Friday evening finally came, ending the long work week. Vin was looking out the front window unconsciously copying the stance of the man he watched. Chris stood by the corral, leaning on the fence watching something in the distance, something that perhaps only his mind's eye could see.
"Come on, Vin," called JD. "The video is starting."
"'Kay," Vin replied mechanically, but not moving from the window. And not knowing he was being observed.
Buck watched the seven-year-old watch Chris. He didn't know why it surprised him that Vin sensed Chris' mood so easily. He'd seen it happen enough times. Buck's natural protective inclination could have had him chewing on Chris for being moody and affecting Vin, and thus JD, but he really couldn't blame Chris. Chris wasn't superman and he couldn't be expected to lock up his grief. Vin and JD would need to learn that in the real world people had moods and it didn't mean the boys' stability was in jeopardy.
Vin turned to look at Buck. He tried to return Buck's smile, but his attempt was feeble at best.
Buck tilted his head slightly and raised his eyebrows, the simple gesture inviting Vin to share what was on his mind.
Vin reluctantly moved away from the window, walking over to Buck. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure, Junior. What is it?"
Vin hesitated, shifting from one foot to the other. He didn't know how to ask what he wanted to ask. Suddenly the lint on the arm of the couch looked very interesting. He picked at it, and heaved a sigh before he spoke.
"Did I do something wrong?"
Buck knelt down in front of Vin and took one of the fidgeting hands into his own.
"What makes you think that?"
Vin looked toward the window, then back to Buck. Chris was sad and he couldn't help but think that somehow it was because of him. He had seen how much Chris missed Mrs. Chris and Adam when he saw him with the video. Maybe he reminded Chris too much of his little boy. Vin grimaced, scared that if he even uttered his thoughts they might be true.
"Chris is sad," he said simply.
Buck nodded. There was no denying that Chris had been quieter than usual the past few days, often seeking solitude.
"He is, but it's not because of you," Buck assured.
"Is he 'membering them?" asked Vin, his big blue eyes filled with sadness. Vin knew Chris missed Adam and Mrs. Chris an awful lot. And sometimes it made him wonder if Chris had enough love left for him too.
Buck nodded again, wondering at Vin's terminology. Them. Did he see Sarah and Adam as competitors for Chris' affection? Did Vin think that Sarah and Adam had first place in Chris' heart and that his "Dad" didn't have enough room for him too? Knowing Vin's insecurities, Buck figured that was exactly what the child was thinking, but perhaps it was just easier for Vin to say "them" than to say "Sarah and Adam." Not knowing which was the case, Buck took Vin's other hand into his own, holding them both.
"But that doesn't mean he doesn't love you," Buck assured.
Vin's eyes widened in surprise that Buck seemed to know what he was thinking.
"Vin, do you ever think about your Mama?" Buck asked gently.
"And sometimes you feel sad?"
"Yeah," Vin said longingly.
"Does it mean you don't love Chris?"
Vin pulled back. "NO!" he said emphatically. Of course it didn't mean that. He loved his Mama and he loved Chris too.
Buck just raised his eyebrows, waiting for the words to sink in.
"Oh!" gasped Vin softly, truly understanding that just because Chris was sad and thinking about his wife and son, that it didn't mean he didn't love Vin.
Buck smiled. "Now, we all have some sad times Vin, but we're family and we'll help each other through them. Right?"
Vin nodded. His eyes wandered back to the window, then turned to Buck.
"But how?" he implored.
Buck smiled at the caring heart standing before him. Vin had been through so much in just a few short years, yet the most important thing in the world to him at this moment was to comfort Chris.
"Well, that's easier than you think, Junior. You just be you." Buck brushed a finger across the tip of Vin's nose.
Vin smiled a real smile this time, but his eyes were pulled again to the front window.
"Can I watch the video later?" he asked.
Buck nodded. "Come on in when you're ready."
