Magnificent Seven Alternate Universeblankspace
Special Delivery

by Freespirit

This is a sequel to You're Not A Mistake.

I hope you all like it.

Josiah leaned back in his office chair and sighed. Monday's were never his favorite day of the week. Thanksgiving was this Thursday and for the first time in a long time, Josiah was looking forward to the holiday. This year, thanksgiving dinner will be at his place and since this will be the first thanksgiving with his son, he wanted it to be perfect. The boys had a half day on Wednesday. Wednesday's Josiah only had patients in the mornings, so it wasn't a problem picking up the boys after school. Josiah remembered the day he met Chris Larabee. When he was forced to see Josiah professionally or lose his job after the death of his wife and son. That was nearly four years ago.

Josiah's Secretary, Mistie Anderson, poked her head into the room after she knocked on the door. "Josiah? Mr. Singer just called and said he wouldn't be able to make his appointment."

Josiah sighed. "Is this the third or fourth time he's cancelled?"

"Actually, it's the fifth time," Mistie answered.

"Thanks. I'll have to call his boss and inform him. I hate to do it though."

"He has been warned."

"I know."

Mistie left her boss to make his phone call.

It's Wednesday, the day before thanksgiving and Josiah's in an incredibly happy mood. Mistie loved Wednesdays. Wednesdays were half days, which meant she could go home to peace and quiet and soak in a hot bath with lots and lots of bubbles and listen to her favorite music and sip on a bottle of strawberry daiquiri wine cooler.

Josiah walked his last patient to the door and wished him a happy thanksgiving.

"Mistie, go home and have a happy thanksgiving. Don't forget we're closed till Monday," Josiah said and handed Mistie her paycheck.

"I won't and thank you and you too have a happy thanksgiving Dr. Sanchez."

Josiah went back to his office to do some paperwork before he left to go and pick up the boys.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah entered the school building, whistling a happy tune. He stopped short when he rounded the corner and saw Principal Zane kneeling in front of Ezra with a bloody cloth to his head.

Vin and JD were shoving each other.

"Boys!" The Principal scolded. "Vin, it was just an accident."

"If he wasn't running this wouldn't have happened," Vin said and crossed his arms in front of him and slouched back against the bench back.

"What happened?" A panicked Josiah asked as he ran up to the scene.

"Apparently, JD was running in the hall and ran into one of the older boys. The boy shoved JD into Vin who ended up stumbling back into Ezra and Ezra fell against a locker causing Ezra to have a small cut to the side of his head."

Ezra looked up at Josiah. "It was an accident."

Josiah knelt down in front of Ezra and took over from the Principal. "I know, Son."

JD sniffled. "I'm sorry I runned, Unca ‘Siah."

Josiah smiled up at JD. "I know you are JD. This is why you cannot run in the hallways."

"You may want to take Ezra to the clinic and get him checked out."

"Yes, I think we'll do that. Thanks. I know it couldn't have been easy taking care of Ezra and keeping these two in line at the same time."

"It's why I get the big bucks," Principal Zane smiled.

Josiah laughed.

"Josiah? Can we leave now? I feel the beginning of a headache coming on."

"Sure, let's go and get you checked out."

Vin grabbed his and Ezra's backpacks and followed Josiah and Ezra with JD right behind him carrying his own backpack with his head hung low.

Nathan was on duty at the clinic when they arrived.

Rain took them back to one of the exam rooms when she saw why they were there. "I'll tell Nathan right away, Josiah."

"Thanks Rain."

Josiah had to separate Vin and JD from one another so he could concentrate on Ezra.

Nathan entered the exam room. "What happened?" Nathan asked as he started to examine Ezra's head.

Josiah explained what happened.

"It looks like he'll need a couple of stitches, but other than that, it looks fine to me. He'll have a headache, but he can take over the counter meds for that. You'll need to keep an eye out for signs of a concussion."

"Will do, thanks," Josiah sighed in relief.

"You're welcome. I do recommend Ezra take it easy for the rest of day," Nathan said as he set out the instruments needed to stitch up Ezra's head.

"Will you be able to come for thanksgiving dinner tomorrow?" Josiah asked.

"We wouldn't miss it. Rain's planning to stay up late to get the Indian bread and sweet rolls done for tomorrow."

"I like Aunt Rain's Indian bread," Vin said.

"Me too," JD added. "Will she make her honey butter too?"

Nathan chuckled. "I suspect so."

"Good," JD smiled.

Nathan finished stitching Ezra's head and told Ezra he couldn't get the stitches wet.

Nathan said his goodbyes to Josiah and the boys, and he and Rain and Sawyer will see them tomorrow.

Josiah sighed when he got in his car. He didn't feel like cooking tonight, not after spending the last hour and a half at the clinic.

"I'm not in the mood to cook anything tonight. So, what sounds good for dinner tonight?"

"McDonalds," JD answered.

Vin glared at JD. "Ezra should pick. He's the one who got hurt and had to have stitches."

Ezra sighed. "I don't care. I just want to get home and take something for my headache."

"Tell you what, how about I order pizza and chicken wings with cheesy bread when we get home. There's coke and raspberry tea in the frig and three kinds of cookies in the cookie jar for dessert."

Vin smiled. "That sounds really good."

JD nodded his head. "Yeah."

"Fine," Ezra moaned.

Josiah looked over at Ezra who had his eyes closed with his head against the window. Josiah doesn't usually allow either of the boys to sit up front, but considering what happened, Josiah allowed Ezra to sit up front so he could watch him.

Josiah reached over and massaged Ezra's neck. "We'll be home soon."

+ + + + + + +

Josiah entered the house behind the three boys.

Josiah lived just barely within the delivery service. While he was on the phone to the pizza place, Josiah rummaged through his medicine cabinet for the children's ibuprofen for Ezra.

With dinner ordered and soon on its way, Josiah turned the TV on and to YouTube. Ezra liked watching animal videos. Vin and JD took Duke outside with them to play.

As Josiah watched Vin and JD from his kitchen window playing in the jungle gym, he remembered the day it was built.

Josiah, Chris, Nathan and Buck stood on the deck of Josiah's modular home.

"You're spoiling the boy, Josiah," Buck said, and took a sip of coffee.

"After what happened a couple of weeks ago, I say he deserves it. If I had known he wished for one of these, I'd done it for his birthday."

Chris stood and watched as the support poles were lowered into the ground for the suspension bridge of wood slats to be hung from them. "Buck, you're just jealous because JD's going to want to spend his time over here instead at the playground at your apartment."

"Oh, like Vin's not going to want to come play here."

Nathan chuckled. "I'm just glad Sawyer isn't old enough to play on it."

"JD!" Buck yelled at his son. "Get away from the man before you get hurt."

"I's helpin' him, Dad."

Ezra walked over to JD. "JD, let's help this man with the rope ladder."

