Chris really hated this time of year. The crowds were ridiculous along with the long lines where ever you went. The thing that bugged him the most was that stupid piped in music. If he heard "White Christmas" one more time he'd scream. But, he tried to keep calm considering this was the boys' first Christmas with them. When he had agreed to foster Vin, he hadn't considered that it would mean having to remember holidays again, especially since Buck and JD had moved to the ranch so the boys could be together.
Most holidays didn't bother him so much, but Christmas had been Sara's favorite. It was Buck's too. Sara would decorate the house and cook a big turkey diner, and it had been taken for granted that Buck was part of the celebration. Adam had just reached the age where he was beginning to understand it all, that last Christmas of his short life. After losing his family, Chris pretty much ignored Christmas and every other holiday. How Buck felt about it, he wasn't sure. He'd never asked him, and the big guy had never pushed him to acknowledge those times of the year that Sara and Adam had made special for them both.
This year, though, that all changed. There would be decorations, and there would be a turkey dinner. There would be a family to share it with once again.
So, here they were at the grocery store picking up everything Nettie had put on her list. Nettie Wells was the boy's social service worker, although Chris had known her for years, since she owned a small parcel of land down the road from his ranch. She adored the boys and told Chris she would fix Christmas dinner if he did the grocery shopping. That sounded like a plan to him - the woman was a fantastic cook.
Chris was walking down the dairy aisle when the sound system began to spew yet another incarnation of "White Christmas." He would swear that everyone from Bing Crosby to Twisted Sister had done a version of that song. This one happened to be Elvis, who sounded like someone had seriously spiked his eggnog. He groaned audibly.
"What's up?" Buck asked.
"If I hear that song one more time..." Chris left the threat unsaid.
Buck feigned offense. "It's The King, Chris. You don't dis The King."
Chris refrained from further comment. "Grab a carton of eggs," he instructed, as he consulted the list. When he looked up he noticed Vin and JD weren't in sight. "Where are the boys?"
Buck was still getting used to child-induced panic attacks, and almost gave himself whiplash as he whipped his head around scanning the area frantically, almost dropping the eggs. He spotted them further down the aisle, leaning over one of the dairy cases."There they are," he sighed with relief.
The two little boys were looking at something in the case. JD leaned over to whisper to Vin, who shrugged.
Buck placed the eggs in the cart, "I'll get them."
As he approached, JD looked up at him with big, hopeful eyes. Vin, however, shyly averted his gaze. Something was up, but before he could ask, JD pointed at the dairy case. "Buck, can we get those?" he asked.
Vin elbowed him in the ribs, but cautiously directed his gaze upward.
Buck looked where JD was pointing. Lined up on the shelf were neat rows of Pillsbury sugar cookies. In the center of the cookies were snowman or reindeer or Christmas trees. Buck remembered baking those with Adam. They came as a scored roll of dough that you cut into individual cookies. All you had to do after that was bake them.
"I'm sure Miss Nettie will bake you cookies," Buck said, knowing for a fact that she had already done so.
JD pouted. "But we need them for Santa."
"Why?" Buck asked.
"'Cause we gots to leave him cookies Christmas Eve," JD said rolling his eyes.
"JD, don't be a pest," Vin warned. "Don't worry Buck, we don't have to do that."
"But we's gots too!" JD insisted, then added, "Mark Nichols said if we don't, then Santa won't come."
The Nichols family had eight boys, and Buck wasn't sure exactly which among them were classmates of Vin and JD, but apparently, Mark was the voice of doom as far as JD was concerned. He reached into the case and grabbed the cookies with the snowman design.
"No, Buck, not those," JD said. "The reindeer ones."
Vin just sighed and Buck laughed. "Okay, Little Bit."
JD smiled as Buck handed him the package of reindeer cookie dough. He thought about grabbing another package but decided that with Nettie making homemade cookies, one package was enough.
"What are those?" Chris asked as JD dropped the cookies in the cart.
"They're reindeers," JD announced. "Chris can I ride now?"
Buck lifted JD and placed him in the seat of the cart. He took over pushing from Chris and continued down the aisle.
Vin thought he should explain to Chris about the cookies. "We have to leave them for Santa," Vin said.
"Leave what for Santa?" Chris was looking over the list and wasn't really paying attention to Vin.
"Nothin'," Vin sighed.
