By Gina D
"Frosty the snowman was a very happy bowl."
"Look JD the computer heard you singing."
"Neat. Let's both sing."
"Hey why don't it know when we both sing?"
"The computer can't differentiate between both tunes. It might help to sing the same song."
"What's ????? Uncle Ezra?"
"Differentiate, it's means to tell the difference. The computer becomes confused when you both speak at the same time."
"But we was singing, not talking."
"Yes, well what I meant was."
"Doesn't the computer like singing?"
"Well the computer can't tell the difference between singing and talking."
"If it can't tell why don't it type when we sing?"
"Perhaps we should concentrate on this week's adventures. You boys were very busy."
"Yeah! We wrote Santa. I asked for a horse an a GI Joe and a."
"Let's let Vin start today JD. Your list could take a long time."
"Thanks Uncle Ezra."
"Vin do you want me to call Mrs. Potter?" Lottie asked concerned that no one had shown to pick him and JD up. Usually Mrs. Potter was one of the first there.
Vin looked up from the table he was wiping off. "No thank you Miss Lottie. Mrs. Potter had to go to her daughter's school play today. My Dad is coming to get us today. He's just running behind."
"That's nice. I'm looking forward to hearing you in tomorrow's pageant." Lottie smiled at him warmly.
Vin blushed, the thought that Miss Lottie would be watching only made him more nervous about tomorrow. JD's cry of "Chris" could be heard at the other end of the room. Vin turned to smile at his Dad. Chris had JD on his hip and was walking over to them.
"You must be Vin's Dad." Miss Lottie held out her hand.
"Yes, and you're Miss Lottie the lady with the cookies." Chris returned the shake. "I really appreciate you watching out for the boys."
"All the kids wait here." Miss Lottie waved off the thanks. "Vin is a great help. I like having him around."
"Well come on boys, I have a four o'clock meeting." Chris sat JD down. "Run get your gear."
"Are we going to the office?" JD asked.
"Yep, your Uncles are going to keep an eye on you while Buck and I are in this meeting." Chris waved his hand, "So scoot." He turned back to Lottie, "It was nice to finally meet you."
"Likewise, I'll see you tomorrow at the pageant?" she made it a question.
"Me, Buck and all the Uncles." Chris replied.
As they pulled on their coats Vin said to JD, "This is good, we can ask Uncle Josiah, Uncle Nathan and Uncle Ezra to help us."
"Help us with what?" JD asked.
"Christmas presents for our Dads." Vin said. "We can't surprise them if they take us shopping."
"But we made presents," JD protested. The boys had each made a clay bowl in art class. His lower lip started to quiver, "Won't Da like my bowl?"
"Of course he will," Vin hastened to reassure. "But don't you want to give him more than one thing?"
JD nodded enthusiastically, "Yeah I do!"
"What do you want to do?" Chris asked, walking up in time to hear only JD's last bit.
JD sent Vin a wide-eyed look of, help.
"He's just excited about going to the office." Vin replied innocently.
"Well then, let's go." Chris led the way outside.
They made it to the office with five minutes to spare. Buck barely had time to give each boy a hug before he and Chris headed off to the meeting. Even with the hug both boys looked a bit downcast, but their Uncle Ezra already had a plan. He knelt down in front of them reaching out a hand to tug gently on Vin's backpack strap. "Do you boys have any homework?"
He received two negative headshakes plus a quiet, "Tomorrow's the pageant then school's done," from Vin.
"Well then I have a question." Ezra said briskly. Have you boys written letters to Santa yet?"
Vin shook his head no while JD's eyes got big. "Did we leave it too late Unca Ezra?"
Ezra pretended to ponder that for a moment before giving both boys a big smile. "No I think now is the perfect time. Why don't you come over here between my desk and Josiah's. You can write your letters then I will make sure they get mailed."
"Yeah!" JD yelled as he ran toward the corner, "I'm gonna ask for a horse like Joey's and a race car and."
Ezra gently cut him off since he knew from experience JD would go on and on. "That's great, I've got some markers and paper here. You go ahead and get started."
JD settled right down, throwing himself into writing with the energy he did everything. Vin on the other hand seemed to have trouble getting started. Lying down next to Josiah's desk he pulled a piece of paper over. Josiah let him alone for a while but when it became clear the older boy was drawing instead of writing he leaned down. "Having trouble?"
Vin looked up and whispered, "I don't know what to ask for. I gots everything I ever wanted."
"Ah," Josiah slipped out of his chair to sit next to Vin. "I suppose it can be hard to come up with things then." Vin shrugged, he knew Uncle Josiah wasn't teasing him, but when he'd said the same thing at school some of the other kids teased him. "The kids at school said I'm stupid."
