Uncle Ezra sure takes a lot of showers, don't he Vin?
Yeah, he does. Reckon it's a grown up thing.
Chris and Da don't take that many showers.
Maybe it's just for grown ups that don't have kids.
Well anyway, I didn't like that coffee shop place very much.
Me neither. It was boring.
Yeah, just a bunch a people sitting around drinking coffee and listening to that kind a music that doesn't got no words in it an reading them newspapers that don't got no comics in m an working on their laptops an talking bout stocks an the government an them muffins was real dry and so was them little cookie things an they didn't have our kind a milk an the juice we drank tasted funny an --
JD, Uncle Ezra's going read this!
Maybe Ms. Potter can know how to race that part?
Maybe. Ms. Potter!!
??? ??? ??? ????? ??
We need some help.
But we can talk bout the other things that we did on Saturday. They were fun. We won't have to race them. Uncle Ezra doesn't have to know bout this part.
Uncle Ezra doesn't have to know what, boys?
We sort a said some things to the computer that we don't want Uncle Ezra to read.
Yeah, we well, we don't want him to feel bad or nothing cause he really wanted us to have a good time with him all weekend an mostly we did only we didn't like that coffee shop place that he took us to for breakfast on Saturday cause it was boring but he liked it there and seemed real happy that we was there with him.
I am breathing ma'am.
Ma'am it isn't funny! Can you help us erase the stuff we said bout that coffee place? We don't want Uncle Ezra to feel bad or be angry that we didn't like it.
Don't worry about it Vin.
But Ms. Potter -
He already knows. When we talked yesterday he said he realized that it wasn't a very fun place to take you. He said he'll know better next time.
So you think its okay to leave that part in?
Isn't this supposed to be a story all about your summer?
Well, if this is part of the summer, then I think you should leave it just like it is.
Okay I guess. If you think he won't be mad at us or nothing.
I promise he won't be angry at you.
So what was we talking bout Vin?
We was still talking bout that coffee place.
Oh yeah, but lets talk about the other stuff now.
Kay. Well it was still raining out so we couldn't go to the park or nothing.
Yeah but after we left the coffee shop we went to the moo ma mew mew zee um.
Yeah. We went to one that had all sorts of games an stuff to make.
???? It was Art's museum, JD.
Yeah. And we got to play with lots of stuff and Uncle Ezra even played with some of them.
Yeah, he sure had trouble making that canoe.
Yep, but he did a better job at that bended wood box.
I liked learning bout all them different people, like them Sam guys.
Yeah, them. It sure was interesting to see those swords and stuff.
Yeah. Then when we got through at the museum we went to McDonalds for lunch.
Yeah and I ate nuggets and fries and had a chocolate shake and an apple pie. And you had a burger and fries and a chocolate shake and a cherry pie and Uncle Ezra hey Vin, what did Uncle Ezra have to eat?
He just had some coffee.
He sure drinks a lot of coffee.
Yeah. Then when we ate we got to play in the playground for a long time while Uncle Ezra read his newspaper.
Yeah, then we went back to his house and he said we was tired an had to take a nap.
But I sure didn't feel tired, did you?
Nope. But he sure did snore loud while he was sleeping on the couch.
???? Yeah, he said he was just resting his eyes only you don't snore when you're just resting your eyes.
???? ???? ????
??? ??????? ???
There's certainly a lot of laughing going on in here.
Yeah, sorry Ms. Potter. We were just talking about Uncle Ezra snoring.
Yeah ???? He's loud.
??? He kind a sounded like that ???? chainsaw Chris uses to ???? cut up trees.
Yeah, we couldn't even ??? hardly hear ??? the TV.
What are you laughing bout, Ms. Potter?
Ezra Standish blinked his eyes open, confusion furrowing his brows as he tried to remember when he had gone to sleep. Soft giggles brought him further awake and he turned his head toward the sound.
"Hi Unca Ezra!"
"You sure sleeped a long time!"
Pushing himself up against the arm of the couch, the undercover agent scrubbed a hand over his handsome face. "I was only resting my eyes."
"Fer two hours?" Vin asked innocently.
