AU: Little Britches ATF – Little Ambassadors Series
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: Betaed by Sue M with additional editorial help from Nancy.
After the excitement of Thanksgiving, school on Monday felt like a real anti climax, and very alien. To make matters worse, Ieuan was away for a few days on a research trip. It wasn't that the boys didn't feel safe with Eric and Jane, but it was a change in routine, which didn't help coming just when they were feeling a very long way from home. The real nail in the coffin for the boys' mood was their fathers' current assignment. They were working with the police and Border Protection Agency at all five of London's airports. This involved working different shifts and longer journey times. All of which meant the boys would see considerably less of their fathers this week.
Jane Green however had a secret plan to lighten the mood.
"Hello boys, how was school?” she asked as she met them at the school gate.
"Okay,” came the lacklustre response from both boys.
"Mr Green has taken all the dogs for a long walk,” she explained as they drove home. While Ieuan was away, the Greens were looking after Bear, as well as Ringo and Elvis, during the day.
"They'll be fine at home,” Chris had assured Eric of their two dogs, when the man kindly offered to watch them.
"I am sure,” Eric had replied, “but it's no trouble to have them over at our place, and it'll be more fun for them.”
"Shall we do our homework now?” Vin asked as they followed Jane into the apartment.
"If you wish, but I was hoping you could help me with something first?” she asked hopefully.
"Of course ma'am,” Vin assured her.
"What we gonna do?” JD asked.
"Well, yesterday was Stir Up Sunday, and I should have made my Christmas cake by then, but what with one thing and another, I forgot. I must be getting old,” Jane told them.
"That's what Uncle ‘Siah says when he forgets stuff,” JD told her. “But he's not old at all.”
"Well, that's good to know,” Jane commented with a smile. “So I was hoping you could help me make the cake?”
Vin cocked his head to one side. “What's Stir Up Sunday?”
"How about I explain it while we cook?”
"Okay!” JD decided, already heading toward the kitchen.
"Vin?” Jane asked, seeing that the older boy was not sure about the plan.
"I'm supposed to learn my spelling list,” he told her quietly. “I'm not good at spelling.”
"This cake is going to take several hours to cook. So we will have lots of time to work on your spelling once it's in the oven, but if you would rather work on the spellings now that's fine, you can use the dining table.”
Vin thought about it, he really would rather help make a cake than learn his spellings. “I'd like to cook the cake,” he finally told her.
In the kitchen while she told them all about Stir Up Sunday Jane put her big kitchen scales down in the middle of the table. She had already set out the recipe book and all the ingredients.
The first thing we need to do is weigh out all the dry ingredients. So who's good at numbers?”
"JD's real smart,” Vin told her.
JD grinned. “I always get ten out of ten for my sums.”
"Okay, Vin, you can pour the ingredients onto the scales and JD will tell us when there is enough.”
The boys quickly arranged themselves around the table, to better accomplish their assigned tasks.
"The first thing we need is 13 ounces of sultanas.”
Eventually they had a total of three and half pounds of sultanas, raisins, currants, nuts, glace cherries and mixed peel in the bowl. This was followed by measuring and mixing all the other ingredients, sugar, butter, black treacle, eggs, flour and spices. Then, with Jane holding the bowl steady, both boys worked to mix in the dry ingredients. At the very end, Jane added some brandy.
"Now boys, this mixture will make one big cake, but these days Mr Green and I don't really need such a large cake, so…” she smiled at them both. “We could make two small cakes and you boys can have one. Would you like that?”
"Yeah!” JD exclaimed excitedly.
"That's real kind of you,” Vin told her politely. “Thank you.”
In a fair imitation of his father, Vin glared at JD.
"Sorry, thank you,” JD dutifully told Jane, once he'd worked out why Vin was glaring at him.
The boys ruled up and cut out baking parchment to line the two cake tins, before spooning in the dark, rich mixture. Finally with the two cakes in the oven the boys settled at the dining table with a glass of juice and a couple of cookies to do their homework. After two hours the cakes were ready to come out of the oven. Jane had to explain that they couldn't eat them yet.
