Characters: All seven, plus Raine, Nettie, Casey, Inez and one teeny, tiny OC.
Author's Notes: I've wanted to write a story about the Jacksons bringing someone new into the lives of the Magnificent Seven and, finally, I figured how I wanted to bring it about. Many thanks to Renegade, who continues to put up with my hard-headedness with some of my punctuation; Jeanne who let me borrow her idea from Naming Ceremonies and let me know I was over the top with Raine (blame it on too many sitcoms, I was going for humor, honest!) Here are some links that you may want to check out, for the gifts given in part one and the story I refer to in part seven:
The eight point star design
The Steiff Bear
The Blessing Quilt
Buck Wilmington looked up from where he was dusting the end table, to find his son squatting on the couch, a concerned look on his little face. “What’s up, Little Bit? And, do you have your shoes on the couch?”
“Nope, just my socks.”
“Okay…” when the little boy didn’t ask his question, Buck prompted, “you wanted to ask something?”
“OH! Yeah, do we all gotta be in the shower at the same time?”
“Come again?” When his son just stared at him in confusion, he amended that to, “What do you mean?”
“If we’re gonna have our Uncles and Aunt Raine over for a shower, do we all have to be in the shower together? I don’t think we can all fit. ‘Specially Auntie Raine since she gots a big tummy now.”
Buck barely managed not to laugh, turning it into a cough. “It’s not that kind of shower, buddy. This kind of shower is… well, it’s a party.”
“Then, how come they don’t call it a party then?”
“Uh… well, I’m not certain. Baby Showers… well, they’re normally a lady thing.”
“Then, how come Auntie Raine’s gonna be almost the only lady at the party?”
Finishing the table, the big man settled on the couch and gathered up his little boy. “Well, ‘cause Aunt Raine’s had a shower for all her lady friends, so we wanted to have a smaller one, a special one for her and Uncle Nathan. But Miss Nettie, Casey and Miss Inez are going to be here, too.”
“Oh.” JD frowned up at his father, “So then I should go ‘head and take a shower now?”
Chuckling, Buck said, “Yeah, you need to go take a shower.” Setting the boy on his feet, he tapped the little bottom and said, “Scoot,” smiling as the tiny brunet giggled and dashed from the room on stocking feet.
Vin stared intently at the table, trying to see if there was anything that needed to be straightened. His father, nearby, grinned at the child’s quiet study of the decorations. After several minutes, he asked softly, “So, does it look okay?”
“Think so. It look okay to you, Dad?”
“It looks perfect, Cowboy.”
“’Kay. How long ‘til Unka Nathan and Auntie Raine get here?”
Glancing at his watch, Chris started to reply but, instead, moved away from the grill that he was preparing for later in the afternoon, and offered his wrist to his son. “You tell me.”
With a heavy sigh, Vin stared at the watch with the same intensity he had used with the decorations. After four, long, silent minutes, he asked, “Two hours?”
Grinning, the proud father replied, “You’ve got it, two hours.” Reaching down, he lifted the seven-year-old into his arms and hugged him. “You’ve been practicing.”
With a shy smile, the child replied, “Me and Mrs. Potter work on it for about 30 minutes every day.”
Knowing just how long a half hour seemed during summer break when it came to doing something educational, Chris was even more impressed, and said so to the child. Father and son shared another hug before the little boy was returned to the deck. Just then they heard an all too familiar noise.
“Here comes JD,” Vin offered before trotting off the deck, heading for the big yard, where their two dogs had been banished when the decorating had begun.
“Remember, don’t get any dirtier than you absolutely have to,” Larabee called after his son, knowing that completely clean was far beyond reality. They’d be doing well to get by without a second bath before the party began.
“’Kay!” Vin called out as he ran after Ringo, screeching like a “wild Indian” as JD and Elvis joined them for a run around the big back yard.
The other members of ATF Team Seven arrived just after noon. Josiah brought Nettie Wells and her great niece, Casey, with him, while Inez Rocillos accompanied Ezra. The others added to the wrapped gifts that were piled on a table in one corner of the deck, and Nettie sent Casey out to play with the boys.
“Hi, Casey!” JD squealed as he ran headlong toward the little girl, wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off her feet with a grunt.
“JAY DEE!!” The little girl squealed as she struggled to get loose of the boy's grip. “Thtop!”
Casey's cry, lisping due to the loss of her two front teeth, caught Buck's attention. “Little Bit, play nice!”
“'Kay, Da!” JD let Casey go and chirped, “C'mon, Casey!”
Vin joined the two younger children, and the trio went back to playing with the dogs. To the adults it looked as if the only thing they were doing was running haphazardly around the broad backyard, the dogs yipping and barking at their heels.
Last to arrive, Nathan helped his wife from the car and escorted her across the yard. Soon all of the adults were settled around the deck, chatting while Chris finished grilling the main course for the meal with which they were going to begin the festivities. A short time later they were settled in with a lunch of barbeque ribs, potato salad and a few other things that wouldn't be on the menu of a “regular” baby shower. In deference to the ladies, there was a green salad and a fruit bowl as well. Nathan fussed around his wife, concerned about every odd sound or facial expression she used until Raine threatened to borrow Chris' service revolver and he threatened to go get it. Properly chastised, the man settled down, but continued to keep an eye on his wife.
JD, Vin and Casey had been corralled and were now settled at the boy's small picnic table, eating and chatting. At least JD and Casey were chattering back and forth. For the most part, Vin simply listened and ate.
After everyone had eaten their fill, the food was cleared away and the presents were reclaimed by the givers. JD and Vin giggled and seemed unable to stand still as they stood on either side of a large box, roughly wrapped in two types of wrapping paper. Likewise, Casey giggled and clutched a smaller package that was just as crudely wrapped. Truthfully the adults were just as excited to begin this part of the festivities; each one had taken great pains to find the perfect gift to give the expectant couple. All of the adult were excited with the exception of the guest of honor, Nathan. He looked nervously around, his dark brown eyes pleading with his wife.
Raine simply giggled, patted her belly, and shook her head. “This is all about you, husband, I have one job today.” That said, she pulled a large book from her bag, which Nathan recognized as the baby book his wife had been given at her shower. She pulled out a pen as well, opening the book to the “shower gifts” page.
With a sigh, the expectant father accepted his fate as the main focus of the shower, and looked at the rest of the gathering. “Well, where should I start?”
“OURS!” JD shouted happily, “Open ours, Unka Nathan!”
“JD, sh!” Buck scolded gently.
“No, that's the perfect place to start,” Nathan said with a smile, some of his nervousness leaving him as he picked up some of the excitement from the bouncing five year old. The boys half carried and half dragged the gift the few feet to where he sat, then moved back a step. Taking the card off the top of the box, he opened it and read the card aloud, down to the crudely lettered signatures of his two nephews. Then, because by this time Vin was beginning to bounce from one foot to the other, he began to unwrap the gift. Pulling the top open, he exclaimed, “Oh, guys, this is great!” as he removed a small, wooden rocking horse from the box. The body of the “horse” was a large, flat surface, meaning that an infant could rock safely seated on the cushioned “saddle” and held by the seat belt that had been added to the backboard. He saw quickly that the rocking horse was handmade, and realized the source of the deep cut on Chris' hand a few weeks earlier. It hadn't needed stitches, but had given him problems since it was his right hand.
As if reading the other man's mind, Chris nodded, rubbed his hand, and said, “The boys helped me with all of the work.”
That explained the somewhat splotchy paint job, the horse painted a golden yellow. There were also pink and blue hand prints as decoration. Raine and Nathan had opted not to find out the sex of their child; Raine wanting to experience that information after their child was born.
“Oh, boys, that's beautiful!” Raine exclaimed, clapping her hands together in joy. “Baby's going to love rocking on their special gift from their cousins!”
“I painted this side and then I putted... put... the hand printses on this side, too, 'cos this was my side to dec'rate and Vin dec'rated the other side!” JD explained in a loud voice.
“I can see that, what a great job you both did!” Raine replied, making certain to include both boys in her praise.
“Thanks, guys, this is awesome!” Nathan added truthfully, touched by all the work the two little boys had put into the gift.
“Open mine nextht!” Casey cried out, nearly as animated as JD. “I made it, too!”
“Catherine Elizabeth, calm down, child!” Nettie said with a smile. “Land sake, you'd think this was their birthday parties rather than a baby shower.”
“When there are gifts involved, it doesn't matter whether they're giving or receiving,” Inez added to the discussion.
“Okay, Casey, let's open yours next,” Nathan agreed, accepting the package she offered him. Carefully opening it, he took out a framed needlepoint picture of a moon and stars with a short verse below that read, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. It was easy in this case, as well, to see that the gift had been made by the giver. Uneven stitches and some completely off the light blue stamp on the cloth told that story. The gift was precious to both parents, though, because of the love and time put into it by the little girl. “It's beautiful, Casey, you did a wonderful job. Thank you!”
Holding up pudgy little fingers the child explained, “I poked my fingerth lots of times, but Aunt Nettie said you're th'posed to poke 'em at least once so they get tougher!”
“Well that makes a lot of sense, sugar, thank you for the gift. I'm gonna hang it over the baby's crib as soon as we get home.”
Casey squealed and clapped her hands in response.
“Where are ya gonna put our horse, Unka Nathan?” JD asked, not wanting to be upstaged by his friend.
“Little Bit, let's let your Uncle Nathan finish opening the gifts right now, okay?” Buck said in an effort to distract his son.
“Yeah, our turns over,” Vin put in, ducking his head when the others looked at him.
“Cowboy, it's not about turns, it's just that I think Uncle Nathan and Aunt Raine are anxious to see what's inside all the packages.” Chris reached down and stroked the little boy's dark, blond hair. “Okay?”
Smiling now, Vin nodded. “Okay.”
“I'll tell you what, boys, would you and Casey like to carry my gift over to Nathan?” Nettie said in an effort to get things back on track while soothing the children.
“Okay!” JD agreed, trotting over to where the social worker sat. Together with the other two children, he carried the large, soft package over to where Nathan sat. They handed to gift over, then stood back to allow the adults to watch as well as he opened it.
“Oh, Nettie!” Raine exclaimed as she viewed the soft, handmade quilt her husband uncovered. It was in colors of blue, pink, yellow, green, lavender and cream, made in the eight pointed star pattern.
“It's just beautiful, thank you, Nettie,” Nathan exclaimed as he ran his hand over the fabric.
Mrs. Wells smiled, “I'm glad you like it. Of course, you know me, I had to make some alterations to the pattern.” She went on to explain that the different colors were made of different types of material, from corduroy to satin, which would allow the infant tactile stimulation while the light colors would encourage relaxation.
“Baby will love it, I'm sure,” Raine said with a smile as she wrote the other woman's comments down in the baby book.
Next came Ezra's gift. Of course it was exquisitely wrapped, with a large bow of sapphire and crimson. It was smaller than most of the others, but Nathan knew that his friend had most likely spent far more than anyone else. It wasn't that he expected it to be valued more, it was simply the way Ezra Standish most often showed his love to a friend. It was only with their nephews that he could express his feelings without a price tag, and even that had happened only after threat of “death” from their fathers. Nathan hoped that he would learn to do the same with their child, hopefully without needing such “encouragement”.
Untying the ribbon, Jackson lifted the lid and revealed a white bear that came complete with a certificate that announced that it was a Steiff bear, a replica of the 1925 model. He and Raine had seen the expensive bears online when they had been building up a wish list, and he knew that Ezra had given far too much for the little bear for his wife to comfortably allow their child to play with it. He knew, though, that if the bear wasn't played with, his friend would be hurt. All he said was, “Thank you, Ezra, this is going to be Baby's favorite soft toy, I can tell right now.”
