Sigh-lent Night

by Helen Adams

ATF Universe

As he hung another glass ball on the branches of the huge Douglas fir decorating Chris Larabee's living room, Josiah hummed along with the holiday carol playing on the radio. Head bobbing in time with the music, he started to sing along. "Think of all the fun I've missed. Think of all the girlies that I haven't kissed. Next year I could be just as good, if you'll check off my Christmas list."

A dreamy sigh followed the refrain, causing Ezra, who was hanging miniature candy canes on branches along his own side of the tree, to laugh. "Who was she?"

"Who was who?"

"Don't give me that innocent look, Mr. Sanchez. That was your 'oh, the women I've known and the stories I could tell you' sigh."

He snorted a disbelieving laugh. "You're kidding."

"No, he's not. We always know what you're thinking when you sigh," Buck told him, passing Ezra another load of peppermint flavored canes as he noted that as many were going into his friend's mouth as were making it onto the tree branches. He heaved a long dramatic gush of air in demonstration. "That's the 'Somebody save me 'cause Alcoholics Anonymous didn't write a pamphlet on these guys' sigh. Comes out when you're fed up with people doing stupid stuff."

Ezra's eyes seemed to glaze over as he stared heavenward and expelled a dreamy sounding puff of air. Then he grinned at the now-gaping Josiah. "That's the 'If only there were more hours in the day to enjoy this blessed world' sigh, mostly reserved for particularly satisfying busts or beautiful women."

"Or beautiful women possessing particularly satisfying busts," Nathan chimed in, entering the room with a tray of frosted sugar cookies, his comment causing all three of the other men to burst out laughing.

"Amen, brother," Buck chuckled.

Chris followed Nathan out of the kitchen with a huge bowl of his special knock-you-on-your-ass Christmas punch. JD came next with a smaller container of alcohol free eggnog, while Vin finished the procession with a tray full of glasses, and two large bags of chips balanced precariously between his palms and pinkie fingers. Buck rescued the snacks and helped himself to a handful of chips and glass of punch, doling out a second sample from the bowl and passing it to Ezra, who sipped it and instantly made a horrible grimace. "Gah!"

Taking a quick swig from the water bottle next to him, Ezra swished it a few times and then swallowed and stuck his tongue out, finishing the performance with a dramatic shudder. He swished a few more mouthfuls of water, and then finally took another cautious sip of his drink. Looking relieved he announced, "Ah, much better! A perfect batch, Mr. Larabee."

Chris, who had been watching with a concerned expression, laughed. "You sure? You had me worried for a second. Thought I'd poisoned you or something."

Ezra grinned. "My apologies. A word to the wise, however. I strongly advise that everyone avoid the combination of candy-canes and Christmas punch."

"Try the Christmas cookies and eggnog together instead," JD recommended, smacking his lips. "It's great. Just like Mom used to make."

"Ain't bad with the chocolate Santas either," Vin decided, popping in a large mouthful and drowning the candy with a gulp of eggnog. JD followed his example, setting a chocolate figurine atop a sugar cookie before washing them both down with another swallow of his drink. He gave Vin an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Josiah sighed, then frowned, looking self-consciously at his friends.

"That'd be the 'children, children, children . . .'" Chris advised him, grinning at the older man's nonplussed expression. "I've been known to use that one myself around these clowns."

"My favorite is the 'Say your prayers and kiss your ass goodbye, 'cause I'm about to go Old Testament on it'," Vin decided. "Bad guys been known to piss themselves when they hear it. Love that one."

"Unless you just played a prank and you know it's directed at you," Buck cut in. Eying the cookies for a moment, he shrugged and tried one of JD and Vin's new flavor combo's, squashing a square of chocolate into the frosting on a sugar cookie Christmas tree and taking a bite. He did not bother with the eggnog. Buck made no secret of the fact that he couldn't stand the stuff. Silently debating over the flavor for a moment, he snagged one of the small candy-canes and snapped the tip off, adding it to his stack and crunching all three sweets together. "Mm, yummy!"

JD and Vin wasted no time trying this newest experiment. Vin nodded happily at the result, while JD made a face. Ezra smiled and helped himself to a gigantic frosted snowman, sans chocolate or peppermint. Addressing Josiah again, he said, "We probably shouldn't have told you about the sighing. Now you'll be thinking about it too much and we'll have to find something else to read you by."

Josiah smirked. "And here I thought you were all psychic. You know, I wasn't even aware that I did that but I think it must be genetic. My sister and I used to use the sound of our father's sighs to gauge his moods."

"I figured it was just an old guy thing," Vin quipped, laughing as he ducked his head out of the way, then yelping indignantly as Chris delivered a slap to the back of his head on Josiah's behalf. "Hey! What'd you do that for?"

Pretending ignorance, Chris shot back, "Quit hogging all the cookies. Nathan and I didn't spend two hours baking and frosting just to watch you eat 'em all."

Vin looked down at the three cookies in his hand and sheepishly passed the tray so everyone could get a few. "Oops."

"So, getting back to the important part," Buck said, giving Josiah a nudge as he began hanging ornaments again. "Who were you thinking about when you were singing 'Santa Baby'? Anybody we know?"

"Before your time," he replied with a serene smile. "A beautiful blonde named Melissa. I spent a very memorable Christmas week with her back in '72 when we got snowed in at a lodge over the holidays. Very expensive tastes, but she was one naughty little elf."

Chris and Buck both leered at his suggestive tone, clinking their punch glasses together. Nathan and Vin looked impressed, while Ezra simply laughed at JD's face, which was contorting comically. He was clearly hoping for more details but too embarrassed to ask for them.

"Lord, it's no wonder you pine after Mother if that's your criteria," Ezra joked. "That song could have easily been penned by her, and she has enjoyed a remarkable streak of luck when it comes to snaring wealthy suitors during the holiday season."

A sad sigh.

"You're right, Josiah. You'll never be able to afford her."

"I didn't say-" Suddenly realizing what he had done, Josiah started to chuckle and was soon belting out gales of laughter which no one in the room could resist. Within minutes they were all red faced and gasping with merriment.

Hanging one last bauble on the tree, a still grinning Buck said, "I think that'll do 'er. What do you say we fire this baby up and see how she looks?"

Nathan hit the wall light switch while Chris flipped the one on the surge protector. The tree lit up with bright sparkling lights making the decorations shine and shimmer. It was a beautiful sight and almost as one the seven men heaved an audible sigh of pleasure, after which they immediately broke up laughing again.

"Merry Christmas, Brothers," Josiah said, long face alight with mirth and deep affection for his six best friends. He raised his glass. "Here's to many more like it."