Is it on now, Vin?
See what I got.
JD, computers can't see.
Oh ????? Hey, I thought Uncle Ezra was gonna fix it so's the computer spells sighs.
Uncle Ezra's been real busy.
I know he's been undercovers and then back but he could go again. Are you gonna tell 'bout Christmas Eve, Vin?
Yeah. Uncle Josiah took us to Las Posadas and we sung songs and we got to see a re-in-act-mint. That means there was people pretending to be Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay. Then we got to eat lots of good things
And there was a devil. He jumped out and scared me.
It was just pretend, JD.
I know, but it scared me. Tell what happened next.
Well then the snow came and the wind blew really really hard.
And I was scared for Elvis and Ringo.
They was okay.
You was worried to.
I'm telling this.
Josiah stood at the door of Chris' office. "Well, are you coming this evening?"
Chris looked up from the pile of paperwork he was trying to finish. "We'll be there. Buck and I are heading home in," Chris stopped and looked at his watch, "half an hour. We have to relieve Gloria and we'll be at your house at 4:30. Why so early?"
Josiah shrugged, "It's Christmas Eve and most people are off so with the storm that's coming we decided to do this last night early so everyone can get home early too. The neighborhood has worked hard clearing the old snow out of the way."
"Storm?" Chris frowned.
"Just a front blowing through, they didn't even predict much snow. But of course all the kids are hoping for some. They all want a White Christmas and it looks like we might get one after all."
"Yeah, well, I hope not too much. You all ready to come out for Christmas dinner tomorrow?" Chris answered.
"As far as I know, see you later boss."
"Yeah, and Josiah don't forget about the rule."
"I know," Josiah laughed. "I won't but you'd better remind Ezra again. He does love to get those two presents. Especially when he's been away."
Chris worked on until Buck knocked once. "Time to go Pard. Gloria will be looking for us. That," he waved his hand at the pile of paper, "can wait until we get back after the holiday."
Chris closed the folder. "You're right. Let's go home." He smiled, "this is going to be fun."
"Yep." Buck agreed.
JD ran to the front window looking up the road for the trucks again. The morning had seemed days long to him despite the fact that Gloria Potter had kept them busy helping her bake.
Vin was in the kitchen with Gloria. He was helping by putting a spoonful of pumpkin mix in the middle of each little round of dough. Gloria folded each over and pinched the sides making little half round pies. When they had a cookie sheet full she put it in the oven and they made more. There were already two platters full of empanadas ready for tonight and tomorrow.
They had already made cupcakes and the frosting bowl waited for the five year old.
"JD?" Vin called.
"What?" JD answered.
"Do you see them yet?" The older boy asked.
"Well, come on it's your turn to lick the frosting bowl." Vin said.
JD sighed and went to the kitchen. "They should be here. Da said they'd come home early."
Gloria raised an eyebrow. "Sweetie, early means they'll get off work at noon. They still have to work half a day."
"I know but we've been waiting and waiting." JD said finding the concept of early and half a day not matching.
"Why don't you and Vin go watch the video I brought? It's one of my favorites and you can take a little bowl of Poppycock to munch."
"Okay." JD ran into the living room to start the video. Vin followed carrying the bowl of sweet popcorn and nuts. They sat down with Elvis and Ringo beside them begging for bites too.
"Hey," shouted JD, "Ms. Potter, the video is broke. There's no color."
"That's because it's an old movie. You color it with your imagination."
"Oh," frowning JD turned back. By the time the old man they called Kris was staying with the young lawyer the boys were mesmerized by the story of the little girl who didn't believe in Santa Claus."
The boys munched their snack sharing handfuls with the dogs. They didn't even notice Buck and Chris tiptoe into the living room.
The men watched the two happy contented boys. So different from the little boys they'd found.
"Hey, JD we're home." Buck whispered.
JD's head swiveled around. "Da!" The boy jumped up forgetting everything. "You're home. It took you forever to get home."
