First Thanksgiving

by Phyllis Loafman

Universe: Brothers Larabee AU2

"I just don’t understand why you have to go now, is all I’m saying. Why not wait until after Thanksgiving?" The tall man asked the youngest member of the Larabee household.

The dark haired youth stood at the sink, rinsing his breakfast dishes. Normally, Nettie Wells would have chased the men out of her kitchen, complaining of too many people hampering her work. But, she was vacationing this week. This week, the seven men that lived in the house were on their own. They had been given specific instructions, accompanied by thinly veiled threats, as to the condition she expected to find that room in upon her return.

Putting the dishes in the rack to dry, JD turned and leaned against the counter. "Buck, I know you wanted to have all of us together for Thanksgiving, especially since it’s our first. I’m sorry, but I just have to go home. I haven’t been back in so long. Heck, I haven’t been home once since I left last year." The youngest member of the Larabee household pushed the long hair from his face.

The older man sat at the table, his sad eyes studying the young man. "I know you want to go visit your mom and friends back there. I’m just saying that you could wait until next week. Shoot, you wait ‘til then and I could go with you. Kind ‘a like to see where you grew up, meet some friends."

JD pushed away from the counter, moving around Wilmington. "Buck, we’ve gone over this again and again. I’m leaving this morning." He left the kitchen shaking his head as he went.

Buck dropped his head back and stated, "You can come in now, Josiah."

The oldest of the Larabee clan strolled in, a smile pulling at his lips. "Sorry, Buck. I didn't want to intrude. I see you haven't persuaded the lad to stay."

"No. No luck." The rough hands came up and scrubbed at the whiskers that populated the man's face. "Guess I better go clean up. Suppose to go to the Saloon early and go over some accounts with Inez." Standing he took his cup to the sink and tossed out the dregs. After washing the coffee out, he placed it in the rack next to the young man's and headed to the stairs. "I'll see ya this afternoon, Josiah."

"Give Inez my best, Bucklin." He watched as the man tossed up a hand and left the room.

Josiah poured out the last of the now cold coffee and rinsed the pot, knowing that everyone was gone, except Ezra. He stood at the sink and gazed out the window at the mountains the house backed up to. So many changes had befallen the seven inhabitants of the house in the last eleven months. A brotherhood had been formed; bonds had been made and forged by blood and hardship, by trust and love. Not that any of them would admit that to the others. It was understood without words. Their love was displayed in actions and reactions.

Josiah thought back to the first time they had been introduced to each other. He had to admire each man and the way they had handled the information that they all seven had been fathered by the same man. Chris, Buck, and Nathan had been raised by Linc Larabee in the same house. After Linc’s death, Vin, Ezra, and JD had found out about their sire. Josiah had known about Linc since he had ten; had even met the man once.

The seven adult men suddenly found themselves thrust together into a single household and being asked to get to know each other. It had been a rocky road. There had been fights and arguments, trusts broken and mended. They had fought with each other and for each other.

The seven were as different as their last names. He was the oldest of them, Josiah Sanchez, ex-preacher. He considered himself a calming presence within the family. He had grown up traveling around the country with his mother and grandfather, a preacher. While a gentle man, he could be pushed to violence and was a fearsome fighter.

Chris Larabee was next and the only legitimate son. He was a glowering individual, but Josiah knew it came from fear, fear of losing someone else. Chris’ mother died in an auto accident when he was a toddler. His wife and son died in a fire. Nathan’s mother, who had been a surrogate mother to him, had been murdered, as had Buck’s mom, another lost mother for the surly blond. Finally, Linc had died unexpectedly and left Chris feeling adrift. In defense, the man had drawn into himself. Only recently had he began to lower his guard and allow people in again.

Buck Wilmington was the third son. Some described him as boorish and uncouth. But what some people saw as a crude man, Josiah saw a blusterous man of full of life and love. Buck liked having people around him; he had a need to connect, with his voice, his eyes, and his hands, anyway he could. Basically, Buck loved life and all it had to offer.

