ATF Team Seven faces off against other teams to help Evie Travis raise the most money for Breast Cancer Research. I wish to acknowledge my cousin, John Shaw and my aunt, Edith Donehew who have battled breast cancer and won.
"You've have to be kidding!" Ezra exclaimed.
"No way," Vin stated emphatically.
Josiah and Nathan looked shocked and Chris was angry.
Buck was the only one nonplussed. "I don't think it is so bad."
"You wouldn't!" Vin shot back.
Orin Travis sighed. "Gentlemen, I am asking this from all ATF Teams as a favor to Evie. The Team the makes the most money earns a special reward as well as my thanks."
"Piece of cake," Buck said blithely.
"A kissing booth!" Nathan moaned. "In these days of germs, unsanitary mouths and all the diseases you can catch; the flu, bacterial and viral." and finally Nathan ran out of breath and stopped.
"I hope you don't tell Rain that while you're kissing her," Josiah said slyly.
Travis wiped his forehead. "Nathan, you can just have Rain pay to kiss you so no one else gets to if you're that concerned. Of course my wife is expecting her favorite team to win, so we'll need the best effort from each of you. Unofficially, I will be very unhappy if Team Six wins."
Team Seven's face grimaced at hearing the name of their main rivals.
"Where's JD?" Buck exclaimed, looking around. "He'll want to get in on this fun."
JD entered the Travis' office, dark bangs hiding his face. Buck reached up and brushed them back before JD could slap his hand away. "JD! You've got a big ZIT!"
"Why don't you tell the world?" JD complained, shaking his bangs back in place.
"JD! You're such a," Buck started, but all finished with "KID!" and laughed.
JD flushed as he began receiving unsolicited advice from his amused teammates.
"Don't pop it!" from Nathan.
"Avoid chocolate and I'll help you eat up your stash," Vin offered, grinning.
"Bet you will," JD grumbled. Vin could probably clean out all his hidden chocolate bars and other goodies within five minutes.
"Oatmeal will help," Josiah offered. "That was a remedy my sister Hannah used. Use warm water and regular oatmeal, make a paste and let it dry."
"I heard honey," Ezra started. "Not that I evah had to use it," he hastened to explain.
"Awwww, JD's sweet enough without honey," Buck grinned, getting rewarded with a slap to his back by JD.
"Toothpaste?" was Buck's contribution. He shrugged. "Not that this handsome face ever spotted a blemish."
Amid the groans at Buck's statement, Vin was frowning.
"There's something advertised on TV, can't remember the name . . ."
"What, you got some in drawer?" Chris retorted.
"Bet Dorothy has something, she always has a face full of pimples."
"Yeah, go up and say, hey, Dorothy, JD needs some of you medicine for pimples!" Chris retorted.
"Hey, who's the doctor here!" Nathan bellowed.
"No one!" Five men returned.
Nathan's mouth opened and closed. "Fine. Wait until one of you ends up bleeding, I'll tell you to call a REAL doctor!"
Nathan's hurt feelings were forgotten as Josiah asked, "What are you doing, Buck?" as he saw Buck trying to physically drag JD from the office, finally lifting the protesting young man over his shoulders.
"What do you think? I'm gonna scrub the pimple off our own ATF teen idol so he'll get more female attention and more kisses!"
"Kisses? What? Put me down!" a flailing JD hollered, as the others doubled up in laughter.
"Gentlemen!" Orin Travis said sternly, seeing things were getting out of hand and noticing the bewildered look on his secretary Ellen's face as she watched from her office. "Buck, put JD down. Remember, this is to help breast cancer research."
Silence as the team looked around. "Breast cancer?" squeaked JD.
Evie Travis entered the room, smiling, along with Ellen. "Men get breast cancer, too," she said sweetly. "And what better way to get women to contribute than to offer them a chance to kiss one or more of the most handsome men in the agency, right Ellen?"
Ellen was eyeing both Ezra and Chris with interest. Both shifted their feet.
