It's Not a Date!

by Hunter

Part 4 of The Miss Jess Chronicles

It was the first week of January and Jessica McIntyre checked the calendar of events going on around Denver. The annual Indian Market was taking place in a few weeks and she knew just which student she wanted to ask to go with her. Jess was not like most teachers. She wanted to do things with her students outside of the classroom, show them that someone cared and supported them. It still amazed her that some parents did not seem to want to be parents, leaving the majority of their child’s care to the teachers or babysitters they found. Her only regret was having only so much time to give to her students. She did not teach in the typical sense, moving from school to school or sometimes even going to the child’s homes or having them come to her. Because she dealt with learning disabilities, her specialty teaching gave her the opportunity to help students one-on-one with tailored learning for each student.

Smiling, she thought back to her first meeting with Vin Tanner and his father, Chris Larabee. Vin had easily wormed his way into her heart, not that that was hard to do - she loved children and wanted to do everything she could for them but she had a special love for Vin. The shy eight-year-old had had a rough start on life and she was glad to be a part of his new life with his new family. Being that Vin was shy and still unsure about most people, she had not pushed to do things outside of the classroom so she had been thrilled when he had invited her to his birthday party several months before. With the November and December holidays past, she had decided now would be a good time to start her student outings.

Checking the clock before picking up the phone, she dialed Vin’s home number. She chuckled as the phone was loudly answered after the fourth ring by five-year-old JD. “Hello, JD. Is Chris there? This is Miss Jess.”

“Hi, Miss Jess. Vin and me’s playin’ with the dogs. Can you come play with us again? You’s lots a fun.”

Jess heard another voice in the background and then JD telling the voice he was talking to her. She smiled as Buck Wilmington came on the line. “Hello, Jess?”

“Hello, Buck.”

“Sorry ‘bout that. What can I do for you?”

“Is Chris available?”

“Sure, hold on a minute.”

She could hear muffled sounds and figured Buck had placed his hand over the mouthpiece of the receiver. A few minutes later, Chris was on the other end.

“Hello, Chris. Jessica McIntyre. I just called to see if Vin had anything going on the weekend of the twentieth.”

Chris paused a moment to check the calendar above the phone. “No, why?”

“There’s an Indian Market at the Merchandise Mart that weekend. I’d like to take Vin if it’s alright with you.”

“It’s that time again?” he asked, more to himself than her. “Well, I don’t know. Vin and I went last year. Dr. Lowery thought it would be a good idea for Vin and me to spend some time together without Buck and JD and vice versa.”

“Oh, if that’s your father-son outing I don’t want to take that away from you. It’s just that I try to be involved with my students and now that the holidays are over I thought it might be fun for him. I can find something else for us to do if you’ll allow me to spend some time with him outside of school.”

“No, I don’t mind. I haven’t said anything to Vin about the market. Frankly I didn’t know it was coming up so soon.” Chris had not missed the slight hint of hopefulness in her soft voice at wanting to spend time with his son. He contemplated letting her take Vin instead of himself. Coming to a decision he said, “Vin did seem to enjoy it last year. I’m sure he’d go again. Why don’t we all three go?” He had loved watching Vin marvel at some of the exhibits last year and did not want to miss it.

Jess was somewhat surprised he had asked her to join them. It was tempting but she replied, “I don’t want to intrude on your father-son time.”

“You won’t be intruding.” Chris smiled, remembering all the times Vin had asked when she could come out again. “Vin’s been asking me when we can invite you out for that ride you had to miss for his birthday. I’m sure he’d be thrilled if you joined us.” The boy seemed enthralled with her and he could use more female attention in his life. Besides, he wanted to get to know the woman better since she was taking an interest in Vin.

Thinking about it for a moment, she finally agreed. “Okay, if you’re sure I won’t be intruding.”

“You won’t be,” he assured.

“It would be nice to talk about other things besides homework,” she said with a chuckle.

Chris laughed as well. “I’ll talk to Vin about it but I don’t foresee any problems.”

“All right. Saturday would be best for me if that’s okay with you two.” She continued with the particulars of the event and wished him a good evening before hanging up the phone.

