Inspired by a totally obnoxious scene in the TV show The Big Valley which aired in a rerun during the spring gathering (April 2003) It stayed hidden away in my computer until I stumbled across it today and I pulled it out and completed it.
This story occurs early in the timeline of ATF Little Britches, when the boys are still trying to settle in to their new family.
Aunt Grace is borrowed from my ATF story: Tuesday's Child: Lessons of Grace
His big blue eyes were drawn back to the object on the counter. Some voice somewhere in his head told him it wasnt a good idea, but the rumbling in his tummy demanded satisfaction. Vin licked his lips in anticipation as he imagined the sweet jelled fruit melting on his tongue. The large jar of blackberry preserves sat tantalizingly close to the edge of the counter.
Any thought that it might be wrong was pushed aside as Vin moved stealthily toward his target. He lifted the jar from the counter and sat down on the floor with it, bringing it to an easily accessible reach for his accomplice.
JD plopped down on the floor and scooted next to Vin, his own mouth watering with anticipation. His eyes lit up as Vin pulled the lid off and discarded it to the floor.
Vin dipped his grubby index finger tentatively into the preserves and scooped out a small amount. He put his finger in his mouth, sucking the sweet fruit. Closing his eyes, he savored the flavor.
Heaven. Pure heaven.
We aint got no bread, said JD in a loud whisper.
Shh! chided Vin. Then he grinned at JD. Thats why God gave us fingers.
Vin plunged his fingers into the jar, scooping out a healthy amount before he pushed the jar to JD.
The younger boy followed his action, dribbling jelly on the floor in his haste. Vin was right. It was delicious.
The two boys relished the treat, taking turns passing the jar back and forth between them. Before they knew it, the jar was nearly empty, necessitating reaching deeply into the jar.
Unsuccessful with his right hand, JD tried again with his left, smearing preserves halfway to his little elbows in the attempt. He grinned broadly as he scooped out the last of the jam and stuffed it in his mouth. He swallowed the last dab, and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
Footsteps! Someone was coming!
Vin hurriedly shoved the jar behind his back and both boys wiped their hands on their pants in a vain attempt to hide the evidence. There was no time to run.
Buck walked through the kitchen door.
There you are. What have you two been up to? he asked, taking in the evidence before him.
Nuffin, said JD, batting his eyes innocently at his foster father. Vin licked some stray jam from his lip, not meeting Bucks eyes.
Nothing, huh? said Buck. Guys, I think youd better see this.
Chris walked into the kitchen followed by Josiah, Nathan and Ezra. The corner of his mouth quirked up at the sight of the two boys. He had to fight hard not to smile at the sight. Both boys faces were smeared with a dark substance, the same material covering their hands, forearms, and strategically smeared on their jeans. If he didnt miss his guess, the flavor was blackberry.
Nathan grinned and turned his face towards Josiah to keep the boys from seeing his mirth.
Josiah observed the evidence and then turned toward Ezra. None of them seemed to be able to keep a straight face looking at the jam covered boys. His smile dropped slightly as he watched Ezras response.
The southerners mouth involuntarily fell open and he gasped softly. Ezra swallowed, quickly composed himself, and put on that infamous mask and smiled at the boys.
Whats going on? asked Chris, drawing Josiahs attention back to the boys.
Well, thats what I asked, said Buck. They said, nothing. Buck imitated JDs innocent plea as he looked at Chris, biting his lip to keep from laughing.
Chris sighed. Someone needed to be the adult here. It would have been a heck of a lot easier if he didnt feel like laughing. He walked over beside Vin and picked up the lid of the jar from where the seven year old had dropped it.
Whats this? he asked.
Vin wouldnt look up, but his little tongue again slipped out and licked the jam from the corner of his mouth.
Its a lid, said JD, stating the obvious.
Chris looked at Buck and rolled his eyes. He shook his head and turned back to JD.
Yes, it is. A lid to what? prodded Chris.
JD looked at Vin to answer, but the older boy remained silent, picking at the jam staining his jeans.
To a jar, said JD, batting his eyes innocently.
Chris looked away from the gaze. He wasnt going to let that innocent angel look entrap him this time. Hed fallen captive to the big eyes too many times already.
That wouldnt happen to have been Ezras special jar of preserves? Chris pursued.
That got a response from Vin. His head popped up and he looked guiltily at Uncle Ezra.
Ezra was smiling, but somehow he didnt look very happy.
Vin looked at Buck, and then Chris trying to figure out just how much trouble he was in. They didnt look too mad. In fact, Buck looked like he was trying not to laugh.
Determined to weasel his way out of trouble, JD turned up the charm another notch. He pulled the jar from behind Vin, licking his finger as some of the dribbles on the outside of the jar got on his hand. He carefully carried the jar to Uncle Ezra. He offered up the jar with both hands and a hopeful look.
Ezra accepted the jar and cringed as the sticky five year old hugged his Armani clad legs.
I love you, Uncle Ezra. The words were more of a plea than a comment.
Any attempt to be stern melted with the words. Ezra handed the empty jar to Josiah and patted JDs head. The feeling is mutual, he said softly.
JD looked up at him and beamed knowing all was forgiven.
Vin met Chriss gaze for the first time since they had been discovered. Chris held the sigh of exasperation inside. Vin was obviously upset. It was just a dumb kid thing to do and Vin was already doing a guilt number on himself. Chris remembered doing the same thing himself when he was little. The only difference was he hadnt shared the jar with anyone else. He hoped that the boys didnt get a bellyache like he had. In any case, Vin was making it a bigger issue than it was.
Chris pointed towards the hallway. Bath.