"Okay," JD agreed and ran over to help with the ladder.

"Thank you, Ezra," Buck called out.

"I'm sure the guy also thanks Ezra. I just don't know about the other guy though," Chris chuckled.

With three boys and a dog, Josiah wasn't sure the half dozen or so of men hired to build the western fort type jungle gym would get it done over the weekend like promised. The suspension bridge would link the fort to the tree house, another thing Ezra had always wanted when growing up but never stayed in one place long enough to have one.

"You're just as bad as Josiah is when it comes to spoiling JD," Nathan said. "So lay off."

"How?" Buck asked.

"He has the largest bedroom so he can have a slide to slide down out of bed," Nathan answered.

"Let's not forget the table with the kinetic sand," Chris added.

"I guess I did go overboard a bit, but this is insane."

Josiah listened to his friends and sighed. He didn't care if they thought he was spoiling Ezra or not. As long as Ezra was happy, he was happy and that's all that mattered.

The sound of the doorbell brought Josiah back to the present.

After he signed for the delivery, Josiah called Vin and JD in for dinner.

With the three boys tucked in for the night, Josiah sat in his easy chair watching the evening news. He looked up at the fireplace mantle and smiled with pride at the blue ribbon on display. His son's blue ribbon for roller blading in his age group.

Josiah heard Duke coming down the hallway from Ezra's room and got up to let the dog out.

"This is your last time for the night," Josiah told Duke as he opened the sliding glass door.

Josiah stepped out onto the deck and took a deep breath. The moon and stars shown bright in the clear sky. Josiah looked across his backyard and into the bright skyline of the small town and couldn't help thinking he must had done something right in a past life to be blessed with all this.

Duke climbed the deck steps and waited for Josiah to let him in.

It was a couple of minutes before Josiah noticed the dog waiting at the glass doors and apologized for making him wait. Duke didn't bark just wagged his tail at finally being able to be let back inside where it was warm.

Josiah followed Duke to Ezra's room. He checked on the three sleeping boys. Vin and Ezra were in the top bunk and JD slept on a cot. Josiah then checked the windows to make sure they were locked. On his way out of the room, Josiah bent down and patted Duke on the head. He knew no one was going to sneak into this house without him knowing it with Duke on watch.

Josiah checked on the pies and pumpkin rolls that were on the counter, cooling. They had cooled enough to be put into the frig. The turkey was all set to be put in the oven in the morning. All he had to do was make the stuffing to stuff it with. He had his grandmother's roasting pan full of breadcrumbs to make her homemade stuffing. He wanted his and Ezra's first thanksgiving to be perfect. On his way to his own room, he turned off the TV.

At noon, the first guests arrived. Nathan sat up Sawyer's play pen while Josiah helped Rain with unloading their SUV.

"It smells so good in here, Josiah," Rain said as she removed her coat.

"Thank you. I'm using my grandmother O'Malley's stuffing recipe. The pies and pumpkin rolls are hers too. She would sit up half the night baking pies and pumpkin rolls for her neighbors. Her pumpkin roll won blue ribbons four years running in the county fair," Josiah informed as he took the box of food into the kitchen.

"Well, I look forward to tasting them." Rain followed Josiah into the kitchen.

The next guests to arrive were Chris and Buck. Buck brought the cranberry sauce and chips with dip. Chris brought candied yams and soda.

"What happened to Ezra?" Chris asked when he saw the stitches on the side of Ezra's head before Nathan bandaged them.

Vin glared at JD. "He got shoved into a locker yesterday."

"Why are you glaring at JD?" Buck asked.

Ezra sighed. "It was an accident, Vin."

"I was running in the hall at school and this big kid pushed me. I bumped Vin and made him fall back into Ezra who fell against a locker."

Buck nodded his head. "Did you learn anything?"

"Not to run in the hall at school?" JD hesitantly answered.

"That's right," Buck ruffled JD's hair.

The Travis' were next to arrive. Evie had a green bean casserole and a couple of relish treys. Mary had a box with various kinds of cookies she had baked last night and a cheese and meat tray.

"Hey there Billy. Ezra, Vin and JD are in Ezra's room," Josiah said when Mary and Billy entered the house right after Orin and Evie.

Billy handed his coat to his mother and ran down the hall to Ezra's room.

"Are you going to have enough room on your counters for all this food?" Mary asked as she sat down the food she and Evie brought on the counter.

"Let's hope so," Josiah laughed.

Nettie and Casey were the last to arrive.

"I'm sorry we're so late, Josiah," Nettie apologized as she carried her sweet corn casserole into the kitchen. "I got this casserole in the oven late and I wanted to get it done for today."

"No need to apologize Nettie. I'm simply happy you're here," Josiah said. "I had trouble with the oven this morning, so dinner's going to be a little later than planned."

"The table looks great," Nettie said.

"He went all out, didn't he?" Evie Travis said.

"Yes, he did. The China is beautiful," Nettie agreed.

"It's my grandmother O'Malley's," Josiah said with pride. "The tablecloth and napkins are hers too. She loved the holidays. She always made sure Hannah and I had what we needed. I inherited a lot of my grandparent's things when they passed away. What I didn't need or want, I donated. I just couldn't part with grandmother's China and linens."

Evie patted Josiah's shoulder. "I can see why. They're beautiful."

It was nearly forty-five minutes before the turkey finished roasting. Ezra wanted to make the mashed potatoes and gravy. He told Josiah about a great aunt that made the best mashed potatoes he ever ate. Evie and Nettie watched as Ezra worked to get the potatoes exactly right. Nettie showed Ezra how to make the turkey gravy so there wasn't any lumps in it.

After dinner, the men retired to the living room while the women cleaned up the kitchen and divided the food and watched four boys and one little girl play on the jungle gym and tree house with Duke barking and chasing them around the yard.

"Look at them, Rain," Mary said as she stood in front of the sliding glass doors with a cup of coffee in her hands.

Rain came to stand next to Mary. "I couldn't believe it when Nathan told me about Josiah building that thing," Rain chuckled and sipped her tea.

"It's massive," Mary stated.

"Yeah, but you know how many years of fun and adventures those kids are going to have with it?"

"A lot," Evie answered from the kitchen sink as she looked out the window.

"And the generations to come as well," Nettie added as she finished wiping down the counters.

Orin entered the kitchen and placed his coffee cup into the sink. "You ready to head home, Dear?"

"Yes," Evie answered. "Just need a few minutes to say goodbye to the children and our host."

"Okay," Orin nodded.

"We probably should be leaving too," Mary said and opened the glass doors to step outside.

The Travis' said their goodbyes as did the Wells. Nathan and Rain stayed a couple more hours before they too left.

"So, where are we going to have Christmas?" Buck asked as he made his way to the kitchen to have a slice of pumpkin roll. And Josiah can make his grandmother's pumpkin roll."

"I figure we can have it at the ranch," Chris said and shook his head.