"Two ? Oh good lord," the Southerner moaned. "Why didn't one of you say something before now?"
The two boys shrugged, JD adding, "When Buck snores like that, he don't like no one wakin' him up. So me an' Vin figured we'd just play quiet while you was sleepin'."
Standish looked to see that his usually immaculate living room looked as if a toy factory had exploded in the middle of it. He was appalled that he had lain, insensate, for two hours while the children had entertained themselves almost at his feet. Silently chastising himself, he said, "Well, if I should lose track of time again you have my permission to say something."
"Kay," the boys said in unison.
Looking at the clock, he realized that it was nearly dinnertime. "Are you gentlemen hungry?"
"Sure!" The smaller child chirped happily.
Smiling affectionately, the man asked, "and just what would you like to eat?"
"C'n we have some wieners?" Vin asked.
Trying not to cringe at the thought of consuming those atrocious tubular amalgamates of entrails and other unsavory foodstuffs, he managed a smile. "All right. And what would you like to have with them?"
"French fries an' beanie weenies an' 'tata salad an' watermelon an' ice cream for 'zert an' - "
Holding a hand up to halt the lengthening list, Ezra said, "Perhaps we'll save some of that for tomorrow. What if we have the frankfurters and French fries tonight, followed by some ice cream for dessert?"
The two boys looked worried. Finally Vin spoke up. "Unca Ezra no 'fense, but we'd rather have wieners than them frank burger things."
With a smile, the Southerner said gently, "Very well, Master Tanner, I shall see to it immediately."
Standish had gotten a list of favorite foods from the boys adoptive fathers prior to their arrival and had stocked up for the weekend. Leaving the children to play in the living room, the Southerner went to the kitchen to begin dinner. He was called back into the main area of the townhouse a few minutes later by a sharp rap on the door. Frowning, Ezra went to the foyer, wondering who was using their knuckles rather than his doorbell.
"Who's there?" JD chimed in from the living room in response to the 'knock knock' at the door just as Standish opened it to admit their visitor.
"Abel." Josiah Sanchez's rich voice boomed as he entered the little entry way."
"Abel who?" Young Dunne replied with a giggle as he sped into the foyer and wrapped his arms around one of the profiler's big thighs.
"Abel to see you now that the door's open!" Sanchez answered, deep laughter filled the foyer.
"Knock, knock," JD said.
"Who's there?" Josiah responded, oblivious of the looks of pain that crossed both Vin and Ezra's faces.
"Ali wanna do is have some fun!"
Grabbing the tyke around the waist and lifting him up, Josiah swung him up to drape him across his shoulder. Following Vin and Ezra into the living room, he said, "I just thought I'd drop by and see how things are going."
"They're goin' great, Unca 'Ziah," JD said breathlessly from his perch. "Unca Ezra taked us to a res'rant an a play last night an then this mornin' we went out for breakfast and then we went to a moozum - "
"Moozum?" Josiah mouthed to Standish.
"The Denver Art Museum," Ezra clarified under his breath.
" made canoes," JD continued, oblivious of the side conversation. "An then we went to McDonald's for lunch an we ate there an then me an' Vin gots t' play inna playground an we had a lotta fun an then we comed home an Unca Ezra falled asleep but me an Vin didn't an we played real quiet so we didn't wake him up an an then you comed over. Knock knock."
It took the others a few seconds to realize that he had switched gears. Taking up the challenge, Josiah, said, "Who's there?"
"Alfred of the dark."
"That's a good one, son. Knock knock."
A grin spread over the little cherub's face as he replied, "Who's there?"
"Adore stood between us, but now I'm in here with you!"
Giggling, JD said, "Knock knock."
"Alma not gonna tell you!"
While the twosome continued trading jokes, Vin sidled up to Standish. Leaning against the undercover agent's leg, he said in a pained voice, "Unca Ezra."
Setting a hand on the thin shoulder, the Southerner said, "Yes, Vin?"
"They gonna do that all night?"
"Oh lord, I hope not."
"Althea who?" Josiah asked JD.
"Althea later, alligator," the little boy crowed.
"Knock knock," Sanchez asked now.