Vins shoulders slumped in resignation. He didnt want a bath. He had a bath yesterday. Slowly he stood up and moved towards the hall.
Cmon, JD, he said softly.
JD looked at him in confusion. Vin looked really upset, but Uncle Ezra said it was okay.
Bath, echoed Buck.
Oh, boy! exclaimed JD as he ran down the hall.
The men chuckled as the words, I want bubbles! drifted back to them. Buck followed the boys, while Chris started getting the food ready for the barbeque.
Josiah took a look at the preserves jar he was holding, noting the words on the label: Made with love, from the kitchen of Grace Harper.
Those simple words spoke volumes about Ezras initial reaction. That jar of jam was from his beloved Aunt Grace whom he had lost just about a year ago.
It was the last one, wasnt it? Josiah asked softly.
Ezra looked at him, trying to hide the sadness he felt at the memories. He nodded and silently excused himself from the room.
Josiah let him go, knowing that Ezra needed time to compose himself. In the weeks that followed the death of his Aunt, the undercover agent had opened up a little and shared just how much she had meant to him, how much she had helped him in his youth. He had brought the jar of preserves to share a part of his old family with his new family. It hadnt turned out quite like he had intended. Josiah sighed. Ezra would likely brush it off and say it was only a jar of preserves, even though it was much more.
Chris let Buck handle the bathing while he manned the barbeque grill. Nathan was making a salad. Josiah was ferrying the food items from the kitchen to the picnic table. Ezra stood at the corral fence watching the horses. It wasnt long before a freshly bathed seven-year-old slipped up to the fence beside his new uncle.
Uncle Ezra? he asked softly.
Ezra turned and looked down, focusing his attention on the boy.
Im real sorry, Vin said.
Nothing to be sorry for, Master Tanner, Ezra replied.
Yes, there is, Vin said. I took your special serves without asking. Thats the same as stealing.
Ezra grimaced slightly. While it bothered him that the preserves hadnt been used as he had intended, it really wasnt anything for Vin to be this upset over. It was, after all, just fruit.
That had been lovingly prepared by Aunt Grace.
It cant be stealing when I brought it, intending that you would consume it, he answered.
I brought it for you to eat, Ezra clarified.
But I shoulda asked, Vin insisted. And I shoulda shared.
But you did share. Master Dunne seemed to have enjoyed it very much.
Uncle Ezra, we werent supposed to eat it all! Vin stated emphatically, his frustration building.
Ezra held out his hand. Walk with me, he said. Vin took his hand and they walked across the yard to the bench under the tree. Ezra sat down and invited Vin to sit next to him.
When I was a little boy, I remember a time when I ate a whole pie by myself.
Vins eyes widened in surprise.
It was just sitting there on the counter in the kitchen. It looked so delicious. It smelled heavenly. I thought, One little piece wont hurt. But I couldnt stop at one little piece. It was so good I ate the whole thing, said Ezra.
What happened? Vin asked.
I got caught.
Vin nodded. Uncle Ezra got caught just like they did.
My Aunt Grace took me aside and told me about that pie. She didnt yell at me. She didnt punish me. She just told me about how she had made that pie for a family down the street. Their mother had been sick for some time and Aunt Grace had simply wanted to do something nice for them.
Vin looked stricken and Ezra cursed himself. He didnt mean to make the boy feel worse. He had only hoped to relieve Vins guilt.
I cried when she told me about them.
You did? Vin asked.
I did, Ezra confirmed. Aunt Grace told me all was forgiven, that it was just a pie. But I couldnt forgive myself. I knew that she was disappointed.
Like youre disappointed.
Ezra took a deep breath and shook his head. I thought long and hard about what I could do to make it up to her, and I realized there was nothing I could do to fix what I had done.
Vins shoulders slumped and he dropped his chin to his chest, unable to look at his uncle any longer.
And then Aunt Grace asked me if I wanted to help her make another pie.
Did you make another pie? Vin asked, looking up.
Ezra nodded. We did. And I helped Aunt Grace take it to the neighbors.
Can we make some more jelly? Vin asked hopefully.
Ezra smiled. I dont know how to make preserves.
So I cant fix it?
Ezra lifted Vins chin, looking in to the sad blue eyes. There is no need to fix it, Vin.
But youre sad.
Ezra slipped his arm around Vins shoulders. He knew he couldnt lie to the boy. Vin read people too easily. Only because it was the last jar that Aunt Grace made. Not because you ate it. I brought it so we could eat it. It just made me sad to know I dont have any more. But then I realized something.
What? asked Vin softly.
I realized I didnt need that jar of preserves, said Ezra. Aunt Grace isnt in the jar, shes right here, he added tapping his chest.
Like Mama, said Vin.
Ezra nodded. Exactly.
Vin was quiet for a few moments and then leaned back on Ezras chest. Do you think Mama and Aunt Grace know each other?
Ezra nodded. Id like to think so.
They fell silent again, each contemplating his loss.
Aunt Grace sure was a good cook, Vin said with a smile.
Ezra laughed. That she was. The preserves were good?
Vin nodded and hugged him. I love you, Uncle Ezra.
Ezra squeezed him a little tighter. I love you, too. Now why dont we go see how Chriss cooking compares?
Okay! Vin said as he stood up, ready for lunch.
Youre still hungry? Ezra asked with a chuckle.
Chris is making hot dogs! said Vin as if that explained it all.
Ezra smiled as the boy raced across the yard, grateful that Vin's innocent greed had brought back treasured memories of Aunt Grace. A simple jar of preserves reminded him not only of what he had lost, but what he had gained family.