By Luna Dey
An hour later Wilmington sprawled on one end of the couch while Ezra sat at the other end. Two small boys lay on their bellies on the floor in front of the television; chins propped on their hands, and their empty plates forgotten on the floor beside them. Without any warning, JD popped up off the floor and launched himself at his adoptive father, who caught him reflexively.
"Da, can we go out an' play in the snow now? We don't gotta go to school an' there's lots and lots of snow an' we promised Unca Ezra that we'd teach him to play in the snow "
"Breathe, Little Bit, breathe," Buck said as he hugged the boy tightly.
"I am breathin'," JD insisted and started in again. "Can we, Da? You promised."
"Yes, I did promise, but I said when the weather settled down. Look out the window," he told the five-year-old. "Can you see how hard the wind is blowin' out there?" When the boy nodded he continued. "That wind makes it way too cold for playin' outside right now. I promise we'll go out and play when the weather is right for it."
JD tried his best sad puppy eyes on his father, but realized they weren't going to work this time. "Okay," he said sadly.
"Why don't you two pick out a movie to watch while Ezra comes out to help me with the horses? JD, it's your turn to pick, isn't it?" Buck hoped getting to pick the movie would appease the boy for a short time, at least.
"Yeah!" He jumped from his dad's lap and dashed to get a tape. In what seemed to be only a split second, he was back and holding the tape out to Wilmington. "This one, Da. I wanna watch Poke on us!"
"Poke on us?" Ezra repeated as he tried to reason out what movie the child wanted to see.
"Pocahontas," Buck explained.
"JD, that's a girls' movie," Vin complained.
"No it ain't. It's got Indians, and aminals, and esplorers."
Vin thought about that a minute and then nodded seriously. "Guess it does." He took his usual place on the floor and waited for JD to join him.
"You boys stay inside and don't get into anythin,' ya hear me?" When both kids nodded, Buck added, "I'm gonna lay a walkie-talkie right here next to ya in case ya need us for somethin'."
"Might I inquire as to why my presence is required in the barn? I could watch the boys," Ezra said hopefully.
"There's some stuff I just can't do yet. It's too hard on my leg. Chris usually does the outside chores in the mornin's, and I get the boys ready for school," he explained.
"Yes, well I do see the need for assistance; however, I am afraid I have no appropriate attire, since I had not planned on being snowbound here when I went to work yesterday."
"Oh, he ck" he darted a quick eye to the boys and then shifted gears in mid word. " Ezra, if that's the only problem then I can fix ya right up." He made a quick trip to the laundry room and came back with some of Chris's work clothes. "I know they might be a bit big, but it won't matter how dirty they get, that's what they're used for. They're clean, I just hadn't got 'em carried back to his room yet."
Standish eyed the pair of heavy sweat pants and flannel shirt with distaste, but reached out to take them anyway. He resigned himself to the indignity of being dressed like a hired hand and trudged off down the hall to change. It was a good thing that Buck hadn't opted for jeans. Chris was taller than Ezra and the legs would have been dragging on the ground. At least with the sweatpants, the elastic at the ankles kept them from getting under his feet. Grudgingly, he admitted to himself that the clothes really were comfortable, and definitely much warmer than his own tailored clothes, but he would never admit that to Buck or Chris.
Wilmington handed him a pair of heavy wool socks and a pair of rubber work boots when he joined the ladies' man in the mudroom. "Boots might be a bit big too, but we can stuff somethin' in 'em to snug 'em up a bit if we need to." A heavy down jacket, thick work gloves and a stocking cap completed the ensemble. Buck grinned and teased the younger man. "What I wouldn't give if the other guys could see ya now."
"Believe me, Mr. Wilmington, if they could see me now I would not be dressed like this, for there would be no need for me to be," the southerner rose to the bait, setting the tone for the friendly squabbling on the way out to the barn.
"Ugh! Please tell me that was not what I think it was," Ezra groaned at the squish he both felt and heard when he stepped backward.
"'Fraid I can't do that, Ez," Buck said with barely controlled laughter. "Leave it to you to find the most recent offering."
"And just how would you know no, on second thought I don't want to know." The fastidious southerner turned up his nose and grimaced when he pulled his foot out of the pile of manure he had just stepped in. "I just want to know what to do with it now."
