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Vin relaxed in the comfort of his own bed and wished his father was there to make everything all right. Tomorrow would be Christmas Eve, but for him a visit from Santa was the furthest thing from his mind. Yet he knew JD would want to visit Santa and give him his list.
Vin, are you awake?
Im awake, Uncle Ezra.
Are you feeling up to a trip to visit Saint Nicholas?
Is tired still.
I know you are, Vin, but JD wants you to come with us and maybe we can all ask Santa for something extra special for this Christmas.
Can I ask him ta help Chris get better?
Certainly, I believe JD is going to put in the same request and I imagine even I will find myself asking the mystical Clause to help bring your father home. Now, would you like some help in choosing the proper attire for a visit with the jolly man in red?
No, I can do it, the boy said and slid his legs over the edge of the bed. He did feel tired, but not like he was earlier in the morning. Vin knew that after the visit with Santa Clause they would be going to the hospital to visit Chris and he patted the paper in his pajama pocket. During the night hed woken and found his paper and pen. Chris always told him his poems were great and he wanted to make a special one for his father. The words were not a poem, but more of a letter telling how he felt. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the rumpled piece of paper and stared at the words. Tears filled his eyes as he remembered the damning words hed overheard the day before and he looked up as the sound of footsteps reached his ears. He smiled at the man who sat on the bed beside him and accepted the arms that enfolded him.
Hey, Kiddo, what have you got there?
Its somethin I writed fer Chris.
Thats great, Vin...
You wanna read it?
Id love that, Son, Wilmington said and stared at the words through tear filled eyes. The printing was painstakingly written in Vins awkward penmanship, yet he found it easy to read.
Jsiah says ya lisen and help people and I wanted ta ask fer help. Not jes fer me, but fer JD and Buck and all Chris friends. I aint had any real famly since ya took my mama up ta heavn not till I found Chris and Buck and theys all my famly now ta. Chris is hurted real bad and the doctors askded Buck ta turn off the chines but if he does that than Chris is gonna die and I dont want that. Mama used ta say ya take good people home ta live witcha but Is askin ya not ta take Chris. I need im and I promise Ill be good ifn ya let im get better.....
Buck folded the paper and held it tight between his fingers before passing it back to the child. So many emotions raced through him as Vins small hand touched his.
Is it okay, Uncle Buck?
Its better than okay, Son, Wilmington said as he looked up to see Ezra in the doorway.
Is everything okay in here?
Were fine, Ezra. Is JD ready?
Hes eating his breakfast right now and Vins is ready whenever he is, Standish explained.
Is jst gonna put on my pants and shirt and Is ready, the boy said as he opened the dresser drawer and pulled out underwear and socks. He dressed quickly and made sure he put his letter in his pocket before hurrying towards the kitchen.
+ + + + + + +
The line up of kids waiting to see Santa was twenty deep and Buck knew theyd be here at least an hour. Hed called the hospital and was updated on Larabees condition and knew things had not improved. The decision he faced was one that tore him apart inside, yet it would have to be made within the next two days. Hed promised Vin he wouldnt let the doctors turn off the machines, but prolonging Chris life like this just didnt seem right. He knew Larabee would not want to live, hooked up to life support when there was no chance that hed make it.
Buck, are you okay? Standish asked worriedly. He knew this was harder on Wilmington than on any of the rest of them, and wished there was something he could do to help.
Not really, Ezra, got too many things on my mind, the gentle rogue explained, watching the two boys as they explored the small maze built to keep the children occupied.
Yours is the hardest position of all, Buck, but whatever you decide the rest of us will stand by you.
Thanks, Ez, I just dont know if its a decision I can make. How can I tell them to let Chris go when Im not ready to do that myself?
Perhaps you should visit the chapel when we arrive at the hospital. Ive been spending a lot of time there over the last few days.
Talking to God? Wilmington asked.
It seemed the appropriate thing to do at the time.
I just hope it does some good.
Well, it certainly cant hurt, Standish said as they moved up to the gate that would lead them into Santas workshop.
Vin, JD, you boys ready? Wilmington asked.
Is ready, Uncle Buck! JD said excited at the prospect of seeing the jolly man who waited just inside the doors. He reached up and took his adoptive fathers hand in his own and fidgeted excitedly as Buck reached for Vins hand. Buck could feel the tension in the small digits as Vin nervously tapped his fingers against his palm.
Merry Christmas, a lady dressed in a red elf costume with her hair pulled back to reveal pointed ears and glitter shining on her face greeted them.
Merry Christmas, Maam Wilmington said.
Thank you. Now are you boys just here for a visit or would you like to have your picture taken with Santa?
I think were just going to...
Uncle Buck, can we have a piture sos we can hang it in Chris room? JD asked hopefully.
