It was dark and gloomy with a threat of rain and at times appeared darker than night. Approaching the only area that appeared to have any light, he found himself standing on the edge of a muddy hole. He could smell the wet earth mixed with death. As the rain finally fell, he stood fascinated with how the raindrops fell onto the silver box, which lay in the hole.
Before he could move away from the hole, sudden movement caught his eye. The lid to the large box began to open. The voice in his head screamed for him to run, but his feet refused to obey. As the fear and anxiety built, the lid moved further open. A small amount of morbid curiosity kept him staring at the advancing lid. It rose slowly, upÖupÖupÖuntil he was staring into his own face. A full second passed before a blood-curdling scream escaped his lips.
"NO!" JD woke with a sob. Carefully opening his eyes he saw he was back in his own room in his bed. The soft glow of the hall night-light could be seen through the small crack in the door. Pure relief filled his body and tears his eyes. He buried his face in his pillow to keep his sobs from waking Vin, who was asleep on the bunk above him.
The bedroom door opened slowly allowing more of the light from the hall to chase away any lingering shadows. The figure at the door paused to assess what brought him to JD and Vinís room at 3am. He was about to turn to check on everyone else when he heard the quiet sobs coming from the bottom bunk. Walking over to JD, he stepped on a few loose Legos. Biting down on his curse, he moved the offending toy out of the way and sat on JDís bed. He ducked under the upper bunk and gathered JD into his arms to give the shaken boy comfort.
"Shh Sprout. Itís okay. Iíve got you." When JD looked up he saw the smile on Chrisí face. JD tried to return it but was still too shaken from his nightmare. "Did you have another nightmare JD?" JD simply nodded and buried his face in Chrisí nightshirt and cried. Chris continued to hold JD close and spoke soothing words to him as he rubbed JDís back. As he did this, he became aware that JD had wet the bed and himself. Both were soaked.
Carefully picking JD up, he gathered a clean pair of pajamas out of the dresser and headed to the bathroom. Even with the extra weight, Chris feet didnít make any noise against the heavy carpeted hallway. They entered the bathroom and Chris turned on the light.
Setting JD down he said, "Letís get these wet things off and get you warmed up." JD nodded and let Chris undress him. Chris them filled the sink with some warm water and soap. He took a washcloth and wiped down JDís whole body, then quickly dried him off. Warm pajamas were quickly put on then Chris picked JD up again. JD immediately snuggled onto Chrisí shoulder with his thumb in his mouth.
Turning out the light, Chris carried JD to the master bedroom. He settled a half-asleep JD on the bed and covered him up. JD whimpered softly and Chris rubbed his back until he settled again. Quietly, he left his room and returned to JDís. Careful not to step on any more Legos, which felt sharper at 3am, he stripped JDís bed and dropped the soiled sheets, blankets and PJís down the laundry chute. As he was leaving the room, he heard a quiet voice ask, "JD okay?"
Chris smiled at his little brother and went over to the top bunk. "Yes. Heís okay. Go back to sleep okay?" Chris tucked Vin in tighter and kissed him goodnight. "Love you."
"Love you too Cowboy." Vin grinned with his eyes closed, almost asleep he still could Ďfeelí his brothers glare.
"One of these days little brother." Chris said as he wagged his index finger at Vin.
"Yeah but not tonight. Iís tired." Vin was asleep before Chris could respond. He gave Vin another kiss and left, closing the door halfway.
Chris returned to his room and smiled at his baby brother who was sprawled out in the middle of Chrisí queen size bed. Carefully, Chris moved JD to one side and tucked him in. Chris then turned out the bedside lamp and crawled under the covers. Chris was almost asleep when he felt JD cuddle up to him and put his cold feet under Chrisí warm legs. Chris simply smiled and pulled JD close as he dislodged the cold feet. Once they were both settled, both brothers drifted deeper into sleep with a content sigh.
The first rays of morningís light settled on Chrisí face and caused him to groan awake. A quick glace at the clock reveled it was past the time to get kids up for school. He rolled over and smiled at his sleeping baby brother. Chris was debating sending JD to school today or just letting him sleep in, until he remembered no one was going to be home today to watch him. A noise from the hallway brought his attention back from his ponderings. He got up and put on his jeans. He walked out of his room with no shoes or shirt to see what the disturbance was.
"Hurry up Ezra!" Nathan was yelling at the closed bathroom door.
"Problem Nate?" Chris asked. He knew that once Ezra took over the bathroom, it was a long time before he came out. What he did in there for that long was a question none of his brothers could answer.
"Ezraís in there again and I have to get ready for school. I want a different bathroom. Iíll even share with JD, but I donít want to share with Ezra anymore. Heís worse than a girl."
"Now Nate. What would you know about having a girl in the house?"
"Jacob has three sisters and he told me he can never get into the bathroom because his sisters camp in there. Just like Ezra."
Chris laughed. "Why donít you go use my bathroom and Iíll consider new bathroom assignments this weekend. Okay? And donít wake up JD."
"Fine." Nathan walked away from Chris grumbling. "He always seems to get his own way anyway."