“You're welcome, my friend. Oh, there's something else in the bottom... nothing particularly spectacular, but given from the heart.”
Retrieving a small envelope from the bottom of the box, Nathan opened it and drew out the paperwork for a 529 savings account; designated for their child's college education. He shook his head, the money already set aside in the account would go a long way in supplying their child with a college education. Shaking his head, he said in an emotion filled voice, “Ezra... this is... this is far too generous.”
“Nonsense, my friend. As you know yourself, the funds are the same as those earmarked for our nephews. How could I do any less for your child?”
“Oh... Ezra...” Raine exclaimed as she saw the amount of money the account already had in it. Rather than arguing with him, however, she simply said, “Thank you, Uncle Ezra.”
“You're quite welcome, my dear. Now, there are other gifts to open and I, for one, am anxious to see what they are.”
Next came Josiah's gift, which was unwrapped but decorated with a large, yellow, bow. He had made the baby a cradle, complete with decorative symbols carved into the headboard. The cradle was made of cherry wood and stained to accent the wood's deep, rich color.
Vin, unable to stop himself, stepped closer, and began to trace the etched symbols. “What do they mean, Unka 'Siah?”
Touching the symbols as he explained them briefly, Josiah began to identify each symbol. Starting with the familiar symbol of a fish. “This is called an Ichthys, people also call it the Jesus Fish. Christians use it to represent Jesus, his role as a fisher of men, and some of his miracles.”
Next was a symbol that included a stylized, setting sun. “This is Chinese and it represents purity and balance, as well as energy.”
“Oh great, who wouldn't want an energetic infant?” Raine pondered aloud, then giggled when the others stared at her. “Hey, I'll be the one chasing Baby all around the house!”
The next symbol resembled a ladder in some ways, with four, larger rungs at the top. “This is Egyptian and represents stability and strength.”
Vin recognized the next symbol. “That's Native 'Merican, isn't it?”
“You're right, Vin.” Josiah traced the stylized bird symbol known. “It's called the Thunderbird and it represents unlimited happiness.”
“I can be a Funderbird!” JD proclaimed. Waving his arms up and down, he raced around the deck, crying out, “Boom! Boom! I'm being a Funderbird!”
“I think perhaps we'll save the rest for later,” Josiah said with a shake of his head.
“I think you're right.” Nathan agreed. Then, more loudly, he said, “What shall I open next?”
“How about opening mine next?” Inez said with a smile. She pointed out the gift she brought and asked the children to take it to Nathan. JD flapped his “wings” a final time and came to join his friends, helping to carry the next gift to Nathan. They stood near him, curious to see what the package contained. Opening the gift, he found a second quilt, this one hand made by the Latina. It was bordered in a spring green fabric, and the squares alternated between a line of flowers and a line of lady bugs and frogs. Around each square that held one of the little creatures, she had embroidered a verse from the Bible. As the guests of honor studied the verses, Inez explained, “It's called a Blessing Quilt, made especially for the baby, with verses from the Bible and other books. They came about back in the 1800s, when children were still seen as miniature adults. Back then, the quilt was primarily a means to keep the baby warm, especially in the winter.”
“How come?” Casey asked, tentatively fingering the edge of the quilt.
“Because there was no furnace to keep the house warm,” Nettie informed her great niece. “Without warm covers, the baby would get very, very cold.”
“Oh. What do the wordths say, Miss Inez?” She lisped.
Coming to stand near Nathan and leaning over the child; making certain there was room for the two boys to join them, Inez pointed to each verse as she read the quote aloud. “When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. That's from Proverbs 3, verse 24. This one says The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore, and it's from Psalms 121:8. This one says, Children are a gift of the Lord, Psalms 127:3. And this one says, The Lord will protect you, Psalms 121:7.”
“It's a beautiful gift, thank you Inez. Maybe after I get the rest of these unwrapped we can read it all.” Nathan smiled, knowing that JD would be getting antsy in another minute or so.
“That sounds perfect,” Buck entered the conversation. “Little Bit, you want to give my gift to Uncle Nathan?”
“Sure, Da!” The little brunet took the gift from his father and carefully carried it to where his Uncle sat. “Here, Unka Nathan, it's a --”
“JD!” Both Chris and Buck interrupted the little boy's chatter.
“Oh, sorry Unka Nathan!” JD clapped pudgy hands over his mouth and trotted back to where his father sat. Pale features blushed as he said in a stage whisper, “Sorry, Da!”
“It's okay, Little Bit, but let's let Uncle Nathan and Aunt Raine be surprised, okay?”
Nathan began pulling at the wrapping paper, not wanting his nephew to be in suspense for long. He laughed as he pulled the things out of the box. It was a tiny, pink cowboy hat and a pair of soft, pink “cowboy boot” booties, complete with soft, silver, cloth “spurs”. “Buck, you just don't give up, do you?” Buck had been saying for months that their first child would be a daughter.
“Hey, I've been right a lot more times than I've been wrong, and I've been tellin' women the sex of their babies for a long time. But, just in case this is one of those odd times when my spidey sense is off, I kept the receipt, and Janice is keeping a blue set back for me at the shop.”
The others chuckled at his sheepish grin.
“Okay, so we have one more gift,” Chris said. “Vin, can you take my gift to Uncle Nathan?”
“Sure!” The seven-year-old cheerfully accepted the gift and carried it to his uncle. “Here, Unca Nathan, this is from Dad!”
“Thank you, Vin!” Nathan matched the child's exuberance as he took the gift and began to unwrap it. Opening the box, he whistled softly. “Chris, this is... this is amazing.”
“Oh, Chris!” Raine added as her husband lifted out a delicate, simple, white, Christening gown.
Everyone turned to Buck as he sucked in a breath and exclaimed “Adam” before he caught himself. He looked at the deck and muttered, “I'm sorry.”
When the entire gathering grew quiet, even the children, Chris straightened in his seat and said evenly, “Yeah, it's Adam's. Sarah started making it as soon as she learned she was pregnant, by hand. She worked on it a little each night and finished it three weeks before he was born. It's been stored away since Adam was Christened. I thought it was about time it was put to good use... unless...” Suddenly he wondered if he had done the right thing. The question was answered quickly.
Raine eased herself out of the chair and walked across the deck to stand before him. Placing a hand on each side of his face, she leaned down and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Thank you, Chris. We would be honored to Christen our child in this beautiful gown.”
Larabee ducked his head, hiding the tears that threatened to spill. “I'm glad,” was all he could manage to say. He excused himself to go inside.
Vin started after him, sensing that something was wrong, but Buck stopped him. “He'll be back in a bit, Cowboy. Why don't you help clean up the wrapping paper?”
“Okay, Buck.” Continuing to watch the back door for sign of his father, he went to gather up the gaily colored paper.
The shower wound down after the gifts were given. Chris returned in a few minutes, carrying the cake they'd had made at a nearby bakery. It was in the shape of a teddy bear, chocolate cake with butter cream frosting. There was also punch and more fresh fruit, all of it happily devoured by the party goers. Josiah and Ezra helped carry the gifts to Nathan's SUV, while Chris and Buck cleaned up the deck and Nettie and Inez went to take care of the leftovers and dishes. The children were sent back out to the yard to play and run off some energy.
Later, the two fathers and their sons stood in the side yard, watching as their guests drove down the long drive toward the main road. Then, the little patchwork family moved toward the house, each father walking with their son.
“Why don't you boys go get a shower and put your pajamas on –“ Chris started, cut off by the twin groans of the children.
“But we took a shower this mornin'!” JD protested, wiping a dirt-encrusted hand beneath an itchy nose.
“And if you were still clean it would be fine, but I think that a second shower is in order,” Buck continued the parental side of the argument.
“If you get it done without any argument, we'll have time to watch a DVD before bedtime,” Chris enticed the children. It worked. With twin shouts of joy, the two boys raced toward the back door, their pups scrambling along beside them.
Chris heaved a sigh as he hung up the phone. He turned to where his co-parent and oldest friend sat at the kitchen table, supervising breakfast. When Buck looked up, he said softly, “We have a problem.”
“That was Gloria. Katie fell down the basement steps this morning, and they're on the way to the ER.”
“Oh man, is it bad?”
“She isn't sure. Katie's complaining of a headache, and can't put any weight on her right ankle. Hopefully it's nothing serious, but better safe than sorry.”
“Does that mean you'll have to stay home with us?” Vin looked up hopefully. It was summer vacation, and the thought that he could spend the day with his father was a very happy one. His father's next words, however, caused his smile to falter.
“Sorry, no, Cowboy. We have a mandatory meeting today; nobody is allowed to miss it.” He came to stand behind his child's chair and reached down to ruffle the thick, dark blond hair. “We're gonna have to find someone to watch over you and JD until we're done.”
“So, what do we do?” Buck asked.
“I'll call the Bureau Day Care to see if they can... what?” He asked as the other man started shaking his head.
“They're closed this week for renovations. What about Nettie?”
“She's out of town until Thursday for a conference. She left about five this morning. Inez?”
“She's short two staff today and tomorrow; Hector and Liz got married yesterday.”
“Oh, yeah, that's right. Da... darn.”
Smiling at his friend's save, Buck said, “You know, Raine's home. If she doesn't have any doctor's appointments...”
“I'd hate to ask her. Nate said she's not sleeping much.”
“Well, that's to be expected, considering her due date's comin' up. But it would just be a few hours. The boys could be her helpers; fetch and carry for her and the like. I don't think she'd mind.”
“I don't either, but she's not the one I'm worrying about.” The two men shared a smile. Nathan Jackson was the poster child for nervous, overreacting, hyper-vigilant first time fathers. He was driving his wife crazy, calling her every hour on the hour for “an update”. “I guess it wouldn't hurt to call and ask. I am the one who signs off on Nate's expense accounts, after all.”
A few minutes later, the plan was in place. Chris and Buck would drop the boys off at the Jacksons' home with enough toys and games to keep them busy. Then, as soon as Gloria could, she would come and pick them up. The drive into town found the boys in the backseat, discussing how quiet and helpful they would be for their Aunt Raine.
Only too well aware of how exuberant his son could be, Buck mentioned several times during the trip that he expected the little boy to be on his best behavior. Each time, the little boy responded with increasing exasperation, “I know, Da, I know!”
Arriving at the Jackson home, the two fathers helped their sons out of their booster seats and Ram's back seat. They looked up to see Raine Jackson standing at the front door, smiling, one hand on her tummy and the other pressed against her back.
“Are you sure you're up to this, Raine?” Chris asked as they came up the stairs set in the small incline that led up to the house. “I promise, Gloria will be here just as soon as she gets things squared away with Katie.”
“Chris, stop worrying!” Raine exclaimed. “I'm pregnant, not sick or dying. We'll be fine. Won't we guys?”
“Yep, we's gonna help you lots, Auntie Raine, 'cause you're preg'ant, and it's 'portant that we don't make things dif'cult for you!” JD chirped as he hopped from one step to the next, beside his father.
Laughing, the mother-to-be said, “You could never make things difficult for me, honey. Neither of you,” Her bright, dark eyes fell on Vin, who walked slightly more sedately beside his father.
“I'll make sure he doesn't talk too much, either, Aunt Raine,” Vin promised. “Sometimes he gives Dad and Buck a headache 'cause he talks so much.”
“I don't either!” JD proclaimed loudly.
Rolling his eyes, Vin only said, quietly, “Sure, JD, sure.”
Nearly chocking on a laugh, Chris said, “We really appreciate this, Raine. If something happens to keep Gloria from coming to get the boys, I'll find a way to get out of the rest of the meeting and come get them myself.”
Waving off his concern, the young woman said, “It's okay, Chris. I know the boys will be good. We'll... we'll be just fine.”
