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Josiah stood in the middle of the living room of his daughter´s spacious apartment and glanced curiously around at the home Michelle had made for herself and her children. The warm, homey room was made inviting with mounds of throw pillows on the sofa and the crocheted afghans tossed over the back of chairs.
This was a room that invited you to come in and get comfortable.
The loud knock that sounded at the front door drew his attention from his contemplation of the place and he turned just in time to see the door swing open and Buck stick his head inside with a grin.
Anybody call for the ATF moving service?
Welcome, brother Buck, Josiah greeted him. Come on in.
Buck entered the apartment with JD and Vin on his heels.
Where´s the Munchkins? Buck asked looking around for the two children.
Getting reacquainted with their toys, I believe, Josiah told them with a grin.
Uncle JD, Lucas yelled and came running into the room, nothing but a flying blur as he threw himself at the young agent´s knees and hugged tight. Did you come to help move me and Rhi to Grandpa´s house? We´re gonna go live there now. Grandpa gots a big, big house and I´m gonna have my own room and ever´thing. I already picked it out. I get to put anything I want in it, Grandpa said so. We got a computer. Grandpa said we can take it with us. You wanna come see my computer? Lucas began pulling at JD´s hand trying to drag him along, You can play my games. I got a lot of fun games. We can play together. Wait til you see
Josiah broke in on his babbling grandson to remind him of his manners, Lucas. You forgot to say hello to your Uncle Buck and Uncle Vin.
Oh. Sorry, Grandpa. Hi, Uncle Buck. Hi, Uncle Vin, Lucas threw at the amused men watching him with wide grins. Come on, Uncle JD. I´ll show you my room, and the boy led JD from the room, keeping up a continuous monolog all the way.
That boy does love to talk, Buck chuckled.
Even in his sleep, Josiah told them ruefully.
Now that I can believe, Buck told him and then gave him a slap on the back. Where do you want us to begin?
For now we´re only taking the children´s things, Josiah told him, Their furniture and clothes, of course, and anything else they want with them. We´ll have to move the rest out later.
Buck and Vin nodded their heads in silent acknowledgement of exactly what Josiah was saying without verbalizing it. Both men watched their friend in caring concern, but Josiah seemed to shrug off the painful thoughts and they breathed silently in relief.
While JD has Lucas entertained, why don´t we start with his room, he suggested.
Before the men could leave the living room, the door bell rang and Josiah opened the door to a smiling Ezra whose hands were full of bakery boxes that emitted a luscious aroma.
Good morning, Josiah, Ezra greeted his friend stepping over the threshold. Ah, I see I am not the first arrival this morning. Gentlemen, Ezra nodded to his other friends.
Morning, Ez Vin told him, returning the nod.
Hey, Ezra, Buck grinned, Something sure smells good!
I took the liberty of picking up a few delectables on my way here this morning. I hope that meets with your approval.
If it tastes half as good as it smells Vin told him.
If you would point the way to the kitchen, my friend, Ezra raised an inquiring eyebrow at Josiah.
Sure. This way, Ezra.
Uncle Ezra! You came! Rhiannon´s happy voice greeted the undercover agent as he followed Josiah down the short hall into the large kitchen of the apartment.
Good morning, sweetheart, Ezra smiled at the child and set the boxes down on the nearby counter to sweep the child up into his arms for a cuddle and a kiss. How´s our Rhiannon this morning?
I´m good, Uncle Ezra. How are you?
Much better now that I´ve gotten my hug and kiss, the smiling man told her with a tickle to her ribs that had her giggling in delight.
Morning, munchkin, Buck said and lifted the little girl out of Ezra´s arms. How about one of those for your ole Uncle Buck?
Grinning, the little girl wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged the smiling man, and placed a tiny kiss on his cheek.
Aww, come on now, Buck teased. You can do better than that! Lay one on me, patting his finger against the cheek he turned towards her.
Rhiannon giggled at Buck and leaned forward to give him a loud, smacking kiss.
Now THAT´s what I call a kiss, Buck laughed.
Hey, stopped hogging the kisses, Bucklin, Vin mock punched Buck´s arm then pulled the child from Buck and rested her on his hip. I hope you´ve got a spare one of those for me.
Rhiannon nodded happily and gave Vin the same kind of smack on his cheek.
So, are you excited about moving into your Grandpa´s house? Vin asked her.
Uh huh, Uncle Vin. Grandpa let me pick out the room I wanted. It´s got blue walls and a big window that I can see the mountains out of.
That does sound mighty pretty, Vin told her.