"Good, because my apartment is way too small for a large gathering."

Josiah slapped Buck on the back when he entered the kitchen. "You going to eat anything else besides dessert?"

"I'll have a turkey sandwich. Just wanted to make sure I got another slice of this pumpkin roll first."

Ezra entered the kitchen. "Josiah? I have a headache again."

"I'll get the ibuprofen."

"Thank you," Ezra sighed and dropped down in one of the dining room chairs.

Chris came to stand at the end of the counter. "Vin and I should probably head home soon."

"No, please stay. Dr. Jackson said I would have a headache for a couple of days. I like having Vin and JD here," Ezra said.

"You sure?" Buck asked. "I know my son can be a lot to take in on most days."

"He's five years old and at the age where he wants to know about everything," Ezra pointed out.

"Here you go, Ez." Josiah handed Ezra the pills and a glass of water.

Buck looked down at his watch. "It is getting a bit late, and I do need to give JD his bath."

Buck quickly ate the dessert and started to pack things up.

"Please, do not leave on my account."

"We're not, I swear." Buck smiled down at the boy. "It's almost eight-o-clock."

"Oh, I hadn't realized it was so late. I am sorry."

"Don't be. We had an enjoyable time," Buck said as he helped JD into his coat and zipped it up.

"Buck and I got the weekend shift. Would it be okay if I dropped Vin off her Saturday morning?" Chris asked as he put his coat on.

"Of course. Buck could drop off JD too if he liked."

"Thanks Josiah, I will. I didn't want to get Mrs. Knox to babysit if I didn't have too."

Josiah nodded his head. "How is her husband doing?"

"He's doing better. He's able to get around on his own."

"He's lucky to be alive," Josiah sighed.

"Maybe he finally learned not to drink and drive," Chris said.

"We can only hope and pray that he has," Josiah stated.

Josiah walked his guests to their trucks and said goodnight.

Josiah entered his house to the sounds of gunshots coming from the television. He chuckled when he saw it was someone playing a practical joke with firecrackers and a metal pot. He also noticed Ezra had a bowl with stuffing in it.

"That looks good. I think I'll have some myself."

It was seven in the morning on Saturday when Chris dropped Vin and JD off. JD had stayed at Chris' and Vin's ranch, so Buck didn't have to drive all the way out to Josiah's on Saturday.

Vin and JD sat at the table while Josiah made waffles with his Mickey Mouse waffle iron and waited for Ezra to wake up.

"Unca ‘Siah?"

"What, JD."

"How long till Christmas?"

"Oh, about four weeks. Why do you ask?"

"Dad says the earlier I ask Santa for what I want, the more likely I get them."

"That's true."

"So, is it too early to make my list?"

Josiah smiled. "No, JD, it isn't."

"Good. Can I have some paper and a pencil?"

"Sure, right after breakfast."

"What ya goin' ta ask Santa for?" Vin asked.

"Rollerblades like Ezra's."

"Is that all?" Josiah asked.

"No, but I really want them."

Ezra entered the dining room and let Duke out.

"Breakfast smells delicious, Josiah."

"Thank you, Ezra. You still cannot have a cup of coffee."

"Did I ask? No I did not."

Josiah removed the last waffle from the waffle iron and placed it on the platter with the others. On a plate were sausage links and eggs.

After breakfast, Josiah gave JD a sheet of notebook paper and a pencil to write out his letter to Santa.

"What about you Vin? You want to write down what you want Santa to bring you?"

"Yes please."


"Um, no thank you. Maybe later," Ezra answered as he settled in to watch YouTube.

Vin looked over at Ezra every now and then. When he finished his list, Vin wandered over to Ezra and sat down next to him.

"You don't believe, do you?"

Ezra sighed. "No, I do not. Mother always said Santa was invented so stores could jack up their prices so unsuspecting parents would pay for something their children wanted. The Easter Bunny was created for the same reasons."

"She's wrong."

Ezra shrugged. "All I know is, Santa never left me anything and neither did the Easter Bunny."

"Never?" Vin asked. He thought Santa left every boy and girl at least one gift.

Ezra shook his head no and sighed. "My Uncle Hank said only good little boys and girls deserve gifts from Santa."

Vin heard the disappointment in the sigh. He didn't understand why someone would say that. He didn't think Ezra was bad. He knew Josiah didn't either, so who was this Uncle.

Josiah stood at the kitchen counter, listening to Vin and Ezra, and thought, ‘Another demon to deal with.' He decided right then and there to deal with it. Josiah took a sheet of notebook paper and a pencil along with a clipboard and headed toward Ezra with them.

"Write your letter to Santa. If any little boy deserves a gift from Santa, it's you." Josiah then winked at Vin letting Vin know Josiah thought he and JD deserved gifts as well.

"Yeah, you got a lot of presents coming."

JD turned around to face Vin. "He does?" JD asked.

"Yeah, JD. Ezra moved around a lot, so Santa didn't know where he was to give 'em to him."

"So, Santa saved them all?"

"Yes he did. Now that Ezra has a real home and isn't moving for a long time, Santa can deliver all those presents here.

Ezra listened to the conversation going on around him. If what they were saying were true, then possibly the gift that he wished for, for so long would be among them. The question was, dare he even hope for it? Dare he say something to Josiah? He wanted one for as long as he could remember. But now, he's nine years of age and the toy he always wanted was for babies. What would Josiah think if he asked for one? Or Vin and JD? Would they think of him as a baby for wanting one? No, he wouldn't say anything to anyone. Some day when he's older, he'll buy himself one and keep it a secret just like he had planned to do.

Ezra sighed and took the clipboard from Josiah. "I have no idea that for which to wish for. I have my tree house with a fort. I have a dog. A stable home life complete with a male father figure. Two friends that I will not have to say goodbye to any time soon. My own laptop for homework and for browsing the internet. I have it all. So what else is there?"

"What about toy's?" JD asked.

Ezra stared at JD with a blank look. "If Santa is as real as you say he is, then he knows what toys to bring me."

"How about new ones?" JD asked.

Ezra was feeling a bit trapped and didn't know what to say. No one had ever asked him what he wanted for Christmas. Mother always told him he was a big boy and big boys didn't play with toys. She always gave him a brand-new deck of cards for Christmas. He learned how to play poker and blackjack in the back rooms of bars whenever his mother would take him. He didn't think Josiah would appreciate those skills. His Uncle Hank said Santa thought little boys who gambled were bad little boys and were on his naughty list. He didn't know how to act his age or what toys were age appropriate.

"Ezra? Something wrong Son?"

Ezra bowed his head and looked away. "I don't know how to play with toys," Ezra mumbled.

"What? I didn't hear you?" Josiah was confused at Ezra's actions.

Ezra took a quick glance over at Vin and JD then brought his legs up and squeezed his eyes shut as if he anticipated an attack as he spoke. "I do not know how to play with toys."

