Happy New Year!
JD, you don't got to yell, the computer can hear you.
??? I know but I wanted to holler it.
Are you going to tell the computer about the party.
Well what do you think? Of course I'm going to tell the computer about the party. That was almost the only thing that happened the whole week.
I get to tell about Joey.
Okay. We had a New Years Eve party this week. Chris let us have a sleepover and some of our friends stayed all night. Tommy couldn't come cause he got sick but the other boys came.
And Joey came. You forgot to say that Joey came!
You said you wanted to tell about Joey!
Gentlemen, how is it going?
Hi Uncle Ezra!
Hi Uncle Ezra!
Vin, JD. ????
Look Vin, the computer doesn't know when Uncle Ezra said ???
He made that sound cause you hugged him so tight.
We didn't know you were here Uncle Ezra.
I only just arrived a few minutes ago.
We're telling the computer about the party we had. Did you go to a party when you visited your mother?
Indeed I did.
Was it fun?
It had its moments.
I bet it wasn't as much fun as we had.
I'm certain you're right, JD.
Chris Larabee looked at his watch, confirming the time by the clock on his office wall. It was 10:45 am, meaning it would be another hour and fifteen minutes before he could close up shop and head out. The blond was ambivalent about the early day. On one hand he liked the idea of spending the afternoon with his foster sons. On the other, he wasn't certain that he was ready to face the evening.
Taking a deep breath he looked over his "To Do" list for what seemed to be the thousandth time. It seemed to be longer each time he looked at it. He had to smile at the entries written at the bottom in a childish scrawl.
It was the "shopping list" the two boys had put together. He had tried to convince them to add a few healthier choices, but had met with little success. Tiny hands planted firmly on little hips, five year old JD Dunne had informed him that it would only be a waste of money and that the party guests would not appreciate the effort. Actually the boy had said, "Nobody eats carrots an' raisins at a party, Chris. Ick!" Beside him seven year old Vin Tanner had nodded his agreement.
How had he gotten himself into this? He considered himself to be a reasonably intelligent man but had to admit that he was questioning that assessment. Intelligent men would have run for the hills or, at the very least, kept the idea to himself. But no. He had to jump in with both feet and a smile on his face. So here he was hosting a New Year's Eve party.
For eight kids between the ages of five and nine.
Shaking his head the blond decided that the jury was in. He was certifiably insane. A soft knock on his office door drew Larabee's attention. "Come."
Josiah Sanchez popped his head into the room, a broad smile on his blunt features. "Just thought I'd see if you had climbed out the window to run off or were maybe curled up in the fetal position, whimpering."
With a smile, Chris said, "Not yet, but I was checking airlines for flights to Bolivia."
Chuckling Sanchez said, "Doubt you could find anything this late in the game."
"Never hurts to dream," Larabee said with a sigh.
"Well just thought I'd let you know that I've checked in with everyone. Andy Barton's mother asked if we could bring him out for her, so I'll take care of that. And Tommy Cline woke up with a fever this morning, so he won't be coming. Other than that everyone's a go."
Larabee responded with a nod. "Great -- oh! What about JD's 'surprise'?"
The big man's face split into wide grin. "That's a go, too. They'll be there about 6:30 or 7:00."
Chris responded with a smile of his own. "He's going to be one excited little boy." As the big profiler started back out the door he added, "Thanks Josiah for everything."
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," The older agent said with a wink as he left the office.
Returning to his list the ramrod of Team Seven wondered again exactly when he had lost his mind. He also wondered why he had felt it necessary to bring Josiah Sanchez with him.
It had all begun when JD asked how New Year's Eve was celebrated. When Buck Wilmington had replied that it was a time to party, he had cringed, but said nothing. His worry dissipated when young Dunne had simply responded with an 'oh' and gone on his way. Deciding that the five year old had lost interest in a holiday that did not include gift giving, he had forgotten all about the incident.
Then three days later at the dinner table the boys had dropped the bomb. They wanted to have a New Year's Eve party.
Buck had an out, he had major plans with Kerry Fox that included his renting a tux and nearly maxing out credit already strained from Christmas preparations.
That left him.
Chris sat at the dinner table, watching his plans for a quiet evening slowly slip away. He had dreamed of spending the evening at home with the boys, having something special for dinner before tucking them in at their regular bedtime. He had planned to then settle in with a book and a glass of brandy. He had planned on watching the ball drop on the big screen TV before turning in. He had planned on spending New Year's Day keeping the boys entertained while Buck slept in, if he came home at all.
But two sets of big eyes; two expressions of expectation, had seen to the end of those plans.
Slipping his old friend a look to tell him that there would come a time of retribution, Chris had agreed to host a party. As long as the boys ran everything past him first.
The children had spent the next two days making plans, discussing them with him, and revising parts of their plans. And as he went over the activities, he knew one thing for certain. There was no way he could deal with this alone.
He had gone over his options for someone to help him with the holiday celebration, finding the list painfully short.
Ezra was leaving for New York City, where he would meet up with his mother. The two Standishs' had a long tradition of toasting in the New Year together. Chris knew, too, that after his recent undercover assignment Ezra needed a break.
