Hello computer. JD's playing with Buck right now, so it's just me and Uncle Ezra. Hi Uncle Ezra.
Hello, Vin. Are you ready to get started?
Yeah. I mean Yes. Except I'm not sure I should tell everything.
Just tell what's pertinent.
Pertinent. It means relevant.
Why don't we just start at the beginning and we'll decide later if something should be stricken from the record.
You're talking like the judge.
It's good to expand your vocabulary.
Yeah, but it's late and I have to finish before supper.
Carry on, Master Tanner.
Okay. I was kind of mad at Buck
The bedroom door slammed for the third time in five minutes. Buck felt his anger grow. The weather was still unbearably hot and tempers were sizzling as well, but enough was enough. He took a deep breath and counted to ten before heading towards the boys' room to deal with the problem.
He grimaced at the sound of toys being flung harshly into the toy box. The lid to the box banged shut as he opened the door.
"You break somethin' and you'll "
The threat died on his lips as Vin turned to face him, tears streaming down his cheeks.
"What's going on, Vin?" he asked softly, his anger melting at Vin's distress. It wasn't like him to be slamming things around, let alone crying. Something was up, and it wasn't just the temperature.
"You knew and you didn't say!" Vin accused.
"What?" asked Buck as he walked over and sat on the little chair by the play table. "I knew what?"
"You knew it was Chris' birthday." Vin's body was stiff with anger.
Buck nodded once, confirming Vin's accusation.
"And you didn't say nothing! Uncle Ezra didn't say nothin' and Uncle 'Siah and Uncle Nate didn't neither. How come nobody telled us it was Chris' birthday?" Vin growled.
"I don't know, Junior," said Buck. "I guess we just didn't think about it." Buck knew he was hedging, but Chris wasn't into birthday celebrations anymore. They had tried to have a party for Chris the summer after Adam and Sarah were killed, but it had gone badly and no one had attempted to repeat that mistake.
"Everybody needs a birthday party."
Buck watched the little man in front of him. The anger was fading and the real reason for the door slamming and toy throwing cracked through. Disappointment. Vin's shoulders drooped. His chin practically rested on his chest. His body language screamed that he felt he had let Chris down.
Buck wondered what was going through his mind. Vin's hard life had left the boy with a mass of misconceptions that the adults around him spent a great deal of time untangling.
"Come 'ere," Buck said softly, opening his arms to Vin.
Vin heaved a sigh and then stepped forward allowing the strong arms to wrap around him, relishing in the warmth and security a simple hug offered.
"Everybody should have a birthday party," he repeated.
"Why?" asked Buck, squeezing a little harder.
"Cuz if ya love someone "
Vin stopped abruptly, a small shudder running through his body. He tensed and Buck sensed that Vin was afraid he had given away a piece of his past that he didn't necessarily want to remember and that he didn't want anyone else to know.
Buck closed his eyes and gently rubbed Vin's back. He sighed mentally, wondering how many birthday parties had been missed for the boy. It couldn't be many because he wasn't that old, but missing one birthday would be all it would take to tell him he wasn't loved or that he didn't matter.
"Chris knows you love him," he murmured into Vin's soft curls.
Vin nodded. "But I wanted to show him."
Buck smiled at the tender heart. He knew he could live to regret his next words, but it was worth the risk. Chris had changed a lot in the past few months. They all had.
"It's not too late, ya know."
Vin looked up, hopeful. "Really?"
"It would really surprise him," said Buck with a grin.
"Yeah!" A smile slowly crept across the tear-stained face. "And since it's already after his birthday, he won't never 'spect it."
"Spect what?" asked JD as he bounced into the room. He dove towards Buck's lap forcing the tall agent to catch him before he knocked all three of them to the floor.
"We're gonna make a birthday party for Chris, and it's gonna be a 'sprise," said Vin excitedly.
Buck smiled. Vin was grinning from ear to ear, the glum disappointed little boy of moments ago, totally washed away by the bright smile.