Buck stood, working out the stiffness from his knees. Kneeling on hardwood flooring wasn't exactly comfortable. He watched Vin edge his way to the front door. The boy kept looking over his shoulder as if he were expecting Buck to tell him not to bother Chris, and maybe a couple months ago, he would have warned Vin off. But he had confidence in the changes he'd seen in Chris, that despite whatever was on his heart, he would be aware of Vin's need for security.
He watched as Vin slipped out the door and quietly made his way across the yard. Moments later the seven-year-old was standing next to his father, unconsciously aping the same stance. No words were exchanged, but it wasn't long before a large hand rested on a skinny shoulder, and a small boy turned and hugged his hurting father.
When the hug ended, Vin hurried off to the house, leaving Chris watching him with a smile.
I get to help now, Vin. It was FOREVER before it was time for the party.
Yeah, JD. And it was hard to get him to go somewhere so everyone could come and surprise him. But we really did need chicken feed.
That was ingenious, Vin.
Thanks, Uncle Ezra.
I liked it when we all yelled SURPRISE and Chris jumped. It was funny.
He only jumped because you yelled so LOUD, JD.
Gentlemen, the story?
Oh yeah. Well, we surprised Chris
Chris jumped. Even though he knew it was coming, the sheer volume of the cheer combined with JD's high-pitched squeal startled him.
"Do you like it?"
Chris looked down at the boy holding his hand. Vin was now chewing on his lip nervously. Chris surveyed the scene in front of him. The backyard had been transformed into a party wonderland. Balloons and streamers and banners proclaiming "Happy Birthday" were everywhere. His teammates and a few close friends were there, and everyone was dressed in western garb.
"I love it," Chris said with a smile as he squeezed Vin's hand. "What a great surprise."
He was rewarded with a bright smile in return.
"What are we celebrating?" Chris asked, smiling as Vin nearly danced in glee.
"It's for your birthday!" he almost shouted.
Chris cringed at the uncertainty that crossed his son's face. He'd taken his "surprised" response one step too far. Now Vin was second-guessing himself.
Vin swallowed hard and sighed.
Chris turned his back to his celebrating friends and focused on the boy who needed to know he hadn't done anything wrong.
"Vin? This is wonderful."
Vin looked at him with uncertainty.
"Nobody telled me when it was your birthday. It was already gone when I found out," said Vin, looking at the ground. "I would have given you a party. Honest. Everybody should have a birthday party."
"I thought that's what this is?" Chris motioned to the yard.
"But I missed your day."
"Look at me." Chris waited until Vin looked up. "Look what you did for me! Look at all this. Balloons, decorations, cake. It doesn't matter what day we celebrate." Chris laughed as he turned to look at the yard. "Look at this party!"
He turned back to Vin, watching his son measure his words. Slowly a smile crossed Vin's face, telling Chris that he had accepted Chris' response.
"Come, see!" Vin tugged at his hand pulling him towards the yard.
Chris shook his head at the resilience of kids, and felt a warmth at the realization that Vin trusted him so completely.
"Belly up to the bar, boys," called Josiah as he poured grape Kool-Aid into plastic mugs for the newest arrivals. "Have something to whet your whistle."
Josiah was wearing a serape and a "ten gallon" hat, which the boys had dubbed the "Hoss hat" due to its similarity to the hat Hoss Cartwright wore in the re-runs of Bonanza that they watched on TV.
Vin took his mug, eagerly drinking down the contents, sighing with satisfaction as he reached the bottom. He lowered the mug revealing a purple mustache and a big grin.
"Hey Vin, here's your cowboy hat!" said JD, holding out a brown hat to Vin.
Vin put down his cup, put his hat on and turned to look up at Chris.
Chris winked at him, giving him the 'all is okay' signal and Vin raced across the yard with JD to play with Billy and Casey.
"Here's your hat, Pard," said Buck, handing Chris his cowboy hat.
Chris shook his head at all his friends dressed as cowboys. Even Mary, Rain and Nettie were wearing dresses styled after the Wild West era. Ezra was dressed like a gambler, managing to keep his style. Even little Casey was dressed as a cowboy.
Chris turned towards the raised voices.
"Huh-uh!" protested Casey.
