Disclaimer: No money is being made from this story. It was just fun to write.
This came from a snip I heard on the radio about a young man who was going to join the army and donated his long hair to Locks of Love before Uncle Sam could clip it. This story is not been beta-ed and all mistakes are mine. And it won't take long before you realize I know nothing about concussions, hospitals, doctors, or the "Locks of Love" organization (sadly - other than that they do great things). Still, I hope you will all enjoy it.
Again, this is full of that fun-to-write, editor's-nightmare, 'phonetic speech'. And again, there's an OFC, but she'd basically invisible. I just can't seem to help but use them, even though I don't like them in theory. This story gave me some surprises, too, as I wrote, and so was great fun to write. I hope you get at least half that enjoyment from the reading!
"And, Chris," Orrin said, stopping at the open door and snapping it shut. "One more thing I wanted to bring up..."
Chris glanced up with a little surprise. He'd assumed the meeting had been dismissed. Even more surprising was the look on Orrin's face, which clearly spoke that he did NOT want to bring up whatever was on his mind.
He raised an eyebrow and leaned back in his chair. "Yes?"
Orrin cleared his throat and scratched his eyebrow. Chris found himself wanting to laugh, despite the serious look on his boss's face.
Finally, he turned and his gaze held steady. "You need to talk to Tanner about his hair."
"What?" Chris leaned forward, feeling the blaze begin in his eyes. "I thought we'd settled this a long time ago, Orrin."
"Well, so did I, actually." Chris watched him sit heavily on the chair opposite his desk. "But he's never worn it THIS long before, and the higher-ups are starting to breathe down my neck because of it, talking about maintaining the dignity of the office, proper decorum - "
"And you can't handle it?" Chris accused.
"You know I don't give a rat's pajamas what the big bosses think about this unit. We all know you're getting the job done, and better than most. Nobody's questioning that you're doing your job here, Chris."
"But..." Chris supplied.
"But, I can't let a hint of favoritism show for Team 7. Let's face it, your team gets away with more unusual requests with merely a nod from me because I trust you know what you're doing. You've always come through, and so the logistics have never been up for investigation." Orrin placed his hands on his knees and leaned forward slightly. "But something like this is a blatant violation, and I'd hate for that to be the straw that breaks everything loose. You've been around here long enough to understand what I'm talking about, Chris. You've seen it happen."
Chris laughed hollowly. "I've been caught up in it myself." He nodded. "It's just... you know how he is about his hair, Orrin. I've noticed it's longer than I've ever seen it before, too. But after he came back from that last undercover assignment, you know how it was for him - "
Orrin flinched. "I know," he whispered. "I know - I'm the one who sent him in there. I'm the one who signed off on him adding a couple inches to supply a change in appearance for the cover. But this..."
"Right." Chris sighed. "I'll have a talk with him, see what I can do."
Chris leaned against his office door, staring out into the 'bullpen' where his team worked. Ezra was out on assignment and Buck and JD had gone to interview a potential witness for an upcoming trial. Nathan and Josiah poured over a file, talking in hushed tones as Vin worked at pecking out his latest report with great difficulty.
The team's sharpshooter had been back on light duty for about two weeks now, following a week in the hospital and another two weeks at home due to the brutal injuries he'd sustained during his undercover assignment.
And while it was obvious Vin wasn't thrilled with the idea of being a desk-jockey, it gnawed on Chris's mind that the Texan hadn't protested quite so loudly as he had in times past. Almost as if he had more important things on his mind. At times like this, Chris wished he really did have that direct line into Tanner's brain that the rest of his team joked about.
Although he might - but he'd have to get through all that hair first.
He walked over and propped a hip on the edge of Vin's desk. "How're you holding up, pard?"
Vin blinked, slowly drawing his head away from the computer screen. "Uh, okay...I feel good, Chris."
He drew his eyebrows down as he took in his friend's pale face and the dark hollows around the blue eyes.
"Well, better 'n I had," Vin amended.
Vin glanced around and turned his face away, typing a few more letters idly. "Been thinking of my mama an awful lot of late."
It surprised him to hear his friend admit to anything. "That's only natural after all you've been through, I'm sure. You talk to Josiah?"
Vin nodded. Then he turned back and said, "'M not overdoin' it."
Chris chuckled at his friend's roll of the eye. Vin had answered the question before it could be asked.