Nathan Jackson, fourth in the Larabee line, was a doctor, following in the footsteps of his mother, a nurse. He cared for people, especially his six brothers. He had been raised on the ranch with Buck and Chris, but while Chris loved horses and the outdoors, and Buck loved, well, everything. Nathan loved people. He loved working with people. When he wasn’t practicing medicine, he was studying journals and books, or volunteering at the shelter, that so many years earlier, his mother had died in front of. He pulled extra shifts at the hospital and worked holidays. Many times during the last eleven months, he had had the opportunity to practice his craft on each of the brothers that now resided in the home.

Ezra Standish was Linc’s fifth son. The man was an enigma. While he claimed to be indifferent to the others, he was always there when there was trouble. He was a successful businessman, but never talked about that business. The only time any of them had been to that business was five months prior when he and JD had run into some trouble. He claimed to love his mother, but he never invited her to the ranch. He loved to gamble, but did not like to take chances. The man was truly a contradiction.

Vin Tanner was by far the quietest of the seven. He had grown up in foster homes after his mother’s death. He was whip thin and had a wickedly dry sense of humor. Vin had been a loner until he landed in the company of the six brothers. Since then, he had opened up and become a quiet voice of reason in many of the family ‘discussions’.

That left John Dunne, or JD, as he was known, their youngest member. Josiah sometimes thought that the boy had been born full-grown at the age of twenty- three. He was the most innocent soul Josiah had ever met, a breath of fresh air in a stale and suspicious world. The youth believed in his brothers and in their abilities to fix anything, do anything. Their youngest was a trusting soul and it was wonder to them all that he had grown up in the world today with his innocence intact.

Josiah shook himself out of his daze and finished cleaning up the breakfast dishes. He knew that Buck wasn’t finished with the boy. He only hoped that he did not push the lad too far.

+ + + + + + +

JD knew Buck’s intentions were good. The real problem was that he had no idea why it was so important to him to leave right now. He had been looking forward to Thanksgiving Day with his new family. This was the third big holiday they had celebrated together. But this was the first ‘gathering’, or family, holiday. The fourth of July was a big day for them-family, friends, fireworks, and food. Then Labor Day rolled around. Chris, Vin, and himself had been away for the roping competition and Ezra had been in Vegas on business.

JD had planned on helping with the dinner; each of them were making something different. Nettie was going to be gone on vacation, visiting a cousin and Casey was going with her to help drive. Maybe that had something to do with his sudden desire to leave and return to Boston. He wasn’t looking forward to the twenty-seven hundred mile drive over a five-day period. He had enjoyed the ride out to Nevada. After his mom had died, he had bought a new motorcycle and rode away from the grief that Boston represented.

He had ridden it straight to Nevada and into a whole new life. Yep, he had enjoyed that first ride, but wasn't looking forward to this one. He had opted to drive the 4x4 Blazer Buck and Vin had helped him pick out. The weather was unpredictable going across country as he was and the others had asked him to not go alone on the bike. He smiled as he remembered Buck’s eyes as he had asked him to not go alone or, at the very least, not ride the motorcycle. He smiled at the emotion revealed by the big mans eyes. The eyes truly were the windows to the soul, especially if they were the eyes of Buck Wilmington.

So, here he was, leaving only the second home he could remember. He felt a twinge of regret and foreboding as he turned off the dirt road onto the highway. A quick glance in the mirror, a deep sigh, and he was on his way.

+ + + + + + +

Four days later, Wednesday before Thanksgivings Day, and the brothers were trying to organize the meal for the next day. They had decided to combine the grocery shopping into one trip. Josiah and Ezra had volunteered to do the shopping. Of course, that had been before they had seen the shopping list.

"Good Lord!" Ezra exclaimed. "How many people are we feeding? The entire roster of the Denver Broncos?"

Josiah read over the southerner’s shoulder. "Has anyone checked to see if any of these things are in the pantry?"