A picture for Chris sounds perfect, Wilmington agreed and readily paid the bill for the instant photo.
All right, boys do you want to go up alone or together? Standish asked.
Tagether, Vin said. Buck, will ya come wit us?
Sure, Son, Wilmington said and entered Santas workshop.
Theres Santa! JD cried and pulled on his fathers arm.
Easy, Sport, why dont we let the others leave first?
Oh...sorry, the boy said sheepishly.
Okay, Santa is ready for you now, the elf explained and watched the group of four walk slowly towards the special chair.
Hi, Santa, Standish said, smiling at the jolly man sitting in the chair.
Well hello and Merry Christmas. Who have we here? No, wait, dont tell me. I believe youre Vin and youre JD.
Howd ya know that? JD asked.
Hes Santa, JD, and he knows evrythin, Vin explained as he stepped closer.
Would you boys like to sit on Santas knee?
C...can we? the dark haired boy asked.
Of course, Santa said and smiled as Standish and Wilmington placed a boy on each knee. Now would you boys like to tell me what you want for Christmas?
I wants a truck and a boat and a Spiderman racer and a Nintendo and a new bike with no training wheels...
Easy, JD, Santas got a lot of children to bring gifts for, Wilmington explained.
Oh, Is sorry.
Thats okay, Son. I tell you what Ill do. How about we do the best we can to get your favorite things and maybe a couple of smaller ones as well.
Okay! the boy said and smiled as Santa turned to Vin.
Now young man is your list as long as your friends?
No, ...I only wants one thing.
Not a very long list, but Ill do my best. What is it you would like?
I wantcha ta hep make Chris better. See, hes hurted real bad and the doctors wants Uncle Buck ta turn off the chines but if they do Chris is gonna die and I d...dont want im too.
Vin, Sometimes God calls his children home and I know we miss them, but if you listen real hard you can sometimes hear them. Just because you cant see them with your eyes doesnt mean you cant feel them in here, Santa placed his hand on Vins chest and felt the tremor flow through the little boy.
But yer magic and ya could make im better cantcha?
Life is not magic, Vin. Life is real and only God has the power over whether we live or whether he calls us home. I can pray just like you do and maybe God will listen and give you a miracle, but sometimes God really need a special angel, and even though he knows well miss that person he knows that others will benefit by having a special guardian angel to watch over them. This Chris must be a special man to have so many people worried about him.
He is special...hes my dad, the boy said and let the tears fall as he fingered the letter in his pocket.
Well, Son, would you like to say a prayer for your dad?
Sure we can. Would you like to say something or would you like me to do it?
You, the boy whispered softly.
All right...Dear God, this little boy is worried about his dad and wed all like to say a special prayer for...
Chris Larabee...now we all know sometimes you need special angels in heaven, but we also need them on earth. So, I guess what were asking is that you grant us a miracle and let Vin have his dad for a long time to come. Amen.
Youre welcome, now what would you like for Christmas?
Thas all I wants, the boy answered softly.
All right, boys, lets see a smile for the camera, the elf said and quickly snapped the picture.
Christmas Eve dawned bright and clear, but the weather forecast called for a cold day with temperatures dropping to the mid teens and the very real possibility that Santa would have significant snow fall for his Christmas ride. Gaily decorated trees and lighted houses showed that the season was indeed a jolly one. Yet in a hospital room a sole figure laid quietly on the bed with no idea what was happening around him. Nurses changed IVs, suctioned tubes and drained catheters, yet, Chris Larabee was blissfully unaware of those who prayed for him or talked with him. The machines that normally signaled that a patient was still alive and with them felt cold to Buck as he looked at them. The time was drawing near and a decision would have to be made soon and it was one he had to make.
Please God, there has to be another way! he whispered softly as he watched the face of his friend.
+ + + + + + +
Vin looked at the picture clutched tightly in his hand as they entered the SICU where Chris was housed. Nothing had changed since his visit the day before and yet Vin felt as if his father was being taken from him with each passing minute. He knew things were bad as hed seen Josiah and Buck talking to the doctor and yet he wouldnt let himself think about the damning words hed heard the day before. Stepping up to the bed he pulled out the letter hed written and placed it on the pillow beside Chris cheek.
Would you like me to put that on the board?
Vin looked at the nurse and then at the pictures on the bulletin board beside the bed. It was something new for the hospital and most people appreciated the chance to put up pictures and letters and reminders of who the person in the room was.
Thanks, the boy said as she took the paper and the picture. He knew Ezra was behind him as he reached for Chris hand and shuddered at the cold touch he felt. Chris, me and JD went ta see Santa yestaday and we asked im ta ask God not ta take ya from us. I writed a letter ta God ta and I told im I wasnt askin fer me but fer Buck and JD and the others, but I lied. Im asking fer me ta, Chris, cause I needs ya. I member Buck talkin about Sarah and yer little boy and how theys in heaven and I knows ya miss im, but I needs ya ta stay wit me and JD. I...I need ya...