He stood, satisfied to let it go, knowing Tanner at least wasn't pushing too hard at this point. Instead of late hours, Vin left as soon as his eight hours were in for the day. He didn't hang out with the others at the Saloon, either. Chris realized he hadn't seen much of Vin outside of work in a long time.
Vin chuffed out an aggravated sigh and swiped the long hair back from his eyes. Chris frowned and bit the inside of his lip. Why would Vin let his hair get so long if it even bothered him?
Taking the small opening, Chris said, "Been awhile since that last hair cut."
Vin stopped typing but didn't turn around right away. When he did, rather than the ice-blue glare Chris had expected, he saw an easy light and a grin on his friend's face. Vin gave a slow nod. "Reckon that's an understatement, even fer you, Larabee."
He watched Vin's gaze travel to some point behind him, no doubt following Orrin Travis as he made his way from the office. "Ya catchin' grief over m' hair?" the sharpshooter asked with a serious tone.
Chris felt unwelcome heat at his ears. Little enough embarrassed him, but the idea that Vin might think he was being reprimanded because of a little trouble from the higher-ups did.
Vin smiled broadly. "Know it's not jest the brass, Chris. Reckon ya gotta be wonderin' yerself what 'm doin' with all this hair."
Chris nodded. There was no sense denying it. They'd all been talking about it, and Vin had to know that.
Vin glanced away, scratching his still-bruised cheek with his thumb. Chris got the sense that he had more to say, wanted to say it, but something held him back. The same something that he'd been holding back ever since he returned from this last case. Chris had done everything but beg Vin to talk to someone - Josiah, the office shrink, anyone - if he couldn't talk to him about whatever was eating at him. Vin had always put him off, saying it had nothing to do with the case. But he hadn't elaborated, and so Chris watched his hair get longer and his worry grew with it. Maybe more had happened out there in those three days - those three agonizing days - when they had lost contact with him out on the street. Or maybe it really did just have something to do with his mom, even all these years after her death. Maybe especially because it was all these years after.
Chris was about to suggest he talk with someone again when another idea came to him. "What's Carlina up to these days?"
Vin laughed, the first in awhile. "Ya mean, has she been after me ta cut this mop, too?"
Chris shrugged and smiled. "Something like that."
Carlina had been a friend of Vin's ever since they were kids. They had met up on the streets and looked out for each other for several years before she got picked up and put into foster care. But they'd stayed close. Vin had never talked much about their relationship, but a few comments Carlina had made the time he got to meet her made him think Vin had helped to pay her way through cosmetology school. Now, she worked as a hairdresser in a trendy little boutique downtown, but still cut Vin's hair at her apartment in the evenings or on weekends - when he had it done at all.
"Yer always gettin' some lady to do yer dirty work, cowboy - Miss Nettie, Carlina, pretty little reporter friend a' yers..."
Chris smacked Vin's head with a tablet, taking the hint. He slid off the desk as Vin turned back to his computer screen, but Vin's voice stilled him.
"Nah, she's been havin' troubles of her own," Vin said. His voice grew quiet, and raspier than usual. "Josie's sick."
Chris sank back to the desk but said nothing. Neither did Vin, and he hadn't turned around from his computer screen, either. Instead, he leaned closer, putting no space where Chris would have a chance to see his eyes.
Larabee remembered Carlina's little girl from that day he'd happened to meet up with Vin, Carlina, and Josie at the Dairy Queen out by the highway. Tan skin and a wide face told her Hispanic heritage, but her hair was a light brown, wavy, and her eyes were blue, darker than Vin's, but wide and bright. It had really made him wonder, and not for the first time, just how deep Vin and Carlina's relationship went. Not that it was any of his business, or that Vin would be the type to kiss and tell anyway.
Still, Larabee couldn't help but let his mind ask the questions. Seeing Vin with the girl that day, and his obvious love of her, and she of him... He just wondered if even Vin had ever explored the possibilities.
"Is she worse?"
Vin shook his head. "Better, actually. She's in remission now, doctors say it looks real good for her." Chris could hear the smile in his voice. "But she's been kinda down lately, tryin' ta get back ta things in school an' all. Hard ta see 'er that way is all. Shy and uncertain."
He knew exactly how that felt, watching a friend standing back in uncertainty, trying to find his fit with the world around them. He'd seen it often enough with Vin.