"Just go scrape your foot in some of that straw. That'll get most of it off. Ya gotta expect that when you're mucking out stalls." Buck bent back over the pitchfork he was using to scoop up soiled straw and turned away enough to hide the big grin that he just couldn't hold back.
"Mr. Wilmington, you are laughing at me, and don't you try to deny it," Standish accused the man who was shaking from the effort of holding in the full-out belly laughs that were trying to escape.
Buck made the mistake of glancing toward his indignant friend and the battle was lost. He leaned against the wall of the stall to keep from collapsing in a heap as he gasped for breath between howls of laughter. Every time he thought he had regained control, one glance toward the smaller man had him nearly rolling again. "Snnrrtt!"
"Did you just snort?" Ezra asked the gasping man.
"I don't snort," Buck managed to croak out. "Snnnrtt!"
"Yes, you did. You snorted. Where is a tape recorder when you need one?" Standish asked as he started to chuckle.
"Probably the same place the camcorder is hiding." Buck wiped tears from his eyes as he fought to get control of himself. "What I wouldn't have given for a camcorder when you stepped back. The look on your face was priceless."
"Yes, well, fortunately for us both, neither of us was armed with the necessary equipment to gain incriminating evidence on the other."
"Yeah," Buck said as he went back to his work. "That's what you think," he added under his breath.
The two men were just finishing the chores when the crackle of the walkie-talkie got their attention. "Buck?"
"Yeah, Vin. Is somethin' wrong?" Buck responded to the small voice.
"No, jus' wonderin' how much longer 'til ya come in," the seven-year-old replied.
"A few more minutes. Are you two all right?" The big man was a little concerned by the nervous sound of the boy's voice.
"Uh huh we was just gettin' a little hungry. Can we have some cookies?"
Buck checked his watch and realized it was nearly lunchtime. It had taken them a lot longer to finish than it would have if it had been Chris and him working, or even if it had been Chris alone. Ezra had to be told everything that needed to be done since he had never done this kind of work before, and he had to take it easy on his injured leg. Time had slipped by much quicker than they had realized.
"No, Pard. No sweets, it's almost time for lunch. Why don't ya both have a glass of milk to hold ya for a few minutes until we get done?" Buck said by way of compromise.
"'kay," Vin answered, and they heard the click of the boy's walkie-talkie and then dead air.
"Come on, Ez, let's get this done so we can go feed those two before they start eatin' the furniture."
"How much longer, Vin?" JD whimpered.
"They said a few more minutes," the older boy answered. "That ain't very long."
"What're we gonna do? They's gonna be mad." The five-year-old turned to his older sibling with a forlorn expression.
"Not if'n we can fix it 'fore they get back," Vin reasoned. "Come on, ya gotta help me."
The two small boys rushed into the bathroom and stepped up on the stepstools they used to see in the mirror. "Vin, how we gonna get it out?"
"Dunno, but we gotta," the older boy pulled at the sticky mass of chewing gum in his hair and groaned. "It's all yer fault. You got the gum an' ya know we ain't s'posed to without p'mission."
JD's bottom lip quivered and he started pout. "You maked me drop it."
"Did too! You tickled me an' it falled outta my mouff when I laughed." JD started crying in earnest at the accusing look that Vin gave him in the mirror.
The seven-year-old pulled at the big wad of gum causing it to stretch, but it didn't come loose. In fact, it just made matters worse. Every time he pulled, strings of it would flop back and stick to more of his hair.
"Maybe if ya put soap on it," the youngest boy suggested between sniffs.
Vin's brow creased in concentration as he considered that idea. "Yeah, soap'll wash out anythin'." He clambered down off the stool and made a quick search of the rack holding the bath supplies and chose a bottle of baby shampoo. Both boys liked that, even if it did say it was for babies, because it didn't burn their eyes. Once back on the stepstool, he opened the cap and with JD's help squirted the shampoo on the sticky mess in his hair. Then he rubbed it vigorously to wash the gum out.
The five-year-old watched in the mirror. "Did it getted it out?" he asked impatiently.
Vin stopped rubbing and tried again to pull the gum out. "Oh no!" he wailed. "It's stucked worse." To illustrate the point he lifted the large clump of hair that was now glued together with the wad of pink Bazooka Bubble Gum.
"Vin, whatcha gonna do?" JD asked in an exaggerated whisper.