"Nathan." Chrisí tone stopped Nathan immediately. He knew their father would never tolerate mumbling under their breath. Nate turned and said, "Iím sorry. Itís just frustrating."
"I understand and I will deal with it. But not right this second. The school bus will be here in less than an hour. I promise I will speak with Josiah this weekend about the problem."
"Okay." Nathan retrieved his clothes from his room and headed for the master bathroom.
Chris watched him go and then knocked and entered the bathroom. He knew it would get Ezraís attention.
"CHRIS!" Ezra quickly put his hands behind his back.
"Iíll take that magazine now." Chris put his hand out and waited. Ezra sighed and handed over the magazine. Not even looking at it, Chris said, "Get ready for school and if I catch you wasting time in here to annoy Nathan again, we will be having a serious talk in my room. Is that clear?"
"Good. Breakfast smells just about ready so get finished up." Chris waved the magazine at Ezra. "I may give this back to you later tonight; maybe." With that, Chris left the bathroom and closed the door. He tossed the magazine into his room and headed downstairs.
The closer Chris got to the kitchen; he could hear Nettie preparing breakfast. He was about to enter when he heard a howled, "OW", and then saw Vin exit the kitchen rubbing his backside.
"Nettie chase you out again?"
"Hey Chris. Yes. I werenít doing nothing wrong. I just offered to be her food taster ta make sure the bacon werenít poison."
"You werenít doing ANYTHING wrong? And the bacon WASNíT poisoned." Chris corrected with a smile.
"Well, I could have told ya if she had let me." Vin answered ignoring Chrisí attempt to correct his speech.
"You know Nettie doesnít like anyone under foot when she cooks. You are the only one, other than Buck, who canít seem to understand that unless you feel the sting of her wooden spoon on your backside."
"It donít really hurt." Vin grinned at his deliberate speech.
"It DOESNíT really hurt." Chris corrected with a sigh. "Iím going to have to come up with some kind of punishment for speaking so poorly."
"Poorly? IísÖIím only 8 years old Chris. Even Dad understood that."
"What I understand, little brother is if you donít finish getting ready for school, youíre going to miss breakfast and the bus. So move." Chris sent Vin toward the stairs with a love swat to his jean-clad bottom.
"Okay. Iím going. You better save me some bacon."
"I will." Chris entered the kitchen and was met by Miss Nettie with her hands on her hips and wooden spoon in her hand.
"And what are you doing in my kitchen with no shirt or shoes on young man?"
Chris looked at his feet and blushed. He had forgotten he only put on his pants. "Sorry Nettie. I wasnít thinking. I just wanted to check when breakfast was so that I could make sure no one was late to the table." Chris started to back out to the kitchen, protecting his backside.
"Ten minutes." Nettie said as she turned away from Chris with a knowing smile.
"Yes maíam. Weíll all be ready." Chris quickly kissed Nettie on the cheek and with a "thank you," ran out of the kitchen to avoid the arm and spoon aimed for him.
"Cheeky kids. Got a house full of them."
Chris smiled at Nettieís grumble. He knew she loved them all and if it hadnít been for Nettie, they all would have starved after their father died last year.
Josiah came out of his room dressed in a pair of casual black slacks and a white turtleneck. He was strapping on his shoulder holster as he closed his door. Nathan breezed by him on his way down the stairs. Ezra was right behind him. Vin came out of his room and saw Josiah and ran to him.
"Yeah Vin?" Josiah asked as he pulled his suit jacket on.
"Since we have a long weekend coming up, could you take me to the firing range and show me how to shoot?"
"Vin. Weíve had this discussion before. Youíre too young to learn to shoot a gun. The kick back alone would leave you on your backside."
"The answer is no. And it will remain no until your 16. Understand?"
"16? Iím an excellent shot on my sharpshooterís game on the computer. I get perfect scores all the time."
"Games are different than real life. End of discussion. You know what will happen if I see you near any guns, Kevin." Josiah used Vinís full name to make his point.
"Yes sir." Vin turned and ran down the stairs. He hated being Ďtoo youngí. Chris came out of his room, steering a fully dressed but half asleep JD toward the stairs.
"What was that about?" Chris asked.
"Same old argument."
"What is it with that boy and guns?" Chris decided to carry JD before he fell down the stairs. "Letís go eat."
"Whereís Buck?" Josiah asked.
"Iím assuming he left for the academy. He mentioned something about an early class, then he would have the afternoon off and the rest of the three day weekend."
"He picking JD up at Pre-school later?"
"Yeah. Nettie will be at her daughters for the weekend and youíll be working the Waterman case. Iíll be late today too. Buck offered to take JD to get winter clothes including a new hat and boots."
"We producing latch key kids today?"
"Afraid so." Chris, JD and Josiah entered the kitchen to find Nathan, Ezra and Vin all sitting quietly waiting for them. Chris smiled. Nettie strikes again. Chris sat JD down and they started breakfast. While they were eating, Chris took the time to remind each brother of their duties for the afternoon.
