Thanksgiving Melee

By Phyllis

This week was Thanksgiving. Dad and Buck were home for four days and we had a lot of fun. We got a turkey, but then we lost him. We watched football and ate too much. Buck and Chris cooked a lot of food and I thought I was going to be sick, but I wasn't. Uncle Josiah and Nathan and Ezra came and we had a lot of fun. I wish Dad was home everyday, cause maybe then he wouldn't make me go to school and I could stay home with him.

JD and I did lots of things and had a lot of fun this week. Oh, Uncle Ezra. Hi. When did you get here?

I arrived a few minutes ago. JD told me that you were beginning your weekly narrative.

Yeah, he said he had to go get a drink and then go to the bathroom and then he'd be in here.

I see. So what are we talking about this week?

I was going to tell about the day before Thanksgiving.

Well, then, I shall not delay you any further. Please proceed.

Okay. Well, Tuesday night, we made a grocery list for food and Wednesday, Chris and Buck went to the store.

Chris glanced at his watch. Ten o'clock. Two more hours and he would be done for the week. The team had finished up their last assignment in record time and Travis was giving them a few days off. The timing could not have been better for Team Seven as Thanksgiving was the next day, giving them a four-day weekend. Larabee smiled at the thought of the festive holiday. The three other team members had agreed to come out to the ranch. The day would be spent eating and watching football with major male bonding between the team as well as the two orphans that lived at the Larabee ranch.

They planned on snacks for the early game between the Lions and the Packers. Dinner would be served after that game, around one-thirty, followed up by the Cowboys-Dolphins game at two. Buck and Chris had assured Mrs. Potter that they could handle the cooking and cleaning and told the woman to not come back until Monday. In fact, as soon as he finished approving the last of the reports, he and Buck were heading to the store to do the shopping. Josiah, Nathan and Ezra were all bringing one or two things for the feast, but the Larabee and Wilmington household would provide the majority of the food. Even the boys would be helping in the kitchen.

The previous night, the foursome had sat down and prepared a list of groceries they would need to buy. Uppermost, they needed to get a turkey so it would have time to thaw. They had made that mistake before. After wrestling with a half frozen turkey last time, they vowed to not do that again.

Just as he tossed the last folder into his out basket, the phone rang.


An aged and gruff voice responded. "Chris? Zafram Cochran here."

"Zafram? Is everything okay? Martha?"

Chris could almost see the old man shaking his head as he spoke, "No, no, everything is just fine. Momma's right as rain. Fact is, we was about to pack up the car and head out to the kids' place."

Frowning, Chris questioned, "Pack? Thought the boys and their families were coming here for the holidays."

"Yeah, well that was the plan. Buy seems that Judy is having problems with the baby and can't travel, so everyone is going to Springfield for Thanksgiving."

"I hope she's alright."

"Ah, she's fine. Been havin' some false labor, doc wants 'er to stay close to home. So Momma and I will be heading out today. Problem is we was pretty much set to feed the boys and their families here, so we was wondering if you boys could use a turkey? Got a big gobbler, plenty for that extended family you'll have at your place."

Chris shook his head, grinning. Zafram, along with his wife, Martha, had lived on the next ranch for almost forty years, buying it right after getting out of the army in his early twenties, long before Larabee was around. Chris knew all three of their boys and their wives, their kids and grandkids. The entire family had come to Sarah and Adam's funeral, though Larabee only knew that because Buck had told him later. The old man thought of the blond rancher as part of the family, much like Larabee thought of him and his wife. The Cochrans were the kind of neighbors that you might not see often but had a sense of peace just knowing they were there.

"Extended family, huh?"

"Hell, I may be old, Christopher, but I ain't blind. There's been a lot more traffic at your place since them two boys showed up." There was a pause and then the old man said softly, "It's good to see ya living again, boy."

Chris sat with his elbows propped on the desk as one hand held the receiver and the other rubbed his forehead. "Zafram, I…"

Larabee hesitated as he tried to come up with the right words to express his thoughts. After the loss of his family, he had tried to relieve his pain with alcohol. He hadn't realized just how many people those actions had affected until he had stopped drinking and could see the support group that surrounded him. Zafram and Martha had played a big part in helping Buck watch over him, by helping to take care of the ranch and stock, as well as providing home-cooked meals several times a month. While Buck had been there to take care of him, the Cochrans had been there to take care of Wilmington.