Josiah knelt down in front of Ezra. "Ezra? Look at me please."

Ezra lifted his head and opened his eyes to look Josiah in the face.

"Have you ever had any toys?"

"No, Sir. Mother told me only babies played with toys, and I wasn't a baby."

Josiah sighed. "No, you're not, but you are a boy. One that needs to have a childhood like any other boy your age. If there are any toys you would like to have, tell me and Santa. Together, we'll make sure you have them."

Ezra gnawed his lower lip. "Well, I think I would like toys that will allow me to build things. You know, like building blocks or maybe Lincoln logs?"

"That's a good start." Josiah smiled and pointed to the clipboard that lay next to Ezra.

Ezra looked down at the clipboard then up at Josiah. "You don't think me to be weird?"

"You are a little weird, but in a good way," Vin stated and JD agreed by nodding his head.

Ezra picked up the clipboard and pencil and started to write his letter to Santa.

+ + + + + + +

Mistie Anderson greeted her boss when she entered the office on Monday.

"Good morning Boss. How was your first Thanksgiving with your son?"

"It was wonderful. It was everything I wanted it to be."

"I'm so glad. I know how nervous you were. Now comes the biggest holiday, Christmas."

"Don't I know it. Ezra's mother never bought him a toy. He has no idea how to play or how to be a nine-year-old boy."

Mistie shook her head. "What kind of mother doesn't let her child play with toys."

"Ezra told me he wasn't allowed to play with other children either for fear he would get sick. His mother, by the sounds of it, has mysophobia."


"According to Ezra, he wasn't allowed to play outside because he might get dirty. He had to take a bath every time he got a speck of dirt on him."

"It's normal for a child to get dirty."

"I know. Growing up, I loved playing in the dirt. Ezra told me the one and only time he played in the dirt with his cousin, his mother scrubbed his skin so hard to get rid of the dirt and germs that he thought she was going to scrub his skin right off. She scolded him the whole time she was scrubbing him down."

"Poor kid. Well, he has you now and he'll never have to endure that kind of abuse ever again."

"You got that right. Buck couldn't believe it when I told him and Chris about it."

"I bet. Well, I've got to get to work before my ‘boss' docks my pay."

Josiah laughed. "I think I could persuade him not to do that."

"Oh, before I forget, I bought Ezra a couple of those puzzle books he likes."

"Puzzle books?"

"Oh yeah," Mistie confirmed. "He likes the logic and brain teasers. He helped me with the cryptograms. He's so much smarter than me when it comes to figuring them out."

"Huh, I didn't know he liked them."

Mistie laid the puzzle books down on Josiah's desk and left the room.

Josiah picked up the books and leafed through them. He thought some of the puzzles were a bit hard for a nine-year-old, but then again, this is Ezra who has the brains of a thirty-five-year-old. Josiah wondered what other puzzles Ezra liked to do. He learned from Ezra's Teacher; Ezra liked hidden objects puzzles. When Ezra got three brand new outfits for his birthday, you would have sworn he got a million dollars. Josiah leaned back in his chair. He didn't know where to find any, but he was sure if he looked online, he could find some brain teasers toys. He just wished he knew what Ezra had wished for when he was younger.

Josiah took out his notepad and started to jut down what he learned.

+ + + + + + +

Since Chris and Buck worked the weekend, they had Monday and Tuesday off. They decided to take the three boys to the mall. That way they could find out what each one of them wanted for Christmas.

Buck had a fairly good idea of what JD wanted. But when it came to Vin and Ezra, he hadn't a clue. He knew Vin liked western stuff, but there was just so many to choose from.

Chris, on the other hand, knew what to get Vin and JD, but this being Ezra's first Christmas with the makeshift family, he hadn't a clue what the boy liked.

So, the first store they went to was the toy store. It was huge.

Ezra had never seen so many toys in one place. He felt overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of it all.

Vin and JD just ran to the toys on display for the children to play with.

An older woman greeted them.

"Hey there Vin, JD."

"Hi Ms. Angie," JD and Vin greeted in return.

Ezra clung to Chris.

Chris looked over at Buck. Buck shrugged his shoulders.

Chris looked down at Ezra. "You okay?"

Ezra nodded his head as he took in the wooden train set JD played with.

Chris and Buck looked over at the train set and smiled. They knew what they were going to get the nine-year-old.

"Go on and play", Buck encouraged.

"Yeah, Ms. Angie lets boys and girls play with the displays." Chris smiled down at the boy.

Ezra looked up at Chris and Buck. "Really? She's not afraid of them getting broke?"

"No, I'm not. I love to see children with happy faces and having fun with the toys. My grandchildren come in here almost every day."

"Ezra looked up at the woman. "Do you have building blocks?"

"Oh my, yes. Every building block set imaginable. Come on, I'll show you."

Ms. Angie led Ezra toward the back of the store. Chris and Buck heard Ezra tell the woman his name and compliment her on her store. She told him the store had been in the family for four generations.

Buck joined Vin and JD at the displays while Chris followed Ms. Angie and Ezra.

Chris made a mental list of all the things Ezra looked at. He watched as Ms. Angie let Ezra play with a brain teaser. Chris mouthed a thank you when the woman looked up at him and smiled.

"He's good. Most adults I know have trouble with these. How old is he?"

"Nine," Chris chuckled an answer.

Ezra looked up at Ms. Angie. "I enjoyed the game," Ezra said as he handed the wooden brain teaser back, solved.

Chris shook his head. "It would have taken me a lot longer to solve that puzzle than it did you."

"I do have to admit, it was a challenge," Ezra smiled up at Chris. "But I do like a challenge."

"So does Josiah," Chris said, remembering how the man didn't give up on him when he lost his wife and son and close to losing his job.

Ms. Angie showed Ezra other more challenging puzzles.

Before they knew it, it was time to meet Josiah for dinner.

"May I come back and play some more with the games?" Ezra asked Ms. Angie.

"Of course. As long as I am open."

"Oh, are you closing?" Ezra asked, fear apparent in his eyes.

Ms. Angie smiled. "In a couple of hours I will be for the day. I'm open from 8:30 am to 8:30 pm Monday through Saturday.

"Oh," Ezra brightened. Ezra stuck out his hand for Ms. Angie to shake. "Thank you for allowing me to play with your games and toys. I so very much enjoyed the afternoon here in your store."

"You're welcome Ezra. I expect to see more of you here. Vin and JD spend a lot of time here themselves whenever their fathers are shopping."

"Oh, of that I have no doubt and who can blame them, what with the rather large selection of toys you have here," Ezra agreed.

"Come on, you little charmer," Chris chuckled as he led Ezra out of the store behind Buck, Vin and JD.

Vin and JD waved goodbye to Ms. Angie.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah waited at the restaurant for Chris and Buck and the boys.