Chris hung up the phone and turned to find Buck in the kitchen doorway grinning slyly. “So you got a date, huh?”

Scowling at the teasing remark, the blonde said, “No, that Indian Market is in a couple of weeks and she wanted to take Vin. Last year Vin and I talked about going again so I thought we could all three go together.”

“Uh-huh,” Buck continued grinning. “Sounds like a date to me."

“It’s not a date, Buck,” Chris growled.

“’Bout time, stud,” Buck teased before disappearing down the hall.

With a sigh, Chris went to find Vin and tell him about the tentative arrangements with Jess and the market in a couple of weeks.

+ + + + + + +

January in Denver was typically cold with snow always a possibility. The Saturday of the Indian Market dawned with the temperatures in the low teens with the potential for several inches of snow to fall during the afternoon. The sun was shining brightly, belying the coldness as Chris and Vin prepared to meet Vin’s reading teacher at the Merchandise Mart at 10:00 am. To say that Vin had been excited with the outing was an understatement since he had been asking numerous times since Chris had mentioned it how much longer he had to wait. Chris had found Vin’s excitement contagious this morning and he had to admit he was looking forward to spending the day with his son and his pretty teacher. Of course, Buck had been ribbing him about his ‘date’ since he had overheard their conversation weeks before. He had even gotten the rest of his ATF agents in on it. With breakfast finished, the kitchen cleaned and the morning chores attended to, the father and son bundled up to head outside.

Buck had been giving Chris little winks, smirks and grins all morning. He had not missed the fact that Chris was excited even though he was hiding it well. As father and son headed out the door he called, “Enjoy your date, stud.”

“Buck!” Chris glared ineffectually at the man laughing in the doorway.

Jessica McIntyre was also excited to spend her day with Vin and his father. She had enjoyed the family’s interactions at Vin’s birthday and was looking forward to seeing how Chris and Vin were together away from the others. This was the first time a parent had been interested in anything she was doing with their child. She found herself feeling a bit nervous as she drove, hoping everyone would have a good time, especially Vin.

Vin spotted Miss Jess first through the milling people entering the large building. She was waiting for them not far from the ticket booths so Vin grabbed Chris’ hand and pulled him forward. “Come on, Dad, there’s Miss Jess.”

Chris looked ahead to where Vin was leading him and saw the blonde woman as she turned toward the doorways looking for them. She smiled seeing them coming towards her. Chris returned the smile as they stopped in front of her. “Good morning,” he greeted.

“Good morning,” she returned warmly. “Hello, Vin,” she said, turning her attention to the boy.

“Hi, Miss Jess!” he exclaimed excitedly, shifting from foot to foot ready to go.

As the trio moved to purchase their tickets, Chris got Vin’s attention. “Vin, I want you to hold one of our hands at all times. There aren’t many people here yet but you remember last year don’t you? How busy it was?”

Vin nodded solemnly, he remembered. He did not care for large crowds of people. They made him nervous.

“Good idea,” Jess agreed. “We don’t want anyone to get lost,” she grinned teasingly.

Once inside, Vin walked between the two adults holding their hands. “Will the birds be here again,” he asked. He had especially liked the birds of prey exhibit last year.

They stopped out of the way just inside the exhibit and Jess consulted the list of vendors and the map of booths. “It looks like the bird exhibit is here.” Looking around for the booth number closest too them she found it on the map and indicated where the booth for the birds was compared to where they were. She looked between her two companions asking, “Do you want to head there first or do you want to work our way over there from here and go down the isles?”

Chris shrugged and looked at his son. “What do you want to do, Vin?”

“Can we go there first?” he asked, looking up at them.

“Sure,” Jess said, looking at Chris for agreement

“Fine by me, let’s go,” Chris said, turning in the direction they needed to go.

The large exhibit hall was not overly crowded yet so they made their way easily to the birds of prey booth. The owls, eagles, falcons and hawks were beautiful and graceful sitting on their perches. One of the booth’s exhibiters greeted the three of them and Vin was quickly enthralled by the presentation of the different birds. He was even allowed to touch a few of the birds and hold one on his arm for a few minutes before the crowd started growing.