The old man's voice stopped the man's thoughts. "Larabee, you want this turkey or not? Momma's chomping at the bit to get on the road. She's got more bits and pieces loaded into that mobile house than we'll need in a month of Sundays. Ain't never figur'd out why in tarnation that woman has to take so much when we….I ain't dallying," the old man suddenly yelled. "I'm trying to talk to Chris…Hold your damn horses, woman. I got to make arrangements; unless ya want to come home to a pair of starved dogs and a coop full of dead chickens."

Chris chuckled as the couple argued back and forth. That had taken some getting use to, the constant bickering. Sarah had finally pointed out to him that no matter how much they yelled and cursed, the Cochrans were always kissing each other on the cheek, or touching as they passed. Arguing was their way of showing affection and the younger man had finally learned to relax and enjoy the show when he was around the two.

"Now as I was saying, I got that gobbler to get rid of and I need someone to watch the place for me."

"No problem, Zafram. Buck and I'll run by there and feed the stock. Anything special I need to be aware of?"

"Nope. Got the place all ready for winter, plenty of stores in the barn. You have them boys come over here and pick them eggs. I'm sure Miz Potter can make use of 'em. I'll drop off that bird on the way out. We'll be leaving here directly, so there's no need for you to come by today, I'll have everything taken care of."

"Sounds good, Zafram. You and Martha have a safe trip and don't worry about the place. Stay as long as you need."

"Ah, hell, boy, after a week or two, Judy 'll be kicking us out so's she can get some peace an' quiet."

Chris heard Martha Cochran saying something and then Zafram yelled, "I tol' ya I'd be there in a minute. Go get in the dang car if you're in such a hurry. I'll be out when I'm out." More muffled talking and then, "Chris, I got to go. You'd think that baby was coming right this second the way that woman acts. It's a long drive and Momma wants to get there and fix dinner for everybody. I'm sure Judy's ma 'll have something to say about that. Me? I'll be in the RV watching ballgames with the boys."

Laughing, Chris told the man to just drop the turkey off with Gloria Potter as they left. The two men talked a few minutes more and ended with Larabee telling the man to say hello to the boys, kiss the wives for him and to drive careful, not to push it, to which the old man replied, that he would drive as carefully as the road and Martha would allow. The blond was still laughing as he hung up the phone.

When Buck came to the door a while later, the smile was still hanging on Larabee's face.

"What are you smiling about, Chris?"

Standing and moving to the coat rack, Chris told Wilmington about the phone call as he took his coat and pulled the door closed. Buck backed up a couple of steps, shaking his head.

"That old man is something else."

"Yeah, he is a character. Judy, Davy's wife, is expecting a baby and can't travel, so he and Martha are driving to Missouri for Thanksgiving."

"Phew, that's a long drive, and over the holiday? Traffic is going to be a bear."

"Won't bother them, they love to travel. Plus, it's to see the family, so…" Chris left the statement hanging. Both men knew what family meant to the couple.

"So," Buck said, clapping his hands together and rubbing them. "You ready to go shopping? Like to get home before the boys and relax a little bit."

"Yeah. Everybody leave already?"

Buck glanced around the empty office. "Sure did. We're the last. They left quiet like, afraid you'd find a way to keep 'em here. When you said we could knock off at noon and take the rest of the week off, they took you at your word, but they weren't going to take any chances. All three said they'd see us tomorrow, though."

The two grabbed their jackets and headed to the door. "Nathan sure Rain doesn't want to come? Hate to think she feels excluded," Chris stated as the elevator doors closed.

"Nope. She's good. I asked Nathan again today. Seems she has a friend that is here from overseas and the two of them are planning to 'do the town' as Nathan said. Girl's only here for one day, a long layover or something, so it works out good for them both, Nathan coming to the house and all."

The doors slid open at the garage level and the two men stepped out. They pulled their collars up as the wind howled through the garage, stray pieces of trash swirling around their legs. Getting into the Dodge, they buckled up and headed out.

"You got that list?" Chris asked.

Buck laughed as he pulled a long list from his pocket. It was folded several times and consisted of three narrow strips of paper, taped together. "Oh, yeah. I even counted it. There's sixty-four things on here."

