"Da, wake up Da!"
Buck growled as he felt the weight pouncing on his chest. "What?" he said.
"DAAAA? We missed Christmas. Why're we at Uncle Josiah's? Daaaa? Wake up!" JD pushed and pulled at the big man practically yelling.
"Shush, Little Bit. We didn't miss anything." Buck tried to gather his sleep soggy wits. "You'll wake Vin and Chris."
The child's head swiveled around to see Vin asleep snuggled next to a waking Chris.
"Sorry. Da I gotta go."
Buck sighed, "You know where the bathroom is?"
The five year old nodded.
"Well, go then."
"You come too."
Buck crawled out of the warm blankets and in sock feet padded with JD down the hall.
Chris smiled and looked down into wide blue eyes. "Morning."
Vin looked all around, "Is it morning?"
Chris glanced at the clock on the wall. "Yep, but its very, very early . only 5:30."
"Oh, why're we here?"
"The roads were closed last night because of the snow. So we stayed here at Josiah's. We'll go home a little later after the roads are cleared."
"Chris?" Vin whispered.
"Need the bathroom?"
The child nodded, "Bad."
"Okay, here comes Buck and JD, you go and I'll work on a fire."
Vin crawled out and looked surprised at his sock feet and winter underwear. Then as the cold air hit he rushed for the bathroom.
Buck pulled a blanket off the pile and wrapping himself and JD in it sat down.
Chris went to the wood stove. Opening the damper he then opened the door and stirred the coals adding more wood.
JD looked around. Josiah had a small table top tree and a hand carved Nativity and there were some candles burning. But no big tree and no packages not even a stocking with candy.
Brown eyes got bigger the longer he looked. "Da?" He whispered loudly as only a small child could. "Da, Santa didn't come. He forgot us."
"No, he didn't, JD."
"But Da, there's no, um, nothing here." JD's voice was moments away from tears.
Buck hugged him tighter. "Santa didn't forget you. I'm sure he went to our house and things will be there when we get home."
JD searched his father's face. "Okay." He wasn't sure he believed him. "Can we go home now?"
"No, not yet. It's still dark and we have to wait until the snow plows clear the roads."
"Oh." Disappointment shinning in his eyes, he accepted his father's word.
"Hey, why don't we go wake your Uncle Josiah? I'm sure he wouldn't want to miss the fun of being up so early."
"Buck," Chris warned.
Vin was coming back and he got back under the covers. It was getting warmer in the small living room, but still cold in the bathroom.
JD knocked loudly on the bedroom door. Waiting only two seconds he opened the door and ran inside. "Uncle Josiah wake up. It's Christmas."
A groan came from the large lump on the bed.
"Unca 'Siah, are you there?"
Curly short hair and one blue eye appeared from under the covers. JD grinned his widest. "Wake up Unca 'Siah."
The blue eye moved from looking at the bouncing boy to the bedside clock.
"Come on. Da says it stopped snowin' and' blowin'. Da says Santa came to the ranch not here. Don't Santa bring you nothing? Da says we have to wait until the road is swept. Aren't you gonna get up?"
The blue eye squinted tighter at the barrage of questions.
"JD," Vin's voice interrupted his younger friend. The boy had followed the noise into Josiah's bedroom. "Maybe Uncle Josiah don't want to get up yet. It's awfully early."
JD's face fell. "Oh, Sorry Unca 'Siah." Head down, JD turned to go.
Finally finding his voice Josiah called, "JD it's alright. It's just been a long time since I've gotten up so early. Is everybody up?"
JD brightened. "Yep, we're all up. But there's nothing on TV except news, an' singin' an' ol' movies."
Vin grabbed JD's hand. "Come on JD. We'll wait for Uncle Josiah in the living room."
"Thank you, Vin."
Young Tanner grinned at his adopted uncle. "It's okay. We all think JD's a little hard to take early in the morning."