"Not really, it just seemed that way. What'ca watching?"
"Oh, it's an old movie Ms. Potter brought. It's not color. You gotta use your 'magination."
"Really?" Buck said. " My mom and I use to watch this one. I loved it."
"You did? Wow, it's old."
Chris smirked. "Yeah, Ol' man."
"Da's not an ol' man. He's in his prime, right Da?" JD jumped in to defend his father.
"You bet, Little Bit." Buck said smiling.
Chris raised an eyebrow, still smirking. "Prime?"
Buck wiggled his eyebrows back. "Sure I am. I'll never get old, just better."
Chris laughed and mouthed, **I'm not touching that one.** Saying aloud, "I've got to take Mrs. Potter home. Do you want to come Vin?"
"Yeah," the quiet boy said as he got up.
Bundled up with many layers of clothing the two ATF agents and their adopted sons drove into Denver. They stopped at Josiah's house.
"Why we at Uncle Josiah's house, Da?" JD asked.
Buck answered as he unbuckled the seat belt. "We're going with Josiah to the church. There's not much parking so we're car pooling."
Once released JD ran to the front door. "Hi, Uncle Josiah. We's here and ready to go sing."
Josiah smiled at his adopted nephew. "That's good, JD. Would you help me carry these sacks and packages to the car?"
"Sure. What's in them?"
"JD!" Vin shook his head no.
JD looked at his friend. "I's just askin' Vin. That's okay ain't it Da?"
"Yes, it's okay to ask."
Josiah smiled. "The sacks are full of things for the poorer families in the barrio. We have a 'Giving Tree' that they'll go under. So all the families can have a Merry Christmas."
"Oh." JD said as he carefully carried the sack to Josiah's big vehicle. They drove to the oldest part of town. The streets were lined with very old houses. Some painted yellows, aquas, and pinks. One house had old bathtubs and toilets and sinks lined around the house filled with dirt and now dead plants. There were old adobe sheds behind some of the houses that now were used for cars or storage but obviously had been stables at one time. There were few electrical decorations but along the front wall of each yard were brown paper sacks glowing softly. The luminaries were partially filled with sand and a lighted votive candle placed inside.
Josiah parked at the back of an old adobe style church. San Miguel had been there for over a hundred years and the community hall had been added much latter. The Church itself was kept very much as it had always been. Luminaries lined the courtyard and around the grounds to the back. The friends carried their packages and sacks inside.
"Father Juan, these are my friends, Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington, and their sons Vin Tanner and JD Dunne."
Chris and Buck shook hands with the priest while Vin and JD nodded shyly from behind their fathers.
"Welcome to our Las Posadas. I hope you enjoy it tonight. Josiah has been so much help with the parish. The children love it when he reads to them."
"Thanks Father." Chris said. "We were glad to accept Josiah's invitation. Our boys love for him to read to them also."
More and more families gathered until it was time to start. While this was an Hispanic tradition not all of the families were Hispanic. Josiah squatted down. "Do you boys remember what's going to happen?"
JD and Vin nodded looking around at all the people with wide eyes. But they relaxed when they saw some kids they'd met before.
"See over there," Josiah pointed to two teenagers dressed in costumes. "That's Robin and Michael; they are playing Mary and Joseph this year. Robin's grandfather brought the little donkey for Robin to ride."
"Cool," Vin said looking at the small burro.
The big man stood handing Chris and Buck each a sheet of paper. "There's singing at each stop. Most of it will be in Spanish so I have the Spanish words as well as the English ones. Got your lights?"
Each man held up his flashlight. "Yep."
They walked out side and headed to the first house to the left of the Church. 'Mary and Joseph' led the procession. The street was lined with luminaries. It was beautiful in the dark night.
As Mary and Joseph approached the first house the people started singing:
De larga jornada (From a long journey)
Rendidos llegamos (Very weary are we)
Y ase imploramos (We ask you for shelter)
Para descansar (For Mary and me.)