Chris mentally kicked himself and gave Vin his full attention. "I'm sorry, Vin, what did you want to tell me?"
"Ain't important," Vin declared.
Chris went over the last couple of seconds and realized what JD bought were cookies to bake for Santa. "Actually it's very thoughtful of you to want to leave a snack for Santa."
Vin shrugged. "I reckom. ' Least that's what the other kids at school said you had to do."
"Well I reckon it can't hurt."
Vin smiled. "They're real easy ta make. I seen 'em on TV."
"Have you?" Chris said, holding out his hand. He smiled as Vin took it. He'd seen the commercials, too, but he could see Vin wanted to tell him all about it.
"Yup," Vin said. "You just cut 'em like this," he demonstrated with invisible cookie dough, "and then put 'em in the oven ' til they turn into cookies."
"Well that shouldn't be too hard," Chris agreed, following Buck. "But the hard part will be keeping JD and Buck from eating them."
Vin laughed, "And me, too!"
+ + + + + + +
It was decided they would bake Santa's special cookies Christmas Eve day. Nettie was over early to start dishes that could be reheated the next day. All the while, JD pestered Buck to bake the cookies, even though she assured both of them that there was no hurry. It would only take about 15 minutes to set them on a cookie sheet and bake them.
JD was not to be deterred. "Please," he begged.
"Enough, JD," Buck scolded finally. "You were told we'd do them after dinner."
"But dinner is such a long way away," the youngster pouted.
"It's only an hour," Vin reasoned. "Just come over and help me finish this picture for Miss Nettie."
JD sighed and joined Vin on the floor. He decided to do his own picture. Vin looked up at Buck and winked. Chris stifled a laugh at the look Buck gave Vin. The little blond smiled and returned to his picture. Chris glanced at his watch. The calzone Nettie left for dinner would take about thirty minutes to heat and he figured they couldn't keep JD waiting much longer. When he stood up JD jumped to his feet.
"Is it time?"
"No, JD," Vin said. "It ain't even been a minute from the last time you asked.
"But where's Chris going?" JD demanded placing his hands on his hips.
Chris just shook his head. "I'm going to start dinner."
"Yippy!" JD exclaimed.
"Can I help?" Vin asked.
"Sure," Chris said.
"Actually, Little Bit, I need some help rearranging the tinsel on that tree," Buck said. He knew Vin liked to spend time alone with Chris, and that JD had been itching to get his hands on the soft, sparkly tinsel.
"Okay," JD agreed eagerly.
Vin followed Chris into the kitchen. Chris asked Vin to get out a pan so the could heat the sauce for the calzone. He showed Vin the size they would need and the youngster eagerly rummaged through the cabinet for a pot.
"Thanks, Vin, let me just put this in the oven and I'll show you how to use the can opener."
"I know how," Vin said.
Chris smiled. "Alright, then."
Vin got the can opener out of the drawer. It took him a couple of tries before he got it going but once started the can opened easily. When he was done he showed Chris his handy work.
"That's great," Chris said pulling a chair over to the stove. "Can you stir this while I set the table?"
"Alright," Vin said, climbing onto the chair.
Chris placed the pot on a burner set to low heat and handed Vin the long-handled wooden spoon. When Vin was set Chris grabbed the plates and utensils out of the cabinet and set the table.
"So how come you haven't been pestering us to make the cookies?"
"Why should I?" Vin said looking at Chris. "You gave us your word that we'd do it after dinner. So far ya's kept your word."
The little boy's confident words tugged unexpectedly at Chris's heart. It touched him that the little boy whom life had treated so harshly had complete trust in him.
Twenty minutes later, JD burst into the kitchen followed by Buck.
"Is it time to eat yet?"
"Yes, JD," Chris said, placing a salad on the table.
Vin joined JD at the table while Buck helped Chris get the rest of the food. Buck cut up the pepperoni and cheese calzone into small pieces for JD then smothered it in sauce. Eager to get the meal over with, JD crammed several forkfuls into his mouth at once.
"JD!" Vin said angrily. "Yer bein' a PIG!"
JD tried to chew what he'd put in his mouth, but Buck realized he wouldn't be able to handle that much without choking on it. He made JD spit it in his napkin.
"Gross! You're being a brat," Vin declared.
JD sniffed, "I just wanted to get done so we could bake the cookies."