"What?" Chris stammered as he maneuvered the big truck through the noon traffic.

"Yeah, well, it adds up quick, especially when you let JD write the list." He held the list out for Chris to glance at. The handwriting was definitely a child's, large and sprawling. Chris chuckled as he recognized the first words.


And the list continued. Chris laughed. "I thought JD liked carrots?"

"Oh, he does, but for some reason, he has to see them before he remembers." The two men laughed. The truck had gotten past the worst of the traffic and Larabee now accelerated as they reached the open highway. "Be sure and mark off turkey. Zafram brought one over."

"Hope it's a big one; I love turkey and dressing," Buck commented, to which Chris laughed and nodded. "Did you read the whole list?"

"No. What's he got on there?"

"Cheerios and Fruit Loops. They got some recipes from the internet." Buck grinned. "Has something to do with string and a toothpick."

Chris snorted. "Hope it ain't something they'll want us to wear." He glanced over at Buck and saw the grin gracing the man's face. "Damn" was all he said as he turned his attention back to the road.

Buck laughed out loud. "I can't wait 'til Standish shows up in one of those expensive Italian suits."

Three hours later the two men arrived at the ranch house, the truck loaded with groceries. The wind was still blowing hard, the dust peppering the windshield as Chris stopped and put the big truck into park. They opened the doors and started taking bags out of the back seat, noticing the two dogs, Ringo and Elvis, standing at the barn door. Chris whistled and the two pups trotted over.

They took the bags inside and greeted Gloria Potter. She told them she would start unloading the sacks while they got the rest, so the two men headed back out, eager to get inside and out of the cold wind. The woman shook her head at all the food, knowing the two men had bought too much. Then she smiled, knowing Josiah's shelter would be well provided for in the next week.

Outside, the last of the bags were pulled from the truck and Chris used his knee to push Elvis out of the way of the doors, as they were slammed closed, preventing the two dogs from jumping inside. Hearing a noise, the two animals took off toward the barn. Chris and Buck started to the house with the last of the groceries.

Suddenly, a shrill cry split the air and Buck found himself attacked. Looking down, he looked into the joyous face of the dark haired boy that was now attached to his leg. The boy's cheeks were red from the cold wind and his hair whipped around his face. JD had wrapped his arms and legs around Wilmington's long limb and now giggled as the man walked straight-legged to the porch. He hopped from one step to the next, jarring the little boy down, but not off.

Vin had run up to Chris, but pulled to a stop, short of contact. He held out his hands. "Can I help?" His cheeks were also stained red by the wind and Larabee sighed as the fine blond hair knotted itself in the wind. There would be a long session of gentle, tedious hair combing after baths tonight.

Chris smiled and handed over a bag containing cereals. The two walked in together, Chris' free hand resting lightly on the boy's slender shoulder.

"Thought you two had school today," Chris stated.

"We did, but it got dark and Miz Potter came and got us."

Chris frowned. It was just about three-thirty and the sun was still up. As they entered the house, he discovered what the boy meant as Mrs. Potter was saying…

"… called. A truck hit a utility pole and knocked it down. The electric company told them the power wouldn't be back on before this evening, so school was dismissed early."

"Well, I'll bet that was fun, right, Little Bit?"

"Yeah," the five year old said as he pawed through the supplies laid out on the table. "Where's the cereal?" he asked, fists planted on his narrow hips.

"I got 'em," Vin informed him as he came into the room.

"Goody." JD jumped down and looked in the bag as Vin opened it up. JD jumped up and down with excitement. "Oh, boy. Now we have everything we need for Thanksgiving."

Chris shook his head at the thought of the energetic boy trying to sit still long enough to make the treats if a toothpick and string were truly needed.

As the men began to put the supplies away, the boys folded the sacks and placed them in a bin for recycling. The boys finished their task first and while Vin waited patiently, JD was vibrating with anticipation. As the last item was stored away, the dark haired boy grabbed the taller agent's hand and Vin approached Larabee.

"Come on, Buck. You got to meet Pete."

Buck's eyebrows went up in question. "Pete? Who's Pete?"

Chris shrugged his shoulders and looked down at the seven-year old. The smile on his face created one on the man's face and he said, "Guess we better go find out."