Noting the pause and the slight flinch, Buck asked, “Are you sure you're okay?”
“Yeah, don't worry. I saw the doctor yesterday, and she said that from the looks of things, Baby won't be making an appearance until the end of next week at the earliest.” Seeing the concern on their faces, Raine did her best to reassure them. “It was just a twinge. When you're the size of the Goodyear Blimp, it happens.”
Leaning forward and kissing her cheek, Buck disagreed. “You look beautiful, darlin'.”
Pushing at him playfully, Raine said, “Go to work, flatterer.”
With a laugh, Buck led the way back down the stairs, promising JD that, “Mrs. Potter will be here soon, Little Bit!”
“'Kay, Da!” The cherubic brunet chirped. “C'mon, Vin, let's go play!”
“Hold it right there, young man!” Raine protested. “Don't I even get a hug and a hello?”
“Oh! Sorry, Auntie Raine! Hi!” JD gave her a deadly combination of sweet smile and puppy dog eyes before stretching his arms wide and hugging her pregnant belly. “Hi, Baby!” They had been told that, the reason their Aunt was getting so heavy was that she had a baby growing inside her. He didn't really understand it but everyone seemed very excited and lots of people wanted to touch her big tummy. He'd never seen anyone do that to someone who was fat, so he took their word for it.
Slightly more sedate, Vin followed the other boy, greeting both his aunt and the baby she carried. He then opened the door, holding it open wide so she could lead the way inside.
“Are you boys hungry or thirsty?”
“Yeah!” JD responded.
Vin gave the other boy an exasperated look and said, “JD, we just ate break'ast 'fore we left home.”
“But that was a long long time ago and I'm really really really thirsty!”
Laughing, Raine said,“Well, then, I think we need to get you boys something to drink.”
A moment later, they were in the kitchen, and Rain was pouring two glasses of orange juice. The boys had climbed up onto the bar stools at the counter, it was their favorite place to sit when they visited. Setting the glasses on the counter, the young woman asked, “Would you boys like anything to munch on? I have some goldfish crackers.”
“I like go-fish crackers!” JD announced. As soon as Raine set a small bowl of them in front of him, JD reached for them and began playing. “Look, Auntie Raine, I can make 'em jump just like the real fishes!”
“Why, yes you can, sweetheart. But be careful, you don't want to... oh dear.”
All three of them watched helplessly as the glass of juice tumbled from the counter and fell to the floor. The juice splashing across the tile.
“JD!” Vin groused loudly. Then he slid from the stool and hurried to where the paper towels were. Raine met him, handing him several sheets.
“I'm sorry! I'm sorry!” JD cried out, tears welling up in his eyes.
“It's all right, sweetheart, it was an accident,” Raine said quietly, a little shocked at his emotional response to such a minor problem.
Buck told him a lot of times that he was 'sposed to be extra good today, Aunt Raine.” Vin explained, as if he read her mind, as he quickly wiped up the juice. “He spilled a whole carton of milk yesterday. Buck made him clean it up and he had to sit in the time out chair for five minutes. Buck just brought the milk home and told JD not to try and lift it all by hisself.”
“I said I'm sorry!” JD yelled now, tears beginning to run down his flushed cheeks, as he misunderstood his brother's comment as condemnation.
Handing Vin some damp paper towels and giving the older child a smile, Raine padded to where the miserable child sat, and put her arms around him. “Sweetie, it's okay. It was an accident, and we all have them. Your da will understand.”
Sniffing loudly, the five-year-old said in a small voice, “You think so?”
With a smile, Raine said, “I know so, JD. Your da is a smart man.”
The rest of the morning passed uneventfully for the most part. Raine was relaxing on the couch, reading one of the baby books she had bought right after she learned of her pregnancy. The boys played nearby, on the floor. JD, exuberant at the quietest of times, found himself being scolded three more times by his older brother, for making messes and making too much noise. Even though Raine did her best to sooth his injured feelings, having Vin angry at him was hard to take.
“Viiiiiiiiiiiiiiin! Leave. Me. Uh. Lone!” The little brunet growled from amongst a scattering of Lego blocks. Raising up on his knees, he crossed his arms over his tiny chest. “Quit tellin' me what to do! You ain't my boss no more! Auntie Raine is the boss here, not you!”
“I am the boss of you 'cause I'm older!” Vin argued.
“Hey, hey, hey! Come on guys, calm down, okay?” Raine tried to mediate the conflict.
“He started it!” JD whined.
“Boys! Now, calm down!” Raine struggled to get off the couch, her pregnant body slow to react. “I think that maybe we need a little quiet time. Did you bring any books with you?”
In unison the two boys replied, “Yes, ma'am.”
“Okay, then, why don't you pick up the rest of your stuff and get the books, while I turn on some quiet music, and you can relax for a little while.”
“Okay.” Another reply in duet from the two boys. By the time Raine had chosen a CD and turned it on, the boys had cleaned up their toys and were sitting in two chairs, reading quietly. With a sigh, she smiled at the sight. Vin was sitting in the big rocking chair Nathan had brought home to her four months ago. The seven-year-old seemed to find the gentle rocking comforting, and loved to sit there. Across the room, JD sat cross-legged in the oversized easy chair that Nathan loved to relax in. Both boys lips moved as they quietly sounded out some of the words and read the others easily. They read at the same level, Vin still struggling with his reading problems.
Just as she started to sit down, Raine was surprised at a feeling that washed through her body. In an urgent tone, she said, “I'll be right back, boys.”
Looking up from his book, Vin said, “Okay.” His attention was still on his aunt when she suddenly stopped.
“Oh!” Raine gasped.
“Aunt Raine!” Vin cried out as something splashed over the tile floor at the woman's feet. “What's the matter?”
“What?” JD dropped his book at his brother's startled call; he slipped off the chair and hurried over to where the older boy was standing. Following his brother's line of sight, his little nose wrinkled as he exclaimed, “EW!”
“Boys,” Raine said, her voice trembling despite her calm demeanor, “It's all right. My water broke, that's all. It means Baby is ready to be born. OH!”
Stepping gingerly, not wanting to slip in the puddle, Vin took one of the woman's hands. “Come on, Aunt Raine, you need to sit down.”
“Okay, it's okay, sweetie. Can you go get some towels in the linen closet? The towels on the bottom shelf, they're older.” She squeezed his little hand, smiling as reassuringly as she could.
“Got it!” Vin exclaimed, stepping around the fluid puddle, then running full force toward the bathroom area.
Moving slowly, Raine walked to the couch, leaning against the back of it as she struggled to get her emotions back under control. She looked to find JD standing nearby, giving her a strange look. “It's going to be okay, honey.”
“You made a mess, Auntie Raine.” The boy's voice held a note of accusation.
Unable to fight the urge to giggle, the woman said, “Yes, I did honey, I'm sorry.”
Vin was back, arms filled with bath towels. He started toward the spot on the floor, but Raine redirected him, asking him to put two of them on the seat of the rocking chair. As he followed her direction, she settled gingerly onto the chair as she said, “That's good sweetheart. Can you bring me the phone now?”
Feeling left out, JD hurried to the stand where the phone sat. “I'll get it!”
Vin, only too happy to share the work, took the other towels over and spread them over the fluid. He wasn't certain if he was doing the right thing, but it seemed the logical thing to do at the moment. That finished, he joined JD at Raine's side, just as she disconnected the call she had made. “What next, Aunt Raine?”
“Now we just... Ohhhhh!... wait for the ambulance. Oh dear, I need to let Nathan know... Oh!”
Vin grabbed the phone from her hand and asked, “What's the number?”
“Speed dial... 1... pound... Ohhh!” Raine responded.
Following her instructions, Vin waited for his uncle Nathan to answer. It seemed to take forever, before, “Raine?”
“Come home, Unca Nathan, Auntie Raine needs you!” Vin blurted out. “Hurry!”
“No, no, honey, let me have the phone.” Raine took the handset and said, “Nathan? Honey, it's time, but don't you dare do anything crazy. The ambulance is on it's way, you just meet me at the hospital.”
“I'm on my way, sweetheart. It's gonna be okay. I'm on my way.”
“Nate, put Chris or Buck on,” Raine ordered, hearing the fear in her husband's voice and feeling the same anxiety in her own chest. When Chris' voice came on the line, she said, “Chris, don't let him drive, okay? I'm in labor, my water broke, and the ambulance is on the way. If Gloria doesn't get here before I leave, I'll bring the boys with me in the ambulance.”
“Raine, you shouldn't be worrying about anything but the baby right now. I'll bring Nathan, and Buck will come get the boys. They'll be okay alone for a few minutes, and that's an order.”
“You aren't my boss,” Raine disagreed with a smile. “We'll be fine. Just meet us at... Oh!” She leaned forward, holding her stomach as the contraction hit a crescendo.
Grabbing the phone out of her hand, Vin said, “Dad?”
“>Hey, Cowboy,” Chris replied in his calmest voice. “I was just telling your aunt Raine that Buck is going to come get you there. Can you look after JD for a few minutes until he gets there?”
“Sure, Dad. What if Miz Potter comes before he does?”
“Ask her to call Buck and they'll decide what to do from there. I've got to go, I'm going to drive uncle Nathan to the hospital to meet aunt Raine, okay?”
“Okay, Dad. Don't drive crazy, okay?”
With a chuckle, Larabee responded, “Okay, Buddy.”
Disconnecting the phone, Vin held onto it, knowing that he might need it again. He looked up at Raine, worried when he saw that she was leaning back in the chair, her eyes closed. “Auntie Raine?”
“What should I do now?”
Managing a smile, the laboring woman reached out and tousled his thick hair. “Just watch for the ambulance, honey. Can you do me a favor and see if the front door is unlocked?”
“Yep!” He hurried off then returned a minute later. “Its unlocked and I opened it, too.”
“Thank you. JD?”
The smaller boy, who had been unusually quiet for the last several minutes, looked up at her. His big, hazel eyes seemed even bigger than usual. “Yeah?”
“Are you okay, honey?”
Nodding, although she could see that there was something more bothering the little boy, Raine said, “Hey, could you do me a big favor and go watch for the ambulance? Why don't both of you do that?”
Shaking his head resolutely, Vin said, “I'm gonna stay here, Auntie Raine, just in case.”
“Well, I'll go watch for the am'lance, then!” The smaller child trotted off toward the front of the house.
Vin stood beside his aunt, one little hand gently patting her's. She sat quietly in the chair, head back and eyes closed for a few minutes. Then, suddenly, she sucked in a breath, sat up, and began rocking. At first the movement was slow, but became more rapid, and she was breathing in a funny way.
“Aunt Raine? Aunt Raine?” He asked, anxiety mounting when she didn't respond to him.
“It's... okay Vin... it's... okay....” Raine managed to grate out as the contraction continued.
“What can I do? What can I do?” He asked softly, more to himself than to the woman. Just then he heard the faint sound of a siren, and JD came running back from the porch.
“THE AM'LANCE IS HERE!”
“Thank you, baby,” Raine managed as the rocking began again.
“I'm not a baby,” JD replied indignantly.
“JD, hush!” Vin growled, his attention still on their aunt.
“Hello?” A voice came from the front of the house and, seconds later, three EMTs entered the living room, pulling a gurney and carrying their equipment.
“Hey!” Vin shouted, “Help Auntie Raine!”
One of the EMT's diverted and squatted down in front of the little boy. “Hi, my name's Dave. We're going to take good care of you're Aunt. How about you, me, and your... brother?... go over here out of the way?”
“It's okay, sweetie,” Raine said from where she sat, the other people hovering around her. “You and JD... go with... Dave.”