"Uh-huh!" countered JD.
"Not me! I don't have to wear a dress if I don't wanna. And I don't wanna!" Casey yelled. "I wanna be a cowboy!"
JD stared at the girl for a moment, then shrugged.
Buck shook his head as JD and Casey chased each other across the yard again. "I think JD just learned about the equality of women, and that they can do whatever they want."
"That's a good thing to learn early," said Mary as she approached.
"Mary," Chris nodded his greeting.
"Happy Birthday," Mary returned.
"The boys have outdone themselves," said Chris. "I take it they had a little help?"
"A little," Buck confirmed, "But it's all their idea."
"Mrs. Wells," Chris said as Nettie joined the group.
"Christopher Larabee, when are you going to call me by my given name?" she groused affectionately. Chris and Buck and the rest of their team had become family when Vin and JD had stolen her heart. The seven of them, all little boys in her eyes needed a woman's hand.
Chris grinned at the chastisement.
"Happy birthday son," Nettie said softly as Buck and Mary walked across the yard to determine what the new squawking from JD and Billy was about. "You deserve to have a happy one."
Chris took her hand in his and squeezed gently. He nodded his appreciation to her before releasing her hand. He doubted Nettie would ever know how much she meant to him. Her gentle nurture of Vin, and going far beyond the call of duty to help them become a family was the greatest gift he could ever receive.
Uh-oh. Now Vin's voice could be heard joining in the fray over by the new jungle gym, which was still cordoned off by yellow CRIME SCENE tape. Buck and Chris had purchased the equipment for the boys, but as punishment for the fiasco that wound up with the boys riding down the highway on the back of a delivery truck, they had been restricted from playing on the brand new equipment for two weeks.
"I'd better check on that," said Chris, excusing himself momentarily. He walked over to where Buck and Mary were trying to sort out the arguing of four children. JD was standing with his chest puffed out towards Billy and Casey, but Vin stood off to the side scuffing at the dirt. Apparently it was JD's fight, but he was sticking close enough to protect his friend if need be.
"Now we have to wait a whole 'nuther week!" exclaimed JD. "And it's all your fault!" he poked at Billy with his finger.
"Now JD," said Buck, stepping between the two boys. "Why don't you calmly tell me the whole story?"
"But he won't "
"Billy," Mary interrupted, cutting off Billy's protest. "You will have your say as well."
Suddenly JD's anger melted and turned into tears of frustration.
"He he he touched it!" JD managed to say between sobs.
"Touched what?" asked Buck.
"We only had two more days to go!" JD wailed. "Now we have to wait a whole 'nuther week."
Realization dawned on Buck. Billy had touched the jungle gym that the boys had been restricted from playing on for two weeks. Vin and JD had been told that if they even touched the equipment, another week would be added on to the ban.
"Now hold on there, Little Bit," said Buck as he squatted in front of the crying child. "Billy didn't know you couldn't play on it, and he didn't know you couldn't touch it. That rule was for you and Vin."
JD rubbed away tears from his eyes. "You mean we don't gotta wait another week?"
"Nope." Buck looked up at Chris for agreement on whether to commute the sentence. "You just have to wait two more days."
JD looked like he was about to plead with Buck to be allowed to play today since Billy and Casey were there, but he thought better of it. "Come on guys, let's play cowboys."
Billy and Casey grinned and chased after JD. Vin stayed, still scuffing the dirt with his toe. Disappointment seemed to roll off the slumped shoulders.
Vin looked up at his foster dad. He straightened up and smiled, or at least pretended to smile. It was Chris' birthday and it was supposed to be fun and special for Chris.
Chris wasn't fooled.
"What's wrong?" he asked softly.
"You'll think it's dumb," Vin shrugged.
Chris shook his head.
Vin sighed. "It's ours," he said softly. "We should'a been the first to touch it."
Chris smiled inside, wanting to laugh at the very normal little boy reaction. Something Vin may not have risked saying a few months ago.
"You weren't the first to touch it, but neither was Billy. Buck and I touched it when we put it together."