"Chris already gave his word that we would," Vin said, wiping the tears from JD's eyes. "Now just eat normal and we'll be done 'fore you know it."
"I'm sorry," JD said giving Chris and Buck a soulful look.
"It's okay, Little Bit," Buck smiled. "Just eat slower, and enjoy the food. It's really good."
The kitchen was quiet as everyone continued with their meal. Vin asked for more which Chris was more than willing to give him. The doctor said he was under weight and they'd been trying to remedy that. JD was subdued for the rest of dinner and ate slowly. Finally they were done and the boys helped put away the leftovers and clear the table. JD couldn't stay quiet long and soon he was back to his boisterous self. They got out the package of cookies and Buck read the directions.
"Okay so we put the oven on 350," he said, turning the knob. "Then we just cut them and bake until golden brown."
"How long is that?" Chris asked as he placed a cookie sheet on the table.
"Not long," Buck consulted the package. "About 8 to 10 minutes."
Chris took the dough from Buck and cut it. The first few tries the reindeer came out squished which JD thought was pretty funny. but eventually, 2 dozen cookies were sliced and on cookie sheets. Things didn't quiet work out as planned, though. They left the first batch in for 10 minutes, only to discover that they burned if left in that long. The second batch came out fine but they were left with only a dozen cookies.
"Can we try one?" JD asked. "They smell real good!"
"I suppose we should," Buck agreed. "Have to see if they are good enough for Santa."
"If we each have two that will leave four for Santa," JD reasoned. "Would that be enough?"
"That's plenty, JD," Chris said, placing the four cookies for Santa on a plate.
They ate their cookies, then Chris said it was time for bed. Vin went to get ready for bed, followed eagerly by JD. Normally the five-year-old begged to stay up later.
"Too bad it isn't Christmas all year," Buck laughed. "That's the easiest JD's ever agreed to go to bed."
When they were ready they had JD and Vin place the cookies and milk on the fireplace mantle. JD stalled and kept moving the cookies trying to find the best place. He finally settled on the first place they had put them. Buck took them to their room and both boys climbed into bed.
Chris was flipping through the channels when Buck came back down the hall. "They give you a hard time?"
"Nope," Buck said, bonelessly dropping on the couch. "One story and out."
Chris threw Buck the remote as he stood. "I'm going to go work on those expense accounts."
"Better you than me," Buck laughed.
Chris left the mustached agent in front of the TV as he sat down at the computer. He really hated this part of the job, especially on Christmas Eve. He sighed and got down to work.
"Hey, Chris, I'm heading to bed."
"What time is it?" Chris asked looking up.
"It's almost midnight," Buck said. "Let's get the presents under the tree and call it a night."
"I'll put them out," Chris said. "I'm almost done here."
"Make sure you eat the cookies," Buck said pointing to the plate on the hearth.
+ + + + + + +
JD sat up in bed. He could have sworn he heard a noise. The winter wind was causing a loose tree branch to scrape along the eaves, but that wasn't what JD heard - he heard someone walking on the roof! Scrambling off the bed he scrambled up the ladder to the top bunk. He checked to see if Vin was awake, and then shook him to make sure he was.
"Vin, are you awake?"
"I am now,"Vin grumbled, rolling over.
"I heard something on the roof," JD explained. "Maybe it's Santa."
Vin listened but didn't hear anything. JD was on his way back down the ladder. "Where are you going?"
"I just want to go see," JD said.
Not wanting to miss anything, Vin tossed back his covers and followed. As they came close to the end of the hallway, JD started to walk on his tippy toes and peered around the edge. Vin was close behind him when suddenly JD began to wail.
"NO! NO! NO!" JD raced to where Chris was eating the cookies left for Santa. "You've ruined it! Now he won't come!"
Chris was caught completely off guard as JD skidded into his leg. He choked on a cookie and began to cough. JD started crying and ran from the room. Once Chris got his breathing under control he saw Vin standing at the end of the hall.
"You don't seem too upset I ate the cookies?" Chris observed.
Vin shrugged. "Santa's not coming anyway so you might as well eat them."
"Why wouldn't he come?" Chris asked.
"He never has before," Vin answered.
A few seconds later a bleary eyed Buck came wandering down the hall carry a crying JD.
"It's okay, Little Bit, we'll just put out some more."
