Best Birthday Ever

by Hunter

Part 3 of The Miss Jess Chronicles

“Dad?” Vin asked hesitantly.

“Yes, Vin?” Chris replied turning from the dishes he was washing to look at the boy.

“Can I invite Miss Jess to the barbeque?” Vin’s fingers played nervously with the hem of his t-shirt and he didn’t look at his father.

“If you want to. You sure you don’t want to invite some of the kids from school?” Chris dried his hands and turned to the small child.

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Vin sighed. They had been asking him that all week. He just did not want any of the kids to come. He liked some of the kids from school but just wanted to spend his birthday with his ‘family’ and Miss Jess.

“Do you want to ask her tomorrow at school or do you want to call her now?”

“Can we call her?” Vin asked quietly.

“Sure, grab the phone.” Chris new Vin was shy and had taken to his new teacher right away. He was always excited to tell what happened at school this year since Miss Jess had come to help him with his dyslexia. Vin ran to get the phone and brought it back to his father. Chris pulled out his wallet and took out Jessica McIntyre’s business card. “Do you want to ask her?”

“Will you do it?” Vin asked, ducking his head shyly. Now that he had asked to invite her he was embarrassed to think about calling her himself.

Grinning, Chris dialed the number. The phone was answered on the third ring. “Miss McIntyre?” Chris asked.

“Who’s calling?” a quiet warm voice asked.

“This is Chris Larabee, Vin’s father.”

“Mr. Larabee, what can I do for you? Is Vin all right?” she asked, concern filling her voice on the last question.

“Vin’s fine,” he reassured her with a smile in his voice. Was she this concerned about all of her students? “We’re having a little get together this weekend for Vin’s birthday. He’d like to know if you’d come for some barbeque, nothing fancy.”

“Need another chaperone?” she asked amused.

Chris chuckled. “No, Vin didn’t want to invite any of the kids from school.”

“He didn’t?” she asked confused.

“No, we’ve asked several times. He doesn’t want to ask them.”

“Well, when and where? Do you have arrangements for a cake yet?”

“Uhh...” he turned and looked at his son who was watching him expectantly.

“Vin’s there isn’t he?” she asked with a laugh.


“Okay. If you don’t have plans already made for a cake, I would love to take care of that for him.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Chris stated.

“I know. I want to. It’s kind of a hobby of mine.”

“Are you sure? We were planning to pick one up.”

“I’m sure. Every child should have a homemade birthday cake.” Jessica thought sadly of Vin’s earlier childhood and figured he had not had much chance of having a homemade cake. “You didn’t tell me when.”

Chris did not miss the determination in her voice about the homemade cake. It made him smile that she really did seem to care about her students, or at least Vin. “Saturday. Everyone should be here about 11 and we’ll eat around noon.”

“I’ll need directions. Is there anything else I can bring or help with?”

“No, we have everything else under control. I’ll send the directions and a map with Vin tomorrow.” Chris looked at Vin again and the child nodded, his big blue eyes glowing with happiness.

“That sounds fine. I’ll see you Saturday.”

“Thank you and have a good evening, Miss McIntyre.”

“Mr. Larabee?” Jessica asked quickly before Chris could pull the phone away from his ear. “May I speak to Vin a minute?”

“Hold on.” Chris turned to Vin and handed him the phone. “She wants to talk to you, cowboy.”

Vin tentatively took the phone, “Hello, Miss Jess?”

“Hello, Vin.” Her voice was warm and loving and it made Vin smile. “Thank you for inviting me to your birthday. I wouldn’t miss it, sweetheart.” Vin blushed at her endearment and Chris wondered what she had said to him. “I’ll see you tomorrow at school, alright.”

“K. See you tomorrow. Thank you.” Vin hung up the phone and looked at his father. “Thanks, Dad,” he said smiling and hugged Chris around the waist.

Returning the hug, Chris smiled to himself. Maybe Vin had a crush on Miss Jess. “You’re welcome, Vin. Now, it’s time to get ready for bed.”