And Grandpa said I could bring my dollhouse, and my books, and all my toys, too, Rhiannon told him.
Yep, that´s why we´re here, pretty lady, Vin said, We´re gonna get you all set up at your Grandpa´s.
While the child had been occupied with Buck and Vin, Ezra had opened the boxes and emptied the contents onto plates he had pulled from Michelle´s cabinets.
He waved a hand at the display of muffins, pastries, bagels, doughnuts, and petit fours and said, Breakfast is served, with a gracious smile. What would you like, Rhiannon?
The child´s eyes grew big with delighted greed as she studied the assortment, but her grandfather interrupted before she could answer.
Just one, Rhiannon, Josiah told her firmly.
If I might plead on the lady´s behalf, Ezra said, I thought she might enjoy the petit fours, and since they are rather small in relation to the other choices, it seems unfair to limit her to just one. I believe three of the petit fours are relatively equal to one of the pastries, wouldn´t you say, Josiah?
Josiah looked at the grinning agent and conceded the point. Alright, that´s fair enough, but no more than that. We wouldn´t want any upset stomachs or children we´d have to peel down from the walls either. That means no sneaking them any extra later, understand?
Josiah glared at his friends who were trying their best to look innocent. Josiah shook his head at them to show he wasn´t buying it for a minute. The doorbell rang once again and with a last glare, Josiah left his friends in the kitchen and went to answer the door.
If you would be so kind as to fetch our associate and the little moppet, Ezra asked Vin, as he extricated the little girl from his friend´s arms and determinedly drew her back into his own, I will help Rhiannon to choose her snack.
Vin surrendered the child with amused good grace and, grabbing a doughnut as he passed, left the room to fetch JD and Lucas as requested.
So, my dear, Ezra smiled at the little girl, Which is it to be?
As Ezra had known it would, the girl´s small finger immediately pointed to the small cakes iced in pastel shades of blue, green, pink, and yellow. Each small petit four was decorated with a delicate flower of a contrasting color in a setting of tiny green leaves.
May I have some of those please, Uncle Ezra, Rhiannon asked, eyes shining brightly in anticipation.
Of course you may, my dear, and may I commend you on an excellent choice, the agent smiled at the child as he loaded her goodies onto a plate and carried it and the child to the kitchen table.
Ezra sat the plate down and pulled a chair out from the table and sat down, settling the little girl comfortably in his lap and then pulling the plate closer to the eager child.
Rhiannon gently picked up a blue petit four and studied it carefully then looked up at Ezra and said, It´s so pretty!
Indeed it is, Ezra agreed, and gently guided the sweet toward Rhiannon´s mouth, But it tastes even better than it looks.
Rhiannon opened her mouth obediently and took a bite and Ezra could see the delight that filled the child.
Umm, she mumbled around a mouthful of cake.
That good, huh? Buck asked the child with a grin spread across is face.
An eager nod and answering grin was his only answer.
Well I better get me some of that before the hungerin´ hoards take all the good stuff, Buck teased.
He chose a strawberry filled pastry for himself and put a blueberry bagel on a plate and set it in front of Ezra who smiled his thanks.
Lord, Ezra, Buck breathed in a reverent tone after taking a bite of the flaky pastry, where did you get this stuff! This is died and gone to heaven eating.
I have a friend who owns a gourmet bakery and makes it for me, Ezra stated smugly, The man´s a genius in the kitchen.
So how´d you met this genius, Buck asked absently as he consumed his treat.
Actually, I arrested him, Ezra grinned. He was a very young man that had just gone into the family business as had been expected of him all his life. Unfortunately, he had no real heart for, nor talent for loan sharking. I was only a rookie when I arrested him and he was one of my first busts. He wound up doing two years in prison. It was when he was assigned to the prison kitchen that he learned where his true talents lie. After he served his prison term he enrolled in cooking school and became on of the top pastry chefs in the country. A few years ago he decided to branch out on his own and opened his own gourmet bakery. It has turned out to be an extremely profitable business.
The extremely satisfied way that Ezra finished his explanation caused Buck´s radar to raise and he made an educated guess as to the cause.
Would I be correct in thinking that a part of those profits are yours? Buck asked head cocked to one side in question.
Actually, you are correct, Mr. Wilmington, Ezra agreed. Feeling that he owed me a debt of thanks for setting his foot on the right path so to speak, Antoine, whose real name is actually Anthony Caranello, came to me several years ago with the opportunity to invest in his burgeoning business and I jumped at the chance. I have not only had a considerable return on my investment, but I also get my pick of the merchandise.