As they headed for the back door, Chris glanced over at Gloria. What he saw caused the smile to disappear. There was definite disapproval on the woman's face. It reminded him of his mother's face when she had caught him at something of which she disapproved. As the ATF team leader stumbled out the back door, he found himself filled with dread. The boys must have found something in the surrounding fields and brought it home with the intention of making it a pet; something that Mrs. Potter did not approve of. Must be, 'cause Larabee could think of nothing he had done to warrant such a disapproving look from the housekeeper.

The foursome headed to the barn, JD tugging Buck along by the hand, while Vin followed, glancing back several times to assure himself that his dad was still coming. Elvis and Ringo were at the door, whining and digging at the ground. JD reached down and pulled his pup away with a stern, "NO". The little retriever dropped his ears and whined as he slunk away, Ringo following on his heels. They only moved a couple of feet off then turned and watched.

Buck grabbed the door as JD pulled it open and the four entered the cavernous interior. The boys jogged ahead, stopping at one of the stalls.

"He's beautiful, Chris." Vin said, his blue eyes wide as he stared into the closed stall.

JD turned wide eyes to the two men, his head shaking, his hands clasped together in front of his chest, as he said, "We haven't touched him, honest."

Buck and Chris strode over and looked over the stall door. 'Pete' stared back, the red wattle swaying as he turned and trotted to the back of the stall. Beautiful was not the word that came to mind.

Wilmington chortled and then coughed into his hand at the noise that escaped Chris Larabee at the sight of the turkey enclosed in the stall. When cold green eyes turned in his direction, Wilmington turned, rubbing the knuckle of his first finger across his lips.

"Can we touch 'im now? 'Cause Miz Potter said we couldn't touch 'im 'til you got home. Can we, please?" JD was twitching with excitement. Even the quieter boy was tense with anticipation.

Buck shook his head. "Boys, this isn't a pet. And he's likely not wanting to be touched."

"But, we gave him a name" came the protest, surprisingly from Tanner. "Mr. Cochran said Chris said he's ours now."

Buck squatted down next to the boys and tried to explain. "Boys, I don't think Chris meant for 'Pete' to be a pet. Mr. Cochran's going out of town and…well…"

"The turkey is for Thanksgiving." Chris said bluntly.

Buck tossed a glare over his shoulder, Vin dropped his head and JD just looked confused.

"Chris!" Buck hissed.

"What? Do you want to keep 'em?"

"We can't keep 'em? Me and Vin'll take good care of 'em."

Larabee's face softened and he bent down, placing his hands on his thighs as he told the boy, "JD, the turkey is for dinner, son."

JD frowned for a moment and then his eyes widened. "NO! You can't eat Pete." The dark haired waif then cut loose with heart-wrenching sobs, his hands fisted and his feet pounding the ground. Buck immediately gathered the boy into his arms and headed out the door, never once sparing a look at his boss.

Chris straightened up and leaned his head back in exasperation to stare at the barn ceiling. Closing his eyes, he rolled his head around until his chin was on his chest and opened them again…to find himself looking into the blue eyes of Vin Tanner as the boy stood in front of him, his arms crossed over his chest. They were as disapproving as Gloria Potter's had been earlier.

"You shouldn't have said that," he scolded softly.

Larabee took a deep breath and then scrubbed his face with his hands. Lowering his hands, he nodded, looking the young boy in the face. "You're right. I didn't handle that very well."

Chris squatted down and lightly placed his hands on the boy's arms and ran them up and down. "I want to apologize to you and then I'll apologize to JD. I was…" He rolled his eyes, searching for the right word. "…shocked when I saw 'Pete'. I had no idea that Zafram was bringing a live bird to the house. I just figured that it was a store brought, frozen turkey. I should have remembered that he's old school and used to butchering his own meat. We're not going to eat Pete."

Vin relaxed a bit, his arms dropping to his sides. He continued to gaze into his father's face.

The man looked over at the closed gate and chuckled. "I don't know exactly what we will do with him, but we won't eat him. Okay?"

The boy nodded. "Okay."

Standing, Larabee brushed a hand across the fine, blond hair, ruffling it. Giggling, Vin ducked away and sprinted to the door.

"Hey! Wait for me." Laughing, Chris jogged behind the youngster.