With a frown, the child said, "Althea?" Then shrugging, deciding that the big man was going to repeat his joke, he said, "Althea who?"
"Althea later this afternoon."
Laughing loudly when he realized he'd been had, JD decided to see what other jokes his uncle could match. "Knock knock."
"Ammonia a poor little sparrow."
"Ah-ha knock, knock."
"Ammonia little boy who can't reach the doorbell."
Laughing, JD said, "You ain't too little, Unca 'Ziah you're too big!"
"I am, huh?"
"Yep. Knock knock."
"Ammonia little kid!"
Swinging his adopted nephew into his arms, the older man said, "you may be a little kid, but I think you're just the right size for hugging." He squeezed the tot snuggly.
As the knock knock joke battle continued, Ezra slipped back into the kitchen to prepare dinner. He smiled compassionately as Vin followed him, settling into one of the kitchen chairs as he returned to fixing their dinner.
"C'n I help y', Unca Ezra?" Vin asked.
"I believe I have things in hand, thank you," Standish replied. Then, seeing the dejected look on the little face, he said, "But perhaps you could fill the ketchup bottle for me?"
Brightening, the child said, "Sure!"
Setting the bottle and the plastic container that needed filled on the table before the little boy, Ezra turned back to the stove.
Vin took up the bottle, using all his strength to turn the tight lid. Finally managing to open the ketchup, he studied the next step how to get the ketchup into the plastic container. Finally he took up the empty bottle and sat it between his knees on the chair. Then, carefully, he tipped up the ketchup, matching the openings as he did. When the thick sauce didn't move, he recalled watching Chris hit the bottom of the bottle with the heel of his hand. Attempting to copy that action, he frowned as the stubborn condiment continued to stay put. Hitting the bottle with more force, he gasped as it jumped out of place just as the ketchup loosened and began to splash over his legs and the chair.
Flashing a panicked look toward the man at the stove, he tried to right the bottle, only to have more of it spill onto his hands. This in turn made it harder and harder to hold onto the bottle, which dropped onto the chair, sending more of the crimson contents spilling over the boy and the seat beneath him. His own face turned almost as dark as the ketchup, knowing that he would certainly be in trouble for making a mess. He felt the sting of tears as he realized that he would have to ask for help.
Barely hearing the child's timid call, Standish turned, his mouth dropping open at the sight of a splattered little boy sitting on a splattered kitchen chair. "Oh my, I take it you had a bit of a spill."
The tears began to flow as the seven-year-old sniffed hard and nodded. He looked up at the man, blue eyes swimming as he managed to say, "I'm real sorry, Unca Ezra."
Smiling compassionately, Standish said, "No need to apologize, Vin. It was an accident. Here, let's get you cleaned up." Retrieving a roll of paper towels and the wastebasket, he began to clean up the spill.
Young Tanner held out his hands. "I can git 't Unca Ezra, I made the mess."
Trying not to look as dubious as he felt at the thought of the child attempting the clean up on his own, the Southerner handed the towels over. He realized that this was something the child needed to do. "All right. Let me know if you need anything more from me. I'll be finishing up dinner."
Nodding, Vin wadded up several sheets and began swiping at the mess. He went through the entire roll and still there was ketchup on his shorts and legs. With a sigh, he finally admitted defeat. "Unca Ezra? I think I'm gonna need t' take a shower."
Turning from the stove, the undercover agent regarded the drying patches of crimson on both the child and the chair. "I believe you might be right, Vin. I'll tell you what. You go shower and I'll see to it that the rest of the ketchup is dispensed of properly."
"Okay." He slid from the chair and started toward the kitchen door.
Standish registered the ketchup spots defining the little footprints. "Wait, Vin! Let me get you into the lavatory, all right?"
Looking down, the child saw the red splotches. "Oh no!" he wailed.
Squatting down in front of the crying child, Ezra said calmly, "Listen Vin listen. It's all right. You have nothing to be upset about, and I'm certainly not going to scold you for this. Now, it's only ketchup and easily cleaned up,"
"What happened Vin?" They looked to see JD standing in the doorway, Josiah behind him. The smaller child was staring open-mouthed at the mess.