The sound of running feet interrupted the conversation and Lucas skidded around the corner into the kitchen.
Uncle Vin said you brought doughnuts, Uncle Ezra, the boy huffed out.
Indeed I did, young Lucas. Would you care for one?
Buck set his plate on the table and slung the boy up in his arms and said, Why don´t you tell me which one you want and we´ll get you set up, sport.
Lucas looked over the assortment of goodies and took his time choosing but finally settled on a chocolate frosted éclair. Buck set the little boy on the floor and put an éclair on plate then carried it over to the table for the child. Lucas crawled up into the chair and knelt in the seat reaching with eager hands for the confection. The watching men smiled in amusement as the boy took a large bite and managed to smear chocolate icing on his upper lip in the process.
Vin and JD made their entrance into the kitchen and JD grinned at the smiling children and said, Hey you started without me.
You snooze, you loose, Buck threw in.
Buck, JD snorted, Some good example you are.
Morning, boys, Chris Larabee´s voice sounded as he joined the others in the kitchen.
Mornin´ Unca C´is, Lucas mumbled around a mouthful of pastry.
Chris looked at the boy munching in satisfaction on his treat, covered in chocolate frosting and French cream, and had to grin.
Looks like somebody´s enjoying himself this morning, Chris told the boy.
S´good, Lucas told him.
Good morning, Uncle Chris, Rhiannon greeted him.
Chris turned to the little girl with a smile and returned the greeting, Good morning, honey. Looks like you´re having a party this morning.
The girl giggled and told the black clad man, Uncle Ezra brought them. They´re really good. Would you like one?
I do believe I would. Thank you Rhiannon, Chris gave her another smile and turned to find his way to the pastries blocked by his other team mates. You better have saved me some, or there will be hel uh.. heck to pay.
Don´t´ worry, Stud, Buck said. Ezra brought plenty, although I would suggest you hurry before the two bottomless pits here scarf them all up, he finished with a smirking nod at Vin and JD who were both busy tucking in to the treats.
Josiah and Nathan joined their friends and the next few minutes were spent enjoying the baked goods and each other´s company.
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With pastries consumed, dishes washed, and little hands and faces cleaned, the group once more turned their attention to the job at hand. JD, Nathan, and Vin had started packing up in Lucas´ room, while Ezra, Chris, Buck and Josiah worked on Rhiannon´s.
With so many willing hands it took hardly any time at all to box up the children´s possessions in spite of the kids´ constant finding of just one more thing´, and string of I almost forgot´s. The men loaded the boxes into the back of Josiah´s old Suburban, Buck´s Volvo and Nathan´s Explorer, then went back to dismantle the beds and load them into Vin´s Suburban. The rest of the furniture was loaded into the back of Chris´ pickup truck and covered with a tarp for the trip across town to Josiah´s home.
Alright, kids, Josiah asked one last time, did we get everything?
Yes, sir, Rhiannon assured him.
That´s all, Grandpa, Lucas said, and then suddenly wailed, Wait! My Blues Clues bowl! and ran into the kitchen. We can´t go without my Blues Clues bowl, Grandpa. I need it to eat my cereal!
And my Barbie plate, Rhiannon suddenly remembered.
Josiah obediently followed the children into the kitchen and intercepted the chair Lucas was trying to push against the counter.
Just tell me where they are and I´ll get them, he told the child.
He listened to the children´s directions and emptied the cupboard of the plates, bowls, and cups that the children swore they needed for mealtimes, while they rummaged through the silverware drawer for the matching eating utensils. Josiah packed the items into a box without comment.
That all? he asked again.
Lucas nodded again, and Rhiannon took a considering look around the room then nodded her agreement.
Alright, then Josiah began when Lucas yelled, My truck!, and took off for the living room at a run.
Josiah sighed in exasperation and followed the little boy who was digging in the living room closet. He drug out a well used Tonka dump truck with a grin and showed it proudly to his grandfather.
Mommy lets me take it to the park and play in the sandbox, Lucas told him.
Nope, definitely can´t leave that behind, Buck told the child in mock seriousness, sending a laughing glance at Josiah who was making a serious effort to hold onto his patience.
You know, I had a truck just like that when I was a kid, JD told the boy and picked him and his truck up and started walking toward the door, throwing Josiah a knowing grin over his shoulder.
Really! Lucas asked, You had a truck like mine?
Really, JD told him, My mom gave it to me for Christmas one year
JD exited with the child thereby preventing any more last minute necessities being remembered.