The family at the first house sang back:
Quien a nuestras puertas (Who comes to our doors)
En noche inclemente (This stormy night?)
Se acerca imprudente (Who approaches unwisely)
Para molestar? (To give us a fright?)
From behind a tree out jumped a 'devil'. A man dressed in a red cape with a red satin hood with horns. His face was painted in black and white. Although the crowd laughed and booed JD gasped and clung to Buck.
Buck reached down and picked JD up. "Hey kiddo, it's okay, it's all in fun."
"He scareded me, Da." JD gulped.
"I know, but he's just part of the play. You're okay."
JD nodded but he clung to Buck's neck.
Chris glanced down at Vin. "You okay, Vin?"
"Yeah. Dad? I understand some of the words."
"What do you mean Vin?" Chris asked.
"The song I can understand most of it. Not just the English parts but the other ones."
"That's great Vin."
Vin looked up at his dad, he'd been worried that it was just one more thing that made him different in a bad way. "It is?"
Chris smiled at his son, "Sure it is."
They stopped at the second house. Joseph knocked on the door with his staff.
The Devil jumped out. "No! No! Don't let them in," he sings. "Look how "
The crowd started booing and hissing. JD getting in the spirit of the thing booed just as loudly as the rest. Then the devil slinked away and the crowd began to sing. Buck whispered the words to JD as they sang:
Who will give lodging
To these travelers so weary?
We are very tired
From trudging roads so dreary.
The house family answered:
Who asks for lodging?
I cannot grant your request.
You could be thieves
Intent on robbing at best.
Laughing the crowd walked on to the third house, with the crowd growing as each house was visited.
I only intend to ask you
From the kindness of your heart.
To give my beloved wife a room,
Just a corner, some small part?
There is no vacant corner
That we can rent you.
The fields are free and empty
So stay out there, please do.
Snow began to fall and the wind began to blow.
For the Love of God, be kind,
Soon night will fall.
Some rest for the Queen of Heaven
Is what we ask for that is all
Your pleas are annoying.
No, we will not listen.
Seek shelter in the empty fields
Where the stars as brightly glisten.
Finally the crowd was in front of the community hall of the Church. It was getting colder and windier but no one seemed to notice.
It is Joseph and Mary,
His beloved spouse.
Who stand at your door
And seek lodging in your house.
This time the doors were thrown open and everyone sang:
Enter beautiful maiden.
You and your spouse.
We offer it to you humbly,
This is your house.
As they entered Mary and Joseph sang:
This sweet act of charity
Do not take lightly
For the kind heavens above
Will reward you rightly.
Let the doors be thrown open,
Let the curtains be torn down,
For the Queen of Heaven
Has come to rest in our town.
The two teens went over to the nativity set up in a corner of the large hall. There was room for the little donkey in a small pen. He joined the two sheep and began too munch on the green hay.
Buck, still carrying JD, went over to one of the tables and sat down. It felt good being inside out of the cold.
"Did you have fun, Little Bit?"
"Yeah, Da. Now what?" JD asked looking around.
"Well, now we eat and visit and get warmed up."
"Oh, Good. I'm hungry."
"You're always hungry," Buck said smiling and ruffling JD's hair.
Chris sat down beside Buck. "What about you, Vin, did you have fun?"
Vin nodded, "Yeah, but it was kinda sad too."
Vin nodded again, " 'Cause none of the peoples would let them stay."
"It's just a story Vin," Chris said trying to reassure the sensitive boy.
Vin didn't answer but leaned into Chris.
Chris asked, "You hungry? Lets go see what's at the table."
The boys followed the men over to the buffet tables. Their eyes widened. They had never seen so much food in their lives. There were pots of posole and menudo, bowls of home made tamales, platters of empanadas, bisquicitos, chips and salsa. Hot homemade flour tortillas in stacks almost as tall as JD. Hot chocolate, cokes, and coffee were also available.