"No you are not," Josiah said firmly. Putting his arm around Vin's still too thin shoulders he said, "There is nothing wrong with being content. If those children were more content they wouldn't have to make you feel small. I have an idea, why don't you write Santa a letter about all the things that make you happy. I bet he'd enjoy that."
Vin studied the big man for a moment then gave him a shy but happy smile. "I could do that."
"Good," Josiah hugged him again before returning to his chair. As he worked he sent little glances down at the small body next to his desk. The tension was gone as Vin carefully printed his message to Santa.
The letters took about thirty minutes as each boy decided to draw Santa a picture too. Once they were finished Ezra helped put them in envelopes and write the address on the outside. Josiah then offered to take them to the mailroom. He did that while Nathan distracted Vin and JD with a small snack. If the boys had followed Josiah to the mailroom they would have seen him make three copies of the letters. Chris and Buck would receive the originals while the Uncles used the copies as gift guides. Reading Vin's letter made the profiler choke up a bit. It said;
Josiah cleared his throat before carefully returning the precious letters to their envelopes.
Back in the Team Seven office area Josiah found JD and Vin having a solemn conversation with Ezra and Nathan. Each boy had a twenty dollar bill they were showing the men.
"And where did you acquire such wealth?" Ezra was asking as Josiah walked back in.
"Buck gave it to me to buy a present for Chris," Vin explained.
"And Chris gave me this one for Buck's present," JD waved his bill excitedly.
"Do you know what you want to get?" Nathan asked.
Both boys shook their heads no. Vin then said, "That's why we need help."
"What do you need help with?" Josiah joined the conversation.
"Buying gifts for Da and Chris," JD smiled up at the profiler. "We wants it to be a surprise!"
"I'm sure we can manage that," Josiah assured him.
"Indeed," Ezra added, "Tomorrow after your pageant we are all going to the mall to finish our office Christmas shopping. I'm sure we can find something there. Josiah and Nathan will help you while I distract your fathers."
Both boys were happy with the plan. Retiring back to their corner they started drawing pictures for the office. Ezra watched them for a moment then turned back to Josiah and Nathan. "I wish you both luck tomorrow. Keeping track of those two in the Christmas crowds will be quite a challenge."
"I'm sure we can handle it." Nathan said.
"How much trouble can they be?" Josiah added.
Ezra said nothing, only tipping an imaginary hat to both men, an enigmatic smile on his face.
Tuesday morning JD and Vin both had an abundance of excess energy. Chris and Buck had their hands full getting them dressed and fed. JD was singing Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman at the top of his lungs. Sometimes he got the words right but also he could be heard singing 'Rudolph the frosty reindeer' or 'Frosty will you lead my sleigh tonight'. Vin, on the other hand, was even quieter than usual. He kept his recorder close practicing almost nonstop. Chris had to take it away so he'd eat. By the time Chris pulled into the school parking lot Vin was green with nerves. Putting the truck in park Chris said, "Vin if you want to skip today I can figure something out."
It was clear Vin wanted to say yes, but instead he shook his head, "No, I can't let Mrs. Roquette down. She says I'm the best player she has."
"Okay," Chris helped him down giving a quick hug as he did. He did the same for JD, who'd waited with surprising patience. "You boys have a good morning. I'll see you at the concert."
"Da too?" JD wanted reassurance.
"Yep Buck too." Chris affirmed. "Then afterwards we're going to the mall to finish up our shopping." He got two more leg hugs before both boys ran into the school.
At exactly ten minutes to two five men swept into the school cafeteria which today was doubling as an auditorium. While there were a several of fathers present these men got noticed. Single mothers, and some not so single, straightened in their seats. Lipstick was surreptitiously applied, hair brushed, blouses tugged down. Watching from the sidelines Miss Lottie had to smile. She watched as Buck and Ezra charmed a couple of ladies into moving over opening up five chairs together. The men settled down seemingly oblivious to the attention.
"Wonder where the kids are?" Buck twisted in his seat to look at the door.
"I don't know," Chris replied absent-mindedly. He wished he could have gotten a moment to see Vin before they sat down. But the teachers had the children off in another room getting ready. The image of Vin's worried face that morning had made Chris want to sweep him off somewhere they'd never heard of school plays. That feeling warred with the pride he'd also felt when Vin refused to give into his fear. Chris fidgeted restlessly wishing they would start already so he could see if Vin was okay.
"Relax," Buck whispered, "he'll be okay." Chris had told all of them about how nervous Vin had felt that morning.