Buck tried to hide a smile as he passed Chris. Vin followed Buck as he headed for the kitchen. The blond sighed and followed. too. Buck placed JD in his chair and rummaged through the cookie jar. All it contained were crumbs, and Nettie hadn't brought her cookies over yet. There wasn't a cookie in the house. He vainly wished he hadn't put that second package of cookies back.
"You know what, JD, I think Santa might like to have an apple," Buck said, grabbing one from the bowl on the counter. "You know he gets so many cookies..."
"No! It has to be cookies," JD cried. "Or he won't come!"
"Looks like we'll have to make some," Buck suggested.
"Buck..." Chris glared.
It was after midnight and Chris didn't' fancy staying up all night baking cookies, but Buck ignored him and grabbed the cookbook. How hard could it be? He flipped through the pages until he found a recipe for butter cookies. He read the ingredients and smiled.
"We got everything we need to make butter cookies," Buck said.
Chris knew there was no way around this and turn the oven on to bake. Buck gathered the eggs, butter, margarine and sugar and placed everything on the counter. He pulled up a chair for JD while Chris grabbed one for Vin. While Buck and JD got started on the wet ingredients Chris and Vin tackled the dry. The recipe called for four cups of flour and a teaspoon of baking powder. Chris searched the cupboards for the baking powder but couldn't find any. It only called for a teaspoon, so how much could it hurt if they just left it out?
Buck had a hard time mixing the butter and margarine since it was cold so the mixture was rather lumpy. When he thought all was ready they started to add the flour. The first few cups were easy and JD had no trouble mixing, but by the third cup the batter was getting thick and Buck took over. By the fourth cup Buck's hands were killing him. The recipe said to knead the dough - it failed to mention you had to be a body builder.
"Man that was hard work," Buck said, wiping his arm across his forehead, leaving a streak of floor.
Chris grabbed the dough and placed it on the table. "Let's get this moving. It's late."
They didn't have any cookie cutters so Chris improvised and gave each of the boys a glass cup. Once the batter was rolled on the table he showed them how to use the cup to cut the cookies. The first batch went into the oven and they sat at the table to wait. Buck checked his watch; the recipe said 10 minutes, but after the other batch burned, he decided to check them after eight.
"Buck I gotta go," JD said.
"You know where the bathroom is, JD," Vin pointed out.
"Want Buck to come with me," JD pouted.
Buck knew that tone. JD was tired. "OK Little Bit, let's go."
When Buck returned to the kitchen with JD they found the first batch of cookies burned to a crisp.
"What happened?" Buck asked.
Chris grumbled as he pushed the cookies off into the trash. "They weren't cooking so I turned the heat up a little..." Amazingly, at 500 degrees, the cookies had taken about 30 seconds to go from nearly-done to "burnt."
Another batch was cut and placed on the cookie sheet. They put it in the oven and this time both Chris and Buck set their watch timers. After a few minutes Chris felt a tap on his leg.
"Chris, you ain't got to do it any more," Vin said.
"Do what?" Chirrs asked.
"JD's asleep," Vin pointed to the table. JD was sprawled across it sound asleep with his glass in his hand. "I'm tired, too. I just want to go to bed."
Chris sighed as the timer went off. Buck pulled the cookies out of the oven and placed them on the cooling rack. They were pale and kinda sickly looking.
"Thats it, Buck, we have enough for Santa," Chris declared, turning off the oven.
Buck woke JD so he could place the cookies on a plate and put them on the hearth.
As both boys crawled back into bed, Chris realized it was 2:00 am. They were soon sound asleep.
After a few trips to the garage, Chris and Buck had all the packages under the tree.
"I'm beat... Let's get to bed," Chris declared.
As they walked past the hearth Buck stopped. "We gotta eat those cookies."
"You eat them," Chris ordered. "I'll go make sure the coast is clear."
Buck laughed and took a bite of one of the cookies. They tasted awful and he made a face.
"That bad, huh?"
"Just a good thing we don't do a lot of cooking," Buck smiled, grabbing the cookies and pulling a note out of his pocket.
"What's that?" Chris asked.
"Note from Santa," Buck explained.
"What the hell are you going to do with those?" Chris indicated the cookies.
"Throw them out my window for the birds," Buck said.
"Isn't that a bit on the cruel side?" Chris smiled.
"Better them than me," Buck laughed.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning Ezra pulled up to the house and was surprised when to small boys didn't run to the door to great him. Perhaps he had the wrong time. He looked at his watch and saw it was eleven o'clock. The time was right and he got out of the car. As he closed his door Josiah pulled up in his Suburban.