"It looks to me like there was a battle between Vin and the ketchup, and the ketchup won," Sanchez said lightly.
"Indeed," Standish concurred. "Might I enlist you in taking young Master Tanner to the lavatory while I begin the clean-up operation?"
"Sure, come on, son." The big man lifted the splattered child up. With JD trailing behind, he moved from the kitchen.
Behind them, Ezra sighed and went to get the mop.
A few minutes later, Josiah re-entered the kitchen to find the smaller man busily cleaning up the last remains of the spill. "He's pretty upset about all this."
Heaving a sigh, Standish said, "I know. I shouldn't have left him unsupervised. He was only trying to help, and now he feels badly."
"Kids are resilient, brother."
Giving the other man a somewhat haunted look, the Southerner said, "Even short-lived pain is pain, Josiah."
Nodding, the older man said, "Then it's up to us to make sure that this pain is as short-lived as possible. What can I do to help?"
JD sat on the closed toilet seat, waiting for his friend. Vin had looked so sad that he didn't want to leave him alone. He knew the older boy better than anyone in the world, and knew when he was upset with himself. He also knew that it was his job to cheer him up.
Besides, he was bored.
Sliding off the seat, young Dunne began searching for something to help cheer Vin up. Opening the drawers beneath the sink, he smiled as his eyes fell on a bottle of liquid soap. Liquid soap made lots of bubbles, and bubbles made his friend stop being sad. And, since this bottle was full, he should be able to make Vin really happy.
Lifting the heavy bottle with both hands, JD carried it across the short space to the shower. Setting it down on the side of the tub, he quickly yanked his clothes off, dropping them to the floor. Climbing over the side of the tub, he slipped past the heavy curtain and into the tub. He found his friend standing beneath the thick spray of water, facing the shower wall, head bowed and arms crossed over his chest.
Pulling the bottle inside, little Dunne unscrewed the top. To his shocked dismay, the full bottle slipped from his hands, falling into the tub with a heavy thud.
Vin jumped at the sound, spinning around. His feet hit the slippery soap, and he found himself falling. With a startled yelp, he cried out, "JD!"
Hazel eyes bright with tears now, the smaller boy said, "I was only tryin' to make you feel better!"
"Well, this ain't makin' me feel better! Look 't the bubbles!" Both boys looked around them, seeing the tub filling with foamy soap.
"Oh no!" JD cried out as the foam continued to rise, too thick to be drawn down the drain quickly enough. "What're we gonna do?"
"Maybe if we turn up the water," Vin reasoned. Doing just that, he watched in dismay as the water only caused the bubbles to rise more quickly.
The two boys looked at one another, watched the bubbles rising ever faster, and did the only thing they could. Scrambling out of the tub, they ran from the bathroom.
Ezra looked around the once more immaculate kitchen, nodding with approval. Nearby, Josiah had just finished dressing his hot dog with mustard, relish and onion. He nodded approvingly and took a large bite out of the sandwich.
Suddenly the peace of the temporarily child free zone was shattered as a pair of wailing banshees, in the guise of two small boys clothed only in bubbles that trailed behind them, dashed past on their way down the hallway. The Southerner clamped down on the oath he nearly spouted and rushed to halt the children.
The two boys skidded to a halt, looking up at their uncle with wide, frightened eyes. Finding his voice first, JD said, "I didn't mean t' do it!"
"Make all them bubbles come outta the bottle."
Turning to the older child in hopes of finding clarification, Standish found that the child was looking past him. "Vin?"
"Why's Unca 'Ziah look like that?" Young Tanner pointed behind the undercover agent.
Turning, Ezra found Josiah leaning heavily against the counter, eyes bulging as he struggled to breathe. He was giving the universal sign for a choking person.
"Oh, good lord!" Standish leapt across the short space, clutching the larger man's arm. "Josiah! Can you breathe at all?"
Sanchez gave him a look that said quite clearly that the Southerner had just asked the stupidest question he had ever heard.