"None of you will let me down, I'm sure," Evie purred, kissing each on the cheek. "Don't worry, Orin, I'll pay up for the samples." She stopped at JD, pushing up his hair as usual. "JD, sweetie, you have a pimple. Just come with me and I'll show you how to take care of it. I know it's been years, but I haven't forgotten . . ." and Evie dragged a helpless JD out of the door, none of the men responding to JD's beseeching hazel eyes begging for help.
"Team Six has been bragging they'll win easily," Ellen said sweetly.
Team Seven stiffened, and then left the offices.
"Nice work, Ellen," Orrin said. "I'm sure my favorite team won't let me down now," and he laughed knowing Team Six's big mouths would be their undoing.
+ + + + + + +
The kissing booth had become the talk of the building, with water cooler gossip of women hoarding their money and private bets on which agent would make the most money individually and which team would.
Ezra's face had brightened as the word "bet" circulated, even though he denied starting it. Team Six was rumored to have contributed to a large pot betting on their group of muscled men to win and were heard debating how to spend it. Since Team Six was the least popular ATF team, other teams had jumped on board to bet against them.
Currently, the youngest ATF agent was the most miserable agent in the entire building. He was lying on the sofa in the break room with his hair held back by a headband borrowed from Laurie and a mixture resembling gray vomit on his face.
"JD, what in the world?" Chris asked, as he came in to refill his coffee mug. Ezra, Vin and Buck followed, open-mouthed.
"Help!" was the soft moan.
"Don't move, JD!" Josiah commanded. "You others, git! This will get rid of the big zit. After all, the kissing booth is in two days."
"Larabee, here's the report on the Atkins file," and two men stopped and stared at scene in the break room.
JD heard the voices and froze. It would have to be two members of Team Six; Team leader Patrick O'Brien and the biggest man and mouth, Lou Jankowski.
"Whatsamatter, Dunne, forget your bib?" Jankowski jeered.
"Maybe it's the latest beauty mask," O'Brien added.
"He don't need it. He's already a Pretty Boy." Jankowski sneered.
Both men found themselves surrounded by Chris, Vin, Buck, Ezra and Josiah. JD, humiliated and stunned, lay quietly.
"Careful, Larabee," Jankowski growled. "Any bruises and you'll have a harder time getting women to pay to kiss any of you."
Team Seven faces reddened at the implication they would lose a fight with the two Team Six men.
"Care to wager on that?" Ezra drawled, as Chris restrained Buck with a hand.
"Yeah. $700 says we whip your team." Jankowski smirked.
"Done." Ezra answered quickly.
"Give me the report and get out," Chris snapped. Jankowski and O'Brien left with big grins. Buck knew it would be less than thirty minutes for the encounter to spread throughout the building like wildfire.
"Shoudda let us punch them," Buck grumbled.
"No need for that," Ezra practically purred. "We'll hit them where it hurts the most – their wallets."
A sudden movement caught their attention as JD sprang up from the couch, running to the sink and vigorously scrubbing his face.
"JD! NO!" Josiah hollered, but to no avail.
"I'll never live this down!" JD wailed between splashes of water. "The zit didn't even show!" He toweled his face so vigorously his face reddened more than it had been from the embarrassment. He ran out of the break room and sounds were heard from a desk opening, a few exclamations and bangs and then a loud yell, "VIN!"
Vin, trying to sneak out, was suddenly caught and thrust up against the wall by a red-faced JD. "Now, JD, it was for your own good, didn't want you to be tempted with the kissing booth coming up," Vin tried to placate.
"It's all gone, Vin! My candy, my Twinkies, everything!" JD shouted as Vin broke free and JD chased him down the hall.
"Twenty says Vin escapes!" Ezra waved the bill.
"Naw, JD's mad and he'll catch him." Buck laughed.
Ezra's face dropped as howls proved Vin had been caught and Buck snatched the bill from Ezra's hands.