Ezra made a bee line toward Josiah when he, Vin, JD, Chris and Buck entered the restaurant.

Josiah listened to Ezra talk about the store that was as big as a warehouse.

"So, you found something to add to your list?" Josiah smiled.

Ezra's cheeks turned crimson, and he smiled. "Yes, I guess I have."

"There's nothing to be embarrassed about," Josiah grinned down at Ezra.

The three boys and their fathers ate their meals while the three boys went on about all the toys they wanted.

Josiah made a mental note to call Angie and thank her personally for her help in showing Ezra how to be a nine-year-old boy. Now, he has quite a few more things to add to his list.

Later that night, after Ezra was in bed, Josiah went online and wrote his thanks to Angie for her assistance and checked out the toys and games on Ms. Angie's toy store's web site. He knew the prices were going to be reasonable. Ms. Angie doesn't believe in pricing her toys so outrageous that parents cannot afford them. He also wanted to sign Ezra up for the Christmas give away. For one day, the Sunday before Christmas, Angie opens the store for her annual Christmas party and lets a child choose a toy to take home with them for free. How she stays in business is anyone's guess, but she does.

Ezra lay in bed, thinking about what he really wanted for Christmas. He has seen it in Ms. Angie's store. He wanted so badly to play with it, to hold it, to take it home with him. He didn't dare touch it in fear Chris and Ms. Angie think him a child, or worse, a baby. ‘Come now Ezra. You are a nine-year-old, and too old for such things.' Ezra scolded himself. But he wanted one, Ezra sighed. Ezra rolled over to his side and fell asleep dreaming of the toy he wanted the most.

+ + + + + + +

It's been a few days since the toy store and Ezra looked forward to going back and playing with the toys.

Vin sat his tray down on the table across from Ezra in the lunchroom cafeteria.

"So, Ez, have you finished your list?" Vin asked.

"Not quite," Ezra answered.

Vin didn't want to pry but he could tell there was something on his best friends mind. "Chris is going shopping after school and asked if I wanted to play at Ms. Angie's. Do you want to come? I'm sure Uncle Josiah won't mind."

Ezra did want to go, but the toy he wanted was there. Could he go and not want to play with it? Ms. Angie did have a lot of the things he liked. Ezra smiled. "Yes I would like to join you. Thank you for the invitation."

Vin smiled back. "You're welcome. Ms. Angie has a great store. Her brother helps out sometimes."

"Ms. Angie has siblings?"

"Lots," JD said when he joined the two boys.

Vin nodded his head in agreement. "She's the middle one."

"Do you know how many siblings she has?"

"Well, she said she had eight, but her oldest brother died when he was seventeen."

"That is a lot of siblings."

"So, what you asking Santa for?" JD asked.

Ezra sighed. "I haven't finished my list as of yet. But so far, I have asked for a brain teaser game, building blocks and Lincoln logs."

"What was some of the toys you wanted when you were little, like me?" JD asked.

Vin knew Ezra didn't want to talk about stuff in the past. He also knew JD wasn't going to stop bugging Ezra about it.

"Hey, JD? Chris is letting me go to Ms. Angie's while he's shopping. Do you want to come? Ezra wants to."

"Yeah!" JD answered.

Ezra took a drink of his flavored water before he answered JD's question. "I have wanted the usual things, like action figures. I know a lot of the boys my age liked Wolverine. But, for me, I liked Archangel. Not the one with the metal wings. The thought of flying like a bird was more appealing than having claws."

Vin nodded his head. "Even though she was a bad guy, I always wanted to be like Mystique. Not the blue skin part, but the rest, oh yeah."

The three boys talked about the different toys they thought were cool.

Vin smiled. He now knew what to get Ezra for Christmas. He would tell Chris so he could tell Josiah.

Ezra almost let it slip what he really wanted. He was saved when the bell rang for them to go back inside to their class.

Vin knew there was something Ezra really wanted but wouldn't say. He wished Ezra would say something. How was Uncle Josiah to know what Ezra wanted the most if he didn't say anything.

+ + + + + + +

It was two weeks before Christmas, and thanks to Vin, Josiah knew what toys to get for Ezra. This was going to be the best Christmas Ezra had ever had, Josiah was going to make sure of it. He already ordered a few action figures and brain teaser puzzles. Ms. Angie was extremely helpful in obtaining information on what puzzles Ezra would like.

+ + + + + + +

Vin watched Ezra in the toy store. He watched Ezra touch the stuffed toys as he passed them. Ezra stopped when he came to the remote-controlled drones. Vin joined him. "That would be fun to play with."

Ezra sighed. "Yes it would be, but it's for an older child," Ezra pointed out.

Vin looked over at Ezra. "You're smart enough. Heck, you're smarter than any teenager I know."

Ezra smiled and shrugged. "I would like to have it. With the camera, I would feel like I were flying."

Vin cocked his head to the side. "You really do want to fly, don't you?"

"Oh yes. Very much so. To be up there, among the clouds, to feel the wind in my face. That would be the greatest feeling ever."

Chris came up behind them. "Ready to go?"

Ezra nodded his head and followed Chris and Vin. JD joined them as they were leaving.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah watched as Ezra pushed the food around on his plate. Josiah smiled and shook his head. Ezra had his left elbow on the table with his head in his left hand as he pushed the food around with his right hand. He could tell Ezra's mind was somewhere else. Perhaps soaring up in the clouds with the birds. When Chris texted him about the drone, Josiah called the toy shop and had the drone taken off the shelf and charged it to his credit card. He also charged a couple of the model airplanes as well.

"A quarter for your thoughts."

"Huh?" Ezra said, startled.

"I said, a quarter for your thoughts."

"I thought the saying was a penny for your thoughts?"

"It is, but with inflation, I thought a quarter would be more appropriate."

Ezra chuckled a little. "I was just daydreaming."


"Well, there's this drone at Ms. Angie's toy store. It has a camera with blue tooth capabilities. I was thinking how much fun it would be to see things from a birds point of view."

Josiah nodded his head. "That would be something."

That night, Ezra dreamt of flying high above the treetops.

+ + + + + + +

Sunday night, Josiah was boxing some of the things he was going to donate to the Salvation Army Thrift Store in the morning. Ezra wondered into Josiah bedroom and stood watching him add some cloths to the box that he didn't wear anymore.

"May I donate a few things as well? I have some clothing that I have outgrown."

Josiah smiled and looked up and over at his son. "Yes, of course you can."

Ezra left to go and get the clothing he outgrew. When he came back, he had an arm full of dress shirts and slacks. Among them was a green velour robe that Josiah knew Ezra loved. It had gotten way too small for him.

Josiah picked the robe up and held out to Ezra. "You sure about this? I know how much this means to you."

Ezra sighed. "Yes, I'm sure. It has gotten so tight, and I thought perhaps some other little boy would appreciate it before the velour got to worn out to make it uncomfortable to wear."