"Yay! I like parties."
JD twisted sideways turning his head to look at Buck in a way that made Buck cringe. He'd be visiting a chiropractor and a massage therapist if he tried that maneuver. Massage therapist - now there was a good thought
"When, Buck? Are we gonna have cake an' ice cream an' play games an' have lots of people an' buy presents an' "
Buck looked at the little whirlwind in his lap, surprised by the sudden silence.
"And what, JD?" he asked.
JD shrugged. "I dunno. I can't think of anything else."
Buck chuckled and tickled JD.
"Can we do it soon?" asked Vin.
Buck nodded, but frowned as he noted Vin's nervous fidgeting.
"Can we decide?" the hesitant boy asked.
"Decide what, Junior?" Buck smiled reassuringly.
"About the party," explained Vin. "You know. The cake, the games, all the stuff?"
Buck hesitated. He didn't want to dampen the boys' spirits but he also knew that this time of year was particularly hard for Chris and he didn't want the boys to go overboard. Chris' grieving, though not as dark as it had been, and the boys' natural exuberance wouldn't be a good combination - for any of them. Then again, Chris needed to lighten up and the boys needed to experience the sheer joy of throwing a party for someone they loved.
"Yes, Vin," Buck answered, "You can plan the party, but I want you to clear your plans with me or Josiah or Nathan or Ezra. Okay?"
Vin flashed a satisfied smile and nodded. He could do something special and fun for Chris.
"Oh boy!" chirped JD. "We're gonna have the bestest birthday party ever!"
Buck rolled his eyes, hoping Chris would feel the same way. He winked at Vin as they began planning the party.
"Did you get the cake?"
"Shh, JD! Chris will hear you," admonished Vin. "Did ya get it, Buck?" he asked in an equally loud voice.
Buck shook his head, "It's ordered boys. I couldn't bring it home in the truck with Chris, now could I?"
"But how're we going to get it?" asked JD.
"Josiah will pick it up Saturday on his way to the party, Little Bit," Buck assured, brushing JD's hair out of his face. "It will be here in plenty of time."
"Does it got cowboys on it?" asked Vin.
"Does it have," Buck corrected.
"Does it have cowboys on it?" Vin repeated as he stepped closer to Buck.
"Yes, just like you requested," answered Buck, opening his arm so the boy could hug him.
"Chocolate?" pressed Vin, tucking himself under Buck's arm.
"Yes, chocolate," said Buck, giving Vin a squeeze while trying to keep the exasperation from his voice. It had been like this for every minute detail of the party.
"Did you decide who you're going to invite?" asked Buck.
"Yup!" chirped JD as he grabbed some drawings from the table. "We even maked imitations. See?"
"In-VUH-tations," Vin corrected.
"That's what I said."
Buck cleared his throat noisily. The bickering ceased immediately.
JD held up the "imitations," smiling his best "I'm so cute and sweet" smile hoping to distract Buck from the bickering.
Buck took them and read the first few.
"Vin writed the words and I maked the picture," said JD proudly.
"I asked Miz Potter how to spell the words I wasn't sure about," added Vin.
"These are great, boys," Buck encouraged. He didn't have the heart to tell them that the invitations didn't tell when or where the party would take place. He'd just include a note in the envelopes or make a few phone calls.
"They're all different," said JD, pointing out that he had drawn a different picture for each invitation.
Buck roughed his hair.
"Buck!" JD complained, pushing his hand away.
"What?" teased Buck. "Well let's see who we've got so far. Miz Nettie, Mrs. Potter, Ezra, Josiah, Nathan and Rain, Me? You made one for me?"
"Yeah, you have to come!" said JD with a big smile.
Buck chuckled. "Okay. Let's see, Casey "
"We was gonna do hers with Miz Nettie's but Vin forgot and there wasn't enough room to spell all of her name," explained JD, "So we maked one by itself for her."