“Ohhh, just a little longer?” Vin asked pleadingly.

“No, now. Go on.”

“K,” the boy said dejectedly as he left the kitchen.


Saturday arrived bright, sunny and warm for the fall day. Jessica McIntyre had called Chris Larabee once since being invited to Vin’s birthday celebration. She needed to know how many people would be there so she could make the appropriately sized cake. She also asked if he had a picture of Vin with his horse Peso and if the party had a theme.

Vin had often talked about his horse and dog and the other animals at the ranch he lived at with Chris Larabee, Buck Wilmington and five-year-old JD Dunne. She could tell that he especially liked horses just by the way he talked about them. He liked all animals and nature from what he had told her while she helped him with his reading.

Jessica had worked with learning disabled children for the last ten years. She learned early on that children tended to learn better if you used topics that they were already interested in. In Vin’s case, if it involved animals, especially horses or nature, he was very eager to learn.

Vin woke up early, excited that his uncles, Miss Nettie and Miss Jess were coming to celebrate his birthday. He could not wait until everyone would show up. He was most excited to show Miss Jess his horse, Peso, and his dog, Ringo, and show her all around the ranch.

Ever since Vin had started going to school after living with Chris and Buck, he had struggled with his reading and writing. Miss Jess came in this year just to help him. That’s what he liked best about it. She worked only with him. He was finding reading much easier with her and she was helping him come up with ways to remember how to make his letters correctly. She never scolded him for writing some letters backwards, just made suggestions to make them easier for him. He was actually starting to look forward to going to school. Before Miss Jess started helping him, he dreaded school.

Josiah Sanchez, Nathan and Raine Jackson were the first to arrive Saturday. Vin and JD Dunne, Vin’s five-year-old ‘brother’ waited until Uncle Josiah’s vehicle came to a stop before charging toward it.

“Hi, Unca ‘Siah, Unca Nathan! Hi, Aunt Raine!” JD cried enthusiastically as they stepped out of the vehicle.

“Hello, JD. Happy birthday, Vin.” Josiah greeted the two boys.

“Thanks, Uncle ‘Siah,” Vin replied grinning. “Hi, Uncle Nathan, Aunt Raine,” he called as they came around the vehicle to stand in front of the boys.

Chris was manning the grill as an unknown vehicle came up the drive followed by Ezra’s Jaguar. He watched as Jessica McIntyre exited the green Jeep Cherokee and opened the back door. Ezra stepped out of the Jag and approached the attractive woman, Vin’s birthday present in one hand. They shook hands as they introduced themselves to each other and started chatting.

Vin and JD came running around the house at the sound of car doors slamming shut. The boys ran by Chris. As he watched, Ezra and Miss Jess turned to the boys as they ran up to them. He watched as Miss Jess greeted the boys, paying particular attention to Vin. She continued to the back door of the jeep, pulled out a gift bag and handed it to Ezra as he obviously offered to take it for her. She then pulled out a large flat box, the cake she had made.

Vin was practically dancing in front of his teacher. “Come on Miss Jess. I’ll in’duce you to everyone,” and grabbed her hand, dragging her forward. She followed the excited boy toward the other adults.

As they approached the front porch where everyone was gathered, Chris quietly called, “Hello, Miss McIntyre.”

“Hello, Mr. Larabee,” she replied with a smile. She came to a stop behind Vin as Buck Wilmington came out of the house with bowls of food in his hands. He smiled widely as he spotted her, “Well hello,” he said quietly.

“Mr. Wilmington,” she greeted, chuckling.

“Buck, darlin’. How many times do I have to tell ya? Call me Buck,” he replied in mock exasperation. He had been trying to get her to call him Buck since he first met her over a month ago while picking up the boys from school one afternoon. Buck had offered to pick up the boys more than usual since then.

Jessica merely chuckled before turning to Chris. “Where would you like me to put the cake, Mr. Larabee?”

“Chris, please,” he said, smiling mischievously, glancing at Buck.

