"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

The trek back to the condo with two bags of groceries and goodies, and a bedraggled Christmas tree was slower than Ezra hoped. The snow was blowing harder and carrying the tree and groceries and keeping an eye on Vin who kept sinking in drifts was keeping him busy.

Ezra walked up the sidewalk to his front steps, but Vin stopped at the end of the sidewalk, shifting the plastic bag of goodies to his other hand. He dropped the bag in the process, spilling a few things out. He hastily collected them and ended up scooping snow into the sack with the goodies.

Vin grinned. He smiled broadly, almost evilly. He scooped up some more of the wet snow and packed it into the shape of a snowball and took aim.

"Uncle Ezra?" he called.

Ezra turned toward the voice.

Splat! Ice cold, sloppy wet snow assaulted his cheek and started to run down his neck inside his collar. Ezra looked at the sometimes timid seven year old, the now mischievous perpetrator. He could sense Vin second-guessing himself and knew he had to put him at ease.

"You know what this means?" said Ezra, setting down the tree and the groceries. "This means war!" Ezra scooped up some snow and ran towards Vin. Vin squealed and tried to run from Ezra, but he only made it a few steps before sinking too deep in the snow.

Ezra patted cold, wet snow on both sides of Vin's face as the little boy laughed in delight. None of the other team members would ever believe that suave and sophisticated Ezra Standish was frolicking in the snow.

"Watch this!" called Vin as he stepped away from Ezra. He moved a few steps to an unblemished patch of snow and fell backward into it, wind-milling his arms and legs. Then he carefully stood up, keeping his feet in the same track. "Snow Angel!"

Ezra smiled. It may be cold and wet in the snow, but the discomfort was worth Vin's delight.

"Your turn!"

Ezra hesitated only briefly before dropping in the snow and making his own angel. By the time he stood up to admire his handiwork, Vin was already packing snow into a big ball.

"You're not going to hit me with that?"

Vin laughed. "No, that's silly. I'm making a snowman."

Ezra smiled. That laugh was beautiful. He watched as Vin began to roll the ball and pat down the snow, making it larger. Ezra had seen many snowmen on cards, in the movies, on television, but he couldn't remember anytime in his life where he had actually made a snowman himself. He spent most winters in warmer climates.

"Help me?" asked Vin. The ball was getting too big for the small child to push.

Ezra eagerly helped Vin complete the snowman and several others as Vin determined they needed a snow family. It wasn't until Vin's teeth were chattering that Ezra realized how long they had been out in the wet and cold. He ushered Vin inside and gathered up the groceries and tree.

Ezra insisted that Vin have another shower to warm up while he made instant cocoa with mini-marshmallows they had found at the market. Vin was dressed in Ezra's tee shirt and a pair of Ezra's socks since his clothes were wet from the snow. Ezra threw them in the wash for a second time in as many days. Then the pair curled up in front of the gas fireplace to warm up and plan their decorations.


It was impressive in its simplicity. The tree itself was poorly shaped, with sparse branches, probably why it was one of the remaining trees on the lot. But the lovingly crafted decorations made it beautiful. Ezra laughed at himself. In any other situation he would have proclaimed it distasteful and pathetic, but because of the spirit of one small boy that had stirred up his own, the tree was beautiful.

The tree had a single strand of colored lights, "liberated" from a neighbor who seemed to have thousands of lights. Ezra would return the lights as soon as the family came home from their vacation in Vail. Microwave popcorn had been painstakingly strung on thread in short strands and draped on the sparse branches, hanging down almost like tinsel. Vin had determined they didn't have enough popcorn to make a lengthy garland, so the short drapes had been a compromise. The seven year old insisted that the back of the tree didn't need decorations since it was against the wall and would not be seen.

Ezra marveled at Vin's tenacity. The boy had spent nearly four hours tying Lifesavers candies and animal crackers on loops of fishing line. More than once an animal cracker was accidentally decapitated by tying the line too tightly, which necessitated eating said cracker. Vin had obtained permission to use Ezra's Christmas cards, cutting the faces and punching holes in them to hang on the tree. With Ezra's help, they had made a paper chain from the glossy pages of one of Ezra's magazines. It was a fine tree.


Dressed again in his freshly warmed clothes from the dryer, Vin was now laying on his tummy on the floor, quietly watching a cartoon on television while Ezra tried to make lunch from the meager choices. Ezra smiled at the occasional laughter from Vin. He shook his head as Vin said something into the telephone about the cartoon. He had to admit, he had never heard of watching a television show together over the phone, but that was in fact what Vin and JD were doing.

