"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe
Ezra Standish rubbed his eyes, sorting through the fog of sleep. Something had disturbed his slumber. His body tensed as he listened for a repeat of the sound that had awakened him.
"Vin," he said softly, remembering his unexpected guest. Ezra climbed out of bed, donning his slippers and robe before walking down the hall to the guestroom.
The door to the guestroom was open, revealing an empty bed. The guest bathroom was empty as well, so Ezra walked to the living room, assuming that Vin was having trouble sleeping in a strange bed and had decided to watch television.
The light reflecting off the falling snow outside the window of the condo silhouetted the seven year old. Vin was watching the snow fall, his pillow clutched to his chest and his small toes curling away from the hardwood floor in an attempt to escape its coolness. The tee shirt borrowed from Ezra for makeshift pajamas hung past his knees revealing skinny legs trembling in the chill air.
Ezra walked to the linen closet, removing the fleece blanket from its shelf, unfurling it as he approached Vin.
"It's still snowing." The words were spoken soft and filled with a longing to be home. Vin Tanner loved the snow, but this particular snowfall was separating him from his family. His outing with "Uncle" Ezra today had been scheduled to last for a few hours, but the uncooperative weather had unexpectedly lengthened Vin's stay. Not having plans for an overnight visit, Vin was uneasy. It wasn't that he didn't like Uncle Ezra, rather he was uncomfortable with the sudden change in plans. He didn't have Chris or Buck or JD. He didn't have his own bed or his pajamas and he didn't have his stuffed cat.
Ezra wrapped the blanket around the shivering seven year old. "I know. The weatherman said it is expected to last a good deal of the day tomorrow."
Vin's shoulders drooped dramatically. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve. It had to stop snowing soon. He needed to be home for Christmas.
"I know you're disappointed, Vin. But I assure you, Mr. Larabee will come and pick you up tomorrow. His vehicle is much more suited for the snow than mine."
That truth had been amply illustrated earlier in the day when Ezra had to have his car towed after sliding off the road in the slick conditions. Thankfully, no one had been injured, and his car was undamaged, but it had proven that it was too dangerous for him to drive Vin home tonight. The snow crews were working to keep the highways open, but it was a losing battle in the near blizzard conditions. Even the airports had closed down.
Vin had been full of bravado earlier in the evening, assuring Chris on the phone that he was fine and it would be fun to spend the night with uncle Ezra, but now that night had actually fallen, it was proving more difficult than he had anticipated.
Vin lifted one foot, then the other trying to ward off the chilly floor. Ezra gently steered him away from the window, settling on the couch, where Vin tucked his feet under the warm blanket.
"You're having trouble sleeping?" asked Ezra as he sat next to Vin.
Vin chewed on his lip. It wouldn't do any good to try to fib to Uncle Ezra. He always knew when you were lying. Besides, Uncle Ezra was good at understanding how he felt.
Vin nodded, hugging his pillow a little tighter. "I miss Chris," said Vin softly.
"And I miss JD and Buck and " Vin looked away, slightly embarrassed.
"And what, Vin?"
Seeing that Vin wouldn't answer, Ezra filled in the blank. "And you miss your cat?"
Vin eyes flicked to the side, glancing at Ezra to gage his expression. Seeing nothing but understanding, Vin nodded.
The beloved stuffed cat had been the first gift Chris had given to Vin, when the boy was alone in the hospital recovering from a bullet wound from a gunrunner. It was a simple stuffed animal, but it had become Vin's symbol of security and had been the bridge that opened up the hearts of a grieving man and a needy child.
With the exception of school and short trips, Vin was rarely without 'Cat.'
"Perhaps I have a temporary solution." Ezra smiled at the hope in Vin's eyes. "Come with me." He held out his hand and Vin dropped the pillow and blanket and latched on. Together they walked to the guestroom, which was now serving as Vin's temporary room.
Vin sat on the edge of the bed, watching Ezra as the southerner pulled a box down from the top shelf of the closet. He peeled back the tape sealing the box and lifted the lid.
"Ah, yes. It's the right box."
Ezra removed a few items from the box, all toys. Then he held up a box containing a teddy bear.
"Do you think Harry will do?" asked Ezra.
Vin blinked. The bear looked brand new, still in its original box, but he knew it was old. It was a special bear. Vin looked Ezra eye to eye as the man held out the bear to him. He knew from some kids at school that special toys were worth more money if they weren't played with and they were kept in their original box.
Vin shook his head. "It's special. You should keep it in the box."
Ezra smiled, sitting on the bed next to Vin with a bounce. "That's what my mother told me too, Vin. It was the only reason she let me keep Harry." Ezra began to open the box. "But what she didn't know was that Harry spent many nights outside of his box."
Ezra held "Harry" out to Vin. The seven year old smiled, enjoying that he was in on the bear-out-of-the-box conspiracy. He accepted the bear from Ezra and hugged it close.