“Okay. C'mon, JD,” Vin waved to the other child. Together they went to the couch and settled down, the EMT perching on the coffee table in front of them.
“So, can you boys' tell me your names?”
“I'm Vin... this is JD,” Vin supplied, his eyes never leaving Raine. As they helped her onto the gurney, he called out, “Be careful!”
“They will,” Dave assured the child. “Now, is there anyone else here with you?”
“Not yet. Buck's comin', though, and so's Miz Potter... I think. Dad said we could wait for them here.”
“Well, I'm not sure about that, I'm not comfortable leaving two little guys here alone.”
With an indignant huff, Vin said, “We can take care of our selfs. Me and JD used to live all alone.”
“What?” the man asked. Before he could explore that comment though, another loud voice could be heard coming down the short hallway.
“DA!” JD screeched, jumping off the couch and running toward his father's voice.
“JD!” Vin hollered. “Get back here, we're not s'posed to be in the way!”
“I've got him, Vin, it's okay,” Buck said as he entered the room with his son in one arm, scooting quickly around the gurney where Raine was reclining. To her he said, “Sweetheart, Chris will have Nate waiting for you at the hospital.”
“Goo – oooh!” Was Raine's reply as the EMTs started wheeling her out the front door.
“I'll lock up here!” Buck called out unnecessarily as they passed over the threshold onto the porch. Standing JD on his feet, he said, “get your things, guys, and we'll head out for home.”
“No!” Vin argued loudly.
“Hey, what's with the attitude?”
“We have to clean up the mess-- “
“I just said get your things, Buddy,” Buck said gently, realizing that things had been tense for the boys.
“No, Auntie Raine made a mess, and we shouldn't just leave it,” Vin explained as he pointed to the towels spread out on the floor.
Buck paled slightly when it occurred to him just what it was that was soaking the towels, but managed to say only, “Okay, JD, go get me a clothes basket and we'll put them in the wash. Vin, let's go find the mop and bucket.”
“Okay, Buck,” Vin agreed, heading toward the closet where he knew they kept the cleaning supplies.
Buck looked to see his son still standing where he'd placed him, he said, “JD?”
“I don't wanna!”
“Little Bit, you don't have to touch anything but the basket, I'll take it from there.”
“But, I don't wanna!”
“John Daniel! What is the problem?”
“When I made a mess I gots in trouble but Aunt Raine made a big big big mess and nobody said nothin' to her!”
Buck did his best to stifle the laugh that was his first response, but it was too late. JD stood there with a glare that rivaled Chris Larabee on a bad day. “Buddy, they don't seem like it to you, I understand, but they're two completely different things. Now, please go get the laundry basket?”
“'Kay.” The boy was still unhappy, but more ready to comply when he felt that he was, at least, heard.
It was less than twenty minutes before they were leaving the house, the towels in the wash, the tile freshly mopped and, after a panicked call from Nathan, Raine's hospital bag was retrieved. The boys carried their backpacks, Raine's bag balanced between them, while Buck locked the door and finished speaking to Gloria Potter. “No, it's okay, Gloria. You stay with Katie, and give her a hug from me. I've got the boys, and everything is covered.... Yeah, let us know tonight how things are going... okay, bye.”
“How's Katie?” Vin asked quickly. It was well known by the family that the little boy had a serious case of puppy love for Gloria's daughter. At thirteen, Katie tolerated his attention with a smile.
“She has a broken ankle and a concussion. That's another way of saying she got a bad bump on her head. Mrs. Potter is going to stay with her the rest of the day, so you guys can hang out with me. We'll drop off Raine's bag and head on home.”
“Kay,” JD said, his smile returning. He was excited to be able to spend the rest of the day with his father.
“Can we... uh...” Vin stammered as they reached the Ram.
“What's on your mind, Buddy?” Buck asked as he took Raine's bag from the boys and sat it in the front seat.
“I was wonderin'... could we stay at the hops...hospital... and get to see the baby?”
Placing the backpacks on the seat between the booster seats, Buck reached down and picked JD up. “Well, we can see how things are going. Sometimes it takes a real long time for babies to be born, we might be in there until real late tonight, or even tomorrow sometime.”
“Oh,” Vin was disappointed. He had figured that, as soon as Aunt Raine got to the hospital, the doctor would take the baby out of her.
As Buck lifted the older boy up into the truck, he could see the puzzled look in the little face. He knew, though, that there was no use in asking questions of him until Vin started asking them himself. Instead, he simply settled Vin in his booster seat and fastened the belt, before climbing behind the steering wheel.
Ten minutes later they were pulling into a parking space at the hospital and he quickly got the boys out of their seats. Carrying Raine's bag and the two backpacks in one hand, he held JD's hand with the other, Vin holding onto the younger boy's other hand. Entering the large, busy lobby, Buck got his bearings and got the directions to the labor and delivery waiting area. As soon as they entered the designated area, they quickly located the rest of their group.
“Dad!” Vin broke away from the others and sprinted across the room to where his father sat.
“Hey, Cowboy!” Chris intercepted the flying body and lifted him into his lap. “I hear you had a pretty exciting morning.”
“Yeah, we did,” was Vin's reply, as he snuggled into his father's embrace with a soft sigh. He might not have been aware of the look of absolute bliss that washed over the blond's face, but the others were.
“How're things going?” Buck asked, putting the bags down and settling into one of the semi-comfortable loveseats. JD climbed off his lap and sat next to him, still obviously upset.
“Nathan sprinted out here long enough to say it wouldn't be long, then practically broke his neck getting back inside.” Josiah explained with a smile.
“I believe it's a good thing that this is happening fairly quickly,” Ezra put in, “I don't believe our friend and cohort would survive a long labor.”
“But Auntie Raine said she was gonna have the baby a long, long time ago,” Vin turned to look at his uncles. “How come it takes so long to have a baby?”
Chris grimaced at the question, and knew there were others that would be coming up soon. For now, though, he hoped that his son would be satisfied with, “I'm not real sure, I guess it's one of those 'good things are worth waiting for' kind of things.” He winced at the looks he got from the other men, but Vin seemed to be satisfied with the response.
“I brought Raine's bag, reckon I should get it to --”
The big brunet was interrupted as Nathan Jackson hurried into the waiting room. His face was alight with a broad grin. “It's a girl!”
The other men joined him in shouting; congratulating him, asking about Raine and the baby and, in general, acting like the proud uncles they were. The boys seemed more shell shocked than anything else; taken aback by the unusual display of emotions. Vin clung to his father's neck, smiling as joy filled the air, but anxious at the same time. JD was still sitting on the couch, watching the celebration with a frown, not quite certain what was going on.
The jubilation died down after a few minutes, and Nathan filled them in more completely. “She's absolutely beautiful; looks like her mama. She's got a head full of curls along with ten fingers and ten toes. Raine was a trooper, she was amazing! They're cleanin' things up in there now, but as soon as everything's ready, I'll come back and get you all to come say hello.”
“I cannot wait for a chance to meet my... our... new niece, my friend,” Ezra spoke for them all.
Taking Raine's bag with him, Nathan hurried back toward the delivery room.
Buck settled back on the couch and turned to his son. The comment he intended to make was replaced by, “What's wrong, Little Bit?”
“Auntie Raine made another mess, and nobody scolded her!”
“Unca Nathan said they had to clean things up 'fore we could come see the baby and that means there's a mess but ever'body's all excited and happy how come nobody's upset with Auntie Raine and the baby when they make a mess but I got in trouble 'cause I acks-dently spilled my juice!?”
“Breathe, son, breathe,” Buck sighed. “It's hard to explain, Little Bit, but it is different.”
“Because... well, it is.”
“Maybe I could help?” Josiah offered.
“Be my guest,” Buck replied, relief evident in his face and voice.
Lifting the child into his arms, Sanchez took that place on the couch, which was close to where Vin sat with his father. The older man made certain that both boys were paying attention as he said, “Okay, you know how thin Aunt Raine was when she first told us that she was expecting a baby?”
“Yeah, I could almost get my arms allllllll the way around her middle,” JD replied.
Smiling, Josiah said, “Exactly. Now, when you saw her earlier today, could you put your arms all the way around her?”
“No,” Vin responded this time. “Her tummy was way, way bigger.”
“Exactly. So, now, why do you think her tummy got bigger and bigger?”
“'Cause she ate a whole lot?” JD guessed.
“No, Auntie Raine didn't eat any more than she ever did.”
“Yeah, she didn't eat much of nothin' at the shower party,” Vin put in.
“Anything, you're right. That's because the place where the baby was, was getting bigger and bigger as the baby got bigger and bigger.”
“So that's why her tummy got bigger and bigger?” Vin asked, frowning.
“Yes. Now, the place where the baby grew is called a womb – “
“A room,” JD corrected.
With a deep chuckle, Josiah said, “No, a womb. That's a special place inside a woman where the baby grows. And that place, the womb, is filled with a sort of special water that supports the baby and protects it while it grows.”
“And it don't get drowned?” Vin asked.
“No, the baby doesn't have to breathe until it comes out of the mama. But, for the baby to come out of the mama, the water needs to be gone. The easiest way for that to happen is the womb pops open and all the special water comes out in a big whoooosh!”
“But, how come Auntie Raine didn't go to the potty or something?” JD wondered aloud.
All four of the men got a chuckle out of that question, but Josiah recovered quickly and explained, “Sometimes a lady can do that, but sometimes the womb pops open so quickly that she doesn't have a chance to. It's sort of like when you break a water balloon.”
“It surprises you?” Vin asked.
“Exactly. That's what happened to your Auntie Raine; it surprised her and she didn't have time to go to the bathroom.”
“But when I spilled my juice, it was an acks'dent, too. It s'prised me and I didn't have time to catch the glass.”
“True,” Josiah wondered just how well he was explaining the events the boys had experienced that morning.
“But, how come Auntie Raine didn't get in trouble for her acks'dent but I got in trouble for my acks'dent?” JD asked again.
“If I could interject something?” Ezra asked. When Josiah nodded, he spoke to the boys. “I believe that the difference is that, when you spilled your juice, it was simply spilled juice. However, when Auntie Raine's water broke, it meant that the baby would be coming. Everyone got very excited, and the... the mess... was forgotten in the excitement.”
JD and Vin both seemed to turn this new information over in their minds for several moments, before Vin simply nodded, indicating that he accepted the explanation. JD said, “I guess that makes sense,” although he didn't look completely convinced.
The boys' fathers and uncles looked at one another, knowing that there were still more questions bouncing around in the precocious child's mind. Better to simply take them as they were asked, however. In any case, Nathan entered the room once more, still smiling broadly.
“Who'd like to come meet my daughter?”
Nathan led the others into a small room. The lights had been turned low and, after the brighter lights in the waiting area, it took everyone a few seconds to adjust. When they did, they saw Raine, first, reclining in her hospital bed. She looked tired and jubilant at the same time. With a big smile she greeted them all with a soft, “Hi!”
“Hi yourself, beautiful,” Buck said with what the others called his “lady killer” smile.
“Don't even try that, buster,” Mrs. Jackson scolded. “I look like I've been run over by a cement mixer.”
“You do not, you look beautiful,” Nathan disagreed. He leaned down and kissed her gently on the lips. Both of them looked up at the twin, “Ew”s the two boys shouted in response. “Hey, now, this is my wife, after all.”
Ignoring their uncle, JD asked, none to quietly, “Where's the baby?”
“Little Bit, shhh. Inside voice.”
“Sorry!” The little boy said in a stage whisper.
“She's over there,” Nathan supplied, pointing to where two women, dressed in scrubs, where hovering around a table. They could all see a tiny baby, lying naked on the table.
“Don't she gots no clothes on?” JD wondered.
“Not yet. The doctor is checking her out, to make certain that she's okay.”