The smaller man grabbed his much bigger friend, adjusting his hold so that he could perform a Heimlich maneuver. It took several tries, his movements accompanied by painful wheezing from the choking man, but he finally achieved success.
The two boys watched, open mouthed, as a large mass, formerly a third of a fully dressed hot dog, flew from their oldest uncle's mouth.
Ezra led the gasping man to a chair, helping him lower himself onto the seat. Grabbing a glass and filling it with water, he handed it to the still pale man. "Are you all right, Josiah? Perhaps a trip to the emergency room is in order?"
Shaking his head, Sanchez managed a smile. "No, I'll be fine in a minute, just let me catch my breath."
JD looked up into the bright blue eyes and, in typical JD fashion, said cheerfully, "That was a cool trick Unca 'Ziah! Can y' do it again?"
Standish looked down at the little boy, shaking his head. Then he yelped, "Oh, shit! The tub!" As he sped from the room, he heard a familiar voice call out to him.
"That's a dollar in the jar!"
Chris stared into the fire, the only source of light in the house. He listened to the silence, broken only by the occasional pop of the flames. For the first time in months, he was alone. While he and Buck had enjoyed Friday night in front of the TV, watching a variety of R-rated movies, Wilmington had made a date for Saturday night.
So, the boys were gone, Buck was gone, the horses were bedded down for the night, Torkus was in his cage, and the pups were asleep in the boys' bedroom. Larabee sat in his recliner, a glass of bourbon in one hand and one of his slender cigars in the other. Things were as they were before the boys had entered his life.
Lord, he was lonely.
Shaking his head at his silent admission, the blond reached for the phone. Punching Ezra's code on the speed dial, he muttered to himself, "You're hopeless."
Ezra settled back in the big winged back chair in his small study, sighing as he sipped his brandy. Things had finally quieted down just an hour ago, when two very tired boys finally drifted off to sleep.
He groaned as he recalled the mess he had found in the guest bathroom, an entire bottle of scented, expensive, liquid soap dripping over the sides of the tub as the foam grew beneath the hard beat of the shower. He had managed to get it cleaned up, returning to the kitchen to find that Vin and JD had eaten dinner under Josiah's watchful eye. The big man looked none the worse for wear, quelling any residual concern for his well being after the frankfurter mishap.
And the knock knock competition was back in full swing.
"Who's there?" JD asked.
"Atch." Sanchez replied.
"God bless you."
Vin groaned, moving away from the merry jokesters.
"Knock knock," the little brunet began a new joke.
"Amy for the top!"
With a deep laugh, the gray-haired man said, "Good one. Knock knock."
The dueling knock knock contest was halted by the ring of the phone. Ezra mused that he had never been so happy to hear Chris Larabee's voice coming to him through the receiver.
The blond had received a blow-by-blow account of the day, tears appearing in the telling of the ketchup and bubble events. Standish could tell by the boys' faces that his boss and friend was doing his usual efficient job of calming the children's fears and guilt.
Soon after the phone call, Josiah had decided to go home. As he made ready to leave, he smiled at JD. "Knock knock."
"Augusta go home."
"A B C N."
"A B C N who?"
"A B C N you!"
The others looked at Standish in shock, not certain the suave gentleman had uttered those words. Finally JD said, "Who's there?"
"Alba in the kitchen if you need me."
He had departed the living room on a wave of laughter, smiling that he had surprised his guests. Returning a minute later he found Josiah at the door.
"Knock knock," Sanchez was saying.
"Who's there?" JD responded.
"Armageddon outta here!"
The big man had left on that note, and he had undertaken the task of getting the youngsters calmed down enough to get them into bed. Finally, the long hours did their job and first JD and then Vin succumbed to their need for rest.
So now he was relaxing in the peace of his little sanctuary, a good drink in hand and good music on the stereo. And he was torn. For, as much as he was enjoying the short respite, he found himself missing the noise that had echoed through the house only a short time ago.
As he was so often, Ezra was surprised and not a little shocked at how their lives had changed with the addition of the two small boys into their circle of brotherhood. It had taken so little for the children to become the focus of so much that they did. Vin and JD had brought the five agents closer than ever, giving them all the gift of childish acceptance, unrelenting joy, and unconditional love.
