Chapter 1 - 3 |
Chapter 4 - 6 |
Chapter 7 - 9 |
Chapter 10 - 12 |
Chapter 13 - 15
Chapter 16 - 19 | Chapter 20 - 22 | Chapter 23 - 25 | Chapter 26 - 28 | Chapter 29 - Epilogue
Once Chris decided what he had to do, things fell quickly into place. A schedule was set up to make sure that he was not alone at any time for the next ten days. The only big disagreement was about where Linda would be during all of this. Everyone was worried about her pregnancy and they were concerned about how the added stress would affect her blood pressure problem.
Matt insisted that she come stay at the Southern breeze. “No, I will not interfere with what Chris has to do, but I will not let the actions of Jack Larabee make me leave my home.” She answered Matt, but directed her remarks to Chris, “I think its past time for me to take charge of my life again and while we wait out the next ten days I have plenty that I need to do.”
Chris ignored the protest around him and looked into her eyes. “This is her home, too. She stays, but I do have one request.” He got up and moved closer to her. “I don’t want you to see what will happen and even though our baby is not here yet, I do not want our child touched by this in any way. Do what you need to and let me deal with my demons, after it’s all over, we’ll talk about our future.”
“I plan to hold you to that Larabee.” She reached out to him with a hug that they both desperately needed. “We will be waiting for you.”
“You’re not in this one by yourself, stud. We will make it though as family just like we always do.” Buck spoke for them all. “It’s what we do best.”
Nathan took charge. “Chris you look tried let’s get you settled. The rest of you go eat something and then take your families home.”
Nathan and Josiah took the first shift and Chris was already showing the signs of withdrawal. Tonight would not be too bad, but by morning, they knew his condition would be deteriorating rapidly.
“I know I will probably do or say things I shouldn’t in the next few days, try not to take it personally. I do appreciate your help.” Chris was feeling awful and he knew it would only get worse. “Tell the others too…”
“Chris I think we know what to expect and we are all ready for it. You just hang on to us because were not going anywhere without you.” Josiah patted his arm. “Try to rest while you can.”
Down the hall, Linda was preparing for bed. She had a notebook out and had already made a list of things to accomplish during the next week. She patted her tummy and spoke softly. “Don’t worry little one, everything will be fine. You just stay put for a few more months for us, okay.”
By morning, Larabee was pacing the floor and snapping at everything Nathan or Josiah had to say. Vin visited briefly, but realized his anger was still to fresh and he did not stay. By late afternoon, Chris was ready to start throwing things and the pain was getting worse.
“Nathan please, make some of it go away.” Chris was bent over double and his head felt as if it would explode.
“Sorry Chris, just bear with it the best you can. It will pass.” Nathan felt bad, but stuck to his words.
They had decided that Nathan and Josiah would be the logical choices to stay with Chris. Nathan covered the medical needs, with Rain checking in on Larabee once a day and the mental part that only Josiah had the skills to help with. Buck would spell them when they needed it. Vin, Ezra and JD would keep them covered at work. It would be a while before anyone would be able to have what was considered a conversation with Chris because he just would not be able to. For better or worse, hell week had begun.
Linda spent the day at the Southern Breeze making sure Matt had all the files he needed.
“That should do it Matt; you have what you need to run this place. I may be moving some of my horses over to the Larabee 7, but I’ll let you know which ones in advance.”
“Linda, are you sure that you won’t reconsider and stay here?” Matt was worried about her.
“That’s my home now and I won’t leave it. Trust me; I do know what I am doing, maybe for the first time in weeks.” She kissed her brother and headed home.
It had been a long rough night; Kelli quietly slipped out of bed and gingerly moved toward the bathroom. Her shoulder hurt and evidently, some muscles in her back were strained when Chris twisted her around. She had managed to get through yesterday without the pain being too bad, but last night, it had gotten worse and she just could not get comfortable. No way in hell was she going to tell Vin though, it way hard enough on him watching his brother go through this.
When it came to Kelli there was not much that Vin missed. He already was aware that she was in pain and that it was more than just physical. Several things were weighting heavy on her mind lately and this situation with Chris had just added to it. As he watched her progress away from the bed, he knew that he would have to make the first move to help her because she would try not to let him see how much she was hurting. He sighed and rolled out of bed, deciding to put on the coffee first and then confront his redhead.
Kelli felt a little better, but when she walked out of the bathroom Tanner was waiting for her. He slid an arm around her waist. “Mornin’ baby,” first he kissed her and then handed her a hot cup of coffee. “Just the way you like it, hot and sweet.”
She smiled, “Tanner you do know how to start a mornin’. Which one are you today, hot or sweet?”
Vin led her to their rocker and made her sit next to him. “Actually, today I’m your boss, and Captain Tanner says you are stayin’ home today. You need to give those muscles a chance to heal.” He read the look on her face, “Did you really think I wouldn’t know?”
“I guess not, but I can …”
“I don’t need an employee at work that obviously is in pain and I will not send you or any agent into the field that I knew was not physically up to it.” The Texan smiled, “Don’t argue with your boss.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, but I might kiss the boss, if you promise not to tell my husband.” Her eyes twinkled with amusement. “He does tend to be a bit possessive.”
“Hell, I reckon I’ll have to take my chances.” He leaned over, took his time claiming a long slow kiss. Then he told her,“That will have to hold you ‘til tonight, right now ‘m gonna rub some liniment on those back muscles before the kids wake up.”
An hour later Vin had checked on Chris and the kids had dressed, eaten breakfast and were ready to go. He would drop Andi off with Inez and then take Jason to school on his way to the office.
“Don’t overdo and get some rest, Texas. I’ll call you later.”
Linda was up early; she had a lot to accomplish today and wanted to get started. She met Josiah in the kitchen. “How is he?
“He’s not feeling to good this morning, but that’s to be expected.” Josiah sat with her at the table. “Linda, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
“I know, I wished I could make it easier, but I can’t so I will do what I can. I plan to grocery shop today so if you or Nathan will make me a list of what Chris needs, I will pick it up.” She hesitated with her next question. “I…Sometime later this week I would like to discuss a few things with you, if you don’t mind.”
Josiah was taken aback, but he agreed to her request. “I don’t mind, how about Wednesday or Thursday?”