"I see. That's eleven of us so far. Who else?"
"We're not done yet," said Vin. "Here's our list."
Vin handed Buck a crudely written list of names.
Buck smiled. The boys had listed just about everyone they knew. "Who are Jerry, Jenny, David, Suzie and the rest of these? Isn't Jerry the kid you got into a fight with?"
"Yeah, but he likes us now," said JD. "He thinks it's cool that we gots two dads that are ATF guys."
"And Jenny, she sits by me in class. She's okay for a girl," informed JD. "She likes dirt."
Buck grinned. That was high praise from JD. "I know Miss Johnson and Miss Taylor are your teachers, but who are Sam, Jack, Budd and Jackie?"
"Sam's our bus driver," said Vin.
"Yeah, and Jack is the mailman," added JD. "You know Budd."
"Yeah-huh," JD nodded vigorously. "He works at your work."
"Oh! You mean Bud, the security guard?"
"Yeah! He's always real nice to us," said JD. "And Jackie works at the Daycare at your work."
"Ah," said Buck, trying to think of a way to whittle down the list a little without discouraging the little party planners. "Hmm do all of these people know Chris?"
Vin frowned, immediately sensing that he had done something wrong. He didn't look at Buck. He just pretended to straighten the invitations Buck had returned to the table.
JD looked at the list. "Nope. Jenny never even seen him 'fore. Jimmy neither. But they like parties. Are they supposed to know Chris?"
"Well, that's kind of the idea, Little Bit," said Buck gently. "It's a party for Chris, so it should be people he knows."
"Oh." JD seemed a little disappointed, but he took the black crayon and started crossing names off the list. He queried Vin on a couple of the names of his classmates, asking if they knew Chris.
Vin responded with a shake of his head to each question. His shoulders drooped as he realized the list was nearly cut in half.
Buck saw the demeanor and knew that Vin was taking the cuts in the list as criticism, exactly what he was trying to avoid.
"You boys are doing a great job with the planning," he soothed.
Vin's head shot up and he looked at Buck questioningly.
"Really. You are, Vin," said Buck, knowing Vin wasn't convinced.
"It ain't fair," muttered Vin.
"What's not fair?"
"Jimmy had 26 people at his birthday party. Chris is lots nicer than Jimmy," Vin reasoned. "He should have lots more people at his party. But we don't know all the people Chris knows."
Buck had to smile at the genuine sentiment. He reached out and pulled both boys into a hug. He felts a slight resistance from Vin, but he held him anyway.
"I can tell you this, Vin," he said. "Chris would rather have a few people he counts as family, than a whole houseful of people he's met a couple of times."
"Are you sure?" Vin asked, looking up at Buck's face.
Buck winked at him. "Would you rather have a room full of people or just Chris and JD and me?"
"Can I have Uncle 'Siah, an' Uncle Ezra, and Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain too?"
Buck laughed. "Yep."
Vin nodded. He'd rather have his family than a whole houseful of strangers anytime.
"Now, you'd better finish up the invitations so we can get them mailed."
"Okay!" said JD. "I gots to draw some more pictures." He trotted to the table, grabbing a yellow crayon and starting to draw the sun on a piece of paper.
Vin smiled and moved back to the table, taking pencil and paper and beginning his meticulous effort to write the words of the invitations.
Buck sighed inside relieved that he'd averted another insecurity issue for Vin and a huge guest list for the party.
"Thirty minutes, boys," said Buck, "then it's time for bed. Chris and I have to get up for work in the morning."
"We'll hurry Papa," said JD.
I wrote as fast as I could but I didn't want to make any mistakes.
Well Vin, I know that my invitation was outstanding.
Thanks, Uncle Ezra. We worked really hard on them.
Your efforts showed.
But some people didn't come even though we invited them.
Ah, yes. Well, people have very busy lives and we didn't give them much notice.