The two burst into the kitchen still laughing, but drew up short at the sharp look Mrs. Potter gave them. Chris knew it was directed at him so he moved across the room and approached the disapproving woman.

"I know and I'm about to do something about it right now."

She made a sound in her throat before saying, "I never doubted that you would." She patted his arm as she started around him. "I'll be heading home now. I'll see you on Monday."

The woman moved across the room and stroked Vin's face as she passed him. "You have a happy Thanksgiving, Vin."

"Yes, ma'am. We will."

With that said, she gathered her things and left through the back door.

Chris stood looking at the door for a moment and turned to face the front room, figuring that Buck was in there with JD. A light touch drew his attention and he looked down into Vin's blue eyes.

"It's okay, Dad. JD will forgive ya."

Larabee smiled. Nodding, he said, "Okay. Let's go."

They moved to the doorway and stepped through. Buck was sitting in his recliner holding the boy and looked up as the other two entered. The younger agent did not smile and Larabee knew he would have to talk fast to make amends to the young boy for his words.

Chris pulled a stool up to the front of the chair and sat down, resting his arms on his knees.


The dark haired boy twitched but did not respond.

"JD, please?" Chris asked softly.

When there was no response again, Buck bent down and whispered into his ear. JD sat unmoving for a moment and then sat up, wiping his red eyes. "I'm sorry, Chris."

"Sorry? You have nothing to be sorry for."

JD nodded his head. "It's not nice to ignore someone." He glanced up at Buck and received a nod. Turning back to Larabee, he added, "Even if they are mean to you." And then he crossed his arms over his chest and pushed out his lower lip in a pout.

"JD!" Buck reprimanded.

Chris chuckled. "No. No. He's right. I was mean."

JD lost his cross attitude as his lip started to quiver.

"JD, I have to explain. Zafram called and offered us a turkey. I told him that we could sure use one. I never thought about it being a live turkey." He looked at the boy to make sure he was listening. "I was…surprised…to find a live turkey instead of a frozen one. And I reacted badly."

Seeing he had the boy's attention, he held out his hands and, after a moment's hesitation, JD crawled into the outstretched arms. Pulling him in close, Chris hugged the boy and told him, "We're not going to eat Pete."

Looking at Buck, he continued. "I don't know what we'll do with him, but we won't eat him."

Buck laughed. "Guess we'll figure that out later. But right now, we need to get the 'main course' for tomorrow's meal," he said, avoiding the 'T' word for the moment.

Nodding, Chris stood up, still holding the five-year old.

"Tell you what. Let's head into town. I'll run into the store and pick 'it' up and then we'll go to get some pizza. How does that sound?"

Both boys smiled and nodded.

The next morning broke early and the residents of the Larabee ranch rose with the sun. After breakfast, the coffee table was cleared and the work began. Bowls were set on the table and the cereals as well as raisins, pretzels and some dried fruit, were poured in to them. The men fixed ten toothpicks with a piece of string and the boys went to work while the CBS Thanksgiving Day Parade played on the television. The boys had wanted to watch the Macy's Parade but the men convinced them that CBS had better balloons and floats, and they would only miss half of the pre-game show that way. This information they did not tell the kids, though.

By the time Nathan and Josiah had arrived, the meal was well in hand and progressing as planned. The boys had finished their project and then set to making an appetizer they called 'Ants on a Log'. The six of them got set to watch the game, getting out food and drinks.

Ezra arrived a few minutes before the kickoff. The two boys answered his knock.

"Happy Thanksgiving, Uncle Ezra" the two young boys greeted.

"We thought you'd never get here," Vin said.

"Yeah, they's fixin' to kick out."

"That's 'kickoff', JD."

"Oh. Okay."

They helped Ezra carry his packages to the kitchen and then they headed back to the family room. The boys disappeared a few minutes later. Josiah noticed the grins on Chris and Buck's faces and figured it had something to do with their disappearance. He sat back to wait and see what was going on. He didn't have to wait long as the boys came back in with their treats.

The two plates were 'presented' to each man, allowing him to pick a sample for himself. Chris almost laughed as JD gave Ezra the 'Snack on a String' and told him that it was to wear around his neck and eat off the string. The undercover agent looked at the string with its bits of raisin and dry apricots gluing the whole mass to the plate. Smiling, he graciously took one, stating, "I am relieved to be wearing the appropriate attire for the occasion." He dropped the sticky string over his head to lay on what was probably a hundred and fifty dollar shirt.

