat for too long a time. Vin added another chore to his list, ask Nathan if he knew what would be best for their diet at the moment
After breakfast was finished, Vin grabbed two coats. “Jason is gonna help me start on tendin’ the horses, Andi wanted to wait for you. We’ll see you ladies at the barn.” Kelli knew that Vin intended to tell the boy about his dad and stalled to give him time to do it.
“Come on Andi, you can help me decide what to wear.” The little girl followed Kelli to the bedroom.
In the barn, Tanner fed the horses, introducing Jason to each one and showed him what he could do to help. He cautioned him not to come out here alone until he was better acquainted with them and had permission. Dancer was the most docile of the bunch and Vin gave Jason a brush so he could learn how to groom her. Together they worked on the horse while the Texan decided on the best way to talk to the child about his dad.
Finally, he decided that the direct approach was probably the best. “Jason, I know a lot has been going on the last day or so for you and Andi. You might be wonderin’ about what happens next.”
“Yes sir…I like it here and I know Andi does, but…Are you sure we can stay? I know Chris promised, but my dad…might not like it so much.”
Vin laid the brush down and knelt down in front of the boy so he could look him in the eye. “Your dad is not comin’ back Jason. He and the other man at the cabin argued and they are both dead. Do you understand what that means?”
Jason was quiet for a moment before answering. “Yes sir, it means he’s gone like my mama, she left when Andi got born. Patrice said she was with God and watching over me.” The little boy shuffled his feet. “I…I miss her sometimes.”
“I miss my mama, too”. Vin tilted the boy’s head up. “There is nothing wrong with that. I know she’s watching me so I try to be the kind of son she can be proud of, but there were times that I had to let other people help me.”
The child absorbed the words the Texan shared with him. “I think she would like you and Kelli and Chris. My dad...He got mean after she left…maybe now he can be happy again.” Jason hesitated before he asked, “What about me and Andi?
Those words tore at Vin’s heart. Jack was a sonofabitch and mistreated both of these kids, but the only thing this child wanted to think, was that maybe now his dad could be happy again. “You and Andi have a home here on the Larabee 7 and a family that loves you both. Your Uncle Chris wants you here and so do we.”
“Andi never saw dad any other way ‘cept mean and she don’t remember mama at all.” He sounded so much older than his years. “Having a family would be new for her.”
Those words brought back a memory for Vin, having a family was new to Kelli not long ago and like Andi she had no memories to fall back on at that age. But, Andi had Jason and that made a big difference. “She’s lucky to have a big brother that can tell her about her mama and how her dad used to be. I wanted to tell you this first, before we told Andi, I thought that maybe we might talk to her later, together. Would that be okay with you?”
“You won’t tell her without me? Please, I …need to help her understand.” Jason said softly, staring hard at Vin. All protectiveness he felt for his little sister was there. Vin fought the knot that was forming in his throat. ”You got it partner; we'll do it together, alright?”
“I promise,” Vin said softly, understanding how Jason needed reassurances. Then the boy surprised him again with his next question.
“Does Chris know?”
“I’m gonna tell him later today, Jason?”
The boy nodded, "When can I see him?" he asked. "He said... he said Andi and me could stay. He liked having us around."
"Jason, so do we. Kelli and me, we love having you two around and so does all the rest of the family. Believe me, we do. As for seein' Chris, let's wait and see how he's doin', alright?" Vin could see Jason didn't like that last part, but the boy nodded anyway. A surge of anger rose up in the Texan and he vowed to himself he would help Jason feel so much at home that he would dare to get angry, throw a temper tantrum even, or show it when he was sad. He wanted Jason to feel secure enough that he no longer felt the need to be this passive.
"Come on," he said softly. "Let's finish here. You like horses, don't you?"
Jason nodded. "Chris said he wanted to teach me to ride. Do you think I could learn? To ride, I mean?"
"Jason, I'm sure of it!" That finally brought the boy's precious smile out and Vin grinned back. A moment later, they were compatibly grooming the horses again.
They heard Andi’s chatter before they could see her and Kelli. The little girl bust into the barn with a form of enthusiasm found only in a three year old. “Jason! We go see baby horses! Kelli has lots and lots of them! Come on!”
“I figured if you and Jason were finished here, I’d take them down to see the colts.” Kelli grabbed Andi before she could climb into Peso’s stall.
“What do you think, Jason? You reckon you can keep these two out of trouble for me while I go check on a couple of things?” Vin wanted to go see Chris while Kelli kept the kids occupied.
The small boy answered immediately, “Yes sir.” Grabbing Andi’s hand, he gave her instructions. “You stay with me and listen to Kelli.” They both took off with the redhead and Vin headed to the ranch house.
It was still early when Tanner entered the kitchen and he found Nathan alone nursing a cup of coffee. Everyone else was still asleep and Vin welcomed the quiet, but did not expect it to last long.
“How is he, Nate?” Tanner listened as he poured himself a cup of coffee.
“Josiah is with him, he had a rough night. He wants to see you though and I’ll warn you now. He refuses to take the Buprenorphin that could make this easier for him and wants me to keep everybody else away. That will not sit well with Buck, JD and Ezra for sure. He also asked about Jack, I told him he was dead, but that you would have to tell him what happened.” Nathan wanted to say more but hesitated.
“All of it Nathan,” Tanner pressed him to continue.
“He’s not fighting Vin, I know it was rough, but dammit, it’s as if he trying to make this as hard as possible on himself. At least with the Buprenorphin, he would not suffer the difficulties of withdrawal and could function pretty close to normal until all the other drugs got out of his system.
Vin nodded thoughtfully and then asked, “Is he able to talk?
“Yeah, he should be okay for a few more hours before the next bout of hell hits him”
Chris was awake when Tanner came in and he looked like hell had already arrived. He was a flat out mess. His skin was pale with dark circles under his eyes and his hair was so dirty it looked brown instead of blond. Larabee had fought all of Nathan’s efforts to clean him up and he still wore the same grimy clothes that they had found him wearing at the cabin.
Josiah excused himself. “I think I’ll go have some coffee with Nathan. “
“Take your time Josiah, Chris and I need to talk.” Vin sat next to the bed, but said nothing.
“Just say it, this entire fucking mess can be laid on my doorstep, I know it and you, know it too! I fucked up royally!” Chris waited and still the Texan stayed silent. “Well? I thought you came in here to talk! Tell me off, yell; say I should have known better, should have fought harder, should not have waited twenty-five years to find my brother, hell anything, just say something! I deserve whatever you want to throw at me!”
“You seemed to be doing a good job of beatin’ yourself up. Why should I stop you?” Tanner deliberately kept his voice low and even. “When you’re through rollin’ around in that puddle of self pity you’ve created for yourself we’ll talk, until then I think I’ll just sit here and let you rant.”
Chris shut up, rolled over and turned his back to Vin, neither man spoke for a full five minutes.
Without turning back, to look at him Chris finally asked. How did he die?” When Vin didn’t answer Larabee finally rolled over to face him. “Tell me... I need to know.”
The Texan took his time in answering. “You want to know how the official report reads or the truth?”
Sitting up in the bed, Chris could not believe what he heard. Vin was as honest as the day was long and would never falsify a report for any reason. “Dammit Tanner, what did you do?”
“I protected your ass and your career! The end result was the same no matter how it happed. I just chose not to put you in the middle of it. As far as the rest of the world knows, your kidnappers argued and when Lester aimed his gun at your brother, I killed him, but his gun fired first and he shot Jack. You were in the next room too ill with a fever from infection to know what was going on. We used one of Jack’s aliases to identify him so no family connection is on record and drugs were never mentioned.”
“Go on, tell me what really happened.”
“Evidently, Jack intended to leave, call in anonymously to have authorities find you strung out on drugs and rescue the children. When Lester came back, he wanted to kill Jack and you with a lethal injection of heroin making it appear as a murder-suicide, while the kids froze to death locked in a shed by the lake, he planned to make a clean getaway. They were arguin’ when I got to the cabin, Jack told Lester he was leavin’ and then Smite turned the gun on you instead. He cocked the hammer, I shot him and his gun went off killin’ Jack.”
“If he was aiming at me, how did Jack end up being shot?”
“That’s what I’m not certain about, Jack either deliberately got between you and the gun or attempted to grab the gun when it fired and was killed by accident. The only person that knows his intentions for sure is Jack. Personally I would like to think he made a last ditch effort to redeem himself by savin’ your life.’ Vin gave Chris time to digest this information.
Larabee drew in a deep breath and fought the feelings of regret that tried to overtake him. “Then what happened?”
“We moved you to the other room. Buck wrote up the incident stating that Lester murdered Jack. After we found the kids, Raphael flew us all here and Rain had the medicine you needed waiting for us. Bones claimed the bodies from their county coroner, case closed.”
“So you all were in on this little conspiracy and risked losing your own careers for me.”
“We don’t see it that way; we took care of our brother because we’re positive that you would do the same for any one of us. There is no point in the whole world knowin’ what Jack did to you. It stays in the family unless you want to tell ‘em different.” While Chris was alert, Vin wanted to cover everything. “There are a few more things that you should think about.”
‘You might as well get it all out.”
“We are not givin’ up on you Larabee. One of us will be here at all times whether you want us to be or not. Funeral arrangements need to be made for Jack and that should be your decision on how to handle it. You also have a woman down the hall that already had one emergency trip to the hospital and she is confined to bed rest for at least another week to protect your unborn child. She needs you. Plus, there are two orphaned kids over at our house that need to see that you are okay. So, you can make this easy on everyone by taking help or you can be a stubborn sonofabitch, feel sorry for yourself and tough it out the hard way. It’s up to you.”
Chris laid there and thought about everything that the Texan had told him. He would never know if Jack sacrificed his life to protect him, but he did know that no matter what, he was his brother and should have a decent burial. Linda did not deserve to be shut out and he needed to shake this drug thing fast to be with her. Then there were two little Larabees that needed to know that they had a place here. His family of brothers had got him this far, surely he could make it the rest of the way.
Larabee decided to fight back. “Vin, ask Nathan to come in and tell him to bring that damn Buprenorphin stuff with him. Josiah, too, I think it’s time I cleaned up some and I probably will need their help. Get JD to find out where Carol Larabee is buried and then tell Buck that I expect him to hold down the office until you or I can get back. Oh and ask Ezra to come see me, I need to know where I stand financially if I’m gonna pay for Jack’s arrangements. Also, get me a damn cell phone, I may not be able to see Linda yet, but I can sure as hell talk to her.”
“Sure thing Cowboy, welcome back.”
The rest of the morning passed, filled with a flurry of activity. Chris managed a shower with Nathan and Josiah’s help and felt 100% better. He saw, JD, Buck and Ezra, making sure they knew he was back to stay. He managed to talk to Linda long enough to allay her fears and assure her he would be on his feet soon. His leg hurt, but not so bad that it was unbearable and he reluctantly admitted that Nathan had been right about the Buprenorphin. It did help ease the worst of the withdrawal symptoms and eliminated the disorientation that had plagued him for over a week.
“Nathan, I know that I didn’t act like it, but I do appreciate all your help.” Larabee knew he had been an ass and wanted to make sure that Jackson knew it. “I owe you and Rain a lot.”
“You’re family Chris, we’re not keeping score and right now I think you should rest a while. You’ve accomplished a helluva lot in the last couple of hours; give your body a chance to catch up with your mind.” Nathan picked up a book and settled in the chair opposite the bed. “I’ll be here if you need anything.”
“You always have been Nathan.”
Justin, Mark and Ross had been gone less than ten minutes when the truck was unloaded. Kelli helped the kids put up the rest of their news clothes, while Vin and Ezra set up the new game cube for them. After a few minutes of instruction, the kids caught on fast and soon were engrossed in Spyro’s adventures, chasing butterflies as a little purple dragon.
“Ez and I can handle two kids and a purple dragon, go visit with Linda while you have a chance.” Vin walked with Kelli to the door and helped her put on her coat making sure to hug her in the process. “We’ll even have supper ready by the time you get back.”
“You think Chris will see me now?”
“There’s no harm in askin’ baby, just don’t take it personally if he doesn’t.” The Texan buttoned the top button on her coat and kissed her. “Linda has already talked to Chris so she should be in good spirits.”
The ranch house was fairly quiet for a Sunday afternoon, it seemed strange not to see all the family here and kids running all over the place. Nathan and Rain were spending some time with Terrell. Josiah went home for a while to be with his family as well as Buck and JD was in with Chris while he slept. Kelli moved on down the hall to Linda’s door and knocked.
Matt opened the door. “Come on in.” He was fast becoming a permanent fixture here at the ranch and Kelli was still not over being mad at him for his atrocious behavior.
Ignoring him, she greeted Linda instead. “How are you doing, lady?”
“Better, I talked to Chris and as soon as he gets the green light to use his crutches again, he’ll be in to see me. He sounded good and if Warden Matt would turn his back for a few minutes, I’d be down the hall with him.” Linda said wistfully. “I suppose I can wait a few days, but I really need to talk to him face to face.”
“Give the man a break Linda, he’s made up his mind and I doubt that you’ll be able to change it,” Matt gave his sister a look that said ‘leave it alone.’
“I might not, but I bet Kelli could talk some sense into him.”
Kelli had no idea what Linda what referring to. “Talk to him about what exactly?”
“Misplaced guilt! Chris actually plans to pay for that bastard’s funeral and attend a service for him. After what that man did, he doesn’t deserve anything from Chris!”
“I don’t think misplaced guilt has anything to do with it. Jack was his brother and from what I understand, he was not always this way. The death of his wife and drug use changed him. In the end he tried to do the right thing and his kids deserve a chance to see him properly buried.” Kelli was relieved to hear that Chris was going to do this.
“Don’t you dare stand there and defend what that bastard did! For all you know his kids could be just as bad.” Linda was disappointed in her friend.
“I’m not defendin’ what he did, but whether you like it or not life is not all black or lily white! Those kids are blood related to me and to Chris, too and if I ever hear you say something that damned stupid again, I promise I will kick your ass, pregnant or not! Jack made some bad choices and did terrible things, he blamed Chris for events that he had no control over, but he died taking a bullet meant for his brother. That has to count for somethin’!”
“There is no excuse for what he did.”
“Maybe not Linda, but with a little push in the other direction, that could have been Chris after he lost Sarah and Adam or me if Jake McKenzie had not come along. Not everyone grew up in your world and always had someone there to keep the ugly side of life away. Jack was a weak person, it cost him everythin’ and hurt a lot of people, but I will not sit in judgment of him.”
“Then I guess we just don’t see it the same way, Kel.”
“You keep your illusions of what you think the world should be, but I’m warnin’ you now, I will not allow you or anyone else to talk Jack down to his kids or judge them for what he did. I heard enough of that bullshit when I was growin’ up from all the ‘good’ folks that judged me not for who I was, but for what happen to me. I will be attend’ Jack’s service with his children and fully support Chris’ decision.” Kelli moved to the door, “I’ll see you in a few days.” She walked out without another word.
Standing in the hallway Kelli fought back a flood of memories that Linda’s words had turned loose. She stood in front of Chris’ door and started to knock, but her feelings were just too out of control. Betrayal by a blood relative was familiar territory for her and she knew how hard this must be for Chris, but she would wait until she was in command of her emotions again to talk to him. Instead she whispered, “I do understand and you’re doing the right thing.” She turned and headed home.
Chris had been restless for the last hour and lay awake sorting through his thoughts. He mentally reviewed the conversation he had earlier with Linda, her words mixed with his feelings. Was he acting out of guilt? Did Jack deserve any more of his attention? Would it matter how or where he was buried? Could he pretend that he never had a brother and just forget about him? One part of him wanted a chance to rant and rave at Jack for the hurt he had caused to so many people, somehow making him pay for it. The other part of him wanted to hold that six year old again and offer comfort to a child grieving over the loss of his mother. Suddenly it all became clear in his mind; he knew without a doubt that his decision was right, but there was one more thing that he had to do.
*Wherever you are Jack, I forgive you.* A warm feeling of peace settled over him.
MCAT Office- Thursday morning-five days later
Buck had the office running smoothly, and MCAT was back to work on the cases they had put on hold with their efforts to find Chris. He even managed to stay on Gunny’s good side most of the time. Everyone made an extra effort to keep the unit operating at peak efficiency until their Captain and the Commander returned. Travis sent down a directive that the office would be closed on Friday and to show their support for Chris, they all planned to attend his brother’s funeral tomorrow.
A loud murmur in the outer office drew Buck’s attention and he stepped to the door to find out what was going on. To his surprise, Chris and Nathan were making their way across the room and Larabee was wearing a walking boot on his left leg. Although he needed to gain back a few pounds and he was still too pale, Larabee had come a long way over the last five days in recovering from his weeklong ordeal.
Wilmington smiled with relief, the trip to see the orthopedic doctor was all good news. Chris was walking without crutches and using an orthopedic walking boot instead. “I didn’t expect to see you today, come on in and tell me about it.” He followed Larabee into the office, but Chris refused to sit behind the desk.
“That place belongs to you Buck, at least for another week or two, until Vin comes back.” Larabee was in pain, but glad to be out of the house.
Nathan waited until Chris was comfortable before he sat. “It will be at least three weeks or more before the boss here completes his therapy.” He noticed the slight tremor of Chris’ hands and knew that he was overdoing, but Larabee insisted on coming here before they went home.
“We’re doing okay, but Vin can have it anytime he’s ready with my blessings.” Buck laughed, “Right now I think he has his hands full, between court, the doctor appointments and preparing Jason for school. I think he and Kel are finding out that having kids in the house can change your entire life.”
“I know I haven’t seen much of him in the last few days and I haven’t seen Kel at all since…I’ve been back.” That bothered Chris and he determined to find out why as soon as possible. “Thought maybe you might know what was going on. I know Inez has been over to see Kel a few times.”
“Hell Chris, she just wants the kids to get used to her, Inez and Mallory have it all worked out. Inez will keep Andi while Kel works and Mallory will be picking Jason up after school and taking him to our house, between the two of them I think they have it covered. If there is anything else, I guess you’ll have to ask Kel.” No way was Buck going to dive into this one. Some things a man just had to handle on his own and only a fool got between two females having a disagreement, especially when the women involved were Kelli and Linda.
Chris was skeptical, he was sure Buck and Nathan both knew more than they were saying. “Okay, I’ll let you off the hook and find out for myself. I just wanted to come by, say hi to everyone, and do something normal again. “
“You should know that Travis is closing the office tomorrow and the entire unit plans to be there with you for Jack’s funeral. Their choice, they were not ordered to attend.” Buck watched for a reaction.
A surge of emotion rushed through him and Chris was not sure what to say, so he just nodded his head and mumbled, “Tell ‘em thanks.” He stood to leave. “See you at home, Buck”
Linda’s doctor told her she could be up for two to three hours, as long as she did not overdo it. She enjoyed the freedom of moving around the house and spending time with Chris. Since Larabee was able to keep an eye on her, Matt was over at the Southern Breeze more often and only stayed at Larabee 7 every other day to offer help where it was needed. Chris had however caught up on a few things that happened while he was gone and vowed to keep an eye on Matt, especially where Kelli was concerned.
After their first conversation about Jack, Linda had refused to talk to Chris about it anymore. He knew how she felt and she would leave it at that. Today however, he pushed the issue as they sat in the living room together. “Have you decided about going with me tomorrow?”
“I’m not ready to leave the house yet; I probably should stay here and rest.” Linda did not want to refuse to go, but Dr. Ryder’s cautions made it easier for her to say no. “I don’t want to overdo and be confined to that damn bed again.”
Chris was quiet for a few minutes before he broached the subject of the kids. “Linda I want you to meet the kids and we need to discuss their future. I want to adopt them.”
“Kel and Vin have custody of them and they already live on the ranch, so there is no reason to rush things. We have our own baby coming and a wedding to get through first.”
“I know, but after talking to Ezra, I’ve been thinking. Adoptions take time and there are investigations and reports that have to be made to the court. We do not have the advantage of being pre-certified like Vin and Kelli. The sooner we start on it the better and maybe we should push the wedding date up. We need to be married and prove we can provide a good home for them.”
Linda was uncomfortable. “Chris, we need to think about this and why you want to adopt them.”
Chris had never considered that Linda would be hesitant about taking on the kids and his surprise showed. “I thought the only reason you have put off meeting them was because of your confinement to bed. “Are you saying you don’t want to apply for adoption?”
“I’m not sure if I do or don’t, but I see no reason why we can’t wait and decide after our baby is born. Chris, I’ve never been a mother and taking care of one baby is scary enough. Those kids already have a lifetime of problems to deal with and maybe it would be better for someone more qualified to take them on.”
”Their names are Andi and Jason Larabee, not those kids! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Kelli has ever been a mother either and she didn’t hesitate to take them. Just who do you think they belong with, Linda?”
“Kel is not pregnant either; if she was she would feel differently about it. She knows this is not permanent for her and can afford to be generous with her time. Besides, if she wants kids she should have her own, not take on someone else’s. They belong with someone that doesn’t know who their father was and what he did.”
Everything started to fall in place, Chris knew now what Buck, and the others were not telling him. Kelli was not avoiding him, she was avoiding Linda and he had missed seeing the problem. * Hell, Larabee, it’s your problem, too.* “Linda you need to meet them, before you say things like that and this weekend will be the perfect time. I’ll arrange with Vin and Kelli to let us have them for a few hours on Saturday, that will give you a chance to get acquainted with them.
“You can try, but I doubt Kelli will agree. She’s upset with me and won’t talk to me or return any of my phone calls right now.” She saw the expectation of an explanation written on Chris’ face.” It is nothing serious, just one of those things we go through occasionally. We’ll work it out, but for now, I’m getting tired and think I’ll go lay down for a bit.”
Larabee watched her leave the room. *Chris you have some work to do.* He reached for the phone.
Tanner home- 3:00pm
“Uncle Ezra’s here!” Jason ran to the door to greet the man he had come to like a lot. Standish called earlier, asking permission to take Andi and Jason to McDonalds, followed by a front row seat at a puppet show.
Jumping up and down along side her brother Andi was yelling. “Uncl Ra here! At least she did not call him Ez.
“Are you sure you can handle this Ez?” Kelli had her doubts.
“Absolutely, Master Jason and I are very capable of caring for one little princess.” Ezra assured her,” Enjoy your time alone, we will be returning no later than 7:30pm and you have my word they will not overindulge on candy.”
Vin helped with the car seats, once they were strapped in he stepped back as Ezra drove away and he put an arm around his redhead. “Relax Kel; they’ll be fine.” The Texan was concerned with how attached she was becoming to the kids and knew something else was bothering her. So far, he had not been able to get her to talk about it, but while Ezra had the kids occupied, he intended to find out what it was.
They were only in the house a few minutes when someone was at the door.” I’ll get it.” Vin wanted to talk to Kelli and was slightly irritated by the interruption.
”Damn Chris, look at you and your fancy walking boot, come on in. You just missed the kids; Ezra took ‘em for a few hours for dinner and a puppet show.” Chris had made a point of talking with Jason and Andi as often as he could, but he was not here to see them.
“Since this is my first day of freedom, I though I’d come visit and see how things were going.” Chris sat down where he could watch Kelli and her reactions. “I’ve missed seeing you, Red.”
“It’s been a busy week, we were in court Monday and I suppose Vin told you we were granted custody of the kids. The emergency order was only good until the hearing.”
“Yeah I heard Ezra was their advocate and that lawyer friend of yours did a helluva job pushing things through.”
“Barbara Lindsey, yeah she’s great. Anyway, after that we had to get them to a doctor for their shots and complete physicals. Then we had to enroll Jason in school immediately and they tested him for placement. We found out today that he did well enough to begin as a first grader. Of course, we had to shop for school clothes and supplies, too. He starts on Monday and I think he’s kinda lookin’ forward to it.” Kelli explained.
“In between all that we had our own doctor appointments. Both doctors insisted on another week off before they’ll sign release papers, said we hadn’t follow their orders about proper rest.” Vin laughed, “Hell, I think Nathan must have talked to ‘em before we got there and told on us.”
Chris leaned forward.” I think I can help you out some. I’d like to take the kids on Saturday, at least for half the day. I want to spend some time with them and Linda needs the opportunity to get acquainted.”
“Sounds like a great idea I know they have wanted to see more of you, too.” Vin was glad that Chris was taking control again. Since he wanted to adopt them, the sooner they knew it the better for everyone involved. “They need to know what your plans are as soon as you get the paperwork started.”
“You know what I want Vin, I would like to adopt them.” Chris studied his daughter.
Kelli stood up. “Actually we already have plans with them for Saturday. The weather promises to be nice and I told them they could ride Dancer.”
”If they want to ride, we can make it early and then they can spend some time with Chris, but you know Jason has been lookin' forward to getting ridin' lessons from Chris.” Vin recognized the look on her face. “Kel we talked about this, you knew going in that it was a strong possibility that Chris would apply for adoption and they would probably only be with us a couple of weeks”
“Maybe it’s time we talked about it again.” She looked to Chris. “I don’t think it’s in their best interest for you to adopt them. They would be better off with us.”
“Kel, don’t you think this is somethin’ we should be discussin’ or is this, what you haven’t been talkin’ to me about?” Vin did not like doing this in front of Chris, but he felt he was close to finding out what the problem was.
Chris knew now that whatever happened between Linda and Kelli had everything to do with the kids and evidently was serious. “You want to tell us what transpired between you and Linda?”