Josiah looked at the clock again. It was still before 6. Maybe not having kids wasn't so bad, especially this early. Taking a deep breath, Josiah threw back his covers and sat up. Groaning, he stood and quickly dressed, running over an inventory of what he had in the kitchen that he could fix breakfast with.
When he opened the door he felt the warm air. Well, that was nice, waking up to the fire already built.
Chris looked up as Josiah walked in. "Coffee's on the stove."
"Da, I'm hungry." The loud whisper followed Josiah into the kitchen.
Fortified with his coffee Josiah called back. "How 'bout some blueberry pancakes for Breakfast?"
"Yes," came two young voices.
"You sure, Josiah? We could find something open," Buck said.
"I'm sure. Besides it's Christmas morning and it'll be hard finding anything open. Have you called about road conditions?"
"Yeah, they should have the road open by 10, although the power may be off for a while longer. Chris's big truck should be able to make it from the state road to the house just fine. We'll plow the road for you city guys," Buck answered.
"That's good." Josiah banged around in the small kitchen. Soon the smell of bacon and pancakes and coffee came drifting into the living room making mouths water.
It was hard waiting. The snow was everywhere.
Yeah, JD, and it took a long time to drive home. I was afraid Dad would get stuck.
Chris' truck is too big to get stuck.
No, its not. It could get stuck.
Boys, it's getting late. If you want to finish, finish. Otherwise we will do this tomorrow.
Yes, Unca Ezra.
Yes sir. It took a long time to drive home though. ????
Even before the fire was lit Chris went over to the big window and threw open the drapes. The bright clear sunshine sparkled on the snow and off the shinny ornaments on the tree. It had been a long drive but they'd made it in one piece.
Vin and JD gasped in wonder. Vin's eyes got bigger and bigger the longer he stared. There on his side of the tree was a brand new saddle and beside it was a bridle. He must be dreaming. How could this be? Vin was afraid to take his eyes off such a wonderful thing, afraid it would disappear. Slowly almost on tiptoe he walked toward the beautiful gift. One hand reached out, hesitating just for a breath, and then touching the rough leather.
It was real! Vin rubbed his hand over the horn, down across the seat and over the curl of the back. He couldn't believe it, a grown up saddle, one of his very own. Not the little saddle that had been Adam's, but a brand new one just for him. It was for him? Wasn't it? He looked at the new bridle. One side was tooled PESO and on the other VIN.
His name was on it that meant it was for him didn't it? The boy looked up at his smiling Dad. He couldn't think of anything to say. This was the most glorious thing he'd ever gotten.
"What do you think cowboy? Think you and Peso can use a new saddle and bridle?"
Vin's mouth opened and closed several times. "It's beautiful Dad. How? How did Santa know I was getting to big for Adam's...for the old saddle?"
Chris walked over and squatted down beside the stunned boy. "Santa just knows these things, Vin."
The child looked up at his father, eyes shinning with unshed tears. "I bet dads tell him, too."
Chris reached out and ruffled Vin's hair. "Yeah, Santa's got his snitches, too, I guess."
Vin threw himself at Chris, wrapping his arms around his father's neck. "Thank you. You tell Santa that this is the best present I ever got, well except for Ringo."
Larabee returned the hug. "I'll tell him cowboy." But he couldn't say more because of the huge lump in his throat.
JD was examining his side of the tree. There was a huge box. That was all, just this huge box. He looked over at Buck.
Buck had this big silly grin on his face. "What's wrong, JD?"
"It's just a box Da. Why'd Santa leave me a box?"
"Well, JD, maybe there's something in the box. Maybe Santa didn't have time to unpack the box."
JD brightened at that thought. "Santa didn't have time?"
"Well, maybe because of the storm he really was running late and he didn't know where to put it all. Look inside the box JD and see what it is."
"Okay, you help, Da." The five year old walked closer to the giant box. It was almost as tall as he was and stuck out from under the tree for several feet. When he got closer he saw the top was open. Looking inside his eyes got even bigger. "Da! Look Da it's a train."