"I know he's not your cat, but Harry is a very good companion."
Vin leaned his cheek on the soft fur. "Thank you, Uncle Ezra."
"You're welcome," said Ezra with a smile. "How about we tuck you back in to bed?"
Vin nodded and snuggled under the covers as Ezra tucked him in. Vin carefully snuggled Harry close, wrapping his arms around the bear.
"If you don't mind, Vin, I think I'll stay here for a while." Ezra yawned. "I'm feeling a little tired.
Vin smiled as Ezra stretched out on top of the covers. With the company of Harry and Uncle Ezra, he was feeling a lot more secure. His eyelids grew heavy and before he knew it, the alarm clock down the hall in Uncle Ezra's room was blaring and morning had come.
After getting to take a 'grown up' shower instead of a bath, and managing to keep most of the water in the shower stall, Vin found his clothes, mysteriously laundered and neatly folded on the counter in the bathroom. Uncle Ezra must have washed them while he slept. Vin dressed quickly, hurrying to the kitchen and climbing up on a bar stool at the counter.
Ezra was looking through his cabinets trying to find something suitable for Vin's tastes as the seven year old swung his feet absently.
"Ah hah! Cocoa Puffs," said Ezra, holding up the box, a leftover from Vin and JD's last overnighter. Ezra set the box of cereal on the counter in front of Vin and retrieved a bowl and spoon.
Moving to the refrigerator, Ezra opened the door and peered inside. No milk. In fact, there was very little in the refrigerator at all. Ezra planned to meet his mother in Orlando for Christmas, intending to stay and enjoy the warm weather for a week. He hadn't stocked up on groceries, since he wasn't planning to be home. The weather had put a wrinkle in his Christmas plans as well as Vin's.
Ezra smiled down at the stocking footed boy who had climbed down from the bar stool and was now at his side examining the sparse contents of the refrigerator.
"I'm afraid I don't have any milk," he said regretfully. He didn't have any eggs or bread either. He couldn't even provide toast for his little guest.
"It's okay," Vin assured. "I like 'em dry." Vin did like the crunchy little balls of cocoa dry, but he liked them much better with milk. If you left them sit in the milk long enough, you could have chocolate milk after the cereal was gone.
Ezra could hear the disappointment in the seven year old's voice.
"I'm not being a very good host," said Ezra.
"Yes you are!" Vin protested. "You can't help it if ya didn't know I was comin'."
Ezra smiled. "Well, we are going to have to do some improvising."
"You got any of that white powder stuff in a box?" asked Vin.
"Do you have any," corrected Ezra.
"Yeah. Do you got any?"
Ezra rolled his eyes, moving to the cupboard above the stove, seriously doubting he had any powdered milk. Coming up empty, he checked another cupboard where he kept coffee supplies. He shifted the bags of coffee beans, and found a small jar of powdered creamer. He handed it to Vin with a triumphant smile. "Will this do?"
"Yeah! Now we need a cup and some water and a spoon," said Vin.
Ezra retrieved the needed items, and watched Vin's ingenuity in action. The seven year old carefully poured some of the powder into the glass, and then added a little water, stirring it with the spoon. He held it up proudly, showing Ezra the white liquid.
"It ain't as good as real milk, but it works," said Vin.
"Where did you learn that trick?" asked Ezra as Vin set the glass carefully on the counter by his cereal bowl.
"Me and Momma did it all the time when we didn't have a 'frigerator," answered Vin innocently. He climbed up on the barstool and poured some 'milk' on his cereal.
Ezra stared at the boy for a moment, stunned by his candid comment. He knew that Vin's life on the streets had been harsh, but Ezra had never really considered that before his mother's death, Vin's life might have been just as difficult. It was very unsettling to imagine Vin and his mother living without electricity, perhaps living in run down motels, or even on the streets, which his 'no refrigerator' comment seemed to indicate.
"There's 'nuff for you too, Uncle Ezra," said Vin, pushing the glass towards Ezra.
Ezra forced himself to smile. Stale Cocoa Puffs were not his idea of a good breakfast, but there wasn't much of a selection. He grabbed another bowl and spoon and sat down next to Vin. "Thank you, Vin. I believe I will have some as well."
Vin grinned and pushed the box of Cocoa Puffs in front of Ezra.
It was only eight-thirty in the morning, but it was obvious to Ezra that it was time for Vin to call home. Ezra turned on the cordless phone and handed it to Vin. Vin grinned and dialed the phone.
"Vin! Good morning."
"When are you coming to get me?"
Chris smiled. The kid didn't waste time beating around the bush.
"As soon as the weather starts to clear, Vin."
"When will that be?" persisted Vin. He wanted to be home. Tomorrow was Christmas and it had to be perfect.