“Whichever is best for you will be fine, just let me know.”
“I’ll get that list ready for you.” Josiah excused himself.
Linda was already onto the next part of her plan; she picked up the phone to make the first of several phone calls.
Inez had told her that Kelli was home today and she decided not to warn her that she was coming over. She stood in front of the Tanner’s door, took a deep breath and knocked.
Kelli opened the door; the last person she expected to see was Linda “Come on in, ‘m just lazin’ around today.”
“Inez told me that you were home, I just came from the grocery store and decided you might want some lunch so…” She held up a bag of fast food.
“That would be great; I hadn’t talked myself into fixin’ anythin’ yet.” Kelli moved toward the kitchen and Linda noticed how cautiously she moved.
“Why don’t you sit in here where it’s comfortable and I will fix this up for us? I think I still remember where everything is.” She was not here to talk about Chris and would not unless Kelli brought his name up.
The redhead agreed and within a few minutes, Linda had their lunch ready and they were both sitting in the living room.
“Kel, I need to say a few things and I hope that you will hear me out because I don’t want hard feeing between us.” Linda was a little nervous, but determined to make things right again.
“Okay, but can I listen while I eat? I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”
“No problem. Kel, I know that I have not been myself the last few weeks and I will not try to make excuses. When Matt came, I suppose I reverted to little sister again and then things just snowballed, but no more. The old me is back and I want to put things right between us. I was acting like a spoiled brat and I am sorry. I also realized that I have not been as good a friend as I should have and I promise to listen more and tell less.”
“Wait, let me get this all out, I should have said this a long time ago. I do know that you have put up with my tantrums and my spoiled behavior for years, yet still you have been there when I needed you. I wish that I could say the same. I have not made an effort in the past to see things from your point of view, but I will from now on. It is way past time for Linda Catharina Dubois to grow up and fast, after all in a little less than four months I am going to be a mother. I would hate to see my child grow up before I do.”
Kelli was very pleased than Linda finally made it to point B on her own and as mad as she could get at her, Linda was her friend and she did love her. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“As a matter of fact, yes, I made a list of things that I need to do, maybe you could look it over see if I missed anything.” She handed the list to Kelli and let her read it. Waiting until she finished, Linda added, “I know you might question my motives about the kids. I cannot truthfully tell you that I agree with Chris about adopting them, but they are family and I would like to get to know them, if it’s okay with you.”
“I think we can work somethin’ out.” Kelli looked at the list again. “This is quite an undertakin’. If you’re sure you are up to it, I could make one additional suggestion.” She wrote it on the bottom on the paper. “I’m sure Ezra would assist you with it, if you ask him. Oh and thanks for the lunch.”
Linda knew Kelli and her were okay again and went over to hug her, “Don’t mention it, that’s what friends are for.”
Chris was hurting and overnight he had developed a fever, tossing and turning in the bed, it seemed that every demon from his past tired to keep him company. Josiah and Nathan could only watch and try to keep his fever down.
As his temperature climbed, the visions of his past became more real. “No...Help them…Sarah! Adam! ... God they’re gone… Buck, you gotta do something.” Josiah kept a cool cloth on his head, tried to sooth the terror Chris was experiencing, Larabee clung to his hand, and begged. “Do something please…Jason’s in the fire… Sarah needs help.” Somewhere in his mind, Chris saw Adam and Jason as the same child and Josiah made mental note to talk to him about this later on.
An hour late the serial killer, Brad Cleaver was back and out for his blood. “Keep him away! NOOOOOO! Rats, too many rats! Josiah!” Chris began to cry, tears fell as he ‘saw” Josiah shot again and again. “Don’t die!”
It was hard because in the course of helping Chris he was reliving the experience, too. However, Josiah had to assure him that he was okay. Chris! I’m here, I’m not dead, we are both safe and Cleaver is in prison.
Finally, Chris calmed down and for a brief while, he was quiet. Nathan slipped out to fix some lunch.
After Rain checked on her patient she headed for the clinic for the afternoon, She had been a little wary when Linda had ask to join her, but agreed.
“Rain, I owe you an apology. I should never have questioned the way you decided to treat Chris. If I hadn’t he would not have gotten those pills.”
“Linda, it wouldn’t have mattered. He got the second prescription from his orthopedic doctor and you had no control over it. He was determined and would not have stopped until he got them, so quit beating yourself up over it, as for the apology, accepted.”
“Thanks, now what can I do to help?” Linda wanted to really help, not just write a check for a worthy cause. Here she not only could see for herself the people Kelli told her about, but also share the experience with a sister.
Nathan had managed to get some broth down Chris and so far, he was holding it on his stomach. It was the most he had been able to hold down since Saturday. An hour later, his fever rose and the demons were back. This time it was Phillip Deveraux; he stayed and spent most of the night tormenting Chris before Nathan could bring his fever down again.
Last night and this morning had been the roughest so far. Half the time Chris was seeing demons that were not there and the other half he was throwing up. About ten, though his fever rose again and this time it was Jack that came to taunt the blonde.
*Rough huh brother? You know what will stop it don’t you? Just kick these bastards out and then party with me.*
“FUCK YOU JACK! Get the hell out! I won’t listen to you anymore!”
*You know what you want; remember how good it felt to get rid of the pain and to float away. You can feel that way again. You owe me that much Chris. You let me down and now you think you can make up for it with my kids! You always believed you could control everything! Well you are wrong! Fate catches everyone Chris and timing is everything. You had a chance to help me and now it is too late! I am dead and nothing you can do now will make up for what you did not do twenty-five years ago. Now go for the drugs and repent Brother Chris.*
Chris sat up and screamed. “No! Leave me alone! It took Nathan and Josiah to hold him down and twenty minutes to get him calmed. Blessedly his fever broke two hour later.
Buck came in at one to relieve Josiah for a while. “How is he?”
“He’s been curled up like that for an hour without moving. His fever broke and I think he is just flat out exhausted, but be ready for anything.” Nathan settled down in the chair opposite Buck.
Josiah was planning to go home for a while, but wanted to talk to Linda first, he found her out by the corral.
“Buck and Nathan are in with Chris and he is hanging in there. I thought maybe that we could have that talk now, if you wanted.”