Josiah nodded his head in understanding and put it with the rest of the things in the box. "I'm sure there is a little boy that would like to have it."

Ezra smiled up at Josiah and left the room.

+ + + + + + +

At the office, Josiah had the box in his office, opened when Mistie came in with Josiah's mug filled with coffee and sat it down on Josiah's desk in front of him.

"I made a pot of coffee."

"Thank you," Josiah said and took a sip of the hot brew.

Mistie glanced over at the opened box and noticed the robe. "That's a nice robe."

Josiah looked over at the box then back at his Secretary. "Yes it is. Ezra loved that robe. He's outgrown it and thought some other little boy would like it."

Mistie picked it up and looked it over. It was of nice quality. She could tell it wasn't cheap. In any way shape or form. "Whoever bought it for him, knew good quality when they saw it"

Josiah nodded his head. "I thought the same thing when I first saw it when Ezra moved in with me."

Mistie put the robe back in the box. "I'm sure whoever the little boy is that gets it will love it as much as Ezra has." Mistie left to open up for the day.

+ + + + + + +

"Christmas vacation starts today!" JD excitedly declared when he joined Vin and Ezra at lunch. "Dad and me are going to get a tree after school."

"I," Ezra corrected.

"Huh?" JD said.

"That's Dad and I," Ezra said.

Vin snickered at the scowl JD gave Ezra.

"We're still gonna get a tree."

"Chris and ‘I' are gonna get ours tomorrow."

Ezra smiled over at Vin. "Going to get."

"When?" Vin and JD asked in unison.

"Ha-ha," Ezra said and rolled his eyes.

Vin and JD laughed.

"For real, when are you and Uncle ‘Siah gonna get your tree?" JD asked.

Vin nodded his head. He had just took a bite of his food.

Ezra shrugged. "I have no idea. We haven't discussed it. I would much rather have an artificial one."

"Why would you want one of those?" Vin asked.

"Clean-up is a lot easier," Ezra answered after he ate and swallowed the bite of peanut butter and jelly sandwich. "You do not have to remove the lights and decorations if you do not wish to. Just fold it all up together and put it away for the next year."

"Well, I like real ones. They smell like the outside," Vin said.

"Me too," JD agreed. "And it's fun looking for just the right one."

Vin agreed with JD.

"But you have all those pine needles to deal with. They do not feel good when you step on them and get them stuck in your socks."

The three boys discussed the merits of both trees.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra wanted to talk to Josiah when they were alone.


"Yes, Ezra?"

"Do you think Santa exists?"

Josiah smiled to himself. "Yes I do."

Ezra looked away and out the window for a couple of minutes, then back to Josiah. "How do you know? Have you ever seen him?"

"I have never seen God either, but I know he exists."

"Hmm," Ezra said as he contemplated Josiah's answer. "So, it's a faith thing."

Josiah smiled back at Ezra through the rear view mirror. "I guess so."

Ezra leaned back in the seat. "Which do you prefer, real or artificial trees for Christmas?"

Josiah chuckled. "They both have their pros and cons. The real ones have that natural scent of pine that I love so much, but the pine needles are a pain in the feet. The artificial ones are convenient to put up and take down, but, for me, they don't have the same feel of realism that I grew up with as a child."

Ezra nodded his head. "So, when are we going to obtain our tree?"

"I was thinking, since Wednesday's I'm only open in the morning, we would do it then. That okay with you?"

Ezra smiled. "Yes. That would be fine with me."

+ + + + + + +

Soon Wednesday was here and time to go get a tree. Josiah decided to make a day of it, so Ezra went with Josiah to work. The first thing they did after work, was to have lunch. Then to Wal-Mart for the decorations for the tree. Then a trip out to the reindeer ranch and Christmas tree farm.

Ezra watched the reindeer. "What are their names?" Ezra asked the owner of the reindeer ranch.

The man grinned down at Ezra. "What do you think they are?"

"I cannot hazer a guess. I have never had the opportunity to name such fine beasts."

The owner looked over at Josiah with a confused look on his face.

Josiah sighed. "He was never allowed to celebrate the holiday."

"I see," the owner said then looked down at Ezra and smiled. "Well, that one is Cupid. I have Vixen in the barn over there. She's close to having her baby. And that one is Blitzen, he's the father. That one at the food trough is Prancer. They're waiting for one of Santa's elf's to come and get them."

Ezra looked up at the man. "For what reason?"

"So they could pull his sleigh Christmas eve."

"Oh," Ezra said then looked back at the reindeer. "I do not think it would be wise for Vixen to leave her baby."

The owner laughed. "You're probably right. I'm sure Santa's elf will have some other reindeer to take her place. Would you like to feed them?"

"Yes, please." Ezra smiled up at the man.

Ezra fed the reindeer and then he and Josiah went to find the perfect Christmas tree. After choosing the perfect tree, they went for dinner at a small out of the way diner that Josiah liked to frequent during the holidays.

"Dr. Sanchez. I was wandering if you were going to grace us with your presence this year."

Josiah took the short, rather large woman by her hands and gave her peck on the cheek. "I wouldn't dream of not showing up for my yearly sojourn to your fine establishment."

The woman laughed and slapped Josiah on the arm. "You flatterer."

Josiah looked down at Ezra. "Ezra? This fine woman is Roxanne Harper. Roxanne, this is my son Ezra," Josiah introduced.

"Pleased to make your acquaintance."

"Well, he's a fine-looking young man, Josiah. And polite too. Why didn't you tell me you had a son."

Josiah smiled down at the woman. "He's my adoptive son. Well, he soon will be. Orin and Nettie are pushing the paperwork through so the adoption will be finalized by the first of January."

"Then this is indeed a reason for celebration."

Roxanne showed them to a table in he back where she could keep an eye on them.

"How ever did you find that establishment?" Ezra asked on their way home.

"Actually, totally by accident. Nathan was telling me about a place he likes to go to. I tried finding it one night. I made a wrong turn and ended up at Roxie's. The best ever wrong turn I ever made." Josiah smiled back at Ezra through the rearview mirror.

"I agree."

+ + + + + + +

Friday night, Ezra found Josiah in the kitchen after he took his shower and put his pajamas on.

Josiah stood at the gas stove mixing Cocoa Krispies in a pot with melted marshmallows and butter. Beside him was a glass dish sprayed with cooking spray.

"What are you making?"

"Chocolate Rice Krispie treats for the kids at the homeless shelter. I do this every year for them."

"That's very nice of you." Ezra was surprised people did this sort of thing now days.

"I was hoping you would like to go with me this year."


"Because I want Pastor Sutton to meet you. I've told him all about you and my planned adoption of you. He's looking forward to meeting you."

"Will Vin and JD be joining us?"

"Oh, yeah, they will. JD likes to play with the younger kids his age. Vin likes handing out the treats to them."