"A what?" Buck asked sounding surprised.
"Look," JD reached inside and pulled out a beautiful train car. "Santa brought me a train an' there's tracks in there too."
Chris glared at Buck, "You didn't."
Buck threw Chris a quick glance and ducked his head. "Nope, Santa must 'a known that Little Bit wanted a train and track. I'm sure he thought of a way to set it up out of the way."
Chris shook his head. He knew it was a long time fantasy of Buck's to someday have a model train. But there'd never been the money or the room for little Buck to have one and now he'd passed the dream on to his little boy. Smiling, Chris decided that they could find a place in some corner to make dreams come true. Even if setting it up would take over an eight-foot table to lay the track out.
A loud gasp from Vin brought Chris back to the moment. "Dad? Is that for me, too?"
Vin was pointing to a giant red plastic bucket.
"I don't know Vin, does it have a tag?"
Vin crept closer to the bucket. "Yeah, it says to Vin and JD. Dad, it's full of Legos, millions and millions of Legos, we can build anything with this many Legos!"
Chris smiled, "I bet you can, kiddo. Now, I'd better build up some fires and get it warm in here." Chris went to the wood stove first. More than once he had considered getting rid of the stove, but every once in a while it sure came in handy. Opening the door he added paper, kindling and some bigger pieces of wood. While Chris did that, Buck lit the already laid fire in the fireplace. Soon the roaring fires were sending out waves of warm air through out the house.
It didn't take long before JD and Buck had all the pieces and little boxes spread all over one corner of the living room. Vin happily played with the Legos. Chris had let the dogs in and after a few "No, get down's," they too lay watching and soaking up the warmth from the fire. The pups chewed on their large "Christmas" rawhide bones. They were content to chew and be in the house with everybody else.
Ringo raised his head and barked joined by Elvis. Chris looked out the window announced, "Josiah and Ezra are here. We'd better help Ezra bring in the dinner he brought."
Buck tore himself away from the train and went outside with Chris. As they both were carrying in large heavy boxes he whispered, "Tell me again why we agreed to let Ezra bring Christmas dinner."
"Because he offered and if he hadn't we wouldn't have dinner. The power's still out remember?"
"Oh yeah. Well, I just hope it's edible not some fancy foo foo stuff."
It took the four men three trips to carry in all the large boxes and packages inside the house. Closing the door Chris looked at the pile spread out over two rooms and shook his head.
Once inside Ezra said, "Gentlemen, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson will be joining us as soon as her shift at the hospital is over, some time around 2:00. I've been assured that our feast will stay warm with little help until then."
"Thanks Ezra we'll have to heat things up on the wood stove today. The power is still off. But it'll be a Christmas we'll never forget."
"That I'm sure of, Chris," Ezra said as he started removing packages from the larger box.
"What is all this Ezra?"
The undercover agent managed to look embarrassed. "Mother sent gifts to the boys. Please, Mr. Larabee, I did appraise her of your rules of only one gift and no more then fifty dollars but Mother has a mind of her own."
The bigger man bit his lip. "Yes, we all know Maude does what ever she wants. What did she send?"
Ezra shook his head, "I have no idea. Only that the packages came from Europe."
"And the rest of it?"
"I'm embarrassed to say but I could not make a decision on the main entrée so I brought three," Ezra said.
"Three? It looks like you brought enough to feed an army," Chris objected shaking his head.
"Well, yes, but it is Christmas," Ezra said defensively raising his chin. "Now the question of the hour is, do we give the boys our gifts now, or must we wait for the Jacksons?"
Chris pretended to ponder the question but the poorly hidden excitement was hard to ignore. "Now, I suppose. It'll help spread out the excitement and keep the boys busy."
"Excellent choice, Mr. Larabee. Mr. Sanchez are you ready?"
"I suppose, Ezra, although I think I'll let you go first."
"Very well. Perhaps it would be best for the boys to unveil whatever it is that Mother sent."
