Characters: Ezra, JD, Vin
Summary: A fun day out with an Uncle.
It was a day long promised, and if anything came between Uncle Ezra's plans for the boys today, Chris and Buck figured the wails would be heard in Eagle Bend. On a bright, sunny, slow morning, the little makeshift family rode into town; Buck, with JD sitting in front of him, and Vin riding his horse alongside his father. As they dismounted and the boys received a hug and a twirl in the air from Uncle Josiah, Ezra strode along the boardwalk toward them.
"Greetings, Masters Tanner, and Dunne."
"Hey Uncle Ezra!"
"Hi Unca Ezra!"
"Are you both eager to depart for our al fresco dining adventure?"
"Huh?" they chorused.
He grinned broadly enough to show his gold tooth. "Are you ready for our picnic?"
"Yeah!" the boys hollered, excitedly.
Standish touched his hat to Buck and Chris. "You have my word, not only will we be back in a short number of hours, but I will guard these sweet souls with my life."
The men smiled. Buck nodded, Chris spoke. "We know. They wouldn't be going if we didn't trust you, Ezra."
Something in that statement caused warmth to surge through the southerner. He was trusted. Ezra smiled, inwardly. He'd come a long way in these men's estimations.
"Vin, I assume you will be riding your own steed."
"Yessir, Uncle Ezra."
"JD." He noted the hopeful look from the five-year-old. "I wonder if I could beg your assistance on a tricky issue."
JD nodded. "Uh huh. What?"
Standish pointed to his horse. "Chester has been giving me attitude of late. Should I need to go one way; he insists we go the other. Would you be so kind as to accompany me when we ride out, and take control of the reins on occasion? He seems to like you, and I feel sure that, with your help, we will reach the rather nice place I have picked out for us with little trouble."
Attempting his serious face, JD approached the saddled Chester's nose and rubbed it. "Hey there, we gonna have us some fun today, huh?"
The horse snorted and moved his head as if saying 'yes'. Everyone gathered around, beamed. Ezra set a hand on each boy's shoulder. "Splendid."
Gloria Potter crossed the street with a basket. "I've brought the food for your picnic." She smiled at Ezra. "Everything you've asked for is there, Mister Standish."
Ezra kissed her cheek. "Many thanks, my dear." He turned to Vin. "Seeing as Master Dunne will be assisting me in guiding us to our destination, would you be able to carry the basket?"
Vin nodded, mounted up, and held out his hands. "Sure."
Ezra handed Vin the basket, and then turned to Chris. "We will not be riding in haste," he assured.
Chris leaned in. "No problem. I've seen Vin riding one-handed when he thinks I'm not looking, anyway." Larabee turned to his son and squeezed the boy's knee. "Have fun, and ride careful, Cowboy."
Vin grinned. "Will do, Pa."
Once Ezra had mounted up, Buck picked up his son. The little one giggled as his father planted kisses all over his neck and cheeks. "Papa!"
Buck held JD in his arms. "Have fun, Li'l Bit, and be good."
JD hugged his father's neck. "I will, Papa."
Savoring the hug for a moment, Buck handed his son up to Ezra, who sat the boy in front of him, and then handed JD the reins.
Ezra touched his hat. "Later, gentlemen."
They all looked to see Nathan hurrying over. "Almost missed y'all. He handed Vin a small parcel to put into the basket.
Vin sniffed it and grinned. "Candy sticks."
"Only if you eat all your other food, okay?"
Both boys, and Ezra nodded, and the group laughed. With a final wave, the two horses and three riders left.
"Sure hope Ezra knows what he's let himself in for," Buck said as he kept waving.
Chris raised one eyebrow. "Well, if he don't, he soon will."
Uncle and nephews ambled along at a steady, relaxed pace. With Ezra's knees guiding Chester, JD was beside himself to think he was directing the graceful Chestnut
"Lookit, Vin, I'z making Chester go."
Vin glanced across and grinned. "You sure are, JD." He moved his gaze to his uncle. "Are we almost there?"
Ezra nodded. "Very close, now. Has the basket become awkward for you?"
"Nope, I'm just hungry is all."
"Me too!" JD chirruped. As he did so, he jolted upwards in the saddle catching Ezra square under the jaw.
"Oomff. Steady there, Mister Dunne, I need my teeth to eat, and that blow almost took them clean out."
JD looked up, abashed. "Sorry, Unca Ezra. It's th' ants."
Vin giggled which prompted a grin from Ezra. "I'm going to regret asking this," he mumbled. "Ants, JD?"
"Uh huh. Papa says I'z got 'em in my britches."
Ezra looked helplessly to Vin.
"'Cause he can't keep still. Buck says he's got ants in his pants."