+ + + + + + +*
The following day, an exhausted JD had finally fallen asleep in the break room the next day after a night of dreams of oatmeal and enormous lips alternating with dreams of appearing at the kissing booth in his underwear; with all the other teams and the potential women customers laughing at him. The worst nightmare involved someone paying a thousand dollars to kiss him – until the florid face of Lou Jankowski bent over JD with pursed lips. JD had screamed and was unable to get back to sleep after that horror and had refused to share the nightmare despite roommate Buck's nagging.
JD awoke that morning to find his zit had two children and groaned. He felt that he might as well draw a bulls-eye on each because the men noticed immediately when he arrived at work. Josiah had promised no more oatmeal treatments, so JD took a nap on the break room sofa after eating a quick lunch.
Josiah pulled down the box of oats with regret, but sighed because he had given his word.
Ezra and Buck, unable to resist, had crept in the break room, Buck
lifting up JD's bangs.
"Worse," Buck muttered. "Ezra, you sure honey will help?"
"Am I ever wrong in matters of appearance?" Ezra retorted.
While Ezra got the honey, Buck used bobby pins to pin JD's bangs back.
"Don't ask," he said to Ezra's inquiring glance. Ezra shrugged, then dabbed honey all over JD's forehead. Both crept out of the room.
Ten minutes later, Vin entered the office and opened JD's desk drawers, muttering, "Hershey's Kisses, Hershey's Kisses with Almond, Kisses with . . ."
Chris peered out of his office, where he was eating his lunch and trying to finish a report. "What's with all the kisses?"
"Trying to inspire the Kid," Vin grumbled, still dropping candy on JD's desk and in his desk drawer. "I keep hearing Team Six is upping the ante. Bragging. I want to crush them."
"Subliminal inspiration," Ezra approved. "Of course, our Mr. Wilmington does not need any reminders of kisses."
Josiah noticed Ezra and Buck kept glancing towards the break room. "What is going on, Buck?"
"Oh, the Kid’s just tired," Buck answered lamely.
Ezra coughed discreetly as JD appeared in the office, yawning and rubbing his head.
Team Six sharpshooter Larry Doherty, stopping by to place a bet with Ezra, stared. "Dunne, what have you got on your face?"
JD's eyes widened in horror. "Josiah! You said no more oatmeal!"
"Not oatmeal, JD," Nathan said, taking his head and looking closely. "Looks like honey."
Doherty cackled as fellow Team Six computer expert Richard Norton appeared in the room, saying, "Boss needs us! What's so funny, Larry?"
"Dunne! He's using honey on his face! Must be trying to attract bees and
"Are you leaving, gentlemen?" Chris growled as the cackling agents made their way to the elevator.
JD, gaping in horror as the honey began spreading all over his face, including closing his left eye as his lashes stuck to his cheek¸ suddenly turned and ran to the bathroom.
"Conference Room! Now!" Chris bellowed. Five agents meekly followed him while Chris stepped over to the bathroom.
After he shut the door of the conference room, Chris glared at all his agents.
"This has gone far enough," he stated menacingly.
JD, miserable and face and hair wet, sticky and soapy with his bangs plastered around his face, slid into the far chair.
"I know we all want to beat Team Six," Chris started. "But all you have done is humiliate JD. Team Six, as well as a lot of others, never give JD a break because of his youth. It doesn't help that JD still looks sixteen. And now . . .”
"Now I might as well get used to being the laughingstock of the building," JD muttered sullenly. "I can't wait until this is over."
The youth avoided everyone as best he could for the rest of the day.
Near the end of Friday, Ezra coughed discreetly and stood up. "If I may have your attention, gentlemen, as you know, the kissing booth is tomorrow. Now to solidify the positive outcome in our favor, I have decided to take you gentlemen under my advisement in the appearance department."
Vin raised an eyebrow. "In non-Ezra speak, what is that?"
Buck laughed, "I think Ezra wants to give advice on what we wear tomorrow."
"What?" JD exclaimed. "No more oatmeal, honey, or whatever that other pinkish mess someone (and he glared around) stuck on my face at noon."