"Shhh I gots t' think," he fretted and pushed the younger boy out of the bathroom and closed the door behind him. "See if ya can 'stract 'em."
The pint-sized brunet raced down the hall, but pulled up short at the kitchen door when he saw Buck and Ezra toeing off their work boots out in the mudroom.
Wilmington glanced up when he heard his adopted son and grinned. "Hey, Little Bit! What do you boys want for lunch?"
"Dunno," JD said quietly.
"Uh oh!" Buck took on a more serious tone. "I know that look. What have you two gotten into now?"
"Nuthin'." The boy turned on his best 'I'm innocent' look, the kind that was guaranteed to melt the heart of the toughest grown up. It didn't work.
"Baffroom." His bottom lip trembled. "I didn't mean t' do it. Don't be mad at Vin, he tolded me not to but I did it anyway, so it ain't his fault an' I don't want Vin t' be in trouble."
"Whoa, hold on. Are either one of you hurt?" He watched the boy shake his head no and breathed a sigh of relief. "Good, now start at the beginning and tell me what happened."
A couple minutes later Buck stood outside the bathroom and knocked lightly on the door. "Vin, open the door." A small crack appeared and one blue eye looked out. "Come on, buddy, let me see how bad it is so we can figure out what to do."
Slowly, the door opened to reveal one very upset little boy with thick shampoo suds in a big splotch on one side of his head. Vin looked at the floor and shuffled nervously from one foot to the other, waiting for Buck's reaction.
"First things first. We're gonna have to get rid of the soap so I can see how bad it's stuck. If it isn't too big a place we might be able to get it out without having to cut your hair," Wilmington said calmly.
"Noooooo!" Vin clutched at his hair and backed away from the man in the door.
"Easy there, Pard, I promise we won't do that unless we don't have any choice."
"I don't want my hair cutted. Don't tell Chris, please, Buck!" He turned sad blue eyes on the big man. Chris had told him that if he didn't keep the tangles out of his hair he would have to have it cut shorter, and Vin hated to get a haircut.
"You know I can't promise that, but Chris will understand that this wasn't your fault." He tried to cajole the boy into showing him enough trust to let him near his hair. "Let's get that soap outta your hair. Do you want to hop in the shower or lean over the sink?"
Vin didn't answer; he just climbed onto his stepstool in front of the basin and waited for Buck to get a cup. There was so much undiluted shampoo in his hair that it took several cups of warm water to get it rinsed out. Buck drew a deep breath and hoped this didn't look as bad as it felt, but once the soap was gone and he had gently patted it as dry as he could, he knew it wasn't going to be an easy fix.
"Perhaps Mrs. Potter will have a suggestion on how to get it out," Ezra offered from the door, where he watched with a fretful JD clinging to his leg.
"Good idea, Ez. Would you mind givin' her a call while I start some lunch for these two? I know they have t' be hungry." Buck reached down and picked Vin up to carry him to the kitchen, hoping it would reassure the timid child.
Wilmington listened to one side of the conversation, while he opened some canned soup for their meal, and frowned.
"Surely you aren't serious you're sure yes, I'm writing this all down but wouldn't that be hard to get out of his hair too? All right. Thank you, Mrs. Potter," the southerner said as he hung up the phone.
"Well?" Buck asked.
"That is one woman who has an amazing wealth of information. I have a list of several possible solutions to the problem," Ezra said as he waved the list in the air.
"What did she say to do?"
"She said we could freeze it out with ice if it was in a large enough clump. She also suggested peanut butter, egg whites, mayonnaise, melted chocolate, vinegar, and even vegetable oil and WD 40," Ezra replied.
"WD 40? You're kiddin'?"
"I am afraid I am quite serious. She said to try some of the other things first," Standish explained.
"Did she say how to go about this?" Buck asked as he cut up some fresh vegetables to have with the soup.
"Apparently for most of these you simply coat the affected hair and let it set awhile to soften the gum."
"Well, I was just gonna make peanut butter sandwiches for the boys to have with their soup, so I reckon we might as well start with that one." Wilmington quickly put together a sandwich and cut it in half for the boys. Chris and he had found out the hard way that soup and veggies alone would not keep the two bottomless pits from getting hungry again in an hour or two.