"This is a Christmas cake, we keep it in a tin until a few days before Christmas and then we put icing on it.” It was hard for her to look at the two disappointed faces gazing up at her. “But you know, there a lot of other things I need to bake for Christmas. Would you two like to come over and help me from time to time? It makes it a lot easier having two such helpful assistants.” Both boys beamed and said they would be happy to help if they could. “I promise, next time you'll be able to try some of what you cook on the day.”
It was almost seven before Buck arrived to pick up both boys and dogs.
"Da, Da!” JD greeted. “We's made Christmas cake and we can have one but we don't know what it tastes like ‘cause you can't eat it ‘till Christmas and it don't got no frosting on it yet but Mrs Green said we can take it home and…”
"Whoa there Little Bit, slow up and take a breath,” Buck told him, then turned to Vin. “You okay Cowboy?”
Vin nodded with a grin.
"Chris is getting supper started.” He winked, just to let Vin know there was nothing to worry about, then turned to the Greens. “Really appreciate you looking after all of them,” he added, as Elvis, tired of being ignored, jumped up for some attention. “Come on boys, let's give Eric and Jane some rest.”
"But Da we gotta take our cake,” JD insisted.
On cue, Jane came out with a cake tin.
"Oh, yes, uh sorry...” Buck floundered not really understanding what was going on.
"It's a Christmas cake, you keep it in the tin and then near Christmas, the boys will help me ice it, you can give the tin back anytime in the new year.” She held out the tin.
"We made it,” Vin told Buck with a grin.
"You did?” Wilmington asked, looking at both boys.
"Yeah Da. I tolds you that. I readed the scales and Vin poured in the raisins and sultanas – they are like raisins but nicer - and then we mixed in all the other stuff and put it in the oven and it took forever to cook!” JD emphasised with his outstretched arms, how long the rich fruit cake had taken to cook.
Buck looked over at Jane. “Are you sure about this? We can buy a cake, we don't want to impose…”
"Buck lad,” Eric cut in. “Just stop there, Jane loves to bake and she loves to give people cakes and such, so just smile and say ‘thank you'.”
Buck took a moment to digest this and noticed that four expectant faces were gazing at up at him. “Thank you Ma'am, that's real kind of you.”
The next afternoon the boys helped to make mince pies. In the past they had helped Gloria Potter to roll and cut out pastry, but this was the first time they had made the pastry from scratch. They were more than a little surprised to discover that there was no meat in a mince pie. Having lived in England for over four months now, they knew that ‘mince' was the word Brits used for hamburger meat. What actually went in the small pies was a sweat preserve made from dried and fresh fruit, candid peel, spices, sugar and fat.
"Now boys, mince pies are best eaten fresh, so these are just a first batch, a practise run you might say, besides Mr Green loves mince pies.”
Buck and Chris were working at Luton Airport and were due home just after six as normal. While the pies were in the oven, and as they waited on their dads, the boys sat down at the dining table to do their homework. Eric helped Vin with his maths, while Jane heard JD read.
With work all done, everyone was able to sample the small pies, still warm from the oven. JD liked them and would have eaten as many as he could, had he been permitted. Vin with his sweeter tooth wasn't so sure about the taste. It wasn't that he hated them, but he wouldn't choose them. He was of course, too polite to say anything.
The boys were now watching the children's programmes on BBC 1, as always the last children's programme was Newsround, a short news broadcast show, edited and scripted for children. It didn't ignore difficult or upsetting stories, but strived to present them in a way children could understand. Most of the time JD didn't bother to watch, because he said it was ‘boring, boring, boring', but Vin found it interesting.
JD had already left the living room and was playing ‘chase the plastic bottle' in the hallway with no less than four excited dogs, as the familiar opening theme tune faded and the presenters came on.