"Merry Christmas, Ezra."
"Same to you Josiah," Ezra smiled. "Nathan and Rain coming over later?"
"Yes," Josiah said, opening the back door and retrieving presents.
"Josiah, didn't they say to arrive at eleven?"
"Yes, why?" Josiah asked.
"Isn't it a bit strange that the boys haven't run out to greet us?"
"They're probably too busy playing with their toys," Josiah said. "Let's get inside. I'm freezing out here."
"Wait," Ezra said as Josiah went to ring the bell. "Let's surprise them."
Ezra pulled out a key for the front door. They opened it to find the house quiet. There was no one in the family room. All the presents were still under the tree unopened. Ezra looked at Josiah.
"Maybe Chris and Buck made them wait until we came to open gifts."
"Do you really think they could get JD to wait?" Ezra asked.
"Maybe they're in the kitchen."
Josiah left the presents under the tree, now a bit concerned.
Ezra doubted anyone was in the kitchen. It was too quiet. When they walked in it look like a bomb had hit. There were broken eggs on the counter, flour scattered all over the floor, and a bowl of cookie dough sitting on the kitchen table.
"What the hell happened here?"
+ + + + + + +
JD could have sworn he heard someone in the living room. He crawled out of bed and walked down he hall. When he came into the den he couldn't believe his eyes. There were a bunch of presents under the tree. He stared in awe, and then he remembered something. He ran over to the fireplace to find the cookies gone. There was a note on top of the plate.
Dear JD & Vin,
The cookies were wonderful.
Thank you and Merry Christmas.
"He was here," JD whispered. "HE WAS HERE!"
JD went running down the hall and into the bedroom to wake up Vin. He scrambled up the ladder. He jumped on the bed and shook his friend.
"Vin!" JD shouted. "Santa was here!"
"No he weren't," Vin grumbled, pulling the blankets over his head.
That wasn't the answer JD expected and climbed back down the ladder. Once he was on the floor he raced into Buck room.
"Buck!" JD screeched at the top of his lungs. "Santa was here!'
Buck didn't have time to react as JD jumped on the bed. "Mornin' JD."
"Get up! Get up! He was here!"
"Who was here?" Chris asked from the door.
JD jumped off the bed and ran to Chris. "Santa!"
"He was?" Buck asked innocently, sitting up.
"Come see!" JD screeched, pulling on Buck's arm.
Buck allowed himself to be led by JD. Chris turned back to the boys' room, wondering whereVin was. He was surprised JD's yelling hadn't woken him. Chris peeked in to find Vin curled up with Cat, sound asleep. Normally Vin would be up with the dawn but their late night cooking adventure had Vin off his game.
"Vin," Chris called.
"Go away, JD," Vin snuggled further under the covers.
"Don't you want to see what Santa brought?" Chris asked.
Vin blinked his eyes opened to look at Chris. "Why? He didn't come."
"How do you know?" Chris asked. "You're still in bed."
"Cause," Vin sighed. "He hasn't come since my mama died. Besides I'm tired."
Chris didn't know what to say. Vin just didn't believe any more. They heard a screech form the living room.
"Let's just go see what JD is yelling about," Chris suggested.
Vin reluctantly agreed and sat up blinking. Chris could see he wasn't really awake yet and lifted him off the bed. Normally Vin didn't like to be carried, but he was content to let Chris do it this time. As they got to the living room Vin had his head on Chris's shoulder.
"Take a look Vin," Chris coaxed.
Vin lifted his head and looked at the tree. Chris placed him on the floor and held him a few seconds until he as sure Vin was actually awake. He just stood there and stared.
"Is he alright?" Ezra asked in concern.
"It was a long night," Chris sighed. "I don't think he's awake yet."
"We noticed the disaster in the kitchen," Josiah smiled.
"Long story," Chris returned the smile.
"Can we, please?!" JD pleaded.
"Go to it, JD," Buck laughed.
The dark haired boy ran to the pile and grabbed a present. This brought Vin out of his daze and he joined his younger friend. They each grabbed a package but saw it was labeled for the other. They traded and ripped open the paper.
"Optimus Prime!" they chorused.
The men laughed as the boys tore through the boxes looking for more. This was the best Christmas they'd all had in a long time.