The other six faces looked innocent. "I'm heading to the saloon," Buck
"Oh, no, Mr. Wilmington. You are not as desirable to kiss when drunk."
"Not what you said last weekend, Ez," Vin couldn't resist.
"Ha, ha, Mr. Tanner. Gentlemen, I took the liberty of ordering some clothes for each of you." Ezra then coughed and sneezed. "Excuse me, allergies."
After a brief shrug from the curious team, Ezra brought out his first outfit.
"Mr. Larabee, as our fearless leader and a fan of monochromatic appearance, I thought dark, mysterious "Man in Black" would work."
JD, glad the attention was not on him for once, spontaneously burst out in song, "I fell in to a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down and the flames drew up higher . . ."
“JD, you are very off-key and your voice is not deep enough for Johnny
Cash." Ezra observed while the others laughed and Buck smacked JD on the back.
"Not bad," Chris said as he looked at Ezra's pick. The other could only hope Ezra was as good with their choices of attire. Each watched with interest as Ezra went through his choices, hoping for the best.
For the most part, they were happy, though Josiah and especially JD were not thrilled with theirs. With a parting chorus of, "See you tomorrow! Get your pucker ready!" as well as more coughs and sneezes from Ezra, everyone left.
+ + + + + + +*
Saturday, the booths were set up and as luck would have it, Team Six was across from rival Team Seven. While all of Team Six appeared ready, willing, and eager, Ezra had to "encourage" Team Seven to come out. Chris came out with a black shirt and black jeans, very edgy. Vin came next, representing rugged and outdoorsy. He had a hat, fringe jacket and tan pants and boots. Nathan wore a tight red t-shirt and pants that emphasized his muscular frame. Josiah was casually attired with his cross hanging from his blue shirt. His hair and beard were trimmed.
‘Safe and fatherly,’ were Ezra's thoughts as he picked Josiah’s outfit. Ezra himself dressed as a debonair gentleman. Ezra was there to attract the cultured women, Josiah the older ones (Josiah had thanked Ezra wryly for this). Nathan's tight t-shirt emphasized his muscles, much to Rain's obvious displeasure. Vin represented the cowboy type; Chris the dangerous bad-boy type; Buck groomed casually to enhance his natural charm.
All of them were definitely counting on ladies' man Buck to bring in the volume and the money. And five of the seven were pretty happy with their choices.
"Where's JD?" Buck asked.
Ezra went back to drag the youngest agent to the booth. JD looked mid-teen with an oversize shirt and torn jeans and tennis shoes. JD was to represent the innocent, non-threatening one and much to his discomfort, he did. One look at the broad grins of Team Six, and JD's misery was complete.
Of course, Jankowski was the first to yell, "Hey, Kid! Junior high is down the block!"
JD glared angrily at Ezra. "You look fine, my young friend."
"Dunne!" Trey Morgan hollered. "You aren't allowed to go after grade schoolers!"
"That's all that will look at me," JD moaned to the others.
"Just remember it's only for four hours," Ezra consoled. "One of us needed to look non-threatening and very young, and you obviously fit the description."
"For once I'd like to be the dangerous one, like Billy the Kid," JD muttered rebelliously. "Or a cowboy like Vin," he added enviously.
The next few hours did not go as well as Ezra specifically thought they would. Mary Travis had teased Chris as she gave three $100 bills and made the kisses lingering much to the delight of the others. But Chris was not in a good mood and his bad-boy scowling persona was a little too realistic and scared potential women off. Ezra, always a good draw with moneyed women, had overnight developed a nasty cold and his red face, watery eyes and continual sneezing and coughing took him out of being one of the big contributors. Maude, who showed up in honor of her mother who had breast cancer, eased the pain a bit when she thrilled Josiah by kissing him and giving him a $1000 check, then spoiled it by walking up to Ezra, saying, "Ezra, darling, gentlemen don't sniffle. You need to lie down. I'll bring you my favorite chicken soup and take care of you until you get better."