As they left the booth, Chris and Jess exchanged happy smiles that Vin had enjoyed the birds. Deciding they would meander down the isles and come back by the bird booth later, they picked one side and slowly made their way through the enlarging mass of people to see the other vendor exhibits. The two adults made sure to spend extra time at any booths Vin found interesting or were specifically for children.

After several hours of wondering through the booths, Chris was getting hungry and checked his watch to see what time it was. “I don’t know about you two but I’m hungry. It’s after 1:00. What do you say we find something to eat and finish the booths later?”

“Yeah,” Vin quickly agreed. He was getting tired of some of the more boring booths.

“Sounds good, I’m hungry too,” Jess added. She then suggested, “We can check out the music and dancers afterwards and come back to the rest of the booths later if you want.”

“That okay with you, Vin.” Chris was already heading them in the direction of the food court.


After lunch, they made their way to the stage area, sitting down to enjoy the musicians and elaborately dressed dancers. It was nice to sit down and take a break for a while. Jess had always liked the fancy dancers with their brightly colored feathers and she pointed them out to Vin as they were getting ready for their performance.

The little boy was awed by the grace and agility of the dancers as they gyrated to the beating drums and chanting voices. The dancers from Mexico had him transfixed as they gave a brief history of their culture and started their performance with a chalice of fire. After watching several other musicians, bands and dancers, they made their way back into the exhibit hall to finish exploring the booths.

The remaining jewelry, paintings, arts and crafts, books, t-shirts, music and other booths were perused over the next few hours as they wound their way through throngs of people. Vin had diligently held one or both of the adult’s hands as they covered the large area of exhibits. Finally, they were finished and stopped away from the mass of sightseers to plan their next move.

“Anything you want to go back to?” Jess asked, looking at her watch.

“No, I think we’ve seen everything,” Chris answered and looked at Vin. “What about you, Vin? Anything you want to see again?”

The boy shook his head no. “Can we go now?”

“You two hungry? It’s almost 6:00.” Jess stated as she thought of an idea for dinner.

“You have something in mind?” Chris asked.

“You like Mexican food?” Her blue-green hazel eyes danced with mischief. Sure and yeah were the answers from her two companions. “I know a great place with lots of entertainment and fun things for kids.” She grinned, “If you’re interested.”

Vin looked excited at the prospect of fun stuff for him to do. Maybe this place had a play land like McDonalds.

Chris did not miss the look on Vin’s face and grinned back at Jess. “I think that’s a yes,” as he indicated the eager look on his son’s face.

“Great. Why don’t you two follow me over there? It’s not too far from here.”

They left the Indian Market, discovering it had snowed a few inches while they were inside. Chris followed Jess as they drove the few miles to the restaurant. Once inside, Vin was ready to go exploring. There were caves, mines and arcade games. As they were seated, the flame jugglers and the waterfall show fascinated the eight-year-old with divers and dancers. There was even a cowboy shoot out and a gorilla.

Chris had heard about this place but had never been. He was grinning at Vin’s giggles and wide smile as he took in everything going on around them.

Jessica had thoroughly enjoyed the day. She ate and watched the shows going on but mostly she watched a happy Vin. Even Chris was smiling and laughing at the antics of the performances.

Vin had found a new favorite food, sopaipillas. The big warm sweetened puff pastry was served with honey and he licked is sticky fingers with relish. After eating two of them, he was ready to explore everything. “Can I go ‘sploring now?” His big blue eyes pleaded with his father.

“Why don’t we all go?” Jess suggested. Chris raised his eyebrows in question and she added, “You can stay here if you want. We can go and come back when we’re done.”

Looking mock sternly at her, he asked, “Why do I get the feeling we’ll never get out of here unless I go with you two?” Her vivacious laughter rolled over him like waves of sweet music and he could not help but grin.

“So you’ve discovered I’m just a big kid at heart then?” she asked charmingly, eyes dancing.

It was Chris’ turn to laugh. “It’s kind of hard to miss,” he teased.

