MCAT: Turbulent Transition #7
Chapter 1 - 3 | Chapter 4 - 6 | Chapter 7 - 9 | Chapter 10 - 12 | Chapter 13 - 15
Characters: Chris, Vin and the rest of the seven~ Orrin Travis ~ Nettie, Rain, Casey, plus OC.
Rating: Het ~ Strong R due to offensive language and violence. MCAT case deals with a sensitive subject matter.
SIZE: Approx. 400K
Special disclaimer:The subject matter of the MCAT case is a sensitive one and in the course of writing about it certain offensive terms are used that do NOT reflect the views of either author.
Disclaimer:This is entirely a work of fiction, for entertainment purposes only, based on the characters from “The Magnificent Seven.” I don’t own them, but if I did I would run away with ‘em and never be seen again. CBS and Co., Trilogy Entertainment, and MGM had ‘em first and do not want to give ‘em away. I only play at this for fun and do not make any money doing it. No infringement of any copyrights is intended. This is strictly a piece of fiction, any references to locations or people are only for story use and is not intended to depict any real place or person.
MCAT AU: MCAT (Major Crimes and Acts of Terrorism) is under the leadership of Commander Chris Larabee. It is an independent, versatile, responsive, and respected premier Federal law enforcement agency, demonstrating excellence in all aspects of its operations. In the last year, this MCAT unit has done outstanding work on a number of cases. Most notably, this unit has neutralized three terrorist’s threats, halted at least two assassination attempts of high ranking officials, taken on serial killers, public corruption, computer crimes, and formed several specialized task forces to thwart major criminal activities.
Chris, along with three members of his extended family of brothers, (Vin, Buck, Nathan) and their families reside on the Larabee 7. The seven men work together, and jointly own the ranch, where they are raising thoroughbreds, quarter horses and children. Ezra lives in town, while Josiah and JD reside on adjoining properties to the ranch with their families. This first series establishes relationships and provides background for the characters in this AU. ‘Reconciliations” is the seventh story in this series.
MCAT Story #7 ~ Reconciliations (shared in three parts) follows the events that transpired in MCAT #6, Addition and Apprehensions, and references previous stories in this series. It unfolds a year of changes for the Wild Bunch filled with emotional upheavals and danger that will either break them apart or mend the cracks in their relationships that have weakened their bond of strength.
Part 1 ~ Reclamation ~ Chris encounters turbulence as he attempts to reconcile his life, his career, and his marriage. In the meantime Vin sets out alone on a quest to protect his brothers, MCAT, and his family; while Nathan encounters roadblocks in his struggle to recover the balance in his life.
Part II ~ Revelations. Events coincide to reveal hidden truths, as life-altering affirmations are disclosed, and the entire family is forced to confront an evil that lurks in the shadows of their lives, hell-bent on destroying the life that they all cherish.
Part III ~ Resolutions. Brings the Turbulent Transitions series to a conclusion and will lay the pathway for Series Two ~”Strength in Solidarity”.
Acknowledgments: I fell in love with this creative new AU for the Seven the first moment I read Transitions...and then the subsequent stories that followed that drew me further into the lives, relationships, and intriguing cases of the Seven. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to write with Sherry because I found a dear friend along the way. I want to add my thanks to Sarai for her beta work and Jan for her inspired comments and advice...Wendy
My thanks go to my friend and co-writer Wendy for her talent, and great advice. It has been a fun experience to share the writing of this story with her. Sarai for your brilliant beta work, thank you. Jan, you are greatly appreciated, Jo your artwork is inspirational, and Tonny, thanks for your contribution…I also want to say a special thank you to all of you who have been with me from the inception of my MCAT AU, all the way to the end of this first set of stories. Your comments and suggestions have inspired many ideas along the way, and helped give me the encouragement to continue writing. Looking back to the first story in the series, Transitions, I find that I have also gone through my own transition as a writer. Hopefully I have entertained you with my take on the Seven, keeping the integral parts of each of their individual personalities in tact, while creating new characters for them to interact with, as well as realistic situations for them to work their way through. I will continue to write in the MCAT AU and appreciate y'all for taking the time to ride along....Tannertexaslady...
Both of us would like to thank Bountyhunter'slady for the great collage for this story.
Notes: Any mistakes are ours. The original characters I have created for this series are mine.
Epilogue from MCAT # 6 Additions and Apprehensions
Chris had spent the last ten days in hell. He had yet to break through Linda’s defenses and be allowed to see his baby daughter. Every day he had at least two different family members stopping by to ‘check’ on him. Everyone that was, except Vin or Kelli. He had not even seen Jason or Andi over the last week and a half either, or any of the other kids. Not only that, he was shut out of any mention about MCAT. He didn't know what bothered him more, the fact that he was persona non grate where MCAT was concerned, or the fact that he was being kept away from all of the children. They were treating him as if he was some crazed junkie who couldn't be trusted around children, and Linda's behavior was far worse than anyone else's.
She was his damn wife for Christ's sake! She had promised to love and honor him, to stand by him in sickness and health, and what had she done at the first time of trouble? Linda had run home to Southern Breeze and taken Grace with her!
What in the hell did they all think he would do? Get so wasted on painkillers that he couldn't remember his own goddamn name? Or worse yet, forget where he had placed Grace? To hell with them, Chris, you know you can handle yourself, let them keep the kids away, sooner or later they will realize that you don’t need any outside help. They are the ones that need to wake up and smell the coffee, not you!
Chris stalked out of his house and headed toward the barn bent on working out some of his anger by cleaning out the stalls. Or maybe he would just take off on a long ride on Pony? It had been ages since he had ridden the gelding, and he was sure Pony was anxious to be out of his confinements just as much as Larabee was.
He was nearing the barn when he caught sight of a small figure standing at the corral, gazing through the fencing at the young foals frolicking inside it. A smile creased Chris's lips as he changed directions from the barn to the corral. He walked up to the corral and folded his hands over the top railing.
Jason had seen his uncle approaching and was torn between being glad to see him and the old fears he had whenever Jack was around. But he was a Tanner now and decided that he would not be afraid and he held his ground.
"They sure are a sight, aren't they?" Chris asked his nephew.
"Yeah, they are." Jason said softly. He didn't know what to do. It had been clear since his mom and dad had come home, that something wasn't right between them and their uncle Chris. His Dad had explained that Chris was going through a tough time right now, and that he needed to be left alone to make some hard decisions.
But Jason knew better, no one had to tell him, he had been around Jack too long and seen him make and break promises about not getting sick anymore. Jack always promised…and so had Chris.
Chris turned to look down at Jason and saw the troubled expression on the six-year-old's face. "What's wrong?"
“You’re sick again aren’t you?”
“What did your parents tell you Jason?” Chris felt his anger surge and tried to hide it.
"Only that you had some hard decisions to be making." Jason told him honestly.
“Then why do you think I’m sick?" Chris was watching the different emotions cross Jason’s face.
“Cause of him…Jack…he didn’t think I knew either, but I did. Just like I know you meant to keep your promise…but…it’s hard isn’t it? It always comes back.” The disappointment in his voice broke Larabee’s heart.
Chris felt as if someone had just thrown ice water in his face. How could a six- year- old child see so clearly what he had refused to? It always comes back.
It took him a minute to find his voice, but he did not want Jason to see him the same way he remembered Jack. “Sometimes it does, but ...there are ways to stop the sickness from ever coming back.”
“Do you know how to stop it Uncle Chris?” Jason’s blue eyes were filled with hope. Hope that his Uncle Chris could make it stop. He wanted to believe it …he needed to believe it.
Chris realized in that instant that he had only been fooling himself…This addiction was like some monster lurking in the darkness, just waiting for the next opportunity to grab him.
“Yeah... I think I do. It may take some time, but Jason, I will do it. Will you give me a chance to prove it to you?”
Jason threw his arms around his uncle’s neck and Chris held on tight. “I love you Uncle Chris.”
“I love you too, pard.” Chris reluctantly let him go. ”You best run on home, I bet your Mom and Dad are wondering where you are. Don’t worry any more I’ll be fine.” He watched as Jason jumped down and ran toward home.
Chris headed into the house…to make a phone call.
And now it begins…Reconciliations
Part 1 ~ Reclamation
Journal Entry September 14th ~Reclamation~ week two
I have not written in here for a while… It’s been too long, I’m afraid. I am not sure that I can even write about the last few months just now, but I can write about the last two weeks. It began September third…I can now admit that I have a problem with addiction to pills, and it took a six-year-old to lead me to the truth about myself. Regardless of the reasons, or how I became addicted…, I was in trouble, nonetheless. Jason’s four simple words reached deep inside of me in a way that no one else’s has since this whole situation occurred. While he might be a Larabee by blood, he has already become a Tanner through and through with his own unique ability to see into the hearts of the people around him, especially the adults, and call them on things that they don't want to admit. “It always comes back…”
Making the phone call to the counselor Josiah recommended to me, was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. After two weeks of intense, one-on one sessions, as well as participating in group meetings three times a week, I see my life from a different perspective now. Before I could attempt to untangle the mess I made with my family, friends, and work; I had to learn a few things. Most importantly that there is no quick fix, and it will take time to straighten my life out. I also had to realize that it will be an ongoing process that will never be finished. The counseling will end eventually, but I will never be an ex-addict, only a reformed one.