"What about Sheriff Larabee and Deputy Wilmington?"

"Oh, sure. They usually meet me there with the boys. Buck acts like a big kid," Josiah laughed. "Pastor Sutton lets him pass out the gifts."

"Sounds like something I may enjoy watching. When will this event take place?"

"Since Christmas is only a few days away, and Chris and Buck have the day off, we planned to do it tomorrow afternoon."

Ezra nodded his head. "What shell I wear to such an event?"

Josiah smiled as he poured the Krispie mix into the greased baking pan. "What you wear to school is fine. There is no need to dress up."

"Sounds good. Do you need any help with the treats?"

"Not at the moment. But once they've cooled, you can help me cut them into squares and wrap them in colored cellophane paper and tie them with up with ribbon."

"I would be happy to do so."

Later that night, after Ezra and Josiah had the treats wrapped and ready for tomorrow, Ezra sat at his desk in his room and stared down at the sheet of paper and sighed, "Here goes nothing."

Dear Santa.

I have been told you are real. And that you may have all the gifts from the past Christmas'. If this is so, please deliver them to me at my new residence in Four Corners. I live with Dr. Josiah Sanchez. If you do not have all of them, that's okay. But the one that I really want is the teddy bear. I know they're only for babies and toddlers, for which I am not either. I still wish for one just the same. I would be most grateful to you if you were to see fit to bring me one. Thank you.

Sincerely, Ezra P. Standish-Sanchez.

Ezra sealed the letter and applied the stamp and went to mail it.

Josiah saw Ezra leave his room with an envelope in his hand.

"What have you there, Ez?"

"My letter to Santa," Ezra answered.

"Oh, good. Just set it down on the entry table and we'll take it to the library, and you can put it in Santa's express mailbox."

"Thank you," Ezra said and sat the letter down on the table and wandered into the kitchen for a bedtime snack.

+ + + + + + +

At the library, Ezra entered and walked up to the front desk. The teenager at the desk recognized Ezra.

"Hey there Ezra. What can I do for you?"

"I know it's a bit late, but I would like to mail my list to Santa. I was told you have an express mailbox for just an occasion."

The girl smiled down at Ezra. "Yes we do. I'll make sure it gets mailed."

"Thank you Tiffany," Ezra said and handed her his letter. "And have a happy holiday."

Tiffany took the letter. "You too Ezra."

Tiffany took the latter back to add to the pile of letters to be answered by one of the Librarians when Ezra left the building. "Jane? Here's a late letter for Santa. It's from Ezra."

Jane sighed, "Finally. Dr. Sanchez has been beside himself waiting for this."

"I wander what he wished for."

Jane opened the envelope and took out the letter and read it. "Oh my."

"What did he wish for?"

"A teddy bear. According to his letter, he had wished for one for years but never received one."


"From what Dr. Sanchez has told me, he wasn't allowed to celebrate it."

"So, what are you going to do?"

"Well, I'm going to e-mail it to Dr. Sanchez and then contact a friend of mine."


"Never you mind. Ezra will have his bear."

Tiffany left Jane to do what she needed to do.

Josiah and Ezra met up with Chris, Buck, Vin and JD at the shelter. Nathan and Rain were there with Sawyer as well. Pastor Sutton greeted them when they entered.

"This must be Ezra," the Pastor said and held out his hand for Ezra to shake.

"Yes, Sir." Ezra accepted the hand.

Ezra helped to dole out the treats and gifts along with Vin and JD. The adults worked in the kitchen to get dinner ready. Buck was the only adult who sat among the children. Ezra spotted the upright piano that stood in a corner and made his way over to it. There was sheet music stored in the bench. Ezra took it out and found some Christmas songs he could play. It had been a couple of years since he played but was confident enough in his ability to play that he just sat down and set up the sheet music and started to play. The first song, Silent Night.

Chris looked over to see who was playing when he brought a tray out and sat it in the warmer.

"Hey, Josiah? Did you know Ezra could play the piano?" Chris asked when he entered the kitchen again.

"No I didn't," Josiah answered and left to watch his son play.

Buck stood up and went over to the piano and turned the pages of the sheet music so Ezra could keep on playing without interrupting himself by turning the pages himself. The children started to sing Jingle Bells when Ezra started to play it. The adults even started to sing. Soon, Pastor Sutton announced dinner was served.

Before Josiah and Ezra left, Pastor Sutton praised and thanked Ezra for playing the piano.

"Did you have fun tonight?"

"Yes, actually, I did. I enjoyed playing the piano."

"Where did you learn?"

"One of the many Aunt's my mother left me in the custody of taught it. I would watch and listen to her students play and try to imply the lessons."

"So, you kind of taught yourself."

Ezra shrugged his shoulders. "Yes I guess. Later when she found out what I was doing, she decided I had talent for it and finished my lessons."

Josiah shook his head. "Impressive."

"Thank you."

"Did you ever have a recital?"

Ezra sighed, "Unfortunately no. Mother came and retrieved me before I had my recital. I was looking so forward to it."

"Well, you had one tonight."

Ezra thought about it and smiled at Josiah. "I did, didn't I."

"Yes you did. Pastor Sutton was extremely impressed."

While Ezra got ready for bed, Josiah went to the library's web site and looked up Ezra's letter to Santa. He was surprised to see the only thing in the way of a wish was a teddy bear. Josiah's heart fell. He wanted to get every gift Ezra had wished for, but without knowing what they were, how could he grant them. He'll come up with something. Josiah quickly got out of the web site when he heard Ezra come out of his room.

Ezra placed a gift under the tree.

"Who is that for?"

"Duke," Ezra answered and then settled in on the couch to watch some Christmas specials.

+ + + + + + +

It's Christmas eve, and Chris and Buck put the boys to bed early. Then proceeded to put batteries in toys that needed them and put others together that needed some assembly. They were most of the night. When they were done, they sat in recliners and ate cookies and drank milk and reminisced about Christmas' past.

Josiah and Ezra were the first to arrive at Chris' ranch. Vin and JD were up and waiting impatiently for everyone to arrive. Nathan and Rain were next with little Sawyer. Nettie and Casey came next. The Travis' and Mary and Billy were the last to arrive.

Buck was given the task of handing out the gifts. Sitting off to the side was a dark green velvet bag that Chris, Buck and Josiah had never seen before. Buck pulled it out and read the tag that hung from the rope the held it closed.

"Whose name is on it?" Chris asked.

Buck looked up. "Ezra's. The tag says it's from Santa."


"Yes, you," Buck said and dragged the bag over to Ezra.

"See, told ya, ya had a lot of presents coming," Vin grinned.

Ezra, gingerly, opened the bag, and peeked inside. He pulled out the first gift and opened it and smiled. As he opened each gift he told everyone how old he was when he wished for it. He tipped the bag upside down to see if there was any gifts still in the bottom of the bag. There wasn't any. Ezra looked all around him at the gifts he had received and sighed. Even though he liked each and every one of them and felt like he had hit the jackpot, he still felt a little disappointed.