*This all started after Kelli went to see Linda on Sunday and now that I think about it, Kelli had not been to the ranch house since then. How in the hell did I miss this one?*
*The same way I did Vin, until this afternoon.*
*Have you figured it out?*
*Most of it, but there are still a few pieces missing.*
“That’s enough! You two are not going to gang up on me and if you have somethin’ to say, then talk about it dammit, don’t think it! What happened between Linda and me is history. I want to keep those kids and I will not let anyone put them through the hell I had growin’ up. End of discussion!
“Sorry baby, but this is just the beginnin’ of this discussion.” Vin sighed, this could be a long evening. “We’ve never kept secrets from one another and we’re not going to start now.”
Chris sat back and decided to see how this played out before he interrupted.
“Fine then, by all means, let’s talk about it! Linda sees the world as black and white, with nothin’ in between. She grew up protected from all the ugly side of life, but I’ve been on the receivin’ end of all those good people that think life only happens one way and that they know how things should be. I know what it feels like to be blamed for somethin’ that you had no control over. I will not allow anyone to judge those kids by what their father did!”
“I don’t think anyone here would do that, Kel.” Tanner saw the hurt in her eyes, moved closer to her, and spoke softy because he wanted her to get it all out.
“Linda would Vin, hell she already has! She has decided before she even meets them that they could be dangerous because of their father, but I reminded her that Chris and I were blood related to him too! And yes we argued about it and about Jack! She thought I would talk to Chris for her and when I told her that I agreed with him...” She stopped to take a deep breath. “It doesn’t matter; her words just made me remember a lot of things I wish I could forget. And she didn’t like what I told her.”
“Would you tell me what you said?” Chris had to know so he could find a way to deal with it.
Kelli was so angry that she had forgotten Chris was still here, but since he asked, she had no problem telling him. “I told her that I would not sit in judgment of the horrible things that Jack did or for him lettin’ grief and drugs rob him of a decent life. That you could have done the same thing after Sarah and Adam died given the right push or me if Jake had not come into my life to keep me straight. Your brother died takin’ a bullet that was meant for you, whether it was intentional or not I‘ll never know, but you are still with us because of it and being grateful for that was more important to me than hatin’ Jack. I told her to keep her damn illusions about what life should be and warned her that I would kick her ass if she repeated what she said to me in front of the kids.”
Chris knew every word of that was true, without Buck’s support in those early days after Sarah died he could have…Later on his family of brothers kept him going and Kel certainly had enough reasons for her life to have turned the other way. One of his biggest regrets was that she knew from experience just how cruel the world could be for an unprotected child. “Kel, do you trust me?”
The question surprised her. “Yes, of course I do.”
Her quick, firm response warmed his heart. “I promise you that I will never let anyone hurt Jason or Andi the way you were hurt and I will only do what is best for them. You are right about Linda and the way she grew up, but she lashed out because she was scared for me, and she is apprehensive about her impending motherhood. She is a reasonable, loving woman, though she sometimes takes the long way from point A to point B, but she always gets there and once she meets Jason and Andi, I know they will win her over. All I ask is that you give me a chance to work this out and we’ll see where it leads.” He was willing to give her all the time she needed to think about this.
Vin wrapped both arms around her waist, drawing her against his chest and whispered. “We can still love ‘em baby, but trust Chris to protect ‘em.” He rested his chin on top of her head, he knew that she was going to cry and she did. When he finally felt a long sigh and felt her head nod, he had her answer. “What time should we bring ‘em over, Cowboy?
Chris again thanked that somebody higher up that had brought these two into his life and saw fit to bring them together. Larabee swallowed the knot of emotion in his throat before he spoke. “I thought we could all have lunch, see how it goes and then afterward, you two can take off for a while.” He stood to leave, but could not resist stopping beside Kelli. He ran his hand over the back of her head, through her hair. “In case, I failed to tell you before, I do love you, Kel.”
Without a word, she turned from Vin to hug her dad, and with her tears still evident he hugged her back. Chris decided that whoever said grown men don’t cry was probably never a father and his own emotions refused to stay hidden away. He placed shaking hands on her shoulders and leaned back to look at this young woman, what he saw was his child… responding to her father’s long overdue declaration of love. He promised himself that he would hold on to this memory, making sure that she always knew there was a place for her in his life.
Tanner fought his own emotions as he watched the two people he loved most in this world. Both were headstrong and had been hesitant to express their feelings openly to one another. Jack’s demons had almost cost Chris his life, but as bad as it was, the threat of that loss helped father and daughter overcome the last emotional hurdle that separated them.
*It looks as if fate struck again, Chris. This time she handed out a tough lesson.*
*Fate can be a bitch or a blessing Vin, this time she knew what she was doing.*
Chris kissed Kelli’s brow and handed her back to the Texan for safekeeping. “You two enjoy some time alone, Ezra won’t be back before 7:30 unless I call him. I don’t plan to tell Linda about this conversation, but I’m going home to share some of my thoughts with her about fate and forgiveness.”
Vin and Kelli were aware of what it had cost Chris physically to come over to make his case for the kids. They stood at their open door and watched to make sure he made it home safely. Satisfied that he was okay, they went back inside, locking the door behind them.
The Texan was well aware that his redhead was in need of some TLC. Emotions were still running high and words were scarce, but they did not need words to covey their feelings. Right now, they needed the comfort they could only find from one another. Taking her hand, Vin turned on some soft music, pulled her close and with a warm glint in his eyes that made her heart race, whispered huskily, “Dance with me, baby.”
Tuning out the rest of the world, they seized hold of this moment in time; it was Vin’s turn to take care of her and ease the pain her unwanted memories had created. Standing in front in front of their fireplace as the sun began to set behind the mountains they swayed to the music. Kelli wrapped her arms around Vin’s neck as his hands lovingly caressed her backside and they took pleasure in discovering a new depth to the riveting emotions that flowed between them. They shared a profound sense of trust and intimacy that was spiritual fulfilling. Tender kisses and unspoken words led to the inimitable joy of togetherness that they only found in each other.
Chris sat in the big chair by the fireplace; he was tired, but felt good about what was happening around him, his blood test should be back by Tuesday and he was hopeful that it would show a negative result for aids. The crutches were gone and he was slowing gaining his strength back day by day. The trip to see Kelli was the best medicine he could ask for, they had reached a new level in their relationship, one he could feel and he knew would only get better. He still needed to talk to Linda, but was positive that they could work through her doubts.
Linda stood and watched Chris for a few minutes before making her presence known. She had done some soul-searching this afternoon and come to a few conclusions that she needed to talk to him about. She had decided that she would do whatever it took to make Chris happy.
“Come on in, babe.” He knew she was there and had waited to see what she would do. “Sit with me.” Chris pulled her down across his lap, holding her close.
She sat quietly staring into the fire, not sure where to start. “I’ve been doing some thinking.”
“Tell me, I promise to listen.”
Chris, I was scared, about losing you, about the baby, hell I guess about everything. I probably said a lot of things to Vin and Kelli, too that I shouldn’t have and there is no excuse except that …Dammit, I need you with me and the prospect of being a mother scares the hell out of me.”
“First of all, I am with you and have no plans on leaving. Second, I am sure Vin understands why you were upset with him and third I know you will be a great mother. Hell, you have been practicing on Kel for years and she survived.” Chris teased and then smiled, “I know I was scared before Adam was born, but that all evaporated as soon as I held him.”
“I didn’t do so well with Kelli. I’ve known her for ten years and thought I was a good friend, but I wasn’t. I never really tried to see things from her point of view and did not push to find out how she came to be the woman I know. It has only been in the last few months that I realized how very different her life was from mine and how hard it must have been for her.
“Linda, you couldn’t know what she refused to tell you.”
“I never asked and I should have. Even after she told me about her childhood; it did not register with me what she really went through. Not until last Sunday... Chris, how can someone survive all that and still be the good person that she is? “
“Fate I suppose has a lot to do with it, that and a strong will. Even out of the worst events of our lives, there can be good things happening. For Kel, she learned to survive from all the people that hurt her. Jake gave her a direction to take for a decent life, Vin taught her that unconditional love is real and that unchained her emotions. Fate showed up again and brought her home to me, giving me a chance to be her father.
“What good can come out of what your brother did?’
“Two beautiful kids for starters. I also learned how lucky I have been to have the friends that stuck with me, even when I pushed them away. I was never alone in my battle to survive as Jack was. Buck was there for me through that hellish first year after I lost Sarah and Adam. Then fate again gave me six more brothers to make sure I paid attention. You came into my life and then Kelli, now we have another child coming to enrich our lives. I also learned what Kel already knew, you have to forgive and move on or it will destroy you.”
“I want to go with you tomorrow and I do want to meet the kids. Maybe since I’m getting a late start on having my first one, God decided I needed a couple more children to balance things out.” She would do this for Chris, hoping that he wanted to adopt for the right reasons.
“Hell babe, thirty-four is not that late, but it would be nice to have a full house.”
Linda had to laugh.” Chris we always have a full house and for a man that just six months ago did not want more children you are getting them left and right.”
“Yeah, I guess I am.”
“If you’re interested, I had an ultra sound when I went to the hospital and I know what were having, but if it’s okay with you I’m not ready to tell the world just yet.”
”Then we won’t tell the world, but you can tell me.”
Linda wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered in his ear. Chris did not say anything, but the smile on his face spoke for him.
The sky was gray and the cold north wind made the thirty-four degree ground temperature feel much colder. The cemetery was about a fifteen-minute drive north of Denver. Chris was surprised to find that Jack had lived in or around the area for the last ten years and that, Jason and Andi were both born in Colorado. It appeared that his brother had been keeping track of him over time, better than Chris had kept up with him.
Chris had decided on a graveside service, Jack would be laid to rest next to the children’s mother, and Josiah agreed to say a few words. Ezra arranged lunch for everyone at the Standish Tavern after the eleven o’clock service. Orrin Travis was there, as well as every member of the MCAT unit and the entire wild bunch attended the service. They were not there for Jack, but wanted to show their support for Chris and the children.
Linda stood next to Chris, observing the kids and their interaction with the rest of the family. Jason stood stoically between Chris and Vin, while Tanner stood next to Kelli, holding a squirming Andi in his arms. Immediately behind them, the five other brothers stood with their own families and the rest of the MCAT team flanked them all. The service was short, but one thing that Josiah said remained with Linda for a long time.
“Jack Larabee may have made many wrong turns in his life, but before we close the book and say the ‘The End’, there is one final chapter to be written. His children will write that chapter and with loving support from family, it will be able to have a good ending. God’s grace is the only thing that leads us through the darkest part of our lives, Jack lost sight of that gift of grace and we pray that his children never do.”
A chorus of ‘amen’ followed and as everyone began to leave, Linda noticed Jason pulling on Chris’ sleeve. He bent down and the child whispered in his ear. Chris straightened up and responded. “I think that is a very good idea, Jason and yes, that certainly is an okay thing to do.” He explained to Vin what the boy wanted.
The Texan set Andi down and watched as her brother took her hand and led her to their mother’s grave. With tears in their eyes, the adults listened. “Andi, this in mama and she would love you a lot. Mama, let me tell you about Andi…” Jason talked for the next fifteen minutes acquainting his sister with the mother she never knew.
Chris did not even try to stop the tears as they rolled down his face. Jason and Andi had been through so much, yet they were still able to give their trust to him, along with the rest of the family to care for them. It was right to have this service and give them the opportunity to believe that their dad was at peace. He made a silent promise to Carol Larabee that her children would be loved and protected, never forgetting the woman that gave them life.
Larabee 7-late evening
“You okay Chris, you look real tired?” Nathan was there to give him his medicine and check on his leg wound. The hospital bed was gone and Chris was looking forward to sleeping without it, at last. He would not share a bed with Linda until he got the results on his blood work. “You having any problems at all, headaches, muscle cramps, chills or nausea?”
“I’m fine Nate, I probably just overdid a little today, that’s all. Go on home to that beautiful wife of yours and hug Terrell for me.”
“I will, but if you need me…”
“Call, I know the number, but I’ll be fine.” This was the first night since he had been home that he would not have someone with him. Chris wanted to be alone, he was tired and had felt kind of off since after the service this morning *Just everything catching up to you, Larabee. Another couple of weeks and this shit will be gone for good.*For the last two days he had felt better, but the medicine that Nathan gave him was not working like it did before and now he felt like hell.
He was restless for some reason, but could not pinpoint why. He did notice that the room seemed colder than usual, but chalked that off to the change in the weather. Nathan had been gone for over an hour when Chris finally drifted off to sleep.
*Jack, you cannot be here, you are dead! Chris rubbed his eyes but his brother was still there when he looked again. God, it was cold, but he felt the sweat pouring off his body. Dammit, what do you want? Still no answer! The pain that shot through his stomach said this was real, but that just was not possible. He looked at the clock and it read 3:00am. He had been asleep for several hours so this must be a dream.
Is it a dream, Chris? Am I dead or are you? Maybe it was you in that coffin today, not me. You stole my life; everything you have should have been mine! Now you want to take my children! Or is this what you want? Jack held a filled syringe and waved it in front of him. You miss the warm rush just after the needle enters your veins, don’t you? No more pain, no more worrying over every little thing … Just nothingness and then freedom.
Get out! Get the hell out of my life! I do not want it and I never did want it! You forced me! Get the fuck out now, Jack! God, it was hard to breathe!*
Chris sat straight up in bed, gasping for each breath, the clock still read three, but the room was empty. The sheets were soaked with sweat, but he shivered from the cold that seeped into his bones. *Get a grip Larabee, it was a nightmare that is all it was.* He had all the things that he wanted in his life and drugs was not one of them. Getting up he went to the bathroom, washed his face, found some fresh linens and changed the sheets. Then he laid down again, but he did not go back to sleep.
Chris and Linda were in the kitchen preparing lunch, when the back door flew open and the chatter of two small children filled the room. Vin latched onto Jason, while Kelli wrangled with Andi to remove their coats and dirty boots before they could track across the floor. The kids were excited about their morning ride and found it impossible to stand still.
“Guess what we did, Chris!” A red-faced Jason ran directly to him, his enthusiasm running wild. “We got to ride! Vin and I rode Peso, but Andi had to ride the girl horse with Kelli. Vin even let me feed Pony for you!”
Not wanting to be left out, Andi pushed herself between Jason and Chris. “Me too! We go fast like this!” She tried to jump through the air and she would have fallen on the floor, if Chris had not caught her.
“Easy there little one,” he picked her up, ignoring the pain in his chest when he did. With one hand, he reached down and ruffled Jason’s hair. “Thanks pard, for taking care of my horse.”
Linda stood off to the side watching and waiting for Chris to remember that she was there.
“They’re both natural born riders, Cowboy.” The Texan finally joined them after hanging up the children’s coats. “Kel and I had to practically pry them away from the horses.”
“Why don’t you two, give Chris some room so he can finish lunch, ‘m starved.” Kelli had seen the sudden grimace of pain that flashed across Chris’ face. “We need to get y’all cleaned up before we eat.”
“Before you do, I want you to meet someone, Jason, Andi this is Linda. She lives with me and you’ll be seeing a lot of her.” Chris set Andi down and urged Linda to come closer. “Babe, this young man is Jason and this little whirlwind is Andi.”
Jason immediately became serious. “Ma’am.”
Andi stood behind her brother and peeked around him. “Hi.”
Linda stayed next to Chris. “I’ve heard so much about you that I feel as if I know you already; it’s nice to finally meet officially.” There was an awkward moment of silence. Linda had no idea what was safe to say next.
Chris came to her rescue. “Okay, five minutes until lunch, go with Kel and she’ll show you where to wash up.” The three of them took off down the hall and Larabee had to laugh when Vin dropped onto the nearest chair. “What’s wrong, Tanner they wear you out?”
“I thought I was in good shape, but those two are out to prove me wrong. Even Peso’s tired and I was sure that mule could handle anything. Damn, where do they get their energy?”
“Showing you age there Vin.” Chris grinned, “Nothing makes you feel older as much as trying to keep up with an energetic kid or two.”
“Why is the girl so small?” Linda asked unexpectedly.
Chris had not thought about it and looked over at Vin. “Andi was a preemie, her mother was barely into her seventh month when she…well when Andi was born. She weight less than four pounds, stayed in the hospital for six weeks and still was sick a lot the first couple of years, but she’s fine now, just small for her age. She’ll catch up as she gets bigger and it sure as hell don’t slow her down one bit.” He did not want to give more details about Andi’s birth and her mother’s death to a pregnant Linda
“How did you know that?” Chris was curious and somewhat ashamed that he had not noticed or asked questions when Jason said Andi had been sick. He realized for the first time that he knew very little about the kids except that they needed help. He also wondered how Jack had coped, alone with a premature baby, a three-year-old boy and losing his wife. .*What else did you not think about, Larabee?*
“One of the things the courts requested. Ezra and Barbra went through a ton of records while we were out lookin’ for you. Got most of ‘em and now they’re all caught up on their immunizations.” Vin explained.
The serious mood was broken when Kelli returned with the children.
“We back!” Andi yelled before Jason shushed her.
“Just in time, too, your food is ready.” Chris set the last of the food on the table. Vin moved over so Jason could sit between him and Chris.
Lunchtime conversation revolved around the horse ride until it was almost over and Tanner broached the topic of them leaving. “Kel and I thought we would clean up a bit and then go look at new trucks this afternoon, gotta replace the old one sooner or later.”
Chris nodded, “I guess that’s something I’m gonna have to do, too. The insurance company declared my truck a total loss.”
‘Heck Chris, you can look, but you’ll save yourself a lot of time if you just call and order another black Ram.” Tanner grinned. “We all know that’s what you’ll end up with anyway.”
Andi giggled and looked over at Kelli. ‘Don’t forget, ‘kay.”
“I won’t forget, but no promises.” Kelli grinned at the look of confusion on Vin’s face. “Andi just suggested a certain color to look for and I told her we’d try.”
“Really and what color is that, princess?” Vin was afraid he already knew the answer.
“Purple! Just like Spyro!” Her answer was no surprise to the Texan because ever since she played that game she wanted everything purple.
Chris however almost choked on his drink of tea. “Purple?” Once he was over his choking spell, he grinned.
*Shut up Larabee.*
Andi nodded her head vigorously. ”Yep, purple.”
Kelli stood up and began to clear the dishes, “Well see what we can do, Andi.” Vin and Jason got up to help, too.
Chris joined them, “Jason and I can handle this and you two can go on if you want.”
Linda had not added much to the conversation, but she was a little disappointed that Kelli had not said one word to her. They had argued many times over the last ten years, but Kelli never let it go for this long without saying something. She had never held Linda’s impulsive outbursts against her before now, either.
She stood up and announced. “I’ll help Andi clean up Kel, plan on having dinner here this evening, I have something special intended for the kids.”
When it was clear that Kelli was not going to answer her, Vin did. “Thanks, we’ll be back before six, call if you need us.” They said good-bye to both kids and made sure Chris had their attention when they left.
A quick clean up of the kitchen and they all moved to the den. Jason and Andi just had to walk and then run all around it, while Chris sat down on the couch, watching them. He tried not to show the sorrow that suddenly had grasped him when he saw how excited the kids were to be in such a big room. It brought back too much of how little they had known in their lives. After a while, they came running to him and clambered half on the couch, half in his lap.
"This is the biggest room ever!" Andi said, holding out her hands to indicate how big. "Even bigger then Sarah's!" The last was said with obvious pride and a grin that said she loved it to be bigger then Sarah's.
"You can race here!" Jason stated confidently.
Chris grinned at that and ruffled the boy’s hair. "Not unless I've taken away some breakables, sport."
"Aw, I wouldn't fall!"
A change of subject seemed to be in order here. "What would you two like to do now?" he asked hastily. *Great, Larabee! What if he says he wants to race you?*
Luckily, both Jason and Andi stated, after one look at each other that they wanted Chris to tell them another one of his stories. Both children climbed further onto his lap and Linda watched as they sat captivated by Chris’ story about wild mustangs.
Andi soon fell asleep and Chris carried her to the bedroom leaving Linda alone with Jason. “You like it here on the ranch don’t you?”
“What’s your favorite part of being here, Jason?
He had to think about that because there were so many things to choose from. “Well, I…I like that Vin and Kelli are really nice to us and so is Chris…I guess that’s the best.” Linda was surprised, she was sure he would say horses.
Chris walked into the room. “So Jason, I heard you are going to school on Monday. I can’t wait for you to tell me all the great things that you learn.”
Jason was relieved when Chris sat next to him again. “Yeah, I am, but…” He did not want to admit that he was worried.
“I think I know how you feel, It kinda scary to do something new for the first time. I know I get a little nervous when I have to go to classes, but it goes away real quick.”
“You have to go to school, too! Why?”
“Oh yeah, my boss is always thinking of new ways for me to learn about my job. So he sends me to training classes and then I send Vin, Buck, Ezra, Josiah, Nathan and JD so they can learn, as well as the other agents that I work with”
“You make Vin go to school?” Jason was surprised.
“Sure and I send Kelli too, sometimes. You see Jason learning is important no matter how old you are. How do you think I knew about the wild horses?”
Jason thought about it, “You learned about wild horses in school?”
“Yep I did and lots of other amazing things. Once you learn to read the whole world opens up to you and from there you can do anything and be anything that you want. It all starts with that first step into a classroom and I am proud of you for doing so well on your placements. I already knew that you are smart and now you will get a chance to learn so that you can help Andi when she goes to school.”
“Andi’s not use to being alone, she might be scared.”
“You already met Inez and the other little girls. You think Andi will be okay with them while you’re in class?”
“Maybe…Kelli promised to stay with her at first; you know to make sure she’s okay about it.”
Chris nodded thoughtfully. “That is probably a good idea; you know Kelli won’t leave her if she’s not okay with it.”
“No sir, she wouldn’t, she watches us real good, Vin too.” Chris knew that Jason had no idea how much he said in those few words. He had already given Vin and Kelli the same trust he had for Chris. It was a very good start.
Larabee looked over to Linda, who had been listening. “Babe, why don’t you tell Jason about the special dinner you have planned for them?
“We’re going to have an indoor picnic, with fired chicken, potato salad with all the extras and chocolate cake for dessert. Maybe you can help me set up the picnic area; I thought we would make this room over and eat in front of the fireplace. Afterward, Chris can tell some more stories.” Linda had already made the cake, but Matt was bringing the Chicken and the other food. She had ask Ben Watson’s wife on the Southern Breeze about a dinner that kids would like and Martha had volunteered to do the cooking since Linda was supposed to be resting.
Before he said anything, Jason looked to Chris and when he saw him nod in agreement, he agreed, too. The three of them worked to set up the picnic while Andi slept. By the time she woke up, they were finished and it looked great. Chris took them on a tour to the house, the kids wanting to see everything. They ran into every room Chris showed, racing and screaming in delight when they found something interesting. The attic was by far the biggest success and it was difficult to pry them away. Only his promise they could come back there made them leave reluctantly. Just as they came back down, Matt arrived with dinner.
“Wow it smells good doesn’t it? “ Chris pretended to be a man near starvation, anxiously awaiting the food. It kept the kids entertained, but they did not want to start the picnic until Vin and Kelli got back.
Chris noticed how Jason watched the front door and the clock. Vin said they would be back by six and it was fifteen til now. The relieved smile on Jason’s face when the door opened was one he would not forget, he wondered how many times the child sat waiting for someone that did not show up when they had promised.
Vin crouched down and greeted both children. “Hey pard did you and the little princess have a good time.”
“Yep and you know what? When I go to school ‘m gonna learn to tell stories just like Chris.”
Andi was trying to tell Kelli about the wild horses. “They run free and nobody catched ‘em, not like ‘ancer. They run and run and that’s how we got horses.”
Kelli smiled, “Well, ‘m glad they were fast because I love horses.”
“Me too.” She took Kelli’s hand and led her to the picnic area. “We gonna have a pi…What we gonna have Jason?”
“Picnic Andi, a picnic.” Jason shook his head and grinned. “Come on Vin.”
“Lead me to the food, ‘m starved.” Tanner let the child lead him and was not surprised when he indicated that they sit next to Chris.
Satisfied that the Tanners were close, Jason sat on the floor by Chris e, making sure that Andi was next to them. Linda sat behind them is a more comfortable chair. Matt was on his own as far as the child was concerned. The kids ate, but not as much as Chris expected them to and he gave a questioning look to Vin.
*They don’t eat a lot yet, but give ‘m some time for their stomachs to get used to it and they will.*
*Lord, how did they manage so long without giving up?*
*Larabee stubbornness, I reckon.*
Kelli elbowed Vin and whispered, “You got somethin’ to say, share with the rest of us.”
Tanner grinned and whispered back to her, “I’ll share plenty with you, after the kids go to sleep.”
“Then I suppose I should help clean all this up so we can head home.” Kelli got up and started picking things up. “Chris looks tired, keep him company and I’ll help with the rest of this.” She took the leftover food to the kitchen and began putting it in containers.
Matt and Linda worked on turning the den back into a den, while the kids stayed close to Chris and Vin listening to them talk.
Kelli had been in the kitchen for about ten minutes and was almost through when Matt came in with the last of the food. He set it down and decided this was the best chance he would have to talk to her so he jumped in before she had another chance to dismiss him.
” Kel, I know you’re still angry and I don’t blame you, but could you just listen for a minute?”
“Say what you have to say and get it over with, Matt”
“First, I owe you an apology for my behavior. I really am sorry and I promise not to be such an ass in the future. I would like it if we could be friends again.”