Vin turned. "Reckon even I kin handle those first grade books, but this is harder to know jes' what to do, 'sides bein' there. I do what I can." He smiled and rubbed a finger over his eye, like there was something more there than the unshed tear he managed to push away. "It's jes' been a hard road, ya know?"
"You need anything, anything at all, you know I'm there."
He caught Vin's steady gaze with his own until his friend nodded. "That, I do know. N' actually, I could stand to get out of here an hour early today, iffen that'd be okay with ya."
"Ha!" Chris smirked and stood. "Since when do you start 'asking'? Seriously, Vin, you take whatever time you need. Things have been slow, so you might as well make use of the time before the next case cranks up."
"Thanks," Vin said. "And Chris - just - thanks."
Vin smiled as he took in his reflection in the rearview mirror. He ran his hand over his face with one hand, and kept the other to the steering wheel of his jeep.
The wind blew over him, teasing the fine ends of his hair.
He looked bad. And that had caused Chris to worry. Well, he'd sleep this weekend. Somehow just talking about Josie out loud with Chris made the problem shrink. He should've mentioned it before, but he hated to draw the others into his troubles. It wasn't easy to understand how they welcomed his problems as their own.
And this wasn't such a terrible problem to have. With Josie feeling better enough to be concerned about her looks, and knowing the good prognosis the doctors had given her - that had to be something to smile about, right? To feel good about. And now, now that'd he'd been able to actually DO something to help...
He topped the hill only to be met with a trailer rig taking its share of the road from the centerline out. Rock rose high on either side, giving him little room to move around. There wouldn't have been time anyway.
The rig snapped over a fraction, the tail end snapping into the front end of his jeep before he could maneuver around on the narrow road. The motion spun him, slamming his head into the driver's side window hard enough to crack it. His vision blurred, but he managed to hang onto the steering wheel enough to pull his vehicle away from the car that followed behind the rig. He swerved into the thin graveled edge, the jeep juttering against the rock, then jerking back across the road before meeting with a final sudden stop as the jeep crashed into a tree. The force threw him against the steering wheel, in spite of the seatbelt her wore, his head cracking on the metal edge of the front windshield. The air left him only a moment before consciousness followed.
Chris Larabee flew into the hospital emergency room, wild-eyed, searching for a person to demand answers from. He'd gotten the call about half an hour ago, and replayed it in his mind a hundred thousand times as he raced through the streets of Denver to get to the trauma center at the edge of town.
"Mr. Larabee?" the voice asked.
A cold ribbon of dread uncurled to his toes. "Yes?"
"Mr. Larabee, I'm calling from the Denver Trauma Center. Sir, there's been an accident..."
And that was enough. Chris had raced from his office and into his truck, throwing the blue light on the dash. Buck, who he'd called to take the phone, would follow with the others. He had to be there - right away.
A young doctor came out from behind a pair of swinging doors and started adding notes to his clipboard at the counter above the nurses' station. He ran a hand through his heavy blond hair, making it stand almost on end. "Marlene, would you keep a close eye on Tanner in 402, I -"
Chris edged his way between the doctor and the nurse he was speaking with. "Vin Tanner? Can I see him? I got a call. Is he okay? Tell me -"
The doctor held up a hand. "Slow down, sir. Who are you?"
He fumbled for his badge. "Larabee. I'm with the ATF and Tanner is one of my agents. I'm also listed as his emergency contact somewhere. Tell me, how bad is it?"
The doctor looked at the nurse and handed her the clipboard. "Call up to 7th and tell them I'll be up in ten. Thanks." He turned to Chris. "Let's have a seat, Agent Larabee."
Chris followed his motion to the puffy orange pleather seats and sat heavily. The doctor sat alongside him. "I'm Dr. Evans. I treated your friend when he came in."
"Well, it was a close shave, you might say. A trailer rig snapped into his vehicle and somehow his seatbelt extended partially before it held. He's suffered a fairly severe concussion, and I'm waiting results of the tests now. He has regained consciousness, but has not spoken more than a few words. He was able to give us his name, and he knew the date, but he passed out again before we could get much more from him. I'm sure I don't have to tell you the seriousness of a blow to the head, Mr. Larabee. We're prepared to insert a shunt if the swelling doesn't abate on its own, but so far, as long as he remains conscious and relatively coherent, we should be able to avoid that."