Josiah distracted the boys by asking about the other tray.

"It's 'Ants on a Log." Vin offered it to the profiler and explained. "It's celery and peanut butter. That's the log part. And the 'ants' are raisins. JD and me got 'em off a kids cooking place on the computer. Mrs. Potter helped us."

Josiah smiled and took a couple of the treats and placed them on his plate.

Nathan did the same, stating, "Well, it looks like a real healthy treat, if you ask me."

"You have to have a string treat, too." JD held out the plate and Nathan took one, thanking the boy. "Looks like the game is about to start. Do you boys have a plate, yet?"

Shaking their heads, the two quickly set down their trays and made a plate of snacks for themselves. Chris set two small bottles of Sprite between them as they got comfortable on the floor just as the ball was kicked off. The next hour or so, everyone was busy with the game and the company. Chris and Buck moved back and forward between the kitchen and the family room as they finished up on the meal.

The game ended and the group came to the table to eat. The three agents were surprised to see that, not only did the food look delicious, but the table was also decorated with an arrangement of leaves and fruits associated with the season. Seeing the surprised expressions, Larabee mumbled, "Sarah had it made and always put it out."

The three men nodded, knowingly, and found a seat. Buck and Chris sat at either end, a boy situated next to each man. Josiah sat between JD and Vin, while Nathan and Ezra took seats across the table. After grace was said, the two men at either end of the table began to fill the youngsters' plates as they pointed out what they wanted.

The turkey was sitting next to Ezra's elbow and he offered some to Vin and then sliced some off for JD. The little boy looked at the bird and then his plate and then back to the bird before shaking his head, tears forming in the hazel eyes. Standish pulled the fork of meat back, wondering what he had done wrong. Chris' hand on his arm drew the man's attention and he turned to see Larabee shaking his head and mouthing the words, 'It's okay." The southerner nodded and placed the meat on his own plate.

Buck reached over and placed a hand on the boy's back. "JD, you've had turkey before. You like it. Remember?"

"I can't. Pete…" the child explained.

"It's not Pete. He's out in his pen, son."

"What if it's his mama or brother?" Hazel eyes looked up imploringly.

"I doubt that very seriously, Little Bit. This turkey is from far away."

JD chewed on his lower lip as he stared at the brown carcass down the table. Softly he stated, "But it looks like Pete…But without feathers…Or a tail…Or a head."

Buck suppressed a chuckle and patted the small back. "It's okay, you don't have to eat it."

Josiah spoke up then. "John, why don't you join me and eat some ham? I have never been partial to turkey meat myself." The profiler sliced a piece of ham and held it up for the boy to see.

JD squinted at the platter of baked ham and then asked, "Do I know any hams?"

Wilmington had to look away at the question, but Sanchez remained stoic, answering, "I am a widely traveled man, young sir, and I can honestly say that I have never met a live ham. Therefore, no, you do not know any hams."

The boy thought about it for a second and then smiled brightly. "Thank you, Uncle 'siah. I'll have ham."

Smiling broadly, Josiah placed the meat on the boy's plate with a flourish.

The meal continued without further incident. The conversation ranged from work to football to the NASCAR season to horses. The meal was consumed and the party moved back to in front of the TV for the second kickoff. By the time three minutes had clicked off the play clock on the TV, the two boys, their stomachs full and heads resting on pillows, were down for the count. Not even the roar of the crowd, both on and off the television, roused them. By the time the second quarter had started, only Ezra and Chris were still awake.

The two men stood and retreated to the dining room to clean up the dirty dishes in preparation of the second assault later that afternoon. As they washed the plates and stacked them, Ezra asked about the turkey conflict. Larabee told him about the events of the previous day, leaving nothing out.

Ezra's eyebrows rose at the confession of a bad reaction to the live animal.

"Well, I have to say, that confronted with the same situation, I might have responded with an equally inappropriate manner. Judging by the boy's good will today, you made the appropriate amends."

Chris leaned against the counter and dried his hands. "I hope so. Wonder what's going to happen when he figures out what ham is?"