“Fine Matt, let’s just forget it and move on.” Kelli started to leave.
“Wait, please. I can see that you are happy with your life now, but would you explain something to me?”
“We were friends, why didn’t you trust me enough to tell me why you didn’t want more?”
“I did tell you, more than once.”
“I mean about your childhood, I would have understood your reasons if I’d known. When Linda told me how your childhood was and about Jake, it all made sense after that and I can see why you did not want to be more than friends at that point in your life. I can also understand your strong feelings about the kids. Hell, being shuffled around and not knowing your real identity must have been tough.” When he saw the look on her face, he hastily explained. “After your…disagreement with Linda I asked her what you were talking about and she told me.”
“If I had wanted to tell you, I would have.” Kelli was surprised that Linda would discuss her past, with anyone no matter what the reason. She was overwhelmed with mixed emotions of hurt and anger plus a few more that she could not identify. All she wanted to do was to get away to sort them out.
“Matt…I have to go.”
“Kel, I didn’t mean to upset you, I just wanted to make things right.”
“You didn’t upset me, but I need to get the kids home for baths and bed.” She grabbed the children’s coats and boots; she would have to wait until later to work through what she was feeling.
Back in the den Chris was just finishing another story when Kelli came back in the room. Vin knew immediately that something was wrong, but her eyes asked him to wait for an explanation.
“The food is put up and it’s time for us to go home.” She took Andi’s coat and helped her put it on, while Vin helped Jason with his.” Thanks for dinner Chris, try to get some rest.”
Chris knelt down and said goodbye to both kids. “I’ll see you tomorrow, rest up and if the weather is nice I can watch you ride again.” Both children left with a smile on their face.
It was an hour before the children had baths and were ready for bed. The promise of more horse riding tomorrow encouraged them to go to bed and Vin read to them for a good twenty minutes before he was sure that they were both sound asleep. He turned off the big light and headed to the other bedroom, it was time to see if his other baby was ready to talk to him.
Kelli was right where he had left her, curled up in their oversize rocking chair by the bedroom fireplace. Without a word, the Texan sat down beside her, pulled her across his lap and held her close. He did not know yet what battle she was fighting, but he wanted her to know that she did not have to fight it alone. They sat, rocking comfortably in the silence for another fifteen minutes before Kelli stirred.
“I think I figured out what hell ready is. It’s a feeling crossed between wantin’ to shoot someone and wantin’ to hide somewhere to have a good long cryin’ spell. I just can’t decide which one I want more.”
“Tell me who needs to be shot and I’ll do it for you.”
She lifted her head, looked at Vin and could not stop the start of a smile. “You wouldn’t even ask why first?”
“I trust you baby, if you say it needs doing, that’s good enough for me.”
“I love you, Tanner and you always know what to say or not say to make me feel better.” She rubbed the back of her hand across his strong jaw. “Thank you.”
“We’re in this love together Kel, anything that touches you touches me, too. “Vin still wanted to know what had happened, to see if he did need to shoot someone. “You ready to share with me now?”
A long deep sigh told him she was. “I finally had no choice about talking to Matt. He apologized for being an ass, said he wanted to make things right so we could still be friends and then told me that if he had known about my childhood he would have understood better. I guess me sayin’ no wasn’t good enough. Apparently, Linda decided to tell him about my nomadic childhood and Jake. He said he understood now why I did not want a relationship and why I’m so defensive about the kids. It could have been worse, I reckon, she could have told him everythin’. Thank God she didn’t.”
“Of all people she should know that you don’t care to have that part of you life discussed. What in the hell was she thinkin’?”
“Yeah, I know. I thought the same thing and I can’t decide if ‘m more angry, hurt or…hell I don’t know how I feel... That’s just somethin’ I’m not comfortable with. I was already upset with her about the kids and right now, I don’t trust myself to talk to her without making the situation worse and I have no idea what to do about it. Then…hell there’s so much going on at one time, Chris, the kids and I…just need to work on some things racin’ around in my head I suppose.”
Tanner knew what he would like to do, but Kelli needed to work through this first. It was her call and he had no doubt that when the time was right, Linda would be hearing from her and the rest... somehow it would all work out. “Take all the time you need and I’ll back you no matter what you decide.” The Texan knew that all he could do was just be there if she needed him and it promised to be a long night, but together they would make it through to another morning.
Matt went home and Linda turned in early. Nathan came by to give Chris his Buprenorphin and asked him again another twenty questions about how he felt. His head hurt too bad to talk so he just nodded that he was fine and he went to bed as soon as Jackson left. It took him longer tonight to get to sleep, along with the headache, every muscle in his body burned when he moved. Damn, he was supposed to be getting better wasn’t he?
It was 2:00am and the chills were back. God he hurt everywhere and it was just so damn hard to breath. Chris thought if he could get rid of the pain, it would be bearable. Stop it Larabee, you do not need anything! I need sleep dammit! I need to rest...for tomorrow…he had something important to do…
*Another long night Chris? I brought an old friend of yours with me; you do remember Phillip Deveraux, don’t you? You need relief. Go on, you know what to do…
Fuck you Jack! Go away!
I’ll never go away because no matter what you will always want this. That damn syringe again! NO! NO! NO! You hear me! Yes Chris! End the pain, you know how!*
Chris sat straight up in bed, the pain was worse now, so much worse. *Fuck this shit!* He went to the bathroom and tore through the medicine cabinet until he found what he was looking for. There in the back was a bottle of pain pills, leftover from God only knew when, but it didn’t matter to Larabee how old they were. He shook out two of them, went back to the bed, and grabbed the water glass that sat on the bedside table.
He put the pills in his mouth, threw his head back and swallowed *Just this once, Chris to make it through the long night.*
Second week Home-Sunday
Chris slept better that he had in days and was ready to take on the world. That is, as long as the pain pills lasted, he found that they helped tremendously and they were doctor prescribed so that made it okay. The day was warmer than the previous ones and since he was so much better, he planned to ride, too.
“Are you sure you feel up to this? You look tired.” Linda was worried about her blonde cowboy. Although he said he felt fine, he did not look it and she planned to keep a closer eye on him.
“I’m fine, it’s just gonna take a while for my body to catch up with the rest of me.” He grinned, “When it does we’ll have some time to make up for.” Chris gave her a kiss as he went out the door.
Linda wished again that they had taken him to the hospital, at least for a day or two. She was on her feet now though and the next time Chris was ill she would make sure that he got the treatment he needed.
Vin was worried about his redhead, she was too quite. He was very much aware of how little she had slept last night and when she did, it was the restless kind. However, the fact that she was neither crying nor ranting with anger fueled his concern the most. He found that he preferred a spirited Kelli to this one any day of the week and planned to do whatever was necessary to get her through this quickly.
As The Texan waited for her and Andi, he noticed Jason trying to be patient and failing miserably. “Relax pard, the horses are not going anywhere without us.”
“Still wished they’d hurry.” He grumbled.
Tanner laughed, “Spoken like a true Lar’bee.” They could have gone on ahead, but Vin wanted to stay close to Kelli today. “Here they are now.”
“We ready!” Andi bounced into the room showing off her braided hair. “Look Jason.”
“Great Andi, can we go now? Chris is expecting us.”
Kelli smiled at the way his eyes lit up when he talked about Chris.” Well, let’s not keep the man waitin’.”
Chris already had the horses bridled when he saw them come in the barn. “Perfect timing, horses are ready to be saddled.”
Vin looked at the three horses. “You plan to ride, too?” He exchanged a concerned look with Kelli
“I am and don’t you dare say I look tired. I’m fine and ready to go!” He snapped, but then immediately smiled. “Besides, I promised Jason and I keep my promises.”
Tanner had to admit on the ride out Chris was full of energy. When it disappeared after the first thirty minutes however, he saw Larabee’s spirit totally collapse and an extremely tired man emerge.
Kelli knew the kids wanted to stay longer and decided to be the one they could blame for going home so soon. “Sorry, kids I don’t feel so good and we probably should head back. I promise to make it up to you on the next ride.”
Vin sent Kelli a wordless thank you. “Okay Jason, fair is fair; you rode out here with Chris. How about ridin’ with me on the way back home?” He was afraid that Chris had really overdone it and he was relieved when Jason agreed to ride with him.
Once they went back home, Tanner took care of the horses while Kelli fixed them something to eat. Chris went straight to the house and his room. He pulled the bottle of pills out from under his mattress, where he had stuffed it that morning. Taking two, he counted the rest and frowned, he had started out with fifteen and now there were only eight left. *You just miscounted Larabee, you did not really take seven pills since 2:00 am.* He put the bottle back under the mattress and waited for the medicine to relieve his raging headache and quiet his screaming muscles.
Jason’s first day of school was a great success. No tears from Jason or Andi, although Vin was sure for a while Kelli might need a Kleenex or two. Andi spent half the day with Inez, Sarah and Maria, content to play with her new ‘cousins’.
Nathan came by and asked Chris some very pointed questions.
“Chris, you should have gained back a little weight by now. Are you eating properly? Are you having any headaches, unusual pains, anything out of the ordinary?
“Yes I am eating and no, no and no, to the last three questions. I told you Nate, I’m fine.”
“I just had to be sure; the Buprenorphin needs to be measured out in specific dosages to work. It is not a cure, but a treatment; it just replaces the drugs without the high and eliminates the withdrawal symptoms. I know you hate the questions, but I want to do this right.”
“No problem, I just don’t want to miss hearing about Jason’s first day of school.”
Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow, with your blood work results.”
As soon as Nathan left, Larabee went to his room and grabbed the bottle of pills. He took three, *Damn only four left.*
Immediately after they dropped Jason off at school, Kelli and Vin both had doctor appointments. Tanner felt great, but he was still worried about Kelli, physically she seemed all right. Mentally he recognized that she had not resolved her problem, staying away from the ranch house and refusing to speak to Linda. He had already decided to talk to Matt himself and if she did not work it out soon, he may just take on Linda, too.
Dr Landers had already released her; Kelli now waited for Vin to finish with Dr. Gilford and thought about the last few days. She was worried about Chris. He just did not seem to be himself, but she could not pinpoint what bothered her about him. Then there was Linda, if all this had happened a year ago she would already have told her off and kicked her ass, end of story. However now there was so much more to considered, Chris, the kids, Linda’s pregnancy and the fact that Matt planned to stay in Colorado. *Maybe it was time to quit worrying about who knows about your past.*
“You ready baby? Doc signed off and I go back to work tomorrow, too.” Vin knew she had been lost in her thoughts and didn’t see him come out. “Now to the gun range and we’re official again.” The Texan grinned, “If you’re good I’ll treat you to lunch.”
“I’m better than good Tanner or have you forgotten already?” They slowly walked to the truck, hand in hand.
“Yeah you are, especially when you’re sassy and misbehavin’.” He gave her a kiss and waited for her to get inside before he closed the door. *Okay Vin, another step toward normal again. When Chris gets back to work, this nightmare is over.*
“I wanted to bring these out myself. “Nathan took his lunch hour to pick up Chris’ test results. “Negative on HIV virus, one more test in three months and you can breathe easy. For now, though just take precautions. We still have to wait on taking the test for hepatitis for a few months. Jack’s autopsy result showed no sign of either, but we want to play it safe.”
“Thanks Nate, but can we keep this between us for now. I am not ready to move back to the master bedroom yet. I want to wait until I’m completely clear of all the drugs first.”
“Sure Chris, but you do know it could be another couple of weeks.”
Chris just wanted him to leave. He had taken his last pain pill and already could feel it wearing off. Tomorrow when he went to therapy, he would insist on seeing the doctor and ask him for more. For now though, he would just have to suffer.
Linda heard Chris moving around; it was 1:00am, she got up to check on him and found him pacing the smaller room.
“Chris, what wrong?”
“Damn leg hurts, go back to bed.” He thought that sounded like a reasonable excuse.
“Maybe I should call Nathan, how bad is it?”
“No! Let Nathan sleep, he has to work in the morning. I’m gonna see the doctor tomorrow when I go for therapy, I’ll manage.”
“Chris you’re in pain now though, surely we can do something. It might be serious; the infection may be causing the pain.”
Larabee stopped pacing and thought for a minute. “You could be right, maybe I need a shot of antibiotics, but I hate to wake Nathan.” He gave it another minute to make her think he was weighing his options. “There’s a twenty-four hour emergency clinic just off the interstate, I could get a doctor to look at it, but of course Nathan would have a fit if I did that.”
“Then we won’t tell him, you need a real doctor Chris, give me five minutes to change my clothes and I’ll drive you.”
It took less than an hour at the clinic, the shot of Demerol the doctor gave him for pain would get him through the night and tomorrow he could fill the prescription he had in his pocket. Linda helped him into her car and was satisfied that a real doctor had seen him, at least now he would not be hurting.
Chris leaned over and kissed her, “Thanks babe, I love you.”
“Damn it good to see you back here, Vin.” Buck was more than ready to hands the reins back to Tanner. “Now if we can just get Chris back in here, maybe our lives can get back to normal.”
“It’s good to be back, it seems that it’s been much longer than three weeks.”
“Welcome back Captain Vin, your coffee is ready and a breakfast plate is waiting for you on your desk.” Gunny was business as usual.
“Gunny? Why didn’t you ever have breakfast for me?” Buck questioned.
“You Agent Wilmington are not the Captain or the Commander, beside I can tell from the looks of you that you don’t miss many meals.” Gunny patted Buck’s stomach. Vin swore he saw her smile while Buck sputtered for an answer.
*Yep Tanner, it is good to be back.*
Chris drove himself to therapy. Actually, he skipped therapy and went straight to the orthopedic doctor’s office. He left with another prescription to fill. He thought about going by the MCAT office, but decided to go home instead. Vin was back and he knew that the unit could handle anything that came up for a while.
Linda felt better now that Chris was taking control of his medical decisions. Oh, she knew the family meant well, she just did not agree that they were right. Besides, Chris looked and felt better after he had gotten the antibiotics, so that must mean that he needed them. Now she just had to convince him to move back into the master bedroom.
“Thinking about me I hope.” Chris walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“You’re back early; they kick you out for bad behavior?” Linda smiled, her old Chris was back and she loved it.
“Of course,” he grinned. “Actually, I am doing so well they did not make me go through the whole thing. Guess those antibiotics worked.” he hated lying to her, but it was easier than trying to convince her that his dead brother had been visiting in the middle of the night, dragging Phillip Deveraux along with him. At least the pills kept the nightmares away.
Linda fixed two glasses of tea and they sat together in the den. She decided to talk about their sleeping arrangements. “Chris, I want you back in the master bedroom with me. I know you still have some rough nights ahead, but I can help.”
“I know you could, but until I am sure about the HIV test and the hepatitis, I won’t take that risk.” Chris changed the subject. “Did you talk to Kel about keeping Andi a couple days a week, instead of Inez doing it every day?”
“Kel’s been really busy and I just haven’t caught up with her, but I will.”
“Don’t wait too long; I want Andi and Jason to feel comfortable with you before Ezra sets up an official home visit. He has to report to the court about our petition before anything can really get started.”
“I know, but I’ve been thinking Chris, I really don’t want to give up a big wedding and I can’t get my family all together until the end of next month.”
“Babe that is over seven weeks from now and you’ll be almost seven months pregnant. Couldn’t we just get married and maybe have a big family thing later?”
“Chris my brothers and their wives don’t do family things, as you call them. I still think we will have plenty of time after the wedding and the baby gets here to worry about adoption. The kids are okay with Kelli and Vin, you see them almost every day. Isn’t that enough for now?”
“No! They need more than that and I need to give it to them!” Chris snapped and stood up. “Call Kel tonight and set up some days with Andi!” He returned to ‘his’ room and slammed the door.
*Dammit Linda, now what do you do? You love a man with mood swings; have a best friend that will not talk to you, a wedding to pull off and a pregnancy to get through. Now Chris wants to add two kids to a family that is still in the planning stages. Time to ask for help Dubois*
Linda picked up the phone and started with Inez.
Vin was walking back from the barn when he saw Matt drive in the yard. Kelli was cooking with Andi’s help and Jason was practicing writing his letters.*Now is as good a time as ever Tanner.* He changed direction and intended to talk to Matt.”
“Dubois! “ Vin gained his attention before he went inside. “We need to talk.” Matt was agreeable and they moved away from the main house and toward the corral.
“I suppose Kelli told you that we spoke. I would also like to extend that apology to you. My behavior was inexcusable and will not be repeated.”
Tanner leaned against the fence and spoke softly, but firmly. “Your apology was accepted, but it’s the rest of what you told her that I have a problem with. Your sister was out of line talkin’ to you about Kel’s past and Kelli will have to deal with her about it. I just want to make sure that you understand that if you ever repeat it to anyone without my wife’s permission, you will have to answer to me.”
“I’m sure Linda thought that as family it was okay to tell me.”
“If Kel wanted family to know, she would have told ‘em. She didn’t and until she decides she wants to, it would be best if you forget that you know.”
“I never meant to upset Kel and you have my word that no one will hear it from me.”
Vin turned enough to look the man in the eye. “I hope so, because I’d hate to have to shoot you.”
“I don’t think that I would like it very much either. I do care about Kelli though and I am deeply sorry if she was hurt over this. Would it help if I spoke to Linda?”
“I doubt it. It’s best to let Kel handle talkin’ to Linda when she’s ready.”
“Very well, I will not say a word. I am gratified though, that Kelli found a man that clearly loves her as much as you do. She deserves to be happy and I can see that she is.” Matt felt a clearer message was appropriate and that he needed to offer his assurances. “Kel’s welfare is important to me and I will never do anything to interfere with that happiness or your marriage. You and I may never be the best of friends for obvious reasons, but I do hope that we can be friendly neighbors.”
“I reckon we understand one another then, Dubois.”
“I reckon we do, Tanner.” Matt extended his hand as a neighbor and Vin offered his in return.
Kelli was ending a phone conversation when Vin came in and apparently she was not pleased by it. “I am tryin’ very hard to be reasonable, but … damn it’s not easy.”
“Who was on the phone?” Vin helped her put dinner on the table, while they talked.
“Inez, apparently Linda called her and wants to take Andi two days a week during the day. Before you try to talk me into it, I said no. She needs to be with Sarah and Maria when Jason is in school.”
“I agree, but I wonder why she called Inez, instead of callin’ here.”
“Probably because I have not taken any of her calls and I won’t until ’m ready to talk to her.”
Vin encircled her waist with his hands. “I did talk to Matt tonight, he gave me his word that he will never repeat what he knows to anyone without your permission and I believe him. So that is one less thing for you to worry about.”
“Thanks, that was a discussion that I was not looking forward to.” She leaned into him for a long slow kiss that ended when they heard giggles accompanied by four little feet come running down the hallway. Kelli squeezed a firm cheek of her Texan’s ass and whispered. “We’ll continue this later, Tanner.”
“Count on it.”
Thursday- early evening
Vin was tending to the animals, he had finished with the grain and was working on the hay for the horses when Chris came in. Tanner had thought that by now, Larabee would be better, but if anything, he looked worse than he had on Sunday.
“Hey Cowboy,” Tanner kept working, but watched as Chris moved slowly across the barn. He also noticed that he was not wearing his walking boot. “You’re movin’ kinda slow without your boot aren’t you?
“Damn thing is more trouble than it worth.” Chris sat on a bale of hay. “Beside I don’t really need it any more. Where’s Jason, I thought he’d be out here helping?”
Tanner laughed, “If he had his way he’d practically live out here, but homework comes first and that is somethin’ that thankfully he takes very seriously.” Vin smiled. “He’s smart and already knows how to write most of his letters, practices all the time now.”
“I know he likes school, you are encouraging him with his studies right?”
Vin stopped what he was doing. “You didn’t come out here to talk about what you already know. What’s on your mind, Chris?”
“Why did Kel tell Linda she couldn’t have Andi a couple days a week?”
“Kel never talked to Linda, but if she had she would have said that. We both agree that right now the most important thing these kids need is stability. Andi has adjusted well to spendin’ her days with Inez, Sarah and Maria and it is too soon to start shufflin’ her around. It’s been less than a week, give her a little time.”
“Are you sure that’s all it is? Linda will be their mother and she needs to spend more time with them!”
Surprised by Chris’ words and the anger behind them, Tanner was slow to answer. “Regardless of what you might be thinkin’, the only thing we consider when we make decisions about the children is their welfare, not mine, Kel’s, yours or Linda’s. If you don’t agree with that, then you feel free to apply for custody yourself, but for now the court made us responsible for their interests and will do what we feel is right for ‘em.”
Chris sighed, “I know you wouldn’t use them against us, but dammit it’s gonna take a while before we can even apply. According to Ezra, Linda and I need to get married, go through an investigation and clear up this fucking financial mess, first.”
“You’re just gonna have to be patient, Chris. Be thankful that we have custody and that they are close enough for you to see ‘em every day. Linda has had the same opportunity, but so far, she has not made the same effort you have to visit with ‘em. That is somethin’ she has to come to on her own and she cannot be forced into it.”
“I want to have them at the house on Saturday.” Chris did not request, but demanded. “Bring them over early.”
“They’re gonna ride that morning, Buck is bringing Sarah over for one of her lessons, but then you can have ‘em the rest of the day. Vin helped him up. “Take care of yourself; Jason and Andi need you to get well and be there for ‘em.”
“Don’t worry about me; I’ll be good as new in another week or so.” They walked out together and Vin watched until Chris was safely inside. He made a metal note to himself to have a long talk with Nathan tomorrow.
It was shortly before quitting time when Vin asked Nathan to step into his office. “I hate doing this at work, but things have been a little hectic on the home front this week.”
Nathan laughed, “I bet it has. Life changes fast when kids are involved.”
“I need to know about Chris. He looks like hell, he quit wearin’ his boot and he’s just not…himself.”
“He keeps telling me he’s fine, but his appearance says something else and I know what you mean about the difference. One minute he’s Chris and then in the same conversation he changes completely.
“Is it all from the drugs or his leg or what?
“I don’t know Vin, the drugs should be pretty much out of his system by now. I have slowly lowered the doses of Buprenorphin and we should be seeing a marked improvement in him, but it’s not there. Drug use can cause mental changes, but usually it takes longer than a week of injections for them to be permanent. I plan to give him a few more days and if something doesn’t change, then I suggest we get him into a treatment program.”
“I hope it don’t come to that.”
“Me too, Vin.” Nathan started to leave.
“One more question. I plan for the kids to go over there to visit tomorrow, is there any reason that they shouldn’t’?”
“Not that I know of, but don’t plan to go off too far. I will see Chris in the morning, if anything changes, I’ll let you know. Goodnight, Vin”
“Goodnight Nate.” The Texan sat there for a good while wishing he could shake the uneasy feeling that he had.
Chris threw the empty bottle across the room. *Twenty fucking pills in two days and you still have a roaring headache, Larabee.* He reached for the second bottle that he had hidden earlier. These were different, but stronger and he decided to take four because he wanted to sleep well tonight so that he would be fully rested… The kids were coming over tomorrow.
Saturday Tanner home
Vin Tanner was in a pensive mood this morning. He studied the woman cuddled up next to him, her red hair was in disarray and still slightly damp from this morning’s boisterous session of lovemaking. Stroking his hand down her back he had to smile, it was hard to believe that this time last year, he did not even know her name and now he could not imagine his life without her. Hell, this time last year, he was single, there was still an ATF team 7, and they had no idea that it was all going to change in four short weeks, after a seven-year run. That was when fate had decided to turn the wheel and deal a new hand.
*The fifteenth of next month will mark a year since your life change irrevocably, Tanner. Travis dropped the bombshell about MCAT and a few days later, you saw a certain redhead for the first time. MCAT may have made you stretch your skills Vin, but finding Kel completed your life and she holds your heart in the palm of her hand. Now you’re layin around in bed at six in the morning, wanting to hold her just a few more minutes before the world wakes up and calls your name. The only thing that would make this perfect would be to hear her lose her temper again. It has been a week and the only fire from her has been when we make love. The rest of the time, she has made an effort to be reasonable and calm. Damn, but I miss that feisty, hot tempered, stubborn to the bone woman. Patience Tanner, she can’t stay this way much longer, she is a Lar’bee after all.*
An argument from the other room drew his attention and Kelli stirred. He kissed the top of her head and whispered, “You make coffee and I’ll go referee the little Lar’bees.” The world was awake and calling his name.
They rolled out of bed, dressed quickly and went in different directions to start another day.
Andi had her arms crossed in front of her and repeated again, “No!”
Jason saw Vin at the doorway. “See what you did, you woke ‘em up!”
“Did not!” She did cast a slightly worried look toward Tanner. “Did I?”
Vin smiled at her, “No princess, I was already awake. You two have somethin’ that I can help with?”
“Shoot Vin, she’s just being stubborn! I told her she can’t wear the same clothes she wore yesterday ‘cause they’re dirty and Kelli will make her change.” Jason glared at his little sister. “Then she threw a fit.”
Tanner however, was pleased that they were arguing. This was the first time Jason allowed himself to share his feelings without trying to smooth things over. It meant that he was becoming more secure about his place here. “I see the problem; I reckon we should wash ‘em then.”
“No!” Andi got that set look on her face and dug in her heels. “I want it stay purple!” The stomp of a little foot added to her exclamation.
Jason rolled his eyes and crossed his arms in front of him. “See…Stubborn!
The Texan was beginning to understand the impasse. For some reason, Andi had it in her mind that if her purple shirt was washed, the color would disappear. He knelt down to her level. “Andi, your shirt will still be purple, but clean, and if we wash it now, by the time we go out to ride Dancer, it will be finished and ready to wear again.”