"You wasn't playing on it."
Chris tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. "Neither was Billy, that I could see."
"Oh yeah!" Vin grinned at the realization.
Chris winked at him. "I can guarantee you, that you and JD will be the first ones to play on the jungle gym, okay."
"Go play," Chris said, ruffling Vin's hair. He watched as Vin looked at JD and Casey and Billy, then over to a card table where Ezra was sitting. He smiled as Vin made his decision and ran to play with "Uncle" Ezra.
"Happy Birthday Boss," called Nathan teasingly as Chris walked back over to the adults.
Chris smirked and slapped Nathan on the shoulder. This wasn't as hard as he figured his birthday party would be. The team may not have known it, but Chris was more than aware that his past actions at an attempted birthday party had made them leery of testing the waters again. He was grateful for the two little boys that had changed them all, and for his teammates who let the past be "water under the bridge."
He laughed as JD went screeching past them followed by his cowboy posse.
The Sheriff and his posse pulled up short, the pint-sized lawman scanning the yard. JD pulled a paper out of his pocket and unfolded it, revealing a drawing of a stick man with the name "Vin" printed crudely beneath it and the word "WANTED" in large letters on the top of the page.
"There he is boys!" the sheriff declared. "Let's get him!"
The posse surrounded the wanted man and the gambler. But much to the amusement of the adults, instead of arresting the outlaw, the posse pulled chairs up to the table and joined the card game.
The card game broke up when the posse got tired of sitting still. It was time to run and play. Vin, however, was playing the proper host and decided to check on the guests. He walked over to where Chris was sitting with the other adults.
"Did you enjoy your game?" asked Chris.
"Yep," Vin replied. "Uncle Ezra's been teaching me to count cards."
Chris wished he had a camera to capture that moment. Ezra's poker face fled, showing his utter shock at Vin's wording.
"Mr. Standish taught you to what?" Nettie asked, giving the southerner the evil eye. She always thought Mr. Fancy Pants was a little to slick for his own good, but teaching children to cheat by counting cards was worse than she had expected.
"Count cards," Vin repeated proudly.
"Uh ah-hem Uh What Master Tanner means," stammered Ezra, "Is count WITH cards."
Chris grinned at the flustered southerner, enjoying watching his friend squirm under Nettie's scrutiny.
"Yeah," said Vin. "It's fun even though it's math!"
Nettie's glare didn't waver in the slightest.
"Uh Vin Perhaps you would explain the rules to Mrs. Wells?" the Southerner pleaded.
"Let me show you," said Vin.
The next sixty seconds seemed like an eternity to the Southerner as Vin took Nettie's hand, led them back over to the table and laid out the cards. He missed Nettie's wink at Chris.
Chris had to hold back his laughter at her sense of humor. She was enjoying making Ezra twist in the wind.
Vin laid out the cards meticulously, arranging them for a standard game of solitaire.
"You're supposed to start with the "A's" in the middle," Vin explained. "And then you put a number 2 of the same kind on it. Like a 2 with a heart goes on an A with a heart. But you can't play it until you add it up. Right Uncle Ezra?"
Ezra nodded in relief.
"This part is harder because the numbers go backwards," Vin added, pointing to a stack of cards. "Like this seven here? You can only put a red six on it 'cuz it's black and you have to go down instead of up like you do in the middle piles." Vin turned up a queen of hearts. "See this one I can put right here on this black king, but I can't do it until I add them up. And that's " Vin paused as he tried to add it up.
Seeing Vin's frown of frustration and knowing that the boy felt intimidated by the pressure of getting the answer correct in front of everyone, Ezra stepped in to help.
"Use your cards, Vin," he encouraged.
Vin smiled shyly and picked up a separate deck of cards, the cards Ezra had given him as a gift for Christmas. Vin looked to Chris for reassurance and smiled at the nod he received.
Everyone watched as Vin counted out thirteen cards. "A king is thirteen," he reported. "And a queen is twelve." He slowly counted out twelve more cards, saying each number aloud as he stacked the cards. Putting down the other cards, he picked up the stack of twelve and thirteen and counted the entire stack out loud. "Twenty three, Twenty four, Twenty five." He looked at Ezra. "Twelve and Thirteen are twenty five."