“Chris,” Jessica said with a nod of her head.

“Vin,” Chris said, getting the boys attention. “Take Miss McIntyre...”

“Jess, please,” she interrupted.

“Take Jess inside and show her to the dining room.”

Buck turned to Chris indignantly as Vin took her inside the house. “Wha…Ho…,” fumbling for words at the exchange between Chris and Jessica.

“I believe, Mr. Wilmington, the lovely lady is far too intelligent to be mislead by your charms,” Ezra drawled with a chuckle. The others chuckled as well at Buck’s expense.


Inside the house, Vin showed Jessica to the dining room where she deposited the cake. “I hope you like chocolate cake,” Jessica stated as she smiled at him.

Vin nodded his head vigorously. “It’s my favorite.”

“Good, because I made it especially for you.”

Vin’s eyes grew wide as he looked up at her. “Ya made it jus’ for me?” he asked incredulously.

“Of course, sweetheart.” She squatted down in front of him and placed her hands on his little arms reassuringly. “Every birthday boy needs a special cake.” She smiled warmly at him.

His big blue eyes regarded her solemnly as they filled with moisture. He had never really had a cake of his own before. His mama had managed to buy a small cupcake for his birthdays but never a whole cake made just for him.

Growing concerned, Jess pulled him into a hug. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to make you sad. I just want you to have the best birthday ever.”

Vin let her hold him, his arms going instantly around her neck. She always made him feel better when she hugged him and sad as well, reminding him of his mama’s hugs. She held him for several minutes before pulling him back so she could look at his face. Trying to lighten the mood, she put on a mischievous look and cocked her head. “Why don’t you show me that ornery horse of yours, Peso?” she asked, lifting her eyebrows slightly.

With the look on her face, the boy slowly smiled as some of his earlier excitement returned at the prospect of showing her around his home. Nodding his head, he took her hand and led her back outside.

Out on the porch, the table was loaded down with food and Chris was just taking the last pieces of meat off the grill. “Vin, why don’t you introduce Jess to everyone and then go wash up so we can eat?”

“K,” Vin sighed. He pulled Jessica over to his uncles and started the introductions. This is Uncle Josiah,” Vin told her indicating the large man with cropped graying hair.

Josiah stood and extended his hand in greeting, “Josiah Sanchez, ma’am. I’m very pleased to meet you finally. Vin has told us a lot about how you’re helping him at school.”

Jessica shook his hand, smiling, “Mr. Sanchez.”

“And this is Uncle Nathan and Aunt Raine,” Vin continued.

Nathan stood and extended his hand as well, “Nathan and Raine Jackson.”

“This is Miss Nettie,” Vin said giving the short graying woman a hug as he introduced her to Jessica.

“Hello, Vin,” Miss Nettie greeted the young boy as she returned his hug. “Miss Jess and I have worked together before but it has been awhile. How are you doing Jessica?”

“Fine, just fine, Nettie. Thank you. It has been awhile since we’ve seen each other. How have you been?”

“Can’t complain,” Nettie responded and Vin moved back to Jess to lead her over to Ezra on the opposite side of the porch.

“This is Uncle Ezra,” Vin introduced the southerner.

Ezra inclined his head to the young woman, “A pleasure again, Miss McIntyre.”

She smiled broadly at him and turned as Vin started pulling on her hand again to get her attention. “You already met Buck. That’s JD,” Vin indicated the child in Buck’s arms.

Jessica extended her hand to the small boy in the big man’s arms. “Hello, JD.”

“Hi! I’m JD,” he said excited as he shook her hand. “I seen you at school. Vin talks about you all the time. He likes school now ‘cause a you. Did you know that? He didn’t like school ‘fore. I like school. It’s fun. Are you hungry? I’m hungry. Can we eat now?”

Jessica could not help but chuckle at the tumble of words coming out of the small dark headed boy.

“See?” Vin asked Jess seriously. Still chuckling she nodded her head at Vin. Remembering that he had not introduced Miss Jess yet he quickly turned to everyone and exclaimed, “This is Miss Jess.”