She thought about it long and hard, but the horse ride won out. “OoooKay, but you do it now?”
“You got it, princess,” Tanner grinned. He gathered up a load of clothes. “You two dress for breakfast and I’ll get these started.” He stopped and threw them in the washer before heading for the kitchen.
Kelli had his coffee ready for him and offered it to him with a smile. “I heard, another crisis averted, damn you’re good.”
The Texan took the cup, “Better than good, baby.” He leaned over for a slow kiss, “Good mornin’ again.”
Chris was on his second cup of coffee. Nathan was coming over early and he wanted to get the expected inquisition over with so he could take his pills after Jackson was gone. He was surprised when Linda joined him.
“What in the hell are you doing up so early?”
“Well good morning to you, too. I thought since we don’t share the same room any more, we might eat breakfast together, if that’s alright with you.” Linda walked over to pour herself a cup of coffee.
“I’m not hungry, but you go ahead.”
Linda sat down. “Chris I know you are not happy with me about how I have handled this adoption thing, but I have given it some serious thought. If you are determined to go though with this, then I’ll support your decision, however, we need to talk about some plans.”
“First off, we need to do some remodeling so we have a bedroom for each child and then I will need some help with all the extra work. Therefore, I want a housekeeper that can cook, too. Inez is coming with Buck this morning and I’m going to ask her to help me with the wedding plans.”
Chris could not believe what she just said. “Linda, in case you have forgotten, I’m almost broke or at least I am until I get a few things straightened out. We cannot afford to remodel or hire a housekeeper. Besides, with Matt taking over the management of the Southern Breeze, you will have plenty of free time.”
“I have enough to pay for…”
“No! Your money is yours, not ours! You are marrying a man that works for the government and owns a share of the Larabee 7, not a man that is independently wealthy. I think it is time that you quit being a Dubois daughter and think about being a Larabee wife and full-time mother. We live on what I make, not your family’s money!”
“I have my own money Chris.”
“Then put it in a trust for our children and their college education if you want, but I pay the bills around here. If you need assistance after the baby comes, I am sure that Inez, Mallory, Casey, Rain and Kel will be happy to help. That is what families do. As far as the wedding is concerned, you have two weeks to get it done.”
“Two weeks is not long enough Larabee. We have to get out the invitations, plan the reception and we haven’t even decided on where we’ll go on our honeymoon.”
“Linda, you’ve had five months to plan this already and we can only take a weekend for a honeymoon. I have been off work too long as it is and I cannot take an extended time off again for a good while. You pick where you want to spend it and it will be fine with me as long as it’s within reason.”
A knock on the door ended their discussion and when Nathan came in Chris was ready for him. They went to the bedroom and closed the door.
“Chris, tell me how you are really doing?” Nathan was worried about his appearance.
“I’m fine Nate, a few rough spots but I think the worst is over. I want to go back to work.”
That statement caught Nathan off-guard, “Chris, you need to give it some more time. Drugs induce some changes in the brain that make the one getting the drugs prone to addiction in as little as five to seven days It also means Chris that you will have to be very careful the rest of your life about the medicines you take and we need to make the time to do this detoxification right. That’s why I ask so many questions and why I don’t think you are ready to go back to work.”
“I know me dammit and I am not an addict! I will wait one more week, but then I am going back to work! Now give me what you need to because I want to spend time with the kids.”
“I did not say you were Chris, I just said we have to do this right.” Nathan sighed, “One week, but I had better see some improvement or we have to look at alternatives. Are we clear?”
“We’re clear and I will be better in a week.”
When Nathan left, Chris paced the room. *I am not a junkie dammit. Jack did not win! Hell, Nathan makes it sound like I could be out buying on the street corner. I will stick with what the doctor prescribes and be fine.* He took three pain pills, waited about twenty minutes for them to start working and then went back to talk to Linda.
She was dressed and in the kitchen finishing some toast. He slid up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. “Babe, we will work it all out, just be patient for now and I promise that you will have what you need. I just want to get our life moving forward.”
Linda was still upset with him, but gave in to how good it felt to be close to him again. “Me too Chris, me too.”
“I saw Buck’s truck, let’s go out and join the rest of them at the corral. I want to see how the riding lessons are going.”
It was a beautiful day for February in Colorado. The sun was shining and it was close to sixty degrees, the warmest that it had been in three weeks. Buck and Inez were there with the girls as well as the Sanchez family. Apparently, Nathan never left after seeing Chris because he was there, too.
Sarah saw Chris first. “Uncl Chris!” she ran to meet him. “I ride, Daddy said real good.” She giggled when he picked her up.
Vin had Jason on Dancer and was walking her around the corral. “Chris, look! All by myself!” Jason yelled at him.
“You’re doing great!” Chris yelled back. He felt a sharp pang of jealousy that Vin was the one in the corral with Jason instead of him.
Inez and Mallory greeted Linda, quickly pulling her into a conversation.
“Hello Chris, it’s good to see you out and about.” Josiah was not there by accident, Nathan asked him to come over and observe Larabee.
Buck held onto a squirming Maria. “Hey Stud, glad you could join us.”
Chris looked around, Joanne was with her dad and he saw Kelli on the opposite side of the corral with Andi, watching Jason. “Why is Kel way over there, you guys make her mad?” He laughed, but thought perhaps that he should pay more attention to what was happening around him. He seemed to be missing a lot of things lately.
“Hell no, we know better than that, she just moved over there a few minutes ago. Probably to be closer to that Texan,” Buck grinned. “With two kids in the house, I bet their loving time has been cut way back”
“Maybe…I think I’ll go say hello.” He walked around the fence and the minute he got over there, Sarah wanted down to play with Andi. Before they ran off Chris hugged Andi and surprised Kelli with a hug, too.
“You two play right over there where I can see you.” Kelli instructed. “Hi Chris.”
“Hi yourself Red, haven’t seen much of you in the last week. Come to think about it, I haven’t seen you since last Saturday.” He watched her eyes.
“Chris, this has been a busy week, school for Jason, doctor, back to work, kids, dinners and a husband to take care of keep me on the run. How about you? You’re feeling better?”
“I’ll be good as new before you know it.” He noticed how she kept an eye on the kids. “You know for a woman, who has never had kids, you make a great mom.”
Kelli looked up, “It’s easy. I just do the opposite of what I know from my own experiences as a kid and it seems to work.” She noticed Matt’s arrival. “All we need now is JD with his gang to make this a family gathering, excerpt for Ez and I know he’s already preoccupied today.”
Larabee saw them all, too, and realized that the quiet day he had planned with the kids was disappearing fast. “Damn and I suppose they’ll all be staying!”
His words held true anger and Kelli was shocked. “I thought you of all people would be ready to welcome a houseful of family again.”
“Not today!” Chris sighed and tried to smooth over his angry outburst with an obviously forced smile, saying quietly. “I just wasn’t expecting them, that’s all.”
The redhead thought he sounded more like a defensive Jason than the Chris Larabee she knew. *Okay Lar’bee, what do you have to hide?* “Yeah well, looks like the last of the troops are here, now.” JD and Casey had just pulled in, insuring a family thing was not far behind. *Dammit Kel, now you’re gonna have to join in or answer questions you are not ready for yet.*
Vin and Jason joined them. “Chris, I got to help with Dancer, we took her saddle off, brushed her down and put fresh hay in her stall.” His eyes were shinning with excitement. “I think she likes me.”
“I’m sure she does and you know what…so do I.” Chris put his arm around the boy’s shoulder. “I happen to think you and Andi are special. Now how about we go and see what everyone else is up to.”
“Come on girls, we’re moving out.” Vin grabbed Kelli’s hand, and picked up Andi. Chris carried Sarah and he walked next to Jason to join the rest of the wild bunch.
As expected, it turned into a family time at the ranch, Nathan called Rain to come over and with the exception of Ezra, the wild bunch was complete. Standish was spending the day with Barbara Lindsey and only they knew where they were going. Jason stayed close to either Chris or Vin and the girls talked Kelli into playing with them. The other women went over wedding plans, while they prepared dinner for everyone.
“Linda, has Kel seen the dress you selected for her to wear?” Rain asked about the matron of honor dress they had looked at.
“Not yet, we haven’t had time to talk much about the wedding, but I’m sure it will be fine with her.”*You hope Linda. You had better fix this argument soon or she might not even come to your wedding.* “You all like what I chose for each of you don’t you?”
Casey answered. “Yeah, I think mine is great. Have you decided on who is going to be your flower girl? “
“Definitely Sarah, you know how she feels about Chris.” Linda had not considered anyone else.
“Inez laughed, “She’ll love it, but I can’t promise she won’t do it her way.”
Mallory was thoughtful for a minute. “Josiah told me you two wanted to apply for adoption of the Larabee children. “What about Andi, will she feel left out? “
“We are, but it will take some time. I…I’m sure I can find a place for Andi in the wedding party.” Linda had not thought about Jason and Andi’s place, but promised herself that she would.
Rain looked through the open door to the other room. “I hope it doesn’t take too long. It appears Kel is already very involved with those kids. The longer it takes, the harder it will be for her to let them go.”
Linda suddenly realized the price her friend was paying for her procrastination, it seemed that there were other things she had not thought about *Damn Linda, you should have seen this coming. Dubois, you should do something about it.*
The men talked. It was hard not to see that Chris’ conversations were mixed with laughter one minute and then anger the next. Josiah and Nathan were not the only brothers concerned about him.
Chris noticed that Matt and Vin seemed to be on good terms. When Matt went to the kitchen, he waited until Jason was out of earshot and asked. “You okay with Dubois as a neighbor, Vin?”
“Yeah, I reckon I am. We have come to an understandin’ so to speak.”
“What kind of understanding?”
“Simple, he remembers that Kel is a married woman and I don’t shoot him.” Tanner grinned.
Larabee laughed more than usual, “Yep I suppose that’s an easy one.”
Chris’ loud laughter drew Buck’s attention. “Must be one helluva joke, you two gonna share?”
Kelli came over in time to hear Wilmington’s words. “Maybe, I should come back later.’
Vin pulled her down next to him. “Relax Kel, it’s nothin’ couldn’t be said in front of children.” He smiled, “Them little girls wear you down?”
“Lord yes, I love ‘em all, but I was outnumbered four to one.” She saw Jason slide closer to them. “Whatever you want to say Jason, we’re listenin’,” She knew he was still hesitant about asking for something that he wanted.
The young boy directed his question to Tanner. “Vin, can I go outside for a while. I promise not to go near the horses or go off far. I…”
“Whoa Jason, yes it’s okay and ‘m sure you remember the rules, but dress warm or Kel will have both our hides.”
“Yes sir!” He jumped up, grabbed his coat and then ran out the front door to explore.
JD grinned, “You know, you two are getting this parenting thing down real well. I can already see a big difference in Jason since he came here.”
“Thanks JD, “Kelli laughed, “But when you get an instant family you have to learn fast and we do have an advantage with all those classes we took.”
“Just remember it’s only temporary and that’s my son!’ Chris snapped. “You could consult with me before you make all the decisions for him!”
Silence hung in the room for a moment before Kelli answered. “That is somethin’ ‘m not likely to forget Lar’bee, but I won’t confuse him. For now, he has to follow our rules, not yours and I will not put him or Andi in the middle of a tug of war for their attention or… let anyone else do it.” With a slight tilt of her head, she defiantly dared him to argue that point.
“You’re right; it’s just damn frustrating to have to wait.” Chris changed course again and sounded more like the old Chris. “I know you’re both doing a good job with the kids.”
“If it’s a job Chris, then I guess it’s a labor of love because we only want what’s best for both of ‘em.” Vin looked Chris in the eye when he said it. “Even if you adopt ‘em they’ll be family to us and we’ll still love ‘em.”
“Absolutely and I wouldn’t have it any other way.’ Chris flashed a smile. “At least you’re getting plenty of practice before you have your own kids. That’s assuming that you decide to quit playing around and have any.”
Vin squeezed Kelli’s hand, he knew that last remark had to hurt. Andi chose that exact time to come over and crawl onto Vin’s lap. He saw the flash of anger that crossed Chris’ face before he covered his reaction. *Chris what in the hell is wrong with you?* Tanner did not get an answer, he was not even sure that Larabee heard the question.
Abruptly Chris stood up. “I’ll be back in a while.” He took off down the hallway.
Five brothers exchanged worried glances, but stayed silent. Andi was nodding off to sleep and she did not need to hear the conversation that they considered necessary, so they waited.
Andi was asleep within two minutes. Vin laid her on the other end of the couch and was going to get a blanket for her, but Kelli stopped him. “I’ll get it; you stay and talk to them.” While they discussed Chris’ strange behavior, she went down the hall to the linen closet for a quilt. Cursing, coming from Chris’ room drew her attention and the door was partially open.
Inside, Chris had finally gotten the damn bottle open and he shook out five or six pills. He popped them into his mouth and swallowed without water. Now all he had to do was wait long enough for it to work at easing the pain in his head and gut.
“WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU DOIN’!”
“WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU DOIN’!”
“Fuck! You shouldn’t be in here!” Chris yelled and dropped the pill bottle he was still holding. “GET OUT!”
Kelli snatched the bottle off the floor and read the label, not trying to hide her anger, she shouted. “I don’t believe you! Lord Chris, there are children in the other room and you are in here poppin’ pills! “
“I am not popping pills! I have a headache and was looking for some fucking aspirin!”
“Bullshit! This is not aspirin! What’s the matter Lar’bee, you didn’t get enough of this from Jack?
“It’s not the same! That is prescribed by a doctor and perfectly legal!
“Legal, but still additive! You and twenty millions other Americans are proof of that! Damn Chris, you mix this with what Nathan has been givin’ you and you might as well hold a gun to your head playin’ Russian roulette. Your chance of dyin’ is about the same.”
Chris ran his hands through his hair. “You…you can’t understand…the pain…the damn nightmares…Jack was my brother for God’s sake and he… Hell, nobody could understand.”
“Oh, I understand. Things are beginning to make a lot of sense suddenly! I understand about betrayal from blood kin, too and as for nightmares …I’ve had my share, thank you! What I don’t understand is how a man that professes to love his family and his career could risk losin’ it all for a damn bottle of pills without puttin’ up one hell of a fight!” Kelli turned to leave, but Chris reached out, grabbed her by the arm and brutally twisted her around.
His other hand grasped her shoulder. “You can’t tell the others! I’ll handle this, MY WAY!” He squeezed tighter, with both hands and his anger increased.” This is my fucking business and nobody is gonna tell me what to do about it, but me!” He swayed slightly and he was beginning to slur his words.” You are not going to tell anyone or…”
“Or what Lar’bee? You intend to physically coerce me into keeping your dirty secret!”
“Let her go, Chris.” Tanner spoke softly from the doorway. When Kelli did not come back with the blanket, he decided to check on her and he could not believe what he was seeing, but he was in position to intervene forcefully if necessary. “You’re hurtin’ her Chris, let her go… NOW!”
Larabee looked down at his hands as if they did not belong to him and released her immediately. “God, I’m sorry Kel…I…” He took a few steps backwards almost falling in the process.
Vin moved forward, put himself in front of Kelli and without taking his eyes off Chris asked. “You okay Texas?”
“I’ll live, but I’m not so sure about him.” She gave Vin the bottle that she still had clutched in her hand. “He’s killin’ himself with this stuff. He took some about ten minutes ago…more than a few.”
Chris shook his head. “No…no…no... Doctor prescribed pills…safe. D…don’t worry.” He started to slide down the wall.
“Dammit, how many of these things did you take?” Tanner reached out and steadied him, guiding Chris to sit on the side of the bed. “HOW MANY?” Larabee just kept shaking his head. “Fuck this! Kel get Nathan!”
“Shhhhhhh, can’t tell Nathan.” Chris put his finger to his lips to shush them. “Can’t tell Nathan.”
Kelli hurried down the hallway, but because of the children, she did not want to yell. She went straight over to Nathan, “Vin needs you now.” Jackson did not ask why. He turned and rushed toward the bedroom and the other brothers followed.
“It’s Chris isn’t it?” Linda jumped up from her chair. “Dammit Kel, tell me.”
Instead of answering Linda, she spoke to Inez. Y’all might want to take the kids to our house. I don’t know what is gonna happen here, apparently Chris has been medicatin’ himself and possibly overdosed.” She heard Linda gasp, but wanted to take care of the kids before she said anything to her.
“I’ll go with her to help; we can feed all the children over there.” Casey began gathering what was necessary.
Mallory started to help Casey. “Rain you had better stay here, in case your medical skills are needed. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of Terrell for you. What about Jason and Andi?”
Inez answered, “They should be okay with us, Andi is used to being with me and Jason will go where she goes.”
“Rain stay with Linda, I’m gonna carry Andi to the house and talk to Jason, then I’ll be back.” Kelli picked the sleeping child up off the couch to take her home, ignoring the twinge of pain in her back.
“If he only took these fifteen minutes ago and is in this shape now, we have to assume he took several. First thing we do is keep him conscious, Vin turn on the shower, JD coffee strong and lots of it, Buck, Josiah, help me move him.” Nathan took charge as soon as he saw Chris’s condition and the pill bottle. “If he took more than three pills, added to the Buprenorphin it could be too much.”
When Josiah tried to help him up, he started to balk. “Leave me alone dammit!” Chris pushed him and Josiah hit the bedside table breaking the lamp. “Ooops, see what you did now.” Larabee started laughing.
Buck rolled his eyes and took his other arm. “Come on stud, time for a shower.” Josiah helped to led him to the shower, getting him inside it was another matter. Eventually they wrangled him into the shower stall, but it took all of them to keep him there long enough to ‘sober him up’. They were all wet before it was over with and what they ended up with was a drenched, cantankerous, Larabee an hour later.
However, that had to be better that the stranger he had become the last eight days.
“Damn, I think you tried to drown me.” Chris complained.
“The thought crossed my mind a time of two.” Vin shot back. “We need to talk, here, the kitchen or in hell, I don’t care, but this shit is gonna end!”
“Where is everybody? Larabee asked.
“Rain, Kel, and Linda are in the kitchen, Matt’s outside somewhere. Casey, Inez and Mallory took all the kids over to Vin’s house.” JD answered.
Chris was quite for a minute. “I suppose Linda has some questions, so after I dry off, we can move this party to the other room.” He resigned himself to the fact that there would probably be more than a few questions.
“I should be in there with him.” Linda repeated for the fifth time. Matt had excused himself and walked outside for some fresh air after the second time. He told Linda he was staying outside until she called for him.
Rain sighed, “Linda, have some patience, Nathan sent word out that they were trying to get him to the point that he can talk this out. Give them a chance to do that.”
“I suppose you have something to say about this, don’t you Kel?” Linda expected her disapproval of Chris’ actions.
Until now, Kelli had been silent, “Since when does what I have to say matter to you Linda? I thought everythin’ always revolved around you. As long as you had someone that ignored your outbursts and let you go on with what you want, you were fine. You never have been interested in seeing someone else’s viewpoint. Well, no more, ‘m ready to throw my hands up and say you are on your own, Chris too.”
“Chris can’t help being sick! Infections take time to heal, even I know that!” She knew they would try to blame him.
“Infection? Linda, Chris has been poppin’ pain pills and Lord only knows where he got them. The reason Vin didn’t have him taken to the hospital was so the drugs could get out of his system first. Now though, he has only added to the damage Jack did to him and he is damn lucky that it didn’t kill him.”
All the blood suddenly drained from Linda’s face. “He lied to me…the pills weren’t antibiotics. I thought…I thought he needed to see real doctor outside the family and took him to the emergency clinic.”
“He was under my care Linda and I am a real doctor. This detoxification only works if it can be monitored, Chris seeing another doctor…He is lucky it did not kill him.” Rain was upset. “I guess that I should have refused to treat him in the first place and let him take his chances at the hospital.”
“Someone should have told me, about all of this!” Linda stood up to pace.” Hell, you all kept everything so damn secret!”
Kelli’s anger had been on hold for a week and once unleashed at Chris, it did not want to go back anytime soon. “Excuse us for worryin’ about you and the baby! I mean emergency trips to the hospital are so much fun! I reckon we should have disregarded your doctor’s warnin’ and let you see Chris the way he was when we found him! Or maybe let the kids tell you how sick he was and what they saw! God knows they have not been through enough yet! Maybe you should have had to deal with all of this, raise your blood pressure again and risk going’ into labor. After all, there is only you to consider. Right?”
“Look, I know that you are upset with me and that you don’t agree with what I said that Sunday. But you have never have let it go this far before without trying to fix things between us and we could have talked.” Linda was ready to clear the air.
“That’s my problem Linda, ‘m always lettin’ you rant, say what you want and then I forget about it and move on. This time the issue was too damn important to me and I could not just forget about it. Besides, it sure as hell did not stop you from talkin’ to Matt, now did it?”
“I had to talk to someone and Matt was willing to listen.” Linda sighed, “I didn’t think I was telling him anything that was said in confidence.”
“You have known me for over ten years, have you ever known me to discuss any part of my past except for generic information to anyone?
Linda held firm. “This family knows, why shouldn’t mine?”
“Do they? Rain how many homes did I live in before Jake became my guardian?”
Rain was puzzled, “Jake is the only one I ever heard you talk about. I assumed that after your mother left, that someone named Coulter adopted you. Then…I don’t know. How did you get a guardian?
“It’s a long story and I have decided I need to tell it, but after all this is over.” She looked at Linda. “My point is that it is my decision what and who to tell, not yours.”
“I’m sorry then, I should have asked you, but you were so upset about what I said about the kids. I guess I thought you wouldn’t talk to me.”
“You knew when I walked out and said I’d see you in a few days that I wouldn’t, at least for a while. Right now though there are bigger issues to tackle and I suggest we finish this discussion at a later time.” Kelli was watching the hallway. “Agreed?”
“Agreed.” Linda was watching, too.
“This is the last dry towel.” Buck threw it to Josiah. “JD, Vin, Nathan, we’ll bring him out as soon as he gets some dry clothes on. We don’t want him to get pneumonia on top of everything else.”
“Tell Linda…hell.” Chris was trying to clear his thoughts; he could not seem to remember anything except the cold water since he came in here.
“Uh uh, you tell her yourself.” Nathan was still angry that the last two weeks of detoxification had been a wasted effort. “We better get this over with while you’re still able to do it. I figure we have maybe four hours to makes some decisions before withdrawal hits you.” Jackson walked out with JD
*Not now, Chris.* Tanner was torn between fear of what could have happened and anger over what did.
Linda saw them first. ‘Well, how is he?”
Nathan stood behind Rain’s chair, draping his hands over her shoulders. “I think Chris should answer that.”
Vin stood behind Kelli with his hand on her back, he leaded down and whispered. “I want to see you in the other room.”
Reluctantly she got up and went with him, she knew what he wanted, but she did not want to add fuel to an explosive situation that already had enough. However, Tanner had made up his mind and that was not always easy to change.
Vin led her into what everyone called ‘Ezra’s place’, which was really a small room off from the kitchen that has a single bed that he used when he stayed over. “Let me see.” He unbuttoned her shirt and pulled it back to look at her arm and shoulder. As he suspected the bruises were there just, starting to show color. “Dammit Kel, there is no excuse for this.”
“Don’t do anything you might regret later on, please. I’m okay and the bruises will go away.” Vin didn’t say a word, he buttoned her shirt, took her hand and led her back to the bigger room. Chris was coming in from the other direction with Buck and Josiah.
When no one spoke, Josiah decided to take the lead. “I think that if everyone sits down this will be easier to discuss.” Even if he were not a profiler, he would have perceived all the anger in the room. He sighed; this was not going to be easy at all. “Chris, do you want to start?”
“I want to start! You lied to me about those damn antibiotics. Why?” Linda could not decide if she was more hurt or angry.
Chris looked at her for a minute before answering. “I’m not going to make excuses for screwing up. I did and I think everyone in this room knows it. I just want to fix it.”
Nathan stood up. “That is the problem Chris, you did more than screw up, you could have died and you still don’t understand how. I told you that the Buprenorphin was not a cure, it’s a drug meant to help during withdrawal periods. It is actually a smaller dose of what you had injected into you. The intent was to keep reducing it until your body can get back to normal. With that bottle of pills and what I was giving you, you’re fortunate we could keep you awake.”
“Three…three bottles.” Chris said softly, “One in the medicine cabinet and the other two from prescriptions.”
“What kind of doctors prescribes that stuff without checking?” Buck was now on his feet. “I mean what? You say you need it and they give it to you just like that.”
Rain explained. “Unfortunately Buck, accessibility is too easy, especially when the patient deliberately sets out to get the pills. There are more people in this country that abuse prescription meds than are using illegal street drugs. Twenty percent of the population in fact, will abuse prescription drugs in their lifetime. Most people think that if it’s legal, it must be safe, sadly that’s not true.”
Nathan wanted Chris to understand and be educated about what he was facing. “The method we chose should have worked, but you still had to want to be free of drugs. The only thing we learned is that you will have to be careful the rest of your life to stay away from certain medications. Morphine and codeine are derivatives of opium; Heroin is produced from morphine or codeine. Other opiates, such as Demerol, Dilaudid, oxycodone Percodan, Percocet, Vicodin, Lortab and Lorcet are some of to stay away from, as well as Tylenol because it contains Hydrocodone.