Both men laughed at the prospects of eventually having only vegetarian meals.

Sobering, Chris frowned as he reflected, "Sometimes I forget that even though Vin and JD are both only little boys, they are very different, that they have to be handled differently." Chris looked at the southerner as he continued. "Vin is so easy to talk to. I can explain things to him and he understands. JD on the other hand, he's quick and smart, too smart sometimes, but he takes things so literally, and I forget to think about how what I'm saying could be confusing to a five-year old."

"Ah, yes, therein lies the dilemma. How do you talk to each child without sounding condescending or patronizing? I have found myself in the same position many times since Mr. Wilmington and yourself have taken in the boys." Smiling, Ezra finished with, "I find it quite stimulating-the act of speaking with a child and not down to him."

Standish turned and started out of the room, but stopped to turn back. "Might I avail myself of a plastic bag?"

Chris' brows drew down, but he pushed away from the counter and retrieved a bag from the pantry. Handing it to the man, he watched as the untouched string snack was removed and placed in the clear plastic bag.

"Ezra, you don't have to wrap it up. Just toss it into the can. They'll never know."

A faint smile pulled at the man's lips and he gently placed the bag in the pocket of his coat, which was hanging in the mudroom. "I have no desire to 'toss' it. I plan to place it in a small chest that I purchased a few months ago."

Ezra turned to face Chris again. "I had no idea what to do with it at the time, but it appealed to me, so I brought it home and it sat in the downstairs closet until I was bestowed with the first of many gifts from the boys. Suddenly, I realized what that chest had been waiting for."

Then he exited the room, leaving a stunned and mute Chris Larabee standing in the middle of the room.

By the time Chris had recovered and joined the others, life was once again beginning to stir in the family room.

The night air was cold as the three men left later that night. Arrangements were made to meet Josiah and Ezra the next day for dinner. Afterwards, Ezra was treating the other five to an evening at the theatre to see 'Belle and the Beast' at the Nomad Theatre.

Friday was fun. We got Christmas decorations out of the barn and put them up.

After we checked on Torkus. Don't forget about him.

OK, JD. First we checked on Torkus, then we got the decorations.

Yeah, everything but the tree got put up. Buck almost falled off the roof.

Nuh, he was just playing, JD.

Are you sure? 'Cause it looked like he wasn't.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure.

"Buck! Stop messing around up there."

A breathless voice answered the man. "Stud, I ain't messing around. It's cold and I can't hardly feel my fingers anymore. All I want is down. So toss up that last extension cord so I can get down and get some hot coffee."

The two boys were watching from the picnic table as the work progressed. Each strand of lights that lit up was rewarded with applause and cheers.

They watched as Chris tossed the extension cord toward the roof. It landed only to slip off the edge. Buck made a grab for it and slipped on the wet roof, just avoiding going over the edge, but managing to latch onto the electrical cord. He grinned down at blond man staring up at him, open-mouthed, his stance one of someone ready to leap. Flipping over, he waved to the boys and proceeded to finish the job of stringing lights.

JD had jumped up when his father slipped and Vin had put a hand on his arm when he covered his eyes. "He's okay, JD. He's just playing around." Vin knew better, but he wanted to comfort the younger boy.

JD uncovered one eye just as Buck waved. He dropped both hands and scrunched up his face. "That's not funny, Buck" he yelled.

Chris had regained his composure and turned to the boys as JD yelled.

"Boys, why don't you head inside, now? We're about done out here."

The two obediently headed to the house. Seconds later, Wilmington was on the ground and being confronted by a tense Chris Larabee.

"Dammit, Buck."

Wilmington smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, stud. I didn't think, just reacted."

Punching the man lightly on the arm, Larabee grabbed the ladder and headed to the barn, saying, "Go in and get warmed up. I'll be there in a minute."

Buck nodded and headed inside. He had two cups of coffee waiting by the time Chris got inside.

The four went through the boxes of ornaments and decorations in preparation for the tree they would be getting in a couple of days. After lunch, everyone rested for the long evening coming.

We had fun at the theatre. Uncle Ezra got the tickets and Uncle Josiah bought us dinner.

Yeah, they said it was early Christmas presents.

They weren't wrapped so they wasn't really presents were they?