Chris turned and called as the men headed for the chairs and couch, "Vin, JD, come over here. Ezra's mother has sent the two of you presents."
JD bounced over to the Southerner, but Vin approached more cautiously. Ezra watched the boys remember past Christmas presents from his mother. But he could think of no warning that wouldn't sound out of place on this happy day.
"Here, JD, this one is for you and this one is for Vin." Ezra handed the exquisitely wrapped gifts to each boy. JD tore eagerly into his but Vin fingered the expensive paper and ribbon and then carefully slipped a finger under the tape at the end.
"It's a old book. Really old." JD said looking up at Ezra. "Why would your mom send me an old old book?"
Ezra cleared his throat trying to think of something to say. Josiah came to his rescue. Reaching out he said, "Let me see, JD."
JD frowning handed the book to Josiah. "Okay," he said, feeling like Maude was playing a trick on him.
Josiah gasped and turned to the title page and then at the letter that slipped out. Looking up at the waiting men, he said, "It's it's a first edition, a first edition signed by the author of . The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This " he held up the letter, "is a letter of authenticity."
Josiah turned to Vin who was holding a book also. "Let me see it, will you, Vin?"
The boy handed the book over to his uncle.
Josiah smiled as he looked through the book. "And this is a first edition signed by the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ."
Buck walked over, "No sh Kidding. Man, I loved those books when I was little."
Chris looked at Ezra and Ezra shrugged. "Like I said, Mother lives by her own rules. She likes the boys and decided these were appropriate gifts. After all, the books are about boys."
"Sure, in a few years and NOT first editions. They must be worth a fortune."
"Well, I suppose you could look at them as an investment for their college education. It would be unkind to return them after all," Ezra added.
Chris shrugged and squatted down beside Vin. "It's a very special 'old' book Vin. Huck Finn was one of my favorite books when I was younger. We'll read it together if you'd like. But this book and JD's need to be on the shelf where they will be safe."
Vin looked at the book. It just looked like an old book to him. Shrugging he said. "Okay Dad, if you say so." Vin looked up with trusting eyes at Chris. Whatever Chris said was great.
Ezra cleared his throat, "Well, gentlemen I hope you find these more satisfying." He handed each boy a package and held onto the third.
Both boys tore open their packages. Inside each was a bright colored laptop like contraption. They looked back at Ezra for an explanation. "These are called LeapPads and they have many programs. You each have you own machine but," he handed Vin the third package, "these you must share."
Vin ripped open the package and spread out the contents between he and the younger boy. Most were thinly disguised learning programs made for fun but also to help in math, reading, science and history. The two boys eyes brightened at all the fun looking 'games'.
"Thanks Uncle Ezra," they both chimed.
"You're quite welcome, boys. And these are for you Mr. Larabee." Ezra drew out a blue sack.
Looking inside Chris saw several packages of rechargeable batteries and a charger. Smiling Chris said, "Thank Ezra, this is thoughtful of you."
Josiah came over and handed each boy a package. Again they ripped off the paper.
JD's box held two books and a Breyer horse. The Island Stallion, on the cover was a beautiful red stallion rearing. It looked just like the toy horse. The second book was a book called Real Hero's of the Old West. On the cover were pictures or drawings of several men.
Vin opened his and inside was a book The Black Stallion, and Breyer horse that looked just like the horse on the cover of the book and a second book, An eyewitness book on Native Americans, the book was large and full of drawings and pictures with little captions beside the pictures.
"Wow," Vin said holding the horse and looking through the eyewitness book. "Thanks Uncle Josiah."
"Yeah, Uncle Josiah thanks," JD added and promptly went to see if his horse would fit on one of the train cars.
"Come on, Buck. We need to go feed the horses and check on them."
Buck glanced up from fitting track together. "Sure, Chris."
"Can I come Dad?" Vin asked.
"Sure, but don't you want to stay here and play with your stuff?"
"Nah, I can play later. I want to tell Peso about the new saddle." Vin grinned.