Rain added, “All opiates, are very physiologically and somewhat psychologically addictive. Tolerance is developed very rapidly, requiring more and more of the drug to reach the same result. Heroin is the most addictive substance in the opiate family. These drugs can cause physical dependence, which means that the body reduces production of its own natural opioids, which are endorphins and enkephalins and begins to rely on the drug to manage the functions of these natural brain chemicals. When the drugs are stopped, the body needs time to begin providing necessary amounts of the natural opioids again and withdrawal symptoms result.”
“So what happens now?” Linda was shaken by the information the Jacksons gave.
Nathan spoke to Chris. “Now you have two choices, you can go into a treatment program or do it the hard way and go cold turkey. Before you decide, you had best know what to expect. Symptoms of withdrawal include kicking movements in the legs, anger, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, sweating, cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. The onset of these symptoms can occur five hours after the last dose, lasting seven to ten days. The Buprenorphin was only to make it easier for you. Withdrawal from use is extremely painful and dangerous, that is why you must be monitored through all of it.”
JD was worried, “You can give him that other stuff to help, right?”
“No, not after this, it’s too risky to use more drugs and in his case as I reduced the dosage he supplemented it with more pills. Therefore, he never got off the amount of drugs that Jack was feeding him and has been flying for the last two weeks, while we thought he was getting better. Buprenorphin only helps to mask the withdrawal symptoms. It created the illusion for Chris that he was over the worst and made him feel confident enough to take the other pills. I will not prescribe it for him again.” Rain was direct. “Most of it will depend on Chris’ will to beat it.”
“Nightmares…one of the reasons he said he took ‘em.” Kelli finally said something.
“Dammit Chris, you should have told us, we could have helped. Hell we left you alone after that first week because you said you were better. Now we find out that you…” Buck did not want to say it.
“That I lied to you, Buck, to all of you, because I did not want to tell you about the pain or those damn nightmares. Still don’t.” Chris would not or could not tell them.
“You need to tell someone Chris, they won’t go away on their own.” Josiah spoke softly. “I can find someone…”
“No! I’ll deal with all of this myself.” He looked at Kelli. “What did you tell Jason?”
“I only told him that you were ill. He lived with a father that was addicted to alcohol and drugs so it was not hard for him to figure out why. He even offered to come over and help, said he knew what to do, that he had done it countless times for his dad.” Kelli worked hard to control her temper. “It a damn shame when a six year old knows that much about it.”
Linda was surprised. “He offered to come over and help?”
Chris stated proudly. “He knows that I would never hurt him and he already saw me like that, so I’m not surprised.”
“Are you sure that you would never hurt him Chris? Vin stood up, “Because ‘m not.”
Buck jumped back up. “Now wait a minute Vin, I know you’re angry about this, hell we all are, but Chris could never hurt a kid. Or anyone that he loved… at least not physically.”
“I would never hurt a woman or a kid that way. “Chris could not believe that Vin would think such a thing.” Vin you know me better than that.”
“Yeah, I though I did, but obviously I didn’t, your daughter will be wearing the proof of that for at least a week.” Vin turned to Kelli “I’m sorry baby, but he needs to know the results that come from his way of dealin’ with it.” He pulled her shirt down just enough to show the bruises that were beginning to show on her shoulder. “Those marks match your hand spread, there’s more but you won’t be seein’ ‘em.”
Josiah was pleased to see Vin take a hard stand, soft words and gentle nudges just would not do it. Chris needed someone to intervene and ride him into letting them help him. Sanchez knew that if anyone could push Larabee hard enough, it would be that Texan.
Chris felt ill, he could not have done that and not remembered could he? “When…I…don’t remember doing that” *Damn Chris what else don’t you remember about the last two weeks or was it three? Hell, make it easy. What do you remember? Not much Larabee, it all just kinda runs together.*
“You did and I want you to commit to memory those marks. You played the lone ranger already and that got you into this mess with Jack. You still want to deal with this one your way?” Vin hoped his words would get through to Chris. “Cause if you run this one alone Lar’bee, I hope you’re willin’ to pay the price. You will be losin’ the Tanner part of your family as well as any chance of gettin’ the kids, but then you seem to like workin’ solo lately.”
Chris looked at the faces around the room, he loved all of them, but he had to admit that he had hurt each one, the lies, the anger, and the …bruises. * Chris you may not remember it but they do. Undoubtedly, you have been a real bastard here lately, maybe its time to let them back in and push Jack out*.
“I won’t go for treatment because I want to keep my job, but if I’m going to face hell here…I would like to know that my brothers have my six covered. What do I need to do?”
Once Chris decided what he had to do, things fell quickly into place. A schedule was set up to make sure that he was not alone at any time for the next ten days. The only big disagreement was about where Linda would be during all of this. Everyone was worried about her pregnancy and they were concerned about how the added stress would affect her blood pressure problem.
Matt insisted that she come stay at the Southern breeze. “No, I will not interfere with what Chris has to do, but I will not let the actions of Jack Larabee make me leave my home.” She answered Matt, but directed her remarks to Chris, “I think its past time for me to take charge of my life again and while we wait out the next ten days I have plenty that I need to do.”
Chris ignored the protest around him and looked into her eyes. “This is her home, too. She stays, but I do have one request.” He got up and moved closer to her. “I don’t want you to see what will happen and even though our baby is not here yet, I do not want our child touched by this in any way. Do what you need to and let me deal with my demons, after it’s all over, we’ll talk about our future.”
“I plan to hold you to that Larabee.” She reached out to him with a hug that they both desperately needed. “We will be waiting for you.”
“You’re not in this one by yourself, stud. We will make it though as family just like we always do.” Buck spoke for them all. “It’s what we do best.”
Nathan took charge. “Chris you look tired let’s get you settled. The rest of you go eat something and then take your families home.”
Nathan and Josiah took the first shift and Chris was already showing the signs of withdrawal. Tonight would not be too bad, but by morning, they knew his condition would be deteriorating rapidly.
“I know I will probably do or say things I shouldn’t in the next few days, try not to take it personally. I do appreciate your help.” Chris was feeling awful and he knew it would only get worse. “Tell the others too…”
“Chris I think we know what to expect and we are all ready for it. You just hang on to us because were not going anywhere without you.” Josiah patted his arm. “Try to rest while you can.”
Down the hall, Linda was preparing for bed. She had a notebook out and had already made a list of things to accomplish during the next week. She patted her tummy and spoke softly. “Don’t worry little one, everything will be fine. You just stay put for a few more months for us, okay.”
By morning, Larabee was pacing the floor and snapping at everything Nathan or Josiah had to say. Vin visited briefly, but realized his anger was still to fresh and he did not stay. By late afternoon, Chris was ready to start throwing things and the pain was getting worse.
“Nathan please, make some of it go away.” Chris was bent over double and his head felt as if it would explode.
“Sorry Chris, just bear with it the best you can. It will pass.” Nathan felt bad, but stuck to his words.
They had decided that Nathan and Josiah would be the logical choices to stay with Chris. Nathan covered the medical needs, with Rain checking in on Larabee once a day and the mental part that only Josiah had the skills to help with. Buck would spell them when they needed it. Vin, Ezra and JD would keep them covered at work. It would be a while before anyone would be able to have what was considered a conversation with Chris because he just would not be able to. For better or worse, hell week had begun.
Linda spent the day at the Southern Breeze making sure Matt had all the files he needed.
“That should do it Matt; you have what you need to run this place. I may be moving some of my horses over to the Larabee 7, but I’ll let you know which ones in advance.”
“Linda, are you sure that you won’t reconsider and stay here?” Matt was worried about her.
“That’s my home now and I won’t leave it. Trust me; I do know what I am doing, maybe for the first time in weeks.” She kissed her brother and headed home.
It had been a long rough night; Kelli quietly slipped out of bed and gingerly moved toward the bathroom. Her shoulder hurt and evidently, some muscles in her back were strained when Chris twisted her around. She had managed to get through yesterday without the pain being too bad, but last night, it had gotten worse and she just could not get comfortable. No way in hell was she going to tell Vin though, it way hard enough on him watching his brother go through this.
When it came to Kelli there was not much that Vin missed. He already was aware that she was in pain and that it was more than just physical. Several things were weighting heavy on her mind lately and this situation with Chris had just added to it. As he watched her progress away from the bed, he knew that he would have to make the first move to help her because she would try not to let him see how much she was hurting. He sighed and rolled out of bed, deciding to put on the coffee first and then confront his redhead.
Kelli felt a little better, but when she walked out of the bathroom Tanner was waiting for her. He slid an arm around her waist. “Mornin’ baby,” first he kissed her and then handed her a hot cup of coffee. “Just the way you like it, hot and sweet.”
She smiled, “Tanner you do know how to start a mornin’. Which one are you today, hot or sweet?”
Vin led her to their rocker and made her sit next to him. “Actually, today I’m your boss, and Captain Tanner says you are stayin’ home today. You need to give those muscles a chance to heal.” He read the look on her face, “Did you really think I wouldn’t know?”
“I guess not, but I can …”
“I don’t need an employee at work that obviously is in pain and I will not send you or any agent into the field that I knew was not physically up to it.” The Texan smiled, “Don’t argue with your boss.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, but I might kiss the boss, if you promise not to tell my husband.” Her eyes twinkled with amusement. “He does tend to be a bit possessive.”
“Hell, I reckon I’ll have to take my chances.” He leaned over, took his time claiming a long slow kiss. Then he told her,“That will have to hold you ‘til tonight, right now ‘m gonna rub some liniment on those back muscles before the kids wake up.”
An hour later Vin had checked on Chris and the kids had dressed, eaten breakfast and were ready to go. He would drop Andi off with Inez and then take Jason to school on his way to the office.
“Don’t overdo and get some rest, Texas. I’ll call you later.”
Linda was up early; she had a lot to accomplish today and wanted to get started. She met Josiah in the kitchen. “How is he?
“He’s not feeling to good this morning, but that’s to be expected.” Josiah sat with her at the table. “Linda, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
“I know, I wished I could make it easier, but I can’t so I will do what I can. I plan to grocery shop today so if you or Nathan will make me a list of what Chris needs, I will pick it up.” She hesitated with her next question. “I…Sometime later this week I would like to discuss a few things with you, if you don’t mind.”
Josiah was taken aback, but he agreed to her request. “I don’t mind, how about Wednesday or Thursday?”
“Whichever is best for you will be fine, just let me know.”
“I’ll get that list ready for you.” Josiah excused himself.
Linda was already onto the next part of her plan; she picked up the phone to make the first of several phone calls.
Inez had told her that Kelli was home today and she decided not to warn her that she was coming over. She stood in front of the Tanner’s door, took a deep breath and knocked.
Kelli opened the door; the last person she expected to see was Linda “Come on in, ‘m just lazin’ around today.”
“Inez told me that you were home, I just came from the grocery store and decided you might want some lunch so…” She held up a bag of fast food.
“That would be great; I hadn’t talked myself into fixin’ anythin’ yet.” Kelli moved toward the kitchen and Linda noticed how cautiously she moved.
“Why don’t you sit in here where it’s comfortable and I will fix this up for us? I think I still remember where everything is.” She was not here to talk about Chris and would not unless Kelli brought his name up.
The redhead agreed and within a few minutes, Linda had their lunch ready and they were both sitting in the living room.
“Kel, I need to say a few things and I hope that you will hear me out because I don’t want hard feeing between us.” Linda was a little nervous, but determined to make things right again.
“Okay, but can I listen while I eat? I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”
“No problem. Kel, I know that I have not been myself the last few weeks and I will not try to make excuses. When Matt came, I suppose I reverted to little sister again and then things just snowballed, but no more. The old me is back and I want to put things right between us. I was acting like a spoiled brat and I am sorry. I also realized that I have not been as good a friend as I should have and I promise to listen more and tell less.”
“Wait, let me get this all out, I should have said this a long time ago. I do know that you have put up with my tantrums and my spoiled behavior for years, yet still you have been there when I needed you. I wish that I could say the same. I have not made an effort in the past to see things from your point of view, but I will from now on. It is way past time for Linda Catharina Dubois to grow up and fast, after all in a little less than four months I am going to be a mother. I would hate to see my child grow up before I do.”
Kelli was very pleased than Linda finally made it to point B on her own and as mad as she could get at her, Linda was her friend and she did love her. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“As a matter of fact, yes, I made a list of things that I need to do, maybe you could look it over see if I missed anything.” She handed the list to Kelli and let her read it. Waiting until she finished, Linda added, “I know you might question my motives about the kids. I cannot truthfully tell you that I agree with Chris about adopting them, but they are family and I would like to get to know them, if it’s okay with you.”
“I think we can work somethin’ out.” Kelli looked at the list again. “This is quite an undertakin’. If you’re sure you are up to it, I could make one additional suggestion.” She wrote it on the bottom on the paper. “I’m sure Ezra would assist you with it, if you ask him. Oh and thanks for the lunch.”
Linda knew Kelli and her were okay again and went over to hug her, “Don’t mention it, that’s what friends are for.”
Chris was hurting and overnight he had developed a fever, tossing and turning in the bed, it seemed that every demon from his past tired to keep him company. Josiah and Nathan could only watch and try to keep his fever down.
As his temperature climbed, the visions of his past became more real. “No...Help them…Sarah! Adam! ... God they’re gone… Buck, you gotta do something.” Josiah kept a cool cloth on his head, tried to sooth the terror Chris was experiencing, Larabee clung to his hand, and begged. “Do something please…Jason’s in the fire… Sarah needs help.” Somewhere in his mind, Chris saw Adam and Jason as the same child and Josiah made mental note to talk to him about this later on.
An hour late the serial killer, Brad Cleaver was back and out for his blood. “Keep him away! NOOOOOO! Rats, too many rats! Josiah!” Chris began to cry, tears fell as he ‘saw” Josiah shot again and again. “Don’t die!”
It was hard because in the course of helping Chris he was reliving the experience, too. However, Josiah had to assure him that he was okay. Chris! I’m here, I’m not dead, we are both safe and Cleaver is in prison.
Finally, Chris calmed down and for a brief while, he was quiet. Nathan slipped out to fix some lunch.
After Rain checked on her patient she headed for the clinic for the afternoon, She had been a little wary when Linda had ask to join her, but agreed.
“Rain, I owe you an apology. I should never have questioned the way you decided to treat Chris. If I hadn’t he would not have gotten those pills.”
“Linda, it wouldn’t have mattered. He got the second prescription from his orthopedic doctor and you had no control over it. He was determined and would not have stopped until he got them, so quit beating yourself up over it, as for the apology, accepted.”
“Thanks, now what can I do to help?” Linda wanted to really help, not just write a check for a worthy cause. Here she not only could see for herself the people Kelli told her about, but also share the experience with a sister.
Nathan had managed to get some broth down Chris and so far, he was holding it on his stomach. It was the most he had been able to hold down since Saturday. An hour later, his fever rose and the demons were back. This time it was Phillip Deveraux; he stayed and spent most of the night tormenting Chris before Nathan could bring his fever down again.
Last night and this morning had been the roughest so far. Half the time Chris was seeing demons that were not there and the other half he was throwing up. About ten, though his fever rose again and this time it was Jack that came to taunt the blonde.
*Rough huh brother? You know what will stop it don’t you? Just kick these bastards out and then party with me.*
“FUCK YOU JACK! Get the hell out! I won’t listen to you anymore!”
*You know what you want; remember how good it felt to get rid of the pain and to float away. You can feel that way again. You owe me that much Chris. You let me down and now you think you can make up for it with my kids! You always believed you could control everything! Well you are wrong! Fate catches everyone Chris and timing is everything. You had a chance to help me and now it is too late! I am dead and nothing you can do now will make up for what you did not do twenty-five years ago. Now go for the drugs and repent Brother Chris.*
Chris sat up and screamed. “No! Leave me alone! It took Nathan and Josiah to hold him down and twenty minutes to get him calmed. Blessedly his fever broke two hour later.
Buck came in at one to relieve Josiah for a while. “How is he?”
“He’s been curled up like that for an hour without moving. His fever broke and I think he is just flat out exhausted, but be ready for anything.” Nathan settled down in the chair opposite Buck.
Josiah was planning to go home for a while, but wanted to talk to Linda first, he found her out by the corral.
“Buck and Nathan are in with Chris and he is hanging in there. I thought maybe that we could have that talk now, if you wanted.”
“Josiah, take a walk with me, I need some advice and I believe you are the one person that can counsel me concerning a problem that I seem to have.”
“I will do what I can Linda.” They walked the property for the next thirty minutes and talked. Once Linda had answers for her concerns, Josiah went home and she headed for the Wilmington house.
Chris was fever free and his stomach seemed to be behaving, but all he would do is lay curled in bed and doze.
Buck pulled Josiah aside. “Why doesn’t he say something or move or anything?”
“I afraid that as the pain is subsiding, depression is replacing it. All we can do is wait it out and see if he can work through it.” Josiah knew it was too soon to try to get Chris to talk and for now left him alone.
Linda sat with Inez and drank a glass of tea. This was the third day this week she had made a point to be at the Wilmington house when Jason got home from school.
“Hey Jason, how was school today?”
“It was good. How is Chris?”
“A little better than yesterday, but he’s still sick.”
Jason was hoping to see him, but he had resigned himself to the fact that it could be a while. “Tell him that I hope he gets better soon.”
“I will pass the message along, but there is something else that I wanted to ask you about. I happen to know that you have a day off from school tomorrow and if you agree I would like for you and Andi to spend part of it with me. Maybe we could shop for a get well gift for Chris, my treat and have lunch at the pizza place in the mall.”
He thought about it and looked over at Andi. “I would have to ask Vin or Kelli first.”
“I already talked to them and they said it would be up to you if you wanted to go.” Linda gave him time to think about it.
“I reckon pizza might be okay.”
“Great. I will be here at eleven in the morning and we can get started.” Jason agreed and then asked Inez if he could go outside.
Inez patted her hand. “See, that wasn’t so hard and if you stick to the stores I suggested I know they’ll have a good time.”
“Thanks, Inez. I need to run, Ezra will be here soon and I still have to change clothes. See you in the morning.”
Linda hurried and changed, Standish would be here soon, the same as he was Tuesday and Wednesday night. She was excited about tomorrow and looking forward to the day at the mall with the kids.
Josiah had thought long and hard about what Chris needed. Finally, he had a plan and he would begin first thing in the morning. It may not work, but it was absolutely guaranteed to get a reaction from Larabee.
Linda looked at her list and was pleased to see that almost everything she had set out to do this week had a check mark beside it. After today, it would be complete. She was picking up the kids at eleven, they would spend the afternoon at the mall and then she would finish the day with an evening at the Tanners. After that, she would spend the weekend at The Southern Breeze. Josiah had asked her not to come home until Monday morning, she did not ask questions, but hoped that whatever he had planned would bring Chris one step closer to being back into her life.
She pulled up in front of the Wilmington house at ten fifty-five and then went inside. Jason and Andi were ready and waiting. “You two all set for an adventure?”
“Yes ma’am, we’re ready.” Jason said politely
“Yesssss, pizza!” Andi yelled.
Inez handed Jason his coat, while Linda helped Andi with hers. “Have fun and good luck,” Inez laughed as the trio as they headed out the door. She hoped that the blond was prepared for this.
At the Mall
Linda learned fast that food had to come first or Andi would say pizza a hundred times. The child had only recently discovered the allure of the round pie with all the goodies on top and she especially was fond of the cheese. She ended up wearing as much as she ate.
“Okay, have you thought about what you would like to get Chris to cheer him up?” Relying on Inez’s advice, Linda set a spending limit for them, but gave them free rein to choose what they wanted to for Chris.
Jason had given it a lot of thought. “A wild mustang, not a real one but a ...” He was trying to think of the right term. The story that Chris had told them about the wild mustangs is what sparked his interest in leaning to read.
“A miniature replica, that means a little one that looks like the real thing.” Linda said helpfully.
“Yeah, that’s it. Can we do that?”
“We sure can and I think that is a wonderful idea. Chris will like that.”
Linda entertained them by telling stories about Chris and Kelli, some of which had both children giggling. It took most of the afternoon, but they found exactly what they were looking for, a beautiful facsimile of a wild horse, captured in a running pose with a long mane that appeared to be flying in the wind.
“How about we get some wrapping paper to take with us, and then you can wrap it after you show it to Vin and Kelli?” Linda asked and when she noticed where Jason was looking, another thought came to mind. She leaned over and whispered to him. “They remind me of you and Andi. “
“Kinda huh?” Jason had spotted two smaller horses. One was a cute little filly kicking up her back legs in a playful stance; the other one was a colt, head down, in a protective position, appearing ready to charge if needed. Linda swore that each one captured the spirit of Andi and Jason perfectly.
Linda suspected where his thoughts were taking him and decided to see if she was right, “You think Vin and Kelli would like them as a gift?”
“Could we, you know something special from me and Andi?” Vin had given him some money this morning for him and Andi to spend if they found something that they wanted. “We have our own money. Is it enough?”
Linda took the money Jason offered her and counted it, he was a little short, but she vowed that he would never know it.
“Yes we can and you have just enough to cover it. We’ll have them wrap your gift here so it will be a surprise.” The smile on Jason’s face was priceless as they added the two smaller sculptures to their purchases.
Josiah was not going to let Chris sink into a deeper depression. At noon he informed Larabee that it was time to do some housekeeping and that he intended to start with him.
“What do you mean start with me?” Chris snapped.
“Chris, it’s been seven days and you need a shower. You also need to shave, between that beard and your hair you look and smell as if you have been on the street for a month with no water. After you are cleaned up, you can sit in the den while we get your sheets changed and this room aired out.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
Buck was ready for that response. “Well stud, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve thrown you ass into a running shower.”
Larabee cut his eyes to Buck. “Last time you tried that alone, you ended up with a busted nose.”
“Yeah, but you still got in the shower. I’m willing to take my chances big dog. What about you?”
Chris sat on the bed in silence for a long time before answering in a low barely audible voice. “I can do it.”
Buck was not sure if Chris was talking to him or to himself, but was willing to wait it out for as long as it took. It was another five minutes before Chris slowly stood up and began the long walk to the bathroom. It was a ten-minute trek, but Larabee made it on his own for the first time in a week. It was not pretty or graceful, but it was…a start
An hour later his body was scrubbed, his face clean-shaven, he wore fresh clothes and he was exhausted. Grudgingly he gave in and let Buck help him to the big recliner in the den, he slept the rest of the afternoon. Buck and Josiah took the opportunity to clean Chris’ room.
Linda called on their way home, asked if it would be okay for her to bring dinner instead of Kelli having to cook, and they agreed on a light deli meal. Since she didn’t have to prepare dinner, Kelli decided to take care of the horses, while Vin was checking on Chris. She had been at it about thirty minutes and was almost finished when the Texan joined her.
Vin saw Kelli pitching hay into the stalls and smiled, silently he slipped behind the redhead, grabbed her around the waist, leaned down close to her ear and growled. ”Want some help?”
Kelli dropped the pitchfork and yelped, “Dammit Tanner, a little warnin’ please!”
“Okay, little warnin’,” He began to tickle her until she called a surrender and then Vin turned her to face him. “You know, it’s been a while since we made out in the barn.” The smell of the straw brought back memories of their first kiss in another barn, almost a year ago.
One look at the wild grin on his face and Kelli knew what he was thinking. “Yeah it has.” Even after a year together, Kelli’s heat still skipped a beat whenever she saw that irresistible grin; it was like the first time all over again for her.
Vin pulled her into his arms, his hands slid over the curve of her waist, to the small of her back. His body engulfed her and she felt his presence in every fiber of her being. As the heat intensified between them, he made love to her with one insatiable kiss after another, taking her senses and her breath.
For a few minutes, the world disappeared as their bodies blended into one … and then reality crashed in.
Kelli leaned into him, waiting for her breathing to even out and she whispered softly. “Vin … as much as ‘m enjoin’ this… we need to stop. If Linda wasn’t on her way here with the kids, now would be a perfect time to roll in the hay, but...”
Vin got the message, sighed and composed himself. “Right place, wrong time,” he grinned roguishly “But we will finish this later, baby.”
“I’ll hold you to that, Tanner.” She raised her hand and pushed his hair back with her fingers. “How’s Chris?”
“Sleepin’ in his big chair in the den and accordin’ to Buck it’s the first good rest he’s had all week.” The Texan still held on to her and kissed her brow. “I think the worse may be over, at least physically, now he has to find his way back to being’ the old Chris. Josiah is stayin’ the weekend, tomorrow JD will be with him and I’ll spend Sunday over there. “
“Is Ezra okay with stayin’ away?”
“No, but he understands that as designated advocate for the kids he can’t be in the middle of all this without a big conflict of interest. Besides until today, Chris couldn’t tell you who was there and who wasn’t.”
They heard Linda’s car driving in, Tanner grabbed another kiss and then together they walked out to meet them.
Two excited kids ran over to them and both began talking at the same time. Vin picked up a chatting Andi and Jason walked between them, telling his version of the trip to the mall.
Linda stood beside the car and grinned.” We have dinner and bags to carry in the house. Where are my helpers?”
Kelli took some bags from her. “I think you lost ‘em to the Texan. I’ll help you.”
Once inside the kids were still going a mile a minute, but at least the adults managed to get dinner to the kitchen. Linda made the children promise to wait and show off their purchases after they ate, so there was no problem getting them to sit at the table.
Finally, when the food was out, the talk slowed down some and the grown-ups managed to get a word or two in the conversation.
“Sounds like y’all had a great time.” Kelli watched the kids and was very pleased to see them reacting like regular children after an exciting event.