Standish wasn't for certain that he believed in any type of deity, but he was forever thankful to whatever force had given the small orphans into their care. And had given them into the care of the boys.
Sunday morning dawned to blue skies and sunshine, the rain of the day before quickly a memory as the puddles disappeared from the sidewalks and street and the ground began to dry. Once again the Southerner was awakened by the sound of knocking on his bedroom door. Scrubbing the sleep from his face, he padded across to the door, cracking it open.
"Good morning, gentlemen."
"Mornin' Unca Ezra," JD chirped.
"Mornin'," Vin echoed, a smile spreading across his face.
"So, I take it that the two of you are ready for breakfast?" They nodded in return, but he could detect a hint of hesitation in their faces. He had realized his mistake the morning before, and was determined not to repeat it. "Well then, what say the two of you go get ready, and I'll take you wherever you'd like."
In giggling unison, the boys crowed, "McDonalds!"
Stifling a groan, Ezra said, "McDonalds it is."
Breakfast was relatively uneventful, although Standish knew he was going to have heartburn for the rest of the day. He couldn't see how the boys were as healthy as they seemed to be eating the grease soaked concoctions as often as they did. After they had finished their breakfasts, he sent them off to play in the playground while he managed to swallow the bitter brew they sold as coffee and read the paper.
After nearly an hour, he went to the door to the indoor play area and called the boys to him. They were at his side in seconds, panting and red faced from the hard play.
"Well, gentlemen, it looks as if you've had an enjoyable time."
"Yeah! We must a went down the slide a hundred billion times," JD giggled.
Chuckling, the man said, "That must be a record. I thought I'd see if perhaps you two would like to change the location of your playtime endeavors."
"Huh?" Vin asked.
"How would the two of you like to go to the park for a while?"
"I take that as a yes. All right, the two of you get your shoes on, and we'll go."
Half an hour later found the threesome at one of the city parks. Standish had seldom paid any attention to them prior to the boys' arrival, but he had to say that he was quite impressed by the city's bid to ensure nature a place within the city limits.
Finding am unoccupied bench near the playground, the Southerner settled in, opening up the copy of the New York Times he had picked up on the way. "All right my young friends, I'll be right here if you need me. Don't leave the playground area under any circumstances, is that understood?"
"Yep," JD said in a serious tone. "Me an' Vin know better 'n go where we ain't s'posed ta now."
"Yeah," Vin said, somewhat sorrowfully. "We don't wanna take no more un'spected trips."
Smiling compassionately, Ezra said, "Yes, I can imagine that some lessons are a lot harder to learn than others, but they're certainly remembered for a much longer time."
Shrugging, Vin said, "I jist know I don't wanna go through nothin' like we did b'fore when we was on that truck."
Nodding, the agent said, "And I'm certain you won't Vin. Now, put all dark thoughts aside and go have fun!"
Faces brightening, the two little boys dashed away, quickly lost in the maze of wood and metal that made up the playground for children under the age of 12. Watching for a few minutes, Ezra decided that all was well, and settled in to read.
He wasn't certain as to how much time had passed when he was startled by a shrill scream. Dropping the paper to the ground, he leapt up, green eyes scanning the heavily congested area for signs of trouble. Then his gaze fell on a tiny figure rushing toward him, thick dark hair bouncing as he ran.
"Unca Ezra! Unca Ezra! Come quick!"
Scooping the child into his arms, he said, "What's wrong, JD? Where's Vin?"
Pointing toward the opposite side of the play area the child said, "He's over there. I ain't sure what's wrong. All of a sudden he falled down and started hollerin'."
"All right, let's go," Standish tried to adopt a calm he didn't feel as he dashed across the playground, his progress impeded by the thick layer of pea gravel meant to cushion falls. They reached the other side, finding Vin huddled on the grass just beyond the designated play area, crying. Two little girls were kneeling beside him, offering comfort in their own child like way. The caring cherubs smiled, giggled, and scurried away at his approach.
Setting JD on the ground, Ezra gently reached out to the obviously distressed seven-year-old. "Vin, what's wrong? What happened?"