“Josiah, take a walk with me, I need some advice and I believe you are the one person that can counsel me concerning a problem that I seem to have.”
“I will do what I can Linda.” They walked the property for the next thirty minutes and talked. Once Linda had answers for her concerns, Josiah went home and she headed for the Wilmington house.
Chris was fever free and his stomach seemed to be behaving, but all he would do is lay curled in bed and doze.
Buck pulled Josiah aside. “Why doesn’t he say something or move or anything?”
“I afraid that as the pain is subsiding, depression is replacing it. All we can do is wait it out and see if he can work through it.” Josiah knew it was too soon to try to get Chris to talk and for now left him alone.
Linda sat with Inez and drank a glass of tea. This was the third day this week she had made a point to be at the Wilmington house when Jason got home from school.
“Hey Jason, how was school today?”
“It was good. How is Chris?”
“A little better than yesterday, but he’s still sick.”
Jason was hoping to see him, but he had resigned himself to the fact that it could be a while. “Tell him that I hope he gets better soon.”
“I will pass the message along, but there is something else that I wanted to ask you about. I happen to know that you have a day off from school tomorrow and if you agree I would like for you and Andi to spend part of it with me. Maybe we could shop for a get well gift for Chris, my treat and have lunch at the pizza place in the mall.”
He thought about it and looked over at Andi. “I would have to ask Vin or Kelli first.”
“I already talked to them and they said it would be up to you if you wanted to go.” Linda gave him time to think about it.
“I reckon pizza might be okay.”
“Great. I will be here at eleven in the morning and we can get started.” Jason agreed and then asked Inez if he could go outside.
Inez patted her hand. “See, that wasn’t so hard and if you stick to the stores I suggested I know they’ll have a good time.”
“Thanks, Inez. I need to run, Ezra will be here soon and I still have to change clothes. See you in the morning.”
Linda hurried and changed, Standish would be here soon, the same as he was Tuesday and Wednesday night. She was excited about tomorrow and looking forward to the day at the mall with the kids.
Josiah had thought long and hard about what Chris needed. Finally, he had a plan and he would begin first thing in the morning. It may not work, but it was absolutely guaranteed to get a reaction from Larabee.
Linda looked at her list and was pleased to see that almost everything she had set out to do this week had a check mark beside it. After today, it would be complete. She was picking up the kids at eleven, they would spend the afternoon at the mall and then she would finish the day with an evening at the Tanners. After that, she would spend the weekend at The Southern Breeze. Josiah had asked her not to come home until Monday morning, she did not ask questions, but hoped that whatever he had planned would bring Chris one step closer to being back into her life.
She pulled up in front of the Wilmington house at ten fifty-five and then went inside. Jason and Andi were ready and waiting. “You two all set for an adventure?”
“Yes ma’am, we’re ready.” Jason said politely
“Yesssss, pizza!” Andi yelled.
Inez handed Jason his coat, while Linda helped Andi with hers. “Have fun and good luck,” Inez laughed as the trio as they headed out the door. She hoped that the blond was prepared for this.
At the Mall
Linda learned fast that food had to come first or Andi would say pizza a hundred times. The child had only recently discovered the allure of the round pie with all the goodies on top and she especially was fond of the cheese. She ended up wearing as much as she ate.
“Okay, have you thought about what you would like to get Chris to cheer him up?” Relying on Inez’s advice, Linda set a spending limit for them, but gave them free rein to choose what they wanted to for Chris.
Jason had given it a lot of thought. “A wild mustang, not a real one but a ...” He was trying to think of the right term. The story that Chris had told them about the wild mustangs is what sparked his interest in leaning to read.
“A miniature replica, that means a little one that looks like the real thing.” Linda said helpfully.
“Yeah, that’s it. Can we do that?”
“We sure can and I think that is a wonderful idea. Chris will like that.”
Linda entertained them by telling stories about Chris and Kelli, some of which had both children giggling. It took most of the afternoon, but they found exactly what they were looking for, a beautiful facsimile of a wild horse, captured in a running pose with a long mane that appeared to be flying in the wind.
“How about we get some wrapping paper to take with us, and then you can wrap it after you show it to Vin and Kelli?” Linda asked and when she noticed where Jason was looking, another thought came to mind. She leaned over and whispered to him. “They remind me of you and Andi. “
“Kinda huh?” Jason had spotted two smaller horses. One was a cute little filly kicking up her back legs in a playful stance; the other one was a colt, head down, in a protective position, appearing ready to charge if needed. Linda swore that each one captured the spirit of Andi and Jason perfectly.
Linda suspected where his thoughts were taking him and decided to see if she was right, “You think Vin and Kelli would like them as a gift?”
“Could we, you know something special from me and Andi?” Vin had given him some money this morning for him and Andi to spend if they found something that they wanted. “We have our own money. Is it enough?”
Linda took the money Jason offered her and counted it, he was a little short, but she vowed that he would never know it.
“Yes we can and you have just enough to cover it. We’ll have them wrap your gift here so it will be a surprise.” The smile on Jason’s face was priceless as they added the two smaller sculptures to their purchases.
Josiah was not going to let Chris sink into a deeper depression. At noon he informed Larabee that it was time to do some housekeeping and that he intended to start with him.
“What do you mean start with me?” Chris snapped.
“Chris, it’s been seven days and you need a shower. You also need to shave, between that beard and your hair you look and smell as if you have been on the street for a month with no water. After you are cleaned up, you can sit in the den while we get your sheets changed and this room aired out.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
Buck was ready for that response. “Well stud, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve thrown you ass into a running shower.”
Larabee cut his eyes to Buck. “Last time you tried that alone, you ended up with a busted nose.”
“Yeah, but you still got in the shower. I’m willing to take my chances big dog. What about you?”
Chris sat on the bed in silence for a long time before answering in a low barely audible voice. “I can do it.”
Buck was not sure if Chris was talking to him or to himself, but was willing to wait it out for as long as it took. It was another five minutes before Chris slowly stood up and began the long walk to the bathroom. It was a ten-minute trek, but Larabee made it on his own for the first time in a week. It was not pretty or graceful, but it was…a start
An hour later his body was scrubbed, his face clean-shaven, he wore fresh clothes and he was exhausted. Grudgingly he gave in and let Buck help him to the big recliner in the den, he slept the rest of the afternoon. Buck and Josiah took the opportunity to clean Chris’ room.