Come on, Vin, lets go get some air, Standish suggested as the small body trembled with the force of the sobs.
I wanna stay wit Chris!
I know you do, Vin, and well come back as soon as the nurse is finished taking care of him, Standish pulled the small boy into his arms and walked away from the SICU. He took the boy down to the chapel and was glad to see it was empty as he sat Vin in one of the chairs and knelt in front of him. Vin.
Yeah, the child sniffled as he spoke.
Would you like to say a prayer for Chris?
Is said some already, Uncle Ezra, but I dont know ifn Gods listenin.
God is always listening, Vin, we may not get an answer right away, but he hears us and if anyone can help us its Him. We just have to have faith.
Faith means we believe in something really strongly. We believe that things happen for a reason and that God in his infinite wisdom would never give us anything that we cant overcome.
So ifn I have faith Chris will live?
No, Son, it means that if you have faith, God will do his best to make whats happened right for you.
Then he has to let Chris live cause I needs im! The child stood up and walked to the statue of Christ and knelt in front of it and squeezed his eyes tightly. God, Is not the best boy and I knows I does things wrong, but I need Chris and I wants ta have faith like Uncle Ezra says, but sometimes its real hard...help my pa...please God, help my pa.
Vin, Josiahs here to take you and JD home, Standish explained.
I dont wanna go, Vin cried as Sanchez reached down and took him into his arms.
JDs tired, Son, and hes afraid. He needs you right now, Sanchez explained and finally the small head bobbed once.
Can I see Chris before we go?
Sure, Son, Ezra, Ill meet you downstairs. Can you take JD?
Certainly, Josiah, the gambler said.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah carried the child to the bed and let him take hold of Larabees fingers. He felt the small body tense almost immediately and knew he was reacting to how cold the mans hands felt.
Chris...Pa I love ya and I need ya ta stay wit me. Uncle Jsiahs takin me and JD home, but Uncle Bucks stayin witcha and Is comin back tamarrow...okay?
Come on, Son, well go home and get some rest.
And say a special prayer, Jsiah?
Yes, Vin, well say a special prayer.
Prayers are extra special tonight cause its Christmas Eve, the boy said as he was led away from the bed, an idea forming in his mind as they walked away from Larabee.
That they are, Son, that they are, Sanchez assured his small charge.
+ + + + + + +
The SICU room was filled with activities as the team of doctors and nurses did everything they could to bring Chris Larabee back. As soon as the code had sounded Nathan and Buck were herded from the room as the blankets were thrown off the battered body and a crash cart shoved up to the bed. As the room was closed off the two men understood what was happening and neither wanted to face the fact that Chris Larabee might not see this Christmas.
God damn it! Wilmington cursed as he slammed his fist against the solid wall.
Jackson wanted to reach out to the grief-stricken man, but he knew there was nothing he could do to ease the rogues torment. There was nothing anyone could do now for it was in the hands of God whether or not Larabee survived.
Buck leaned his head against the wall and let the pain flow through him in a wave of emotional tide that threatened to send him spiraling in a whirlpool of darkness.
How can he do this to Vin...to me...to us. Its Christmas Eve and theres no way in hell Im telling Vin his father didnt make it!
Hes not gone yet, Buck! Jackson said.
You heard the doctors, Nathan! They said he was brain dead and it was up to me whether to let him go. Turn off the damn machines they said, but not before they could take his organs for someone else! Jesus, Nathan, its Christmas Eve and Im not going to do that to Vin. Not now! He stopped as Milton Armstrong stepped out from behind the curtained off room. Doc?
Buck, I know this is not what you want to hear, but there doesnt seem to be any brainwave activity. To all intents and purposes Chris Larabee is dead...the machines are the only thing keeping his body alive and very soon his vital organs will begin to shut down. I know you have his power of attorney and I need you to give serious consideration to donating his organs before its too late.
Youre asking me to give Chris a death sentence, Doc and I dont know if I can do that.
Buck, why dont we go down to the chapel and maybe...
Oh no....no chapel! Not tonight, Nathan. Whats the old saying tis the season...well we need a miracle and the only way were going to get one of those is if we let Chris know how much we want him here!
Buck, Vins gone! Sanchez said as he hurried towards the three men.
What do you mean hes gone?
I found this in his room when I went in tonight.
Buck took the sheet of paper and felt tears in his eyes once more as he looked at the awkward printing.