The microwave beeped, signaling the cooking was finished. Ezra opened the small door and removed the steaming contents. It seemed that everything his mother had ever taught him about appearances had flown out the window with the arrival of one Vin Tanner. Ezra Standish was making microwave burritos and nachos for lunch. If only he had some fresh vegetables, he could have made a healthy meal. But the mission of this day was to make it special for Vin, to help him forget that he wasn't where he really wanted to be.

"Time for lunch, Vin."

"Okay!" answered Vin. "I gots to go JD. We're gonna eat now. Call me later!"

Vin shut off the phone and placed it on the cradle to recharge before running to the bathroom to wash his hands. A few moments later, he appeared at Ezra's elbow, his hands still dripping slightly.

The two sat at the kitchen bar and ate their burritos and nachos. Vin loved the selection even though he let Ezra know that the store bought ones weren't as good as Buck's. As Vin finished his soda his eyes widened in surprise at a foreign sound came from the man seated next to him.

"Excuse me," said Ezra before taking another sip of imported beer. He sensed little Vin's eyes boring into him and finally turned to look at the boy. "What is it?

Vin just stared at him with the oddest expression of surprise.

"What?" Ezra asked again.

"You burped!" said Vin in seven-year-old astonishment.

Ezra chuckled. "Yes, Vin, contrary to popular belief, I do have normal bodily functions."

"Yeah… but you burped!"

"I said 'excuse me.'" Ezra was grinning broadly. "I do not make it a habit to act heathen in public, but sometimes it cannot be helped."

Vin seemed to recover from his astonishment that Uncle Ezra, with all his proper manners had actually belched. Burritos could do that to you… and worse.

"Did you know Buck can burp on purpose?" asked Vin. "It's really cool. He showed me how."

Heathens. And they were influencing a young child to be uncouth as well.

"You just swallow some air…" Vin gulped in a breath and let out a slow belch. He grinned from ear to ear. "'Scuse me," he added impishly.

"Now that is a talent I believe should remain hidden," said Ezra with a smile. "What would you like to do now?" Ezra steered the conversation away from belching and hopefully onto a better subject.

Vin decided on a card game. Uncle Ezra had showed him how to play Solitaire the night before and Vin was enjoying his new game. Ezra had used the opportunity to not only play, but to educate Vin as well. Vin had no problems counting up from "A to K" as he called it, but counting backwards was a little more difficult. Not having the embarrassment of having JD at his elbow telling him the answers before he figured it out, Vin was excelling at the challenges Ezra gave him.

The southerner had Vin adding up the value of the card he held and the card he placed it on before he could play the card. Ace, two, three, four and five weren't bad, but when he got up to Jack and Queen and King, eleven, twelve and thirteen were a lot harder to add. Ezra had given Vin a second deck of cards to count with. He'd count out a pile of twelve cards and a pile of thirteen, and then he'd count them all together finding the sum to be twenty-five. The game took an extraordinary amount of time because of Vin's slowness in addition, but the tactile addition, actually touching the cards as he counted gave the seven-year-old confidence that he could do it.

The phone rang, bringing an end to their game. "It's Master Dunne," informed Ezra as he handed the phone to Vin.

"Hey, JD."

"Hey, Vin. I got a new Santa joke. Ya wanna hear it?"

Vin rolled his eyes. JD had some really dumb jokes sometimes. "Okay."

"What's the name of the tenth reindeer?"

Vin began to count through the reindeer names silently: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blitzen, that was eight, and then there was Rudolph. That was nine. "I don't know," he said, surrendering to the inevitable bad joke.

"It's Olive!" squealed JD in delight that he had stumped his friend. "You know. Olive the other reindeer…"

"Used to laugh and call him names…" sang Vin, finishing the line from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. He laughed. "JD, that was a good one!"

Vin listened as JD told him all the events of the day. It seemed that Buck and Chris were keeping JD busy to keep him distracted. They had evidently cautioned JD not to mention Christmas to Vin because he talked about everything but Christmas, and if the word slipped in, he'd say, "oops." But by the end of their conversation JD got very quiet, as if he were hiding from adult ears.



"Do you think Santa knows where you are? I mean… will he bring you your presents at Uncle Ezra's?"

Vin shrugged even though JD couldn't see him. "Santa's pretty busy, JD."

"Yeah, but how are you gonna get your presents if Santa can't find you."

"I don't know," said Vin. "I guess he'll leave 'em at the house for me when I get home."

"I hopes you come home soon, Vin. I miss playing with ya."

Vin smiled. He was having fun with Uncle Ezra, but he missed playing with JD too.

"Buck and Chris gots in a fight at lunchtime," said JD in a hushed tone. "Chris said somethin' about waitin' and Buck said it wasn't fair to make 'him' wait…but I don't know who 'him' is… and then they got all quiet like when I came in the room."