With the promise that the chili wasn't too hot, both boys wanted to try everything. Chris and Buck walked back to the table their plates piled high with all the different foods and bowls of the soup. They all ate and watched the different presentations by the children and ate some more until they couldn't hold another bite. Finally JD and Vin played with the other children as they tried to break a piñata. The boys felt comfortable with the others because they'd come with Josiah before on youth night.
Josiah watched, as over and over Vin would go back to the nativity set up in the corner of the big hall and stare at the manger. Finally Josiah joined Vin.
"Something troubles you, Vin?"
Vin glanced up at his uncle. "Why didn't they help them?"
"Who, Vin?" asked Josiah.
"Them people. They kept turning Mary and Joseph away."
"Well, the town was very crowed with lots of people and there wasn't any room. Mary and Joseph were strangers. Most folks are afraid of strangers."
Josiah watched as Vin pondered this. Then he asked. "Didn't they see that the baby was coming? Didn't they want to help the baby?"
"I don't know that they could tell the baby was coming. But Vin, if the Heavenly Father had wanted baby Jesus to be born somewhere else it would have happened."
Vin nodded at that then after a moment said. "Joseph wasn't his real dad?"
"No, he wasn't."
"But he took care of him, Jesus I mean."
"Yes, he did, and taught him to be a carpenter."
"So Jesus was 'dopted kinda like me an' JD?"
"Yes, very much like you and JD."
Vin stood quietly for a minute. "Josiah, I would have let them have my room."
Josiah smiled at the boy. "I know you would, Vin."
Vin looked over the figures in the crèche again and nodding once turned and rejoined his father and Buck.
Then Santa came. All the children lined up and sat one at a time on Santa's lap and Santa tried to get each child to tell him what they wanted. Then the jolly man gave each child a pretty sack with an orange, hard candy and nuts in it along with a Christmas color book.
Vin's turn came and he reluctantly sat on Santa's lap. His eyes grew big. Under the red hat and white beard was Josiah.
"What do you want from Santa?" Santa/Josiah asked trying to disguise his voice.
"Nothing," Vin whispered.
Santa looked surprised. "There's nothing you want?"
Vin shook his head no. "Got everything I need. Got Dad and Buck, an' JD, an' all my uncles an' Aunt Rain. Gots lots to eat an' a warm place to sleep an' gots Ringo an' Peso. Don't need no more."
"But isn't there something special you want? Something just for fun?"
Vin shrugged. "I guess."
Josiah watched the boy who'd had nothing and now thought he had everything struggle. Wishing was hard for Vin. He'd learned very early what was important and wishes didn't come true.
"It's okay. How about I surprise you?"
"Okay." Vin answered. Had he done something wrong was 'Santa' angry at him? But he looked up and saw only love in the sparkling blue eyes. He timidly smiled back and took the sack he was handed and ran back to Chris without waiting for JD.
JD scrambled onto Santa's lap. "Hi," he said.
"Hello, what's your name?"
"JD an' I know what's I want. I want a Breyer horse an' a train, an Legos, an' videos, an "
"My that's a long list."
JD nodded. "Yep, Uncle Ezra says to always ask for more, then you're sure to get what you really want. That doesn't make sense." JD frowned, "But Uncle Ezra is really smart an' he knows lots of things."
"Oh," said Santa. "Well, Santa must have a little talk with your Uncle Ezra soon."
JD's eyes got big. "You know Uncle Ezra?"
"Oh yes, Santa knows him. Well, bye bye, JD and be a good boy."
Taking his sack of goodies JD climbed down and ran to Buck. "Hey Da, Santa knows Uncle Ezra."
Buck almost choked on the hot cider. "I bet he does, on his other list."
"Buck!" Chris warned.
"What other list? Da? What other list?"