"You didn't see him this morning," Chris hissed back. "I thought he was going to throw up."
Buck sat back, giving up. Chris was going to worry until he saw for Vin with his own eyes.
For Chris the time seemed to drag, but it was actually only a few more minutes before Mr. Beidler stepped out onto the makeshift stage to announce the first part of the program. Since the school was smaller, the students were in groups of more than one class. Vin and JD's group was first. The children playing instruments came out first with the music teacher. There were only a few of them, six like Vin held recorders, three bells and one a triangle. Once they were in their places beside the piano twelve more students filed out. The usual little kid mischievousness and laughter was missing. A more solemn group would have been hard to find.
"Where's JD?" Josiah leaned forward to ask.
"Don't know," Buck replied a worried expression on his face. The expression cleared as JD, helped by Mrs. Roquette wheeled Joey Granger out onto the stage. The sight of the little girl, the lower part of her body covered by a festive blanket, brought a lump to more than one throat.
"Did you know she was back in school?" Chris asked Buck.
"Nah, I'm pretty sure she isn't yet," Buck shook his head. "Must be just for the program."
No explanation was offered for Joey's presence Mr. Beidler just brought the children to attention and started them singing. JD stayed by Joey's chair, one hand on the armrest. His green and red plaid vest making him stand out. He and Vin both wore an outfit of black pants, white shirt and bow tie, though Vin's tie looked sort of limp. Vin also wore a vest but his was a plain blue. The sales lady had told Chris it brought out Vin's eyes. He supposed she was right, because right now that was all he could see, those big eyes. He must have made a sound because Ezra asked, "Are you all right?"
Chris looked over at him, "I will be when this is all over. He's making the big eyes Ezra." The last bit was rather plaintive.
"Courage," Ezra patted him on the back, "courage."
Once the singing started Chris didn't have time to worry. Vin's playing might have improved a great deal, but it didn't matter. He and the other musicians were almost impossible to hear over fourteen enthusiastic voices singing "Jingle Bells" and "Frosty the Snowman" at the top of their lungs. JD was putting so much effort into his performance his face turned red. Buck whispered to Chris, "I hope he don't pop."
It was a performance only a father or an uncle could love and all five men ate it up, clapping loudly at the end. The children made their bows then filed off. Again JD helped push Joey's chair. The rest of the pageant held little interest for the men. They applauded at the appropriate times and smiled. When everything was over the principal invited all the parents to the library for punch and cookies. Chris and the others found JD and Vin there visiting with Joey. As soon as he saw Buck he ran over grabbing his hand to tug him toward Joey's chair. As he tugged he was talking a mile a minute. "Look Da, Joey's here."
"I see that Little Bit. I saw you both on stage." Buck nodded to Joey's mother, "How are you?"
"We're good," Abby Granger said brightly. "Your JD is such a joy." She nodded to the other men.
"I was telling Joey that when she's all better she can come riding." JD explained excitedly.
"JD," Mrs. Granger looked troubled, "I'm not sure if that will be possible."
Both JD and Joey's faces fell. Nathan stepped forward a bit to smile at Mrs. Granger. "Actually ma'am, I bet if you check with Joey's therapist you'll find that riding is something she can do eventually."
Both children started smiling again, smiles that grew wider when Chris said, "Well when Joey is ready bring her out to see us."
"Thank you," Abby Granger whispered to the men as Joey and JD started an excited discussion about the horses on the ranch. "She's been such a trouper, but it's so hard sometimes for her. JD has been a blessing."
Buck nodded solemnly, "Yes ma'am he is. I thank God everyday for that boy."
They didn't linger long at the school after Joey and her mom left. JD and Vin insisted on showing Josiah, Nathan and Ezra their classroom but that didn't take long. Then everyone headed to the newest, biggest mall to grace the Denver area.
"Remind me again why I let you talk me into this?" Chris stared out the windshield of his truck at the massive structure.
"Because last year you gave each of the office staff Chia pets." Buck reminded him. "It took me two months to make it up to them. This year we are going to do better."
"Can't we just send them flowers?" Chris really thought he'd rather be shot than go into that building.
"No," Buck was firm. Looking into the back seat he asked, "You boys ready to Christmas shop? We need to get something for Ms. Wells and Mrs. Potter don't we?"
"Yeah," two voices shouted. Now that the recital was over Vin was almost giddy with the release of tension. JD, happy to have seen his friend and picking up on Vin's mood was almost dancing in his seat. "Can I gets something for Joey?" he asked.
"Sure thing," Buck leaned back to ruffle JD's hair. "You know what she wants?"