“It was an experience, I’ll never forget.” Linda laughed, “You didn’t tell me they had never been to a mall before. They wanted to see everything and I think we did.”
“Yeah and Linda told us stories about you and Chris. Like the time you tried to arrest a raccoon, Kelli.”
“Linda, you didn’t!”
Vin laughed, “Now that sound like an interestin’ story. Did you really?”
Jason swallowed a mouthful of food. “Yeah she did! She was a new policeman...uh woman and they got called to a …”
Linda supplied the words. “Burglary in progress.”
“Yeah that and then Kelli heard a noise and yelled, police, you’re under arrest, then this big old raccoon jumped out at her and she screamed!” Jason was laughing, along with Vin and Linda. Andi dissolved into another fit of giggles.
“How was I supposed to know it was a raccoon? Lord, he made enough noise to wake the dead and all my partner could do was stand there and giggle! Go ahead and laugh, but it was dark and it could have been a burglar.” Kelli tried to sound serious, but failed.
“Don’t worry Kel, I only told them a few stories, I didn’t even tell them about the time at that club in Bossier City…”
“Linda!” Kelli blushed. When she saw the amusement in Vin’s eyes she said, “I’ll tell you later.”
“Can we show ‘em now?” Jason looked over at Linda who nodded yes. He started to get up and then he remember. “May I be excused?
“Sure pard,” Vin was still smiling thinking about the raccoon as Jason ran to get their packages.
He was back and Linda helped to pull out the first bag. “This is for Chris, so he will feel better, Linda helped us get it. We’re gonna wrap it and when he gets better we can take it to him.” He showed them the horse.” His mustang story is why I want to read so bad.”
“You did real good, Chris will like that a lot and especially knowin’ that his story got you interested in readin’.” Vin passed the horse to Kelli.
“It beautiful Jason, he’s sure to like it.” Kelli knew Chris would love it, simply because the kids picked it out.
“Vin can you help us wrap it, from me and Andi?”
“Be happy to and it looks like you may be able to give it to him yourself in just a few days.” Vin was just pleased to see Jason smiling.
“Great, me and Andi have to do it together though.” He hesitated about the next part. He had never given a gift before and he was a little bit afraid that they might not like it. “Me and Andi picked out something with our own money for you and Kelli, too.” He handed the other wrapped present to Kelli. It’s for both of you.”
Andi was bouncing up and down in her chair with excitement. Kelli already loved whatever it was and was touched that they would think about getting them something. “”I might need some help here, Tanner.” Vin reached over and together they opened it while two sets of little eyes watched.
Vin pulled out the little horses that fit the two little Larabees so well. His voice was heavy with emotion and he put an arm around Jason’s shoulder. “Thanks pard.” He also leaned over and kissed the top of Andi’s head.
Kelli was not sure she could speak at all and she did not want them to see her cry, so she did the best she could. She smiled, “This is somethin’ I’ll always treasure, thank you.” She stood up, kissed both kids on top of the head, and then started to pick up the mess from dinner.
Linda knew that her friend was emotional over the gift and distracted the kids. “Now, you two promised to introduce me to a purple dragon, didn’t you?”
Vin nodded to let them know it was okay and they took off. “Thanks Linda,” he whispered. She smiled and followed the kids to the other room. The Texan decided Kelli could use a hug; he damn sure knew he needed one. They stood there in the kitchen and he let her cry, while he tried to regain control of his own emotions. It was twenty minutes before they were able to join the others.
An hour later Spyro was getting sleepy according to Andi and within another thirty minutes, both children were bathed, dressed in clean pj’s and sound asleep.
Linda gathered her belongings to leave, “I had a fun time with them, thanks for trusting me with them.”
“You did good with ‘em.” Vin said as he picked up the living room. “Next time will even be better, now that they have accepted you.”
“I’m looking forward to it. I am spending the weekend at the Southern Breeze, but I’ll see y’all on Monday.” Linda and Kelli walked outside.
“You have had a busy week, Linda. You doing okay?”
“Yep, Dr. Ryder says I’m doing fine, I told her what I had planned and she approved, now all I have to do is be patient until I can talk to Chris.” She hugged Kelli. “I know it will all work out fine. Of course you might hear an explosion or two before we get through it all.”
“Call, if you need some backup.” Kelli laughed, “If I can’t come, I’ll send Vin.”
“I hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s nice to know I have family to count on.” Linda left and Kelli watched her drive off, thinking that it would be an interesting week ahead.
Chris was awake and for the first time in a long time, he did not hurt. He was clean, had eaten a light supper and was sitting by the fireplace watching the fire. Josiah was the only one with him and he sat quietly in the other chair.
“I imagine you expect me to talk.”
“Only if you want to, Chris.”
Larabee stared into the flames and thought about all that had happened in the last month, wondering how his life had gotten out of control so fast. *Yep, Chris you took off like the lone ranger and said to hell with everyone else. Just wanted to fix things, didn’t you? Had to be in control and look what happened. You ran all over Linda, who is supposed to be your life partner. You made decisions arbitrarily without thinking about anyone else or the consequences. You let your emotion override good common sense and made a bad situation worse with those damn pills. You hurt a lot of people and lost sight of reality. So, how in the hell do you start putting your life back together again?*
“I fucked up, Josiah. I feel like that damn egg that fell off that wall and broken into all those pieces. How do I put myself back together?”
“One piece at a time Chris, you can’t do it all at once. However, just like building a house, if you take it in steps, you can rebuild and make it stronger.”
“He made his choices a long time ago. Yes, life threw him some bad hands, but instead of dealing with them, he ran in the opposite direction as fast as he could and hid from his responsibilities. You had no control over that. He was fifteen when he left home; you were not twenty, yet. Do you really think you could have stopped him?”
Chris thought about that one. *Hell at nineteen, you could barely take care of yourself, Chris. Dealing with your dad’s cancer, college, work, and trying to make something better than what you grew up with was a full-time job. Jack had the same choices to make that you did, he did not have to run, he could have finished school and he never got the worst side of your dad either. You always stood between them. Could you have stopped him?*
“I guess not, but I always thought that I should have somehow.”
“He wanted someone to blame for his failures and the only way he could deal with them was to make you less than him.”
Larabee laughed and sarcastically said, “Well he damned sure succeeded didn’t he?”
Josiah learned forward. That is up to you. You still have choices, he doesn’t.”
Intense green eyes looked up. “I want my life back.”
“That’s how you start then. You want it; begin the journey that will get it for you, one step at a time.”
“I have to fix things with Linda first. I…Hell, I would not blame her if she walked out after the way I dismissed her. I did not consult with her about anything, just charged full speed ahead. We had a good thing and now…”
“You will have to face her and hear her out, but I think that her reactions may surprise you. She has been a very busy lady this week and except for this weekend has been here since you shut yourself up in that room. She spent this week getting her priorities straight, now it is your turn. I asked her not to return until Monday so you have some time to think about what you want to say to her.”
Josiah knew that Chris was tired, “Get some sleep Chris and take the next two days to think things over, if you want to talk, I will be here. Then Monday start taking your life back.”
Chris agreed, slowly he got up and moved to his room. Everything was fresh and nothing remained from the week of hell he spent in here. He crawled under the clean sheets and surprisingly fell asleep within a few minutes.
Chris did spend the weekend thinking things over and had come to a few decisions. He really wanted to make his life with Linda right again and prayed that she would at least hear what he had to say. However, waiting for her this morning his confidence faltered more than once. When he heard her drive up, he was both excited to see her and apprehensive about her possible rejection.
“Morning Linda, “Josiah greeted her first. “I’m going to be outside for a while to give you two some privacy.”
“Thanks Josiah, “she was a little nervous, but firm about what she had to say. “Chris you look much better than I expected.” She moved into the room and sat in the chair opposite him. “Are you ready to do this?”
“Linda I’m sorry about a lot of things. I did not consider you, our life or our future, I just took over and that was wrong.”
“Yes you did Larabee, but I have made a point to understand more about how drugs affect a person and I will not hold you entirely to blame. However, I want to tell you how I spent my week. And then if you are agreeable we will move on from there”
Chris was relieved that she was even talking to him and was prepared to listen to whatever she wanted to say.” You have my full attention.”
She decided to tell him about the generic things first, before she got to the more personal issues. “I re-took control of my life. I admit when Matt came and you disappeared I let go of who I was, that will not happen again. I had a long talk with Kelli and we have repaired the damage our friendship took. I also spent the week getting to really know this family better. I have spent time with all of them. I learned several things in an afternoon with Rain at the clinic and attended a few classes with Ezra.”
“Ezra? What kind of classes? Chris could not imagine where this was leading.
“Linda laughed, “Parenting classes and I went to a CASA meeting. I decided that if I was going to grow up before our child does, I needed to prepare myself. I have more planned to attend and I hope that you will go with me. I also spent time getting to know Jason and Andi. They are great kids, but before we make a decision about adopting them. I want us both to be sure that we do it for the right reasons. We have a lot to get straight with our lives before we should even consider it and that is why I think we should not make any decision for at least thirty days regarding the kids. That, I believe is a fair request.”
Chris thought about it and he knew that she was talking sensibly He had to get his own house in order and sort through his feeling about it first. He and the kids had come together during a crisis and admittedly, he had not though reasonably since then. Josiah and he had talked about it, too. If it was right, it would still be right in a month. “Okay, what else?”
“I turned control of the Southern breeze over to Matt. I do want some of my horses here, but I sold most of them back to the ranch. I also talked to my lawyer and have a prenuptial agreement for you to look at, most is what we already decided on, but I did add a few things.” She handed it to him and waited for him to read it.
He read it and quietly chuckled at parts of it. “You talked to everyone involved I assume?
“Yes, of course I did. All the children on the Larabee 7 will have a college fund set up in their name, with their parent’s approval. I really did not think that you would mind that part. It’s the other part I was concerned about.”
“It says that you will contribute an amount equal to my salary to our household each month. I guess I came on too damn strong about that. I can agree to that and to matching any yearly bonus, which is fair.”
“Good then that part is taken care off; all you have to do is sign it. Now it is time for the rest of it.”
“Oh yes, I scrapped the plans for the wedding. I think I was putting it off because I felt that something was missing and I just could not commit, so I stalled. I know now that what I really needed to do was grow up and be an equal partner in this relationship. If that’s what you want too, then I have other arrangements for us to consider.”
Chris got up, went over to sit next to his blond, put his arm around her, and then kissed her. “Equal partners sounds real good. I love you Linda, I want us to be together. From now on we make decisions, not you, not me, but us.”
Linda felt as if the weight of the world just slipped off her shoulders. “Then let’s discuss our options, make a decision and get our lives moving again.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.”
Josiah joined them for lunch and took a few minutes to talk with Chris afterward, while Linda was in the kitchen. “Are you feeling confident enough to be on your own?”
Chris made a point to look him in the eye. “After this morning, I have no doubt that I can make it and I am not going to travel this road alone. Go home Josiah, reacquaint yourself with your family. I may not remember much of the last ten days, but I do know that my family was with me, thanks.”
Sanchez stood up, “If you need to talk, you know how to reach me, anytime. Take care of each other and don’t look backwards, only forward.” Josiah left and said goodbye to Linda on his way out.
Joining her in the kitchen, Chris picked up the notepad on the table. “I think we need to make another list. First item, move me back into our bedroom.”
Linda laughed, “I do like the way you keep your priorities straight Cowboy.”
Once Linda and Chris started to work in concert, things moved quickly. Larabee felt his life begin to pull together and suddenly the future looked possible again. When he reviewed what Linda had suggested, he realized that she had indeed been on her own journey of discovery the past week and he was proud of what she had accomplished. He was even more impressed about the way that she had handled this crisis in their relationship.
Together they sat down and made plans for the coming week. Saturday they wanted the entire family here for a special get-together. Tonight though, they invited Vin and Kelli to dinner, Chris needed to face his daughter with an apology and it was past time to see the kids.
Chris was helping Linda with the last of the dinner preparation when he heard them coming. Of course, Andi’s voice was the loudest and when the door opened, he was ready for the rush. Both kids ran in like little tornados.
“Chris!” Jason and Andi both ran over to see for themselves that he was okay. Larabee caught them both in a hug and then stepped back to take a good look at them. It had only been ten days but he was surprised to see that they looked different somehow. Maybe it was seeing them for the first time without the haze of drugs clouding his vision.
Linda stopped what she was doing for her own hello.” I hope that you are hungry because dinner is almost ready.” She looked over their heads and smiled at Vin and Kelli. “That’s goes for you, too.”
“Kelli laughed, “Have you ever seen Vin turned down food?”
“Come to think of it…No.”
“Tanner does have a reputation to uphold. I think he could out eat anyone in the family, if he put his mind to it.” Chris smiled and gripped the Texan’s shoulder.” I’m glad you’re both here.”
“You look even better than you did Sunday.” Vin observed. “I take it things are okay on the home front.”
“Yeah, better than I deserve and I’m not complaining.”
Kelli helped Linda put the last of the food on the table and they sat down to eat. Chris noticed that both children were eating better and chatting more. Jason talked about school and Andi mostly prattled about Sarah and Maria. After dinner, they all moved to the den and he observed the looks the kids kept giving each other.
“Okay, what’s up? You two look as if you’re going to explode with excitement.” Chris was intrigued by their actions.
Vin handed Jason a bag and encouraged him to step up. “Me and Andi have something for you and Linda. Since ladies are s’posed to be first I reckon we start with Linda.” He reached in the bag and handed something to Andi.
She ran over to Linda and gave it to her. A red rose and two homemade Valentine’s cards. “Happy Valtines day.”
Linda was surprised, she open the cards and immediately recognized the scrawls of the two siblings. “Thank you.” She hugged them both.
“We made the cards, but Vin helped us get the rose. “Jason explained. “I know its not ‘til tomorrow, but I’ll be in school and we wanted you to have it all day.”
“Jason’s class is havin’ a party tomorrow and he spent all afternoon on cards for his classmates, he‘s been practicin’ writin’ his name for a week. Of course, Andi helped him, too.” Kelli clarified.
Linda passed the cards to Chris for him to see. “You did a great job on these and you know what? Linda and I are throwing a Valentine’s party here on Saturday and you are all invited as well as expected to be here.”
“Really? Wow!” He looked over at Vin and Kelly and saw them nod yes. “We’ll be here.”
Linda added.” It starts at noon and bring your appetites.”
Jason reached back in the bag. “Chris, we wanted you to feel better and when Linda took us to the mall we got you something.” He handed over the package. “It’s from both of us.”
Chris took his time to unwrap the gift and when he lifted the horse out of the box he was almost speechless.” He’s beautiful!”
“It’s like the horses you told us about in your story, the mustangs.” Jason said proudly, pleased that Chris like it.
“I love it and I will sit it right here on the mantel so I can see it everyday. Thank you both.” He hugged each child and felt his emotions swell up.
Linda stood up. “Who wants to help get the desserts for everyone?” Jason and Andi both volunteered and then followed her to the kitchen.
Chris shook his head and smiled. “They seem to be adjusting fine and they look so much healthier. You two have done well with them.”
“They make it easy, they are great kids.” Vin said with obvious pride.
Chris took a deep breath and decided now was the time to tell them. “Linda and I have decided to put any thinking about adoption on hold for the next month. I need to get my house in order first and work some things out before we make that big of a decision. Whatever we decide we will do it together and for the right reasons.”
Vin was quiet, thinking about all the time they had already spent with the kids. “I think we all want the same thing for them. Take your thirty days, they’re not going anywhere.”
Chris turned his attention to his daughter. “I owe you a big apology. I can’t tell you how sorry I am that I hurt you and I offer no excuse for my behavior.”
Kelli looked at him and thought about all that he had been through, “Apology accepted Dad, let’s move on and forget it.”
“Okay we will. Vin, I need you to hold things down at work just a little longer. I called Travis today and I am taking leave for another three weeks. I promise that when I come back, I will make sure you get some down time. You deserve it.”
“Hell Chris, I have to be there every day anyway. It don’t take that must extra time.” Vin leaned back on the couch and put his arm around Kelli.
“All the same, you’re gonna take some time. When I come back I will be one hundred percent and ready to go.” Chris felt better getting all that said and off his worry list. “I also ordered my new truck today and it will be here before then.”
Tanner laughed, “I bet I know just what you ordered too.” He knew by the look on Chris’ face that it was the same as the last Ram. “Ours will be in sometime this week; we went with the Tahoe Z71 4x4.”
Linda and the kids came back; she carried the larger tray, but found something for each child to be in charge of to bring. She chose a fruit dessert that was good and healthy. The conversation was light and after an hour, Andi began to rub her eyes, they all knew Jason would not be far behind.
Vin stood up, “Say your goodnight’s gang, it’s time to head for home.” Chris and Linda both received a hug. Andi did not protest when Tanner picked her up and she laid her head on his shoulder immediately. “We’ll see y’all tomorrow.”
Chris stood up, “Just one more thing.” He hugged Kelli and whispered to her. “I love you Red.” He was reassured that she had forgiven him, when she hugged him back.
The rest of the week Linda and Chris worked to finish the things to do on their list before Saturday. They saw Linda’s lawyer, had George move the horses that she wanted to the Larabee 7 and decided on some changes to make to the ranch house for the baby’s room. Although Chris wanted to do all of the work himself, that was just not possible. They did agree for a contractor to do the structural work, beginning next week, while Larabee would do the inside painting and wallpaper after they decided on colors.
They also signed up for some future classes that Ezra suggested they take. Preparation for the party on Saturday and shopping for the nursery took up the rest of their time. They wanted Saturday to be fun, but also to be a celebration of renewal; Chris had made it through the storm and he was more than ready to see the rainbow.
Day of celebration-February 18th
The house decorations had a Valentine’s theme, with white silk ribbons and red hearts gracing the room, soft music played in the background. White and red roses were everywhere, including a huge centerpiece on the dining room table already laden with food to serve buffet style.
Linda and Chris dressed for the occasion; she wore a beautiful white chiffon, floor length gown, empire cut with flowing sleeves, reminiscent of the renaissance period; he wore black dress slacks with a red shirt that also had renaissance inspired billowing sleeves, pointed collar and a long open neck, with white laces, instead of buttons. Both portrayed the look of romance and as an added touch, symbolic of the last few weeks, a rainbow of flowers arched over the fireplace.
Josiah and family were the first to arrive. “Chris you look great, I see that Linda has been taking good care of you.” Sanchez was glad to see the improvement, not only physically, but mentally too. The smile on Larabee’s face spoke for him.
“That she has Josiah and I am better.” Chris flashed him a grin, “But not as good as I’m going to be after a day of renewal with my family.”
When JD and Casey arrived, the twins were asleep. Casey was quick to point out that the quiet was not expected to last long. “They’re just recharging their batteries for later.” She hugged Linda. “You look great, now what can I do to help out with the party.
“Thanks Casey, maybe you and Mallory could oversee the activities at the buffet table.” Linda smiled, “Mostly it’s to be a day of fun.”
JD had his video camera. “I never go anywhere with the twins without this. You want me to record the party?”
“That JD is an excellent idea, please do, this is a day with my family that I would like to be able see again.” Chris patted him on the shoulder.
Matt was next and sought out Linda first. “Here I was concerned about you and you look better than ever.”
“I told you that you worry too much, I’m fine and so is Chris.” Linda kissed him on the cheek, “Now if you will excuse me, I need to play hostess.” She saw the Wilmingtons and the Jacksons come in.
Sarah ran directly over to Chris. “Uncl Chris!” He managed to catch her as she took a flying leap of faith that he would.
“Hello munchkin,” He held her and greeted her mom and dad at the same time. ”Hey you two, how did you manage that?” Maria was sleeping on her dad’s shoulder.
“Hey stud, I suppose she’s resting up to chase her Uncle Vin around all day.” He grinned, “Her and Andi seem to have a conspiracy going on to wear out that Texan.”
“You look good Boss,” Nathan smiled. “How are you feeling?”
“Couldn’t be better if I tried,” Chris kissed Rain on the cheek. “Thanks to my doctor and her husband.”
Vin, Kelli and the kids joined them. “Wow! Our school party didn’t look like this!” Jason was impressed and before Chris knew it, he was holding Andi, too.
Kelli laughed, “Kinda got your hands full Lar’bee.”
Chris did not mind, it felt good to have all the kids in the same room and he looked around to take stock of all the people that he was grateful to have in his life. “Hey where’s Ezra?”
Tanner grinned, “He’ll be here any minute and he’s bringing someone very important with him.” He addressed Buck, “Bucklin it’s a woman and try not to embarrass her too much. Ez is already nervous about Barbara meetin’ the wild bunch as it is.”
“Barbara huh, is she a new lady friend?”
“A special Lady, Buck, very special, so behave.” Vin became serious. “She is also the lawyer that got us custody of Jason and Andi.”
“Buck will behave or else. “Inez elbowed her husband.” Here they are now.”
“Barbara, this is Chris Larabee and Linda Dubois, the rest of this wild bunch of family you’ll meet during the course of the day. Chris, Linda, meet Barbara Lindsey.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you Miss Lindsey, welcome to the Larabee 7 and our party. When Ezra asked about bringing you out, we were delighted and I know you want to meet the children so please make yourself at home.” Chris was a congenial host.
Ezra stayed close to Barbara all afternoon. It was obvious that she was someone special for him and he made a point to introduce her to the entire family. Barbara spent extra time talking to the children and watching how they all responded to Standish only reinforced her first impressions that Ezra was a soft touch when it came to the kids.
“Ezra you have been holding out on me.” Barbara whispered in his ear. “I didn’t know you were already engaged to be married.”
Standish was dumbfounded and gave Barbara an incredulous look. “I assure you dear lady, I have no fiancée.”
“I believe Joanne may have a different idea about that. She plans to marry you when she grows up.” She smiled when Ezra attempted a long explanation. ”Relax Standish I think I can negotiate with her, a new Barbie doll and I believe you’re off the hook.” Amusement danced in her eyes.
“Replaced by a Barbie doll, oh the pain.” The impish look in her hazel eyes had Ezra smiling back and he stole a quick kiss. “You Lindsey have a mean streak, but… I think I’ll keep you around anyway.”
With all the family in attendance, Chris called them together. When he saw Orrin slip in unnoticed, he was ready to say a few words.
“Linda and I wanted to do something special for the family today. This last month has been a dark period in our lives and now the sun is shining over Larabee 7 again. I might not be standing here today if it were not for all of you and definitely not without the lady beside me. Today we celebrate a renaissance, which means a renewal of our family bonds and a new beginning for Linda and me. They say timing is everything and for us this is the perfect time to begin our lives as husband and wife. Josiah, the man that does know how to keep a secret, has agreed to perform the ceremony, Matt is here to give her away, and the people that we love most surround us.”
The family broke out with loud hoots of joy and laughter; above the noise, Buck shouted. “It’s about time stud!”
Chris held up his hands for quiet. “Hold on a minute! Vin, I was best man at your wedding and I would be honored if you would stand with me. Kelli, not only as my daughter, but as Linda’s oldest friend we want you to stand with us, too. JD, you keep that camera going please.”
Josiah stood under the rainbow arch and the room grew quiet. Well almost quiet, the murmur of small voices that had no idea what was happening, but caught up in the excitement just the same, echoed throughout the room. Chris and Vin stood on one side of the ‘preacher’, Kelli on the other. Matt took Linda’s arm and led her through the cluster of family to Chris.
The ceremony took only fifteen minutes and the exchange of rings led to a long awaited announcement from Josiah. ”Friends, family, it is my pleasure to present to you Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Larabee. Let the celebration begin.”
Three hours later, somewhere between all the hugs, toasts, kids and congratulations, Vin and Kelli helped the newlyweds slip out the back door to Linda’s waiting vehicle.
*Take care Cowboy, we’ll handle things here.*
*Thanks Vin, see you in a few days.*
Kelli hugged Linda and kissed Chris. “In case I haven’t told you, I love you, dad. Make your own book of memories and be happy.” She stepped back into the circle of Vin’s waiting arms and watched them drive off.
“I don’t know how in the hell they pulled this off in secret, but ‘m glad they did; now maybe their lives will be easier.” Kelli commented.
Vin tightened his hold on his redhead and kissed the back of her neck. “They finally figured out what we already know. When two people that love each other stand together, they can take on anythin’ that life throws at ‘em.
“Love you, Tanner.” Kelli leaned back into him.
“Love you, Texas,” He stole one more kiss. “I reckon we should rejoin the party and recruit some clean-up help.”
Two-hours later Chris and Linda stood in front of the same château where they had consummated their love affair ten months earlier. There was more snow, but the view was still spectacular and the inside was prepared for their arrival.
“I don’t know how Ezra managed all this, but he did a helluva job.” Chris set Linda on her feet after carrying her through the door.
“Well, we had to talk about something on the drive to and from those classes last week. I told him we wanted to spend some time here again and he arranged it. I just neglected to mention that we would be married before we got here.”
Chris slipped his arms around her and claimed a long passionate kiss. ”Mrs. Larabee, I love you.”
“Mr. Larabee, don’t you know that actions speak louder than words.” Linda wrapped her arms around his neck, returning his kiss with one filled with love and passion. The emotions linking them were a strong and powerful bonding of their commitment to one another, stronger than they had ever been. They made it through the fire and only wanted to look forward as lovers, partners and as best friends to travel the road to their future together. They began their marriage, making love with a zealous desire for each other and hearts full of love. Unlike the last time they were here, there was no frenzied rush, but a slow and sensual, loving union.