Ezra feigned a cough to hide the full on chortle erupting. "Oh my, how unfortunate, JD."
JD simply nodded. "Uh huh. Vin ain't got 'em." He looked up at Ezra from an upside-down viewpoint. "I looks every night when I gets undressed for the tub, but I can't see 'em. Do ants go to bed at night? Where's their beds? Is they outside? Or do they has lickle beds inside our cabin?"
Ezra's jaw flapped helplessly as he attempted to answer each quick-fire question. When JD took in a breath, Ezra spoke and pointed, with more than a little relief. "Oh, look, here we are."
"Where are we?" JD asked.
"At our destination," Standish grinned. He waited for Vin to pass him the basket and dismount. The boy ground-tied his horse, then went back for the basket. Placing it on the ground, he held out his arms and took JD so Ezra could dismount safely.
Taking a tablecloth from behind his cantle, Ezra spread it out on the ground under a yawning shade tree and then placed the basket onto it. He smiled at Vin, whose eyes were as round and bright as silver dollars as he took in his surroundings.
"Sure is pretty here," Vin said, softly.
Ezra was lowering himself to sit on the cloth. "I thought so, and hoped you might like it, also good Lord!" He sprang to his feet just in time to catch JD as he dropped from a tree branch that measured higher than Ezra, even with his arms stretched up.
Ezra's heart pounded as he set JD down. "Do you think you might refrain from a mishap on this trip?"
"But I'z good at climbing. I was fine."
"I have no doubt that you're a good climber. Nevertheless, I should prefer it if Vin! What is that?"
Vin looked at the creature in his hands, then back at his uncle, more than a little surprised that he didn't know. "It's a Horny Toad."
Ezra flapped his hand, knowingly. "Yes, yes, I can see that. Put it back where you found it, then go "
"Me see!" JD squeaked.
"Aww, JD, ya scared it. It must 'a needed th' outhouse 'cause it's done gone an' peed all over my hands."
Ezra pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. "JD, help me to lay out our victuals. Vin, go to the stream and wash your hands. No, wait. Take JD and both of you wash your hands. I will lay out the food." He watched Vin grab the back of JD's britches to lead him to the nearby stream.
"And please be careful," Ezra warned.
A full five minutes later Ezra was just about to go searching when he heard the boys' voices heading his way. "There you are. I was just about to oh no."
"He pushed me in." A soggy JD pointed at Vin.
"No I didn't, I was makin' a grab for him just as he came back toward me and JD wobbled and lost his footin'."
JD giggled and stretched out his arms to make his point. "I made a b-i-g splash."
Ezra beckoned him over. "I'm sure you did." He looked around for his saddlebags. Thankfully, he was prepared. He stripped JD off, while having to physically restrain him from running around naked. Ezra slipped a fresh pair of underwear and a shirt on the little one.
"I have no britches with me, so we will endeavor to dry yours on the tree branch you were climbing earlier." He hoped that with the warm sun and light breeze, their plan would succeed. "And to ensure you don't get a chill " The southerner produced a bandanna and draped it around JD's neck.
JD looked awkwardly down at it. "I'ss like Papa's."
Ezra's eyebrows rose. "Good Lord, I hope not," he muttered, quietly.
The boys had noticed the array of food spread around the cloth and were once again inspecting it. Ezra smiled. "Well, I hope you are both hungry."
"Well then, let us begin."
Gloria Potter had outdone herself. There were several types of sandwiches, cheese, a hunk of ham, fruit, and two different types of cake, including a rather fine Sorghum cake and a delicious Baked Apple Pudding.
The boys ate with relish but were not greedy. They savored every morsel, and not a crumb was wasted. Just when the three felt they could eat no more, Vin remembered Nathan's candy and, full bellies or not, they all sat in the glorious sunshine, sucking on peppermint sticks.
To work off some of the fullness, they cleared away the food, then Ezra challenged them to a game of tag. The boys hollered and cackled, and the southerner found himself laughing the whole time as the wily pair teamed up to ensure he chased them for the majority of the game.
They took a stroll to the creek and looked for fish, but had no luck and so the boys gathered an assortment of pebbles for JD, and flowers for Vin to press and add to his collection. While the boys paddled, Ezra enjoyed a few minutes of peace. Perched on nearby rocks, he dabbed at his forehead with a kerchief and watched as they kicked water, or poked around the grassy edges with sticks.
Stripping off his jacket, Ezra closed his eyes for a moment to allow the warm sun's rays to soothe him, he heard JD's voice chirp up.
"Unca Ezra, lookit! I found some pretty worms."