Is sorry Uncle Buck...I didnt mean ta listen ta ya talkin, but I aint gonna let chris die. Is gonna talk ta god and ask im ta takes me steada chris. I love ya and JD and jsiah and Nathan and ezra, and I know ya needs chris wit ya. Is gonna tell god tha ya need chris morn ya needs me. Vincent Tanner.
Buck made his decision and looked at the three men around him. No matter what he thought, it was time to let go or they would also lose a young boy whose grief and pain went beyond the physical. Vin needed closure and for that the shell that had once been Chris Larabee would have to be shut down completely. Taking a deep breath he folded the paper and placed it in his pocket.
Damn! He gasped and finally caught his breath. Doc, dont do anything until I get back. Josiah, you stay here with Chris and make sure they dont turn anything off. I know its not right keeping him on those machines now. Its not right for him and its not right for Vin. Hell, its not right for any of us to watch him like that. Nathan, call Ezra, Orrin Travis, and Nettie Wells and have her bring JD. Ill find Vin and bring him here. Its time.
Time for what? Jackson asked.
Its time we said goodbye to Chris and let him have his dignity, but not until I get back with Vin! Okay? Promise me that long!
Ill make sure they dont do anything, Buck, Sanchez promised as the ladies man raced towards the stairs.
Im sorry, gentlemen, I wish there was something I could do to make this easier.
You did all you could, Doc, Sanchez said and watched the man nod in gratitude. He knew there were calls he had to make and dreaded the effect his news would have on his family.
+ + + + + + +
Buck took the stairs two at a time as he descended towards the main floor of the hospital. He knew the decision hed made was the best one, yet he couldnt help feeling as if he was betraying the trust of his long time friend. He knew in his heart there was nothing he could have done different, but there was something he could do to help Vin and that was to give him some closure and a chance to say goodbye. Tears glistened in his eyes as he raced through the falling snow to his car. He knew where hed find the Texan. There was no doubt in his mind that Vin would go to a special place where he could ask for help. Shoving the keys into the lock he climbed inside and hurriedly placed the keys in the ignition.
Vin forgive me, he whispered as he drove away from the hospital.
+ + + + + + +
Vin pulled his coat tighter around his small body as he ran through the lightly falling snow. He wore his heavy jacket, mittens, hat, scarf, and boots. His fleece Christmas pajamas kept his legs warm, but he knew he should have put on his snow pants, there just didnt seem to be enough time. His hands kept straying to his pocket where a small wooden case held his most prized possession, a gift from his dying grandfather. A battered harmonica sat inside on a bed of red satin. The church loomed ahead and he knew it was the one Josiah often spoke at. It was a place where people worshiped and asked God for miracles. This was a place he was not afraid of...not since the first time anyway.
Josiah had come to take them all to an Easter sermon and JD was bouncing in his seatbelt as if on an adventure. Theyd both clung to Chris legs as they walked into the big building. The statues on either side were huge and to the small boys very scary, but Chris had quickly explained about Jesus and Mary and now Vin knew he would be safe once he reached the church. He jumped as the angry sound of a horn sounded in the otherwise ominously quiet night, but did not let it deter him from his mission as he looked up and down the street before racing across to the opposite side. His breath was visible as his lungs breathed deeply of the cold night air. He stumbled once and stayed on his knees until he caught his breath, then standing and running once more towards Notre Dame Catholic Church. The streetlights sent a golden glow over the snow-covered grounds as he made it to the stairs leading up to the main gates.
Vin knew the doors were probably locked, but he didnt need to go inside. He spotted the nativity scene in an alcove to the right of the door and hurried over to it. The baby Jesus lay in a bed of hay while Joseph and Mary watched over him. The three wise men and several animals were also present and Vin knelt in front of the manger and folded his hands in prayer. He closed his eyes and began to pray.
God, I knows ya can hear me and I knows yer thinkin bout takin Chris ta heaven cause ya needs special angels, but Is thinkin ya need ta let im stay here with JD and Buck. They needs im God...moren they needs me so what Is askin is ifn ya can find a way could ya maybe let Chris stay ere and Ill take his place. I know Is only a little boy and wont be much of an angel, but I promise Ill do everythin a good angel would. I know Mas up there in heaven and I wants ta see her again so I dont mind ya takin me and leaving Chris here with the people who need him.
Buck swallowed the bitter bile that rose in his throat as he listened to the Texan offer his own life for Chris Larabees. He stepped into the light and spoke softly before walking to the child as tears spilled from his own eyes.
Youre wrong, Vin, he said as he knelt beside the shivering boy.
No Is not, Buck. Ya needs Chris...
Not if it means losing you, Vin. See, God may take Chris from us and I may not like it, but if its his time theres nothing we can do to stop it. How do you think Chris would feel if he found out he was alive because you asked God to take you instead of him? Wilmington asked as he removed his jacket and placed it over the boys shoulders.