The withdrawal stage was hell. Recognizing, and admitting that I had a problem was even worse. A man doesn't like to admit that he's wrong about anything, especially me! It seems that I have been wrong about a great many things recently. Eating humble pie has never been my strong suit. I have learned that what is called early recovery pertains to the first two years of abstinence…not just the first two months. Finally I have come to accept that I must make an ongoing effort to keep a clean and sober lifestyle to remain free from addictive substances. This is where my counseling and attendance at recovery group support meetings come in to play... Recovery is not an event that happens at a given time. It is a process of involvement that encompasses all aspects of my life.
Narcotics Anonymous provides a recovery process and support network inextricably linked together. One of the keys to NA’s success is the therapeutic value of addicts working with other addicts. Members share their successes and challenges in overcoming active addiction and living drug-free productive lives through the application of the principles contained within the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of NA. These principles are the core of the Narcotics Anonymous recovery program. I believed that admitting I had a problem was the hard part, but making amends to everyone I have hurt is going to be a challenge.
Besides keeping a record of my progress, my counselor also informed me that I needed to find a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who will help me to stay on track, be brutally honest with me at all times, and see to it that I don't get away with using excuses to explain my actions or feelings. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that I was hesitant about getting a sponsor. I've never been one to talk easily about my feelings, outside of my brothers...especially Vin. To have to do so with a total stranger is something that I'm not comfortable with at all, but if it helps in getting my life and family back to some resemblance of what it used to be...then I'll do just about anything...even talk to a stranger.
Impatient, controlling man that I am, I wanted it all to be wrapped up in a neat little package, finished and for me to be able to move on…that is not gonna happen…not this time. I have found the hardest part to ‘fix’ is with those people closest to me. So, I started with the relationships outside my family first, and then moved onto the Wild Bunch.
I went to the hospital and to see Raphael. He assured me that Victor Donner was the man he blamed for his being laid up in that hospital bed, and not me. Thank God he is recovering! Although I still feel at least partially responsible for his condition, he refuses to judge me, and said he would go undercover with me again if the need arises in the future. Cordova is a good man and a damn fine partner.
Josiah…well is Josiah. He has the patience and wisdom of a saint and I am humbled by his faith in me. He will bide his time and wait to see what I will do, and he has the tenacity to keep me focused if I wander off track. Buck has seen me at my worst too many times to reiterate here and no matter what, he always stays and I am extremely lucky to have such a steadfast friend in my life. I know we will be fine. Nathan sees my problem from a medical perspective and that’s okay. Ezra is not naive about the evils of the world and he is willing to let me work through what I need to. JD does not understand it all, but he has shown more insight than I would have given him credit for in the past. Underestimating him in anything isn't something I'm going to be so quick to do in the future. All of them, however, are waiting to see how I handle things with Vin.
Vin…At this point I am not sure how or if I will ever be able to ‘make amends’’ to him. I do know that it will take a good long time before we reach the level of trust and friendship we have always taken for granted. I went too far over the line this time to expect unconditional forgiveness from him. If it were only a matter of our friendship; I have no doubt that he would forgive me in a heartbeat. But I hurt more than our friendship. I struck at the core of who he is and the people he cares most about. I disrespected the man, called him irresponsible, andinsinuated that he was not concerned about the unit, or the lives of the people on our team. I accused him of greed and valuing his temporary position as the commanding officer of MCAT as being more precious than the gift of life. I deliberately attempted to undermine his marriage and failed him as a brother. Yet he has not once said one judgmental word to me…
Some of the things that I had accused him of doing were the very things I was actually guilty of myself. I got too wrapped up in my own personal crusade to save as many children as I could, as if believing that by doing so I was making up for my not being able to protect Kelli from all she had endured as a child, and to prevent Grace from ever being hurt in such a manner in the future. The Demerol in Mexico may have been unintentional, but the pills I took after that were my choice to take, and I could have thrown them away. I refused to listen to anyone and damn near hit bottom before I realized what I had done. Several people that I care about were hurt in the process. Hard truths to swallow, but if I am to be completely free, I need to at least be honest with myself.
Tanner has been in charge during the rebuilding phase of MCAT and the new office will open in a couple of weeks. Our injured teammates are recovering slowly, but surely. Vin has done a helluva job under a tremendous amount of pressure and I should have told him that, but…. Once I return to work, I hope we can find our way back to the easy comradeship we had before, or close to it. Time will tell. In the meantime we will be polite to one another for the sake of our families and the children. Vin personally asked for a truce between us and wants me to attend Jason’s birthday party next Wednesday.
Kelli…I lost all the progress I had made with her as a father. Expecting her to choose me over Vin was a big mistake on my part and one that I will have to work hard to mend if I am to restore our personal relationship. As far as work is concerned, she is a professional and while we may not have the easiest time of it, I expect we will manage. I still have almost sixty days to work out how I will handle myself with the unit when Travis gives me the green light to go back.
Linda…Part of my recovery is to make amends to those that I have hurt. As difficult as the last eight months have been on me, they have been hard on her too. She has had to endure so much in just a short amount of time in our married life, that I'm going to try my damnest to make things up to her. I want to make her happy, but I realize that might not be as easy to do as I hoped it would. She has given me a list of her demands and I will make every effort to address each one, but we will have to reach some kind of compromise on more than one of them. I do want her and Grace back here on the Larabee 7 though, so I have agreed to accept as many of her ‘requests' as reasonably possible. Having Grace with me is worth a few sacrifices of comfort.
She wants me to quit working with MCAT…I agreed to stay more on the administrative side and do less field work.
She wants more time away from the Wild Bunch…I agreed on one family get together per month, along with the children’s birthdays. I refused to give up attending them, and she reluctantly agreed.
She wants to remodel the house with her money so her old jet-set friends can come visit for a week-end or two….I agreed to allow her to do the remodeling on the condition that she has to keep me informed of what she plans to do, before any of it takes place.
She insists that we do more together as a couple: romantic dinners, attend the theater, going to parties given by some of her friends, and traveling …I agreed to try to do more of these things with her, although I don't see us traveling much right now . Grace is far too little to be jet-setting all over the world, and I'm not willing to go more than a day without seeing my little girl.
She wants a full-time live-in Nanny for Grace…I agreed to a part-time Nanny that does not live with us.
She and Grace are coming home today…
MCAT Office ~8:00am
Monday September 24th
JD was in heaven. All the high-tech equipment now accessible to MCAT was mind boggling to most of them, but for Dunne it was ideal. There were big screens for teleconference calls, satellite links, and even more enhancements for CASSIE. He could now access any system in the world from here and still remain anonymous. The newest surveillance tools were at his fingertips making it easy to track just about anyone, anywhere and he loved it. Best of all, this was his baby, he was in charge of this computerized wonderland, and the operatives he added were under his authority.
Orrin Travis chuckled watching the younger man beam with pride. “I believe Agent Dunne is in his element.”
Vin agreed with a grin. “If it beeps, dings, rings, pings, whirs, or clicks he has it covered.”
“When I found this location, I saw many possibilities for MCAT; I have to admit, though, with your detailed plans, JD’s electronic wizardry, and the input of the others it is more than I imagined. Who would have believed that an old airfield with a few buildings on it now houses the best-equipped, specialized law enforcement Agency in the country? The remarkable part is that to the outside observer, it is still a small nondescript airfield situated in the middle of nowhere. Yet our lab rivals the one at Quantico and our training facilities are some of the best I have ever seen. Well done, Tanner.”
“Thank you sir, but I didn’t do it alone.” The Texan was quick to point out to Director Travis. “We all worked together to come up with a feasible way to implement your required guidelines, and added what we believed was necessary to get the job done. We should be operational within two weeks, and then we can put our attention to addin’ personnel. Greg and Kat will be out a few more weeks, but accordin’ to their doctors they will be able to return to their duties then. Raphael needs another six weeks before he’ll be at a hundred percent, and Mark will be back with us in a month or so. JD has even found a place in the computer sector for Ross, if he decides to come back.”
“I particularly like the fact that while you had the contractors allow a detached space for our jet and helicopter, my office is separated in the smaller building. Renovating the larger hanger into office space, and using the other one for the lab was perfect. I am close enough, but not too close.” Travis laughed. “I’m an old man and need my occasional solitude.”
Tanner grinned, “With all due respect sir, you’re one old man I wouldn’t want to tangle with.”