"That's nice, JD " His eyes popped open. "What?!" Jumping off the rock, he raced over and got there just as Vin was easing JD back from a nest of baby rattlers.
"They's snakes, JD," Vin warned.
Ezra snatched up the pair and backtracked to his earlier position. Setting them down, he took a moment for his racing heart to slow. "Why don't we head back to the safety of our shade tree?" he suggested.
Back under the tree, Ezra flopped down onto the grass. He lay his head back against his jacket and his nephews did the same on either side of him. Together they counted birds, and guessed cloud shapes. Ezra pointed.
"That one looks like a sheriff's star."
JD agreed. Vin thought it looked more like a 'big ole clump 'a Sagebrush'.
"Boys, this is meant to be fun, and relaxing."
"I wanna be a sheriff."
"You's too little."
JD giggled. "Not now silly, when I grows up."
Now Vin was giggling. "I knew'd that. I was just teasin'."
The laughter washed over a sleepy Standish like sweet music and he closed his eyes just for a moment, smiling when two little bodies pushed in tight against him. He hugged them close and allowed the warmth of the afternoon and the dappled sunshine through the leafy canopy of the shade tree to take them into slumber.
Ezra's nose twitched at the insect bothering him. He had just begun to drift off again when the darned thing was now tickling his ear. Desperate to remain in their sleep state, the boys reacted to their uncle's twitching by snuggling in tighter. Familiar chuckles dragged all three back into the land of the wide awake.
Both boys leaped to their feet and into the strong, waiting arms of their fathers. Tossing down the blade of grass that once aspired to be a bug, Josiah 'tsked' at a still-prone Ezra.
"You're slipping, brother."
Ezra gestured to his seemingly relaxed, right arm, which actually had his spring-loaded Derringer poking out of his right hand. He offered his left hand to be pulled up.
"You were saying?" He stared at his companions as he reset the rig. "Trouble?"
"Only that you're about two hours later than we figured you'd be," Chris answered.
"My apologies, our repast, and leisure activities, coupled with the warm afternoon, took its toll and lulled us into slumber."
Buck grinned. "Yeah, we could see that." He was forced to look in another direction as his face was squished between JD's little hands.. "Ooop. Yep, Li'l Britches?"
"We had cake."
"JD fell in the crick," Vin grinned.
"A Horly Told piddled in Vin's hands."
Both boys laughed at that, as did the men, but more at the boys' telling of their day, than the actual events.
"We founded some snakes by the crick, then we played tag, Papa," JD continued.
'Snakes?' Buck, Chris, and Josiah mouthed at the southerner. Ezra merely waved it off with a knowing look he hoped was convincing.
"An' found some rocks for me, an' flowers for Vin's book. "
"An' we watched the clouds in the sky for the longest time, Pa," Vin added.
"Sounds like they plum wore you out, Ezra," Chris commented.
"Indeed," Standish agreed. He grinned, broadly. "And I wouldn't have missed it for the world, gentlemen. Not for all the gold in the Denver Mint."
Vin stared. "Gee, you must like us a whole lot, Uncle Ezra."
"And you would be correct, Mister Tanner."
"Does that mean we can go for a pickernic again sometime?" JD asked, hopefully.
"Most definitely. Just say the word..."
"Tomorrow?" Both boys chirruped.
Chris stepped in. "You trying to get out of chores two days running, son?" He winked and Vin nodded.
"Sure, sorry, Pa."
Buck gave a little cough at his son's mini protest.
JD sighed. "O-kay, Papa."
"And I believe you two have something to say to Ezra," Buck reminded.
Ezra barely kept his feet as two grateful nephews were set down before they barreled into him and hugged him.
"Thank you Uncle Ezra."
"Thank you Unca Ezra."
The southerner spoke around a tight throat. "You are both most welcome."
Retrieving JD's dry britches from the tree declared the boys' and their uncle's day at a close. Heading home, Vin's horse proudly trotted alongside his pa's. JD was torn as to who to ride home with between Buck, his beloved Papa; Ezra, the kind uncle who had taken them for their pickernic; and Josiah, who he also loved; but seeing as he refused to put on his britches, it was decided his father's saddle should have full honors.
During the ride home, Ezra wondered if he had enough energy for a hand or two of poker with the earlier new arrivals to town. However, as he listened to the boys recall their day's adventures, and to the laughter their tales evoked; he found that for the first time ever he actually wasn't bothered either way.
If Mother ever found out, she would be horrified.
He smiled to himself as he appreciated that due to the kinship of four good men, and the love of two cherished boys, he wasn't bothered about that, either. Days like these were worth so much more
because no one could put a price on love.
Thanks for riding along.
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Missus Potter's Baked Apple Pudding
Sorghum Cake -