??? Computer can't see you move your shoulders, Vin.

Well, it can't write when you laugh, either. It doesn't really matter if they were presents; it was nice of them to do it for us. I think that Buck and Chris had fun.

Da said he liked the Beast, said he had animal mag-a-tis-om

I don't think that's how you say it, JD.

Yeah, well, that's how it sounds. Can I tell about the truck show?


Da and I went to see the old trucks, older than Da's.

Saturday arrived and the family slept late after the previous evening's activity. Chris was first to rise and after starting some coffee, he went out to the barn and started the morning chores. Finished with the horses, he headed out to feed Pete.

When Buck came out a while later, he found Chris standing outside the pen.

"Coffee's been ready for a while. What are ya doing out here?"

Larabee turned and looked at the big man and then pointed to the pen. Buck frowned as he looked inside. At first he didn't see anything and then he realized it was what he didn't see that was the problem. No Pete.

"What…where's the bird?"

Chris shook his head. "There's feathers on the top."

Buck automatically looked up and saw the feathers fluttering in the breeze. "I didn't think he could fly."

Chris turned, commenting, "Well, that was just an assumption. I guess he could."

"You sure something didn't get him?" Buck asked.

Chris glanced around the pen, again. "No, there's no signs," he said shaking his head. "He flew away. Simple as that."

Buck rubbed the stubble on his chin. Glancing back at the house, Buck frowned. "What are we going to tell the boys?"

Chris snorted. "Just have to tell 'em what happened."

The two men looked at each other solemnly. Then a smile pulled at Larabee's mouth, He rolled his lips together, struggling to contain his mirth. Buck saw the smile and shook his head. The mustached agent glanced into the empty pen and then slowly turned back to Larabee. His lips twitched as he looked at his partner. Both men dissolved into laughter.

It took a couple of minutes, but they finally regained control and the laughter faded to chuckles. Wiping his eyes, Buck glanced at the house again.

"Damn, Chris. Those boys are gonna be upset and we're out here laughing."

Shaking his head, Larabee said, "I know, I know. I just can't help it. I never wanted that damn thing here to begin with."

"Well, let's hope that they didn't get too attached."

Nodding in agreement, Chris stepped away from the pen and he and Buck headed to the house.

After an emotional half-hour of explanations and consoling, the four had breakfast. Chris and Vin headed over to the Cochran's to check on the house and feed the animals. Afterwards they planned to go do some Christmas shopping. That left Buck and JD to fend for themselves.

When JD asked what they were going to do, Buck's eyes twinkled and he winked.

Yeah, that's when we went to see the old trucks, Uncle Ezra.

Yes, I am aware that the National Western Complex was hosting the Rocky Mountain Rod and Custom Car Show this weekend. Mr. Wilmington has always had an interest in antique motor conveyances.


Old trucks.

Yeah, that's what I said.

Is there anything else that you want to say?

Oh, I have to say that Joey came out and she got to ride with Buck.

She did? How wonderful for your young friend. Did she enjoy her equestrian experience?

He's asking if she had fun, JD.

Oh. Yeah, she said she had a lot of fun. She liked the horses. She said that they were sweet. Vin, do you think Peso is sweet?


Why are you laughing, Vin? Uncle Ezra?

I apologize, JD. I was not laughing at you. But the very idea that Peso is a sweet horse is so abstract.

Peso is a nice horse.

Only to you two young gentlemen I fear, Mr. Tanner.

Have we now completed the narrative of this week's adventures?

Yes, sir.

I'm finished.

Very well, why don't we sign off and head to the family room to see what your father's have been entertaining themselves with.

Okay. Bye, computer.


I have to be polite.


You're sighing again, Vin.

Go, JD.

Bye, computer. Come on, Vin.

Uncle Ezra, would you like a little brother?


Sorry. How about a roommate?

Vincent, you know you do not mean that. As exasperating as little brothers can be, I would imagine that he could be a considerable amount of fun also.

I guess. I just wish he'd slow down

Vin. Uncle Ezra. We're going to watch Finding Nemo again. Come on. Bye, computer.

Vin, please stop that. You will do no harm to the desk, only your head. I do not want to explain a knot on your forehead to your father.

Sign off.

The end.


Next: Fighting the Infidel

Things We Learned (Index)