Chris waved both hands. "No. No, we don’t touch Nettie’s stores. If she comes back and everything is not where it’s supposed to be, we’ll all be paying for it for weeks. Trust me on this." Buck and Nathan’s heads were bobbing up and down to Chris’ words.

Ezra threw up his hands. "Very well, gentlemen. Josiah and I are armed with the list and ample funds. We shall call as we approach and will expect to be assisted in ‘off-loading’ of the supplies."

"You can count on us. While you handle the shopping, Vin and Buck are going to help me with the stock. I want to check on the yearling. That knee was a little swollen and we need to make sure he is secure in the barn for the day." Chris told the two men as they started out the door.

"Is Nathan going to be home by evening?" Buck asked.

"When I spoke to him this morning, he informed me he would be home by three this afternoon, allowing time to rest, before we arrive back with the supplies for tomorrow’s feast."

"Okay. Looks like we have our day planned. We’ll keep the phone close. You give us a call when you get near the ranch and we’ll meet you at the house."

Breaking into two groups, the men sat off to their assigned tasks

+ + + + + + +

Nathan pulled into the garage and parked. He got out and glanced around the spacious building. Vin and JD’s motorcycles sat together in the corner. The physician inwardly cringed at the two machines. As a man, he could appreciate the fun and allure of the machines. But as a doctor, a man who was called on to treat injuries inflicted by the machines, he hated to see them in the garage. The idea of his brothers riding the ‘donor cycles’ as many physicians called them, caused his muscles to tighten in fear. Ezra’s Jaguar sat next the bikes and Chris’ Dodge 4x4 sat beside that. Nathan had the next space with Buck’s big Chevy across the way. Usually, Nettie’s little Toyota sat next in the garage and then JD’s new little Blazer.

Nathan sighed as he thought about the youngest Larabee. He had watched the others avoid the boy’s name for three days in deference to Buck. The way the normally jovial man acted, you would think the boy had left forever. To JD’s credit, he had called in each night to check on the six and the ranch. The boy really loved the ranch and his brothers. Before leaving, he had talked to Nathan about going home. JD couldn’t explain the intense desire to return to Boston. It had been a sudden and unexpected decision on the kid’s part and Nathan suspected that Casey’s departure with Nettie might have had something to do with it. At least, he was calling in, letting them know he was okay.

He headed up to the house and a well-earned rest. The others would be back soon and the evening pandemonium of meal preparation would begin. Nathan chuckled at the thought of tomorrow and the six all cooking the Thanksgiving meal. He just hoped he had enough bandages.

+ + + + + + +

Vin rose early the next morning and headed out to feed the stock. He had started the coffee and the headed out the back door. He loved this time of day; the changing colors of the sky, the moisture of morning dew clinging to the grass, the air crisp and clear. He felt fresh and alive in the mornings. Hearing the coffee maker beep, he strolled back into the house. He found Chris up and pouring two cups for them.

"Morning, cowboy."

Chris snorted, "Ain’t no cowboy." He held out the coffee, a small smile pulling at his lips.

"So, you ready for today?"

"Hell, no. You really think we can pull this off?"

Vin gave a lip-sided smile and nodded. "Sure we can, if we just keep our cool. No problem."

They looked at each other for a minute…

…and then burst out laughing.

"We’re in deep trouble, Vin. Deep, deep trouble."

+ + + + + + +

By seven o'clock, everyone was up and cooking. Chris had smoked the turkey the day before and was mixing cornbread dressing. He had cooked the pumpkin pie earlier, almost burning it in a moment of inattention. The green bean casserole was ready to go in the oven as soon as Vin's apple pie was done.

Buck was busy concocting Rosie's famous, or maybe that infamous, jalapeno and pecan dressing. Chris had warned him last time that it should come with a warning label. Buck only laughed and added more jalapenos. Vin had snuck over and stolen a couple while the 'chef' was busy with other things. Buck had looked around perplexed, as his supply of peppers seemed to dwindle.