The horror of being taken care of by Maude made Ezra cringe, and she added to his displeasure by saying loudly, "Are you sure this is just a cold and not the flu? You look flushed." After that, any women in line for Ezra backed off and one of Team Seven's major draws was out. Ezra contented himself by knowing the others could pick up the slack and muttering, "The only chicken soup you make is from a nearby restaurant."
Nathan would have had a much bigger line except for Rain's constant watchfulness. She deliberately doled out $10 per kiss and kept her place in line while shooing others away, much to other disappointed women wanting a kiss from the handsome black man and Ezra, seeing another big draw under-performing.
Ezra sighed. With Chris, himself and Nathan not drawing, that left the others. Ezra was surprised to see that Buck did not have a big line, and the reason was heard in two giggling office staff's conversation, "Why, Buck, we don't have to pay to kiss you – we get to do it for free." Buck was glum as he pondered the way his "animal magnetism" had backfired.
Vin had the nerve to mutter, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free, Bucklin," leading to the first hearty laugh the team enjoyed, except for Ezra. Cough. Sniff. Sneeze.
Team Six was doing exceptionally well, judging by the lines and loud laughter as well as smug looks sent Team Seven's way.
"Probably paid all their relatives to participate," Ezra muttered, feeling more feverish.
Josiah had done well, and rugged, handsome Vin was definitely a draw.
JD's line consisted mostly of adoring older women who pinched his cheeks, patted his hair and dispensed motherly advice along with a chaste kiss on the cheek. The money they gave was pretty generous, but Ezra knew it would take much more to win. Finally. JD spotted a crowd of several young teenage girls giggling and pointing his way.
Ezra sighed. How much could a teenager's allowance be? Finally, the first girl apparently got enough courage to approach shyly. "My friends," and she nodded towards the group, "laugh at me because I don't have a boyfriend and so I've never been kissed," and she blushed, hiding her face under soft brown hair. "So I have $25, and if you could, I mean ..."
Touched, JD thought back to when he was the youngest and smallest in all his classes, with no girls bothering to glance his way.
"What's your name?"
"Pretty name." And suddenly, JD didn't care about the taunts from Team Six, the contest, or anything else. He lifted the girl's chin, taking a moment to reassure her, and then softly kissed her on the lips. The smile on her face and the light in her eyes made all the aggravation he had endured worth it. Brittney run back to her group squealing and the other girls lined up. JD was kind and gentle with each one, his kisses soft and the girls kept stuffing his box with money. He made sure he asked each one their name, smiling at the homely ones as well as the cute ones and became a hero to the giggling girls.
Ezra, still sniffling and coughing, was even more discomfited by the reappearance of his mother. "Darling boy, why are you still here?" she exclaimed. Then she caught Josiah's eye. "Mr. Sanchez, darling, you are such a good kisser I had to come back and reward you."
Josiah grinned, glad to get another opportunity to kiss Maude while raising a few eyebrows at the fervor the "preacher" kissed Maude with.
Afterwards, Maude sighed and said, "My, my, none of my husbands could kiss like that. What would you say, Mr. Sanchez, to becoming my next husband?" she teased.
Ezra choked and Josiah answered, "If we marry, you would have to call me Josiah. Would that make me your stepfather, Ezra?"
"Perish the thought," Ezra shuddered. Sneeze! Cough! Sneeze!
Maude then, to Ezra's horror stepped up to JD's line and even brushed past a few teenagers. "Excuse me, darlings."
JD, surprised, stammered, "Hello, Mrs. Standish."
"Darling, you are just so cute and irresistible; I decided to add to your donation box." Maude twittered, while JD looked helpless and turned red.
"Mother! He's young enough to be your grandson!" Sneeze, cough, sneeze.
"Nonsense, darling boy! JD could only be my SON if I gave birth to him when I was a teenager!" And Maude grabbed JD and planted a hearty kiss on his lips.
"Sweetie, you are just so adorable. Ezra always wanted a little brother. I could adopt you."