"Come on pard, have a seat," he said and scooped the boy up to set him on the counter. "You're sure she said peanut butter?"
"Mr. Wilmington, there is no trouble with my hearing. She said peanut butter," Ezra insisted.
Buck dipped the knife into the jar and then paused. "Ready for this, kiddo?"
Vin looked at the big glob of peanut butter and involuntarily reached up and felt the big sticky mass of gum in his hair. He nodded solemnly.
"Just what am I supposed to do?" He raised dark blue eyes to look at Ezra in question.
"You apply a liberal amount and work it into the hair all around the gum."
The seven-year-old wrinkled his nose when he felt the peanut butter being pressed into his hair and then he giggled.
"Oh, you think this is funny do you?" Buck asked. He gave up trying to use the butter knife and started to work the peanut butter in with his fingers. To his surprise he could feel the gum slipping loose from some of the least affected strands and he continued to work it into the sticky hair.
Vin tried to stop the giggles but they kept coming. "No, but ya always tell us not to get stuff in our hair." By now his laughter had infected JD and even Ezra was struggling to hide a smile. "Now you's rubbin' peanut butter in my hair."
"Me next!" JD announced as he bounced around the kitchen.
"Forget it, Little Bit, there is no way "
"I get it!" The pint sized whirlwind shouted and dashed to grab the ringing phone.
"Chris! We's gettin' ready fer lunch. We's havin' soup, an' carrots, an' peanut butter sandwiches, but we's gotta wait until Buck finishes rubbin' peanut butter in Vin's hair Da, Chris wants t' talk to you," JD said as he held the phone out to Buck.
Wilmington rolled his eyes and held up his messy fingers. "Ezra, would you please?"
Standish took the phone. He could just imagine the look on their leader's face right now. "Mr. Larabee, Mr. Wilmington is indisposed at the moment. May I be of service?" Suddenly, Ezra started to chuckle. "How did you know? Oh, I see I believe that is possible. Just a moment." He turned and handed the phone to Vin. "Your father wishes to have a word with you."
The boy swallowed hard and slowly raised the phone to his ear. "It weren't my fault," he started. "Please don't cut my hair all off."
"Uhh Da. Is Chris gonna cut all Vin's hair off?" He looked up wide-eyed. "I don't want Vin to be balded."
"He isn't goin' t' be bald, JD. Even if we do have t' cut his hair," Buck promised.
The older boy paused to listen and then began to smile. "You ain't mad at me? Okay." He turned off the phone and laid it on the counter beside him. "Chris wants ya to call him after lunch," he told Buck. "He said he won't make me get my hair cut, if we get it all out. He was laughin', Buck. Why would he be laughin'?"
"Mr. Larabee knew the problem as soon as he heard what was taking place here," Ezra offered. "Seems that our esteemed leader has had the same problem himself a time or two."
"Chris gotted gum in his hair?" JD asked in awe.
"Yes. He said it happened when someone challenged him to a bubble blowing contest." He looked accusingly at the ladies' man.
"It wasn't me," Buck said in his own defense. "I wonder who? Ah I bet it was Adam. I remember when he first learned to blow bubbles, sometimes he would have such a wad of gum that he could blow a bubble almost as big as his head."
"Well, regardless of who it was, our leader was quit amused to hear that you got the task of gum removal. He did suggest that once the worst of it was out that you use vinegar to remove any that is still left." Ezra chuckled and shook his head. "That would have been a sight to see. Big, bad Chris Larabee with gum all over his face."
The four dissolved into laughter. "That would have been a good blackmail picture," Buck commented when he could speak again.
"What's a blackmail picture?" JD asked innocently.
"Nothing important, JD. Just something grownups tease each other with." Wilmington made a mental note again to remember to watch what he said around little ears. "I've got most of this out. Let's just leave the peanut butter on there until after we eat then maybe the rest will come loose." He lifted the boy down and shooed them both to their seats at the table.
The wind blowed so hard it hided Uncle Ezra's car.
???? You couldn't even see it.
It still don't know you laughed. Uncle Ezra is funny when he first gets waked up, ain't he?
Yeah ???? He don't like to get up early.
It was fun when we did get to play in the snow. It was so deep it was almost up to my butt.
Yeah and it was great when Chris finally got home, cause he played in the snow too.
Vin can I play your corder?