"Our first story today is the closing this afternoon of London's Luton airport due to a security alert. Thousands of…” Vin went rigid as he continued to watch. He was sure that was where their dads were working today. The report explained that the whole airport had been evacuated and flights diverted or cancelled, while the police and security forces investigated a suspicious object discovered on a cargo plane. There were some pictures of people being bussed away from the airport and police cars on the airfield, but that was all. Vin quickly snatched up the remote and flicked through the channels to the BBC news channel, where the unfolding story was being covered live. He was still watching, rooted to the spot, his stomach in a knot of fear, when JD called as he came into the room.
Vin stabbed at the remote, trying to turn the television off as fast as possible.
"What!” he snapped.
JD's little face crumpled in bewilderment, not knowing what he had done wrong. “Ain't it over yet? You gonna come and play now?”
With no enthusiasm, Vin followed his brother out into the long hallway. Normally he loved to play with the dogs, but all he really wanted to do was watch the news. Nonetheless he didn't want to scare JD, so for now he'd pretend everything was okay. The game, with four dogs, was exceptionally loud and chaotic.
"Boys, I think it's time to call a halt to this game,” Eric announced. “Your fathers will be home soon and I want to watch the news.”
"Mr Green, why don't me and JD take the dogs out, so they can do, you know…?” Vin offered.
Eric frowned. “They went out less than two hours ago, I think they'll be fine until after they're fed.” He turned away and picking up the remote, turned the television back on.
JD followed him, he found the proper news program even more boring that the kids' broadcast, but he knew while Mr Green was watching the news he had to be quiet, so he would sit quietly and wait for Buck to come and collect them.
Vin began to panic, he didn't know what was happening at the airport, he didn't know if Chris and Buck were involved, but he knew JD mustn't find out. He was the oldest, he had to protect JD.
"Mrs Green ma'am, can me and JD help you in the kitchen?” he asked with an air of desperation.
Before Jane could respond the phone rang and she turned away to pick it up. By now the quiz that preceded the news was coming to an end. Vin grabbed JD by the hand.
"Come on, let's go and do the washing up for Miz Green,” he all but ordered and began to tug JD out of the chair.
"Vin what are you doing, leave your brother al….” Eric got no further as his wife stepped in front of him and switched off the television. Eric began to ask what she was doing but a quick hand gesture silenced him.
"Boys, your fathers have been delayed, so you are going to stay and have supper with us, okay?”
"Yes ma'am,” Vin answered.
"Why's Da late?” JD wanted to know.
"Mr Larabee didn't say, but he promised they would be home as soon as they could. So why don't you come and help me make supper. You can help stuff the apples and then mash the potatoes.”
Vin visibly relaxed. JD was happy, because cooking was more fun that sitting still and being quiet. Eric just looked perplexed.
"Run along boys and we'll feed the dogs first, then you can wash up,” she told them.
Once the boys were out of sight she quickly explained what was happening at the airport.
"Poor boy,” Eric began, realising what had prompted Vin's strange behaviour. “He was trying to protect the little one.”
"Chris said it looks serious, they don't know when they'll be back. I told him not to worry about the boys. He or Buck will ring the boys as soon as they have the time.”
The food was almost on the table when the doorbell rang. Both boys momentarily though it might be their fathers, but Chris had promised to call when they were on their way home, so Vin knew it wasn't him. In fact it was Ieuan, home from his research trip and missing his beloved dog.
"Take your coat off man and come in,” Eric told him as Bear greeted his master with unrestrained joy.
"Oh I can't stop,” the young Welshman told him. “There was a mammoth traffic jam on the M25, near Luton, I haven't had a bite to eat since lunch.”
"Which is why you are stopping for supper. The boys are here and we can feed five as easily as four.” Eric ushered Ieuan in. “Just don't mention the traffic problems or the airport in front of the young ones.” Ieuan gave him a quizzical look, but before Eric could explain JD came running in.