Linda called on their way home, asked if it would be okay for her to bring dinner instead of Kelli having to cook, and they agreed on a light deli meal. Since she didn’t have to prepare dinner, Kelli decided to take care of the horses, while Vin was checking on Chris. She had been at it about thirty minutes and was almost finished when the Texan joined her.
Vin saw Kelli pitching hay into the stalls and smiled, silently he slipped behind the redhead, grabbed her around the waist, leaned down close to her ear and growled. ”Want some help?”
Kelli dropped the pitchfork and yelped, “Dammit Tanner, a little warnin’ please!”
“Okay, little warnin’,” He began to tickle her until she called a surrender and then Vin turned her to face him. “You know, it’s been a while since we made out in the barn.” The smell of the straw brought back memories of their first kiss in another barn, almost a year ago.
One look at the wild grin on his face and Kelli knew what he was thinking. “Yeah it has.” Even after a year together, Kelli’s heat still skipped a beat whenever she saw that irresistible grin; it was like the first time all over again for her.
Vin pulled her into his arms, his hands slid over the curve of her waist, to the small of her back. His body engulfed her and she felt his presence in every fiber of her being. As the heat intensified between them, he made love to her with one insatiable kiss after another, taking her senses and her breath.
For a few minutes, the world disappeared as their bodies blended into one … and then reality crashed in.
Kelli leaned into him, waiting for her breathing to even out and she whispered softly. “Vin … as much as ‘m enjoin’ this… we need to stop. If Linda wasn’t on her way here with the kids, now would be a perfect time to roll in the hay, but...”
Vin got the message, sighed and composed himself. “Right place, wrong time,” he grinned roguishly “But we will finish this later, baby.”
“I’ll hold you to that, Tanner.” She raised her hand and pushed his hair back with her fingers. “How’s Chris?”
“Sleepin’ in his big chair in the den and accordin’ to Buck it’s the first good rest he’s had all week.” The Texan still held on to her and kissed her brow. “I think the worse may be over, at least physically, now he has to find his way back to being’ the old Chris. Josiah is stayin’ the weekend, tomorrow JD will be with him and I’ll spend Sunday over there. “
“Is Ezra okay with stayin’ away?”
“No, but he understands that as designated advocate for the kids he can’t be in the middle of all this without a big conflict of interest. Besides until today, Chris couldn’t tell you who was there and who wasn’t.”
They heard Linda’s car driving in, Tanner grabbed another kiss and then together they walked out to meet them.
Two excited kids ran over to them and both began talking at the same time. Vin picked up a chatting Andi and Jason walked between them, telling his version of the trip to the mall.
Linda stood beside the car and grinned.” We have dinner and bags to carry in the house. Where are my helpers?”
Kelli took some bags from her. “I think you lost ‘em to the Texan. I’ll help you.”
Once inside the kids were still going a mile a minute, but at least the adults managed to get dinner to the kitchen. Linda made the children promise to wait and show off their purchases after they ate, so there was no problem getting them to sit at the table.
Finally, when the food was out, the talk slowed down some and the grown-ups managed to get a word or two in the conversation.
“Sounds like y’all had a great time.” Kelli watched the kids and was very pleased to see them reacting like regular children after an exciting event.
“It was an experience, I’ll never forget.” Linda laughed, “You didn’t tell me they had never been to a mall before. They wanted to see everything and I think we did.”
“Yeah and Linda told us stories about you and Chris. Like the time you tried to arrest a raccoon, Kelli.”
“Linda, you didn’t!”
Vin laughed, “Now that sound like an interestin’ story. Did you really?”
Jason swallowed a mouthful of food. “Yeah she did! She was a new policeman...uh woman and they got called to a …”
Linda supplied the words. “Burglary in progress.”
“Yeah that and then Kelli heard a noise and yelled, police, you’re under arrest, then this big old raccoon jumped out at her and she screamed!” Jason was laughing, along with Vin and Linda. Andi dissolved into another fit of giggles.
“How was I supposed to know it was a raccoon? Lord, he made enough noise to wake the dead and all my partner could do was stand there and giggle! Go ahead and laugh, but it was dark and it could have been a burglar.” Kelli tried to sound serious, but failed.
“Don’t worry Kel, I only told them a few stories, I didn’t even tell them about the time at that club in Bossier City…”
“Linda!” Kelli blushed. When she saw the amusement in Vin’s eyes she said, “I’ll tell you later.”
“Can we show ‘em now?” Jason looked over at Linda who nodded yes. He started to get up and then he remember. “May I be excused?
“Sure pard,” Vin was still smiling thinking about the raccoon as Jason ran to get their packages.
He was back and Linda helped to pull out the first bag. “This is for Chris, so he will feel better, Linda helped us get it. We’re gonna wrap it and when he gets better we can take it to him.” He showed them the horse.” His mustang story is why I want to read so bad.”
“You did real good, Chris will like that a lot and especially knowin’ that his story got you interested in readin’.” Vin passed the horse to Kelli.
“It beautiful Jason, he’s sure to like it.” Kelli knew Chris would love it, simply because the kids picked it out.
“Vin can you help us wrap it, from me and Andi?”
“Be happy to and it looks like you may be able to give it to him yourself in just a few days.” Vin was just pleased to see Jason smiling.
“Great, me and Andi have to do it together though.” He hesitated about the next part. He had never given a gift before and he was a little bit afraid that they might not like it. “Me and Andi picked out something with our own money for you and Kelli, too.” He handed the other wrapped present to Kelli. It’s for both of you.”
Andi was bouncing up and down in her chair with excitement. Kelli already loved whatever it was and was touched that they would think about getting them something. “”I might need some help here, Tanner.” Vin reached over and together they opened it while two sets of little eyes watched.
Vin pulled out the little horses that fit the two little Larabees so well. His voice was heavy with emotion and he put an arm around Jason’s shoulder. “Thanks pard.” He also leaned over and kissed the top of Andi’s head.
Kelli was not sure she could speak at all and she did not want them to see her cry, so she did the best she could. She smiled, “This is somethin’ I’ll always treasure, thank you.” She stood up, kissed both kids on top of the head, and then started to pick up the mess from dinner.