“Well then, you had better come with us and chaperone. But first, I think we need to wash someone’s sticky fingers.” She chuckled as Vin continued to lick missed drops of honey off his hands.

Chris nodded and they all headed toward the restrooms to wash up.

By the time Vin had explored several tunnels of mines and caves, Chris announced it was time to go. The boy tried to wheedle more time from his father but Chris stood firm and the three went outside into the cold.

“Did you have a good time, Vin?” Jess asked on their way to the vehicles.

“Yeah,” he told her fervently. Turning big blue eyes on his father, he asked, “Can we come back, dad? I didn’t get to see everythin’.”

“I think we can do that. You think Buck and JD would like it?”


Jess grinned as she unlocked her door and turned to Chris and Vin. “Thank you for letting me share the day with you. I really enjoyed it.” Putting a hand on Vin’s head she added, “You and JD have fun tomorrow and I’ll see you Monday.”

Vin hugged her before she stepped away. “Bye.”

Chris held her door open for her and wished her a good night before helping Vin into the truck to head home.

+ + + + + + +

Jess fell into bed later that evening tired but happy. She could not remember the last time she had had so much fun. Vin was a great kid, full of wonder at the things he had missed out on before being adopted by Chris. He had really seemed to enjoy the market and especially the restaurant. She could imagine Vin telling JD and Buck all about it. Laughing, she wondered if she would be in trouble for taking them there. She could just see in her minds eye little JD being so excited and wanting to go right away. Fishing her journal out of the nightstand drawer, she jotted down the days adventures before snuggling under the covers and going to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Buck looked at the clock for the hundredth time in the last two hours. It was going on 8:30 and he had not heard from Chris yet. “Must be one hell of a date,” he mumbled to himself as he flipped through the TV channels. JD had gone to bed half an hour ago. The house was too quiet without the other two here.

“Vin, you go get ready for bed,” his father told him, hanging up both of their coats in the mudroom.

Vin went tearing down the hallway. He could not wait to tell Buck and JD all about his day. Entering the room he shared with JD, he saw the younger boy was already asleep. Sighing deeply he grabbed his pajamas and went to the bathroom to change and brush his teeth.

“Hey, Buck,” Chris greeted his oldest friend at seeing him in the recliner in the living room.

The dark headed man shut off the TV and looked over at Chris with a big grin on his face. “So, how was your date?”

Exasperated, the blonde frowned. “Buck, it wasn’t a date.” His frown turned into a sly grin. “I think I’ll let Vin tell you and JD all about it.” He turned to leave and Buck quickly put the footrest down and stood up.

“Hold on there, stud,” he demanded.

Chris turned back around to face the other man. “It’s been a long day, pard. I’m going to put Vin to bed.” Before he even got to the doorway, Vin came barreling in.

Vin flew into the room looking for Buck. He was too excited to go to bed. He had to tell someone about his day with Miss Jess and dad. Launching himself at the big tall man, he wrapped his arms around his waist. “Hi, Buck.”

“Hey, kiddo,” Buck said, hugging the boy in return. “Have a good day?”

“The best,” Vin cried, starting to tell him everything they had done.

Chris interrupted after a few minutes of the child’s exuberant retelling of their adventures. “Vin, it’s time for bed.” He usually did not get this excited about things, that was JD. It was nice to see that Vin had a great time and wanted to share it.

“But, dad,” he said petulantly.

Chris raised an eyebrow and Vin sighed. “Night, Buck,” he said glumly.

“Night, kiddo. You can tell me and JD both all about it in the morning, okay?”

“K.” Vin left, heading down the hallway.

Buck spoke up before Chris left the room, “Come back after you get him tucked in, stud. I’ll grab a couple beers…and you can tell me all about your date.”

Chris glared at him. “It wasn’t a date,” he growled before turning and following Vin down the hall. Buck was not going to let this go so easily. He sighed and grinned, remembering fragments from the day. Even though he did not consider it a date, Buck would never get that notion out of his head. That was Buck; anything you did with a woman was a date. He might as well suck it up and tell him about their day. He did have a good time and Jess seemed to be good for Vin.

The End