Sniffling loudly, the child looked up, blue eyes wide and filled with tears. Between sobs he said, "Sometin' bit me on both both feets!"
"Bit you?" The Southerner looked around for signs of something that could bite the child that quickly. Seeing nothing, he said, "Vin, I need to look at your feet. Can you show me where they hurt?"
Carefully the child pulled his legs up, pointing to the bottom of first one bare foot and then the other. "On on on the bottom," he whimpered.
Gently lifting the grubby feet, he set them on his thighs, bending to take a look at them. "Well, there's no bleeding, but it looks as if there's some swelling. However, it's rather difficult to tell considering how much dirt you've collected."
"I'm sorry," little boy Tanner said in a tiny voice.
Crooking a finger beneath the trembling chin, Standish lifted the tear-stained face and looked into the sorrowful blue eyes. "Vin, I'm not angry with you. I'm just worried. I don't like seeing you in pain. How about we get you cleaned up, so I can take a look at your bites?"
Taking the little boy into his arms, careful of his injured feet, Ezra carried him to a nearby water fountain. There, with the help of JD and his handkerchief, he carefully cleaned off the soles of Vin's feet. Regarding the round, red, swollen wounds on the ball of each one, he said, "It would seem that you've managed to acquire matching bee stings."
Sniffing loudly, the seven-year-old said, "They hurt."
"Yes, I would imagine they do." Ezra once more lifted the boy into his arms, setting him on one hip as he retrieved his cell phone. He carried Vin to one of the benches, settling him on the seat as he speed dialed Nathan. He knew that the EMT trained agent had memorized everything they knew about both boys. When Jackson answered, he quickly explained the situation, a look of relief crossing his handsome features at the news that the seven-year-old wasn't allergic to bee stings.
Under the man's directive, he carefully examined each wound. "Yes, it would seem that the ruthless insects both left their stingers behind. What? Yes, I have a credit card with me. Will I need to purchase oh, yes, I see."
Vin looked on with a frown as his Uncle Ezra laid the phone aside, pulled a credit card from his wallet, and very gently began scraping it over the bottom of his foot. "Ow! What are y' doin' Unca Ezra? Ow!"
"My apologies, Vin, but this is necessary. Uncle Nathan informs me that this is the best way to get stingers out."
"Yes, indeed, my young friend."
"Oh ow! Okay."
"My apologies for causing you pain."
"S' okay, Unca Ezra ow!"
"Is Vin gonna be okay?"
"Yes, he'll be fine."
"What kind 'a bites was they?"
"They weren't bites at all, they were bee stings."
"What kind 'a bees? Were they bubble bees?"
Stifling a grin, the Southerner answered, "No, not bubble bees, son."
Sitting back, the agent said, "There, I believe they're both out." Retrieving his cell, Standish reported his success to the man at the other end. "Yes, that shouldn't be any trouble. Chris and Buck are planning on picking them up later this afternoon. Thank you for your invaluable assistance, Nathan."
Vin reached out, signaling that he wished to speak to his Uncle. Taking the little cell phone he put it to his ear. "Hi Unca Nathan. I jist wan'ed t' say thank you. Thank you, Unca Nathan."
Smiling as he took the phone back, Standish said, "Very nice Vin. Now, let's get you back to my place and I'll put some ice on your injuries."
"I got Vin's shoes, Unca Ezra," JD piped up, holding the little pair of dirty tennis shoes.
"Ah, thank you, JD." He prepared to lift the older boy into his arms once more, recognizing the child's reluctance to be seen carried through the playground. Shifting his stance, he settled Vin on his shoulders, for all intents and purposes simply giving him a piggyback ride. Feeling the tiny body relax, he said, "Are we ready?"
With a short giggle, Vin said, "Ready. Thanks Unca Ezra."
"You're quite welcome, Master Tanner."
Despite his protests that he was fine, Standish insisted on carrying the little boy anywhere he needed to go. They ordered pizza delivered and ate in the living room, a first for the fastidious man. He placed Lilo and Stitch in the DVD player, and the boys watched the movie while making sort work of the pie. On his part, Ezra dined on salad and breadsticks while trying to make sense of the frenetic goings on flashing across his TV screen.