Travis laughed at the younger man’s remark and then became serious. “I did take note that you made sure that Chris’s office was included. Should I take that to mean that you two have worked out your differences?”
“It means…that I expect Commander Lar’bee to resume his MCAT duties.” Vin was not prepared to say more and was relieved when Josiah drew the Director’s attention.
“Sanchez, do you have your list of requests ready concerning your needs for your profiling team?” Travis questioned.
“Certainly sir, step into my office.” Josiah grinned and directed Travis around the construction that was still going on and into his new space.
Vin looked around and he felt good about what they had pulled together. When his eyes came to rest on the door to what would be Chris’s office he wondered if he would be around as Captain to see this unit operational? Time and fate will tell you Tanner.
Larabee 7 Ranch ~3:00pm
Chris sat on the porch with Grace in his arms. He could not get enough of holding his baby daughter. It seemed as if it had been forever since he had seen Grace and now that she was in front of him he was reluctant to let her go.She had changed so much since he had seen her last. The blonde tufts of hair he remembered her having when he had gone undercover, had grown longer into cute little waves. She seemed to have grown at least six inches, and gained some weight to boot. Her smile was a bit lopsided like his, but it had the ability to warm his heart with its innocence. Linda had come in with the baby ten days ago, and had quickly settled back in. The nights had belonged to Larabee and his wife, renewing their commitment to one another and making love. Today Linda had headed into town early, and it was just him and Grace sitting on the deck enjoying the beauty of the day.
Buck pulled into the driveway, spying Chris sitting on the porch from the front window of his truck. He got out, and walked up onto the porch. He stood and observed the pair for several moments before he spoke. “There’s just something about little girls that make grown men melt into puddles of mush.”
Chris grinned up at him. “I don’t know about all of ‘em Buck, but this one sure does.”
“Trust me, all little girls have the ability to wrap their daddies around their pinkie fingers.” Buck said, thinking of two particular little imps that held his heartstrings in their tiny hands. He pulled up a chair and sat down. “It’s good to see you two together again. How’s Linda?”
Larabee hesitated a moment too long in answering, alerting his old friend that all was not as it seemed. “She’s okay. I expect it will take a bit of time before she completely gets over all that happened. I agreed that she can do some remodeling around here to keep her busy and she is out shopping this morning. I expect that she’ll be hauling in a bunch of fabric samples and such for me to look at.”
Wilmington cringed. “Ouch. I hate it when Inez wants to redo anything. I’d just as soon she did it and then showed me afterwards.”
“You two don’t have that much longer for Tannis to arrive. How is Inez doing?” Chris shifted the now sleeping Grace to his other arm.
“Hell, you know Inez. She’ll be blowing and going right up to the time of delivery.” Buck brought up his reason for stopping by. “Walter said you looked over the plans for the new building project. I wanted to check with you and see if you had any changes in mind to make while we still can.”
“No, everything looked okay to me. He said it could all be finished quickly as long as we all approved, so I told him to continue working on it. Vin did a good job on the blueprints and camouflaging the facilities as barns was smart.”
Buck did not mask his surprise. “How did you know it was Vin’s idea about the camouflage and that he drew up the blueprints for us?”
“I’ve seen enough of Tanner’s plans in the last nine years to recognize his work when I see it. And before you ask…No, we haven’t had any serious discussions yet. Give it time Buck.”
“Okay, I won’t push. Ezra and Barbara will be back tomorrow. They didn’t want to miss Jason’s birthday party. I assume you and Linda will be there too.”
“Yep, and I’ll be on my best behavior so relax. This is a big day for Jason and I want him to have good memories of it. It’ll be his first real birthday party since he was two, and he has this huge new family to share it with. Besides, a boy doesn’t turn seven every day.”
“Nope, and Caleb can hardly wait. Those two have become best friends. He’s anxious to give Jason the birthday presents that we bought for him.”
“What did you get him?” Chris asked.
“More Denver Bronco gear, of course. I tell you, those two have become dedicated fans since Vin and I took ‘em to that exhibition game.”
“So I heard. We’re giving him tickets to next Sunday’s game.” Chris smiled, “Four of ‘em so you and Caleb can attend too.”
Buck grinned. “You’ll send him over the moon with those. Maybe you and…”
Chris interrupted, and shook his head. “I’ll get my chance to take him, just not now.” You hope Larabee, with time and fate’s help.
Linda returned home just then. She was excited about the plans that she had made for her and Chris, as well as the details of the changes that she wanted to do to the house to make it more hers. Her excitement dimmed a little when she noticed the other truck in the driveway parked beside Chris.Can’t any of his family leave us alone for one day? One day, is that too damn much to ask? She quickly stamped down on her anger, as she got out of her car. I’ll make the most of it by asking Buck for that favor I was going to have Chris call him about later.
As the sound of a vehicle pulling into the driveway, Chris glanced over the railing and saw that it was Linda. Buck too, noticed the new arrival and the conversation between the two men changed, as Linda came up onto the porch with her hands full of loaded bags. Chris cringed inwardly when he saw the bags, and wondered how much money she had wasted that day.
“Howdy Buck, I’m glad you’re here. I need a favor.” Linda set her packages down.
Chris was curious. “What kind of favor?”
“I booked Chris and me a week at the same chateau we honeymooned at and I need Inez to watch Grace for us while we’re gone.” She turned to Buck. “We’ll leave this Thursday and be back on October sixth.”
“Linda I have recovery meetings to attend; I cannot stay away for a week.” Chris reminded her.
Buck stood up. “I’m gonna let you two work on this. When you have it all figured out give Inez a call. See you later Chris.” He wasted no time getting out of the potential argument he saw brewing.
“I don’t see what the big deal is if you miss a session or two. I thought I was more important than any old meeting anyway.’ Linda pouted.
Chris sighed. “You are important, but I have to continue counseling or I can’t return to work.”
“And that would be bad because?” Linda recognized the stubborn look on Chris’s face. “I know why. You want to go back to that horrible job.”
Ignoring the jab at MCAT, Chris continued. “We might be able to go for one night, but that’s about all for now.”
“Fine! I’ll call and change the reservation.” She pulled an envelope out of her bag and handed it to Chris. “I got the Bronco tickets, but instead of one game I paid for season tickets for the entire family and added another set for all of Buck’s brood.”
“Linda that is way too much to spend on a birthday gift for a seven-year-old.” Chris shook his head when he saw that she had no idea what he was talking about.
“Never mind, I’ll handle it.”
“I don’t see the problem; it’s not as if we can’t afford it.” Linda sighed. “Do what you want Chris. Just let me know when you can squeeze me in.” Linda stood up and then went inside, leaving Chris and Grace alone.
Chris fingered the envelope trying to decide what to do about the tickets. Looks as if you’re gonna either have to change them yourself or talk to Vin. How in the hell did a simple birthday present become so complicated? Hell, when did your life get so complicated Larabee? When you started caring about life again Chris, you opened yourself up to all that goes with it. Now you have friends, brothers, sister-in-laws, nieces, nephews, a wife, and two daughters. They all expect you to be there. How can I be there for them? I can barely be there for myself right now.
Looking down at the little angel in his arms Chris knew that somehow, someway he would do whatever was required to keep her in his life. He could live with a few changes here at home and he had managed a standoffish attitude at work before. He could do it again. That was before team seven Chris, and … meeting Vin. Can you really go back to the way you were? I really don’t have a choice…do I?
Chris whispered softly to his sleeping daughter. “Don’t worry Grace…Daddy will move heaven and earth if he has to, but we will stay together. I lost Adam too early, and was not there for twenty-five years of Kelli’s life, but I won’t lose you.” He kissed the top of her head “For now, you and I will start some dinner before your old dad has to feed the horses.”
Linda slammed her bag onto the bed. Okay Larabee, I’ll let you slide on the weeklong second honeymoon, but you had better go along with my other plans or we will have a big problem. No more will I sit in the background and let your work and your brothers run our lives! I am your wife and it is about damn time that you remember that! I promise you that by the first of the year you will be out of MCAT and we will have our own ranch with a full-time Nanny for Grace. Then it will be just you and me.
Larabee Home ~Tuesday, September 26th
Chris and Grace started their day early. He had tried to get Linda to get out of bed with them, but she had only rolled over onto her side and gone back to sleep. He wasn’t sure if she was really that tired, or if she was still pouting over his telling her that he couldn’t go away with her. Once breakfast was finished, and he had put Grace in her playpen, Chris started making phone calls about the football tickets. After staying on hold, and being shuffled to five different people over an hour’s time, Chris came to the conclusion that the tickets were here to stay.Okay. Just call Tanner and explain, so he won’t be blindsided tomorrow. Hell, you can still talk to him on the phone without getting too close, can’t you?
Picking up the receiver, Chris dialed Vin’s cell phone number and waited for him to answer.