Vin sighed. He figured out pretty quickly what they meant. Chris wanted to wait to have Christmas and Buck thought it wasn't fair to JD.

"It'll be alright, JD," he lied. "You just keep smilin' and havin' fun. Think up another joke. I'll call you later."

Vin turned off the phone and angrily set it on the counter.

"Stupid snow!" he shouted. Tears filled his eyes, but he fought them back as Uncle Ezra wrapped his arms around him, hugging him.

"I wanna go home," he said quietly.

"I know," said Ezra. "I'm sorry."

"What if JD's right? What if Santa don't know where I am?"

Ezra smiled. It was hard to imagine a child as world knowledgeable as Vin believing in Santa Claus. Yet he knew that Santa was only a part of the distress. He knew that disappointing JD, or not having Chris and Buck's presents at the ranch was much more distressing to Vin than the thought of missing his own presents.

"I'm sure Santa knows exactly where you are, Vin. Even if you can't be home tonight, I'm sure that he will leave something here for you, but I'm sure he'll leave the bulk of your gifts at your house." Ezra patted Vin's back. "And Chris and Buck will love their gifts whenever they arrive."

Vin nodded. "Do you think it will ever stop snowing?"

"Goodness, I hope so, Vin," said Ezra with a chuckle. "I don't think I could last very long on petrified burritos. Do you know how much preservatives those things have?"

"Is that like the stuff in Twinkies?" asked Vin.

"Yes, another perfect example. Those 'tasty' little cream filled cakes have a shelf life of seventy years," said Ezra sarcastically. "What do you say, we get out the train set?"

"Yes!" said Vin eagerly, pushing aside the worries for a while. He was a Tanner and Tanners made the best of what they had.


There had been a couple of surreptitious phone calls to the Larabee ranch that evening. Vin had called while Ezra was making dinner and told Chris that Ezra didn't have anyone to be with for Christmas and asked if Ezra could come home with him when Chris came. Chris agreed that Ezra should spend Christmas with the family. Then while Vin was in the bedroom working on a secret project, Ezra placed a call to the ranch. They had agreed that Chris would call Ezra's cell phone when he knew he was coming. The weathermen were predicting the worst of the storm to be over by midnight. It would take awhile for the snow crews to get the highway's passable again, but it sounded like perhaps by midday, Chris would be able to come and retrieve his boy.

Ezra and Vin stayed up until midnight watching Christmas movies on television and playing card games. Vin finally surrendered, too tired to play anymore. Somewhere in the back of his mind he had thought if he could just stay up, Chris would come. With reluctance he went to bed, but not before setting out goodies for Santa. It wasn't the normal milk and cookies, but he used what he had available. Pepsi cola and a Twinkie. He left Santa a note and went to bed, taking Harry the bear with him.

Ezra stayed with Vin until the seven year old fell asleep, then he made his way back to the fireplace. It had been the best Christmas Eve he could recall. The decorations were primitive, the food ghastly, but he had not set aside the cares of the world and had so much fun being a little boy in a very long time. Ezra placed Vin's Christmas gift on the hearth by the Twinkie and Pepsi. He had left JD and Vin's gifts at the ranch when he picked up Vin for their shopping trip, so he had done some scrambling to come up with a gift for Santa to leave.

Ezra picked up Vin's note to Santa, smiling at the crooked letters of a message written with a loving heart. This must have been Vin's secret project.

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Ezra felt he had already received the best gift. He had the love of seven-year-old Vin Tanner, who wanted nothing more from him than to be loved back. He unwrapped the Twinkie, leaving the wrapper on the hearth. He took the Twinkie and the cola to the kitchen sink. He disposed of the Twinkie and poured the pop down the drain. Returning the empty can to the hearth, he picked up a pad of paper and began to write.

Ezra replaced Vin's note with Santa's, carefully saving Vin's note, tucking it inside his favorite volume of poetry on the bookshelf. He jumped, startled by his cell phone ringing. Grabbing the phone to silence the noise, he quickly answered.


"Ezra, it's Chris. We finally got a break. The neighbor is using his tractor to plow the driveway and get us to the main road. The State Patrol says they are working on the highway and it should be open in a couple hours."

"Excellent! What is our plan?"

"I'm coming as soon as I can get there, Ezra. I figure it could be about five thirty or six."

"In the morning?" said Ezra. He knew Chris meant morning, but he couldn't resist pushing his boss and friend's limits from time to time.

"Yes, in the morning!" Chris fumed. He cracked a smile as Ezra's chuckle floated through the phone.

"I can think of no better gift for Vin," said Ezra. "He will be delighted to be home Christmas day and not, as he puts it, 'wreck Christmas.'"