Thank the good Lord for JD, Josiah moaned gratefully.
Maybe we better hit the road while we´re ahead, pard, Buck laughed and swept Rhiannon into his arms.
Josiah made a sweeping motion toward the door with his hands then lifted the last box and hurried after his friends, stopping to lock the door behind him before continuing to his Suburban and depositing the box in the back.
Everybody all set? he asked of the men standing by their vehicles in front of the apartment house.
Ready when you are, Vin told him.
You betcha, from Buck.
Give us a moment to install Rhiannon and Lucas in their safety seats, Ezra informed him as he opened the back door of his Jag and lifted Rhiannon from Buck´s arms and sat her in her carseat, and we will be ready for departure.
Since Josiah´s Suburban was better suited for hauling boxes than Ezra´s Jag, it had been decided that the children would ride with Ezra to their new home. Their car seats had already been switched to his vehicle and each team member had made it his business, during their many trips down to the vehicles carrying boxes, to check the security of the belts holding the seats in place. JD opened the opposite door of the Jag and deposited Lucas in his seat and strapped in him securely.
JD gave Josiah a thumbs-up then opened the front passenger door and climbed into the front seat, much to the delight of Lucas. Ezra finished securing Rhiannon then locked and closed the door. He stepped back and nodded to Josiah before taking his keys from his front pocket and climbing into the vehicle.
Seeing that all was ready, Josiah got into his car and started the engine. He led the convoy of vehicles away from Michelle´s apartment and began the trip across town through the busy Saturday afternoon traffic to the children´s new home.
The unloading and unpacking went without incident and in less than three hours the children had been installed in their separate rooms in Josiah´s house.
As a thank you to his friends and a welcome to his grandchildren, Josiah was preparing dinner for the group that night. Buck and Vin had left to go pick up Rita, Angela, and the triplets, and Nathan to pick up Raine from her shift at the hospital. Casey was meeting JD there. Ezra had conveyed Kathryn´s regrets as she was working the evening shift at the library and had been unable to come.
Josiah was busy in the kitchen preparing the meal while JD was setting up the children´s computer in the family room with Lucas´ help, and Ezra and Rhiannon were reading to each other on the family room sofa. Chris was kicked back with a soda in Josiah´s recliner enjoying himself by watching his two brothers interacting with the children. There was something about the peaceful scene that just brought a feeling of quiet satisfaction to his soul.
The ringing of the doorbell interrupted the moment of peace and Chris rose from his reclined position and started toward the front door yelling to Josiah to let him know he´d answer it. Chris opened the door to find Buck, Vin and their children on the doorstep and Rita smilingly bringing up the rear.
Hi, Uncle Chris, Angel let go of her father´s hand and threw herself into his arms, sure of her welcome.
Hey, shortstuff, Chris swept her up and hugged her, stepping back to allow the others to enter.
We came for Uncle Josiah´s party, Angel told him in excitement. Is Rhiannon here yet?
Sure thing, Chris told her accepting her kiss on the cheek and returning it in kind, She and Uncle Ezra are reading in the family room.
Chris set the little girl down and she rushed inside. Chris reached out and lifted Dallas from Vin, who was carrying the little girl on one hip and Austin on the other, and snuggled the baby against his cheek. Dallas began to chortle and grabbed his blond hair in both hands. Chris laughed and pulled his hair out of her grip, gave her a kiss, and rested her on his hip as he greeted the other arrivals.
Come on in, Chris said, Evening Rita. How are you tonight?
Very fine, Senor Chris, Rita greeted the man with a smile and she glanced down at a happy Houston who was bouncing in excitement on her hip and reaching out his arms to Chris. We had a good day.
Chris reached out and took the child from Rita and rested him on his other hip. He gave Houston a kiss on his forehead.
Hello, little guy. You sure do have the energy this evening.
He took an extra long nap this afternoon, Rita told him with a laugh, If I didn´t know better I would swear he was getting ready for tonight´s party!
Chris greeted a laughing Austin with a kiss on his cheek, not wanting the baby to feel left out. Hey there, champ.
Welcome, Josiah´s voice greeted them as he exited the kitchen and came toward the new arrivals. Come on into the family room. Everybody´s gathered in there, Josiah said as he sheparded his guests inside.
Is there anything I can help you with, Senor Josiah, Rita offered.
Nope, not at thing, Rita, Josiah assured her, you´re a guest tonight. Neither Buck nor Vin would have been available to help me move the children if you hadn´t volunteered to watch Angel and the triplets for them, and the job would have taken much longer without them. This is my way of thanking you for your help today.