Can't. I got to practice
After you get done practicing?
Maybe, but then I got to take it back to school after the pageant.
Is it fun? It sounds like fun.
It's okay, but I'd rather play a harmonica.
"WHAT?" Buck shouted into the phone. "HOLD ON! VIN!" Blessedly, the noise stopped and Vin popped his head into the room. "Would you stop so I can hear on the phone please?"
"Okay, Buck." The older of the two boys came on into the room to watch the ladies' man, obviously waiting for the call to end so he could resume his practicing.
"Okay, Chris, go ahead." Wilmington said, hoping this would be a long call. "A recorder yeah, for the school pageant I didn't think we would, but we got all the gum out. Sure, he's right here." Buck handed the phone to Vin and gave him a wink.
"Hi Chris! Ya comin' home now? It got dark out already," he informed his adoptive father. "But ya said you'd come home t'day."
Ezra looked at Buck and silently mouthed the words 'not coming?' He looked sadly at the heartbroken boy and sighed when the other man responded by shaking his head no.
"The wind keeps driftin' the roads back shut. He called and the road crews won't be out this way until tomorrow," Wilmington said quietly before his attention was pulled back to Vin.
"I gotta learn to play it fer the pageant at school No they's not makin' me do it. Mrs. Roquette really wanted all of us t' be in it, but I didn't wanna sing, so she said I could play somethin' if I wanted to," Vin told his father. "Ya will! Really! Okay."
Buck barely caught the phone when the boy nearly tossed it back at him and ran from the room shouting.
"JD! Chris says he'll come see us in the pageant!"
The sound of both boys squealing caused the ladies' man to flinch slightly. "Dang, stud. Guess ya just made their day, even if ya can't get home again tonight. We're doin' fine. It gets a little loud sometimes but he's gettin' better. See ya tomorrow."
Suddenly, the sound of the child's recorder filled the room again, accompanied by a very off key, and very loud, vocal rendition of Jingle Bells. Buck groaned and looked at Ezra. "If ya shoot me, I swear they'll consider it a mercy killin."
The next morning dawned bright, clear and wind free. The surface of the fresh snow was totally unmarred and glittered in the sunlight, giving everything a fairy tale look. The tree branches were heavily laden with several inches of snow, and in places the lower ones touched the ground under their burden.
"Vin! Wake up!" JD bounced up and down next to the window. "The wind stopted! Vin, lookit!"
The seven-year-old woke up with a yawn but was soon caught up by the excitement in JD's voice. He scrambled down the ladder of the bunk bed and joined the younger boy at the window. "Wow! There sure is a lotta snow," Vin said as he stared wide-eyed at the brilliant white expanse outside the window.
Their combined breath steamed the glass in front of their faces and they had to keep wiping it clear. The two boys stood side by side looking out at the winter wonderland that the ranch had become.
JD looked questioningly at Vin when he started to giggle. "What's funny?"
The five-year-old looked to where his older sibling was pointing. "What, I don't see nuthin'."
"See that hump in the snow?"
"That's Uncle Ezra's car," Vin said with another giggle.
"I don't see no car," JD insisted.
"No, ya can't. It's under the snow."
"That's Unca Ezra's car? Wow!" He turned and dashed out of the room and headed for the guest room at a run, followed by Vin at a more subdued pace.
"Unca Ezra! Wake up!" the younger boy yelled as he bounded up onto the bed.
"What?" the southerner called out when the small boy jumping on him and jerked him awake. He took a moment to orient himself and then focused on the small child. "What's wrong?" he finally managed to ask.
"Ya gotta come see your car!" When his surrogate uncle didn't make any move to get up, he grabbed his hand and tugged. "Come on!"
"My car! What's wrong with my car!" Standish surged out of the bed when the boy's words finally registered. He met Vin in the doorway; he took his hand and pulled him forward, while JD pushed him from behind. In moments he stood at the boys' window staring at the mound of snow where his car was supposed to be. "Oh, good Lord! I will never be able to get dug out. I know I told Mr. Larabee that the strange mound of snow blocking the drive would be my car, but this is unbelievable."
"Unca Ezra, we gets to teach ya to play in the snow now," JD announced happily.
The southerner looked at the delight in those eyes and couldn't help but feel some of that same excitement himself. "Yes, I do believe you do. However, I do know that there are chores to do first. Shall we surprise Buck with breakfast?"