It was much later when they found themselves sitting in front of the fireplace cuddled together on the couch, that Chris remembered the letter. “Linda did you bring the packet from you dad?”
“Yes and I’m one step ahead of you, they’re right here.” She reached across him and took the envelope off the end table.
“Go ahead babe, open it, we’re together and I know you can handle it.” Linda took a deep breath and lovingly opened the envelope, two letters slipped out, along with a small key. One addressed to her and one to her new husband. She opened the one for her.
“Well baby girl, if you are reading this I guess my time ran out and cheated me of the opportunity to walk you down the aisle. I know that you looked beautiful and I probably would have cried. Hell, I am tearing up now just writing this. I wish for you a long life of happiness and love; always remember that even at life’s worst, love can survive, if you allow it. That little key is for a safety deposit box at my bank. Inside you will find your grandmother’s heirloom jewelry and the more expensive pieces that your mother added; it is all yours to do with, as you want. I pray that you are blessed with a daughter of your own so you can understand how much joy you brought into my life. I love you princess, now and forever.”
Tears streamed down her face as she passed the letter to Chris. Memories flooded her mind of the man that was such a strong presence in her life for so many years. She already knew that she would share the jewelry with her family of sisters on the Larabee7 and save the special pieces for the future daughters that she hoped to be blessed with.
Chris wiped her tears and held her close, offering her his love for her to lean on. She urged him to open his letter and watched his face as he read it.
“I do not know your name, but I do know that my little filly has led you on a merry chase. If you have survived long enough to catch her, consider yourself a fortunate man. She is strong-willed, stubborn, and wild-spirited, she can be a handful to handle. She is also the greatest treasure of my life and will be for you, too. Love her, respect her and allow her spirit to fly. Mistreat her and I will be waiting for you when you get here, to take you apart piece by piece.
Their journey into the future awaited them, but they knew that together they were stronger and could face anything.
Chris and Linda stayed at the château for the next two weeks loving, laughing and learning more about one another. Chris felt stronger than he did before Jack came back into his life and Linda finally felt at peace with her father’s death. She found one more thing to add to the list of good that came of the most horrible moments of the last two months. They discovered that their love was tough enough to endure even during the worst time of their relationship.
“That’s the last of it, babe, everything is loaded and we’re ready to go.” Chris put his arm around her waist and guided her closer to the door. He knew she did not want to leave and that it would take some distraction to get her to the car.
“Are you sure we can’t stay another week...or two?”
“Not if you want me to finish the nursery before our baby gets here.” He kept urging her closer to the car.” Besides I do have to get back to work sometime.”
“Alright Larabee, but I do want to come back here as often as we can, okay?”
You got it sweetheart.” He helped her into the car, kissed her and shut the door.
Larabee 7- Six weeks later-Saturday morning
It was still early and Chris lay in bed studying his wife sleep. Sometimes when he watched her, he forgot completely about all the horrible things that had happened earlier this year. The identity theft, the wreck, Vin shot, Kelli almost freezing to death and then there was Jack with the drugs. Because of those drugs, he had not been here for Linda when she was rushed to the hospital and he knew that she had to have been scared. Instead of being here for her though after that, he took them on another month long ride through hell with those damn pills.
*She still came through for you Chris; the woman had every reason in the world to tell you to go to hell. Instead, she took that ride with you and had a safe place for you to land when you finally came back. She deserves to have every moment of pleasure she can with the new baby. Remember how you felt when Adam was born? Each day brought something new and wonderful into your life, a new experience to treasure. You are a lucky man Larabee.
Linda only has one opportunity to be a first time mother though. You do realize Chris that timing is everything? Can you really ask her to give up this special experience in her life and throw her into instant motherhood instead?* He ran his hand over her stomach and felt the baby kick. She had gone from barely looking pregnant to definitely looking pregnant almost over night and she still had almost seven weeks to go.
Chris was aware that they needed to make a decision soon about Jason and Andi. Somehow, nine weeks had passed since they decided to postpone thinking about adoption. That was five more than they allowed themselves and they were no closer to a decision than when they started talking about it over a month ago. All they had were more questions.
* As their uncle, it was his responsibility to provide for them. What was for the best? Was it the urgent situation you found them in that made you decide to adopt? Was it strictly for them or… your thoughts about Adam? Or because you could not help Jack and you want their life to be different from his? Why do you feel the need to be their dad, instead of loving uncle? Which feelings are the real reasons? Was it you thinking or was it the drugs? You know that you love them, but you love every child in the Larabee 7 family. Do you love them more? They deserve a chance for a decent life they did not have before. They need to have a secure home and you want to your keep your promise to their mom. The bottom line, you want them to be happy, loved, and provide them with a good home, Larabee.*
The baby kicked again, this time harder. “Okay little one, I hear you, go back to sleep and let mama rest for a little longer. Your brother-in-law Vin, your Uncle Buck and I are going to work on your new room today.” Larabee looked at the clock, it was almost six and he slipped quietly out of bed to get an early start.
The sun would be up soon and this was his favorite time of day. Vin was waiting for the coffeemaker to finish as he gazed out the kitchen window. His thoughts drifted over the last few weeks. Chris had been back to work for almost a month now, he was his nearly his old self again and fully in control at MCAT. Married life seemed to agree with Larabee and there had been no permanent damage to his health, from the drugs. He did remain a little distant, but Tanner hoped that was only temporary. As promised though, the Texan was getting some down time and had spent most of it working on plans for the new house. The weather was getting milder and soon he and Kelli could begin to build.
*Vin, it’s been nine weeks since Chris said he was putting the decision on hold about the kids. You have not asked him about it, because you do not really want to hear his answer anymore than Kel does. So you wait some more, but damn it is getting harder each day. You asked Kel to be patient just a little longer and you see the same look in her eyes that you know would show in yours, if you let it. Chris loves them, no doubt about it. He will be a good dad, too. They will have a loving, happy home with him and they are Larabees.
The kids are happy with us though, aren’t they? Both of ‘em feel secure here, they know they are wanted and Kelli is blood family, too. So, how can you convince her that Chris taking the kids is the only solution and the best choice for everyone, if you cannot convince yourself anymore? Better question Vin, after months of cairn’ for and lovin’ ‘em how do you let go?*
Tanner did not have to hear Kelli behind him to know that she was there; he felt her presence anytime she was nearby. He smiled and waited until she was close enough then he turned around, to pull her into his arms.
“Dammit Tanner, how do you do that?” In all the time she had known him, not once could she sneak up on him the way he did her.
“Natural ability baby,” Vin ran his fingers through her tousled hair. “Why do you look so damn sexy at six in the mornin?’
She smiled and stroked her finger across his cheek.” Maybe it’s because I have an incredible lover that wakes me up at five and he has a number of amazing abilities that he shares with me.”
“Amazing abilities, huh?” He lowered his head to her neck and began a trail of soft kisses that sent waves of pleasure right to the core of her being. The unexpected sound of giggles halted their love play. Vin simply shifted his hold on Kelli to a more casual embrace and smiled, “Mornin’ Jason.”
Jason’s blue eyes showed laughter, but honestly, he enjoyed seeing them together. It reminded him more of the way his parents used to be, his mother smiled at him most of the time and she laughed, sometimes his dad did, too. Then, when she became sick, she didn’t laugh or smile anymore and his dad yelled more often, after she died Jack yelled at him all the time. In contrast, his dad and Patrice fought constantly and never even seemed to like each other. With Vin and Kelli it was different, they liked being together.
“Morning Vin, Andi’s still asleep and… I was hungry.”
“Well you came to the right place, pard.” Vin picked up his coffee and passed Kelli hers. “What do you want for breakfast?”
He thought about it, “Could we have pancakes?”
Kelli smiled at him, “You know I was thinkin’ the same thing. I bet that together we could talk Vin into whippin’ up a few Tanner specials.”
The child did not hesitate to join them. “Would you Vin, I’ll help?”
The Texan looked at two sets of persuasive blue eyes, smiled and shook his head; he was smart enough to know they both had his number. “Tanner specials it is then, but ‘m gonna put you both to work.”
Chris sat at the kitchen table and reviewed the blueprints for the nursery. The room was built connecting to the master bedroom, all that was left to do was the interior work; the paint, and wallpaper was ready to go. With a little luck and his brother’s help, he could probably finish this weekend or at least most of it. He would feel better, when it was completed and so would Linda. She was anxious to set everything up and although she had not pushed him, he knew that she was tempted.
Buck trudged in the backdoor and went straight to the coffee pot, “Mornin’ stud.”
“Damn Buck, you look like you went a few rounds with a grizzly. What in the hell have you been doing?”
“Don’t worry, I feel better than I look. I decided that I could adjust the satellite dish on the roof without calling the company that installed it. Well, Inez told me not to, but I didn’t listen. I ended up on my ass after I slipped and then slid off the damned…”
Larabee’s laughter interrupted him, Buck did not need to finish, because he knew exactly what had transpired. “So what time are the dish people supposed to be out?” He knew that Buck could have been seriously injured, but since he wasn’t... Chris’ laughter turned to quieter chuckles.
“It’s not that funny, and they’ll be out before noon,” Buck huffed. “What time is Tanner supposed to be here?
“He said he’d take care of the horses on the way over and be here soon.” Chris still wore a smile, picturing Buck sliding off the roof.
Buck watched his oldest friend and was very pleased to see the old Chris, but one thing had been bothering him. He was hesitant to bring up bad memories but he wanted an answer. “Chris, I’ve known you for over twenty years. Why didn’t you ever tell me about Jack and how bad it was at home for you?”
Chris thought about his answers for a long minute, “At first, I couldn’t talk about it or him. After that, I just never had a reason to dig into that part of my life.”
“Yet, you told Kel and not me.”
“I wasn’t going to, but then I realized she had no family history her entire life, she damn well deserved to know about my side of the family at least. Once I dug out the old records and pictures, I started telling her about the Larabees and it was surprisingly easy to tell her all of it, the good and the bad. It was the first time in twenty-five years I even said Jack’s name out loud. Guess that you might be right; I should have talked about it a long time ago. Maybe if I had things could have been different.”
Buck sat and reflected on Chris’ words. “Hell, it wouldn’t have changed anything if you had. I supposed there is a right time for everything, until you found out about Kel, it wasn’t the right time.”
“Now it’s all out and I can move forward again.” Although he wished things had been different, he was glad that it was out in the open.”
The mood was broken when the back door flew open and two little whirlwinds ran inside.
“Chris! Uncle Buck! Guess what!” Jason flew in first and was certainly excited about something.
Andi tried to beat him to it. “We gonna have a baby for old!”
Chris’ questioning eyes quickly caught Tanner’s before Jason could explain. *Not us, Cowboy.*
“Andi! It not a baby it’s a foal!” Jason corrected his sister.
‘That’s what I said! A baby froal!”
“Okay, you’re both right.” Vin ended their disagreement and explained. “Angel, the mare I bought Kelli for Christmas, is starting to foal.”
Buck laughed, “I thought for a minute our family was expanding.” He grinned and could not help himself. “Chris or I could probably tell you how to do it. Vin, if you need some instruction.”
Jason had no idea what Buck was talking about, but felt that Tanner needed defending. “Vin knows how to do everything!”
“You heard the boss, Vin doesn’t need our instruction, Buck.” Hearing Jason’s defense of the Texan however, did make Chris pause and think.
“Jason is going to help us today, while Andi and Kel keep an eye on that mare.” Vin knew Chris wouldn’t mind having Jason around.
“Appreciate the help.”
Kelli came in a few minutes later, greeted everyone and then spoke to Vin. “I couldn’t get hold of the vet, he’s out of town, but if Angel has any problems I can always call Matt.”
“Tanner mumbled, “I hope she don’t have any problems, then.”
“Behave Tanner,” she whispered and kissed him on the cheek. “Come on Andi; let’s leave these men to their work. We’ll come back later when Linda’s up.”
“Bye everybody,” Andi took Kelli’s hand.
“You’ll come tell us before the foal comes, right?” Jason knew she would not leave him out, but still had to ask.
Kelli gave him a hug, “Of course I will, but it might not be for a long while yet.”
Chris sat and just observed the interaction of the kids with Vin and Kelli. *Chris, it looks as if there is another thing that you had not considered. One more question to add to your list. Hell, you should quit adding questions and find some damn answers, Larabee. Just how much have they invested in the last three months, while you were getting your life back in order? Are you being fair making them wait for your decision?*
“Larabee? Chris? ...”You ready?” Tanner was trying to get his attention.
“Yeah, let’s get started.”
Chris, Buck and Vin all took time to teach Jason the safety rules when power tools were to be used. They found the best way that he could help and then the four of them went to work.
Later that morning
It was reasonably warm today and the ladies had decided to take advantage of the weather. Inez and Kelli sat on the deck and talked while watching the girls play. Linda had just gone to see if the men needed anything before she joined the women on the deck. Linda finally sat down, “Chris said he’d give us a fifteen minute warning before they stopped for lunch. Everything is ready all we have to do is set it out.”
“It amazes me to see those three girls together, each one is headstrong, but somehow they all get along very well.” Inez was talkin about Sarah, Maria and Andi, of course. “It’s as if they have always been together.” She then turned her attention to Kelli. “Have you and Vin decided where you are going to build, Kel?” Inez was curious as well as the entire family.
She hesitated with her answer. They actually had two locations in mind closer to the main ranch, but the option of building by the lake was one they kept open, too. Their choice actually hinged on Chris’ resolution about the kids. “We haven’t decided yet.” They had discussed it and felt that if Chris went through with adopting the children that it would be easier for Jason and Andi to adjust if they were not living nearby, easier for them, too.
“Well, you know my vote is for the closest one. I can’t imagine you and Vin anywhere but here by us.” Linda had been trying to find out their plans for the last two weeks. “I want to see some little Tanners running around soon to play with my children.”
Inez laughed, “Lord I can see it now another generation of Larabee and Tanner.”
“I don’t know about that, you know that we’re in no hurry…” Damn, her emotions were failing her.
Kelli felt the tears forcing their way out and was powerless to stop them. Her strong feelings for the kids only highlighted the fact that she and Vin might not have their own children. The added stress of waiting to see what would happen with Jason and Andi was wearing on her, too. What she was not aware of was that Jason was coming to tell them that the men were ready for lunch, but before anyone saw him, he saw her crying and… ran to get Vin.
“Kel? What’s wrong?” Linda could count on one hand the number of times she had seen her friend cry in all the years that she had known her.
Sighing deeply she attempted to answer. “Linda, ‘m fine, it’s nothing for you to worry about.”
“You sure as hell don’t look fine and I am worried.”
An anxious Jason ran back on the deck, followed by the men and he went straight to Kelli. “I got Vin. You’re crying are you okay?” Obviously, he was upset; he could not remember seeing Kelli cry before now. Vin stood back to let Kelli handle this, indicating to Chris and Buck that they should do the same.
Kelli pulled him real close and everyone else disappeared, her only thought was to reassure this child. “I didn’t mean to upset you; I just remembered some things that made my insides feel sad.”
He looked up at her. “You mean like I do …at night…sometimes?”
“Yeah, like that…everybody has sad feelings and happy feelings and depending on what you think about, one or the other can make you cry”.
“It makes me better when you or Vin hug me, would that make you better?”
“Yes it would, very much.” Jason hugged her as tight as he could and patted her on the back the same way they did him. Kelli hugged him back, “See ‘m better already and thank you for getting Vin for me.”
The child looked up and saw her smile, but he wanted Tanner to make sure she was okay. “I still think you need Vin, too.”
The Texan figured that was his prompt to help Jason out and he knelt down next to him. “I think you took care of Kelli just fine, but if you think I need to, I’ll sit here for a while,” He sat down next to her and patted Jason on the shoulder. “You want to keep an eye on your sister while I do?
Jason was positive that Vin could keep Kelli smiling and agreed, then a happy little boy took off to oversee the girls.
Buck was puzzled. “Does somebody want to tell us what just happened here?”
Chris though had no problem understanding what he just saw. “You saw Jason tell us what he has learned in the last few weeks. Listening is important, a hug is a cure-all, that Vin and Kelli are okay whenever they are together and that he trusts both of them unconditionally.” *Chris the sooner you get this over with the better, do not put it off any longer and do not make this harder by waiting. Talk to Linda and then put things into motion tonight.* He slipped into the kitchen and made a phone call.
Linda planned to get some answers from Kelli, but for now, she decided that it was a good time to break the tension. “Lunch is ready, buffet style in the kitchen.”
“Jason, would you take Andi inside? We’re gonna make a quick check on the mare and then come back to eat.” Vin wanted to find out what had upset his redhead.
Chris was back and told them. “They’ll be fine, Linda and I will get ‘em cleaned up and fed. Take your time; I wanted a chance to talk to both of them anyway.”
By the time they had walked to the barn, Vin knew the reasons for Kelli’s tears and he understood how she felt. He kept telling her that he knew Chris would take them and that these kids were never meant to be theirs. Still, after all this time it was damned hard to imagine their lives without them.
“Vin, I think Chris is close to deciding and you know he won’t waste any time once he does.” Kelli somehow knew that Chris was ready to act.
“Baby we knew this day was coming.” He brushed her hair back with his hand and kissed the top of her head. “We did right by ‘em though and accomplished a lot. They are healthy, confident and well-adjusted kids. Their nightmares are rare now, and they know that they have a place to belong.” He tilted her head up to look at him. “They also know that we love ‘em.”
“I know, it’s just…so damn hard.”
The Texan could not argue with her. “Yeah, it is.” They stood next to the mare’s stall and spent the next fifteen minutes comforting each other. With their emotions back under control, more or less, they were ready to go back to the house. The next few days and weeks were going to be hell, but like everything else, they would face it together.
“Ezra I think you are worried about nothing.” Barbara sat next to him on the couch, cuddled up close
“When Chris calls and demands a meeting, I become concerned, especially when he specifically asked that you be there, too.” He pulled her closer to him. In the last two months, they had spent many days and evenings together. “Although, he did say that he wanted a private meeting with him and Linda. Maybe at last he has decided to take action and move forward on the adoption petition.”
“That is tonight, right now I think we should concentrate on something less stressful.” Barbara diverted his attention. “Tell me more about this surprise you have planned for me.”
“My dear, if I told you it would not be a surprise,” Barbara enthralled Ezra more than anyone he had ever known. They talked, shared dinners together, and had gotten to know each other very well. She kept him interested and that was more than he could say for most of the women that he had been involved with in the last few years. Barbara was beautiful, intelligent, sexy and intriguing. He knew that he wanted this woman in his life for more than a few weeks though and had planned a romantic getaway for the two of them to explore the possibilities of sharing more than the stolen hours that their demanding careers had allowed.
Barbara drew his head down for a long passionate kiss. “We still have several hours before we have to leave, Ezra.” She began to unbutton his shirt. “I am positive we can find a more interesting way to spend our time.”
Ezra’ green eyes turned to the color of dark emeralds; he slid his arms around the woman that had captured his mind and was well on her way to staking a permanent claim on his heart. “I absolutely agree, counselor.” All thoughts of Larabee and his call disappeared as she led him to the bedroom
Chris and Linda found that they enjoyed the opportunity of getting to know Barbara better. They had called earlier and extended Chris’ original ‘invitation’ for Ezra and Barbara, to include an evening meal and a tour of the new nursery before they sat down to discuss business.
“Buck, Vin and Jason helped me to finish the last of it just a few hours ago. Now it’s up to Linda to direct the rest,” Chris was proud of the way the room had turned out. The soft colors of light peach trimmed with turquoise really made a beautiful combination. The wallpaper border had just a splash of sienna, giving the room a southwest feel.
“This is a room that will grow with the child and I think you made an excellent choice of colors.” Barbara commented, “There’s a warm feeing in here already, even without the furniture.”
“Thanks, that was exactly what we wanted and I fell in love with the pattern of the wallpaper the moment I saw it.” Linda was looking forward to placing the baby furnishings and adding the accessories.
“You still have not said if I am to expect a new niece or nephew.” Ezra looked to Chris for an answer.
“No, we haven’t and we don’t intend to. You’ll find out when everyone else does.” Chris grinned, he knew it was driving them all crazy guessing. “Why don’t we move to the den now and get our business taken care of?”
The four of them sat down to discuss the reason that Chris had called them and he noticed immediately that Barbara moved into attorney mode. He and Linda had already decided precisely what they wanted to carry out and had it all written down along with a specific list of details that explained why. He gave Ezra the papers and waited while he read it over.
Ezra took his time, making sure that he read each line carefully. He then handed them over to Barbara before he questioned the Larabees. “I see no problem with adhering to your request. “However, I would be remiss if I did not review this with you. Are you certain that this is what you wish to do?”
Chris held Linda’s hand and looked at her before answering. “Ezra, we have discussed this at length and we have painstakingly taken everything into consideration, which is why this decision has been so long in coming. This is what we both want.”
“Trust me Ezra, this was not easy, but Chris and I are in agreement that it’s only the outcome we will be satisfied with.” Linda wanted him to know that she was confident in their choice.
“Until today, I still had some doubts, but I am positive now that we’re doing the right thing. You always hear that timing is everything, well; it is time to move forward. To make this as easy as possible for everyone involved, we want this done without any more delays.”
“I can file your request with the court and have a hearing date set when the application is accepted. Have you discussed this with the Tanners yet?” Barbara wanted to be clear where everyone stood on this. “I will need to talk to them.”
“No, we wanted to see what had to be done first.” Linda answered. “Do you think there will be any problems?” Linda hoped not, she wanted to make this a certainty.
Ezra glanced at Barbara. “I do recommend that you speak to Vin and Kelli, informing them of your decision as soon as possible. However, I do not foresee any problems and I am positive that it will not take very long. The other part of your requests can be taken care of within a few days and I will need to speak to your personal attorney to finalize the financial arrangements that you have outlined. “
“I talked to him this afternoon and he is expecting to hear from you. We want that established first and then we will talk to the Tanners.” Linda assured them.
Chris squeezed Linda’s hand. “I know that Vin and Kelli will probably not want to accept certain aspects of it, but in the end they will agree to it. After that, we’ll decide the best way to tell the kids.”
Ezra stood. “Well then, you have most assuredly given us enough to work with and we will endeavor to conclude the official procedures promptly. We will say good evening and thank you for the wonderful dinner.” Chris and Linda walked them to the door.
Once they were in the car Ezra sat lost in thought for a minute before starting it. “You do agree with their decision don’t you?” Barbara questioned, concerned about him.
“Yes I do, this will close the chapter of Jack Larabee’s reign of terror into Chris’ life and open an entirely new one for our family. However, I just realized that my job as advocate for those children will be ending and to my astonishment I believe I will miss it.”
Barbara smiled, “But your role as their Uncle Ra will be permanent.”
Ezra leaned over and kissed her. “You lovely lady are correct and I am looking forward to it.”
The young mare had taken her own sweet time, but finally Angel delivered a little filly by nine. Vin and Kelli let the kids see the new foal after it was born and then insisted that it was time for bed. The only way Jason and Andi would go to sleep though, was with the promise that Tanner would wake them early so they could see the new foal again first thing in the morning. Kelli took them inside and once they were asleep, she sat up in bed and waited for Vin. He had stayed with the mare to make sure it was okay to leave her for the night.
Kelli looked up from her writing when he walked in the door. “How are they doin’?”
The Texan made his way over to the bed, stripped and stretched out beside her.” Angel is fine; the little one is on her feet and nursing.” He noted the book that she was writing in and the letter sitting next to her. “Been busy I see?”
“Yeah, I wrote a long letter to Walter and thought I would play catch up on my journal while I waited for you.” She closed the book and set it aside, moving closer to him. “I’d rather spend my time with you though.”
“Then get your sweet little butt over here.” Vin put his arms around her and brought her down alongside him, she snuggled as he intertwined his legs with hers. The Texan rubbed her back and thought about what they would be facing sometime in the next couple of weeks. Chris was deliberately not sharing his thinking about the adoption or much else and it was frustrating not knowing when they would have to give up the kids, but the way he saw it there was only one thing they could do.
“You think any louder Tanner and they’ll hear you in Texas. You ready to share?”
“I knew that we would love ‘em, but I never imagined that they would totally captivate our hearts the way they have. Of course, I saw it more of a temporary thing in the beginnin’, maybe two or three weeks at the most, but I can’t say ‘m sorry about how it worked out.” Vin held her tighter. “We have enjoyed every minute that we’ve had with ‘em Kel. They have filled several chapters in our book of memories. When the time comes we are gonna stand back and let ‘em go without a fight … because it’s they only way not to put ‘em in the middle of somethin’ that would only end up hurtin’ ‘em.”
Kelli knew that he was right, anything less than an amicable agreement would only make it harder for the kids. She loved them too much to put them through that and so did Vin. ”How long do you think it will take before Chris ask for a hearin’?”
Tanner sighed and decided to tell her what he had seen. “Barbara and Ezra were up at the house tonight, so I reckon it won’t be long. It had to have been a visit concernin’ the adoption or they would have stopped by here to at least say hello.”
“So we wait until Chris is ready to tell us?”
“Yeah and in the meantime we make some more memories with the kids. After...Once the court stuff is over, then we’ll start to work on our new home.” Vin kissed her. “We’ll make it though this baby, we have each other and we can still be close enough to see Jason and Andi when we want.” He knew that it was going to be rough going though and that their hearts would not escape without some scars. “We’ll ride this storm out together, Kel.”