Then how can I say anything but you are welcome, the housekeeper told him with a grin.
So what´s on tonight´s menu, Buck asked.
I thought we´d go Italian tonight, Josiah told them, I´m making Fettuccine Alfredo with cubed chicken, four layer lasagna, an arugola, endive, and romaine salad, breadsticks and cannoli for dessert.
I´m starting to drool already, Buck told him.
When´d you say dinner was? Vin asked, rubbing a hand over his stomach in anticipation.
Another half hour or so, Josiah laughed as he led his friends into the family room.
As his friends greeted each other the doorbell sounded once more and Josiah motioned Chris back when he raised an eyebrow in question. Josiah walked to his front door and opened it and found Casey waiting for him with a grin.
Hi, Josiah, the girl said giving him a hug in greeting which he returned. I hear your days of being footloose and fancy-free are over.
Yep, he told her with a smile, and I couldn´t be more delighted about it. There´s just something about having children around
I understand, Casey told him. I´m so glad you found them, Josiah. You´ll be good for them.
I hope so, Casey. I know they´re good for me.
So what can I help you with?
Not a thing, Josiah told her as he laid an arm across her shoulders and led her to the family room, everything´s covered, but thank you for the offer. Come in and join the others why I go check on dinner.
Casey entered the family room to a chorus of greetings while Josiah headed to the kitchen. He opened the oven, took the lasagna out, and placed it on a trivet on the counter then pulled the pan of rising breadsticks out from under a cloth, brushed them with garlic butter, then recovered them. He would wait until everyone had arrived before putting them in the oven to bake. He checked the pot of water he´d put on to boil for fettuccine, then added more water to the pot to replace that which had boiled away while he was greeting his guests.
The door bell sounded again, and Josiah hurried to open it for the last arrivals. He threw open the door to greet Nathan and Raine and got a very pleasant surprise.
Michelle! Josiah said in disbelief as he looked at his daughter sitting in a wheelchair on his front porch with a grinning Nathan and Raine standing behind her.
You think you could spare a meal for a prodigal daughter? Michelle smiled up at her amazed father.
Come in, come in, Josiah finally reacted with delight, Get on in here!
Josiah leaned forward and pulled the woman into his arms for a moment them pushed back to look at her.
How did you he began.
Nathan and Raine sprung me for the evening, she told him, casting a grateful smile at the couple over her shoulder as Nathan pushed her chair over the threshold. Raine talked the doctor into agreeing to let me out for tonight as long as I had them around in case of emergencies.
Josiah reached a long arm out and pulled Raine in for a grateful hug. Raine´s smile told the man how happy she was to have been able to give him this surprise gift. Josiah gripped Nathan´s hand, and a silent thank you was sent and acknowledged by the two teammates.
Your house is beautiful, Daddy, Michelle told him as she looked around, causing her father´s chest to swell in pride.
I´ll give you the two-dollar tour after dinner, Princess, he promised.
I´ll hold you to that, she assured him. Where´s my gruesome twosome? she asked affectionately.
Lucas is holding JD hostage at the computer, Josiah told her with a grin taking the handles of her wheelchair into his own hands and pushing her forward, and Rhi was reading with Ezra and Angel.
Josiah stopped in the doorway of the family room and allowed Michelle to take in the scene unnoticed by the room´s occupants for a few moments. They both watched as Angel and Rhiannon sat grinning in the middle of the floor, each little girl with a wiggling baby on their lap; Buck sitting beside Angel, and Chris sitting beside Rhiannon just in case. Vin was laying on his back making faces at the giggling baby he held at arms length over him. Casey and JD had an enthralled Lucas busy at the computer and Rita and Ezra where having a conversation on the sofa.
Rhiannon was the first to notice her mother and yelled in excitement, and Chris had to swiftly grab the forgotten baby as Rhiannon jumped up to run to her mother. Everyone in the room looked up in surprise at the woman in the wheelchair and broke into happy smiles.
Mama! Rhiannon said reaching up to hug her mother who leaned forward to let the little arms entwine around her neck.
Hi, Sweetie. Are you being good for your Grandpa?
Lucas added his own greeting and threw himself at his mother. Are you gonna come live in Grampa´s house with us too, Mama?
Michelle´s bright smile dimmed a little, but her voice remained cheerful as she told her son, No, baby. I wanted to come visit you and see if you liked your new room. Michelle looked around the family room with approval and said, Hello everyone.
A mini-stampede ensued as the room´s occupants closed in around the woman and welcomed her.
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