"Yeah," both boys agreed.
A short time later, JD bounced on the bed to wake Buck Wilmington. "Da!"
"Ommph," the ladies' man grunted when the pint-sized brunet landed on his stomach.
"We maked breakfas' an' ya gotta come eat it 'fore it gets cold," the boy announced.
"Well, good mornin' to you too, Little Bit," Buck said with a grin and reached up to pull the boy into a bear hug. "You made breakfast?" he asked when he let go.
"Uh huh, me and Vin and Unca Ezra. Come on, it's gettin' cold and we wanna eat so we can go out an' play in the snow 'cause it ain't windy no more an' ya said we could go out when the wind stopted "
"JD, breathe," Buck instructed.
"I am breathin', come on, Da!" he said as he pulled the bigger man, urging him to his feet.
A couple minutes later, after a slight detour, the two made it to the kitchen. Wilmington ran his hand through his sleep-tousled hair and greeted the southerner. "Mornin' Ez. I see they didn't let you sleep either."
"They had something to show me that could not wait another minute," Ezra explained. "While I finish dishing up the meal, you should take a look out front."
Buck arched one eyebrow in question, but when he received no additional information he went to the great room and glanced out. At first he didn't know what he should be looking at other than a hell of a lot of snow. Then he saw it, the mound of snow in the driveway. "Whoowee! Ezra, if ya had a truck instead of a matchbox car we might be able to find it out there," he called out from the other room.
"Mr. Wilmington, some of us do live within the bounds of civilization and do not require daily access to the automotive equivalent of a beast of burden. It is entirely unnecessary to insult my mode of transportation," Ezra huffed.
"Easy, Ez. The Jag is one fine automobile. All I'm sayin' is it's short," Buck explained.
Only marginally appeased, Standish continued to frown. "Breakfast is going to get cold," he said to change the subject.
"We maded waffles an' Ca'dian bacon an' Vin maded the orange juice," JD announced.
"Awww, but Buck, ya said we could go out," Vin grumbled.
"You can, pard, but it is still really cold out since it's so early. You two stay in here and watch a tape while we take care of the outside chores. Then right after lunch, we'll get you bundled up so we can all go out and have fun in the snow." Buck didn't like the sad looks on the two boys' faces, but it couldn't be helped. He hoped it would be a little warmer at midday.
The morning's work went much quicker than it had the previous day, and the two men were back inside earlier than expected. They spent the time before lunch trying to hear themselves think over the sound of Vin's recorder practice.
"I swear if I hear Jingle Bells again my head will explode," Wilmington complained.
"At least he does seem to be improving somewhat," Ezra offered as he got up and headed toward the boys' room.
The southerner cringed when a particularly sour note set his teeth on edge. "Vin, how is it going? You seem to be making good progress."
"It's hard, Uncle Ezra."
"I am quite sure that it is, but any musical instrument is hard when you first learn to play it. Perhaps I can give you some suggestions that might make it easier," he offered the child.
"Could you really?" Vin asked hopefully.
"I have not played a recorder, but I did play the clarinet for a short time in school. My mother always thought some background in music would prove beneficial, but we never lived in one place long enough for me to continue." He joined the boys and looked over the instructions for the recorder. After a few minutes he had shown Vin the proper way to finger the instrument, and showed him some tips on reading the music. It was written very simply by assigning a letter to each note instead of having the child try to read the actual notes. By the time Buck had lunch ready, Vin had improved significantly.
"Here, Ezra. Slip these warm-up pants over those sweat pants," Buck instructed. "It will keep you a little drier and you'll stay warmer."
"I am all for staying warm," the southerner agreed. "It doesn't seem that these thin things would help very much." He held the thin, nylon garment up and eyed it dubiously.
"Trust me on this one, Ez. They work sorta like the boys' snow pants do," he explained as he pulled a pair on over his own jeans. "They hold your body heat in and keep the snow from soakin' into your clothes, unless you lay in it too long."
Standish decided to take Buck's word for it and pulled the thin pants over his borrowed sweats. He added an extra thick pair of socks and shoved his feet into a pair of borrowed boots. Heaving a heavy sigh, he looked up at his friend. "Should I be worried about this excursion?"
"What makes you ask that?"