“Tanner.” Vin answered as he was walking over to the new lab building.
“I wanted to let you know ahead of time…when Linda went after Jason’s birthday present she got a little carried away.”
The Texan stopped walking. He had been hoping that Chris would reach out to him...maybe he was ready for a one on one conversation. He was disappointed that it was only to talk about Jason’s birthday gift, but…it was a place to start. “How carried away, Chris?”
“Bronco season tickets for your family and Buck’s, too. I had planned on tickets for one game but…bottom line they won’t take ‘em back. I know it’s excessive for a seven-year-old. Hell, we’ve got ‘em now though and Jason would be thrilled…”
Vin was quiet for a minute and then answered. “You’ll have to let Buck answer for him and Caleb. As for Jason…it’s a way too expensive for a gift, but I reckon we’ll have to live with it… we’ll pay for half; it can be a gift from Kelli and me too. “
Chris was relieved that Vin was offering him an easy resolution for the situation. “That will be fine, and I’ll talk to Buck.” Silence echoed on the line for more than a few seconds, until finally Larabee spoke. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“Tomorrow then…” Vin hung up first. Damn Vin, talking to Chris now is like talking to a stranger. Patience, Tanner, patience; just give it a little more time. Shut up Vin!
Gently replacing the receiver, Chris shook his head. Didn’t you promise yourself never to take that Texan and his friendship for granted? Yes, and I screwed up. Larabee you have a long way to go with that one, and you had better figure out a way to start fixing it…soon.
Larabee made his call to Buck and worked out how to handle the tickets. Since he was not here to participate in Caleb’s induction into the Wilmington family, it would be considered a late welcome gift from Chris and Linda to the newest member.
Linda walked into the den a few minutes after ten. “Good morning Cowboy.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned over his shoulder. “What are you doing?”
“Giving Vin and Buck a head’s up about the tickets. I didn’t want any hard feelings about not telling them beforehand. Season tickets are not cheap, and when you are giving a kid a gift that cost a couple thousand dollars, you should tell his parents about it."
“I still don’t see the problem, we can afford it.” Linda slid around to sit on Chris’s lap and to snuggle. “But let’s not talk about it now. Isn’t it time for Grace to take a nap?”
Chris laughed. “In case you didn’t notice, she’s already asleep.” He nodded toward the playpen sitting by his desk and their sleeping daughter.
Linda grinned. “Then let’s put her in her crib and take advantage of some alone time. Until we hire a Nanny, we have to take the time for us when we can get it.” She set about convincing him one kiss at a time.
Chris didn’t need much convincing to spend some alone time with his wife. With one arm around her waist, and the other firmly holding Grace they made their way into their bedroom. He left Linda momentarily alone while he moved into the nursery and deposited their sleeping daughter into her crib.
“Now, where were we?” he asked Linda with a lustful look as he rejoined her in their bedroom, and closed the door behind him.
“Right here, sexy.” Linda said, slowly beginning to unbutton her blouse as she strutted toward him.
Tanner home ~1:00pm
Max and Walter were sitting at the kitchen table with Kelli going over the plans for Jason’s party the following day. Andi and her cousin Maria had just finished their lunch, and were getting cleaned up with Kelli and Max’s help, when the phone rang. Kelli ran to grab it while Max finished washing the little one's hands and faces.
“Tanner residence,” Kelli answered. “Yes, this is Mrs. Tanner… I’ll be right there.” Hanging up the receiver, she turned to Max. “I need to go to Jason’s school.”
“Go, I‘ve got plenty for these two to do while you’re gone and Walter will stick around to help entertain them, too.” Max and Walter took the two little girls by the hand and led them outside to the swings.
Kelli grabbed her keys to the Tahoe, thankful that Vin had ridden in with Josiah today. She also made a mental note to check on the new special ordered truck they had purchased to find out when it would be ready for them. She was taking the Tahoe as her own vehicle, and Vin would be driving the truck when it arrived. Her thoughts then turned to her son as she drove. Jason had been in a fight and was in the nurse’s office.
Fighting…Jason was not one to start a fight. But what if he did Kel? What could be bothering him so much that he would turn to violence at school? Could it be the problem between Vin and Chris? Damn, hit every red light between here and there why don’t you? Relax; it may not be anything…just a simple misunderstanding.
Even though she broke a few speed limits, it still took fifteen minutes for her to reach the school. Kelli jumped out of the Tahoe and rushed inside, heading straight for the nurse’s office. The principal intercepted her as she walked past the office.
“Mrs. Tanner, we should talk before you see Jason.” The principal tried to steer Kelli to her office.
“As soon as I see my son, I’ll be more than happy to speak to you Mrs. Ross.” Kelli insisted and did not change course.
Mrs. Ross sighed, “Very well, this way.”
The principal led the way to the nurse’s office and it was there that Kelli found Jason. His hands were red and slightly swollen from fighting. There was a large bruise showing along the right side of his jaw, and his top lip was cut and swollen, too. She sat down next to him and tilted his head upward to look into his pain-filled blue eyes. “Are you okay?”
Jason shrugged his shoulders. “I reckon.”
Kelli lifted his shirt to check for further damage, and found more bruises dotting his torso around the rib area. What disturbed her most were the distinctive blue marks left by fingers on his arms. Gently she touched his skin and he winced in pain. “I’m sorry baby, but we’ll have the doctor look at you just to be sure. Can you hold on for me a few more minutes while I speak to Mrs. Ross?”
She realized that he was very upset, and her first impulse was to grab him up and leave, but Kelli wanted to know what the principle had to say about the altercation that had left Jason in the condition he was in. “I promise, no more than five minutes and we are out of here.”
Jason only nodded yes.
Kelli stepped into the hall with Mrs. Ross. She was not going to follow the woman to her office. “You have three minutes startin’ now to tell me what in the hell happened to my son!”
“Mrs. Tanner, we really should…”
“You are wastin’ your three minutes.”
“Bottom line, Jason attacked two older boys and he will be suspended for the next three days for fighting. Now I know that they were both bigger than him, but we have a zero tolerance policy for fighting regardless of the reasons behind it. I realize Jason is adopted and may be a problem child but…”
Kelli’s voice turned to ice. “Adoption has nothing to do with this Mrs. Ross. The other boys…are they suspended also?”
“Well, no. Jason was the one that started…”
“Mrs. Ross, I am takin' my son to the doctor. You clear time on your schedule to see me at three o’clock. If you do not plan to suspend the other boys for their involvement in the fight, then you had best have someone with more authority than you here, when my husband and I return to talk to you. Kelli turned, went inside the room, and told Jason that they were leaving.
Jason did not say a word until they were in the truck. “I’m sorry I made you mad.”
Kelli was reaching for the ignition and stopped, turning to Jason. “I am not mad at you. I do expect to hear the truth, but my first concern is to make sure you are really okay. Whatever happened today Jason, we will listen to what you have to say. If you were wrong, then your Dad and I will try to explain why. If you weren’t, then heaven better help your principle because there will be hell to pay.”
“They were gonna jump on Caleb during recess…I couldn’t let them do that…he’s too small, and…” He looked up at her with tear filled eyes. “They called him a bad word…said his kind didn’t belong here… called him a nig…”
“Stop Jason, unfortunately I know the word, you don’t have to repeat it. We’ll work this out. I think you’re all right, but for now though we are goin' to go see Aunt Rain so she can check you out just to be sure, okay?” Kelli hugged her son tightly, working hard to conceal her anger from him. She would have plenty to say to Mrs. Ross when they met later that afternoon.
Punching one on her cell phone she called Vin. “Tanner, I need you to meet me at home. Call Buck and have him meet with us too. I love you.” She had to leave a message, but she knew he would get it soon enough.
Rain and Nathan were in their front yard when Kelli pulled up “Hey y’all. Rain, could you check Jason over and make sure he’s okay. I’ll explain later.”
“Sure thing, come here big fellow let’s go in the house and see what we’ve got.” Jason trusted Rain and had no problem going inside with her.
Nathan looked over to Kelli and did ask. “What happened?”
“Fight at school. I think he’ll be fine but I wanted to be certain.’ She was not going to tell him the fight Jason had gotten into had been about Caleb, just yet. Nathan had had a difficult enough time accepting the Wilmington’s decision to adopt him. This would only make things worse.
“Fighting? That doesn’t sound like Jason.” Nathan stated with a frown, his brown eyes studying her.
“I know. Vin and I will be talkin’ to the principal at three, but I wanted to get Jason checked out and home before then.” Kelli was kicking herself for not thinking about the concerned questions that Nathan and Rain would surely ask when she decided to bring Jason to the Jackson’s to have Rain examine him. I should have gone to his regular doctor to avoid this.