“Do they think somethin's wrong?” Vin asked worriedly.
“No, it's something they do with every newborn,” Chris explained quickly, to head off more anxiety.
“Oh, okay,” The little boy's body relaxed. If his Dad said it, it was right, and he didn't have to worry.
“Can we see her?” JD asked, trying to pull himself out of his father's arms.
“As soon as they're done with her,” Buck replied, “Cool your jets, kiddo!”
“Besides, I wanted a chance to thank you two boys,” Raine spoke up.
Frowning, Vin asked, “Thank us?”
“How come?” JD wanted to know.
“For being so wonderful and helpful when the baby started to come. I don't know what I would have done without you boys there to call the ambulance, watch for the EMTs, and all the other things you did to help me.”
“Oh,” Vin nodded, “you're welcome, Auntie Raine.”
“Yeah, you're welcome,” JD added, nodding so hard that his thick bangs flopped up and down.
It was just then that Nathan came to the bed with a tiny, blanket wrapped, bundle. The boys stared intently as the bundle was passed from father to mother. Raine pulled the blanket aside slightly, and said, “Would you boys like to meet her?”
“Yeah!” JD cheered, punching one chubby fist into the air, causing the newborn to startle.
“JD, sh,” Buck reminded.
“Oops!” He clapped a hand over his mouth in an attempt to keep quiet.
“Don't worry about it, JD, she'll need to get used to loud noises.” Raine reassured the little boy.
“She certainly will with this bunch,” Ezra said woefully, shaking his head.
Carefully Chris and Buck guided their sons to a place that would allow them to see the newborn without disturbing either her or her mother.
“Wow, she's little!” Vin exclaimed quietly.
“How come she's sleepin'? She just got borned,” JD asked.
“Well, it's a lot of hard work being born,” Buck explained. “She's all tuckered out.”
“How come it's hard work bein' born?” JD was still curious.
“Well, it just is,” Buck countered.
“How about we talk about it later,” Chris stepped in, “And just be happy that she's here and both she and Aunt Raine are healthy.”
“But why's Aunt --” JD started.
“Later, Little Bit, okay?” Buck practically begged.
With a long-suffering sigh, the five-year-old nodded. “Okay.”
“Besides, Uncle Nathan and I would like to ask you boys something,” Raine announced.
“What?” Both children responded in unison.
“Well, since you were both so helpful when the baby started to come, we'd like to add your middle names to her name.” Nathan explained. “Would that be okay?”
With a frown, Vin said, “But Michael's a boy's name, and so is Daniel.”
Pretending to be shocked, Nathan said, “You're right, they are boy names. Honey, what are we going to do?”
“I don't know, because I really want to give her those names...” Raine replied with a straight face.
“Picking it up, Josiah said, “You know what, though?”
“What Unca 'Siah?” JD asked.
“If I remember correctly, there are girl names that are very similar; Michelle, and Danielle.”
“Ser'ously?” Vin questioned.
“Seriously. Many boy names can be changed just a little and they fit for girls, too.”
“Cool!” JD responded, considering the matter settled.
“Michael... Michelle... Daniel... Danielle...” Vin tried the names out. Then, smiling, he turned to the new parents and said, “I like it!”
“Wonderful!” Nathan smiled.
“But, she's gonna have two middle names and no first name?” JD wanted to know.
“Oh, we chose her first name a while ago,” Raine explained. “You see, my Mama's name is Felicianna and Nathan's mama's name was Audrey. So, we put those two names together and decided that her first name will be Audrianna.”
“Audrianna... Michelle... Danielle... Jackson,” Buck whistled softly. “That poor child is gonna be ten before she can spell her entire name!”
The boys looked around as all of the adults began to laugh at Buck's comment, but weren't quite certain what was so funny. However, the laughter was contagious, and soon they were joining in.
They knew that, one day, they would be faced with questions they weren't comfortable answering. They didn't expect them to begin so soon, though.
Buck cringed, but managed to respond with, “Yeah, Little Bit?”
“How come Auntie Raine was in a hop-sipal bed layin' down?”
“Because she just had a baby.”
“The two fathers exchanged glances. Could it be that easy? No, of course not.
“Does havin' a baby make you sick?”
“No, not usually.”
“Then how comes she had to be in a hop-sipal bed if she isn't sick?”
“Because she was tuckered out from having the baby.”
“How come she was tucked out from having the baby?”
Buck looked over at Chris, silently begging for help. Chris wouldn't return the look, but he could see his old friend was grinning as he looked straight out the windshield. Sighing, he said, “Because having a baby is hard work.”
“But don't the doctor get the baby out of the mama?” The truck jerked slightly as Vin asked this question, drawing his father into the discussion after all.
“You're up, ol' buddy,” Buck said softly, grinning in relief.
“Doesn't, not don't,” Chris pointed out, trying to buy some time. Reluctantly he added, “No, the mama has to work hard to get the baby out... the doctor just helps out.”
“How does she do it?” Came Vin's next question.
“Uh... well... you remember what Uncle Josiah said about the special water coming out of the mother?” When he received two responses, which were a lot quicker than he'd have liked, he continued, “The baby comes out the same way but, since it's... well, it's bigger, it... well, the mother has to... to push the baby out. It doesn't “whoosh” out like the special water does.”
“Oh.” was Vin's response.
The questions stopped for a few minutes. Just long enough to lull the two adults into a sense of security. But, all good things come to an end.
“Uh... yeah, Little Bit?”
“Where does the baby come out?”
“Well, there's... there's a special place in... in a lady's body and it... well...”
“It opens up... stretches bigger sort of,” Chris chimed in when the other man seemed ready to have a stroke. “The baby comes out of this special place but... well, the mother has to help the baby come out. It's a lot of hard work for both the mother and the baby, so they're tired by the time the baby's born. So they have to sleep for a while to rest up. In a few days, they'll both be rested up.”
“A few days? But usually we just need a little nap when we get real tired,” JD mused. “How come it takes so long?”
“Well... it's just they... well, it's such hard work that... well, it takes longer for them to rest up.” Buck responded.
That seemed to satisfy the boys for the time being, and they drifted off in their booster seats a short time later, tired out after all of the excitement that had happened during the day. In the front, the fathers were quiet long enough to make certain that the boys were sleeping before they had their own, brief, conversation.
“Think that's gonna hold them for a while?” Buck asked, hopefully.
“I hope so,” Chris responded with a sigh. “I think, though, that we'd better brush up on our birds and the bees, just in case.”
“I see a trip to the library in our future,” was Buck's response.
It had been two weeks since Raine and Nathan welcomed little Audrianna into their lives. At the LWTD Ranch, every day there was a question asked at least once.
“When can we go see the baby?”
And every day the answer was the same. “Soon.”
The answer wasn't what the two boys wanted to hear, so they were more and more disgruntled at the answer. “When's soon?”
Finally they got the answer they hoped for. “We're going to go see your aunt and uncle, and the baby, tomorrow.”
Both boys clapped and jumped excitedly. “YAY!”
“Let's go pack up some of our toys,” JD squealed.
“Okay,” Vin agreed, and the two boys scurried toward their bedroom.
Behind them their fathers continued the conversation they had been having before the boys came into the kitchen.
“So, anyway, Johnson is coming over from Team Five to cover for Nate until he comes back to work.” Chris informed his friend.
“I still can't believe that he gets four weeks off because he's a new daddy.”
With a wistful grin, Chris replied, “Yeah. I remember the first couple weeks after... after Adam was born. Up all night, trying to put in a full day's work... damn, I was never so tired in my life!”
“Yeah, I remember waking you up a few times back then. More 'n a few times, actually. The scariest was when you were driving.”
“Well, why did you let me drive? Oh, yeah, I remember... I had to drive because you had a hang-over. Served you right, going out having a good time while I was dealing with a hormonal wife and a newborn.”
“Oh, now, you know you loved it.”
Hazel-green eyes glistening with unshed tears, Chris grinned. “Yeah... I did.”
It was just before noon the next day when the members of the hodge-podge family pulled up in front of the Jackson home. Turning off the Ram quad cab, Chris smiled at the pink balloons and the banner that announced the arrival of the Jackson's first child. “Think they're gonna leave all that up 'til Christmas?”
“He... I mean, shoot, I think they'll leave it all up until they have the next baby.”
“When's that gonna be, Buck?” Vin asked as he unfastened his seat belt in preparation for getting out of the backseat.
“What? Oh, I was just makin' a joke, junior.”
“But then hows come nobody's laughin'?” JD questioned.
“Never mind, Little Bit... never mind,” Buck sighed as he left the passenger seat. The two men stepped to the back doors and helped their sons out of the truck, each boy holding onto well packed backpacks. “Did you boys leave anything in the toy box?”
“We wasn't sure what she'd want to play with,” JD explained.
“She? You mean Aunt Raine? I don't know if she'll feel like playing today.”
“Not Auntie Raine,” JD declared in exasperation, “Aud'ianna!”
The two adults had a difficult time not laughing, but they knew the boys' feelings were still easily hurt. Regaining control fastest, Chris explained, “Audrianna's not old enough to play quite yet, guys. She has a lot of growing to do before she'll be ready for toys.”
“But she was borned a long time ago!” JD protested. “When kitties and puppies get borned, they can walk and play when they're real little.”
“Yeah, when the guinea pig at school had babies, they was up eatin' and stuff when we came into school the next day.” Vin added.
“Well, that's guinea pigs, Cowboy. It takes a lot longer before human babies are ready to do things for themselves.” Chris smiled at the sounds of disappointment from both of the children. “But, babies can still be fun... just a different kind of fun.”
“What kind of fun can they be if they can't do nothin' for themselves?” JD wondered aloud.
Buck and Chris shared a grin, but didn't try to explain. Instead they guided the two boys up the stairs and across the porch. The front door opened, and Nathan greeted them all with a relieved smile. “At last! I didn't think you'd ever get here.”
Laughing, Larabee said, “Getting a little stir crazy are we?”
“If I have to have one more conversation about hemorrhoids or breast milk –“
“Little pitchers, Nate,” Buck reminded the other man.
“They might as well hear it now... know what they're getting themselves in for in a few years.” It was clear that the new father was not enjoying life at the moment. As he ushered the family in, he asked hopefully, “We got anything going on that I might need to come back early for?”
Slapping the taller man on the shoulder, Chris said, “Now, Nathan, we would never expect you to cut short your time with your wife and new baby.”
Slapping the other shoulder, Buck added, “Yeah, what kind of friends... and uncles... would we be if we did that?”
“If you did what?” Raine greeted them from the rocking chair, where she sat, rocking gently, a blanketed bundle in her arms.
“Oh, nothing honey, just shop talk.”
“Um hm,” the young woman gave them all a look that said she had a good idea as to what her husband had been talking with the others about.
“How're you feeling darlin'?” Buck asked as he leaned down and kissed Raine on the forehead. His mustache twitched, but he said nothing about her disheveled appearance. She looked even more frazzled than her husband.
“I probably feel worse than I look, that's how I'm feeling,” She grunted, shifting in her seat. There was a faint squeak and the boys mouths flew open, unaware that it was nothing more than the doughnut pillow she was sitting on. “No, I didn't, it was my cushion, so close your mouths guys.”
Chris smiled as the two children did as they were told. They had yet to say anything, both of them staring around them at the cluttered home, populated by rumpled people. Shaking his head, he said, “Have you two been out at all?”
“No.” Raine said in a frustrated tone. “Other than the hospital, I haven't been anywhere for three weeks. I'm even looking forward to the trip to the doctor for Audrianna's check up tomorrow! He's been out plenty, though,” She glared at her husband.