Linda knew that her friend was emotional over the gift and distracted the kids. “Now, you two promised to introduce me to a purple dragon, didn’t you?”
Vin nodded to let them know it was okay and they took off. “Thanks Linda,” he whispered. She smiled and followed the kids to the other room. The Texan decided Kelli could use a hug; he damn sure knew he needed one. They stood there in the kitchen and he let her cry, while he tried to regain control of his own emotions. It was twenty minutes before they were able to join the others.
An hour later Spyro was getting sleepy according to Andi and within another thirty minutes, both children were bathed, dressed in clean pj’s and sound asleep.
Linda gathered her belongings to leave, “I had a fun time with them, thanks for trusting me with them.”
“You did good with ‘em.” Vin said as he picked up the living room. “Next time will even be better, now that they have accepted you.”
“I’m looking forward to it. I am spending the weekend at the Southern Breeze, but I’ll see y’all on Monday.” Linda and Kelli walked outside.
“You have had a busy week, Linda. You doing okay?”
“Yep, Dr. Ryder says I’m doing fine, I told her what I had planned and she approved, now all I have to do is be patient until I can talk to Chris.” She hugged Kelli. “I know it will all work out fine. Of course you might hear an explosion or two before we get through it all.”
“Call, if you need some backup.” Kelli laughed, “If I can’t come, I’ll send Vin.”
“I hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s nice to know I have family to count on.” Linda left and Kelli watched her drive off, thinking that it would be an interesting week ahead.
Chris was awake and for the first time in a long time, he did not hurt. He was clean, had eaten a light supper and was sitting by the fireplace watching the fire. Josiah was the only one with him and he sat quietly in the other chair.
“I imagine you expect me to talk.”
“Only if you want to, Chris.”
Larabee stared into the flames and thought about all that had happened in the last month, wondering how his life had gotten out of control so fast. *Yep, Chris you took off like the lone ranger and said to hell with everyone else. Just wanted to fix things, didn’t you? Had to be in control and look what happened. You ran all over Linda, who is supposed to be your life partner. You made decisions arbitrarily without thinking about anyone else or the consequences. You let your emotion override good common sense and made a bad situation worse with those damn pills. You hurt a lot of people and lost sight of reality. So, how in the hell do you start putting your life back together again?*
“I fucked up, Josiah. I feel like that damn egg that fell off that wall and broken into all those pieces. How do I put myself back together?”
“One piece at a time Chris, you can’t do it all at once. However, just like building a house, if you take it in steps, you can rebuild and make it stronger.”
“He made his choices a long time ago. Yes, life threw him some bad hands, but instead of dealing with them, he ran in the opposite direction as fast as he could and hid from his responsibilities. You had no control over that. He was fifteen when he left home; you were not twenty, yet. Do you really think you could have stopped him?”
Chris thought about that one. *Hell at nineteen, you could barely take care of yourself, Chris. Dealing with your dad’s cancer, college, work, and trying to make something better than what you grew up with was a full-time job. Jack had the same choices to make that you did, he did not have to run, he could have finished school and he never got the worst side of your dad either. You always stood between them. Could you have stopped him?*
“I guess not, but I always thought that I should have somehow.”
“He wanted someone to blame for his failures and the only way he could deal with them was to make you less than him.”
Larabee laughed and sarcastically said, “Well he damned sure succeeded didn’t he?”
Josiah learned forward. That is up to you. You still have choices, he doesn’t.”
Intense green eyes looked up. “I want my life back.”
“That’s how you start then. You want it; begin the journey that will get it for you, one step at a time.”
“I have to fix things with Linda first. I…Hell, I would not blame her if she walked out after the way I dismissed her. I did not consult with her about anything, just charged full speed ahead. We had a good thing and now…”
“You will have to face her and hear her out, but I think that her reactions may surprise you. She has been a very busy lady this week and except for this weekend has been here since you shut yourself up in that room. She spent this week getting her priorities straight, now it is your turn. I asked her not to return until Monday so you have some time to think about what you want to say to her.”
Josiah knew that Chris was tired, “Get some sleep Chris and take the next two days to think things over, if you want to talk, I will be here. Then Monday start taking your life back.”
Chris agreed, slowly he got up and moved to his room. Everything was fresh and nothing remained from the week of hell he spent in here. He crawled under the clean sheets and surprisingly fell asleep within a few minutes.
Chris did spend the weekend thinking things over and had come to a few decisions. He really wanted to make his life with Linda right again and prayed that she would at least hear what he had to say. However, waiting for her this morning his confidence faltered more than once. When he heard her drive up, he was both excited to see her and apprehensive about her possible rejection.
“Morning Linda, “Josiah greeted her first. “I’m going to be outside for a while to give you two some privacy.”
“Thanks Josiah, “she was a little nervous, but firm about what she had to say. “Chris you look much better than I expected.” She moved into the room and sat in the chair opposite him. “Are you ready to do this?”
“Linda I’m sorry about a lot of things. I did not consider you, our life or our future, I just took over and that was wrong.”
“Yes you did Larabee, but I have made a point to understand more about how drugs affect a person and I will not hold you entirely to blame. However, I want to tell you how I spent my week. And then if you are agreeable we will move on from there”
Chris was relieved that she was even talking to him and was prepared to listen to whatever she wanted to say.” You have my full attention.”
She decided to tell him about the generic things first, before she got to the more personal issues. “I re-took control of my life. I admit when Matt came and you disappeared I let go of who I was, that will not happen again. I had a long talk with Kelli and we have repaired the damage our friendship took. I also spent the week getting to really know this family better. I have spent time with all of them. I learned several things in an afternoon with Rain at the clinic and attended a few classes with Ezra.”
“Ezra? What kind of classes? Chris could not imagine where this was leading.
“Linda laughed, “Parenting classes and I went to a CASA meeting. I decided that if I was going to grow up before our child does, I needed to prepare myself. I have more planned to attend and I hope that you will go with me. I also spent time getting to know Jason and Andi. They are great kids, but before we make a decision about adopting them. I want us both to be sure that we do it for the right reasons. We have a lot to get straight with our lives before we should even consider it and that is why I think we should not make any decision for at least thirty days regarding the kids. That, I believe is a fair request.”