Before Nathan could ask more questions, Rain and Jason walked back outside. “Nothing seems to be broken, but he will have a few sore places by morning, and maybe even a black eye as well. I suggest plenty of rest, Motrin for the pain, ice packs, and liniment, he may have a black eye, but other than that he seems to be okay.”
“Thanks Rain, I just wanted to be sure.” Kelli said with relief evident in her voice as she draped her arm over Jason’s shoulder and kept him close to her as they walked to the truck
“No problem, call me if you need me, anytime.”
“I’ll call you later, “Kelli yelled as she got in the truck. “Okay Jason, let’s head home.”
“Okay, “Jason said, fastening his seatbelt as Kelli put the vehicle into drive and headed it down the road toward their home.
Buck was already at the Tanner home by the time Kelli pulled in front of their home, and Vin was on his way. She took Jason inside, gave him some Motrin and an ice pack for his face while they waited for Tanner. She did not want Jason to have to go through his explanation more than once. Buck wisely decided not to ask questions after she signaled for him to wait.
Vin arrived home ten minutes later, and Josiah was with him. One look at his son and Tanner was ready to explode. His concerned blue eyes strayed off of Jason's battered face to Kelli, and quietly read the warning look on her face that told him he needed to hold it together. He knelt down in front of Jason. “Hey pard, you wanna tell me what happened?’
Jason had no fear of Vin; he knew that no matter what he did, his dad would never hurt him, so he answered honestly. “I had a difference of opinion with someone.”
Tanner swallowed hard. Those were the exact words he had said when he came back from California covered with bruises. Okay Vin, talk yourself out of this one. “Can you tell me who, and why?"
Jason looked at his Mom, his eyes pleading for her to help him out.
Kelli answered for him. “It seems that two older boys began to pick on Caleb durin’ recess, they called him the N word and said his kind was not welcome here.
Apparently they were willin’ to hurt him to get their point across. Jason took on both of them before they had an opportunity to lay into Caleb. Our son has been suspended for three days for ‘startin’ the fight’. The other boys were not punished. We see the principal at three. Rain checked him over and although he’ll be feelin’ it tomorrow, he’s pretty much okay.” Her clipped answers told Vin that she was barely hanging on to her rage.
Buck cursed softly and Josiah’s face tightened with anger. Vin was only concerned for Jason at the moment. There was no way to protect him from bigotry in this world, but this was a hard lesson for child only turning seven tomorrow. “Jason, look at me. I understand why you felt you needed to stand up for Caleb and I’m proud that you did. But there are other ways besides fightin’ that you can do that. After we talk to the principal we’ll discuss this more, but for now I think you need to rest a while.”
“I’m okay dad. They called him a bad word... ‘m not sure what it means, but I know it’s bad. They were gonna hurt him. I just knew I couldn’t let them go after Caleb, he’s smaller than me and besides, being a Tanner, I had to do something, right?”
Being a Tanner… Yes you are son. Yes you are. Vin fought back the emotional lump in his throat. “Jason…you protected your cousin and that was a good thing. You and I are gonna talk about the other ways you can do that…besides fightin’, but first your mom and I are gonna go talk to your school principal.”
“Okay, Dad can I go to my room now?”
“Sure thing pard, we’ll talk some more later.” The adults in the room said nothing until Jason was out of earshot. Vin looked over at Kelli. “What else?” He knew she was ready to explode and feared that there was more to this than he had heard.
“That woman insinuated that because Jason is adopted, he’s a troublemaker. I told her she had better suspend those other boys and have someone there with authority higher than hers. I intend to give her a piece of my mind and then some!”
Vin knew that Kelli would have no problem handling this, but he intended to be there. “We’ll do it together baby.”
Buck could not stay quiet any longer. “I want to be there, too. I’m gonna pick up Caleb and Sarah. When you finish your conference I’m sure I’ll have some explaining to do to my son…after the principal hears what I have to say.”
Vin nodded. It was sad that children had to learn so early in life about intolerance, but he was certain that their children would learn how to handle it. He was going to make sure of that.
“Max has the girls; I think I’ll stick around here with Jason until you get back.” Josiah volunteered.
“Thanks Josiah, appreciate it.” Vin looked at his watch. “We’d best be leavin’; it’s already two-thirty.”
Mrs. Ross had her reinforcements ready. The father of the two brothers that had fought with Jason and the teacher that witnessed the exchange were in attendance when Vin and Kelli walked into the conference room. The two battered Harrison brothers, ages, 10 and 11, were sitting with their father.
The principal bristled when she saw Vin’s sidearm. “Mr. Tanner we do not allow weapons on the school campus!”
“Ma’am, that’s Agent Tanner.” Vin pulled out his badge and ID. “Uncle Sam says I have to have my weapon on my person at all times when I’m on active duty. The only reason my wife doesn’t have hers is because she is on vacation.”
“You’re both Federal agents?” The male teacher sitting next to the principle asked.
“Yep, as is the father of Caleb Wilmington, the child that seems to be in the middle of this …altercation.” Vin stated calmly.
“You are mistaken, Caleb was not fighting. Your son attacked Mr. Harrison’s two boys without provocation.” Mrs. Ross looked at her notes.
Mr. Harrison smirked at them. “Seems that your son is a bully Tanner, he owes my boys an apology.”
Before he spoke, Vin laid a hand on Kelli’s arm when he felt her tense up. “Mr. Harrison, my six-year-old son may have to learn about how to conduct himself when faced with a confrontation, but your two boys have a much more serious problem. Verbal assault is a crime. In the state of Colorado any child age ten or over is accountable for his or her actions and may be charged with delinquency. When racial slurs are attached to that assault, indicatin’ prejudice is the catalyst of that offense, and then under Federal law it can be classified as a hate crime. Add to that injury to a child and you are lookin’ at some serious legal issues.”
Kelli turned to the principal. “Now I know that any federally funded school district or its employees would never condone bigotry or prejudice on the school campus, so I believe we need to review all the facts. Don’t you?”
Mr. Harrison looked at his two bruised boys in amazement. “Are you telling me that you let a six-year-old do that?”
“Dad, he was defending that darkie and he…” The older boy attempted to explain.
“Shut up! You let a little kid beat both of you! I thought you two were tougher than that! Damn what have I taught you…?”
Tanner interrupted. “My son is a first-grader and all of fifty pounds soakin' wet. Caleb is in kindergarten and not more than forty-two pounds. Your sons look to be at least eighty-five pounds each or better. If you’re tellin’ me that my son is responsible for what they look like, then I’d say you are teachin’ those boys of your’s the wrong lessons.”
Mrs. Ross stood up. “Mr. Harrison. I believe I was missing some of the facts…” She pointedly looked at the teacher beside her. “If Thomas and Robert were harassing a kindergarten child and calling him racially derogatory names…then this is an entirely different situation than I was led to believe.”
“That kid is a nig…” Robert started to say.
“Shut up!” His dad stopped him and appealed to the principal. “My son doesn’t like being forced to attend school with kids like that, and may have overreacted.”
“This school is open to every child, black, white, or purple polka dotted. I will schedule a disciplinary hearing for Friday morning at ten. Until then your sons are suspended Mr. Harrison.”
“So you’re gonna side with them! You’re gonna let that badge scare you! I should have known this wasn’t gonna be fair to my boys.” He stood up and motioned to Robert and Thomas. “We’re leaving, and you, lady, will be hearing from my attorney!” Harrison stormed out the door.
The principal sighed. “Mr. and Mrs. Tanner, I assure you I will do everything in my power to make certain that this does not happen again; however, Jason was fighting…I will reduce his suspension to one day, and put an explanation of the facts into his records. I will also be meeting with my teachers and make certain that we all watch for further challenges to our younger students.”
Vin looked over to Kelli and she nodded. “That’s agreeable. We’ll be talkin’ to Jason about other ways to handle situations like this in the future should it happen again. I trust that he will be able to go to any teacher for assistance?”
“Absolutely, and I’m sorry something like this happened at all. I will also be speaking to the Wilmington’s to make them aware of the situation.”
Vin laughed. “That will be easy Mr. Wilmington is just outside the door and waiting to see you.” Tanner stood up as the others left, leaving only Mrs. Ross and them in the room. He had a feeling that his wife still had something to say.
Kelli stood, placed her hands on the table, and leaned over it. “Mrs. Ross. Just so we understand one another; if you ever say the words adoption, Jason and problem child in the same sentence again I’m gonna forget settin’ an example for my children and personally kick your ass. Jason is our son, period. He is a good kid and how he became our son is none of your damn business. Are we clear?”
Kathy Ross knew she had been out of line and looking into the eyes of Jason’s protective mother she was aware of just how much. “I believe we are, Mrs. Tanner. I won’t make that mistake again.”
Vin took his wife’s arm. “Let’s go home Kel and talk to our son.”