"Dear God," Chris said, running and hand through his hair in frustration and fear. Vin, what were you doing?
"He suffered some minor lacerations also," Dr. Evans continued, "which required some stitches. And his ribs are bruised, but not broken. He lost a good bit of blood with the head wound, but that's to be expected. He'll be tired for a few days, will have fairly extensive bruising around the face and torso, and will need to take it easy for a while. But barring any unforeseen complications, and depending on the results of the brain scan, he should make a complete recovery. He'll have a headache and may feel nauseous, and may have some problems with short-term memory for a few weeks until the pressure from the fluid is completely gone. But given the circumstances, I'd say we're lucky he was wearing that seatbelt."
Chris leaned back a little and took a deep breath. "Can I see him?"
Dr. Evans stood and Chris followed. "He's been having a hard time staying awake. We want to monitor that as well as the swelling, so we'll be keeping him for a few days at least. I have him on an IV, too, to pump up his nutrients. He was a little low when he came in. But you're welcome to go and sit with him. Don't be too alarmed if he wakes up rather incoherent. If it continues, find a nurse and we'll check things out. He's in 402, through the doors there and to your left."
Chris felt the pat on his shoulder. "Thanks, Doctor." He went to find his friend.
The room wasn't hard to find, and Chris slipped in soundlessly, moving to the edge of Vin's bed. His face looked pale under the wide swath of white bandaging around his head. A few waves fell around it. Very few.
He turned at the soft tread behind him. Buck smiled as he walked through the door. "They told me Junior's in here, said I could come on back. How's he doing?"
Chris stepped back so Buck could see their friend, lying bruised and still. "They cut his hair, Buck. How am I going to tell him, they cut his hair?"
A low roar washed over him, like waves at the beach. A deep, pounding ache seemed to crush him down, making it hard to breathe. Was he drowning?
Air squeezed through his tight chest in thin gasps. Push! He had to get to the surface, get some air.
Then he heard a voice, felt a rough touch on his arm, stilling him.
"Easy, Vin. You're gonna be okay, pard. Just rest easy."
Chris? Were they at the pool?
"Lemme outta th' pool, Lar'bee," he said. Or tried to say. Whatever was weighing down his chest seemed to be heavy on his tongue, too.
"What?" He felt Chris move over him, closer, though he hadn't been able to open his eyes yet.
"Air. Need air. Drownin'..."
He heard another buzz, competing with the torrent in his head, as he was lifted a little. But it eased his breathing some.
"You're not drowning, Vin. You're in the hospital. There was an accident. Do you remember?"
Accident? Think, Tanner. You left the office early today, you -
"Josie?" His lips hardly wrapped around the word, and the pounding in his chest joined in with the other noises echoing through his head. Streaks of pain shot through like lightning.
He felt warmth at his forehead, a soothing touch, easing the pain that threatened to send his stomach into convulsions. "Nobody but you in that jeep, Junior."
"Bucklin?" he rasped. He licked his lips with a dry tongue, but they felt large and thick, like his tongue. Like his eyelids.
"That's right. You gonna open those baby blues for us anytime soon?"
Vin nodded slightly, and felt his head swim again. Where was Josie? Wasn't she there...? Wait, no, he'd gone to visit her, seen how she was before...
He slowly peeled one eye open, but it seemed to stick at just a slit. Probably just as well, because the light coming through that alone made his head throb all the more. He swallowed hard, trying to keep the swirling inside his stomach.
No use. "Gonna - gonna be s-sick..."
Hands rolled him then, firm and cool, holding his back and rubbing in soft circles, easing the spams. Nothing there, except a new fire in his chest, a heavy ache that caught his breath away again.
He lay back, panting, and managed to crack the other eye open.
Larabee, or actually, two of him, swirled into his line of sight. "You with us now?"
He started to nod, but thought better of it. "Sure. 'be okay now."
Buck laughed, softly, for which Vin was grateful. "Isn't that just another version of ' 'm fine.'?"
Chris's cool green gaze cast down on him. "You remember what happened?"
Vin thought hard, closing his eyes again. "Truck, toppin' the hill at the centerline. Couldn't swerve, couldn't -" It was getting hard to breathe again.