Nathan and Raine Jackson left for Tennessee earlier in the week to celebrate Kwanzaa with their families and wouldn't be back until after the first.
That left one option. Assuming a hat in hand stance he had gone to Josiah, asking him if he would be to help him chaperone the party. To his eternal relief, the big man agreed.
Sanchez deserved a medal, or maybe even sainthood.
So, now the time had arrived and Chris was counting down the minutes with a combination of anticipation and dread.
The boys, out of school for the holidays, had begun preparations the day before. They had also been up and dressed before he and Buck had left for work. Vin and JD would continue getting things ready under the watchful eye of Gloria Potter. Their housekeeper had already seen to it that all the breakables were out of harm's way. She had also spent a lot of time curtailing any last minute additions to the plans.
They had already given her a Christmas bonus, but he was seriously considering adding a New Year's bonus to her next paycheck.
The boys were each allowed to invite three friends, all boys since they would spend the night. With the Cline boy sick that would leave he and the other man riding herd over seven little boys, all under the age of ten.
They could do this. They were seasoned agents of Colorado's ATF Team Seven. They were called the Magnificent Seven for a reason.
But lord he couldn't remember the last time he was this nervous.
Larabee climbed out from behind the wheel of his big black Dodge Ram, scanning the front of his house. So far so good the house didn't seem to be any the worse for wear. Grabbing several sacks out of the back seat, he turned just in time to see two small whirlwinds barreling out the front door and across the porch.
Smiling at the loud and enthusiastic twin greetings, he called back, "Hi guys!"
Leaping from the porch, young Tanner held out his hands saying, "I can help carry."
Choosing a bag that was light enough Chris handed it to the child. Seeing a pair of hazel eyes peering up at him expectantly he chose a second sack and handed it to the five year old. They carried the bags into the house, the blond detecting the strong scent of orange cleaner throughout his home. "Sure smells good. You boys have been busy today."
"Yeah we been busy all day cleaning we gotted all th' dust out of the corners and made sure that all the bathrooms were clean an' we picked up all the dogs toys and we picked up all our toys an' we cleaned up all the dog hair an-"
"Breathe Little Bit," Chris said with a chuckle.
"I am breathin'," the little tyke said.
Reaching the kitchen they deposited the grocery sacks on the counter. Chris greeted their housekeeper, who was standing at the kitchen sink. "Hi Gloria, they driven you crazy yet?"
Rolling her eyes the older woman said, "Not yet but it's not going to be much longer."
"Well, how about I rescue you and take over?"
Setting the last dish in the drainer Gloria grabbed the hand towel and wiped her hands. "I think I'll just take you up on that offer," she said. "Besides I promised Katie I'd drive her into town. She's going to baby-sit for some friends of ours tonight."
"What about you, any plans for tonight?" Larabee asked.
Shaking her head Gloria said, "Sitting in front of the television with a big bowl of popcorn. That's about the most excitement I need tonight. David is staying with some friends and Katie will be gone all night, so I'm just going to enjoy the quiet."
Fixing her with a stare he had obviously learned from the two boys, the big blond said, "Take me with you?"
With a giggle the widow patted the man on the shoulder. "Sorry, I think you already have plans. And you may want to go check out the den and the great room, the boys have really put a lot of time and effort into the decorations."
Chris smiled. The den would be used for watching videos later in the evening, as well as the sleeping area for all of the boys. The great room would be for playing games and other more physical activities. He was hoping to contain all of the food in the kitchen and dining room, but realized that he would more than likely be steam cleaning the carpets for New Year's.
"Dad, we made a 'genda."
Chris looked down to find his foster son looking up at him, holding out a sheet of paper. Taking the paper, he said, "An agenda, huh? Well let's see what we have here."
The boys had put a great deal of effort into their "'genda". Larabee read:
Chris stifled a chuckle and nodded his agreement. "Looks like you've got it all figured out, cowboy."
The boy smiled broadly. "Unca' Ezra said you should always have a plan an'. Miz Potter said it's called a 'genda. She helped us with the times and stuff."
"I'm very impressed," Chris said. "So I hear you boys have been decorating. Can I see?"
"Sure. Come on," the little boy said. Taking the big man's hand in his he pulled his father toward the den.
Larabee smiled at the child's actions. Only a few short months ago Vin would never have initiated a touch such as this. That he did it now, even though it was precipitated by excitement, meant more to the agent than he could ever put into words. The contented man closed his hand around the small one with a smile, letting the little boy lead him into the den.
The tree was still up, the lights already flickering in the afternoon sunlight. There were streamers as well as paper cutouts taped to the paneled walls. The furniture had been moved in such a way that there was plenty of room in front of the big screen television, which would become a movie theater for the little boys later that evening. Holiday music was playing softly from the stereo and the room even smelled festive thanks to softly burning candles on the mantle.
"Wow, you boys have been busy."
"Yep. C'mon, I'll show y' th' rest." Little boy Tanner said as he tugged at the big man's hand.