That same evening the Wilmington’s, the Sanchez’ and the Tanners sat talking with Jason, Caleb, Joanne, and Sarah for a long time about how to recognize bigotry, what to do when faced with racist remarks, and the need to set an example by practicing tolerance in all aspects of their lives. Hopefully the entire school-age Wild Bunch came away from the family discussion with a better understanding of the ignorance of prejudice, and how to handle it.
It was a hard, ugly, lesson, but unfortunately one which the MCAT Unit would soon be facing, too.
Journal Entry~ September 26~Reclamation
I shared tonight at the meeting for the first time. It wasn't so much that I wanted to get up in front of all of those people and talk about what a mess I've made of my life, but was prodded to do so by Colonel Mike Tai. He's a short, older Asian man who's a decorated Navy Colonel. He has been clean and sober for almost thirty years. He sort of dared me to speak in a play of words that were as philosophical as Josiah's, and elegant like Ezra's. Something about the man makes me think that I can learn a lot from him, and I've made a decision to ask him to be my sponsor at our next meeting.
Tomorrow I face the firing squad, correction… the whole Wild Bunch, and I'm not sure if I'm up to it yet. It is Jason's birthday though, and I wouldn't miss that for anything.
Tanner Home ~ Wednesday, September 27th~5:00am
Vin slipped out of bed and pulled on some sweats. He felt that Jason was okay, but had to check on him anyway. The thought of his boy standing up to the two bigger Harrison brothers both scared him and filled him with pride. “Being a Tanner I had to do something, right?” Those words were now etched in Vin’s memory, and his heart. Standing in the doorway of his son’s room he simply watched him sleep for a few minutes. The steady rise and fall of his chest said that Jason was resting peacefully. A quick check on Andi, and the Texan headed back to his bed, undressed, and then cuddled up behind his redhead.
“Is Jason okay?” Kelli had been waiting for Vin to return. Both of them were concerned about the long-term ramifications of the incident at school yesterday. She was aware that while her Texan wanted Jason to stay safe above anything else, he also wanted their son to learn it was all right to take a stand against injustice. It was a delicate balancing act, and one Vin was determined to ‘get right’.
“He’s sleepin' soundly, with no nightmares so yeah, he’s okay.” Vin wrapped his arm around her waist and nuzzled the back of her neck. “I tried not to wake you, but since you are… “The two of them had their own celebration before starting the day.
Jason’s eyes grew wide when Vin set a plateful of birthday pancakes down in front of him. The stack was put together like a cake and had ‘Happy Birthday Jason’ spelled out with syrup across the top. He could not remember the last time anyone paid special attention to the day of his birth. “Thanks Dad.”
“You’re welcome son.”
Andi grinned when she saw her name on her stack of pancakes, “Me, too!”
“Well Miss ‘Me Too’, ‘m gonna need your help today. We have a party to put together.” Kelli smiled as Andi excitedly shook her head yes because it was difficult to talk with a mouthful of pancakes.
“Since I have the day off from work and Jason has a day off from school, I thought he might wanna go with me to pick up our new truck.” Vin waited for Jason’s reaction.
“Yes! Can I really?”
“Yep, Uncle Buck is gonna be here at eight to drive us over there.” Vin grinned, “Caleb is comin', too.”
Andi started to pout about not getting to go with her dad and brother, until Kelli reminded her about the party. “Me ride in it when you come home Daddy?”
“Absolutely,” Vin tickled her until the pouting look was gone, replaced with giggles. “We have to have Sugar’s approval and as soon as y’all finish breakfast we’ll go take care of the horses.” Both kids busied themselves with eating so they did not miss their chance at helping with the horses.
Vin wrapped his arm around his wife’s waist and whispered in her ear. “If you’re good, I might take you for a moonlight ride in my new truck.”
Kelli shook her head and laughed when Vin winked at her with a Texas size grin. She was not so sure that she didn’t already have three kids. Although she definitely preferred Tanner’s playtime to that of the children she was feeling sassy. “If you promise to be real good…I might let you.”
Larabee home ~ mid-afternoon
Chris was having a difficult time psyching himself up to the day’s coming activities. Last night he had even found the nerve to bring up the problem at his group meeting. Yes, this was family, but this was also the first time since he left for California that he would be with all of them together in a family setting. One of the guys from last night recounted how he felt the first time he had to attend a family function after he had ‘cleaned up’. He said that the only one that had really changed was…him.
They are still the same old ‘Wild Bunch’, Chris. Yeah…but am I the same old Chris? Can I risk being the man I was only a few weeks ago? Face it Larabee, if you plan to follow the steps for recovery, keep Linda happy, be a good dad to Grace, and reestablish your place as commander with MCAT, you are going to have to stay reserved. You cannot take the chance of getting too close again…not now. Not until you get the rest of your life under control. Hell that should be easy for hard ass Larabee, right? Where does that leave you Chris? What does that do to your relationship with your brothers and with Vin?
Larabee had no answer for his last question. He had no idea how to get back something that he did not know how he got in the first place. All he knew was it was going to be different. It had to be because he could not let Grace go and if he went back to his old patterns then Linda would take the baby and leave. Rock and a hard place Chris. Sound familiar? Yeah, too damn familiar!
Josiah already had the grill going with a large beef brisket and barbecue ribs cooking slowly on it. His famous secret recipe for barbeque sauce had granted him the honor of manning the grill as chief cook for the day’s event. Mallory, Inez, and Casey were busy helping Kelli in the kitchen while the rest of the men watched the children, and set up tables outside for the food. As the assortment of side salads, rolls, and condiments were finished cooking, the ladies began to bring the dishes outside and placed them on the tables, before they moved over to the seating area to join their husbands.
Kelli was the last one out of the house, and had just stepped off the porch, when Ezra and Barbara arrived. She stood at the foot of the porch watching as they exited their vehicle, which was new. As the couple walked across the lawn toward her, she decided to have some fun, at Ezra’s expense. She knew how much Standish had cherished his last JAG, and was certain that this new one would be treated to the same degree of affection.
“How do you like my newly acquired vehicle Kelli?” Standish asked his partner as she walked toward him, gesturing at the sleek silver JAG he had just purchased.
“Looks like a monochrome coffin on wheels Ez.” Kelli told him. “Or a shiny new cartridge casing...ooh, you can even call it the Silver Bullet.”
“Why do I set myself up for remarks like that?” Ezra muttered, shaking his head, as Barbara stifled a laugh.
Kelli grinned at him. “If you didn't want an honest answer, Ez, you shouldn't have asked me what I thought.” She walked over to the car. “Hey partner, when can I drive it?”
“Does the term when 'hell freezes over', register with you, partner?”
“Geez, Ezra, chill out...It's only a car...”
“Only a car she says, “Standish murmured to himself, as Kelli and Barbara both looked on with amusement. “I’ll have you know that the Jaguar XK is more than a car she is... she’s sleek, has sexy curves, state of the art engineering, flawless performance, she drives like a dream, and you say it’s only a car!”
“Does Barbara know about your car fetish, Ezra?” Kelli asked him with a wide grin.
Ezra’s only response was to glare at her. The redhead turned her attention onto the brunette woman that had stolen the debonair MCAT agent’s heart. “Are you aware that you are goin’ to most likely be competin’ with a JAG for my partner’s affections?”
The resolve Barbara had made in not giving in to her desire to laugh at the barbs being passed back and forth between Ezra and Kelli finally broke, and the brunette burst out laughing. “If it wasn’t for the fact that she’s only a mechanical wonder, I’d be worried.”
Vin walked up and threw his arm around Kelli’s shoulder.” Hey Ez, this thing looks like a shiny new bullet.”
“I give up! I suppose I will be hearing about the ‘silver bullet” from now on until to eternity.” Standish acted as if he had been insulted, but he was enjoying the banter with Kelli. Their working relationship had hit a few rough patches over the last few months, but they were finally past it and ready to move forward.
“Count on it…partner.”
Vin shook his head. It was good to see things beginning to get back to normal, or as normal as anything was when this bunch was involved. Ezra’s new JAG, and Vin’s new Silverado truck that replaced Kelli’s totaled Avalanche helped to erase some of the bad memories of the last few months. Having the family together again for something as joyous as a child’s birthday celebration felt good, but having Chris back with them was something they were all looking forward to, both with expectations and apprehensions. Most of the adults settled in lawn chairs or stretched out on top of blankets spread on the ground with the babies while they waited for their other brothers to arrive. Vin had promised JD and Ezra an explanation for Jason’s bruises, but he wanted to wait until Nathan and Chris arrived so he would only have to explain what had happened one time.
Jason was having fun, but his eyes kept darting over to the table on which presents were accumulating. He watched as Walter, Max, his Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain appeared and set even more wrapped gifts with the other ones. One look at his sister though and he began to worry about her being left out. With his mind made up, he went over to speak to his parents. Jason found Vin and Kelli sitting together under the shade of a large tree talking with Ezra and Barbara.