Vin sat on the couch in Ezra's living room, his lower legs and feet propped up on a thick, towel-covered cushion. Both feet had been washed thoroughly and were now encased in towels, which held in place ice filled Baggies. He was drowsy from the dose of Benadryl he'd been given, but fighting hard to stay awake. JD was sprawled out on the floor, chubby thumb tucked securely in his pizza sauce smudged mouth. They had been watching Ice Age, but the busy weekend had sent the smaller boy into dreamland before Manfred and Sid met the baby and his mother at the river's edge.
Ezra had contacted Chris to tell him of the incident, promising that everything was under control and the blond didn't need to rush into town. It still took young Tanner's promise that he was all right to keep Larabee from cutting their visit short.
"Unca Ezra?" Vin called to the man in a sleepy voice.
"Is Dad comin' soon?"
Checking the time, Standish said, "He and Buck should be on the way here. Is something wrong?"
"Nah," his tone said clearly that there was most certainly something wrong.
Going to the couch, the Southerner knelt beside the little boy. He looked into the fathomless blue eyes, seeing the unspoken need to be comforted. He knew that the self-reliant child would never put that need into words, and it touched his heart. He both understood that need for self-preservation, and mourned the fact that Vin had not yet learned to let it go.
Without a word, Ezra picked the little boy up, careful not to dislodge the ice packs, and carried him back to the chair he had been sitting in. He settled in with the seven-year-old cradled in his lap, smiling as the tiny body slowly relaxed in his embrace.
Chris Larabee frowned as he used his key to enter Standish's townhouse. No one had responded to the doorbell, which left him worried that something was wrong. Only the fact that the Southerner's car was in the garage kept him from heading for the nearest emergency room.
With Buck on his heels, the big ladies man just as concerned, Chris entered the foyer. "Ezra?" They entered the living room, stopping short, broad grins spreading across both handsome faces.
JD was still sprawled out on the floor, the smudges of pizza sauce telling them that the boys had convinced their uncle to order their second favorite food. But the sight that brought them closest to heartfelt laughter was that of Ezra Standish, head tilted back against the backrest of his chair. Drool had formed a swinging bridge between the corner of his mouth and his right shoulder, and his eyes were closed. Sprawled bonelessly in his arms was Vin Tanner. The child's wrapped feet were propped up on the arm of the chair, his head lolling against the agent's left, drool dampened, shoulder.
"Damn, why don't I have a camera when I need one?" Buck whispered.
Smiling, Larabee said, "Oh, I don't think I'll forget this little picture any time soon."
It was weird waking up in my bed this morning, I don't member Dad bringing us home or nothing.
Yeah, Chris said you were sleeping so long because you had to take that Ben-a-drill stuff an it had stuff in it that made you sleepy. An him an Da wouldn't let me make noise an I had to take my toys into the den to play.
I couldn't help it JD.
I know, it was just real boring playing by myself. And its still boring cause you can't do nothing but stuff you can do sitting down.
That ain't my fault, neither, JD. Dad said I can't walk on my feet until the swelling goes down and that probably won't be until tomorrow.
??? I know Vin, I was just saying that it's been boring cause you can't do much an it ain't much fun playing by myself.
Well, least we had fun at Uncle Ezra's most a the weekend. Least until we made that mess in the bathroom and you got them bee stings.
I didn't make the mess in the bathroom, JD you spilled all that soap stuff out.
I was just trying to make you feel better!
Well, gentlemen, are you almost done with this week's assignment?
Hi Uncle Ezra!
Yeah we're bout done. Did we forget anything JD?
Um I don't think so.
Kay, reckon we're done then.
Very well. Shall we repair to the deck? Your fathers have prepared quite the Labor Day feast out there and require your presence to begin.
There is a barbeque awaiting you out on the deck. Are you hungry?
Yeah! Let's go Vin! Bye computer!
I I ain't supposed to walk on my feet yet.
Ah, well, would you like another piggyback ride?
Yeah! Bye computer!
In The Good Ol' Summertime (Index)