"It's okay, pard," Chris said, keeping a hand at his shoulder. "You're in the hospital, and will be for a few days. They're running some tests, just to be sure your hard head isn't cracked, but you're gonna be fine."
Vin nodded, drawing his leaden arms over his tender stomach. "What else?"
He didn't miss the look Chris shot Buck. Buck shrugged. "Your ribs're all bruised, and your face ain't gonna win any beauty contests for awhile. Though I reckon the ladies at the office won't mind. Might get you some sympathy kissin', anyway, with all those bruises."
It hurt too much to laugh, and he stifled back a groan instead. He looked again up at Chris. There was something more he was missing, something more that wasn't being said.
"C-Chri..is?" he managed to ask over the rawness in his throat.
"What do you need, cowboy?"
Spinning around the question, like the light was spinning through his skull. He closed his eyes a moment. "What...?"
He looked at his friend, tired and filled with a sudden weakness he only now noticed. What else is wrong with me, Lar'bee?
Again Chris looked at Buck. "It's your hair, Vin. They... They needed... They had - had to..." He stopped and took a deep breath, meeting Vin's gaze. "They had to cut your hair to run some tests, pard. They had to crop it pretty close to get in there with some stitches..."
Vin closed his eyes tightly. A deep need to draw in air consumed him again and his chest rumbled with the effort of it. He coughed, choked, tried to force his lungs to inflate.
"Vin!" Chris's worried voice sounded loud and muffled at the same time over the ringing in his head. "Vin, it's okay. It'll grow back! They had to do it. You have to understand that."
Vin shook, lungs aching as he drew in fragile puffs of air over the burning pain in his ribs. He shook his head slowly. "No..."
"I know, pard, I know," Chris said, running a calming hand down his arm, like you might for a small child. "I know how you are about your hair. I don't understand it exactly, but I know it means something to you. There was no other way."
Tears streamed down from the corner of Vin's eyes. Soft puffs of air made their way through his dry lips, twisting them with pain. "No, I..."
He watched Chris lean further toward him, only to be stilled by Buck's hand at his shoulder. "Wait, Chris," Buck said. "I think he's laughing!"
Vin read the look on his friend's face, somewhere between fear and anger. He felt the ache grow in his chest, but couldn't stop. "Y-you th-think...y'think 'm...thet upset...'bout - " He broke off in a choking fit.
The tears now were real as he struggled to draw air into his lungs. He heard the buzzing noise again, and felt the bed rise a fraction more, moving him upwards enough to ease his breathing.
"Easy, there, Vin," Chris said, sliding a hand over Vin's newly-cropped hair. "Calm yourself."
Buck looked a little pale himself. "Geez, Junior, you're turning blue. Think I should find a nurse, Chris?"
"Always lookin', ...aincha...Buck-lin?" His breathing slowly returned to a normal rate, turning the knifing pain in his chest back into an aching throb. Buck smiled.
Chris stood back, hand on his hip. "You're not upset about losing your hair?"
"I'd be...mighty upset...iffen I were." He puffed several times, gathering air to talk. "But I had it cut.... For Josie."
"You cut your hair because of Josie?" Chris said, still not understanding.
Buck rapped his knuckles on the metal bed frame. "Locks of Love! That's it, ain't it? I heard about that on the radio."
Vin nodded, closing his eyes as his vision wavered.
"Figured long as it was fer thet last case," he said, willing his stomach to stop roiling, "a little longer, 'n we'd have a good switch a' hair fer m' little sweetie." He quelled a yawn.
A voice came through the doorway. "How are we feeling, Mr. Tanner?"
He cracked open his swollen eyes. "Tired, Doc."
Dr. Evans murmured to himself and scratched something on his clipboard. "And how about nausea?"
"Jes' if I move m' head too much. Be okay."
"I'll prescribe an anti-nausea med for your IV. But you were lucky, sir. Your tests have come back clear."
Chris sighed audibly and Buck chuckled. "We knew that hard head of yours would come in handy some day, Junior."
"Yes, well," the doctor went on, "I dare say he won't be running any marathons for awhile. You're going to take it easy for the next several weeks. You could experience severe headaches, blurred or double vision, and short-term memory loss."
"So when kin I be sprung, Doc?" Vin asked, not yet opening his eyes.
"I'd say you should settle yourself in to enjoy our hospitality through the early part of next week. Then, if you have someone to watch out for you at your residence, I'll consider 'springing' you. How's that sound?"