“Oh yeah, I've been out four times in two weeks.” Turning to his supervisor, he asked, “Aren't cravings supposed to go away after the baby comes? I've been out to pick up food for her every one of those times.”
“Okay, time out,” Chris said, holding up his hands to signal an end of the angry exchange. “I know exactly what's going on here. The two of you need a break from here, and from Audrianna.”
Raine broke into tears, sobbing, “You think I'm a bad mother... don't you?”
Coming to squat down in front of the crying woman, Chris said gently, “Raine, I am not saying you're a bad mother, okay? You're a wonderful mother, no one doubts that for a minute. But you're only human, sweetheart. You need a little break, to go somewhere and just relax. How about me, Buck and the boys stay here with the baby, and you and Nathan go out for a few hours? Go for a walk... have a nice meal... catch a movie... whatever you'd like to do.”
“There is a play I'd like to go see,” Raine admitted, hope filling her dark brown eyes. Looking at her husband, she asked, “Would you like to go out with your grouchy old wife?”
“No,” Nathan said, shaking his head. Then, smiling, he added, “But I would like to take my beautiful, amazing, wonderful wife out.”
“Oh, Nathan!” Raine began crying once again, but she was smiling at the same time. Nearby, the boys watched, dumbfounded at her quicksilver moods.
An hour later Nathan and Raine, freshly showered and dressed, left for their date, thanking the men and boys over and over. Raine was giggling once again, as they all but skipped down the steps to the street, Nathan opening the passenger seat for his wife. Chris, holding Audrianna, stood with the others, watching as the couple drove off.
As Buck shut the door, JD looked up at his father and said, “Da?”
“Yeah, Little Bit?”
“Auntie Raine isn't fat no more.”
Smiling, Buck said, “No, because the baby's not inside her any more.”
Still frowning in confusion, JD said only, “Oh.” The “I don't understand” was implied.
Buck knew there would be more questions, but he hoped they would be much, much later. Hoping to distract the boys and delay the questions, at least until he had gotten a chance to read the books he'd brought home from the library, he suggested, “You know what would be really nice for us to do? We could straighten up the house... make it ship shape for when Nate and Raine come home.”
“Yeah, that would be nice,” Chris agreed as he settled in the rocking chair with the sleeping infant. “How about you three start on that, and I'll get the baby to sleep.”
“Uh, she seems to be sleepin' just fine there, Hoss,” Buck disagreed.
“I'll just make sure, then,” Chris smiled like the Cheshire cat, and began rocking slowly.
Heaving a sigh, Buck said, “Fine. Come on boys, let's get to work.”
“But, Daaaaaaaaaaa...” JD whined, “Do we gotta?”
“Well, no, but don't you want to do something nice for Uncle Nathan and Aunt Raine?”
“How 'bout I make 'em a real pretty picture?” To support his comment, the smaller of the boys began digging through his backpack and held up a dog-eared coloring book and a somewhat battered box of crayons.
Buck considered making it non-negotiable, but stopped. He wouldn't do that; wouldn't make a good deed a chore. Besides, JD had come up with an alternative good deed, in his young mind at any rate.
Vin, silent until now, said softly, “I'll help, Buck.” He began picking up the clothing that was scattered around the room.
“Thanks, Junior,” Buck said with a smile, as he began gathering up dishes and glasses.
“Ah... hell,” Chris grumbled, he thought, under his breath. A pair of deep, blue eyes staring at him with a glitter in their depths told him he wasn't as quiet as he thought. “I know, I'll feed the jar when we get home.” He moved carefully, carrying Audrianna to the cradle sitting nearby. Then, rolling up his sleeves, he began straightening things up and checking the dust level on the horizontal surfaces.
While the other three worked to put the house right, JD settled under the coffee table on his tummy, and began coloring in his book.
Raine smiled across the small table at her husband. Holding out a glass of ice water with lemon, she made a toast. “To my wonderful husband, who knows how to show a lady a good time.”
Clinking his glass of iced tea, Nathan replied, “And to my beautiful wife, who makes life worth living.”
They smiled at one another for several minutes without speaking, until they heard “Jackson” called out over the loud speaker. Nathan sat his drink down and went to the counter a few yards away, retrieving their late lunches. Carrying the tray back to their table, he noted just how noisy the restaurant was. Getting to the little table they had claimed, he sat the tray down and began unloading it. Soup and salad, dressing on the side, went to his wife, while a roast beef sandwich piled high with onions and peppers and home fries sat at his place. Placing the now empty tray on an empty table nearby, he settled back down and smiled across the table once again.
Shaking her head at her husband's choice of lunch, Raine said, “I cannot believe you're going to eat that.”
Nathan sighed and shook his head. Rather than engage in what sounded like the beginning of another argument, he simply began eating.
They had a load of laundry in the washer, another in the dryer, and Buck was folding a third load on the table in the Jackson's laundry room. Chris and Vin were emptying the dishwasher, preparing to do a second load, as every dish, cup, glass and bowl seemed to be dirty. Meanwhile, in the living room, JD had fallen asleep beneath the coffee table, and a small pool of spittle was wetting the page he had been coloring. Audrianna chose that moment to wake, her cry escalating over the space of a few seconds, as she communicated the fact that she was awake and needed a diaper change.
Jerking awake, JD banged his head on the underside of the coffee table, responding with a cry even louder than the baby's. “DA!”
Buck hurried out of the laundry room at the same time Chris was hurrying out of the kitchen, Vin in his wake. While Buck went to his crying son, Chris went to the crying baby. Both men picked up their targeted child; Buck heading for the kitchen and some ice, and Chris for the nursery and the changing table. Vin was torn. His friend and surrogate brother was crying, but so was the baby. In the end, he followed Buck, and JD, to the kitchen.
A few minutes later, Buck was seated on the couch, JD in his lap, holding a towel wrapped bag of ice to the back of his son's head. Chris was seated in the rocking chair once more, rocking a now dry infant as he fed her a bottle of mother's milk. Vin sat next to Buck and JD, doing his best to keep the younger boy distracted.
When JD seemed to be fairly well recovered, Vin slipped off the couch and went to where his father sat. He leaned against Chris' legs, watching the nursing baby. “Is that all she can eat?” He had seen several bottles in the refrigerator when he'd gotten one out for his dad a short time earlier.
“For now, yeah.”
“She don't even want choc'let or strawberry in it?”
“Not yet,” Chris managed with only a smile.
“Man, that's boring!” Was Vin's assessment of the baby's diet.
“Well, she doesn't know about all the good things yet. When she gets bigger, then her mama and daddy will give her some of those other things to eat.”
“Oh. Did I... do you know if I just drank milk when I was first born?”
“I'm sure you did, Cowboy, that's what babies drink when they're little.”
Wrinkling his nose, the seven-year-old said, “I'm glad I ain't a baby no more.”
“I'm glad you're not a baby, either, buddy.”
Raine sighed and leaned against her husband as they walked through the park. The afternoon was cloudless and warm, lending itself to a nice, long walk. They were holding hands and not really talking, just enjoying the birdsong and the breeze ruffling the leaves on the trees.
“Tired?” Nathan asked.
“No, not really.”
“Okay.” The birdsong continued, as did the breeze ruffling the leaves on the trees. And he was bored. Used to much more action than simply going for a walk, he was dying to do something more stimulating. But, his wife was content, he could feel it in her relaxed body language and the absolute bliss in her voice. “Just checking.”
Buck had taken the boys off to McDonald's for Happy Meals and ice cream, promising to bring Chris something back from the nearby deli. Chris had stayed behind, finishing the laundry and other chores while Audrianna slept. He had the stereo on, having found a station that played songs quiet enough not to disturb the baby, but with enough of a beat that he didn't want to take a nap himself.
Alone with his thoughts, which the bundle in the cradle were coloring, he remembered the first days after Adam's birth. Time had taken the sting out of those memories, since the real events were filled with chaos a lot like Nathan and Raine were experiencing. There had been arguments between he and Sarah, both of them sleep deprived in the first days after bringing their son home. He remembered contemplating a nice long trip into the mountains, by himself and Sarah admitted later that she had harbored similar thoughts. Buck hadn't been wrong, he had been a risky partner for weeks after Adam had been born. While his mother had come to stay and help out, Adam slept in their bedroom in the beginning, which meant that, when his son woke, so did he. Sarah might have nursed him, but he had stayed awake while she was feeding their son. He was a new father, after all, and couldn't help but want to spend every moment he could with his newborn child.
A snuffle from the cradle alerted Larabee to the fact that Audrianna was beginning to wake. He dropped the duster he was using and headed for the kitchen. Just as he returned with a bottle, the tiny girl was wriggling inside her swaddling, little nose wrinkling as she prepared to protest the empty feeling in her tummy. Lifting her out of the cradle, he settled in the rocker and began to feed the infant her bottle. As he rocked, he heard the soft sounds of his wife singing, coming to hims across the years. He loved to listen to her as she sang their son to sleep each night, and often sat on the floor near her to listen. Closing his eyes, he could almost see his wife sitting nearby, rocking and singing to Adam. He sat like that, rocking and feeding the baby while his mind had returned to that time long ago, until Audrianna got his attention with a grunt of discomfort. Flipping a ready towel over his shoulder, he shifted the baby and settled her against him. Murmuring words of comfort, he patted her back until he was rewarded with a tiny burp. Smiling, he praised her, then shifted her back into the crook of his arm and replaced the bottle.
“Look at me, Da!”
Buck looked up, seeing his son hanging over the edge of the colorful plastic structure that dominated the play area of McDonald's. “I see you! Be careful up there, you've already got one boo-boo today!” He turned back to the young woman he had been chatting with, a petite blonde with large, brown eyes; her daughter was playing in the play area as well. “So, how old is...”
“Avery. How old is she?”
“Six, she'll be seven in a couple months.”
“Great age, six.”
With a laugh, Avery's mother said, “Not from where I sit. And your boys?”
“Well, the little loud mouth is my son... JD, he's five. The other little guy belongs to my friend; Vin's seven.”
“Oh... and where is your friend?”
“Chris is taking care of another friend's baby... giving them the day off.”
“Oh... that's nice.”
“Yeah... and Avery's daddy?”
“Is a scumbag.” Her lips pursed, letting Buck know quite clearly that this was a topic to steer clear of.
“Ah... well, hopefully he didn't turn you off men as a whole.”
Managing a rather forced smile, the young woman said, “No, not as a whole.”
Buck smiled back and began to plan an exit strategy. Avery's mother was no longer looking like dating material. He was saved by the wail, though, as Avery cried out loudly from where she had landed, none to comfortably, at the bottom of the slide. Her mother excused herself and, to his relief, didn't return for the last few sips of her diet coke. Instead, she picked up her crying child and carried her from the restaurant without even a wave.
Wilmington turned, searching for the speaker. A little boy, who looked even younger than JD, was hanging over the back of his seat. “Excuse me?”
“Did ya strike out? Sure looked like you did.”
“Uh... never you mind, kid.” Buck stood and headed for the play area. It was time to leave, the laundry seeming like a happy alternative to sitting in McDonald's any longer.
Nathan yawned and stretched as the lights came up, signaling intermission for the play. He looked over to find his wife teary eyed and sniffling, even though the play was not exactly a tear-jerker. That fact was backed up by the fact that the women walking by them were smiling and laughing. Concerned, he asked, “Honey, are you okay?”
“Yeeees,” Raine whined, sniffing loudly enough that a few people turned to look at her, confusion in their faces when they saw her crying.
He slouched down in the seat, a hand covering as much of his face as he could as he asked, “Then why are you crying?”
“Be... because their l-love... their love it's... it's just s-s-s-so bea-u-tifulllllllllllllllllll!”
Grimacing as she ended in a wail that had even more people staring at them, he said gently, “But sweetheart, that's nothing to cry about!”