"Ieuan!” he greeted loudly. “You's back, yay! Da and Chris is late so we's staying for supper and we's having steak pudding it's meant to have kidney in it but me and Vin don't like kidney so Mrs Green don't put it in and we's having mashed potato and beans and then stuffed apples and I put the dates an' sultanas in coz my fingers is small and Vin mashed the potatoes coz he's real strong and…” JD was finally forced to take a breath.
"Wow that all sounds yummy,” Ieuan interjected. “Mr Green has invited me to join you, so I hope there are enough apples.”
JD's head nodded up and down vigorously, black bangs flying in all directions. “I stuffed six whole apples so there is lots and lots and Mrs Green made custard.”
By now JD had taken hold of Ieuan's hand and was pulling him toward the dining table. Even by JD's standards the little five-year-old was talking a lot and very fast. It was clear he knew something was wrong, but he couldn't articulate his fears, so he was doing what he always did, making sure everyone was happy. In JD's world, if everyone around him was happy, nothing bad could happen.
They were about to serve dessert when the phone rang again, causing both boys to start. Eric left the table to take the call in the hallway, leaving JD fidgeting and Vin rigid, his eyes fixed on the doorway. Thankfully he didn't have to wait long.
"Vin, it's your father.” Eric held out the phone as he returned.
Vin had to force himself not to snatch the phone from his hand. “Dad?”
"Hey son, don't worry, I'm fine, Buck is fine and we should be on our way home soon.” Chris wanted to make sure his son knew there was nothing to worry about as soon as possible.
"Okay,” Vin responded cautiously, he knew Chris wouldn't tell him if something was really wrong, not on the phone anyway.
"I promise you, everything is okay.” Chris knew what Vin was thinking. “Now pass the phone to JD so Buck can talk to him.”
Vin relaxed a little, it was always good when his Dad knew what he was thinking.
"Hi Da!” JD greeted enthusiastically. “When you coming home?”
"Soon Little Bit, but it might be after you've gone to sleep.”
Ieuan, sitting next to JD, could easily hear what Buck was saying. He made a gesture that he wanted to speak to Wilmington.
"Da, Ieuan wants to talk to you.”
"Okay, I love you. Now give the phone to Ieuan.”
"Love you too Da.” JD handed the phone to Ieuan.
JD refused to go to bed. Ieuan had taken the boys home, so they could go to sleep in their own beds. He'd seen for himself the traffic chaos around the airport, so he knew it would be long past the boys' bedtime before their fathers made it home. JD might have refused to go to bed, but Ieuan made him get ready for bed and lie on the sofa under a throw. Once the lights were dimmed, he was asleep almost immediately. Vin, also ready for bed, had resolutely refused to lie down, fearing he too would fall asleep. Ieuan was watching the highlights of a rugby game, Vin wasn't really watching, the sound was turned down so as not to wake JD, so it was hard to follow what was going on. All three dogs were asleep in front of the fire.
The game was almost over when Vin suddenly leapt to his feet and ran to the window. Ieuan had heard nothing, even the dogs hadn't moved, not until Vin did, when Elvis looked up. JD didn't stir. Just as Vin reached the window, Ieuan heard the crunch of tires on gravel. When it came to Chris, this wasn't the first time he'd seen Vin demonstrate; well he wasn't sure what to call it, was it heightened hearing or… something else? Ieuan was a man who was open to the idea there was more in Heaven and earth than dreamt of in his philosophy. Vin was already running toward the kitchen, a huge grin on his face, Elvis trotting after him.
While Buck carried JD up to bed, Chris explained what had caused the security alert.
"There was a misunderstanding. A company in Germany was sending some very special explosives to a company in Brazil. They had to translate all the paperwork from German into English and Portuguese. Someone got it wrong, and the documentation said it was a box of Plastic Ornaments rather than Ordnance. So the guys checking the cargos thought someone was smuggling something.”
"How did they know the box had ‘splosives in it?” Vin asked.
"The sniffer dog found them,” he told Vin, giving Elvis' a head rub. “Come on, bedtime.”