The one thing Tanner was certain of in this world was the strength of their love.
The first part of the week had been a busy one and Chris had not found a spare minute to discuss anything but business with Vin. He had pushed himself to get back on track here at work and he planned to vigilantly stay on top of things. Finally, late in the afternoon he found himself caught up on everything and asked Vin to come to his office.
Vin came in, closed the door behind him and sprawled out in the chair opposite Larabees desk.” What’s on your mind, Chris?” it seemed like an odd question to ask, but lately Vin wasn’t sure where Chris’ mind was on anything.
Troubled by that question, Chris looked up. In all the years they had known one another he could never remember a time that Vin had difficulty reading him.
*Damn, you have been so involved in fixing the wrongs in your life that you have neglected the things that were right. Have you really closed him out that much?*
*Yeah you have.*
“I’ve been so busy putting my life back together that I have tended to shut out everything else. You included. I don’t know what to say except I’m sorry”
The Texan leaned forward, “That’s bull Chris. What are you afraid that I’ll see if you let me back in?
Larabee walked over to the window and looked out, he should have known that Vin could see through that excuse. Was he ready to admit what was holding him back? Was that what was blocking their connection? How could he let it go this far and not realize it?
After a few minutes of silence he spoke. “I have a lot to make up for Vin and I need to be in control of my life. Linda and I are doing great and I feel confident about my role here in MCAT but I still… have some doubts that just will not let go. I made a few bad choices that got me into a situation that almost destroyed everything I care about in this world. What if I fuck up and hurt the people that I love again? What if …”
“Fuck what if! … Hell Chris; you are the same person you were before, you are my friend, my brother and a damn decent man, but ‘m gonna tell you what I think. I think you are afraid to let go completely because if you do, you just might have to accept what I already know. Chris Larabee is human, you make mistakes, and you made one with the pills. It’s not the first one you’ve made and it damn sure won’t be the last, but makin’ mistakes is a part of life. Will you go back to pills again? It’s a possibility… but then so is having a heart attack while you’re tyin’ your shoelaces; possible, but not probable. What you need to do is quit playin’ what if, get your head out of your ass and move on with your life. Go back to being the cantankerous sonofabitch we all know and love… let it go.”
Suddenly, Chris felt much better having admitted what was troubling him. “Tanner you are the only man that I know that could get away with what you just said…but thanks for saying it.” He felt the connection between them open again and realized just how much he had missed it. He made himself a promise not to ever take this special gift for granted.
Vin felt it to and was relieved that this part of their relationship remained intact “You want to tell me now why you originally called me in here?”
He went back to his desk and picked up a piece of paper. “What I wanted was your signature on this; I need to update my POA. Linda and I talked about it and agreed that you should be the one to hold it.”
“Me? I thought Linda didn’t like how I handled things the last time I had to use a POA?”
“She didn’t, but she realizes that where I’m concerned she is too emotional. I need someone that can make the tough calls especially now that I have to be careful about certain drugs. Besides, in all probability if it is necessary to use it again, it would be work related and she would not be close. It’s all legal, this overrides her rights as next of kin and gives you the authority to make decisions for me if I am incapacitated.” Chris saw him hesitate. “We trust you Vin, and Linda insisted.”
*Then I reckon that I should sign it.*
Tanner did sign, then he got up and started to leave, Chris stopped him. “One more thing, we need you and Kel to come over tomorrow evening without the kids, the four of us need to sit down and talk. Seven o’clock okay with you?”
“I’ll check with Kel, but it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Vin and Kelli had mixed feelings about the coming evening. On one hand, it would be a relief to have everything out in the open, on the other they wished that they could hold it off indefinitely. Just leaving Andi and Jason at the Wilmington’s home for the night was difficult for them. They also knew that it would not be any easier putting off the inevitable. Whatever transpired tonight, they would agree to without any argument, but they might just have to build their home in another state to survive emotionally.
It was exactly seven o’clock when they walked in. Chris met them first, “Right on time. Come on back to the den, it’s more comfortable and Linda has coffee set up for us.”
Linda hugged them both and smiled. “We have so much to tell you, I can hardly wait to get started.” She poured the coffee and everyone sat down. Vin and Kelli together on the couch and Chris and Linda opposite them in the twin recliners.
*You okay, Vin?*
Chris was not convinced, but knew he would find out soon or later what was on the Texan’s mind. “I’m gonna let Linda start so she’ll calm down. She is so excited that she hasn’t stopped flitting around all day.”
“I already told you that my dad gave me my mother and grandmothers jewelry for a wedding gift. Well, Matt made the trip to Louisiana for me to get it and came back yesterday. I wanted y’all to see it all before I split it up.”
Kelli could not imagine what this had to do with anything, but was willing to be patient, for a while. “What do you mean split it up?”
“I have decided that I want each one of my sisters to have a piece of it and will present it to each one on their birthday as a gift. Except for you Kelli and I have several pieces that I want you to have now.” There was a large case on the coffee table, when Linda opened it, Vin whistled and Kelli gasped.
“Linda when you told me about it I had no idea you meant this much, there must be a small fortune in there.” Kelli figured that was an understatement.
“This is not about money, it’s about sentiment. Kel, you know that I have always considered you my sister. I want part of my family history to belong to you, something you can pass down to your own daughters or daughter-in-laws someday. These are pieces that I picked out especially for you.” She handed Kelli a smaller case, inside were several pieces of very expensive jewelry, a mixture of earrings, necklaces and rings. They were all sapphire, emerald or diamonds and there were a number of additional pieces included that were unquestionably antique.
“Linda I couldn’t…”
“Yes you can and you will! Do not go stubborn on me Kel, this is my gift to you and I refuse to take no for an answer, it means a lot to me for you to have them. I have a special piece set aside for Inez, Mallory, Casey and Rain, too.”
“You might as well accept graciously Red; she will not change her mind.” Chris tried to help persuade her. “The sooner you say yes the sooner we can move on to our next little surprise.”
Vin looked up, “Another surprise?” He was not sure just what was going on, but this was definitely not, what they expected to be happening. Chris’ actions seemed strange and Linda was smiling too damn much. He decided to play their game for a bit and see what developed. “Kel, it’s up to you, but it is a gift.”
Kelli felt pressured to accept. She knew Linda meant well, but this type of present was something that she was not normally comfortable about taking. However to appease her friend and in the interest of keeping things amicable, she sighed and reluctantly accepted. “Thank you, Linda. I’ll take your gift, but if you ever change…”
“I won’t and now that we have this settled we need to talk about “My Texas Lady.”
“Our horse? You want to talk about our horse?” Kelli was taken aback, “You ask us here to talk about jewelry and horses?”
“Relax Red, one thing at a time.” Chris smiled at her, “Show a little patience.”
“Patience?” *Right, that is such a strong Larabee trait!* Kelli could not believe that Chris Larabee was telling her to be patient.
Vin put his arm around her and squeezed her shoulder. He didn’t understand all this either, but he wanted to see where it was leading. He spoke low enough that only Kelli heard him, “Give ’em a few more minutes.”
“Yes, your horse. My brothers would like to keep her in the Dubois line and wish to buy her from you. They have made a good offer and I think you should consider it.”
“Since she was bred to Hunter, her expected foal belongs to both you and Larabee7. They have made a separate offer to keep it but they want Lady regardless whether we keep the foal or sell it. Ezra wrote up two proposals, one is for her only and we keep the foal. The other is they buy both and one half the sale price of the foal goes to you the other to Larabee 7.” Chris handed the papers to Vin. “I think it’s a fair price.”
Vin read the proposals and then set them aside. There was more going on here than an offer on their horse and he was ready to find out what it was. “You want to tell us what in the hell this is really about. I feel as if you’re tryin’ to buy us off, first the expensive jewelry and now an out of the blue offer on lady.”
Chris looked at Linda and then decided to try an explanation. “The jewelry is a gift, pure and simple. The offer on Lady…I arranged. Kel, I know that racehorses are not your first love and that you did not keep any of the money she won. I saw a way for you to make enough to pay for the house you both want to build and allow you to concentrate more on quarter horses. It is important to me that you have the home you want without going into debt over it.”
Vin answered. “That may be Chris, but we can afford to pay for our own home and we will build the house that we want. What I don’t understand is why you felt it was necessary to arrange this yourself. We’ve had several offers on Lady that would meet or beat what’s on these papers and we could sell her within five minutes if we wanted to. More to the point that is our business, not yours, and I don’t buy your half-ass excuse about keepin’ up out of debt for one minute. So why don’t we get to the real reason we came here tonight?”
Chris knew that the waiting was over and that it was way past the right time to explain what was on his mind. “You’re right, Vin. I have been stalling and Linda was excited about giving Kelli the jewelry so I let her go first. As for Texas Lady, I have two reasons for bringing her into this. One I know Kelli wants to pursue her love of quarter horses and be involved in expanding their role on Larabee 7. I want her to feel free to do that.” Chris hesitated briefly. “The other reason has to do with the kids, the real purpose for us being together tonight, but before I tell you more about why, I need to explain a few things.”
Vin took Kelli hand, squeezed it and leaned forward, “We’re listenin’, Chris.”
“When I first became aware that Jack had kids, the only thing I could think of was getting them away from a bad situation and making sure they were safe. Of course, the drugs he was pumping into me made thinking about anything difficult. I knew that they had to get away from him and yes, as their uncle I felt I had to be the one to save them. Even after we made it back here to the ranch that is all I could see. I made that decision without talking to Linda, without considering my battle with drugs and without thinking about the future.”
“Hell Chris, anyone that saw them at that cabin would want to see them in a better place. Especially a man that knew he was related to them.” Vin understood that.
Chris stood up and walked around the room. “I have been, shot, stabbed, beaten and seriously ill in my life. Nothing has even come close to what the drugs have done to me. Even though I did not choose it, the result was the same for me as those that willing take them. Thank God, I have had my family to see me through this. I cannot imagine how hard it is for those that do not have that kind of support. Linda made me realize that I needed time to reclaim my life and my thinking before we even thought about adopting the kids. It has taken more time than I expected, but I believe I can now see the situation clearly.” He stopped and looked over to Linda.
“I want you both to know that Chris and I have discussed this thoroughly and together we have made a decision.” Linda wanted them to know how she felt. “It was not easy, but we know that for everything there is a right time, for us this isn’t it. We need to be us for a while and with the baby coming; it would not be a fair situation for Jason or Andi if we adopted them. They need undivided love and attention right now and should not have to compete with a baby to get it.”
“I spent a week with them during a crisis period for all of us. They have spent the last three months with you two putting a life together.” Chris carefully watched their reactions. “Before we go any further though, I need to know how you both feel about this.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Vin answered. “We want them to stay with us … permanently.”
Chris nodded his head affirmatively, “All I have ever wanted for them is to be safe, loved and happy. I promised them a home on the ranch and for a while, I believed that I was the only one that could give them that. I was wrong. I did have a long talk with them last weekend and after listening to both Jason and Andi I am convinced that they are happy, I know they are safe and I can see that you both love them as much as I do.”
Kelli was almost afraid to voice her thoughts, but she had to be certain. “Are you saying that you would approve of us adoptin’ them?”
“Yes, assuming that’s what you both want to do.”
The relief that flooded through both Vin and Kelli made it difficult to answer, but Vin found his voice first. “We do want to, but we also have to make sure that you are certain because once we apply there will be no turnin’ back.”
“We asked Barbara and Ezra for help on this and they have set some things up at our request. Barbara already has my letter stating that as their uncle I fully support you adopting the children, along with a detailed statement listing why I believe it would be in the children’s best interest. She said that would carry a lot of weight with the judge’s decision.” Chris picked up a folder on the end table, pulled out some papers and handed them to Vin.’ This is a copy of what we gave them.” Chris sat down again.
Vin and Kelli read the statement and could tell that Chris had put a lot of deliberation into his reasons. “So that’s why Barbara and Ez were here, we thought...” Kelli’s emotions threatened to spill over and she found that she could not finish.
“We thought you had decided to go forward with the adoption and we’ve spent the last week tryin to prepare ourselves for it. We know that you love ‘em and that y’all would give ‘em a great home, but...” Vin found that he couldn’t finish either.
“You already loved them too much and found it hard to think about letting them go. I should not have made you wait so long, but I had to be sure myself and I am positive this is the right way. However, I told you that we had Ezra and Barbara work on our requests, so I need you to hear the rest.”
“There’s more?” Kelli questioned. *Patience Kel, patience.*
“First of all we had Ezra check into a few things for us. We want to make sure the kids are always protected emotionally and financially. We had Ezra set up that you and Kelli could take immediate guardianship of our child if something happens to us. We also provided the proper financial arrangements, if that is ever necessary. We would like for you and Vin to do the same for Jason and Andi. If you agree, Linda and I would be their guardians.”
“That makes sense, especially in our line of work and I don’t see a problem with it.” Vin answered warily, waiting to see what else Chris had on his mind.
“That brings up back to Texas Lady. If you had agreed to sell her then we would not need to have the argument that I know is coming. Linda has set up a college fund for every child on the Larabee 7 and certainly, the kids would be included, but we wanted more for Jason and Andi. Hell, maybe I just want to feel I have done everything possible to add to their future. So I am sticking my nose into your business and as Kelli’s father and the kid’s uncle, I am entitled to do that once in a while.” Chris ended on a defensive note.
“Okay, what is it that my father and their uncle wants to do?” Kelli thought it was funny that Chris would resort to the interfering father role. She had never considered that he could be that way until now.
Linda answered. “We want to pay for the building cost of your house, as a gift to the new family.”
Vin was already shaking his head no, “We appreciate the thought, but we cannot allow you to do that. A college fund is fine, but we can provide a home for them without your help, hell Chris you know that. Besides you have your own finances to straighten out and a new baby coming.”
“Ezra has most of my financial mess taken care of and we want to do this for all of you. Kel, convince him.” Chris looked to her for some support.
“I have to side with Vin, but if you feel that you have to do something besides spoil them as a loving uncle and aunt, I do have a suggestion. If you give me a few minutes to consult with Tanner we might find some common ground to agree on.”
“Take all the time you need.” Chris watched as they got up and left the room. *Patience Larabee, patience.*
It was a long fifteen minutes before they returned.
They sat down and Vin started. “Texas Lady belongs on Larabee 7 and will play a big part in your quest for a winning thoroughbred. We won’t sell her to your brothers Linda, but we will give her back to you in exchange for three of your quarter horses that we would like to own.” He saw the protest coming. “Wait please…We do know that she is worth much more than that and if you feel that you must do something else, then take this amount and put it into a saving account for Jason and Andi.” Vin handed Chris a slip of paper. “We will use it only for them, additionally we will agree to let y’all buy Jason’s horse when he’s ready for one of his own and do the same thing for Andi.”
“Vin that’s not even close to what we wanted to do.” Chris looked at the amount and objected.
“Dad, I promise you that Jason and Andi will be loved and cared for in a way that you will approve. We need to be responsible for buildin’ our own house, though. You can however offer to baby-sit occasionally and advise us if we need to call on your experience. This solution gives everyone a part in their future.”
Reluctantly Chris, after grumbling some and seeing Linda nod her approval, gave in.” This would have been so much easier if you would have just agreed to sell Lady without questioning my motives, but …we accept your terms.”
Linda reached behind the chair and brought out a bottle of non- alcoholic champagne and four glasses. “I came prepared to celebrate the new family.”
While Linda filled the glasses, Kelli stood up and went straight over to Chris. “Thank you.” She hugged him and he held on for a long time, they had come full circle over the last few months. Last October she gave him a chance to be a father to her and now he gave her a chance to mother the children she already loved as her own.
Finally, all the broken pieces of his life fit together again.
Last night it took all the self-control Vin and Kelli could muster not to go over to Buck’s house, wake the kids up and just hug them. However, reason won out and they knew they needed to think through how to handle telling them their news.
Standing together, they watched as the morning dawned with a magnificent sunrise that promised a beautiful day ahead “Tell me again that ‘m not dreamin’ all of this, that Jason and Andi are really gonna be ours.”” Kelli leaned back against her Texan, absorbing the warmth of his love and the solid strength that he offered.
“It’s no dream baby, you, me, Jason and Andi are gonna be a family.” Vin kissed the top of her head. “Sun’s up, so let’s go get our kids.”
They saddled their horses and rode over to the Wilmington’s house. Jason and Andi were thrilled to find out they would be riding this morning.
Buck and Inez walked outside with them while the kids gathered their things. “They did just fine last night. Andi played with the girls and Jason stuck close to me, helping on a few things I had to do. He is a great kid.”
“Yeah he is Bucklin,” Vin agreed. He was pleased with how far Jason had come and now could openly admit how much he was looking forward to being a father to him. “The best kid any dad could ask for.”
“Anytime you two need a place for them to stay, you know they are welcome here.” Inez wanted to make sure they knew it. “I enjoy having them around.”
“Thanks Inez, ‘m sure you’ll be seein’ a lot of ‘em.” Kelli said as Andi ran up to her for a hug.
“Me ready.” Andi declared clutching her doll and her clothes. Kelli took them from her and put them in her saddlebag, except for the doll. Then she hoisted the child onto the saddle and mounted behind her.
Jason was right behind his sister and he did remember his manners. “Thanks for lettin’ us stay over.” He handed Vin his clothes and smiled when the Texan lifted him onto the saddle and then sat behind him.
“You are welcome, anytime.” Buck grinned, “It was nice to have another guy around for a change.”
“See y’all later,” Vin said as they rode off.
With Jason on Peso with Vin and Andi on Dancer with Kelli they rode for almost an hour around the property. They ended up close to where they had started. One of Vin’s favorite places on the ranch that he had shared with Kelli almost a year ago. The stream that ran through the Larabee 7 property was close by, the meadow where they were married was in view, and Chris’ place was not far. They spread out a blanket and had hot chocolate in a thermos for the kids along with some breakfast rolls.”
Vin started the conversation. “You know, I found this place several years ago and it’s my favorite I think on the whole ranch. It’s on high ground and has a beautiful view of the entire ranch.
“I like it.” Jason looked around, “It’s quiet and it has some great climbing spots.”
Of course, Andi agreed. “Me too.”
“We are thinkin’ about buildin’ a house here.” Kelli added, “But we wanted to see what y’all thought about it.”
“You’re leaving us?” Jason was starting to worry.
“We’re not goin’ anywhere without you and Andi.” Vin assured him quickly. “We want to build a bigger home where we can be together as a family.”
“Like a real family… together?”
“Yep, in fact Kelli and I want to adopt both of you. Do you know what that means?”
Jason thought about it. “Kinda...maybe,” he was afraid to say more in case he was wrong.
“It means we want to go to a judge and have him make it where we can belong to each other. We love both of you and want you to stay with us.” Kelli offered him an explanation.
“Like a mom and dad?”
“Yes, we don’t want to replace your mama or your daddy, but we want to be here for you.” Vin was suddenly hit with a brief spell of insecurity. Were they handling this the right way?
Andi watched Jason to see if this was something to be excited about, as he studied on it. His friend at school said he was adopted and told him what that meant, but he had to be sure that his friend was right. “I think ‘dopted means that we’re special and you chose us ‘cause you want us real bad.”
“Yes, that is exactly what it means.” Kelli felt her tense nerves relax. “We do want you both very much.”
Jason was relieved, too. “I reckon we would like that, but…” He hesitated and sent a questioning look to Vin.
“Say what you want to Jason, we’re listening.” Vin encouraged him to speak freely.
The child lowered his voice and his head. “Chris…I have to talk to him ‘cause I don’t want him to be sad.” Jason looked up and was surprised to see them both smiling.
“I think that’s a very good idea and as soon as we get home you can talk to him okay?” Kelli gave him a hug to reassure him that it was all right.
After a short bout of exploring, they decided to head back to the ranch. The horses were quickly taken care of and while Andi when inside with Kelli, Vin took Jason to find Chris. They found him in the kitchen.
*We told him, but he does not know that you know. He wants to talk to you about it.*
“What are you two up to this morning?” Chris asked.
“We’ve been riding and looking at places around the ranch.” Jason answered and got right to the point. “Chris, could I talk to you?”
“How about we take a walk? “ Chris looked at Vin, “I’ll bring him home when we finish.” Vin started to leave.
“I’ll be home soon, Vin.” Jason made a point to emphasize the word home.
“Sure thing pard, Kel will have you some lunch ready when you get there.” He ruffled Jason’s hair and smiled. “Take as long as you need to.”
The walked for ten minutes before Jason said a word. Chris decided to let him lead this conversation and see what Jason had on his mind.
“Chris, Linda’s gonna have a baby isn’t she?”
That was not the question that Chris had expected, but he answered it anyway. “Yes in about six more weeks and we’re looking forward to it.”
“Vin and Kelli don’t have any kids.” Jason stated.
“That is only half right Jason. They don’t have their own born baby, but they do have you and Andi.” Chris ventured a question of his own. “You like being with them don’t you?”
“Yes!... I mean ...they want to keep me and Andi, but…I want to keep you, too.”
Chris realized Jason’s dilemma. Somehow, he thought it could only be one way or the other, not both. “Jason, I am your uncle and always will be, just like Kelli is my daughter, nothing can ever change that. We are and always will be related, no matter what.”
“Really? You wouldn’t be sad if they ‘dopted us?”
“I will be here if you need me, but I think it would be a good thing if you belong to Vin and Kelli, too. I know they love you and Andi as much as I do.”
“We can come see you all the time ‘cause we won’t be far, just over there.” He pointed toward the spot by the stream. “Vin’s gonna build a home for us and me and Andi will belong here for always.”
If Chris had any doubts left about this being right, the look on Jason’s face would have erased them. “We are all family for always, too.”
Jason threw his arms up for a hug. “I love you Uncle Chris. Can I go tell Andi it’s okay to be ‘dopted?”
“Sure you can, pard.” Chris watched him run home and thought of Carol Larabee. *I promised you that they would be loved and protected, but somehow I believe that you already know they will be.*
Chris found some quiet time later that evening and decided to start writing in his journal again.
I know that I have been remiss in writing, but I have been away for a while. I feel as if I have been on a long journey and just returned home today. The last few months have been a mixture of reality and illusion for me. At times, I found it difficult to separate the two, but I suppose if I just hit the highlights of the last few months it will be enough to record here.
January started great, I thought things could not get any better in my life. I was back at work, had a beautiful woman beside me and I had a daughter that was beginning to accept me as her dad. Then my world began to fall apart. I found out that my identity had been stolen, Kelli was almost killed in a car wreck and Vin was shot, all because someone wanted me to suffer. Then I found out that it was my baby brother. Now me being the cocky sonofabitch that I am, I thought I could fix it all by myself. I damn near lost everything that I value in this life instead.
Jack pumped me full of drugs and waited for me to become hooked on them. I did not disappoint him. The only good thing that came out of the eight days he had me captive was finding out that I had a niece and nephew. When Vin and the others found me, they found the kids, too, and then they brought all of us here to the Larabee 7. That should have been the end of that story and we all lived happily ever after, but then I had to go and make things worse.
February was a time to heal, except instead of listening to my brothers, I did things my way. While Vin and Kelli cared for the kids, I compounded my problem by taking more pills. I lied to my family; I tried to bully them into accepting my decisions and damn near killed myself in the process. My family intervened and after I spent another ten days in hell, I was finally drug free for the first time in a month. However, when I was able to see clearly again, I found my life had been shattered into what seemed like a million pieces. I began the slow, painful process of trying to put it back together.
Linda was there for me though and we took this trip together. We were married on the eighteenth and then we spent two weeks alone in the mountains. During that time we really got to know one other in a way we had never done before. Our relationship is stronger now than it has ever been, but when we returned, I still had a long way to go.
March flew by; I went back to work and resumed my role as Commander. My agents accepted me, but I had to prove to myself that I was all the way back. I worked long hours and tried to push my doubts behind me. I could not admit how scared I was that I would fail. I also did not allow the people that I cared about to get to close because I thought they would be able to see how imperfect I really am. I put off making a decision about the kids, Vin and Kelli still took care of them.
April saw me feeling almost like my old self. I worked on the nursery and we attended some parenting classes. Caught up with some family stuff and I realized for the first time that while I had been ‘away” Ezra had found himself a special lady named Barbara. I also was forced to accept that I had been keeping Vin at arm’s length and had not even known it. He called me on it and I finally had to admit my fears. I am glad that he pushed me because now that I had said it, I could let him back into my life completely.
I was ready to decide about the kids and was surprised to find that while I was taking my journey of rediscovery, they were making themselves a home. I suppose I should have seen it, but then again I think mistress fate was working overtime. It hit me last week, I did not have to do anything to make sure they were loved and protected. It had already been taken care of without my help. Jason and Andi had a place to belong and I could still be a part of their lives.
This morning Jason came to me looking for my approval for Vin and Kelli to keep them. When he understood that I would always be there as part of his family, even if Vin and Kelli adopted him and Andi, the look on his face was priceless. I felt as if we had all found home again.
Vin called Barbara this afternoon and she is filing their petition to adopt on Monday. Within a couple of weeks, there will be a hearing, but she assured all of us that she could not foresee any problems. Next week is Vin and Kelli’s first wedding anniversary and after a party for them on Saturday, we get to baby-sit while they spend the night at their cabin. Soon they will begin building their home not far from here and I very pleased they decided to stay close by.
Linda has less than six weeks to go and we will welcome the newest Larabee into the family. I am both excited and extremely grateful that I have been given another chance…more later…
or is it the beginning?
Continues in MCAT #6: Additions & Apprehensions