Chris smirked as Buck stammered, "Well, uh, Santa has a good boy and girl list and a naughty boy and girl list. I suspect Ezra was on the naughty list a few times."
JD's eyes got bigger, "Did you?"
"Did I what, Little Bit?" Buck asked.
"Did you get on the naughty list?"
"A few times, I recon."
"Oh." JD's eyes widened at the thought of his beloved Da being on the naughty list.
Chris looked at his watch. "Buck, it's late. We should be heading back. I think Josiah should be finished soon," Chris interrupted, partly to save Buck from having to explain just why Buck got on the naughty list.
Gratefully Wilmington added. "That's right, JD. We do need to head home. The way it was snowing and blowing we'll have to go real slow, too."
"Okay." The little boy grabbed his coat. Chris stood and helped Vin. "I saw Josiah go out the back, He's probably warming up the car."
As they left Buck and Chris stopped long enough to say good by to Father Juan. "Thank you for letting us come and join the celebration."
"You are welcome, especially as friends of Josiah. Please come any time."
One step outside and the piercing wind made the heavy coats feel very thin. The snow was coming down so thick they could barely see the car. The men quickly bundled the boys into the warmed car and Josiah started toward his house.
"I've been listening to the weather. Before you head out you need to call the State Troopers for road conditions. Some of the roads are already closed and they are discouraging anything but emergency travel," Josiah said as he drove carefully toward home.
"We'll call once we get to your house," Chris said.
The warmth of the car and darkness lulled the tired boys to sleep giving the men a chance to talk.
"If the roads are closed you can stay at my house," The preacher offered.
"Thanks Josiah," Chris answered.
"What about tomorrow?" Buck asked thinking of the boys' disappointment of not waking up at home and to Santa.
Chris thought, "Gloria's kids will check on the animals and Gloria offered to set up things if the storm did come in too bad. Buck, maybe you can give Gloria a call from Josiah's."
"Sure. It ain't going to be easy explaining if we have to stay here." Buck glanced at the sleeping JD.
"I know Stud. But we'll have to improvise."
What normally took fifteen minutes took almost forty-five. Visibility was practically nil as they pulled into Josiah's drive way.
Un-belting the boys quickly, they carried them inside, laying them on the couch. Josiah quickly stoked the fire in his wood stove, turning it up and adding more wood. The heat was soon pouring out. Buck went into the kitchen and quickly called the State Troopers and then their housekeeper.
"Gloria? It's Buck. How's the weather out there?"
"Snowing to beat all Buck and blowing too. When it started getting so bad the kids and I went up to the house. All the animals are fine and the kids had a blast helping me set out Santa stuff."
"Oh good, thanks Gloria. It looks like we're going to be staying over at Josiah's. We'll be home as soon as the roads are passable. Can we bring you anything from town?"
"No we're fine. Tell the boys Merry Christmas and the pups are warm and snug in their double house. That was a very good idea you had. Oh, and Buck, the lights have been going off and on so we left the faucets dripping just in case the power goes off for a long time."
"Thanks again Gloria, it wouldn't do to get home to frozen pipes."
"You drive careful tomorrow. The weather said the storm should blow out by morning but it may take awhile to clear the roads."
"We will. Merry Christmas, Gloria."
"Merry Christmas, Buck. Give the boys a kiss for me."
The tall man went back into the living room. "The roads are all closed. There's no way we can get home in this. But Gloria and her kids have already checked on everything and it's all ready for tomorrow."
Josiah nodded and left the room coming back with his arms full of blankets and sleeping bags. "Here you go. I think it'll be warmer in here, we'll make bed's for the boys and you by the fire."
Wilmington began undressing the sleeping JD. By the time he had the coat, shoes and jeans off the little boy was starting to wake.
"Hey," Buck smiled at the sleepy little boy. "Do you need to go pee?"
"Mummhumm," JD mumbled.