Hed be sad, Vin answered.
Yes, he would, and he wouldnt want that. He wouldnt want to live if it meant you giving up your life for him. Now I know if Chris does die its going to be really hard for us to go on, but we need to, because otherwise, Chris wont be at peace.
Yes, it means he wont be able to rest knowing were missing him so bad we forget to live our own lives.
Is gonna miss im, Uncle Buck!
We all will, Son, but we have to think about whats best for Chris.
Whatcha mean? Vin asked as he found Wilmingtons arms pulling him closer.
Vin, the doctors have asked me to turn off the machines...
NO! No, Uncle Buck! Please...ya cant do that! Theys keepin him live! the boy cried against the gentle rogues shoulder.
I know, Vin, Wilmingtons grief was evident as he pulled the boy back into an embrace. But do you think Chris would want to live like that? Hes not really there, Vin. His souls already in heaven and the sounds those machines are making are just false. Now its Christmas Eve and we can give someone else a miracle by giving Chris one last chance to save someones life. Maybe a couple of people.
Well, the doctors can take some parts of Chris and give them to other people who need them to live.
But wont that hurt Chris?
No, Son, remember Chris is not there.
Uncle Buck, what ifn he is?
The doctor explained that, Vin. Chris body is still working, but his brain isnt. It would take a miracle...a big miracle to bring him back.
Maybe ifn me and ya prayed tagether God might make Chris better. Please, Uncle Buck, can we try it!
Sure, Son, I think thats a fine idea. You want to talk to him or should I?
Is already talked ta him...
Okay, so I guess that means its my turn. If you think of anything Im forgetting you just join right in, okay?
Sure, Uncle Buck, Vin said as he leaned into the big man and relished in the scent that was his alone.
Lord, I know right now youre powerful busy with people making special requests for Christmas dreams and miracles, but Im...
Were hoping youll hear us and grant us the greatest gift of all. See, this little boy has a father whos hurt...
Hurted bad, Vin corrected again, but kept his eyes closed.
Hurt bad and were hoping you can help make him better. Now we know that on Christmas Eve the Angels you take are real special and well, Chris, hes real special and all and well were all hoping youll let us have more time with him...
Right, lots more time with him. Vins been extra good all year and so has JD and Ezra and Josiah and Nathan. Im not so sure about me, but Im willing to try a he... whole lot harder this year if youll grant us this wish...
Please God, I needs Chris with me! I dont wantcha ta take im from me and I promise Ill do everythin he tells me ta. Ill give ya my harmonica if yall just let Chris stay! Tears streamed from the watery blue eyes as Vin pulled away from Buck and walked over to the manger once more. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the battered case and sat it beside the baby Jesus.
This is all I gots, God, but its yers now and Is gonna go back and tell Chris how much I needs...loves im. I knows ya gots a son named Jesus and Josiah tolt me and JD that he gave up his life for us, but Uncle Buck says thats not what Chris would want. So Is kinda hopin yad let us...me keep Chris. His eyes filled with tears once more as he ran towards the older man and hugged him close and the two cried until they reached Bucks car. Buck opened the back door and buckled the child in before hurrying to the opposite side. The trip to the hospital would take less than fifteen minutes, but Buck wished it would go on forever for he knew the decision hed made would have far reaching consequences.
+ + + + + + +
Torn, that was the word he sought. A word that described exactly how he felt right now. Torn. As in torn between two choices and no matter what decision he made someone would be hurt. The light had grown remarkably brighter with the passing of time, but he couldnt even be sure of how much time had passed. Was it a second a minute, maybe a day or a week, but somehow the light at one end was growing brighter and he did not know what his decision was. The light just seemed to grow brighter and his eyes misted with tears for what could have been.
+ + + + + + +
Buck carried Vin into the hospital, feeling the staff watching him as he hurried towards the elevator. The clock was ticking away, bringing them closer to Christmas Day and he knew they had to be with their extended family in order to say their goodbyes. He didnt take the time to acknowledge the people around him as they made it into the elevator and pressed the button. Vins head was snuggled into his shoulder and he could feel the tension as the boy tried to hold back his sorrow. The doors opened and he stepped out into the darkened hallway and headed for the room hed grown familiar with. He recognized the people standing outside the unit where his long time friend lay, suspended between life and death until Buck made the decision to let him go.
Buck, thank God. Is he okay? Jackson asked as he recognized the figures coming towards him.
Is fine, Uncle Nathan. I jest had ta talk ta God like Jsiah does.
Next time, Son, let me know and well go together, okay? Sanchez said.
O...okay, Is sorry, Jsiah.
Thats all right, Son, but I think its time we all said our goodbyes, Sanchez told him as he picked a sobbing JD up off the floor.