"The weathermen are predicting it to let up this evening. I'll come as soon as they get the road plowed."
Chris waited for a reply, the silence clearly communicating Vin's disappointment.
Ezra watched Vin's hopeful expression fade into gloom as the conversation with Chris progressed. Still, it surprised him when Vin shoved the phone into his hands and ran to the bedroom.
"Vin?" Hearing the quiet voice from the phone, Ezra responded.
"Mr. Larabee Chris, I'm afraid Vin's a little upset."
"He's not the only one," said Chris angrily. "It's Christmas. We should be together." He took a deep breath and let out a sigh. "I'm sorry, Ezra. Didn't mean to take it out on you. Look, the weather reports aren't good. It's going to be very late tonight before this lets up."
"Then Vin and I shall make plans to enjoy the day."
"We'll be quite fine, I assure you."
"Yes, Mr. Larabee?"
Chris hesitated. "Ezra, I'm going to do everything possible to get there and get Vin home, even if it means driving the snow plow myself, but "
"You cannot control the weather, Chris. I will do my best to make it Christmas for Vin until you can arrive," said Ezra. "But right now, I think I need to go talk to him."
"Thanks Ezra, I really appreciate everything."
Ezra entered the guestroom, finding Vin sitting on the floor in the corner with Harry the bear tucked against his chest. His arms rested on his knees, holding them tight. His head was bowed, and Ezra heard an unmistakable sniff.
Ezra sat down in the antique rocker a few feet away from the huddled child.
The seven year old stealthily wiped his eyes, trying to look like he hadn't been crying. He squeezed the bear a little tighter. "I wrecked it all."
"What did you wreck?"
"Christmas," said Vin with a sniff.
"Master Tanner, how did you come to that conclusion?" asked Ezra.
"I had the dumb idea for the pictures in the first place." Vin looked at Harry and rearranged his legs aimlessly. "Then I had to go and fall down and wreck the picture. And now 'cause we had to get the picture yesterday, I messed up Christmas."
"I see," said Ezra softly. "So why don't you make it stop snowing?"
"What?" Vin looked at Ezra in surprise.
"Well, obviously if you are responsible for wrecking Christmas, then you made it snow, made the airport shut down, made the roads impassible. So why don't you make it stop snowing?"
Vin stared in disbelief at Ezra for a few moments until the southerner smiled. Then he grinned, knowing he was being teased. Uncle Ezra was right. He didn't make it snow.
"And just so you know, you didn't wreck the portrait. I know for a fact that Mr. Larabee will love it, black eye and all." Seeing Vin's skeptical expression, Ezra continued. "Memories aren't all about being dressed perfectly for a picture. They include the bumps and bruises that help us grow. And I happen to know that your black eye in that picture will be a wonderful reminder of a time that two little boys had a great wrestling match with their fathers."
Vin smiled at the memory. It had been a great day. Chris and Buck had both been home and they had a tag team wrestling match in the den. Vin and JD had been ganging up on Buck, and Vin never forgot the happy surprise he felt when Chris got down on hands and knees and climbed into the mass of arms and legs to rescue Buck from two giggling boys. Soon Chris was the object of the tickle monsters, and eventually the natural teams of Buck-JD and Chris-Vin had developed into an all out wrestling match. They had been having so much fun that they all lost track of time and were still mid-match when Ezra had arrived to pick up Vin and JD. In his exuberance to beat JD to the door, Vin had scrambled free from Chris' grasp only to trip over Buck's foot and crash face first into the arm of the couch. Fortunately it was padded and the padding cushioned some of the blow, but it still hurt and it took a while to stop the resulting nosebleed.
Chris had been reluctant to let Vin go to the children's theatre with Ezra after the incident, but Vin was insistent that he 'had' to go with Ezra. Two boys dressed rapidly in their best clothes, and Chris and Buck had wished them well on their way. Chris and Buck didn't know that the Children's theatre was just an excuse to get Vin and JD dressed up to fulfill Vin's quest for a Christmas gift for Chris and Buck. Vin wanted a fancy picture of him and JD to give to their 'dads'. He sought Uncle Ezra's assistance because he knew about these things.
When they reached the portrait studio and Vin looked in the mirror, he was devastated. His nose and cheek were slightly puffy, but his eye was developing a dark ring underneath it. He tried his best not to cry, but Uncle Ezra had told him they couldn't wait two or three weeks for the bruising to fade because the studio didn't have any openings, and if they did, they couldn't get the pictures in time for Christmas.
So Vin had sat quietly while the lady at the studio used liquids and powders on his face to try to cover the bruising. She hadn't been entirely successful, but eventually Vin had forgotten as Ezra and the photographer hammed it up, telling jokes to make the boys laugh.