Ezra nodded bringing a smile of pride to Vin's face.
"Uncle Ezra says I'm a tactile learner." Vin looked at Ezra for confirmation that he had said the word correctly. At Ezra's nod, he continued, "It means I learn better when I can touch things."
Vin spontaneously slipped his hand into Chris' hand. "Sides, the cards make me forget it's really math."
"Hey, Vin!" called JD. "Come play with us!"
Vin looked up at Chris in silent question. Chris nodded his assurance.
"Comin' JD!" he hollered back, trotting away from the adults to join the kids.
And we played a whole bunch and then we ate.
Yeah and it was funny, JD, when you burped and Buck hollered at you for being rude. And then Uncle Josiah burped.
Good thing he remembered to say excuse me. Uncle Ezra, why are you rolling your eyes?
During a meal of hamburgers and hotdogs, four very short people continuously exchanged glances and giggles. Clearly a child conspiracy was a foot, but none of the adults knew the secret that made the kids laugh every time they looked at each other. When the boys and Billy and Casey had consumed all the hotdogs their tummies could hold, they ran off to play again.
Soon the foursome was back in the yard near the adults. Vin and Billy faced each other standing about ten feet apart.
"Vin Tanner," said Billy, "I'm callin' you out."
Adults smiled at the little Western drama playing out in front of them.
"You women better step back," said JD, taking Miz Nettie by the hand. "I's the sheriff. I has to protect you."
"And I'm the deputy," added Casey as she directed Mary and Rain away from the coming gun battle.
The men remained grouped together smiling at the two little boys facing off a few feet away. Vin and Billy were trying hard to appear serious, but silly grins kept on exposing themselves.
"Draw," challenged Billy.
Vin drew his water gun. Billy drew his water gun. And for just a moment Chris had the clarity of thought to realize the boys were armed with super soaker pistols and they were up to something other than -
It was too late. A cold shot of water hit him directly in the chest. It was shocking but refreshing on the hot afternoon. His gaze caught the perpetrator's gaze. Vin's eyes were twinkling in merriment.
"I'm going to get you," Chris playfully threatened.
Vin giggled and ran, with Chris hot on his heels. He stopped at the corner of the house, turning and firing again, this time dousing Chris in the face. He squealed as Chris growled and pursued him again.
Billy's first shot had gone wide, but his second hit Nathan. Buck laughed at the startled man's reaction, but his laughter was cut short as he was hit from behind by a cold blast of water. JD's laughter told him all he needed to know. He turned and found two more short people armed with water guns.
Casey let go with a shot that dowsed Josiah before both children ran screaming delightedly in the other direction as the men gave chase.
Ezra smiled happily. At least he had been spared.
"Uncle Ez, save me!" called Vin as he came around the house pursued closely by Chris.
Ezra turned to find himself in Vin's sites. He sputtered and wiped the water from his face. Master Tanner was a good shot. He laughed good naturedly as Chris caught his little attacker.
Chris wrestled the weapon away from the child, giving him a liberal dose of his own medicine to Vin's delighted laughter.
Buck came around the corner carrying an equally delighted - and soaked - JD. Nathan and Josiah followed carrying Billy and Casey, all wearing big smiles.
"Now I understand the Western theme," said Chris.
Vin just smiled wider.
"You're a very good shot, you know," said Chris.
Vin nodded. He casually took JD's water pistol from Buck as the tall agent was trying to lower the wriggling JD to the ground. Vin looked back to Chris, bobbed his eyebrows and nodded toward Buck and JD in invitation.
Chris grinned and gave a nod.
"Buck?" Chris' voice was low and dangerous.
Buck looked up with dread seeing two evil grins as they fired, soaking him again. JD squealed in laughter as Buck growled and grabbed Billy's gun from Nathan, chasing after his attackers.