“Oh... you think I'm... crazy!”
Wrapping his arms around his wife, Nathan said, “No sweetheart, I don't think you're crazy! I think you're just very tired and very hormonal right now.”
Pushing away from his embrace, Raine accused, “Oh, so you think it's just because I'm a woman, don't you!?”
“What? Sweetheart, you just had a baby, you've been through a lot --”
“Because I'm a woman. I suppose you could get through it all sooooo easily, because you're a man.”
“Not certain how, or even if, he should respond, Nathan excused himself and headed toward the men's room. After he finished, he stopped at the refreshment area and fortified himself with three, small, plastic glasses of a somewhat sour wine. Then, he squared his shoulders and popped an Altoid mint before he returned to his seat. Just as he did, the houselights blinked, signaling the end of the intermission coming up soon. “Honey, if you need to go to the ladies room, or if you want a drink --”
“Because I'm a weak, fragile woman?”
“No!” He was smiling and cringing at the same time. “Raine, I'm just pointing out that the intermission's almost over, that's all.”
“Fine, I'm going to the ladies room!” She pushed to her feet and shoved past him before he could move out of the way. Nathan watched as his typically sane wife stomped up the aisle. When she disappeared through the auditorium doors he turned back in his seat and slouched down with a groan.
The man sitting in front of him turned and smiled. “New baby?”
Forcing a smile, Jackson said,“Yeah. How'd you know?”
“Been through it four times.”
With a deep chuckle, he asked, “Any suggestions on getting through it with... everything... intact?”
“No, dude, sorry,” the man gave him a sympathetic grin just as his wife came to sit beside him. It was easy to see that she had met Raine, as she gave him a look that would scare Chris Larabee.
Giving the woman a trembling smile, Nate scooted even lower in the chair.
Chris looked up at the sound of the door closing. The other three members of his family came tip-toeing down the short hallway and into the living room. He sat up a little straighter, and checked to see that Audrianna was still sleeping, and placed her back into the cradle. “Hey, guys, did you have a good time?”
Both Vin and JD nodded, but neither boy said anything.
“It was nice. I got you a “Larabee special” from the deli,” Buck reported with a grimace.
“I keep telling you, you'd love it if you'd just try it. Seriously, guys, you don't have to be that quiet. Audrianna will be fine.”
“We had a lot of fun!” JD announced, none too quietly. “Me and Vin got to play in the play area for a long, long, looooooooooong time! Da meeted a lady, but she left before we did, so I don't think his an'mal mag'tism was working too good.”
With a chuckle at the little boy's assessment and his old friend's hang-dog look, Chris said, “I'm glad you boys had a good time, at least. How about you, Cowboy?”
Smiling up at his father, Vin said, “It was a lot of fun. I went down the slide like a million times!”
“Nu-uh, you only went down it like a hundred times!” JD argued.
Audrianna announced her displeasure at the escalating voices, leaving both children looking embarrassed and clapping their hands over their mouths.
“It's okay, guys, but let's keep it down a little, okay? She doesn't need to learn how to argue quite this early in life.” Chris lifted the infant out of her cradle and cuddled her to him. “I think somebody's in need of a diaper change, anyway. Buck, since you've already eaten, I'll let you do the honors, while I go eat my sandwich.”
“Ohhh...kay...” Buck grimaced as he handed off the deli sack and took Audrianna from his friend. With a disgusted look on his face, headed toward the nursery.
Chris couldn't help but smile as he started toward the kitchen, Vin on his heels. Behind them, JD squeezed back under the coffee table to resume his coloring.
Buck returned a few minutes later, his complexion only slightly green. Spotting his son beneath the coffee table again, he said, “Little Bit, be careful, we don't need you whacking your head again.”
“'Kay,” the little boy said in a distracted tone as he continued to color one of the pages in his coloring book.
“Would you like to hold the baby?”
“No thanks, I wanna finish my picture for Unka Nathan and Auntie Raine.”
“Oh, okay.” Buck settled in the rocking chair, singing softly to the baby as he rocked her gently.
“Could I hold her?” A soft voice asked.
Buck turned to find Vin standing nearby, big eyes looking quite hopeful. “Sure you can. How about you and me trade places.” He stood and moved aside, to allow the seven-year-old to climb up into the rocking chair. Once Vin was settled, he carefully handed Audrianna over to the little boy, staying close by in case she began to squirm.
“She's so little!” Vin was amazed at how light the baby he was holding felt. It was almost like he wasn't holding anything but the blanket.
“Yeah, that's how babies start, but they grow pretty fast. She's already put on a pound since she left the hospital to come home.”
“How much does she weigh?” Vin wanted to know.
“Just a little over eight pounds, and she's about 20 inches long.”
“Twenty inches? That's not even two feet!”
“You're right, good job,” Buck praised the child. When Vin responded with a bright smile, he asked, “Hey, would you like me to take a picture of your two?”
“Yeah!” Vin was excited at the prospect of having his picture taken doing something as grown-up as holding a teeny baby.
“Okay, look up and smile,” Wilmington said as he prepared to take a picture of the little boy and the baby, using his cell phone. When Vin looked up, he was wearing a broad smile. Snapping the shot and checking it out, he said, “Oh yeah, that's beautiful.”
“Let me see!”
Buck turned the phone around so that Vin could check out the shot, saving it only after the little boy expressed his approval with a soft, “Cool!” He sent the photo to the other guys, including Nathan.
“So, what's everyone up to?” Chris asked as he entered the room a minute later. He had received the picture, but wanted to give Vin the chance to share it with him.
“Dad, look, I'm holding Audr'anna!” Vin said cheerfully.
“Hey, you sure are. Is she being good for you?”
“Sure, she's mostly been sleepin', see?” Vin pulled the blanket back to reveal a dozing infant. In the process he woke her, and she began to wiggle and snuffle. Vin laughed, “She sounds like one of the guinea pigs when they're lookin' for food.”
“Well, just don't tell her mama and daddy that, they might not think it's funny that their daughter sounds like a guinea pig,” Chris cautioned.
“Oh, okay. I didn't mean nothin' bad about her. I think it's a real neat sound is all.” Vin looked concerned.
“I know that and, normally, they'd understand it. But a lot of times mamas' and daddys' get... well, a little crazy when it comes to their babies.”
Frowning as he tried to process that bit of information, Vin said, “Okay.” Before he could go any farther, however, Audrianna began to fuss. He looked up at his father, blue eyes wide with fear.
“Sounds like somebody is getting a little restless, how about I take her for a little while?” Chris asked, waiting until Vin nodded his agreement before he took the baby and settled her in the crook of his arm. Vin hopped out of the rocker, holding the armrest to steady it so his father could sit down with Audrianna.
Nathan had turned off his cell while they were in the theater, so he didn't see the picture message from Buck until after they left the playhouse. Pulling it up, he chuckled and showed Raine the shot of Vin holding their daughter. “Looks like she's in good hands.”
“Oh... how sweet!” Raine hadn't had a “melt-down” since the play's intermission, but she was beginning to well up again.
“We'll have to make a copy of this one, to put on the wall.” Nathan tried to defuse the situation.
“Oh, and her baby book! Oh, no! The baby book!”
They were at the car and he was just reaching for the door handle to open it for his wife to get in. “What about the baby book, sweetheart?”
“I haven't put anything in it all week!”
“Honey, you wrote in it on Friday and this is only Sunday. Remember?”
“Yes, remember you added the latest shot of her in the outfit that Tracy and Ben sent, and you also put in a blank Thank You card.”
“Oh, that's right!” Raine smiled and seemed quite relieved.
Moving around the car and getting behind the steering wheel, Nathan started the car and prayed that nothing else would bring on an emotional outburst from his wife until, at least, they returned home. It was just after five pm, and they had dinner reservations at 5:30. They should be home by eight at the latest. Just three more hours.
Buck sighed and looked over at his friend, only to have Chris look back at him. It was almost 7:30 and no Raine and Nathan. They were just finishing up a pizza they'd had delivered, and they were watching Cars 2, having already watched Cars. The area between the television and the sofa was littered with Lego blocks, coloring books, crayons, and other assorted toys that the boys had brought out of their well stocked backpacks. Having seen the first movie so often that they could quote much of the dialogue, they had played and colored during much of it.
“When you boys finish your pizza, you need to go wash up and then come put your stuff up,” Chris instructed.
“Is Auntie Raine and Unka Nathan on their way home?” JD asked.
“I certainly hope so,” Buck muttered under his breath.
“Nothing, Little Bit. They should be home in a little while.”
The pizza was finished, the boys cleaned up and their things back in their backpack just minutes before they heard the front door open.
“We're home!” Came Nathan's deep voice.
“Nathan!” Raine hissed as they entered the room, “You might wake the baby!”
“Chris just took her in to change her britches,” Buck explained. “How was the date?”
“Oooh, it was wonderful!” Raine gushed. “My husband is so romantic, I can hardly stand it! And you guys are the best, taking care of Audrianna all day! We'll never be able to repay you!”
“Oh, sweetheart, the smile on your face is thanks enough.”
“I thought I heard mama and daddy,” Chris said as he came into the room, Audrianna freshly changed and content.
“Ooh there's my baby girl!” Raine squealed, holding her arms out to accept the infant.
Behind her, Nathan stood there, his mouth open in shock. Where was the woman who, just fifteen minutes ago was in tears after seeing a homeless man standing a the side of the street? Heaving a sigh, he shook his head, hoping that he could manage to survive until his wife returned to sanity.
“Auntie Raine, I held Aud'ianna, all by myself! Buck even took a picture!” Vin added to the conversation.
“I know, sweetie, he sent it to your Uncle Nathan and he showed me. You looked soooo grown up! Uncle Nathan is going to print it out and we're going to hang it up in Audrianna's room.”
“Cool.” It was Vin's favorite word for expressing any sort of happiness.
“I made you guys a picture!” JD announced. “See?”
“Oh, honey, that's the prettiest picture I've ever seen! Shall I hang it up on the refrigerator?”
“Okay! Can I hang it up?”
“Sure, you can. Oh, Vin, we'll have to hang yours up later, after we print it out.”
Nathan held his breath, expecting her to get upset about what she seemed to perceive as a slight. Instead, she took JD's hand and they went off to the kitchen. He shook his head, trying to make sense of things. Chris sidled up beside him and patted him on the shoulder. Turning toward the other man, he stammered, “How am I... what do I... I just don't...”
“Take it easy, just go with it, it'll be easier.”
“I'm never gonna make it,” Nathan moaned, which only caused his boss to laugh.
A few minutes later, Buck, Chris, JD and Vin were trooping down the stairs and climbing into Chris' truck. Closing the door, Nathan turned and smiled at his wife. He started to speak, but the look on her face stopped him. “Wh-what is it?”
“Look at this house! It's spotless!”
“Yeah, but isn't that a good thing?”
Giving him an icy glare through tear flooded eyes, Rain stomped away. As she did, she yelled over her shoulder, “They think I'm a terrible housekeeper!”
Nathan yanked the door open again, staring wildly at the departing Ram. Slumping against the door facing, he moaned, “Take me with you!”
"So, did you boys enjoy the day?” Chris asked as he maneuvered the truck along the streets, toward the highway.
“Yeah,” Vin said.
“No,” JD said at the same time, earning him puzzled looks from the other three. “Well, I didn't.”
“What was wrong, Little Bit?” Buck asked, trying to remember something that might have distressed his son.
“It was BOOOOOOOORING!” The little boy protested.
“I thought it was okay,” Vin disagreed.
“Only 'cause you don't mind cleanin' up messes.”
“I didn't think it was much fun, but it was a nice thing to do.”
“I seem to recall someone hiding under the coffee table, coloring,” Buck pointed out.