Josiah caught Tanner's eye and winked. Josiah was making chicken and dumplings in case anyone did not want turkey.

"Good Lord, Vin. How ever did you learn to cut vegetables in such a dramatic fashion?" Ezra's comment drew everyone's attention to Tanner as he prepared a veggie tray. He had intricately cut tomatoes, carrots, and celery, into delicates shapes. The bell peppers, red and green, had been cut and scalloped to contain dips.

"That's really nice, Vin. You study that somewhere?" Nathan asked as he admired the younger man's handiwork.

"Learned under a sergeant in the officers' mess. He hated boring food." Vin chuckled as he sat a celery stalk down on the plate. It looked surprisingly like a palm tree.

"Junior, you are just full on surprises." Buck commented as he clasped the slender shoulders of Tanner.

"Keep pinching my shoulders like that and I'll show ya a few more surprises." Vin stated as he hunched his shoulders.

"Yeah, yeah." Buck came back, but he released his hold and stepped back.

The preparations continued and the dinner began to come together. Ezra sat the table with Nathan’s help. Finally everything was ready. The table looked like it might collapse under the weight. There was turkey with two different kinds of dressing, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes. They had chicken and dumplings, corn, baked beans, and cranberry sauce. Desserts included pumpkin, apple, and pecan pie. Later, for the football game, there was the vegetable tray with dips, boiled shrimp with lemon and red sauce, plus chips and queso. The men figured they wouldn’t have to cook again until Sunday and Nettie was due back on Monday.

They began to seat themselves around the table. Ezra opened a bottle of wine and poured it into the glasses. Buck looked sadly at the empty chair across the table.

"Wish the kid was here. He would’ve put away a lot of this food," he stated.

The others nodded at the comment. Chris reached over and grasped the Buck’s arm as lay on the table. "He’ll be okay, Buck."

The man nodded. "Yeah, Chris, I know. I just wish he would ‘a waited. Just thought we would all be together for our first Thanksgiving."

"Look at it this way. He’ll definitely be here for Christmas." Vin observed.

The others nodded in agreement. Buck had to smile at that. With a hint of his normal exuberance, Buck’s eyes twinkled. "I can’t wait ‘til Christmas. It’s gonna be a lot of fun this year."

Chris shook his head. Buck was going to need a keeper this year. With four new brothers to buy for, the man would be over the top shopping.

Josiah spoke up, "Let us say grace, brothers."

+ + + + + + +

JD pulled in right at one and parked the Blazer in his normal spot. He knew he should have called, but he had decided to surprise the guys. Three days and thirteen hundred miles into his journey, he suddenly realized that he no longer had the desire to go back to the east coast.

He had planned to visit his mother’s grave and check on the monument he had ordered. They had sent a photograph after it had been set, but he had felt the need to see it in person. JD felt that he would feel closer to his mom looking at the stone. It had taken him most of that first day to figure out that was the feeling drawing him back to Boston. And it had taken another day and a half to figure out that the further he got from Four Corners, the more distant he seemed to be from her.

The thought had struck like a bolt of energy running him, and he shuddered. His mother’s memory was within him, not in Boston, not in some monument in a cemetery back east. He was so shaken by the revelation that he had pulled over and parked in a roadside park.

"I’ll be a.." and he chuckled. After resting for a couple of hours, he turned the little SUV around and headed home. ‘Home. Damn, that sounded good’ he thought as he started humming.

He had driven hard for two days, wanting to be home for Thanksgiving. He had a lot to be thankful for this year and had developed a burning desire to make sure each of them knew just how thankful he was.

+ + + + + + +

JD quietly entered the back door of the house and took a deep breath. The aromas were very tantalizing. He realized that he hadn’t eaten in the last twenty-four hours. His stomach rumbled in anticipation of the waiting feast. The meal had been planned for eleven and he hoped there was still some food left. As he crossed the kitchen, he heard Josiah’s resonating voice saying grace and he smiled. The meal was late; he had made it in time.