When the water war finally subsided, chocolate cake and ice cream was served. Chris had been recruited to cut his own cake, which made him suspicious of just what was in the cake. The cake was decorated with little plastic cowboys and cowboy hats and a single, albeit very large candle. After blowing out the candle he cut a large piece of cake, relieved when nothing happened. He let Nettie take over the cutting and serving, while Rain scooped ice cream. Chris chuckled as he noticed Vin was first in line, his desire for the dessert apparently surpassing his host manners.
Chris sat next to Vin and took a bite of cake. He loved looking at the pure pleasure on the boy's face when he consumed the sweet frosting.
"Good, isn't it?" asked Chris.
Vin nodded his agreement as he licked his fork.
"I noticed some fingerprints in the back of the cake."
Vin looked guilty, but only for a moment before he smiled.
"I had to make sure it tasted all right," Vin explained.
"Uh-huh, right," replied Chris, nudging the boy with his elbow.
Vin giggled and then took another bite. "Mmmmm."
Chris shook his head and took another bite as well remembering times when he had taste tested his own cake.
They decided to have Chris open his presents before the planned games. Everyone gathered around the picnic table, sitting in lawn chairs in a semi circle so they could see the gifts. Chris was seated in a lawn chair by the picnic table with Vin and JD standing excitedly on either side of him.
The two boys took turns handing Chris his cards and gifts. He was pleasantly surprised by the lack of gag gifts. He figured that having children around had tamed the content his teammates would throw at him. He received a nice shirt and tie from Nathan and Rain and Josiah. Ezra gave him an extravagant pen, and Mary presented him with the latest Grisholm novel that he wanted to read.
He picked up a perfectly wrapped gift and assumed he was safe reading on the card that it was from Nettie. He unwrapped the gift and looked inside, blushing at the contents.
"What is it?" asked Vin.
When Chris made no move to show him, JD helpfully reached into the box and held up the gift for everyone to see.
"It's underwears!" he declared loudly and then started giggling. "Miz Nettie gived you underwears, Chris!" he chortled. "And look!" he turned the waistband of the boxers towards Chris. "They got your name and address on them! Ah-ha-ha-ha!" JD howled.
"So we know where to return them if Peso takes them on parade around the neighborhood again," said Nettie.
Everyone was laughing except Chris and Vin. The boy stood next to his father figure wanting to laugh but uncertain whether he should. Chris looked at the boy and slowly broke into a grin, despite his mild embarrassment. Vin started to giggle, knowing it was safe.
"You laughin' at me?" Chris teased, pulling him onto his lap and tickling him.
Vin nodded and Chris joined in the laughter. Nettie got him good.
When the laughter finally died down, Chris opened the remaining gift. His eyes teared as he held up the first item, a hand drawn picture.
"I drawed it myself," JD announced as he sidled closer to Chris.
"It's a fine picture, JD," said Chris.
"There's me and Vin and you and there's Buck. And there's Uncle 'Siah. And there's Uncle Ezra. And there's Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain and they's kissing. Eeeewww." JD scrunched up his nose. "And that's Peso and there's Torkus and Ringo and Elvis."
JD was suddenly quiet. He looked at Chris hesitantly and then whispered in his JD whisper which everyone could still hear, "That's Adam and Mrs. Chris and Mama and Vin's Mama. They's watching us from heaven."
Chris swallowed hard and then wrapped JD into a tight hug. When he could speak, he thanked JD for his beautiful gift.
Vin shyly offered his part of the gift.
"I was gonna get something else, but Uncle Ezra and Buck said you'd like this just as much." Buck had encouraged both boys to make a gift for Chris and that he would pay for a special gift for Chris that was from the three of them.
So the two boys had made their own gifts. Now Vin fidgeted slightly, hoping that Chris would like it.
Chris looked in the box, finding a stack of awkwardly cut pieces of paper tied together with a ribbon. The top paper had the word "Koopons" written on it.
Vin chewed on his lip as Chris looked at the second page. Chris read aloud:
"Good for one free hug." He smiled at Vin and then looked at the next page.