Chris chuckled to himself. “Vin, JD. Go in and wash up. We’re ready to eat.”

“Yeah,” JD squealed as his wiggled to be let down from Buck’s arms. Once down he ran toward the door hollering over his shoulder. “Come on, Vin. I’s hungry.”

“You’re always hungry, JD,” the other boy complained as he headed inside to follow his friend.


Everyone was enjoying the food and conversation as they ate. Jess was glad to have the opportunity to observe the ‘family’ of Vin Tanner. He would talk about them at school and now she could see for herself that the boys were the center of everyone’s life. Very much loved and wanted. She had to smile at the banter between the Uncles, fathers and boys.

Once the food was consumed to everyone’s satisfaction the boys were ready to play and asked to be excused. Vin walked over to Miss Jess and asked, “You wanna see Peso now?”

Jess smiled at Vin before looking at Chris and asking, “Do you need help with anything, Chris?”

Chris smiled back and waived her away from the table. “Got plenty of hands around to help. You go on. I’m sure Vin wants to show you the whole place.”

“No touching the cake,” she warned as she got up from the table.

Chris held up his hands in surrender. “Yes ma’am,” he said with a grin.

Vin grabbed her hand and started dragging her toward the barn.

“Can we have cake now?” JD asked exuberantly.

Jess placed her free hand on her belly as she looked at the small boy. “I’m too full for cake now, JD. Why don’t we wait till later?”

Grabbing her hand, JD smiled at her. “Okay.” JD and Vin headed her to the barn.

Chris and the rest of the extended ‘family’ watched periodically as the boys took Jessica all over the ranch showing her everything. She did not seem to mind one bit by the smile that always seemed to be on her face. Her loud infectious laughter would occasionally ring out across the yard drawing everyone’s attention. The trio seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely.

Josiah placed a large hand on Chris’ shoulder drawing the smaller man’s attention. “She is a God send, brother,” he said as he watched the boys and woman playing in the tree fort. “I’ve only seen those boys play like that with you, Buck or one of us.”

Chris nodded as he turned his attention back to the three ‘kids’ playing. The two boys did not readily trust anyone. Jessica seemed to have effortlessly wormed her way into their hearts, especially Vin’s. Chris could not help but smile as he heard her laugh again before boyish giggles followed and they all came tearing out of the tree fort headed straight for the house.

The boys reached the front porch first and Jessica stopped at the steps leaning over to place her hands on her knees trying to catch her breath after chasing the boys.

“Beat ya!” both boys exclaimed as they threw themselves at their respective fathers, causing both men to grunt as the boys landed on them unceremoniously.

Jessica laughed at the boys antics and stepped onto the porch. Ezra handed her a cold bottle of water as she plopped down in a vacant chair with a huge sigh. “Thank you,” she said breathlessly.

Ezra inclined his head slightly as he smiled at her before addressing the boys. “I do believe you two are exhausting Miss McIntyre. Perhaps a respite is in order.”

“Huh?” JD asked, scrunching his face in confusion from his perch on one of Buck’s knees.

“He means we should take a break, JD,” Vin said. He sat in Chris’ lap, his back against Chris’ chest, head resting on his shoulder. Face flushed with exertion, he lay there trying to catch his breath. Chris handed him a bottle of water and crossed his arms over the slender boy’s middle. Vin was still leery of people’s touch so Chris relished it when Vin allowed it.

“We are takin’ a break. We decided it was time for cake,” JD cried impishly with a huge smile and big happy eyes.

Buck laughed. “You did huh?” he asked, tickling the boy making him squeal with laughter.

“Yup,” Vin said from Chris’ lap. “Miss Jess said she needed some cake to keep up with us.”

Jessica laughed and looked at Vin. “Traitor,” she growled teasingly. She was rewarded with a mischievous grin from Vin.

Chris looked at her, grinning. “I thought you were full.”