"Okay, but get your coveralls on. It's still really cold." Then glancing at the others, he added, "We'll be back in a few. There's more wood on the back porch."
"Thank you, Mr. Larabee I'm sure we can manage. We will also start to set up the buffet.
It will not be long before Mr. And Mrs. Jackson will arrive."
With a backward glance at JD, Buck followed the others outside. JD seemed content for once to sit still and play by himself.
Sometime later Buck, Chris and Vin stamped their boots on the porch before they entered. Opening the door they were greeted with the smell of all things wonderful to eat. A large table had been set up against one wall. It was full to overflowing with good things to eat.
Buck let out a low whistle. "Ezra wasn't kidding when he said he couldn't make up his mind. That's turkey, and that's a ham, but what the is that?"
"That is an English Goose, Mr. Wilmington. We also have two kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green beans, corn pudding, fruit salad, green salad, yeast rolls and sourdough biscuits. For desert we have pumpkin pie, pecan pie, German chocolate cake, and apple turnovers. All piping hot and waiting for everybody to join us."
Buck looked around and spotted JD building something with the Legos and munching on something. "What'cha doin', Little Bit?"
"Building a corral for Flame." JD answered around the green and white thing sticking out of his mouth. He snapped another 'log' into place, and removed the stick.
"Uncle 'Siah made 'ants on a log.' I still don' think it tastes like ants. But it's good." JD took another crunchy bite.
"Didn't we have that at Thanksgiving?" Buck looked over at Josiah.
"Yep, an old childhood favorite. Celery sticks with cream cheese and raisins. He said he was hungry." Josiah shrugged.
"JD is always hungry," Wilmington said with a smile. Turning to his adopted son, he said, "Okay, Little Bit, but no more until lunch."
"Okay. See I gotta build a barn now. Can Flame ride the train?"
Buck blinked trying to keep up with the five-year-old mind. "Sure, I guess. We'll see after we set up the track."
Ringo and Elvis jumped up announcing that a vehicle was driving up.
"Ringo! Elvis! Shut up. It's only Nathan," Chris shouted over the barking as he went to the door. He opened the door and gave Rain a hug as she came in. "Hi, thanks for coming and what in the world have you got?" Chris asked eyeing the large package.
Rain laughed, "Nathan is bringing one too. It's for the boys. And this," She held up a casserole tote, "is one of my grandmother's buttermilk pies. Now don't make a face they are the best pie you'll ever want to eat. An old Christmas tradition in my family."
"Thanks Rain, but you didn't have to. Ezra brought enough for an army," Chris laughed taking the pie over to the table.
Vin looked up, "Hi, Aunt Rain."
"Hi, Vin. My, it looks like Santa really left a lot here."
"Yeah, it's okay though. Me and JD share."
"I'm sure you do, Vin. Nathan and I brought you and JD something too."
JD looked up, "You did? Where?"
Rain laughed and was joined by Nathan. The packages they carried were large, almost taller than Vin. "Here, this one is for Vin and this one is for JD."
The smaller boy ran over and tried to take the package away from Nathan.
"It's heavy." He laid it down and looked up for permission.
"Go ahead." Nathan laughed.
JD tore through the thin paper but Vin was faster. "A sled? A sled like in the movie. We can go sledding down the hill now. Look Ringo, a sled and you can pull it like in the movie."
Chris walked over, "Now hold on, Cowboy. Ringo's not a sled dog and you are not to play with the sled," Chris glanced over a JD too, "unless Buck or I are around. Do you understand?"
Then Chris shaking his head looked at Nathan. "Sleds?"
Nathan held up his hands, "It's not my idea. Rain insisted. She said they needed boy toys and we'd all just get them books and stuff hoping they wouldn't get hurt."
Rain laid a hand on Nathan's arm, "What I said was, that all boys like to sled and if they didn't have a real one, Vin and JD were cleaver enough to make up one. So they might as well have the real thing."