JD giggled ducking away, "girl stuff," was his helpful answer.
Chris drew in a deep breath, releasing it slowly before climbing out of the truck. He opened the back door of his truck thankful he had a Dodge. Only Dodge had the clamshell door design, making access to the back seat of the king cab easy. It was a blessing with two small boys. Unbuckling Vin he had to smile at the boy's excitement. "Do you have any friends you want to get a gift for?" Chris asked.
Vin shook his head, then paused a thoughtful look on his face. "Can we get something for Uncle Ezra, Uncle Nathan and Uncle Josiah?"
"We already have," Chris assured him. "I'll show you what you and I are giving them when we get home."
Vin's smile reflected the warm feeling Chris' words gave him. It was their gift, because they were a pair.
"So who's ready to shop?" Josiah's booming voice said heralding his arrival with Nathan and Ezra.
"I am!" "Me Unca Josiah!"
As a group the five men and two boys trooped into the mall. Inside Chris marshaled the troops. "Okay, we need gifts for the office, Mrs. Potter and Ms. Nettie."
"And Joey," JD reminded him.
"May I make a suggestion?" Ezra said. He got, four 'go ahead' looks. "Why don't Buck, Chris and I go find gifts for the various office personnel? In the mean time Josiah and Nathan can help JD and Vin find something for Mrs. Potter, Ms. Nettie and the lovely Joey."
Chris and Buck exchanged glances of, what do you think? They looked back to Josiah and Nathan, "Is that okay with you two?" Chris asked.
Josiah nodded, "It will give me a chance to get some ideas of my own." He pointed a discreet finger at the two boys.
"Just remember the rule," Chris said referring to the one gift rule. "And no junk food, we're going to dinner after this."
"Don't worry," Nathan assured him. "Josiah and I can handle it."
"Are you guys sure?" Buck knelt down to ask. He expected JD to want to stay with him so was surprised when the small boy nodded eagerly before grabbing Nathan's leg. Feeling a bit hurt Buck stood up then he noticed Vin carefully checking to see if he still had his money. Realizing the boys wanted a chance to shop for him and Chris, Buck relaxed. "You boys be sure to stick with Josiah and Nathan then. We'll see you in a couple of hours then."
"We'll be fine." Josiah promised.
An hour later Josiah was re-thinking his words. It wasn't that JD and Vin were misbehaving, quite the opposite. It was just that Christmas at a mall is a bright and shiny distraction, especially for the under ten set. The mall had scattered animatronic displays throughout. There was a talking reindeer, a dancing Christmas tree, a snowman that took his hat off, etc. Josiah and Nathan were thankful when both boys took one look at the long line to see Santa and decided their letters were enough. They were currently in Corral West looking at black shirts. Well Nathan and Vin were looking, JD was darting all over with a harried Josiah after him. Suddenly the little guy stopped, "Oooo, Unca Josiah look," he pointed to a display. "Those are just like Joey's."
Josiah studied the table carefully, JD's letter to Santa finally making sense. "Which one do you like?" he asked JD who was standing there enthralled.
"This one, no this one," JD paused the decision was obviously a hard one for him.
"Well I'm sure Santa will bring the one he thinks you'll like best," Josiah fell back on the tired standard even as he internally flinched at using it. Still, it made JD happy he looked up at Josiah a big smile stretched across his face. He then turned as Vin and Nathan walked up, "Look Vin, just like Joey's."
"Neat," Vin also seemed to like what he saw.
"No luck?" Josiah quietly asked Nathan while the two boys looked at the display.
"No, it's got to be, special." Nathan and Josiah said the last word together. The boys might be unclear on specifics, but whatever it was had to be special.
"Do you think Ezra knew what we were getting into?" Nathan whispered.
"I believe he did," Josiah replied. Raising his voice so as to catch the boys attention he asked, "Shall we go check another store?"
They finally found gifts for Mrs. Potter, Joey and Nettie in one of the kiosks dotted along the hallway, a glass blowers booth. The crystal animals, flowers and figurines transfixed the boys. It took ten minutes to narrow their decision down to two items. For Mrs. Potter they bought a glass bouquet of red roses. Joey received a mare and foal with gold manes. Ms. Nettie's choice required a long debate, finally the boys settled on a glass snowflake she could hang in her window. Nathan took charge of the sack containing the boxes as they continued down the hall. When the boys paused at another display, this one of elves stacking boxes he took the opportunity to consult with Josiah.
"Would you think me horrible if I said we needed to guide the boys into picking a gift?" Nathan asked quietly.
"Not if you won't think me horrible for agreeing," Josiah murmured.