But we couldn't wait any more. It was way past Chris' birthday already
Chris sat at his desk in Team Seven's office, staring at the same sentence he'd read for the past five minutes, lost in thought.
He'd just passed his birthday, thankfully uneventfully. Correct that. Hopefully uneventfully. There had been a lot of suspicious activities going on in the house this week.
Not that birthday's were a problem. He enjoyed a little bit of recognition and didn't mind the teasing and gag gifts he'd get from his teammates, but Adam's birthday was just around the corner, and his wedding anniversary was coming up too. For seven sweet years it had been a joyful time of year. Since the loss of Sarah and Adam, it had been first a time of grieving, and later a time of reflection.
Chris didn't really mind getting older. There wasn't much you could do about that anyway. The anniversary of his birth made him stop and look at where he was in life. And if you'd asked him ten years ago, he would have never thought he'd be the head of one of the best teams in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He would have never entertained the possibility of losing his wife and child, let alone gaining a new family. He never expected to be in this position, yet here he was.
The blonde looked up, acknowledging Buck's presence in the doorway.
"You all right?" asked Buck.
Chris nodded. "Just thinking."
Buck cocked his head trying to see past the quiet demeanor, knowing this time of year brought back hard memories for Chris. He may not have been a father and husband, but he felt the loss of the woman who was his "sister" and the beaming blonde who was his "nephew."
He also felt the loss of the old Chris Larabee. Buck knew he'd never have the old Chris back, a man could not go through that kind of tragedy and come out the same, but Buck felt honored and proud to know the man Chris had become.
"Got a minute?" asked Buck.
Chris nodded to the chair and Buck closed the door and took a seat.
"What's up?" asked Chris.
Buck shifted, hesitating before he spoke. "Uh, Chris, I know this time of year well you know."
Chris smiled. Good ol' Buck. Always there to back him up, to support, to be a friend.
"I'm all right, Buck."
"Well, it's just that I know it's hard, but the boys " Buck's words trailed off as he searched for a way to ease into the point of the conversation.
"They're planning a birthday party," said Chris.
Buck looked at him with a big grin. "That obvious?"
Chris nodded. "That obvious." He had heard the hushed whispers all week long, noted the conversations that suddenly went silent when he entered the room. He'd seen the conspiratorial glances, heard the odd excuses from two little boys to exclude him from the trips to town. No doubt about it, they were planning something, and likely it was his birthday party.
"The boys figured since it was after your birthday you wouldn't guess," said Buck.
"You couldn't talk them out of it?" asked Chris.
Buck shook his head. "No. Vin was really upset when he found out he'd missed your birthday." He rubbed a hand across his face. "He didn't say so, but I got the feeling more than one of his birthdays had been missed."
Chris swore softly. It seemed like every day a new piece of Vin or JD's hidden pasts were revealed, usually requiring extra reassurance or sometimes a gentle correction of misconceptions. Things like this simply made him angry. It tore at his heart to imagine how crushed Vin would have been to have his birthday missed. And he knew without question that Vin would have interpreted that missed birthday as a lack of love or that he was unimportant, and unfortunately to whoever hurt him by missing it, he was probably correct.
With a sigh he also realized what throwing a birthday party for him would mean to Vin, and that he was going to have to have a party and enjoy it.
"Hope it's better than the Father's Day breakfast," Chris said softly, giving his agreement. He shook his head with a smile remembering how hard Vin and JD had worked to prepare breakfast. Thankfully, his special treat of smashed bread pancakes with Coca Cola syrup, beef jerky "bacon" and orange soda pop "juice" had wound up on the floor of the hall. Buck hadn't been so fortunate and actually had to consume a portion of his special breakfast before Torkus, the pet tortoise had tripped Vin and created a mini-disaster in the hall.
Chris had given Torkus a couple of fresh lettuce leaves and extra food pellets that evening, in appreciation for gracefully rescuing him from the unappetizing fare.
"Don't worry, Chris," said Buck with a teasing smile, "They have big plans."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Chris groaned.