Vin saw the worried look on his face. “Jason, you okay?”
Looking around he was reluctant to say anything in front of the others, but his concern outweighed his shyness. “Dad, what about Andi?”
It took a few seconds for the Texan to understand what Jason was anxious about, but when he did Vin smiled. “If you look at the names on all those packages, a few of them have Andi’s name on them.”
Relief was written all over his small face. “Can I show her?”
“You sure can, but we’ll wait until after we eat before y’all open any.” Watching Jason run over to his sister and drag her to the stack of presents made more than one adult smile.
Nathan grinned. “That boy never ceases to amaze me. It’s his birthday and he’s more concerned about Andi being left out than what it means for him. So when are you going to tell us about what happened yesterday?”
Vin had been watching as the Larabees walked toward them and he felt Kelli’s tension as she saw her Dad and Linda approach. Grace was safely cuddled in her daddy’s arms and Linda was dressed in a chic, new, expensive outfit. “I reckon as soon as Chris and Linda get settled somewhere.”
“Uncle Chris, you’re here!” Jason ran over to greet Chris with Andi right on his heels. Within minutes Sarah, Maria, Caleb and Joanne had joined them and Larabee was quickly swamped with all the kids clamoring for attention. Chris relaxed as he enjoyed seeing all the children together again; however his concern over seeing Jason’s bruised face was obvious to all of the adults present, except maybe Linda. He was careful to pay equal attention to each one of the younger members of the family, patting heads, kissing cheeks, and talking softly to them in turn. Finally, Vin and Buck shooed the children off to go play, laughingly telling them that they needed to give their Uncle Chris some room to breathe.
Larabee cast a grateful eye their way as he settled down into a chair with Grace, a bristling Linda beside him. She had been certain that even if she wasn’t the center of attention at this function that her new outfit would garner some flattering remarks from the other women, but quickly realized that she was wrong. Inez, Casey, Rain and Mallory were only interested in seeing Grace; while Barbara and the rest of the brothers had been enjoying the interaction of all the children with Chris. Kelli‘s only focus had been on Jason and Chris. Worst of all, Chris hadn’t taken even a minute to see if she was all right, all his attention had been for his nieces and nephews.
Chris had relinquished his hold on Grace almost as soon as he had sat down, and decided that even though his arms felt empty without her, he wouldn’t dream of disturbing her where she laid comfortably in Inez’s arms, and was the center of attention. He tried to take Linda’s hand in his, but she pulled it away. He glanced questioningly at her, but she averted her gaze from his and with a sigh he didn’t push to find out what was wrong. These days it seemed that he could do nothing right with her, no matter how he tried, and he wasn’t about to let her sulky mood spoil his first day back with the entire family. Vin, Buck, and Josiah had been waiting for an opportunity to explain the events from yesterday to the rest of the brothers, but hadn’t had the chance yet to do so due to all of the activity going on around them. Now that everything seemed to have calmed down somewhat with all the older kids busy playing on the playground, and the younger one’s contentedly sleeping, Vin thought it was the perfect time to bring up the topic of Jason’s bruises, and how he had gotten them, however Linda beat him to it.
“What in the hell happened to Jason?” Linda blurted out to regain the group's attention.
JD was just as curious, but a little more tactful. “We’re all here and the kids are busy.”
Vin started. “Jason was involved in a fight at school. Seems he took on two older boys that were harassin’ Caleb. The Harrison brothers are ten and eleven, and evidently they took exception to Caleb’s color. Jason took exception to the fact that they intended to hurt his cousin, and as they say, the rest is history. Kelli picked him up, and took him to Rain just to make certain he was not more seriously injured. We went back to the school and confronted the principal and Mr. Harrison. I don’t expect this type of incident to be repeated.”
Buck continued. “We talked to all the school-age kids last night and they have a better understanding on what to do though if it does happen again.”
“You can damn well bet on it happening again!” Nathan said angrily. “This is what I was worried about. Caleb will have to face prejudice the rest of his life and you can’t stop it Buck! What if Jason had been seriously hurt? Do you know what could have happened?”
“We do know Nate!” Vin took a deep breath. “Jason made a decision to take a stand; I can’t fault him for that. We have discussed other alternatives to fightin’ and I do intend to show him how to defend himself though if those Harrison boys give him any more trouble.”
“It would appear that young Jason has the same sense of right and wrong that his father has.” Ezra commented. “Although I realize that he will be required to learn other methods of coping with bullies, I do commend him for standing up for his cousin.”
“That is why Paul and I are so involved with a group that meets twice a week. “’Without Prejudice’ is the name of the group and you would be shocked by what we’ve learned. Do you know that hate crimes in this country have risen by forty-two percent in the last year alone? Seventy percent of them involve whites against black individuals, or black owned businesses.” Nathan was prepared to say more, but was interrupted by Kelli.
“Nathan, I think all of us know what bigotry is and how it leads to hurt and injustice. We handled it with the kids and we will be there to help them learn to set a good example. But please don’t make more of this than what it was; a first exposure to the different forms of discrimination out there in the real world. Children learn their prejudices from their parents, but they can learn about tolerance, too. Our job is to teach them how to live without prejudice against anyone; we don’t need a group to do that for us.”
“I think we handled it okay with the kids. If we do our jobs right, maybe there won’t be a need for groups like that when our children are grown.” Buck stated as he watched Chris intently. He expected to see the infamous Larabee temper flare up at any moment, and was surprised when it did not.
Chris had been listening quietly to the conversation going on around him, and struggled to keep his emotions in check. He was making a conscious effort not to resort back to his old ways, thinking that if he slipped just a little with even how he dealt with a situation such as this, then it would make him more vulnerable. That was something he couldn’t afford to be this soon in his recovery. Instead of jumping in the middle of the discussion, as his brothers expected, he made only one comment. "It sounds as if you all handled it okay.”
JD held on to Lilah a little tighter and looked over at Casey with Daisy.” I hope we can do the same when the time comes for these two to face those kinds of issues.”
“I feel certain that you will JD.” Rain said softly.
Josiah stood up. “I’d better check on those ribs; the sooner we eat, the sooner we can help Jason celebrate.” His calm statement set the next phase of this get-together into motion.
Walter volunteered to help Sanchez, and as they walked off dinner was promised to be ready soon. They all insisted that Inez remain seated and relax with her feet up. Knowing that it was futile to argue with everyone, Inez did as was suggested and after shifting Grace into a more comfortable position on her lap, decided to enjoy the extra time off her feet. Rain took Adam and Terrell to the sandbox to play so Mallory could help her husband, and Casey followed with the twins.
JD stood up and addressed the remaining men. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d like to see Vin’s new truck and Ezra’s Jag.”
Ezra grinned. “Gentlemen I assure you there is no comparison between the two.” He waited for Vin to follow JD and Nathan over to the vehicles.
“That’s for sure, my truck is useful, and Ezra’s new toy is just for looks.” Vin grinned and stood up. “Besides, who wants to ride around in a monochrome coffin on wheels all day?”
Standish looked over to Kelli with a disgruntled expression on his face. “You told him. You aren’t going to let it go are you?”
“You gonna let me drive it?” Kelli asked, smiling at him.
“Not a chance in hell.”
“Then no, I reckon not.”
Vin shook his head and grinned. “Damn, you two sound worse than the kids.”
“She started it!”
“I did not!”
“You did too!”
Barbara laughed. “Vin you’d better get him out of here or this will go on all day.”
Tanner bent down and kissed his redhead before whispering. “Behave yourself while I’m gone.” He was not sure it was such a good idea to leave Linda and her alone, but felt confident that with Inez and Barbara nearby, the two other women could run interference if things got heated up between Kelli and Linda.
Buck had been watching his old friend and did not like what he was beginning to see. Chris was here, but not really with the rest of them. “Chris, are you coming with us?”
Glancing first at Grace still cuddled with Inez and then to Kelli; Chris knew he had a long way to go to repair his relationships with his family. His eldest daughter had not said one word to him since he arrived. Looking over at his wife he recognized the signs that Linda was mad about something and he knew he could not count on her for support. The easy banter between Kelli and Ezra only reminded him of what he was missing out on. And when did Nathan get so vocal about racism? Even with the others he felt disconnected, especially with Vin. He felt as if he was on the outside of the circle looking in and found he did not like it. Hell, even Barbara seemed to have a hold on her place in the Wild Bunch better than him. Reluctantly he decided to join his brothers, and rose from his chair to move into step behind Buck.
Linda watched Chris leave and then she sighed. “Some things never change do they?”
“What things?” Inez was so engrossed in watching Grace’s facial expressions that she had not been paying attention.
“Them.” Linda huffed. “Don’t you ever get tired of sharing your husband with six other men?”