"Okay so we're bad uncles, I can live with that. Got any ideas?" Nathan asked.
"It needs to be under twenty dollars and special," Josiah mused. He scanned the mall hallway looking for inspiration and found it a couple of kiosks down. "Let's ask Ezra."
Sure enough Ezra was weaving his way through the crowd toward them. "Josiah, Nathan, I told Chris and Buck I'd see if I could find you. They got tied up at Rocky Mountain Chocolates."
"You're just in time," Josiah clapped him on the back. "The boys have been into every store in this section. No luck."
Ezra nodded, "I thought that might be the case."
"You did huh?" Nathan was having a hard time keeping a straight face. "You do know Santa's watching."
Ezra laughed out loud at the teasing drawing the attention of the boys. They came running over and he knelt down to wrap an arm around each. "Josiah and Nathan tell me you're having trouble deciding on a gift."
"Yeah, it's hard," JD said.
Vin nodded, "We want something special."
"I may have a suggestion," Ezra stood offering a hand to both boys. Hand in hand they started down the hall, Nathan and Josiah in tow. A few kiosks down, Ezra stopped pointing to the items on display. It didn't take much to persuade the boys this was the perfect, special gift. A couple of minutes more to work out details and Ezra stepped back, smiling at Josiah and Nathan. "See it was here all along."
"I don't believe it," Josiah shook his head.
"It was right there in front of us," Nathan added in a disgusted tone.
"I shall leave you two to handle the details of purchase," Ezra said. "I will re-join our fearless leader and Buck. Shall we meet back at the main fountain in twenty minutes?"
"Sounds good," Josiah turned to the clerk.
While they waited for the presents to be finished, Nathan noticed a jewelry store across from them. "Josiah will you and the boys be okay while I check in there?" He indicated the store.
"Still need something for Raine?"
"Yes, and you know what they say, jewelry is never wrong," Nathan grinned.
"Go ahead, we'll come find you." Josiah turned back as the clerk asked him a question.
This was where Nathan and Josiah's rookie status as babysitters tripped them up. Nathan assumed the boys would stay with Josiah without being told. He therefore headed to the jewelry store without checking. Busy with the clerk, Josiah didn't see Vin and JD follow Nathan. In the crowd it was easy for the boys to loose sight of Nathan who was moving at his normal gate, not little boy speed. When he ducked into the jewelry store the boys didn't see. An accidental parting of the crowd did allow them to see Ezra come out of store two doors down where he'd stepped into look at a wallet. It was a bit startling to find two small boys suddenly wrapped around his legs. "Aren't you two supposed to be with Josiah and Nathan?" he asked, herding them out of the flow of traffic.
"Nathan's in the jerry store," JD said.
"We want to come with you," Vin added.
"Yeah, I want Da." Now that the gift problem was handled, JD was more than ready to go back to Buck.
"I see," Ezra scanned the crowd. Waving his hand he managed by a miracle to catch Josiah's attention. The older man waved back, wondering idly what Ezra was trying to show him. The crowds hid JD and Vin from his line of sight. Thinking that Josiah now knew the boys were with him, Ezra led them off to find their fathers.
Ten minutes later the gifts were finished and Josiah looked around for the boys. He felt a bit worried when they were not readily visible. Turning back to the clerk, he asked, "Did you see where the boys that were with me went?"
"They followed your friend," the young girl pointed toward the store.
"Thank you." Josiah met Nathan coming out of the jewelry store, with a small bag and a pleased look. A look that vanished at Josiah's, "Where are the boys?"
"I thought they were with you?" Nathan looked around as if expecting them to suddenly appear.
"Okay, you go that way, I'll head this way," Josiah pointed in the direction Ezra had gone.
"Wait we need to find the others." Nathan was having a hard time holding down his panic. He was an agent damn it. Of course these weren't nameless strangers these were his precious nephews. "Oh god, what if they try to find Chris' truck again." He referred to the incident last month. "In that parking lot we will never find them."
"Chris and Buck had a long talk with them about what to do if they got lost after that. I think they would stay inside." Josiah tried to sound positive, but he too remembered last month and how well two small boys could hide. Pulling out his cell phone he grunted irritably, shaking it a couple of times. "No service in here."
"Me neither." Nathan jammed his phone back into his pocket. "Okay I'll start searching that way. You go find the others and get a hold of security."
"No," Josiah grabbed his arm making a sudden decision. "We need to stick together until we find the others and get a hold of security."
"But," Nathan sputtered.
"I know, I want to just start looking too," Josiah said. "But the correct way to handle this is to follow procedure."
"You just don't want to have to face Buck and Chris alone," Nathan said as they hurried toward Ezra's meeting place.