Larabee couldn't help but chuckle as he was pulled down the hall. With a smile, he noted the crudely formed stop signs made of construction paper taped to both his and Buck's bedroom doors. In the middle of each handmade sign were the scrawled words "DO NOT ENTER". Seeing Vin's face turned up to watch him, he said, "Thanks cowboy."
The little boy smiled and said, "We figgered you wouldn't want no one snoopin' in your stuff. So Mrs. Potter gave us the idea, is that okay?"
"It sure is," the blond said with a wink.
They entered the living room, Chris seeing the same type of decorations scattered around the room. The furnishings had all been pushed back against the walls leaving most of the floor space available for play. He noted the boys had brought in most of their toys, including their Leggos, cars and action figures. He noted the more expensive toys were nowhere to be found, grateful for that. Then the tall blond saw the younger of their two foster sons perched on the corner of the couch, eyes fixed firmly on the floor.
Belatedly realizing he had not seen the smaller boy since he had helped carry the sacks into the house, Chris frowned. Stepping across the room, he sat down next to the little boy. "What's wrong JD?"
Tiny shoulders shrugging, the child continued staring down at the carpet.
Reaching out, Chris settled a hand lightly on the tiny little back and began to rub gentle circles. "You sure don't look like a little boy getting ready to have a party. If there's something wrong I'd sure like to help out if I can."
Eyes still downcast the child said, "Ain't fair."
"What's not fair?"
"I wanna show 'em my new train but Buck said no an' that ain't fair."
Chris waded through the fragmented speech finally piecing together the fact that the little boy was upset that he had not been allowed to bring his train set to the party. The track, which now resided on a plywood platform, had been stored away in the barn in preparation for the party. How could he explain that the train set was just as important to his foster father as it was to the little boy? Chris decided to leave that up to his old friend. "Well, why don't we get Buck in here and we can discuss this problem?"
"He ain't here," Vin supplied.
Frowning, the blond said, "What do you mean he's not here?"
Shrugging his shoulders the seven year old said, "He ain't come home yet."
Wilmington had some errands to run before coming home, but Chris had expected the big man to already be here, getting ready for his date. Larabee retrieved his cell phone from his pocket and speed dialed Wilmington's cell phone number. Just before the voicemail activated he heard a surly, "What?"
"I've got a flat tire, I'll be home soon." The man's terse response told Chris that he was not a happy man.
"Okay. Anything I can do?"
"No, I'll be home in a while."
"See you then." Larabee disconnected the call. This was not the time to discuss toy trains with the man. Turning to the other two, he said, "Buck has a flat tire, and he's not in a very good mood. So I think the best thing to do is just drop the subject. He just doesn't want to take the chance of your train set getting broken, kiddo."
"But I'll take really really really really really really really really good care of it and I won't let nobody break it or nothin' I'll take care of it really really really really good." Young Dunne offered up his best sad little boy eyes to the man.
The corners of his smile threatening to give him away, Chris shook his head. "Buck said no, Little Bit. Besides, Vin's not sharing his saddle and bridle, is he?"
"But that's different," the tiny brunet said.
"Vin's Christmas gift is just as important to him as yours is to you. Now, JD, listen. You were told no, and the answer is no. I'm sorry if that makes you upset, but that's just the way it is."
Tears welling up in huge hazel eyes and heaving a heavy sigh, JD said only, "Okay."
As he watched the pouting child, Chris was struck with an idea. Patting the little shoulder, he smiled. "I've got an idea. Wait for me by the back door, I'll be back in about five minutes."
Faces filled with curiosity, the two boys nodded their agreement. They watched their foster father leave the room, wondering what Chris was up to. Hearing the back door close a minute later, the boys walked through the house and stood at the patio doors, watching. True to his word, the blond was coming back from the barn less than five minutes later. Stepping up to the door he stomped the snow from his boots. While the storms of the past few weeks seemed to have disappeared for the time being, the ground was still buried under a heavy carpet of the white stuff.
Entering the house Larabee gave each boy a smile, pulling off his boots before moving past them, going to the den. Their curiosity growing stronger by the second, the boys were close behind.
Going to his computer Chris produced his digital camera from his coat pocket. The boys watched as he downloaded pictures onto the computer, calling up each shot in turn. Smiles lit up each little face at the sight of first Vin's saddle and bridle and then the large wooden platform with the train set proudly displayed. Next he printed each one out, offering the boys the full page picture of their special Christmas gifts.
"Thanks Chris," JD said with a broad smile.
"Yeah, thanks Dad." Vin said as he stared at the picture
"No problem. Now you have something to show your friends tonight." Then suddenly remembering something, he said, "Oh, Vin sorry. Tommy is sick, so he won't be able to come tonight."
While his smile faltered, the stoic seven year old said, "Well, that cain't be helped I reckon."
"Well, me and you like Andy th' same, so he can be both our guest." JD offered when he saw the disappointment in his friend's face.
Chris watched the smile return to full strength on the older boy's face at the younger one's generosity. Ruffling both heads of hair he said, "Well that sounds like a plan."