"It just seems to me that you are all too eager to get me out there, which makes me wonder what you have planned for me," Ezra admitted.
Buck laughed and slapped the smaller man companionably on the shoulder. "Got nothin' planned but normal wintertime fun."
"Are ya ready yet?" Vin called out to them as he hurried toward the door. He had helped JD into his snow pants and put on his own. Now they were both ready for their coats, boots and accessories.
"Yup. Where's JD?" Buck asked.
"I's here!" The small brunet shouted as he dashed into the room. "Got's my boots and mittens. See!" He held them up for both adults to see.
"Good for you, Little Bit. Let me help ya with the boots. Vin, you need some help with yours?"
"Just t' tie 'em tighter t' keep the snow out of 'em," he admitted.
"Then allow me to be of assistance," Ezra offered.
Less than five minutes later they headed out the door. Wilmington stood back and held the door open for the boys and they both barreled through it and into the snow. Neither had expected it to be so difficult to walk through, and JD had no more that stepped off the last step when he landed flat on his face in the snow, only to come back up laughing.
Buck shook his head and laughed. "Hey, Little Bit, ya havin' a little trouble there?"
"It's deep!" the child replied. "Lookit, Vin, it's almost up to my butt."
The two boys plowed on out into the yard, laughing hysterically each time one of them toppled over in the snow.
Both men stood and watched the antics of the boys and grinned from ear to ear. Even with all the digging out facing them, they loved seeing those two kids being able to forget the bad times they had been through and just be little boys.
Buck bent down and scooped up a big handful of snow and winked at Ezra. "This is good packin' snow. It's dry enough that ya don't get soaked but wet enough to hold together." He demonstrated this by packing the snow into a nice firm snowball and showing it to the southerner. "Be prepared, I am about to start a war."
"HEY!" Vin yelped, when the snowball hit him in the middle of the back. He turned to see Buck shrug and point to Ezra, while grinning from ear to ear. The seven-year-old quickly packed a snowball and in one smooth motion lobbed it back in the direction of the adults.
"Ahhhh!" the southerner groaned as snow slid down his collar. "Master Tanner I do believe this means war," he shouted back at the boy.
The sound of childish squeals mixed with the deep laughter of the men rang out through the bright day. The happy sounds were broken occasionally by a grunt or grumble when one or another person took a direct hit.
"Time out!" Buck yelled. "Quiet! I thought I heard something."
Everyone fell silent and listened. At first it seemed that there was nothing there and then they all heard it. The deep rumble of the snowplow followed closely by a familiar truck. All four watched the plow move up the lane and then turn to clear a diagonal path across the end of the drive, before backing back into the lane and resuming its original course.
"Chris!" Vin squealed and ran, or at least tried to run, to his surrogate father.
The black ram pulled into the cleared area at the end of the drive and the blond ATF agent had the motor off and the door open long before the two small boys could make it through the deep snow. "Hey, cowboy!" Chris said as he picked up Vin and hugged him close. "Looks like you started the fun without me."
"It'll be even more fun now," the older boy announced as he hugged the big man back.
"Me too!" JD exclaimed when he reached the duo and hugged Larabee around the legs.
"Absolutely you too," Chris said as he bent and scooped the smaller boy up into his free arm. "Have you both been good for Buck and Uncle Ezra?" He laughed when both boys nodded enthusiastically.
"We's havin' a snowball fight," JD explained.
"You gonna play in the snow with us?" Vin asked hopefully.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world, pard. Give me a few minutes to go change. You two ever built snow forts?" Larabee asked. When they shook their heads no, he added. "Then it's about time you did."
The two small boys waited none too patiently for Chris to come back out to play. They sighed and kicked at the snow as they paced in the trough they had worn into the deep snow.
While they all waited, Buck and Ezra decided to check out the situation with Ezra's car. The wind had caused the snow to drift up against the driver's side to the point that you could barely tell there was supposed to be a car there. On the side away from the wind there was a small area where the snow was barely a few inches deep.
"Well, I reckon this would be the place to start diggin'. At least here we won't have to dig for half an hour before we even see the car." He stopped talking when he felt a small hand take his own. "Hey, Little Bit."
"I gotta go."
"We just got out here. Why didn't you go before we came out?" Wilmington asked the boy who was practically bouncing at his side.