"Clean my room without being told." He thumbed through the pages. "Help wash the dishes. Take out the garbage. One free foot rub. Help to wash the truck. Breakfast in bed. To be really quiet so you can read a whole book. One day of no fighting with JD. One day of fishing (more if you want). One free hotdog at the baseball game with my own money."
Chris closed the booklet and looked at his son with a smile. "C'mere."
Vin gladly moved into his arms letting his dad hug him tightly.
"Do you like it?" he asked.
Chris squeezed him. "You bet I do!"
"There's one more, Chris," said JD waving a yellow envelope at Chris.
Chris released Vin from the bear hug and took the card that JD offered.
"I maked the picture and Vin maked the book and Buck buyed the tickets." JD gasped and clamped his hands over his mouth. He had spoiled the surprise.
"You got me tickets?" Chris asked, trying to ease JD's discomfort.
"For the Rockies," Vin chimed in, unconcerned that JD had 'spilled the beans'. The Rockies were Denver's professional baseball team.
"Wow!" said Chris, pulling four tickets from the envelope. "Four. I wonder who I should take?"
The boys looked at each other in surprise.
"You supposed to take us," said JD. Vin nodded in agreement.
Chris smiled. "I knew that. I was just teasing. Can't think of anything I'd like more than spending the day at the ball park with my boys."
Vin and JD grinned and mobbed the birthday boy with hugs.
"Hey, don't we have some games to play?" asked Buck.
At the urging of the boys, everyone had a turn at pin the tail on the donkey. The children howled in laughter when Uncle Josiah almost stuck Buck with the pin. Then it was time for the piñata.
When JD approached with the plastic bat, Buck withstood the teasing of his friends, as he made sure he was out of the path of JD's swing. He learned his lesson while trying to teach the youngster to play tee ball.
After unsuccessful attempts by all of the children to break open the piñata, they insisted that Chris had to have a turn since he was the birthday boy.
Chris winced as the blindfold was cinched a little too tight and the knot Vin tied in it managed to tie in some of his short blonde hair. He managed to maintain his balance as the boys spun him around extra times to make him dizzy.
"Hit it!" yelled JD.
Chris took a halfhearted swing, hoping the children were out of the way. Tears had already been shed when Casey had whacked Billy in the head with the plastic bat.
"Ah-ha-ha-ha!" JD squealed in laughter, "Not even close!"
"You can do it!" cheered Vin.
"Come on, Old Man," teased Buck.
Chris took a playful swing in the direction of Buck's voice, making the kids howl in laughter as he staggered in apparent dizziness.
"You're way cold!" said Billy.
Chris laughed at himself. A grown man playing a kids game. It didn't matter how old he was. He had found his fountain of youth in the forms of Vin Tanner and JD Dunne.
He listened to the happy voices around him, teasing and laughing. Using his skills of observation, he drew a mental picture of where everyone had been standing and where the piñata had been positioned, and then he took a big swing.
The squeals of glee gave him his answer. He had indeed hit the piñata and the kids were diving for the candy and toys. Chris pulled off his blindfold and laughed out loud. Nettie, Mary and Rain were the only ones not in the dog pile. Nathan and Ezra were playfully tugging at the same pair of toy handcuffs while Josiah and Buck bumped heads reaching for candy. Billy and Casey were greedily grabbing toys and candy while Vin and JD were laughing so hard that both boys had tears in their eyes.
Chris looked at Nettie and shook his head. Children. They were all children. He looked at the pile of giggling bodies.
"What the heck?" he murmured. "Don't you be taking all my loot!" he called as he dove into the melee.
Fountain of youth indeed.
And that was what we did for Chris' birthday party.
Well done, Master Tanner.
Thanks, Uncle Ezra. Sorry about getting you all wet.
I take it from those giggles, boys, that you are unrepentant?
You looked so funny!
Yeah, so did Buck. He looked like he wetted his pants.
Well he did! Are we done now? I want some more cake.
Me too, JD.
Come on, Uncle Ezra.
Next: Camp Out
Comments: Joy K
In The Good Ol' Summertime (Index)