“I was,” she said emphatically. “After running around with these two,” she indicated the boys with her hand, “lunch is long gone.”

Chris and Buck both laughed and Buck said, “Yeah, they’ll do that to ya.”

Jess looked at Vin, “You ready for cake?” Vin nodded vigorously. “I’ll go get it. You tell everyone it’s time for cake.”

“K,” he said as he scrambled off Chris’ lap. As Jess, Chris and Buck moved into the house to get the dessert items, Vin yelled, “CAKE!!!” from the front porch steps.

Jess chuckled as she made her way to the dining room to retrieve the cake box. She saw immediately that the box was not where she had left it and carried it into the kitchen, eyeing the two men. “Someone trying to peek at the cake?”

Chris grinned at her, raising his hands up defensively and surreptitiously pointing at Buck while shaking his head no.

Buck looked at her innocently. “Now, darlin’, how do you expect us to peek at it when ya got the box all taped shut like that?”

Jess looked at him and chuckled. “That would be why it was taped shut.”

Chris snorted with laughter as he collected the ice cream out of the freezer.

Once back outside, Jess placed the cake on the table and called Vin over. Carefully cutting the tape that sealed the box, she looked for Chris and waved him over to stand by Vin. Pulling out a camera she said, “Okay, Vin. Open it.” Vin, Chris and the others around them were dumbstruck as they looked at the cake before them, oblivious to Jess snapping a few pictures.

Vin stood in awe, his mouth forming a perfect ‘oh’ as he took in the cake with its picture of himself hugging Peso’s head to his chest. It was a perfect likeness of both.

Chris too looked in awe at the cake before looking at Jess, who was smiling widely as she watched Vin’s reaction. “I th…” he cleared his throat and tried again, “I thought this was a hobby?” It was both statement and question.

Jess lifted her eyes to his and nodded. “It is.” She shifted her attention back to Vin who was looking at her with the biggest bluest welling eyes she had ever seen. Immediately she drew her brows together in concern and dropped to one knee holding her arms open to him. Vin rushed into them and wrapped his arms around her neck as the tears fell. She hugged him tightly, closing her eyes and dropping her chin to his shoulder as she turned her face toward his. “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” she said distressed.

Vin pulled back from her and looked at her quizzically.

Chris had come over and put a hand on Vin’s shoulder comfortingly. He was not sure what had happened.

“It’s perfect,” Vin whispered before hugging himself to her again.

She sighed with relief and looked up at Chris with a small smile. She stood with Vin in her arms and Chris moved his hand to Vin’s back. “You alright, cowboy?” he asked with concern.

Vin turned in her arms to look at his dad and nodded his head, eyes still wide but the tears gone. Realizing he had everyone’s attention, he reached for Chris and hid his head in Chris’ neck as Chris took him from Jess.

Ignoring everyone but the two people before her, Jess’ hand rubbed Vin’s back comfortingly. She asked quietly, “Vin, would you like a picture of the cake?”

Vin nodded his head and she went to take a few pictures.

JD, squirming in Buck’s arms, finally demanded, “What’s wrong with Vin? I want Vin!”

Josiah spoke up, directing his gaze to JD but speaking to everyone. “Vin’s fine, JD. He’s just overwhelmed with feel good thoughts right now.”

JD looked at the big man skeptically. “You sure?”

Josiah looked at Chris and the boy in his arms. “Isn’t that right, Vin?”

Vin nodded his head in Chris’ neck before pulling himself upright and looking at JD. “I’m K, JD,” he told his brother quietly.

“Can we have cake now?” JD asked. If Vin said he was okay then he was.

Vin looked apprehensively at Chris. “Do we have to cut it?”

Jess answered before Chris could. “We can cut around the picture, okay?”

“K,” Vin sighed reluctantly.


A few hours later, cake and ice cream devoured and presents opened, the unusual family started preparing to go their separate ways for the evening. Vin was thanking everyone for his gifts and coming to the party with hugs and waves. Chris stood on the front porch leaning on the support post waving to his departing friends and family. Buck and JD were in the yard waving their own goodbyes.