“I wasn't hidin', Da, I was 'tendin' I was in a fort.”
“Okay, but you still didn't have to do any of the cleaning up.”
“I did too, I had to clean up alllllll my toys.”
“Well, yeah, but you always have to clean up your own mess.”
“But I had to clean it up.”
“JD?” Chris put in, “What about getting to see the baby?”
“She's boring, too. She don't do nothin' but sleep, eat, and potty in her diaper.” He wrinkled his nose in disgust.
“Well, sure, she's only two weeks old.”
“So, how many weeks 'fore she can play?”
“Well... quite a few,” Buck replied.
“How many's quiet few?”
“Quite a few,” JD's father corrected. “Well, it's going to be several months before she can do much more than sleep, eat and potty.”
“But that's booooooooring! Babies are boring!”
“I guess when you're young, babies are boring, but you won't always feel like that,” Buck assured his son.
“I don't think I can ever be that old,” JD lamented.
The truck was quiet for a time, and fathers thought their children had gone to sleep. That thought was soon disputed, however.
“How come Unka Nathan and Auntie Raine wanted a baby?”
“Well... that's something most grown ups want.”
Buck sighed. And he thought that “Where do babies come from” was going to be the most difficult thing to field. “Because they want someone to love, usually.”
“But, doesn't Unka Nathan and Auntie Raine love each other?”
“And don't they love me, and Vin?”
“Then how come they needed Aud'anna, too?”
“Well,” Chris broke in, seeing his friend fighting the urge to jump out of the truck to avoid another “how come” discussion. “When a man and a woman fall in love, they have a special kind of love. So they want to have a baby to share that special kind of love with.”
“But, how come they can't share that special love with other people?”
“Well, because if they could share it with other people, it wouldn't be special.”
“Oh.” The answer finally seemed to satisfy the precocious child, and he didn't ask any more questions.
Buck turned to his old friend and grinned. “No wonder you ramrod the team so well; you've got an answer for everything.”
Rolling his eyes, Chris Larabee replied with a universal gesture, making certain that his hands were where the boys couldn't see them.
(A/N): Many thanks to Jeanne, who let me borrow from her story, Naming Ceremonies.
It had been six months since Audrianna Michelle Danielle Jackson had entered the world. The boys got to visit the Jackson home at least twice a month, and the Jackson family came to visit them just as often. JD slowly changed his opinion, that babies were boring, as the little girl began to grow.
And, on her six month birthday, the extended family gathered at the LWTD Ranch for a special celebration. As they had done soon after the boys had become part of the family, they were going to have a naming ceremony.
Audrianna, or Auddie as the boys had come to call her, had been baptized already, with Raine's cousin, Gwen and her husband David, becoming the baby's godparents. While the other members of Team Seven might be closer to the couple, they all understood that Gwen, a stay-at-home mother of two boys and David, who owned his own business in Boulder, were less likely to be injured or killed in the line of duty. But now, they would all be given a special place in the little girl's life.
They gathered in the Great Room, near the fireplace, which held a crackling and popping fire. There was music on the stereo; instrumental and peaceful. Everyone was dressed in their finest, Ezra even wearing a silk tie with a matching handkerchief in the pocket of his jacket. The seating had been rearranged, so that they were sitting in a semi-circle, facing the fireplace. Chris sat on the far right, Vin sitting beside him. Ezra was next, then the couch, where the Jackson family sat. On their left sat Josiah, then JD and Buck. Auddie, in her mother's arms, was fascinated by the fire and giggled from time to time when the flames became especially bright.
“Well, shall we begin?” Nettie Wells asked the gathering. They had asked her to facilitate the ceremony this time, and she had happily agreed. She stood just behind the Jacksons on the couch, so that she was facing most of the gathering.
“Can we eat first?” JD asked, his mind on the cake he'd seen in the dining room a short time earlier.
“No, that's for later, Little Bit,” Buck reminded his son. Then he smiled, “Let's get this shindig started.”
Smiling, Nettie placed one hand on Nathan's shoulder, the other on Raine's. She said in her best official voice, “We are gathered here to celebrate this family, just as it was celebrated when Vin and JD joined it. As it was then, this group, this tribe, this... family... is a formidable force to be reckoned with, and each member protects, and is protected by it. Today we will officially welcome the newest member to this family. Audrianna Michelle Danielle Jackson.”
Auddie looked at the social worker and smiled, bright, dark eyes sparkling as if she understood each word.
“Audrianna was brought into this family through the love of her parents, Nathan and Raine Jackson. As her parents, they have asked that each of the other member of the family be given a special title... a special place in her life. Josiah Sanchez,” Nettie called on the oldest of their group, “Will you accept the name Uncle to Audrianna?”
“Coming to stand before the family on the couch, Josiah said, “I do. I promise to help to guide her spiritual journey as well as be a friend and confidant should she need me.”
Reaching out his closed hand, Nathan handed off a small medallion to the other man. “Josiah, I speak for my daughter when I thank you for accepting this place in her life. I know that she will never want for answers to her questions as long as you're around. As it was when Vin and JD joined our family, Raine and I have chosen a spirit animal to represent you... each of you,” he looked around at the others gathered together.
Taking the medallion, which was stamped with the base relief cast of a Dove, an olive branch in its mouth, Josiah smiled at Nathan, Raine and, finally, Audrianna. The little girl looked up at him, gurgling and blowing kisses.
““We chose the dove because of its role as messenger of peace, gentleness and love, as well as its place in the Christian world as a sign of hope,” Nathan explained.
When Josiah returned to his seat, Nettie continued. “Ezra Standish, will you accept the name Uncle to Audrianna?”
Standing before the couch, Ezra said, “I do. I promise to help guide her in her quest for knowledge, both through financial, and emotionally supportive measures.”
This time it was Raine who offered a closed hand; Ezra receiving his own medallion. This one held the image of a Fox. “Ezra, I speak for my daughter when I thank you for accepting this place in her life. I know that she will be in the best of hands when she comes to you. We chose the Fox because it symbolizes cunning, intelligence and quick-wittedness.”
When Ezra sat down, Nettie continued, “Buck Wilmington, will you accept the name of Uncle to Audrianna?”
Coming before the others as his friends had, Buck said, “I do. I promise to guide her in matters of the heart; to teach her how to guard herself from being hurt by those who might try to take advantage of her, and to do everything I can to comfort her when she does get hurt.”
Nathan smiled and offered his hand, passing over another medallion. This one held the image of a Lion. “Buck, for my daughter I thank you for accepting this role in her life. I know that she and her heart will be well protected. We chose the Lion because of its strength, energy and faithfulness toward those in its pack.”
Next, Nettie said, “Chris Larabee. Will you accept the name of Uncle to Audrianna?”
Standing as the others had, Chris said, “I do. I promise to guide her as she finds her place in the world; to aid her in learning to do her best in whatever she chooses to do, and to understand how to be a good leader if she so chooses.”
Raine handed over his medallion, which had the features of a Cougar. “In speaking on my daughter's behalf, I thank you for accepting this role in her life. I know that she will grow to be a strong, confident woman. We chose the Cougar because of its leadership, loyalty, courage and foresight.
Chris came to sit next to his son, placing an arm across the back of his chair. Vin looked up at him with a smile, showing just a hint of nervousness. He relaxed a little when Chris winked at him, letting him know that it was okay.
“Now then, we have two very special members of the family, who will be asked to take a very special role in Audrianna's life.” Nettie smiled as she turned said, “JD Dunne and Vin Tanner, will you both come stand before the family?”
“Okay,” JD climbed off the chair and walked in a very stiff, formal manner to where the men had stood. From the other side of the gathering, Vin padded softly to where his father had just been standing.
“We've asked you to stand together, because that is part of the role you will both have in Audrianna's life. Vin... JD... will you accept the name of Godbrother to Audrianna?”
“What's that mean?” JD asked, his face scrunched up in a frown.
Smiling, Nettie said, “The role of a Godbrother is the most important one in the family, outside of parent. What this means is that you will help Audrianna to learn about growing up. If someone picks on her, you will not get into a fight, but you will teach her to stand up for herself. You will teach her to play games, help her learn to ride a bike, and all of the things that a big brother would do.”
“Your Uncle Nathan and I are asking the two of you to be Auddie's big brothers,” Raine added.
Taking in all of the information and deciphering it, Vin slowly smiled. “I'd like that.”
“We're gonna be Auddie's big brothers? Cool!” JD punched the air with a little fist.
“I take that as a yes from both of you,” Nettie chuckled. “Then, we give you the names Godbrother Vin and Godbrother JD to Audrianna.”
“What kind 'a animal am I?” JD asked.
“JD,” Vin sighed.
“It's okay, Vin,” Raine reassured the older boy. She held out her hand toward JD, and he took the medallion from her. Excitedly he looked to find the image of an Otter stamped on one side. “We chose the Otter because it’s friendly, dynamic, joyful, helpful and sharing. We hope that you will teach Auddie those things as well.”
“I promise,” JD said.
Nathan held out his hand now, and Vin took his medallion and found an Lynx imprinted on his. His uncle explained, “We chose the Lynx because it is the keeper of secrets, a guardian, listener and guide. We hope that you will always be there for Auddie as she grows and needs someone to talk to.”
With a smile, Vin turned to look at the six-month-old and said, “I promise.”
“Then, I decree that you have expanded your family by one member, bound by heart and mind if not blood,” Nettie said. Around her they all broke out in smiles, applauding and cheering. In the middle of it all, Audrianna had drifted off to sleep.
“Hold up now, we've got one more presentation to make,” Buck interrupted the festivities. The others looked at him with curiosity. “Miss Nettie Wells, would you join us here in the circle?”
With a shocked expression, the social worker came around the couch and joined Buck in the middle of the circle. “What's going on?”
“Nettie, we would like to ask you to accept the title of Special Friend to our family.” As he spoke, he handed a medallion to the older woman.
“Well, I... oh my... yes, I accept,” Nettie said in an uncharacteristic stammer. She looked at the medallion and found that there was a Crow inscribed on one side.
“We chose the Crow because it symbolizes justice, strength, energy and balance. Ever since you became involved in this family, you've shown us compassion and an uncommon heart. You have often guided us through the trials and tribulations that come in building any adopted family, and helped us to be stronger than we ever could have been without you. For that, we thank you.”
Tears sparkled in the woman's eyes, and she smiled with trembling lips. When she could find her voice, she said, “It has been my pleasure and privilege to be of help to you all, and I hope that I may do so for years to come.”
Buck hugged her tightly, JD and Vin coming to wrap little arms around her as well.
“Okay, everybody,” Chris said in an effort to break the somber tone of the gathering, “let's go eat.”
Taking the dining room chairs, which they had used to create the circle, back into the dining room, the members of the Team Seven family settled in to eat. Chris and Buck brought out the dinner they had warming in the kitchen, consisting of a glazed ham, parsley potatoes, salad and dinner rolls. The next few minutes found the passing the bowls and platters around, fathers fixing their sons plates. Between her parents, Auddie had roused and watched the hub-bub with a look of sleepy fascination.
Before they began eating, however, JD stood on his chair and said, “I wanna make a toes!”
“A... toast?” Buck guessed.
“Yeah, a toes.” JD grabbed his glass of lemonade and held it up. “To the bestest fam'ly in the whole, entire, big, big, great big --”
“JD,” Vin whispered.
“Really big world,” the little brunet concluded.
“To the best family in the world,” the others agreed.
Audrianna Michelle Danielle Jackson giggled and smiled at the people sitting around her, far too young to understand just how important this moment was. She would learn it, however, in bits and pieces through her life, as each person around her would help, love and support her as she navigated her way through the world.
February 13, 1012