Buck gave him a hug as he came out the bedroom, having tucked his son into bed. JD was used to falling asleep in one location and waking up in bed, or even in a different location. He just accepted it as normal. Chris sat on the end of the bed as Vin climbed in.
"Dad?” he began softly, glancing at JD to make sure he was asleep.
"I'm glad nothing bad happened, but…”
"But you were scared?”
Vin had been sitting up in bed, now he climbed over the duvet to snuggle up to his father. “I know you might have to do dangerous stuff, but it's scary. What if you get hurt?”
Chris put his arm around the son of his heart. “I promise you, Buck and I always take the greatest of care, but we still have to do our duty.”
Vin sighed. “I know, and I's real proud of you.” He looked up and smiled. “All the kids at school think me and JD have the coolest Dads, next to Sean.”
Feeling slightly aggrieved Chris asked who Sean was.
"His dad is a movie star, but he don't live with him, ‘cause his mom and dad got divorced and his dad lives in Hollywood.”
Chris had to ask who Sean's father was and on discovering the answer, had to agree he was pretty cool.
"If something happened to you, who would look after me?”
Chris was momentarily taken off guard by this question and had to force himself to answer in the same matter of fact way it had been asked.
"Buck of course.”
"What if Buck was dead too?”
"Um, well your uncles or my parents.”
"Vin, son, we can't live our lives worrying about ‘what if', no one can. I promise you that me and Buck and all your uncles take all the necessary precautions to keep ourselves safe, but in the end bad things can still happen to anyone.”
"Like it happened to Mom, and JD's Ma and my born Dad, and Buck's Ma and…?”
"and Adam,” Vin finished for his father. “Sorry, I didn't want you to have feel bad thoughts.”
"Vin son, don't you ever apologise for talking to me about anything, even the sad and scary stuff. I'm your father, it's my job to talk to you and help you with this stuff.” He smiled when Vin gave his father another hug. “Think you can sleep now?”
"Yeah, I reckon.”
"You did the right thing, trying to protect JD. I'm proud of you.”
The next day the boys were in for a treat. When they came out of school they found not one father but both waiting for them at the school gate.
"How comes you's here?” JD asked.
"Well we had to go back to Luton this morning, for a debriefing, and when that was done, there wasn't time to go to another airport. So they gave us the rest of the day off.”
"Yay!” JD celebrated.
"And we thought,” Chris continued, “that we might go to McDonald's on the way home?”
"Result!” Vin announced.
"Result?” Buck asked.
"That's what the big boys say when they get something good,” JD explained simply.
That evening, after a light supper, since they had all pigged out at McDonalds, the men sat the boys down with conspiratorial grins on their faces. Both boys were suddenly looking at the men, all attention.
"A few days ago a couple of parcels arrived, but they had a note on them, which said they were not to be opened until today,” Buck explained as he produced the two parcels.
"Is today special in England?” Vin asked
"It's tomorrow that's special,” Chris explained.
"It's Advent!” JD announced loudly. “We's gonna start counting the days to Christmas and we get to sing songs out of the ‘pecial Christmas song book at assembly,” JD explained with a grin; he'd really taken to all the singing they did at their new school.
"Oh yeah,” Vin agreed as he realised JD was right.
"Well, go ahead and open them.” Buck pushed a parcel toward each boy.
They didn't need any second bidding and began to tear into the huge bubble wrapped packages. Each boy pulled out a Lego advent calendar. Vin got Star Wars and JD the Lego Christmas village. Each little door would reveal a new small construction project.
"Mine says it's from Uncle Nathan and Uncle ‘Siah!” JD announced.
"Mine too,” Vin discovered.
"And tomorrow you can open door number one,” Chris pointed out. “But not now.”
Two expectant faces fell.
"And then there are these.” Buck passed something to Chris. “Which you can't open until tomorrow either.”
Each father then handed his son a garish Cadburys Chocolate advent calendar. Behind each little door was a small, festive chocolate.
"Wow, thanks Dad!”
"Remember Little Bit, not until tomorrow and only one door at a time,” Buck reminded.