Ezra tapped a spoon on the side of the pot of gravy that was sitting on the wood stove. "Lady and gentlemen. Now that everyone has arrived I suggest that we began dinner. Josiah, I think it would be appropriate for you to pronounce a blessing upon our feast."
Sanchez stood and glancing at Chris said, "I'd be happy to." He crossed his hands in front of him and bowed his head pausing to think. "Heavenly Father, we here friends and family, are gathered together to celebrate Your Son's birth. We thank You, Father, for the many blessings You have given us. We ask that You bless this feast that Ezra has provided for us, and that You bless each and every one of us through out the coming year. We thank You, Father, especially for bring these two precious little boys into our lives, for they have brought only good to us and made us all better for having them. In Jesus' name, Amen."
There were several quiet 'amens' that followed Josiah's.
"Now can we eat?" JD asked.
"Yes, now we can eat," Buck answered.
Hours later, the power had come on just in time to watch the second half of the game. Vin sat next to his dad and JD sat next to Buck. Each man was dressed in his new long sleeved tee-shirt.
Vin looked up at Chris. "Do you really like your shirt?"
Chris looked down and the dark blue shirt with 'World's Greatest Dad' emblazed across it in bright red letters. "Yes, I do. Thank you very much, Vin."
Smiling Vin said, "Uncle Josiah helped me and JD pick them out. He said you'd like the blue one and Buck the green one."
Wilmington's tee said 'World's Greatest Da' in bright orange. His eyes met Chris' and he smiled. He hugged the little boy next to him. "It's just about the greatest thing I ever got, Vin. You and JD sure picked good ones," Buck said to both boys. But he and Chris knew that the best gift was the two little boys that had fallen into their lives.
JD cocked his head looking at his uncle Ezra. Ezra feeling the scrutiny looked up. "Is there something troubling you Mr. Dunne?"
"Da says you got soft bones. Do they hurt?"
Ezra frowned, "Soft bones? I'm not sure I understand."
JD nodded dark hair flopping up and down in his face. "Uh huh. Da said it's those soft Southern bones makin' you call a little ol' snow storm a blizzard. He said you wouldn't know a real blizzard if it bit you in the I'm not suppose to say that word."
"Buck said that to you?" Ezra asked, puzzled that Buck would say such a thing to a child.
"Nooo. He was talking to Chris. They thoughts we were sleepin'."
"I see. Well, my bones are quite hard and your Da was referring to the fact that I come from a gentle clime where it hardly ever snows."
"I come from a place where the weather is quite temperate the weather is nice all the time. While it may not have been a blizzard exactly, last night's storm must have been very close." He nodded toward the item in the child's hands. "What is it you have there?"
"It's my new book. Will you read some of it to me?"
"I'd be happy to. Oh, 'Real Hero's of the Old West.' Which one would you like me to read first?"
JD studied the pictures and drawings. Then placed a finger over one. "Him, I like his hat."
"Good choice Mr. Dunne, Bat Masterson it is."
Everybody ate and ate and we still have lots to eat but I don't think I can eat anymore. Maybe tomorrow.
Yeah, Vin. The lights came on. Then we could watch TV, only we watched a football game and I wanted to watch something else. But it was fun anyway. And last night was fun too; we slept over at Uncle Josiah's.
Yeah. Uncle Ezra?
Yes, Master Tanner?
Would you have let Mary and Joseph stay at your house?
??? I like to think I would Vin. Why do you ask?
I think you would too. You let JD and me stay at your house. Last night in the re-in-act-mint the peoples wouldn't let them stay. But the last guy did.
This is the best Christmas ever, huh, Vin?
Say good night gentlemen. It is late.
Bye computer, Merry Christmas.
JD, you don't tell a machine Merry Christmas. That's just for people.
It don't know that sound, Uncle Ezra.
Say good night, JD.
Merry Christmas everybody, may all your wishes come true. Thanks to LaraMee for beta-ing for me.
Next: Old Ann's Eyes: A New Year's Eve Story
Things We Learned (Index)