Ezra was waiting at the fountain and the two men practically over ran him, both speaking at once.
"I thought they were with Josiah."
"I didn't see them follow Nathan."
"What, what's wrong," Ezra held up his hands. "One at a time, what is wrong."
"We lost JD and Vin," Josiah ground out. "We need to find a security guard and lock down the mall."
"Didn't you see me waving at you?" Ezra questioned Josiah.
"Of course I saw you, I waved back didn't I?" Josiah snapped. "Can we concentrate here?"
"I thought you saw that the boys were with me," Ezra said, edging back a bit.
"They were with you?" Nathan collapsed onto the edge of the fountain.
"You have them?" Josiah looked around, "where are they then."
"Chris and Buck took them to the restroom." Ezra explained. "I am so sorry I thought you saw them."
"I didn't," Josiah joined Nathan holding a hand to his chest. "I think I've had ten years scared off me."
Ezra looked truly contrite. "I don't know what to say."
"Say nothing," Nathan was recovering. "We say nothing, I mean Chris and Buck don't need to know we thought we'd lost them." He gave Ezra and Josiah a beseeching look. "Oh god," he dropped his head into his hands, "I'm going to make a horrible father."
Josiah laid a hand across Nathan's shoulders, "No you aren't. We all make mistakes, being a father means learning from them."
"I assure you, I have no intention of being the one to tell Chris and Buck anything," Ezra added hastily. It shook him to see Nathan looking so defeated.
"But we lost them," Nathan looked up, still not reassured. "And Ezra had to help us with the gift problem. How did you make it look so simple?" he demanded.
"I'm an uncle," Ezra said gently, "I will always have the advantage of that. It is much harder to be a father."
"Okay, that's either the nicest thing you've ever said to me or the saddest." Nathan looked over at Josiah. "What do you think?"
"I think we need to tell Chris and Buck what we almost did."
"Tell us what?" Buck asked, walking up with JD on his hip.
Josiah and Nathan felt guilty enough that they ended up buying dinner at a Texas Roadhouse located next to the mall. The boys ate so many peanuts they didn't have much room for dinner but Chris had it boxed figuring they would be hungry by the time they got home. Tired and full the group was walking back to Chris' truck and Nathan's Explorer. They'd had to park quite a distance away, their journey taking them past a Christmas tree lot.
"Da, look Christmas trees." JD was practically jumping out of Buck's arms. "Can we go in there, please?"
"Well," Buck sent Chris a quick look, "I guess we do need a tree."
"If I buy a tree am I done shopping for the year?" Chris asked making everyone laugh.
They all trooped into the lot and started looking. Every tree was either not round enough, or too small or too short or . Nathan and Josiah were standing by the fence having given up on following the boys from tree to tree. Chris, Buck and Ezra were still patiently listening to each and every explanation. Though they too were looking frazzled. Chris was thinking of suggesting they try another lot, had actually pulled Buck aside to discuss it when they heard JD's cry. Ezra in tow the boys had reached the back part of the fenced in area. When Buck and Chris joined them, they found both JD and Vin staring up at the tallest tree in the lot.
"That thing is even taller than Nathan. Must be seven foot." Buck said out of the side of his mouth. "Can we even fit that in the house?"
"Yes, I will cut a hole in the floor if I have too," Chris hissed back.
"Well it's a good thing we have the others with us, but how are we going to get it out of the truck?"
"We'll figure something out." Chris knelt down to face two eager kids. "You sure this is the one you want?"
"Oh yes, it's the bestest tree." JD jumped up and down, waving his hands for emphasis.
Vin nodded too, "Please Dad, this one is perfect."
Chris stood, digging his keys out. "Buck go get the truck while I pay the guy for the tree."
"Sure thing, Little Bit you stay with Chris and Vin okay?"
"Okay Da." JD replied busy admiring his tree.
It took all four of them, Ezra flatly refusing to risk his leather jacket to 'that green behemoth'. Even with the Dodge's long bed, the top of the tree stuck up over the cab.
"How are you going to get this in the house?" Josiah asked.
"If I have to, I'll take Pony inside the house and use him to drag it off the truck," Chris said in a firm tone.
Nathan, Josiah, and Ezra watched the truck with it's prickly cargo drive off. "Think he'll do it?" Nathan asked.
"I think it would be fun to watch him try." Josiah chuckled.
"Dad are you really gonna bring Pony in the house?" Vin asked as they drove home.
"No Vin, I think Buck and I can probably slide the tree off the truck and into the house. The problem was lifting it into the truck, " Chris explained.