Josiah, I know youre no longer a preacher...but would you say the last right for Chris?
Id be honored, Buck, the older man said as the people parted and formed what could be called an honor guard for those closest to the man in the room.
Milton Armstrong nodded as Wilmington passed him. This was their time. A time to say goodbye to a loved one and his own eyes misted as he looked at the wall clock. It was only a couple of minutes before midnight...a holy time for families around the world and again he wished thered been more he could have done. Just one more miracle, lord, thats all were asking tonight!
Dear God, dont let this child suffer for the sins of his father. He needs Chris Larabee, we all do, Nettie Wells prayed as she reached out and touched Vins cheek as he passed her.
Orrin Travis stood tall and straight as they walked past him into the room and again he was angered that this boy was losing something so dear to him. Vins young life had been wrought with sadness and now it seemed as if there was more for him to face. God, please, dont take him. Not now. Not tonight. Not for a long, long time!
Buck entered the room and felt his breath catch in his throat as he saw the body bathed in light and he fought to keep from crying aloud. He looked up as Josiah moved to the opposite side of the bed with JD held securely in his arms. Ezra stood beside Josiah while Nathan moved in next to him. The nursing staff had moved out of the room to give the patients family the room they needed to say their good byes.
Josiah reached into his shirt and pulled out the gold filigreed cross attached to a gold box link chain. He placed it against his lips as Ezra took the boy from his arms.
Lord, I know Ive asked for many things in my life...
+ + + + + + +
Voices! He could hear them and knew the bright light was directly over him. All he had to do was open his eye, but was this truly the choice he wanted to make.
+ + + + + + +
Armstrong looked up at the wall clock as Josiah made to bless the patient on the bed. He swallowed as the large black-hand touched twelve and another sound reached his ears. He knew the people in the room were praying, but as he looked at the monitors it seemed as if something had changed, but he could not quite see what.
+ + + + + + +
Nothing seemed real to Vin as he reached for his fathers hand and again felt the tears falling from his eyes. He listened to the words Josiah said, but his eyes remained fixed on the figure in the bed. He felt numb inside and wondered whether others were praying as they were. He frowned as something tickled his fingers.
+ + + + + + +
Chris knew the decision hed made was the right one as his eyelids began to flicker and finally opened. There was something intruding down his throat and he fought to focus on the people surrounding his bed until his gaze came to rest on the boy looking down at him.
Vin...Cowboy, he thought as he saw the tear streaked face.
DAD! the child cried as he saw the familiar green eyes staring up at him.
Easy, Vin! Buck said and tried to hang on to his son oblivious of what had just transpired.
No! Uncle Buck...DAD! CHRIS! Hes awake!
Excuse me, could you all just move back for a moment! Armstrong said as he hurried to the bed.
Buck, Vins right! Look at Chris face! His eyes! Sanchez exclaimed.
Oh my God! Nettie exclaimed as she saw what the child had seen.
Uncle Chris! JD exclaimed, not really sure why he felt like laughing and crying at the same time.
Chris, can you hear me? Blink once for yes, twice for no, Armstrong explained, knowing there was no way theyd be able to move Larabees family.
Doc? Wilmington asked, hearing the hope in his own voice as he watched the physician work and Larabee blinked once.
Buck...Vin...Ezra...Josiah...Nathan...JD...Nettie...Orrin. Larabee ran down the list of names and saw each face before his gaze came to rest on the young boy smiling through tears and Chris felt his heart lurch in his chest. Sorry, Cowboy!
God listened ta us, Chris, he really listened!
Chris had no idea what the boy was talking about, but the smiles on each tear stained face told him something special had happened. He turned as a strange voice called to him and looked up into a face he didnt remember seeing before.
Chris, I know things are probably a little confusing right now, but Im Dr. Armstrong and Ive been helping take care of you. Although tonight I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to the young man in Bucks arms, the physician said and watched in amazement as Larabees fingers curled around his sons wrist.
Hes squeezing my hand! Vin cried excitedly.
Vins excitement showed in his bright eyes as he felt the movement of the hand clasping his own. He smiled as he looked into the sea green eyes he knew so well and quickly squeezed his fathers hand.
Im going to have to ask you all to leave for a few minutes while I examine my patient. Then I want you all to say goodnight and go home and rest. You can come back after lunch tomorrow.
Buck, those boys need you and theres lots of staff here to take care of Chris, Armstrong explained.
Hes right, Buck. Vin and JD need their rest as do the lot of you, Nettie explained.
All right, Wilmington agreed and looked into Larabees eyes. Well be back as soon as Dr. Armstrong is done. Okay? One blink.
Armstrong waited until the door closed before turning his full attention to his patient. He knew the nurse was checking the IV lines and other tubes that ran into Larabees body.