While the children and adults were cleaning up there came a knock on the door.

Chris looked over at each of his guests. "Are we expecting anyone else?"

"Not that we know of," Buck answered as Chris answered the door.

Chris opened the door to a little old lady that looked to be in her sixties. The floor length coat was a bright red with a black leather belt buckled around it. Its fur lined hood was down around her shoulders. Her hair was up in a bun, and she wore round wire frame glasses. She had black leather boots and gloves. She smiled at Chris.

"Can I help you?"

"Oh I hope so. Is there an Ezra Standish here?"

"Yes he is."

"Oh good. May I come in Sheriff? It's not exactly summer out here and I have come a long way."

Chris stepped to the side and let the woman in. "May I take your coat?"

"Oh, thank you Chris."

Chris took the coat and hung it up. He turned to see the woman dressed in black slacks and a red sweater that had a Christmas design on it. Around her neck she wore a snowflake necklace. She also had a gift in her hands.

"I am so sorry to bother you folks during your celebration, but this gift came in late and didn't make it on the sleigh, and Ezra had wanted one for years."

Chris showed the woman into the living room and started to introduce her but for the first time he realized he didn't know her name.

The woman put a hand on Chris' arm and smiled. "Oh I know everyone here." She then walked over to Ezra and handed him the gift. "We have been hoping one day to send you your gifts. Now that we know you have a permanent home, Santa and I can send them every year."

Ezra looked over at Josiah. Josiah shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

"May I ask, who are you?" Ezra said when he turned back to the woman.

"She's Santa's wife!" JD exclaimed.

Everyone stared at the woman in disbelief.

The woman sighed, "At least someone knows who I am. Yes, JD. I am Mrs. Kringle."

"How did you get here? We didn't hear any sleigh bells," Vin asked.

"Oh Lord, the sleigh is to cold for me. I have my own kind of transportation."

All the children except for Ezra ran to the big window and looked out. In the driveway was a red Bentley.

"I prefer horsepower to reindeer power.

Buck took a quick peak out the window and whistled. "Nice wheels. 65?" Buck asked when he turned back the woman.

Mrs. Kringle nodded. "You know your cars."

Nettie smiled. "I bet it's a lot warmer too."

Ezra looked down at the gift in his hands then back at Mrs. Kringle. "For me?"

"Yes Ezra."

Ezra sat down on the sofa and opened the gift. He then opened the box and gasped in surprise at its contents. There in the box was a teddy bear with reddish brown hair like his. It even had green eyes. What took him by surprise was the pajamas. They were of green velour. On the left breast pocket had his initials E.P.S-S. Ezra looked over at Josiah and showed him the teddy bear.

"Look Josiah, my favorite robe. The pocket has hyphenated letters as well. He even has my hair and eye color. How did Santa know?"

"Mrs. Kringle would be the one to ask how her husband new," Josiah said as he motioned for Ezra to ask her.


"I would like to sit down first."

A spot on the couch opened up quickly.

"Thank you," Mrs. Kringle said as she sat down. "Oh, that's better. Now then, to answer your question. It's not like how it used to be. There are so many more children. We had to delegate and set up workshops around the world to be able to keep up with demands. We have a workshop right here in Four Corners.

JD's face lit up brighter than the Christmas tree. "Ms. Angie's toy store."

Mrs. Kringle looked over at Buck. "That's a bright boy you have Buck. Much like you were at his age.

Chris harrumphed. "What happened?"

"Hey, I'm still bright. I just don't like to show it."

Mrs. Kringle laughed. "Yes, Ms. Angie's toy store is one of our warehouses. Her family has been making toys for generations. First up in the North Pole, then here in Four Corners."

Ezra looked down at the teddy bear in his arms then back at Mrs. Kringle. "But the bear is wearing pajamas made from my velour robe. How did he get that?"

"One of our toy makers live here in Four Corners and volunteers at the Salvation Army Thrift Store where you and Josiah donated a box of clothing. She noticed the robe and how well it was taken care of."

"But what about my initials. How did he know to hyphenate the second S?"

"Young man, from your expressed letter you gave to the Librarian."

"How does he get around the world in one night?" Buck asked. He always wondered about that.

"Well, first, he goes around in the opposite direction then the earth rotates. Second, for one night only, Kris has the ability to slow down time. He can not stop it, only slow it down. Why else do you feel like Christmas Eve is so long."

Buck nodded his head. He had to give her that one. It sure did feel like the longest night of the year. Even more so when he was little.

Ezra smiled at Mrs. Kringle. "Tell Santa thank you for me."

"I will. Now I am off to join Kris on vacation."

"Vacation?" Vin said.

"Oh yes. There are fifty-two weeks in a year. Santa and I have an agreement. I will put up with freezing temperatures, and temperamental reindeer. Then there's all his friends, like the Yeti, who likes dropping by whenever they feel like it. And all I ask is for a two-week vacation in a tropical setting. Just the two of us. I don't think that's too much to ask for."

"I don't either," Evie Travis agreed. As did Nettie, Rain and Mary.

"I had best get going. I don't want to be caught in air traffic. It's a bear trying not to get on their radar."

Chris escorted Mrs. Kringle out to the foyer and helped her with her coat. "Thank you for coming. I know it meant a lot to the children."

Mrs. Kringle turned to face Chris. "Kris and I never had children. When you're immortal, as we are, you need to fill a void. Kris and I fill that void by bringing joy to children all over the world. We both are quite lingual you know."

"You would have to be, wouldn't you."

Mrs. Kringle patted Chris on the cheek before she left to go to her car.

Chris escorted the woman to her car and helped her in it. He watched as the woman sped down the street. When she came to the end, it looked as if she just flew into the sky and disappeared. Chris rubbed his eyes.

"Did you see that?" Vin said in awe.

Chris turned to see Vin, JD and Ezra standing behind him.

"Yes I did."

"Santa is real," Ezra whispered.

"Apparently, so is Mrs. Clause."

Vin and JD turned to go inside with Chris right behind them. Chris stopped at the door and looked over at Ezra.

"Ezra? She's gone. Come inside."

Ezra hugged his bear close to himself as he turned toward Chris and slowly made his way to the front door. When he reached Chris, he looked up at the man. "She specially delivered my bear."

"Yes she did. What do you think about that?"

Ezra looked back at the driveway than back to Chris. "I think Mother doesn't know anything about Christmas. And if she doesn't know anything about Christmas, maybe she doesn't know anything about the Easter bunny either and quite possibly he exists as well."

"I think you're right. Come on, the food is getting cold, and I want some of Josiah's pumpkin roll before Buck eats it all."

Ezra laughed, "Then we had best get inside to eat."


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