Chris thought about it and he knew that she was talking sensibly He had to get his own house in order and sort through his feeling about it first. He and the kids had come together during a crisis and admittedly, he had not though reasonably since then. Josiah and he had talked about it, too. If it was right, it would still be right in a month. “Okay, what else?”
“I turned control of the Southern breeze over to Matt. I do want some of my horses here, but I sold most of them back to the ranch. I also talked to my lawyer and have a prenuptial agreement for you to look at, most is what we already decided on, but I did add a few things.” She handed it to him and waited for him to read it.
He read it and quietly chuckled at parts of it. “You talked to everyone involved I assume?
“Yes, of course I did. All the children on the Larabee 7 will have a college fund set up in their name, with their parent’s approval. I really did not think that you would mind that part. It’s the other part I was concerned about.”
“It says that you will contribute an amount equal to my salary to our household each month. I guess I came on too damn strong about that. I can agree to that and to matching any yearly bonus, which is fair.”
“Good then that part is taken care off; all you have to do is sign it. Now it is time for the rest of it.”
“Oh yes, I scrapped the plans for the wedding. I think I was putting it off because I felt that something was missing and I just could not commit, so I stalled. I know now that what I really needed to do was grow up and be an equal partner in this relationship. If that’s what you want too, then I have other arrangements for us to consider.”
Chris got up, went over to sit next to his blond, put his arm around her, and then kissed her. “Equal partners sounds real good. I love you Linda, I want us to be together. From now on we make decisions, not you, not me, but us.”
Linda felt as if the weight of the world just slipped off her shoulders. “Then let’s discuss our options, make a decision and get our lives moving again.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.”
Josiah joined them for lunch and took a few minutes to talk with Chris afterward, while Linda was in the kitchen. “Are you feeling confident enough to be on your own?”
Chris made a point to look him in the eye. “After this morning, I have no doubt that I can make it and I am not going to travel this road alone. Go home Josiah, reacquaint yourself with your family. I may not remember much of the last ten days, but I do know that my family was with me, thanks.”
Sanchez stood up, “If you need to talk, you know how to reach me, anytime. Take care of each other and don’t look backwards, only forward.” Josiah left and said goodbye to Linda on his way out.
Joining her in the kitchen, Chris picked up the notepad on the table. “I think we need to make another list. First item, move me back into our bedroom.”
Linda laughed, “I do like the way you keep your priorities straight Cowboy.”
Once Linda and Chris started to work in concert, things moved quickly. Larabee felt his life begin to pull together and suddenly the future looked possible again. When he reviewed what Linda had suggested, he realized that she had indeed been on her own journey of discovery the past week and he was proud of what she had accomplished. He was even more impressed about the way that she had handled this crisis in their relationship.
Together they sat down and made plans for the coming week. Saturday they wanted the entire family here for a special get-together. Tonight though, they invited Vin and Kelli to dinner, Chris needed to face his daughter with an apology and it was past time to see the kids.
Chris was helping Linda with the last of the dinner preparation when he heard them coming. Of course, Andi’s voice was the loudest and when the door opened, he was ready for the rush. Both kids ran in like little tornados.
“Chris!” Jason and Andi both ran over to see for themselves that he was okay. Larabee caught them both in a hug and then stepped back to take a good look at them. It had only been ten days but he was surprised to see that they looked different somehow. Maybe it was seeing them for the first time without the haze of drugs clouding his vision.
Linda stopped what she was doing for her own hello.” I hope that you are hungry because dinner is almost ready.” She looked over their heads and smiled at Vin and Kelli. “That’s goes for you, too.”
“Kelli laughed, “Have you ever seen Vin turned down food?”
“Come to think of it…No.”
“Tanner does have a reputation to uphold. I think he could out eat anyone in the family, if he put his mind to it.” Chris smiled and gripped the Texan’s shoulder.” I’m glad you’re both here.”
“You look even better than you did Sunday.” Vin observed. “I take it things are okay on the home front.”
“Yeah, better than I deserve and I’m not complaining.”
Kelli helped Linda put the last of the food on the table and they sat down to eat. Chris noticed that both children were eating better and chatting more. Jason talked about school and Andi mostly prattled about Sarah and Maria. After dinner, they all moved to the den and he observed the looks the kids kept giving each other.
“Okay, what’s up? You two look as if you’re going to explode with excitement.” Chris was intrigued by their actions.
Vin handed Jason a bag and encouraged him to step up. “Me and Andi have something for you and Linda. Since ladies are s’posed to be first I reckon we start with Linda.” He reached in the bag and handed something to Andi.
She ran over to Linda and gave it to her. A red rose and two homemade Valentine’s cards. “Happy Valtines day.”
Linda was surprised, she open the cards and immediately recognized the scrawls of the two siblings. “Thank you.” She hugged them both.
“We made the cards, but Vin helped us get the rose. “Jason explained. “I know its not ‘til tomorrow, but I’ll be in school and we wanted you to have it all day.”
“Jason’s class is havin’ a party tomorrow and he spent all afternoon on cards for his classmates, he‘s been practicin’ writin’ his name for a week. Of course, Andi helped him, too.” Kelli clarified.
Linda passed the cards to Chris for him to see. “You did a great job on these and you know what? Linda and I are throwing a Valentine’s party here on Saturday and you are all invited as well as expected to be here.”
“Really? Wow!” He looked over at Vin and Kelly and saw them nod yes. “We’ll be here.”
Linda added.” It starts at noon and bring your appetites.”
Jason reached back in the bag. “Chris, we wanted you to feel better and when Linda took us to the mall we got you something.” He handed over the package. “It’s from both of us.”
Chris took his time to unwrap the gift and when he lifted the horse out of the box he was almost speechless.” He’s beautiful!”
“It’s like the horses you told us about in your story, the mustangs.” Jason said proudly, pleased that Chris like it.
“I love it and I will sit it right here on the mantel so I can see it everyday. Thank you both.” He hugged each child and felt his emotions swell up.
Linda stood up. “Who wants to help get the desserts for everyone?” Jason and Andi both volunteered and then followed her to the kitchen.
Chris shook his head and smiled. “They seem to be adjusting fine and they look so much healthier. You two have done well with them.”
“They make it easy, they are great kids.” Vin said with obvious pride.