Inez was taken back by the question. “What kind of question is that? Buck knew all of them long before I ever met him and way before we were married. They are not only brothers, but they watch out for one another on the job. I thank God that he does have those six men in his life because it increases the chances of him returning home to me and our children safe and sound.”
“That may be in your case, but they sure as hell haven’t kept Chris safe and sound for the last year, have they?” Linda responded bitterly. “On top of that when I do have Chris home, I practically have to strip to get his attention! But Ezra and Vin get new vehicles or Grace barely whimpers, and off he goes.”
Kelli took notice of the tension Inez was giving off and even she knew that was not good for a woman that was seven months pregnant. “Linda, that’s enough! You are the only one that has a problem with any of that. Give it a rest!”
Barbara was experienced enough as an attorney to read most people well. She saw all the signs of a heated discussion coming and decided to try and get Inez into a calmer situation. “Inez? Would you care to walk with me and see the Jag yourself? Besides, I may need your help prying Ezra away from the new lady in his life.”
Inez knew what Barbara was doing and decided that before she said something she may regret it was time for a change of company. “Yes, I think I would, and whatever help you need with that southerner, I’ll do the best I can to assist you.” She handed Grace over to her mother and then left with Barbara.
“Are you happy now?” Kelli glared at Linda.
“I didn’t say anything that the rest of you haven’t thought about saying. You can’t honestly tell me that you like sharing Vin, especially with that weird connection he had with Chris. Thank God, it seems that at least we don’t have to contend with that anymore!”
“We have had this conversation before. I told you then I do not have a problem with Vin and his brothers. As for Chris, I may not like some of the things he said or did, but that ‘weird connection’ as you call it is a part of who he is as well as it is with Vin. It will only hurt both of ‘em if they don’t find a way to get it back.”
“That’s nonsense Kel. Chris will be fine as soon as he realizes that I am the one that should come first in his life. He doesn’t need Vin or any of them to be happy. I plan on hiring a full-time Nanny to take care of Grace and then Chris and I will be able to travel at will anytime, anywhere. I also plan on us having our own place, one we don’t have to share. You may like this communal living, but I don’t, and I damn sure don’t care to be ordered around by Vin or anyone else on my own land. My mother never had to give up being the mistress of her home and I won’t either.”
“You are a piece of work, you know that? You have always been a spoiled brat, but until now I have never known you to be as malicious as you are bein’ now.”
“I had no choices of my own when I took care of my dad. That was a full-time job. But now it’s time that I get what I want for a change and mark my words Kel, I intend to do just that. Chris will be a full-time husband to me; and I will not share him with you, his brothers, or his work.”
“What about Grace?”
“That’s why I want the Nanny.” Linda sighed. “You just count yourself lucky that Jason and Andi were not babies when you got them, because when they are that small it takes all your time and energy to care for them. Of course, not having gone through a pregnancy yourself, you wouldn’t know how miserable it is and then how much freedom you lose after you have a baby. Sometimes I think Chris loves her more than me. I thought…well it doesn’t matter what I thought, but I guarantee you Grace will be our only child.”
Kelli was determined not to ruin Jason’s birthday with a fight. As much as she wanted to kick Linda’s butt then and there she managed to hold on to her anger by a thread and stood up to leave Linda alone with Grace. “You want to be Queen Bee, then you go for it, but be careful what you wish for Linda, sometimes you get it.”
Chris stood and observed the men around him. Men he had known for years and trusted above all others. Yet today he felt like a stranger standing here among them. It seemed that every one of them were waiting for him to say or do something, anything to reassure them that he was really okay again. He knew that Buck was watching him closely and Vin, hell; he could not read Tanner at all. Fortunately, Josiah called out that the food was ready ending the discussion JD and Nathan were having about work trucks verses luxury cars.
The invitation to eat had them all moving toward the picnic tables. Vin called out to Larabee. “Chris, wait up a minute.”
Not now. I’m not ready to sort out what went wrong. It’s Vin, Larabee; your best friend and brother. Why are you suddenly so anxious about talking to him alone? Even as he thought about pretending that he did not hear Tanner, Chris stopped walking and waited.
Lord Chris, you look as if you’re waiting for an execution. What in the hell do you think I’m gonna do to you? Vin caught up with Chris. “I wanted to give you this before Jason opens his gifts.” Tanner handed him an envelope. “I made a call and got the prices, so this check should cover it.”
“Check?” Chris had to think about what Vin was saying.
“For the Bronco tickets, remember? We did agree to split the costs didn’t we?”
“Yes…yes we did. Thanks.” Damnit! Have we come to a point that we can’t even have a normal conversation? “I made sure that both our names are on the gift card.”
“Good…that’s good.” I’m willing to wait Larabee, just don’t make it too long. Reckon we ought to get to that food before it’s all gone.” They both continued to walk forward in an uncomfortable silence.
So far, the children apparently had not picked up on the tension that spread rapidly through the adults. In fact, since the children were the only ones doing any talking, it did not take long at all for the adults to finish eating. The only explanation that Vin, Buck and Ezra received from their ladies regarding the increased restlessness among the women was, ‘I’ll tell you later’.
Linda had handed Grace over to Chris the moment he returned, complaining about the baby spitting up formula on her white outfit. “She’s yours for the rest of the evening!” Chris did not mind at all. In fact seeing the children and being able to hold Grace was the only thing that made this family get-together bearable for him.
Once dinner was over with and the clean up had been completed they all gathered around the gift table. Jason’s only request was to let Andi go first and she did. By the time she was finished she had an entire stable of My Little Ponies and a case to cart them around with. It had been a joint collaboration with everyone to make certain that all the little ponies in the collection were now in her possession.
“Do yours, do yours, Jason!”Andi was equally excited to see what her brother was to receive
Jason was overwhelmed. Never in his life could he remember so many good things happening in one day, just for him. Ezra and JD had jointly given him his first computer with enough learning programs to almost guarantee that he would become a straight A student. JD promised to have it all operational, by the time Jason came home from school the next day.
Josiah and his family gave him a telescope with several astronomy books to help him discover all the constellations visible in this part of the country. Nathan and Rain gave him more books on Indian History and the beginning of a collection of genuine arrowheads. Caleb made the presentation of the Bronco gear and autographed football, all gifts from the Wilmington family.
Before both boys got too carried away, Chris presented them with their season tickets. “Jason, these are from Linda and I, and your parents too. Enjoy them.” He turned to Caleb. “I wasn’t here to do this sooner, but welcome to the family Caleb.” He grinned as the boys tore open the envelopes, and their parents helped them read the cards
“WOW! Tickets to every Broncos game this season!” Jason was jumping up and down with excitement, but did remember to say thanks.
Caleb was just as excited, “Thanks Uncle Chris and Aunt Linda!” The boys were already making plans for the next home game.
Vin picked up the last package and knelt down in front of Jason. “Before you have us packed up to go to the game, you might want to open this one.”
Jason took the package and reverently opened it. This one was from his Mom and Dad, and that alone made it special to him. Inside was a Denver Bronco’s jacket that Vin helped him try on.
“Check the pockets, son.”
Jason pulled out an envelope and opened it. He knew it was a certificate and he worked at reading the letters on it. “Dad, could you help me a little?”
“Sure thing pard, Vin placed his hands over his son’s. “This is a registration from The American Quarter Horse Association. It says that Jason Cameron Tanner is the owner of a horse named, ‘Jason’s Dreamer’. That little bay colt is yours son, all legal and proper.”
“Mine? He really belongs to me? “Seeing his dad’s affirmative nod, Jason felt his chest tighten up and he knew he was in serious danger of crying. “I promise to take good care of him Dad.” He was wrong; he was going to cry… so to hide his tears Jason threw his arms around Vin’s neck and held on tight.
“Happy Birthday, Son. I know you will take good care of Dreamer.” Vin was having a difficult time holding onto his emotions, too.
Kelli rescued both of them. “Time for cake and ice cream and then we’ll have to call it a night, some of y’all have school tomorrow.”
Everyone busied him or herself to take the attention off of Jason for a few minutes. He recovered enough to blow out the seven candles on his cake and dug in with the rest of the kids to enjoy the cake and ice cream.
Vin stood back with his arm around Kelli’s waist and grinned. “I think we have a happy boy.” He leaned closer to his wife’s ear. “Now, how do we make Mom happy again?”
Kelli shrugged a shoulder. “I’m not sure. You got any dynamite?”
Journal Entry~ October 3~Reclamation
It was a proud day for me when I received my thirty day sobriety chip tonight at the meeting. One month with the program and I am clean and sober, eleven more months and my first year of recovery will be something to celebrate. I didn't tell anyone in the family that I was receiving it. I don't want them to pat me on the back and say, “Good going Chris. That isn't what my recovery is about. It's about me taking back control of my life again. Although, this time around, I have to realize that to have control of my life, I've got to give some of it over to a higher power...Mistress Fate.