"Oh," Vin sounded sad.
"What's wrong," Chris peered at him in the rearview mirror.
"I was just thinking that if Pony came in the house, maybe Peso could too."
"Sorry pard, horses belong outside." Chris had a vision of Vin leading Peso in the back door. "Peso stays outside, you promise me."
"Our tree is the best isn't it Vin."
"Sure JD, it's great."
"Mrs. Potter really liked her gift too, didn't she?"
"So did Ms. Nettie. When are you going to give yours to Joey?"
"?? taking me over there this afternoon. Hey how come it didn't say ??
"?? is short for Dad JD, the computer doesn't recognize it."
"I guess that's okay as long as Buck knows who I mean."
"You know, Nathan and Josiah felt so guilty we probably could have gotten them to come out and help us get this thing inside." Buck was sprawled in his recliner, studying the large tree. Absentmindedly he rubbed his injured leg.
"How's the leg?" Chris asked, seeing the gesture. "I hope you didn't overdue it today."
"Nah probably need a couple of Tylenol before I hit the sack, but I'm okay."
"It's a good thing you can drive again. We're gonna be running a lot with the boys out of school." Chris stood taking the Christmas lights he'd untangled and draping them over a chair. Reaching for a new tangle he tossed it to Buck, "Here make yourself useful."
Buck caught the mess and started to work on it. "So what do we still need to so this week?"
"We have to wrap all those boxes for the office, then hand them out. I still need to pick up Vin's gift which is in Greeley."
"What did you buy that you had to go to Greeley for?" Buck asked.
"What did you get JD?" Chris countered.
"I guess we'll both have to wait till Christmas," Buck said pretending to concentrate on his lights.
The two worked in silence for a bit, Buck finally giving a little crow as he held out his string. "Got it."
"Good, there are ten more strands in the box."
"Ten, how many lights do we need."
"It's a seven foot tree, you do the math." Chris looked up and grinned, "Plus don't forget we haven't put anything up outside yet. I'm saving that for the weekend."
The rest of the week seemed to fly by. Chris couldn't believe it was already Friday afternoon. He studied the pile of files on his desk with dismay. Friday and he still hadn't made it to Greeley. If he didn't get up there today, the guy would be closed for the holidays. Making a decision he picked up his phone. Once quick call later to let Travis know he was leaving early and Chris was pulling on his duster. Walking into the outer office he announced, "I'm taking off. I've got to get to Greeley before five."
"You know stud I could run up there for you," Buck teased. "But you'll have to tell me what you got him."
"When you tell me what you got JD," Chris smiled. It had become a running joke between them that week.
"Gotta wait till Santa puts it under the tree."
"All right, I'll see you at the ranch." Chris headed toward the door. Pausing just before passing through it, he smiled back at the others, "Oh by the way, you guys can take off too." Chuckling he headed out.
"Okay you guys have to help me," Buck stood moving to where he could see down the hall toward the elevator. Satisfied that Chris had truly gone, he turned back to the others.
"What do you need?" Josiah asked cautiously.
"I want to get the outside of the house decorated before Chris gets home." Buck had his practical joke face on.
"Why does my blood run cold?" Ezra asked the room in general.
"Cause Buck has the same look on his face he had the day he exchanged your Jag for that wrecked one," Nathan said. "I thought we were going to have to scrape you off the garage roof."
"Ah come one guys, this will be fun." Buck tried his own version of the big eyes. "I already got the stuff. I've just been waiting for a chance to surprise Chris."
"And you want to involve us why?" Nathan asked suspiciously.
"Cause I'll never get it all done without help. Heck I need someone just to keep JD from climbing the ladder after me."
"JD on a ladder," Nathan's eyes went unfocused for a minute. "Okay I'm in, that's too scary a thought for me."
"Well I do have the afternoon off," Josiah said. "All right brother, I'm in. Ezra?"
"I suppose I must just to be sure my Jag stays safe."
"Let's roll then, Operation Decoration is on."
A short time later found Josiah on the ladder, hanging icicle lights from the eaves of the ranch house. While he did that Nathan wrapped clear lights around the porch rail and support posts. JD and Vin spent their time running back and forth between the house and the front yard. That was where Buck, with Ezra's help was putting together his masterpiece. So far there was an herd of ten lighted deer, some moving, some still. They were gathered around a sleigh built of red and green lights. Buck also had a plastic Santa and Frosty glowing happily. The two men were finishing the last piece, a tree sculpture made by stretching green lights from the top of a pole to the ground. They were finished and admiring their handiwork when JD asked, "But where's the baby?"
"Baby?" Buck was momentarily confused.