Vin's grin broadened. Uncle Ezra had actually ended up in the proofs of some of the pictures as the photographer snapped candid shots before they posed. Uncle Josiah had taken Vin back to the photographer after Uncle Ezra helped him pick out the pictures for Chris and Buck, and Uncle Josiah helped him pick one for Uncle Ezra too. Uncle Ezra would be really surprised on Christmas
The smile faded. The photograph was hidden in his bedroom at home, and he couldn't go home.
"Since it appears that we will be here a while, and I have a very limited food supply, I think we need to attempt a trek to the corner market." Ezra held out a hand to Vin. "Shall we?"
Vin sighed. Stale Cocoa Puffs wouldn't go very far, and a trip to the store would be an adventure. He nodded, the Tanner spirit taking hold. He would make the best out of what he was given.
They made quite a pair, seven-year-old Vin Tanner, bundled up in his winter coat, stocking cap, scarf, gloves and boots; and Ezra Standish in his designer ski outfit with matching hat, scarf and gloves and plastic garbage bags tied over his shoes. Trudging through snow did not bode well for designer shoes, and ski boots weren't exactly designed for walking. Ezra shook his head wondering how he had been talked into wearing garbage bags, once again the ingenuity of Vin. It seemed Vin and his mother had done this trick a time or two also when they didn't have the proper footwear.
"Yes, Vin?" answered Ezra, taking another step in the deepening snow.
"You don't have a Christmas Tree." Vin's foot broke through crusted snow several layers down and he sunk in to his waist. "Whoa!"
Ezra chuckled and lifted him out of the drift, setting him on the more traveled path that hopefully was the sidewalk. "There you go. I don't have a tree because I was going to be traveling over Christmas."
"But now you're not," said Vin.
That was true. The airport had closed due to the weather. Even when it re-opened getting a flight with all the people whose plans had been disrupted would be nearly impossible. The warmer weather of his destination beckoned him, but it wasn't worth the frustration. He would let his seat go to someone who really needed it.
"And your point is?"
Vin grinned up at Ezra. "There's trees at the gas station."
Ezra looked ahead at the gas station - market. There was indeed a small tree lot with a couple of trees left.
"While that is a wonderful idea, Vin, I don't have any decorations for a tree and I seriously doubt our little store has any for sale."
Ezra saw the momentary disappointment on Vin's face, and then watched the determination appear. His gut twisted in empathy. He had known disappointment as a child and absolutely hated that Vin had known so much disappointment. It made him angry, and he wasn't about to let that happen again if at all preventable. But he also admired Vin's spirit. He always seemed to pick himself up and make the best of a situation.
"We could make some?" suggested Vin hopefully as they approached the store. He didn't like it that Uncle Ezra wasn't going to be able to spend Christmas with his mother, and that he didn't have 'Christmas' at his house.
And Ezra knew the probability was high that Vin would be spending Christmas with him, so he determined to make the best of it as well.
"I think that is a fine idea. Let's see what we can come up with inside." They shook the snow off their feet and entered the tiny store.
It really wasn't much of a store. There were only four aisles of items ranging from automotive supplies to snacks. Vin picked up a blue shopping basket and walked along with Ezra as the southerner tried to find something he considered edible.
Ezra was right, there were no Christmas decorations, but there were some small candy canes. Vin held them up and Ezra gave a nod of approval.
"We'll need some string or ribbon," said Vin.
"Fishing line?" suggested Ezra, holding up a spool.
"Yeah! That will work great!"
The twosome made their way through the market adding items to their basket that could be made into a semblance of Christmas decorations. When it came to food items, the pickings were sparse. Apparently it was the only store many of the people in the neighborhood could reach. Ezra took the last carton of milk from the refrigerator case and added it to the basket he now carried. Vin was carrying several packs of Lifesavers candy and some microwave popcorn.
Vin watched a lady come in carrying a toddler. She went to the refrigerator case where the milk had been and sighed. "Well, Sweetie," she said to the Toddler, "We'll just have to make due."
The toddler held out his baby bottle. "Drink."
Vin looked at the milk carton in their basket. He looked back at the little boy. Impulsively he walked over to the lady.
"Excuse me? Do you have a 'frigerator?" asked Vin.
"I don't have time for jokes, little boy," said the woman, thinking that Vin was going to play the old 'is your refrigerator running - you'd better catch it' joke on her.
"I'm not making a joke," insisted Vin. "Do you have a 'frigerator?"
"Yes," said the mother as the toddler began to fuss.
Vin trotted back to Ezra and took the milk out of the basket, watching Ezra's face the entire time. Finding no anger or condemnation, he walked back to the woman.
"Here." Vin handed her the carton of milk. "We can make pretend milk, but your little boy needs this. Merry Christmas." Vin trotted away before the woman could respond. Ezra smiled and nodded to her as Vin joined him at the checkout counter, proud of the kindness his 'nephew' had displayed.
Comments: Joy K