"Lord, we thank You for this food and the table upon which it sits, the home that contains that table. We are very thankful for the company gathered here today and we pray for each one’s continued health and safety. We pray that You will keep our family and friends not present safe and well, and bring them home soon. Lord, thank You for all the gifts you have bestowed upon us. We are grateful the wonders of the last year and the company of brethren you have blessed us with. For all these things, we thank You, oh Lord. Amen."

A chorus of six joined Josiah’s "Amen"

It was the sixth voice that drew their attention. They all turned to the kitchen doorway as JD stepped into view.

"Kid!" Buck yelled. He jumped to his feet and clasped the younger man briefly. As he released him, Buck leaned in and whispered, "Glad you're back, kid."

JD grinned. "So am I."

JD looked around the table at the brothers he had missed so and the grin grew wider.

"So, not that we’re not glad that that you’re home, but what happened? How come you’re back?" Nathan asked as JD took his seat between him and Vin.

"You didn’t have car trouble, did you?" Vin inquired.

"Nuh, nothing like that. I just.." He looked down, a blush rising on his cheeks. Taking a deep breath, he looked up at the men sitting around the table. "I got to Des Moines and I suddenly realized that I wasn’t headed home. I was headed away from it; so I turned around and came home."

He looked around the table and the looks confirmed that he was right to come home. His blush grew deeper, not with embarrassment, but with the warmth of family.

Vin reached over and ruffled the dark hair. JD slapped the offending hand and laughed. Looking down at the end of the table, he found Chris’ eyes on him. The normally scowling mouth was pulled up on one side in a smile and the eyes had a glint in them that JD had not noticed when he first walked in.

"Welcome home, JD. Happy Thanksgiving." The voice was low pitched, but carried around the table and all the men nodded in agreement.

"Gentlemen, why do we not partake of the feast that sits before us and young JD can regale us with the details of his journey to Des Moines, Iowa." Ezra suggested.

Soon the plates were full and the men dug in to the holiday feast.

"JD, how did the Blazer do?" Vin asked before putting a forkful of turkey in his mouth.

"Hey, it was great. Gas mileage was good; it handled well on the highway. I really enjoyed driving it. I had fun, except it was kind of lonely."

"Well, next time, you can just wait ‘til one of us can go, too." Buck said around his mouthful of food.

"Next time I will."

The conversation turned to the events of last few days. Chris listened as he chewed. He had put a forkful of Buck’s dressing in his mouth and winced at the intense heat. After taking a drink, he glared at Buck.

"Damn, Buck. That stuff just gets hotter every year. JD, you might want to watch that dressing.." His voice broke off as he turned and looked at the young man from Boston. Chris shook his head, ‘too late’. He watched as the boy tried to draw a breath. The young face was red and the mouth was open. Tears flowed down his face. Vin was pushing bread on the boy, trying to help. Buck just chuckled.

"Rose, you did it again."

"You’ll just have to ride it out, son." Josiah offered.

Finally drawing a breath, JD coughed and grabbed his glass.

"Holy shit, Buck. I think my stomach is on fire. Whoa." He gulped the rest of the glass down and stuffed the bread in after.

Ezra looked at his plate. "Well, I believe that I shall forego the pleasure of that particular fare."

Everyone, except JD, laughed as the southerner carefully pushed the ‘offensive’ serving away.

"That’s the last time I eat anything I wasn’t here for the preparation of." JD informed them.

"Oh, don’t say that, kid. Wait ‘til ya see what Vin prepared for the game."

"I don’t eat anything else until I get a list of ingredients" the boy informed them. He was still stuffing bread into his mouth.

Chris looked around the table, smiling as the banter continued. Glancing upward, he held his glass up and thought to himself, ‘you’d would be proud, Linc. You really would.’ Smiling, he turned his attention back to his family.

The End

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