"Since there is no room in the fridge and it gets so warm in the kitchen, we're gonna keep them in the cupboard in the wash room, to make sure they don't melt,” Chris told the boys with a smile.
While it was true the Aga did keep the kitchen very warm; that was not the only reason to keep the chocolate in the washroom. The cupboard in washroom was too high for the boys to reach, even if they stood on the step JD used to reach the taps. It wasn't that they thought the boys would try to cheat, but not having the temptation in front of them all the time wouldn't hurt.
Both boys looked longingly at their calendar then handed them back – until the next day.
"But that leaves one person who hasn't given you a calendar doesn't it?” Chris asked.
After only a second both boys shouted together. “Uncle Ezra!”
The family adjourned to the den and Chris booted the family laptop. As it came to life the boys could see that there was now an animated snow globe on the desktop screen. Ezra had sent the family an E Advent calendar, which revealed a themed animation or game each day. It was a picture of London, and since it was dark outside, London was in darkness, the street lights twinkled, people walked down snow covered streets and the London Eye revolved slowly.
"Can we open the first one now?” JD asked.
"You can try,” Chris told him.
Nothing happened when JD clicked on number 1.
"Sorry Little Bit, guess you'll have to wait until tomorrow. But you could try that.” Buck pointed to the link at the bottom, marked ‘puzzle'.
Both boys got a chance to put the jigsaw puzzle together. JD declared 12 pieces to be too easy and tried it with 20, which he managed with only a little help from Buck. Vin refused all help and settled in to do the 42 pieces version, which he accomplished in less than 5 minutes.
"So boys, time for bed.” Chris announced. “Advent Calendars start tomorrow and we have a Skype chat booked with all your uncles for tomorrow night.”
The boys were just headed up stairs when JD stopped dead and dramatically slammed his hand onto his forehead.
"Oh no!” he exclaimed.
"What's the matter?” Chris and Buck asked simultaneously.
"The pies Vin! We's forgotten to bring the pies from yesterday?”
Vin's face showed his realisation and disappointment. “Darn it.”
"Pies?” Buck asked.
"We made mince pies with Mrs Green, and we saved some for you, but we forgot them,” Vin explained.
"Mince pies don't have no mince in them and they're real nice,” JD explained.
"Is that right?” Chris asked.
Vin shrugged. “They're okay, JD really likes them.”
"But you don't?”
"They're okay,” he repeated. “I think you'll like them, maybe not Buck.”
"Why not me?” Buck asked.
Vin shrugged. “'Cause sometimes you like stuff like I like and JD likes stuff that Dad likes.”
The men took a moment to work thought this logic, then looked at each other.
"He's got a point,” Chris admitted.
"Yup,” Buck agreed. “Well seems to me I need to get a recipe for these pies from Mrs Green and try and make some.”
"Can we ask Ieuan to make the pies?”
"You saying I can't cook?”
"Well…” JD began.
"You can't make pies,” Vin told him plainly.
Three faces stared up at Buck. “Okay, maybe you got a point, but there is nothing wrong with my barbeque!”
"No, it's real nice Da.”
"Or my breakfast, admit it, I cook a mean waffle.”
"The best,” Vin agreed.
"And your French toast is excellent.” Chris patted his friend on the shoulder. “Now that we have that sorted out, you two need to head to bed. The countdown to Christmas starts tomorrow, so you need your sleep.”
Continues in The Big Day Out
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Links and Notes
Stir Up Sunday
Baked apples and custard – trust me its better if you add dates
Steak and Kidney Pudding
Jacquie Lawson E Advent Calendars - $3 well spent!
Cadbury's Advent Calendars
Lego Star Wars calendar
Lego Xmas Village calendar
Sultans = A verity of raisin. I can't explain why, because they are made from the same grape, but sultans are not the same as California raisins. They are lighter, sweeter and softer, but not like golden raisins.
Sultanas, Raisins and Currents
M25 = London orbital motorway (beltway)