He wished he could argue. Sounded too long. Way too long. He had a case to work on, he had to see about Josie, he needed to... The hammer in his head pounded hard. "Reckon thet sounds fair 'nough. Thanks, Doc."
"My pleasure. Now, get some rest. I'll be by in the morning to see how you're feeling." Dr. Evans continued on his evening rounds.
Chris followed him out the door.
The doctor turned, glancing up from his notes. "Yes?"
"Thanks for all you've done," Chris said.
"That's what we do here. I'm glad your friend's going to be okay." He looked up, and Chris thought his eyes looked unusually bright. "I overheard what he said, about donating his hair. Wonderful organization. My wife, she died of cancer about 18 months ago. I couldn't understand it, not really, but the wig she received from 'Locks of Love' changed her whole outlook those last six months before she took the downward turn."
"'A woman's hair is her crowning glory' - my own wife, Sarah, she always said that when I teased her about all the primping she did with it. I never understood it, either. It wasn't a vanity thing, not really." Chris breathed deeply, thinking back to those wonderful days with Sarah. What he wouldn't give to have to wait on her again. He'd never complain or hurry her. "I expect it had more to do with feeling like a woman, feeling caressed, maybe desirable even." Chris felt heat flood his face.
He made to apologize, but the young doctor held up a hand before he could. "Don't. I understand. I know. How long?"
"Three years. Feels like thirty sometimes. Feels like three hours other times. Wish I could say it got easier."
"It doesn't matter. I'd know it doesn't." The doctor smiled sadly. "Good night."
"Night," Chris whispered. "Thanks again."
The doctor nodded silently, but never turned around.
Three weeks later...
Vin rested his head on his fist at the fence, watching the horses trotting through the corral at Chris's ranch. He ran his fingers down over the rough scar that ran into his hair.
Or what was left of it.
Oh, it was far from 'short', he reckoned. A fine layer of darker curls waved down his neck even yet. But still, it was shorter than he'd worn it in awhile. Maybe even in years.
But it was all worth it, just seeing Josie smile with a full head of hair again. She'd been such a tough little fighter all through the chemo, always smiling and saying she was going to get better. Even when her hair started falling out, she'd gone on full-throttle. But when she was feeling better, and able to be out of the hospital more and looking toward getting back to school, her self-consciousness had snuck in and made her shy, embarrassed at her smooth head and little ears that stuck out just a mite from the sides.
Now she had the wig, so like her own hair. She favored him so much in some ways, he'd even come right out and asked Carlina once if Josie was his. The timing hardly seemed likely, but he couldn't help thinking about it. Maybe even hoping for it.
But it wasn't the case. Not biologically, anyway. That belonged to some jerk who didn't realize what he could've had. But in his heart, Vin knew - Josie was as much his as Carlina was, as Chris was, as any of his crew of friends who'd somehow become his family were.
He sensed Chris behind him now, could imagine his stride across the grassy yard. He joined him in leaning against the fence.
"Reckon it's time to get inside?"
Vin nodded, grateful it no longer left his vision swirling and stomach heaving. "Guys comin'?"
"They should be here any time. They're bringing a movie and pizzas."
"With pineapple?" Vin grinned at his friend.
"I imagine. You have the whole dang lot of 'em wrapped around your finger these days."
Vin laughed. It felt good. "Never saw such a group to be so glad about a little haircut."
"It wasn't a little thing, Vin. For you or for Josie. We all know that."
"Weren't just fer thet little gal, either." He turned to look at Chris, taking in his questioning stare. "My ma, too. I remember how she cried when she lost her hair, right before she died. When I heard about this 'Locks a Love' gang, I knew my ma woulda been so happy to have that. Made me feel like I's doing somethin' fer her, too. Somethin' I couldn'a done then."
Chris squeezed his shoulder. "I'm sure she feels it even now, Vin. She's a mighty fine woman to have raised such a son. One I'm proud to call friend."
Vin nodded, unable to say more. Fortunately, the rumbling of Josiah's suburban and Buck's truck saved him from trying. He watched his friends, unloading food and joking and harassing one another as they made their way into Chris's ranch house.
"Ya ain't the only one ta be proud, Chris."
The two men joined their friends for an evening of celebration - for life, and for friendship.