Chris took a deep breath and decided now was the time to tell them. “Linda and I have decided to put any thinking about adoption on hold for the next month. I need to get my house in order first and work some things out before we make that big of a decision. Whatever we decide we will do it together and for the right reasons.”
Vin was quiet, thinking about all the time they had already spent with the kids. “I think we all want the same thing for them. Take your thirty days, they’re not going anywhere.”
Chris turned his attention to his daughter. “I owe you a big apology. I can’t tell you how sorry I am that I hurt you and I offer no excuse for my behavior.”
Kelli looked at him and thought about all that he had been through, “Apology accepted Dad, let’s move on and forget it.”
“Okay we will. Vin, I need you to hold things down at work just a little longer. I called Travis today and I am taking leave for another three weeks. I promise that when I come back, I will make sure you get some down time. You deserve it.”
“Hell Chris, I have to be there every day anyway. It don’t take that must extra time.” Vin leaned back on the couch and put his arm around Kelli.
“All the same, you’re gonna take some time. When I come back I will be one hundred percent and ready to go.” Chris felt better getting all that said and off his worry list. “I also ordered my new truck today and it will be here before then.”
Tanner laughed, “I bet I know just what you ordered too.” He knew by the look on Chris’ face that it was the same as the last Ram. “Ours will be in sometime this week; we went with the Tahoe Z71 4x4.”
Linda and the kids came back; she carried the larger tray, but found something for each child to be in charge of to bring. She chose a fruit dessert that was good and healthy. The conversation was light and after an hour, Andi began to rub her eyes, they all knew Jason would not be far behind.
Vin stood up, “Say your goodnight’s gang, it’s time to head for home.” Chris and Linda both received a hug. Andi did not protest when Tanner picked her up and she laid her head on his shoulder immediately. “We’ll see y’all tomorrow.”
Chris stood up, “Just one more thing.” He hugged Kelli and whispered to her. “I love you Red.” He was reassured that she had forgiven him, when she hugged him back.
The rest of the week Linda and Chris worked to finish the things to do on their list before Saturday. They saw Linda’s lawyer, had George move the horses that she wanted to the Larabee 7 and decided on some changes to make to the ranch house for the baby’s room. Although Chris wanted to do all of the work himself, that was just not possible. They did agree for a contractor to do the structural work, beginning next week, while Larabee would do the inside painting and wallpaper after they decided on colors.
They also signed up for some future classes that Ezra suggested they take. Preparation for the party on Saturday and shopping for the nursery took up the rest of their time. They wanted Saturday to be fun, but also to be a celebration of renewal; Chris had made it through the storm and he was more than ready to see the rainbow.
Day of celebration-February 18th
The house decorations had a Valentine’s theme, with white silk ribbons and red hearts gracing the room, soft music played in the background. White and red roses were everywhere, including a huge centerpiece on the dining room table already laden with food to serve buffet style.
Linda and Chris dressed for the occasion; she wore a beautiful white chiffon, floor length gown, empire cut with flowing sleeves, reminiscent of the renaissance period; he wore black dress slacks with a red shirt that also had renaissance inspired billowing sleeves, pointed collar and a long open neck, with white laces, instead of buttons. Both portrayed the look of romance and as an added touch, symbolic of the last few weeks, a rainbow of flowers arched over the fireplace.
Josiah and family were the first to arrive. “Chris you look great, I see that Linda has been taking good care of you.” Sanchez was glad to see the improvement, not only physically, but mentally too. The smile on Larabee’s face spoke for him.
“That she has Josiah and I am better.” Chris flashed him a grin, “But not as good as I’m going to be after a day of renewal with my family.”
When JD and Casey arrived, the twins were asleep. Casey was quick to point out that the quiet was not expected to last long. “They’re just recharging their batteries for later.” She hugged Linda. “You look great, now what can I do to help out with the party.
“Thanks Casey, maybe you and Mallory could oversee the activities at the buffet table.” Linda smiled, “Mostly it’s to be a day of fun.”
JD had his video camera. “I never go anywhere with the twins without this. You want me to record the party?”
“That JD is an excellent idea, please do, this is a day with my family that I would like to be able see again.” Chris patted him on the shoulder.
Matt was next and sought out Linda first. “Here I was concerned about you and you look better than ever.”
“I told you that you worry too much, I’m fine and so is Chris.” Linda kissed him on the cheek, “Now if you will excuse me, I need to play hostess.” She saw the Wilmingtons and the Jacksons come in.
Sarah ran directly over to Chris. “Uncl Chris!” He managed to catch her as she took a flying leap of faith that he would.
“Hello munchkin,” He held her and greeted her mom and dad at the same time. ”Hey you two, how did you manage that?” Maria was sleeping on her dad’s shoulder.
“Hey stud, I suppose she’s resting up to chase her Uncle Vin around all day.” He grinned, “Her and Andi seem to have a conspiracy going on to wear out that Texan.”
“You look good Boss,” Nathan smiled. “How are you feeling?”
“Couldn’t be better if I tried,” Chris kissed Rain on the cheek. “Thanks to my doctor and her husband.”
Vin, Kelli and the kids joined them. “Wow! Our school party didn’t look like this!” Jason was impressed and before Chris knew it, he was holding Andi, too.
Kelli laughed, “Kinda got your hands full Lar’bee.”
Chris did not mind, it felt good to have all the kids in the same room and he looked around to take stock of all the people that he was grateful to have in his life. “Hey where’s Ezra?”
Tanner grinned, “He’ll be here any minute and he’s bringing someone very important with him.” He addressed Buck, “Bucklin it’s a woman and try not to embarrass her too much. Ez is already nervous about Barbara meetin’ the wild bunch as it is.”
“Barbara huh, is she a new lady friend?”
“A special Lady, Buck, very special, so behave.” Vin became serious. “She is also the lawyer that got us custody of Jason and Andi.”
“Buck will behave or else. “Inez elbowed her husband.” Here they are now.”
“Barbara, this is Chris Larabee and Linda Dubois, the rest of this wild bunch of family you’ll meet during the course of the day. Chris, Linda, meet Barbara Lindsey.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you Miss Lindsey, welcome to the Larabee 7 and our party. When Ezra asked about bringing you out, we were delighted and I know you want to meet the children so please make yourself at home.” Chris was a congenial host.