The man scooped up the still mostly asleep boy and carried him to the bathroom.
Chris smiled, and shaking his head, got Vin's shoes off. But when he started unsnapping the coat Vin began to fight him in his sleep.
"Easy Cowboy, it's just me. We need to get you comfortable for the night."
Vin froze, listening; then he cracked an eye, "Chris?"
"No, we're still at Josiah's. The storm closed the roads."
"Oh," Vin said with a big yawn.
"Do you need to go pee?"
"No." Vin was quiet as Chris pulled off his coat, jeans and shirt. Leaving the boy in his thermal underwear. Then his eyes shot open. "Dad! Ringo! Ringo's gonna freeze."
"No he's not. Remember we fixed Elvis and Ringo the double dog house, with hay bales for insulation. They're nice and warm. Peso is okay too. He's in the barn with the rest of the horses. Mrs. Potter and her kids checked on them.
"Okay. Where are you gonna sleep?" Vin asked yawning again.
Chris patted the pallet "Right here beside you. Buck and JD will sleep on the other side."
The seven year old looked sleepily at his father. "Okay." He rolled on his side facing Chris one small hand searching and finding his Dad's hand.
With his free hand Larabee pulled the covers up over the already sleeping boy.
Buck came back carrying JD. As he laid the boy down next to Vin he whispered to Chris. "I don't know how he goes when he's asleep."
The blond smiled. "That's just little boys."
JD rolled until he felt the familiar warmth of Vin, then he settled.
Josiah came back from the kitchen with three mugs of steaming coffee. "Thought you might like something not sugar packed."
"Thanks, Josiah," Chris and Buck said in unison, each taking a grateful sip, then smiling at the added whiskey.
"Now that's good coffee, Josiah," Chris said with appreciation.
"I thought you might enjoy it. Everything okay at the ranch?"
"Yeah, Gloria and her kids took care of things," Buck answered.
Josiah nodded. "Well, you'd better prepare a statement for when JD wakes up tomorrow. He'll be worried about Santa and the dogs."
Buck made a face. "Yeah, Chris?"
"Don't look at me, Pard. You're the one with the question machine. Besides," Chris added with a sad smile, "I don't think Vin would even question it if there was nothing under the tree. He's still so surprised when something nice happens to him." Chris looked down at the little boy sound asleep at his knee. "He's one that would be grateful for that piece of coal, and think that's all he's worth."
The men nodded in agreement. The phone rang. Josiah grabbed it before it could ring again.
The others quietly listened to the one sided conversation.
"Hello? No, we're fine They're sleeping over here... We'll call when we head out. You and Rain be careful Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too."
Josiah barely hung up when the phone rang again. "Hello? Yes, Ezra, they're here for the night Ezra, it is not a blizzard it's only white out conditions. It'll blow over and we can be at the ranch by lunch time tomorrow Of course See you tomorrow. Merry Christmas."
Josiah hung the phone up again. Glancing at the others he said, "They're fine. They were just wondering how you, as Ezra said, 'were fairing in this horrendous blizzard.' He also said not to worry. He's been assured that Christmas dinner will be ready and he will pick it up as he leaves for the ranch."
"Josiah, how's Ezra going to get to the ranch in the jag?" Buck asked.
Sanchez snorted. "I believe he mentioned having rented a four wheel drive monstrosity. I think he meant an Explorer. That way neither his jag or our feast will be at risk."
The big man turned on the news, which was mostly about the storm and the havoc it was causing. After the news he stoked the fire and said "Good night."
"Good night Josiah and thanks for the bed."
Chris pulled off his boots, jeans and shirt. His socks and long johns would keep him warm even on the outside of the makeshift bed. He lay down beside Vin. Buck doing the same lay down beside JD. Despite the woodstove the little boys unconsciously sought the warmth of their fathers and snuggled close. Each man lay with a protective arm around 'his' little boy and went to sleep with a smile on their face.