"I didn't have t' go then!" he whined. "I gotta go now."
"JD, if we go in and get ya outta all those heavy clothes, we stay in."
"Nooooo Da!" JD said as he hopped in place.
"Okay, come with me." Buck sighed as he scooped up the boy and hurried toward the barn.
"I gotta go!"
"Where we goin'?"
"Behind the barn," Buck explained.
"Ya mean like when we was roughin' it when we went campin'?"
"Cool! Da... Can I write my name in the snow?"
Wilmington looked at the boy he was carrying and laughed. "Where did ya hear about that?"
"Jerry Collins said he could write his name in the snow if'n he had to go outside."
"Ah I see."
"Buck How do ya write yer name?" JD asked through clenched teeth.
"Ya remember when you wrote your name on the drive with your super soakers?" the ladies' man asked, hoping the boy could hang on just another minute.
"It's kinda the same idea."
"Oh." The child hissed and squeezed his eyes shut.
Buck stood the boy on his feet as soon as they got behind the barn and hurried to help him with the zipper of the snow pants. He was really glad that they had looked until they found some that zipped up instead of the ones that the boys would just step into. He hadn't understood why it mattered to Chris that they find them until now. As soon as he got the zipper down he tugged the boy's mittens off and turned him loose. In an effort to give the boy a little privacy, he watched the snow falling off the trees and grinned when he heard the boy sigh in relief.
"I's done, Da. Lookit I did write my name." The five-year-old giggled and turned so Buck could help him zip up the bulky snow pants.
"So ya did, Little Bit," Wilmington said and laughed at the sight of the very rough J and D in the snow.
"Da, did ya ever write yer name in the snow?" the boy asked seriously.
"Sure have," Buck confided.
"Really! Can ya do it now?"
"Nah, that's for kids. I think I'm gettin' a bit old for that kinda thing."
"Please, Da," JD begged.
Buck rolled his eyes and glanced around to be sure none of the others were where they would catch him. "Can't believe some of the things I do for you," he said with a chuckle. He turned his back to the boy and proceeded to prove to JD that he really could write his name too.
Chris had just joined the others outside when they came back around the barn and he looked up at JD's excitement.
"Chris, guess what! I writed my name in the snow and so did Da!"
"Oh really?" Larabee looked at Buck and shook his head with a sigh. "You know you're supposed to be a good influence on him."
"He started it," Buck said in his own defense.
"I want to too," Vin said. "Can we?"
"Do you really have to go?" Chris asked in exasperation.
"Uh huh," the older boy said and nodded enthusiastically.
"Okay," he took the boy's hand and followed the tracks Buck had made out to the barn. "Just don't expect me to do it too. One of us has to be an adult around here."
Buck leaned over and whispered to Ezra. "I bet ya five dollars that if ya go look after they come back Chris's name'll be there too."
"I'll take that bet," the southerner replied with a grin. "There is no way Mr. Larabee would do something so childish."
Wilmington tossed an arm over Ezra's shoulder and winked. "If Vin gives him the big eyes, he'll do it."
"Little Bit, let's get busy on makin' that snow fort. Those two can catch up when they get back."
We gots to play outside a long time.
Yeah ???? And Uncle Ezra had to pay Buck five dollars.
Look Vin. Do you think it will ever learn to write it when you laugh?
Boys are you nearly finished?
Good. It's time for bed. You have school tomorrow.
Heavy sigh. JD the computer don't know when you laugh either.
I can't help it, Vin. I gots a secret.
No you don't.
Yes I do. I'm not suppose to tell what we seen when Da tooked me to see if Chris did write his name in the snow.
What did you see?
????? Uncle Ezra's name.
Boys stop the giggling and go get ready for bed.
Okay Dad! We got to go JD
Okay, Night Computer
Next: Twas The Week Before Christmas ...
Things We Learned (Index)
NOTE: Author's note: Many thanks to the creators of the Little Britches Universe for allowing me to play in their world. Also, a big thank you to all of those who allowed me to pick their brains for information: Steel, LaraMee, Katy, Gina and anyone else I forgot. I make references to previous Little Britches stories, and I really appreciate having such wonderful stories to draw from. As always thank you to my beta. Alex you are the best. Joy, you are a life savor for doing JD's drawing and formatting the essays to fit the series. <G>