Chris, I need to take a look at you and make sure everything is as it should be. Are you in pain? One blink. Jenny is going to give you a shot right now and that should help. Im going to leave standing orders that you receive the shot every two hours. Once we take you off the respirator youll be able to let them know when you need something. Okay? One blink.
Chris listened as the doctor spoke to him, but soon found himself drifting back to sleep. He knew the others would be back and fought to stay awake in order to see Vin and let him know he was really okay. The drug was quickly taking control of the pain as his eyelids grew heavy and refused to stay open.
+ + + + + + +
The nursing staff quickly pointed towards the waiting room as the excited group exited Larabees room. Word that a miracle had happened was quickly spreading throughout the floor and staff and patients alike gave thanks. Buck sat in the center of the sofa, Vin on his right, JD on his left as everyone made their way inside the small waiting room. Ezra and Nathan took seats on either side of the boys while Josiah and Nettie took the two lounge chairs. The relief and excitement shone on each face as they waited for the physician to come to them.
Yes Lil Bit?
Is Uncle Chris gonna come home now?
Not tonight, but when the doctors say he can well be here to make sure he gets home, Wilmington said as the room grew quiet and Sanchezs baritone voice broke the silence.
Lord, we thank you for the gift of a miracle you bestowed on us tonight. We thank you for giving us back the brother we came so close to losing. We thank you for the gift of family. Amen!
Amen! sounded from adults and children alike as the door opened and Milton Armstrong entered the room.
Doc, how is he? the gentle rogue asked.
Well, if you asked me that question an hour ago you know what my answer would have been. I honestly believe what happened here tonight would qualify as a miracle. If I showed the results of the last brainwave activity readings to the best specialist in the world I have no doubt he would say the patient would...well, you know what I told you earlier. There can be no medical explanation for this and I dont know what else to say except that Chris Larabee has several miracles in his life, he looked at Buck, JD, and finally Vin, before continuing. And those miracles are whats going to see him through the rough times ahead.
So hes going to be okay? Nettie asked.
Yes, I believe he will, but theres going to be times when hell want to give up and thats where all of you will come into the equation. Chris is going to need physiotherapy amongst other things and with the broken ribs, punctured lung, broken ankle and other injuries its going to be a slow, painful process.
He wont be alone, Doc. Well all be there to help him, Jackson explained.
Glad to hear it. Now if there are no other questions Im going to catch some shut eye, the physician explained.
How long before you take the tube out? Sanchez asked.
Well right now he needs that tube because his body is too weak to breath on his own. Hell be kept sedated until tomorrow afternoon at which time well do a trial run. If hes able to maintain sufficient oxygen intake well remove the tube the next day, Armstrong explained.
When can Chris come home? Vin asked.
Well, Son, he still needs a lot of care and right now the nurses here are the best thing for Chris. It may be a month or more before hes released depending on how well he listens to orders.
He may never be released, Standish whispered and saw the smile on Netties face.
Merry Christmas, Armstrong said and stood up. I told the nurse youd be in to say goodnight to Chris and that you were not to be allowed to visit until after twelve tomorrow morning. That includes you, Buck. Get those boys home and make sure you all rest.
Ill see to it, Dr. Armstrong, Nettie Wells said and smiled as the physician left the room.
+ + + + + + +
Carol looked up as the silent, yet relieved group returned. She watched as Buck Wilmington lifted Vin into his arms and entered the room. Josiah carried JD and stood on the opposite side of the bed.
Hows he doing? Wilmington asked.
Hes sleeping right now. Dr. Armstrong has ordered pain medications and hell be sleeping a lot over the next few days, the nurse answered and smiled as Josiah eased JD into position so the child could place a gentle kiss on her patients cheek.
Is glad yer gonna come home and we dont haveta say goodbye, JD said before leaving the room with Josiah.
Vin, he really is going to be all right, Wilmington said as he felt the small body tense in his arms.
I am, Son, and Id say its got a lot to do with your gift and your faith.
Do ya think Chris would mind ifn Is ta call him Dad?
I dont think hed mind that at all, Vin, Wilmington assured him as Vin reached for Larabees hand once more.
Chris...Dad... the boy swallowed painfully as he squeezed his fathers hand and he took a deep breath. Is so afraid yad go way!
Hes not going anywhere, Son, and I think its time we both said goodnight. Sleep well, Pard, the ladies man said as he turned away from the bed once more. He listened to Vin say goodnight and felt the boy lean down and place a simple kiss on his fathers cheek before finally leaving the room.