Ezra stayed close to Barbara all afternoon. It was obvious that she was someone special for him and he made a point to introduce her to the entire family. Barbara spent extra time talking to the children and watching how they all responded to Standish only reinforced her first impressions that Ezra was a soft touch when it came to the kids.
“Ezra you have been holding out on me.” Barbara whispered in his ear. “I didn’t know you were already engaged to be married.”
Standish was dumbfounded and gave Barbara an incredulous look. “I assure you dear lady, I have no fiancée.”
“I believe Joanne may have a different idea about that. She plans to marry you when she grows up.” She smiled when Ezra attempted a long explanation. ”Relax Standish I think I can negotiate with her, a new Barbie doll and I believe you’re off the hook.” Amusement danced in her eyes.
“Replaced by a Barbie doll, oh the pain.” The impish look in her hazel eyes had Ezra smiling back and he stole a quick kiss. “You Lindsey have a mean streak, but… I think I’ll keep you around anyway.”
With all the family in attendance, Chris called them together. When he saw Orrin slip in unnoticed, he was ready to say a few words.
“Linda and I wanted to do something special for the family today. This last month has been a dark period in our lives and now the sun is shining over Larabee 7 again. I might not be standing here today if it were not for all of you and definitely not without the lady beside me. Today we celebrate a renaissance, which means a renewal of our family bonds and a new beginning for Linda and me. They say timing is everything and for us this is the perfect time to begin our lives as husband and wife. Josiah, the man that does know how to keep a secret, has agreed to perform the ceremony, Matt is here to give her away, and the people that we love most surround us.”
The family broke out with loud hoots of joy and laughter; above the noise, Buck shouted. “It’s about time stud!”
Chris held up his hands for quiet. “Hold on a minute! Vin, I was best man at your wedding and I would be honored if you would stand with me. Kelli, not only as my daughter, but as Linda’s oldest friend we want you to stand with us, too. JD, you keep that camera going please.”
Josiah stood under the rainbow arch and the room grew quiet. Well almost quiet, the murmur of small voices that had no idea what was happening, but caught up in the excitement just the same, echoed throughout the room. Chris and Vin stood on one side of the ‘preacher’, Kelli on the other. Matt took Linda’s arm and led her through the cluster of family to Chris.
The ceremony took only fifteen minutes and the exchange of rings led to a long awaited announcement from Josiah. ”Friends, family, it is my pleasure to present to you Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Larabee. Let the celebration begin.”
Three hours later, somewhere between all the hugs, toasts, kids and congratulations, Vin and Kelli helped the newlyweds slip out the back door to Linda’s waiting vehicle.
*Take care Cowboy, we’ll handle things here.*
*Thanks Vin, see you in a few days.*
Kelli hugged Linda and kissed Chris. “In case I haven’t told you, I love you, dad. Make your own book of memories and be happy.” She stepped back into the circle of Vin’s waiting arms and watched them drive off.
“I don’t know how in the hell they pulled this off in secret, but ‘m glad they did; now maybe their lives will be easier.” Kelli commented.
Vin tightened his hold on his redhead and kissed the back of her neck. “They finally figured out what we already know. When two people that love each other stand together, they can take on anythin’ that life throws at ‘em.
“Love you, Tanner.” Kelli leaned back into him.
“Love you, Texas,” He stole one more kiss. “I reckon we should rejoin the party and recruit some clean-up help.”
Two-hours later Chris and Linda stood in front of the same château where they had consummated their love affair ten months earlier. There was more snow, but the view was still spectacular and the inside was prepared for their arrival.
“I don’t know how Ezra managed all this, but he did a helluva job.” Chris set Linda on her feet after carrying her through the door.
“Well, we had to talk about something on the drive to and from those classes last week. I told him we wanted to spend some time here again and he arranged it. I just neglected to mention that we would be married before we got here.”
Chris slipped his arms around her and claimed a long passionate kiss. ”Mrs. Larabee, I love you.”
“Mr. Larabee, don’t you know that actions speak louder than words.” Linda wrapped her arms around his neck, returning his kiss with one filled with love and passion. The emotions linking them were a strong and powerfulbonding of their commitment to one another, stronger than they had ever been. They made it through the fire and only wanted to look forward as lovers, partners and as best friends to travel the road to their future together. They began their marriage, making love with a zealous desire for each other and hearts full of love. Unlike the last time they were here, there was no frenzied rush, but a slow and sensual, loving union.
It was much later when they found themselves sitting in front of the fireplace cuddled together on the couch, that Chris remembered the letter. “Linda did you bring the packet from you dad?”
“Yes and I’m one step ahead of you, they’re right here.” She reached across him and took the envelope off the end table.
“Go ahead babe, open it, we’re together and I know you can handle it.” Linda took a deep breath and lovingly opened the envelope, two letters slipped out, along with a small key. One addressed to her and one to her new husband. She opened the one for her.
“Well baby girl, if you are reading this I guess my time ran out and cheated me of the opportunity to walk you down the aisle. I know that you looked beautiful and I probably would have cried. Hell, I am tearing up now just writing this. I wish for you a long life of happiness and love; always remember that even at life’s worst, love can survive, if you allow it. That little key is for a safety deposit box at my bank. Inside you will find your grandmother’s heirloom jewelry and the more expensive pieces that your mother added; it is all yours to do with, as you want. I pray that you are blessed with a daughter of your own so you can understand how much joy you brought into my life. I love you princess, now and forever.”
Tears streamed down her face as she passed the letter to Chris. Memories flooded her mind of the man that was such a strong presence in her life for so many years. She already knew that she would share the jewelry with her family of sisters on the Larabee7 and save the special pieces for the future daughters that she hoped to be blessed with.
Chris wiped her tears and held her close, offering her his love for her to lean on. She urged him to open his letter and watched his face as he read it.
“I do not know your name, but I do know that my little filly has led you on a merry chase. If you have survived long enough to catch her, consider yourself a fortunate man. She is strong-willed, stubborn, and wild-spirited, she can be a handful to handle. She is also the greatest treasure of my life and will be for you, too. Love her, respect her and allow her spirit to fly. Mistreat her and I will be waiting for you when you get here, to take you apart piece by piece.
Their journey into the future awaited them, but they knew that together they were stronger and could face anything.