"You're coming too."

"Excuse me?"

"Come on Ezra, you can't stay home and eat Burritos for Christmas dinner."

"Someone snitched on me?"

Chris laughed. "I didn't believe him at first, especially when he told me you belched."

"Ah. I thought that was our little secret."

"Whatever. Just make sure you have a bag packed when I arrive."

"Chris, I…"

"No arguments, Ezra. You're coming. You're part of the family and you are not spending Christmas alone."

Ezra smiled. He loved this somewhat foreign feeling of belonging. "I shall be ready."

"Good. I'll call you when I'm about thirty minutes out. See you in the morning. Oh, and Ezra?"


"Merry Christmas."

Ezra disconnected the phone with a smile. It was going to be a Merry Christmas indeed.


"Vin, wake up." Ezra gently shook Vin's shoulder.


"Wake up," Ezra repeated. "It's Christmas."


"No, Vin. It's me." Ezra waited a moment for Vin's sleepy cobwebs to clear.

"What time is it?" asked Vin, rubbing his eyes.

"It's way too early, but it is time to get up," replied Ezra pulling back Vin's covers.


Ezra grinned. Vin was still not quite functioning.

"Because it is Christmas… and because Chris will be here in thirty minutes."

That did it. Vin sat up. "Christmas? Chris is coming?"

"Yes and yes," said Ezra. "Get yourself dressed and come to the living room."

"Okay!" said Vin eagerly. He bounded out of bed and ran to the bathroom to get ready.

A few minutes later Vin raced into the living room. He looked at the hearth with a gasp. The Twinkie was gone, but the wrapper was still there. The glass doors on the fireplace were slightly open. Vin tested the soda pop can. It was empty. Then he spied the note with his name on it.

He grabbed it and ran to the couch, bouncing beside Ezra. "Look! Santa left me a note!" said Vin.

"He did? What does it say?"

Ezra waited patiently as Vin sounded out words and strung them together. It was hard work for the second grader, but he was determined. He was a Tanner and Tanners made the best of what they had.

"Uncle Ezra?" asked Vin.


"Do you know Santa?"

Ezra chuckled. "Why do you ask?"

"'Cause he uses big words like you," said Vin with a laugh.

"Well, he must be an educated man," replied Ezra with a haughty air.

Vin giggled. Somehow he didn't picture Santa and Ezra going to the same school.

"I believe Santa said something about a gift under the tree?" prompted Ezra.

Vin looked at the tiny package below the tree, their tree. It looked lonely. "Wait!" he said before rushing back to his room. He returned with a large manila envelope. "This is for you, Uncle Ezra."

Ezra loved those two words -- uncle Ezra -- he could listen to them all day. "For me?"

Vin nodded. "I made it for you."

"Thank you, Vin. Why don't you open yours first?"

Vin snatched the package eagerly from under the tree and unwrapped it quickly. "These are mine?"

Ezra nodded.

Vin grinned broadly, then gave Ezra a hug, clutching the playing cards tightly. "Thank you Uncle Ezra."

"You are more than welcome, Vin. I hope they bring you as much pleasure as they brought me."

"I'll be real careful with them," assured Vin. "Open yours!"

Ezra opened the envelope and pulled out a piece of paper with a picture depicting a little boy and his uncle, printed on computer paper. Vin had addressed the card in his own scrawling handwriting and printed the card from Ezra's computer. It read:

Again Ezra had to swallow the lump in his throat. He didn't deserve this freely given love, but he was so grateful that Vin Tanner and JD Dunne had adopted him into their hearts. He walked over to the bar, setting the card on the counter top and picking up two glasses. Ezra handed Vin a glass. "I propose a toast, young Master Tanner."

Vin smiled at the official title. He sniffed at the contents of the glass. "What is it?"

"Lemonade," said Ezra, swirling the liquid in his own glass with a flare.

"Lemonade?" asked Vin. He liked lemonade, but not for breakfast.

"It seemed to be the appropriate choice," said Ezra. "Have you ever heard the saying, 'When life gives you lemons…'"

"Make lemonade!" said Vin brightly.

"Life couldn't have given us more lemons than it did the past two days, Vin. You made me so proud. You took each one of those lemons and made lemonade out of them. Do you know what a gift that is?" Ezra paused. He held up his glass. "To lemonade!"

"To lemonade!" echoed Vin.

As they sipped their lemonade, the doorbell rang bringing Vin's real Christmas gift. Chris Larabee stood at the door ready to take his family home. They paused long enough for Chris to admire the Christmas tree and take a few digital pictures of Vin and Ezra with their tree, then the trio headed home to celebrate the day with their unique family.


Comments: Joy K

December 2002