"Yeah, you know the baby. Like in the movie." JD looked upset.
"Which movie Little Bit?" Buck knelt down.
"He's talking about the one with the drummer," Vin answered helpfully. "There was a baby in a stable and the drummer boy played for him. JD's been running around yelling pa rump a pum pum all week. He's the reason for the season."
Buck shared a stunned look with Ezra saying, "From the mouths of babes."
"Yes, well," Ezra had to clear his throat. "He is correct."
"You know JD, you're right." Buck picked the little boy up. "It looks like we forgot the most important thing. But I'll tell you a secret."
"We have an expert on the baby and the stable here to advise us on how to build a good one." Buck looked over toward the house.
"Who?" JD looked doubtful.
"Josiah can tell us how to build the best stable ever," Buck assured him. "Come on we'll ask him."
After he regained his composure Josiah was happy to help JD and Vin scrounge up the necessary items to build a stable. It took some rearranging, the frame for the sled was bent into a manger shape, then Josiah tacked boards onto three sides. The tree was used to outline it. JD decided the deer could double as camels so they were placed to one side. Frosty and Santa gained makeshift robes, becoming the wise men. Nathan helped Vin and JD make straw figures to represent Mary and Joseph. It was only the baby and his cradle that had them stumped. They were trying to figure out the problem when Chris got home. Vin and JD took turns explaining to him what they were doing. Like the other men, he found himself swallowing a lump in his throat.
"So we's got everything except a baby Jesus and a manger," JD looked ready to cry. "We can't have Christmas without a baby Jesus."
Vin too looked upset, "He's right Dad, we have to have them."
"Well boys, I think I know what we can use." Chris looked at Buck. "In the storage shed behind the barn you'll find an old feedbunk. It was here when I bought the place. It's just the right size for a manger."
"But we can't put the baby in a feedbunk!" JD protested.
Josiah scooped him up, "That's exactly what we can put him in JD. Did you know that manger is another word for feedbunk?"
"Yes, you see that's all Mary had to put her baby in, something used to feed animals." Josiah continued the story as he carried JD off to find the manger. Vin and Buck followed.
"So we have a manger, what are we going to use for a baby?" Ezra asked Chris.
"I have something," Chris said quietly. "I'll be right back." He headed toward the house. Nathan and Ezra exchanged cautious looks.
The manager was as perfect as Chris said it would be. Filled with straw it looked like something straight out of the past. Josiah and JD were just finishing arranging it when Chris returned. In his hands he carried a cardboard box. Buck went rather white at the sight of it. Chris locked eyes with him, "We can use this JD if it's okay with your Da."
Looking rather stunned, Buck nodded. "Sure," he stopped overcome with emotion. After a moment he nodded again.
Chris turned away to kneel next the manger, opening the box. Inside was a standard baby doll like you might give to any child. Chris had already wrapped in a blanket. Josiah, Nathan and Ezra exchanged curious glances. What about the doll had Buck so shaken and Chris so solemn. While Chris helped JD and Vin place the baby, they stepped back to flank Buck.
"Buck?" Josiah's tone of voice said if you don't want to tell us you don't have too.
"I bought that doll when Sarah told me she was pregnant again." Buck had tears in his eyes, "She wanted a girl so bad, I was playing along." He wiped his eyes, "I can't believe Chris kept it all this time."
The baby was now settled to JD's satisfaction so Chris joined the men. "It's a good use for it," he said gruffly.
"Yeah," Buck pushed the word out.
"Amen," Josiah said for all of them.
"Look Da, isn't it great?" JD ran up. Leaning down Buck scooped him up into a bear hug. "Yeah JD it's the best nativity ever."
"Da are you crying?"
"Just happy tears Little Bit."
Chris had also picked Vin up. The five men and two small boys stood looking at their handiwork. The little stable might be makeshift but to them it glowed. The mood was broken when JD declared, "I'm hungry."
Laughing and chatting everyone headed for the house.
"We gots the best nativity. ?? ???? ??? ??? Hey the computer still don't like my singing."
"JD you're being silly."
"Boys is that anyway to act less than a week before Christmas?"
"Sorry Uncle Ezra."
"You haven't done much of an essay this week."
"We's too busy getting ready for Christmas."
"Is it okay that we didn't write much Uncle Ezra?"
"Yes Vin it's all right, why don't we go see what your father's are doing?"
"Okay, bye computer."
Notes: I want to wish everyone a very happy holiday season. Thanks to Joy for managing this series. I'd also like to thank all the writers of this series. It's been a privilege to be part of this.
Next: Jingle Bells Las Posadas
Things We Learned (Index)