+ + + + + + +
Buck opened his eyes as the soft rays of the sun shone through the windows of his bedroom. He smiled as he looked at the two boys lying on either side of him. They didnt make it home until well past three am and the boys had wanted to stay with him and Buck could not say no. He knew they needed to be close to him right now and to be honest he needed them close by. Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra were staying overnight and Buck knew the trio had already played their part in the Christmas surprise that would face the boys when they woke up. Carefully disentangling himself from the blankets and the small limbs that were draped over him, Buck slid from the bed. Rubbing at tired eyes he was surprised when he noted the time was a little after ten am. Somehow hed managed not only to fall asleep but to sleep for over six hours. He reached for his jeans and pulled them on and stood up. The two boys were still sleeping soundly and he hoped they would continue to do so as he walked to the door. He left it partially open in case the boys woke up and needed him.
The smell of coffee reached him and his stomach grumbled loudly, a reminder that he hadnt eaten anything in nearly twenty-four hours. By the time he pushed open the kitchen door he knew Josiahs culinary arts had been put to good use. Home made Belgian Waffles, bacon, sausages, Maple syrup and hot coffee were spread over the main counter. A bowl of fresh strawberries, whipped cream, toasted bagels and cream cheese sat in the center of the table and Buck smiled as Sanchez handed him a plate and a cup of the strong brew.
Thanks, Josiah, Wilmington said and moved to the buffet.
The boys still sleeping?
Yes, and hopefully theyll stay that way for a while yet. I cant believe how quickly they fell asleep last night.
Didnt take you long either, Buck, Jackson said as he entered the kitchen, quickly followed by Standish.
I believe we were all in need of a siesta, the gambler smiled as he too accepted a plate and a cup of coffee and smiled as Buck reached for his cell phone.
Hes doing better than the doctors expected, Buck, Jackson said.
Nathan called a few minutes ago, Sanchez told the ladies man.
Dr. Armstrong was in to see Chris early this morning and Chris was awake for a few minutes. Hes going to be sleeping quite a lot until they ease off on the pain meds and sedative, but right now he needs both to keep him comfortable, the medic explained before taking a mouthful of waffles and strawberries.
Did you guys get everything set up for the boys? Wilmington asked.
Ah, yes, it seems Santa put in an appearance shortly after you retired for the night, Standish said with a smile.
Did you find the gifts from Chris?
Yes, Jackson answered simply as he heard footsteps coming towards the kitchen.
Merry Christmas, Boys, Wilmington said when the children came into the kitchen.
Has Santa been here? JD asked excitedly.
I dont know, Son, why dont you and Vin go check, Sanchez suggested as Vin moved towards the table and climbed onto the inside bench.
Vin, aintcha comin? JD asked.
I already gots my present, JD, Vin told him and reached for a strawberry.
Ya did? When? the dark haired boys asked.
Last night...I gots Chris back, Vins face beamed with excitement as he looked from one man to the next.
We all did, Son, but Santa just might have thought that was a family gift and maybe he still brought you some presents, Jackson told the child.
Ya think so? Vin asked.
Why dont we all go take a look? Sanchez asked and smiled as his family made their way to the big living room. A fire had already been set in the fireplace and the ex-preacher quickly had the flames burning brightly as Ezra plugged in the tree lights.
Wow! Are all of em for us? JD asked innocently.
Well, why dont we let Buck read the names and hand them out, Sanchez suggested.
Buck moved to the big chair beside the tree and reluctantly sat down. This was to be their first Christmas celebration with the boys and it was Chris who was supposed to be giving out the gifts. He reached for the first package and fought back the tears forming in his eyes. A smile quickly formed on his face as JD moved in and hugged him.
Thanks, Lil Bit, Wilmington said and looked at the name on the gift. Looks like this ones for you.
It is? Whos it from?
Well, it looks like a Santa gift to me.
Looks like it! the mustached man said as he reached for a second gift. This ones for Vin.
Vin...Santa did leave ya presents! JD said as the young Texan came forward and took the brightly wrapped present.
Vin nodded and moved back to his seat on the floor beside Josiah. He watched JD open his gift, but he didnt touch his own.
Vin, dont you want to see whats inside? Sanchez asked.
Uncle Josiah, can I wait until Chris come home?
Vin, Chris wont be home for a long time, Jackson explained.
I know, but I wants ta wait until hes here. I miss him, the boy said as tears spilled from big blue eyes.
I know you do, Son, we all do, Sanchez said and pulled the boy into a hug. Soft sobs escaped from the child and the ex-preacher knew his own eyes were filled with unshed moisture.
I wants to wait to, Buck, JD said unable to control his own emotions.
I dont think any of us feel like opening gifts right now, Wilmington said as JD climbed up on his knee. The small group was quiet as they thought of the events that led them to this point in time. Yet the silence was not a sad one as each of them thought on the miracle of the night before and the fact that their family would soon be whole once more.
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