Jessica came out of the house ready to head to her own vehicle and leave for the evening. She stopped next to Chris at the steps and looked at him. Extending her hand to him, she said, “Chris, thank you for inviting me. It was nice to finally meet all of Vin’s family.” Glancing quickly at Vin and lowering her voice, she added quietly, “I hope I didn’t upset him too much with the cake.”

Chris had taken her hand holding it firmly. He was touched at the concern in her eyes that she had upset Vin. “Not your fault. I’m glad you made it for him. He’s missed out on too much.”

Jess saw the underlying anger flash in his eyes. “You and Buck are doing a fine job with these boys. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Chris smiled at her and released her hand nodding his head.

“Thank you again,” she added before turning her attention to Vin. She walked the few steps to him and knelt down to his level. Smiling at him she said, “Thank you for inviting me, Vin. I had a great time meeting everyone and playing with you and JD.”

Vin smiled shyly and gave her a hug. “Thanks for the book, Miss Jess. And makin’ the cake. It was good.” He hung his head, “Sorry I cried ‘bout it.”

Jessica strained to hear his last statement and quickly rubbed comforting hands on his upper arms. “That’s alright, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to make you sad.”

He looked at her, his eyes brimming with emotion. “Wasn’t sad,” he said quietly. “Nobody ever made me a whole cake ‘for. Best present ever.”

She smiled her thanks at him and hugged him again. “Happy birthday, sweetheart.” She stood and turned to Buck and JD who had come over to the porch.

Vin suddenly asked Chris, “Dad, can Miss Jess come with us tomorrow?”

JD, hearing Vin’s question, added his own comments. “Yeah, can she, please, please, please? I like Miss Jess. She plays with us. She plays good too.”

Buck and Chris both chuckled at JD’s enthusiasm. He had obviously taken to Miss Jess as much as Vin had. The two men looked at each other exchanging a silent shrug that neither was apposed to the idea.

Buck spoke up first. “I don’t know boys. Miss McIntyre might already have plans for tomorrow.”

“Do ya, Miss Jess? We’s goin’ ridin’ tomorrow. Do ya know how to ride? We’s goin’ to the lake and fish. Do ya like to fish?”

Jessica chuckled at the non-stop chatter coming from the exuberant child. Placing a hand on his head she said lightly teasing, “Whoa there. One thing at a time, pumpkin.”

JD looked up at her and smiled as only a child could. “She called me pumpkin, Da. Did ya hear?”

Buck laughed, “Yeah, I heard, JD.” Shifting his attention to Jessica, he said seriously, “You’re welcome to come along, Miss McIntyre.”

She smiled mischievously at Buck. “Jess, Buck.”

He smiled widely at her, “Well alright.”

She chuckled turning to see Chris grinning. He nodded that she was indeed welcome to come along and she eyed the two men and boys for a moment thinking about it. “Just what time is this little adventure getting underway?”

JD looked at Vin and said in awe, “She talks like Unca Ezra.”

Vin just grinned at him and looked back at the adults.

“If you come out at seven you can join us for breakfast,” Buck told her, raising an eyebrow in invitation.

“We’ll have quite the spread,” Chris added.

Jessica eyed them all regretfully. “I’m sorry guys. If it was in the afternoon I’d love to join you but Buck’s right. I have other plans in the morning.”

The two little boys looked crestfallen. “Can’t you come, please?” JD pleaded.

“Sorry, boys. Maybe another time.” She smiled warmly then. “You all have fun tomorrow and I’ll see you Monday at school, Vin.” She turned to head to her vehicle.

The men and boys called their goodnights and she waved at them as she turned her Jeep around and headed down the driveway.

Vin watched her go until he could not see her taillights anymore and Chris placed a hand on his shoulder. “Did you have a good time, cowboy?”

“It was the best birthday ever,” Vin said, hugging his dad around the waist.

The End
Continues in It's Not a Date!