Buck laughed. Slowly his smile faded as his concern for Chris surfaced again.
"Are you really okay with this?"
Chris looked him directly in the eye. "I'm fine. Now get back to work."
Buck stood and moved towards the door. He stopped as Chris spoke.
"Don't worry. I'll act surprised."
Buck grinned and opened the door. 'You won't have to act, Pard,' he thought as he moved back to his desk, chuckling.
"Did ya get the balloons? And the games?" JD asked eagerly.
"Yes, John Dunne," Josiah rumbled from the other end of the phone line. He had been recruited to help with the games and decorations for Chris' party.
"Oh boy!" JD shouted into the phone.
"JD! Don't yell!" chided Vin loudly. "It ain't polite."
"Sorry, Uncle 'Siah. When are you gonna bring them?"
"I'll bring them the day of the party."
"JD, you have to hang up now," said Vin anxiously. "Chris is comin'."
"Bye, Uncle 'Siah." JD slapped the phone into its cradle and ran to his room, giggling all the way.
As Vin lay in bed that night, he found it hard to sleep. Planning the birthday party was easy. Deciding on a present for Chris was a lot harder. He had thought long and hard trying to come up with the perfect gift. He finally decided that Chris would just love that black cowboy hat in the window of the Feed and Grain store. Chris always called him "Cowboy" and his old hat was looking pretty worn out. Maybe he could wear the old one for working and keep the new one for special times. The hat would cost more money than he had to spend, so he would have to ask Buck if it was okay and if Buck would help him buy it.
He sighed, knowing he'd have to wait until morning to ask. Vin rolled over and tried to sleep, but his mind just wasn't tired. It kept thinking. Finally he decided he was thirsty and he quietly got up to get a drink of water, careful not to wake JD.
Walking past the doorway to the den, he heard a soft giggle and Chris' voice. Quietly he peered in, curious about who Chris was playing with, and maybe just a tad bit jealous that another child was playing with his dad.
At first he didn't understand what he was seeing. Chris was standing close to the television watching a movie. The giggles were from the little boy on the screen. He carried a big present to someone and the camera followed his movements.
"Happy Birthday, Daddy!"
"Is this for me?"
It was unmistakably Chris' voice. The camera zoomed out to include the man in the frame.
"Yep. Momma and me picked it out special for you."
Vin stood quietly, transfixed by the scene playing out in front of him. He watched Chris unwrap a present and somehow he knew before Chris even opened the box that it was his old hat. He watched Chris hug and kiss Adam and then Buck walked through the frame. He walked right up to the camera, blocking the view and apparently taking it from the camera person.
"No more hiding behind the camera, Beautiful," Buck said. "Get over there with your boys."
A pretty lady now stood next to Chris and Adam as the camera refocused on the scene. Vin knew it was Mrs. Chris from the picture on the wall. The threesome was laughing and smiling as Chris put his new hat on Adam letting it slide down covering everything but his chin.
Vin watched Chris reach out and touch the television screen, resting his fingers on Sarah and Adam. Vin swallowed hard and quietly withdrew from the doorway knowing he had seen something he wasn't meant to see. He walked quietly to the bathroom, his hand unconsciously trying to rub away the odd tightness he felt in his chest.
I didn't tell anyone that part, Uncle Ezra, not even Chris.
How do you feel about what you observed?
I don't know. It made me sad that Chris was sad. And it made me think that I shouldn't get Chris a hat. The one from his little boy must be real special to him. Uncle Ezra?
Should we have this part on the computer?
Let's leave it for now, Vin. We can edit it later if you think we should take it out.
??? ???? ???? ??? ??? ??? ??? ???
Okay, Buck! It's funny how the computer makes those marks. Buck is too far away for it to hear what he said and write it right.
Yes, that's true, but I think we should go eat since Buck has called us to supper. We'll finish after we eat.
Comments: Joy K
In The Good Ol' Summertime (Index)