"Mother!" Sneeze, cough, sniffle, sneeze. "How much wine did you have at lunch?"
"Only four glasses, darling boy!”
Coming to JD's rescue, Evie Travis pulled JD aside to introduce him to a teenage girl sitting in a wheelchair while watching the action with a wistful expression. "JD, sweetie, this is Amanda Ridgeway. She's the daughter of my close friend, Carolyn Ridgeway."
JD took the hand of the girl, noticing the dark circles under her eyes and the frailness of her body. She had a scarf tied around her head, but smiled shyly through the prettiest brown eyes.
JD knew the signs. He had lost his own mother to cancer. His own shyness forgotten, he made small talk with her, finding out she loved horses and wished to become a veterinarian as she loved animals. "I've not been able to go to school much because of my treatments," she said softly. "I do hope to go back next week. And . . ." she blushed, "go to the prom. It would be a dream of mine . . ." Left unsaid was the thought of everyone that it might be her only chance to attend a prom.
JD's heart ached. "I never went, either," he told her. "I was taking care of my mother, who was very sick, studying, holding down two jobs – and no girl wanted to go with me," he confessed.
Amanda's eyes widened as she looked at the cute young man. "They must have been idiots!" she blurted out.
"Well," JD said, flattered, "I was always the youngest and smallest boy in my classes because I was advanced two grades. And I didn't have time for sports and stuff."
"I know," Amanda offered softly. "If you are different . . ."
JD had always been impulsive, which could be good or bad. "Amanda, if I'm not too old to take – would you let me be your date for the prom?"
Her eyes lit up and the smile was blinding. "Of course I would! You're not too old, JD! And I would be the envy of every girl in the school," she giggled happily.
JD and Amanda missed the sudden tears in her mother's eyes. "Evie," she started.
"You can trust JD," Evie Travis stated simply. "He's a wonderful young man."
JD and Amanda chatted for a few minutes, and he bent to kiss her softly. "I have to go back, now. But I'll be in touch, Amanda."
Two women and a happy girl watched the young man walking away with a light step and whistling softly.
JD continued to do his part, kissing the other girls who had waited in line, but was glad when the event ended ten minutes later. He no longer greatly cared who won as a team or individual – even though he wanted Team Seven to come out on top. His mind was on a seventeen-year-old girl and how to make her prom as special as possible.
Ezra's mind was still on the bets. Seeing the smug faces across from him, Ezra forced himself to walk over to congratulate what he thought was probably the winning team.
In the office on Monday, Ezra’s cold appeared worse.
Sneeze! Sniffle! Cough! Ezra was more miserable than ever. Nathan had been trying to get Ezra to go home but Ezra stubbornly refused until he heard the results of the contest.
Orin Travis came in the offices, smiling. "The kissing booth raised twice the money any other event in the past has. Congratulations to you, Chris and your team. You pulled it out, with a couple of last-minute big donors."
"We won?" Ezra whooped. Sneeze, sniffle, cough, sneeze.
The other men high-fived and grinned, savoring the victory.
"Before I go on, most of Team Six are out with colds," Orin said sternly. "Would anyone of you know about that?"
Seven innocent-looking faces looked back at him, including Ezra’s.
"While the odds of them being sick at the same time are not good; their bad habits and atrocious manners may have led to the . . ."
"Yes, that's okay, Ezra," Orin hastened to interrupt. He turned to JD, shaking the young man's hand warmly sand saying softly, "You made a courageous young girl's day yesterday, JD. I'm proud of you, Son."
"So who drew the biggest amount individually?" Buck asked impatiently, though miffed that he wouldn't be the one.
Orrin smiled. "Quite an unexpected result. Congratulations, Josiah. You outshone everyone else."
"Josiah?" Five voices chimed in at this unexpected result.
The big man smiled and leaned back in his chair. "When you've got it, you've got it."
Just then a big bouquet of flowers was delivered to his desk. Josiah inhaled and opened the card. "What a woman."
Ezra snatched the card, and then dropped it, flabbergasted. "Mother!"
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