"Nathan I need you to come straight home today. Nettie is going to be away for the next three days and Josiah and I will be late getting home. Buck should be home with JD, but I want you here just in case. Ezra doesnít need watching, but Vin is still too young to be home alone."
"I wonít be alone." Vin argued.
"Thatís right because Nate will be here." Chris turned back to Nathan and waited for the protest.
"Can I go visit friends tomorrow if I do?"
"I wasnít asking you Nate. You will be here to watch your brothers or Iíll know the reason why. But, yes, you can go visit friends tomorrow. Just let me know where youíll be."
"Okay." Nathan didnít like babysitting duty, but if it would get his away from the house on a Saturday, it would be worth it.
Chris turned to Ezra. "You are to obey Nathan, and stay off the
computer. Youíre still on restriction for the last little act of mischief. I
want you to behave in school and come straight home. No detention today Ezra or
Iíll add to your punishment. Come home and do your homework."
"If I do it after school, what will keep me occupied during this long three day incarceration?"
"Mouthing off can only get you more trouble young man." Josiah added.
"Sorry." Ezra said.
Chris turned to Vin. "The same goes for you Vin, except you can wait to get help with your homework if you need. You arenít grounded but I donít want you on the computer until I get home. Understand?"
Chris turned lastly to JD who had finally woken up enough to polish off two eggs, two toast, home fries and four pieces of bacon. He was washing it down with his milk when Chris turned to him. He smiled at Chris with a huge milk mustache. Chris reached out with a napkin and wiped the milk away.
"JD. Buck will be picking you up at Pre-school. If they need to find me or Josiah, they know who to call." JD had been coming down with the beginnings of a cold, and he was also still afraid to be alone at Pre-school. Some days Chris or Buck popped in to see him to remind him that he hadnít been deserted.
Chris looked at his watch and said, "The bus should be here any moment boys so get your jackets on and go wait. Iíll see you all here after school. Iíll bring home pizza for supper."
Nathan, Ezra and Vin got up and put their plates in the sink and headed out. Josiah finished up his coffee and said his good-byes. He was pulling away from the house as the bus pulled up. Chris waved them all off as he helped JD with his coat and backpack. JD got into the truck as Chris locked the house. He dropped JD off at Pre-school and headed for a long day at the police station. Thank God itís Friday!
Josiah was bone weary when he entered the house. The Waterman case was putting a strain on the gentle profiler. The case hit too close to home for Josiah because it revolved around the kidnapping of the Watermanís 8-year-old son. The Watermanís were well off and because of Mr. Watermanís money; the boy had become a target. The FBI was running the case but had asked the Police Department for Josiahís assistance. Josiah was well known for his profiler skills. He had an uncanny ability to get into Ďthe headí of the crook. Unfortunately, for Josiah, when he tried to think like this kidnapper, all he could imagine were horrible things to do to an 8-year-old child. Then Josiah would see Vin instead of the Waterman boy.
Josiah knew that, it could have easily been Vin or JD who was kidnapped. It was no secret in town that Lincoln Larabee left his sons well taken care of. None of them would ever have to worry about money, and even though they all worked, none of them had to financially. Josiah was seriously thinking about retiring after this case though.
As he entered the garage, he noticed Buckís truck wasnít back, so he figured it was just Nate, Ezra, and Vin at home. As he approached the house he could tell that there were too many lights on to accommodate three kids. Josiah sighed. He didnít have the energy to nag the boys about turning out lights.
He entered the foyer and noticed jackets and book bags scattered on the floor. He pushed his way to the closet and hung up his jacket then went into the family room. Annoyed that his brothers seemed to be disregarding all of the house rules because Miss Nettie was gone, he made a quick check to find the boys in question. Since he didnít find any of them or hear them on the first floor, he figured they were probably in the attic in the ĎClub Houseí.
Going to the intercom system, he pushed the call button. "Boys!" He paused for a response. A moment later the intercom hummed and clicked. Then he heard, "Yeah Josiah?" It was Nateís voice.
"I want all of you down here, in the family room, NOW."
"Yes sir." The intercom went quiet and Josiah sagged onto one of the couches in the large family room. He noticed the fireplace was empty and cold, and for a fleeting moment, thought about getting up to start a fire. He simply didnít have the energy though, so he closed his eyes and tried to relax.
Josiah was in a light doze when Nathan, Ezra and Vin entered the family room. Nathan noticed Josiah asleep and motioned for the others to be quiet and to move into the foyer.
"He looks exhausted." Ezra whispered.
"He sure does. Look guys, Josiah sounded upset, and looking at our coats and bags, I can guess what he wanted. Lets put our stuff away, turn out some of the lights, before Chris gets home and by then Buck and JD should be home."
"Okay." Everyone agreed. Quickly and quietly all coats and book bags were put away, lights were turned out, Nathan started a fire in the fire place, and Ezra started his homework. Josiah snored blissfully unaware on the couch.
At some point during the quiet clean up, Buck and JD returned from the store with drinks, munchies, and videos for family movie night. Buck didnít have the heart to disturb Josiah, so he draped an afghan over the snoring giant.
When Chris entered the house with pizza, the first thing he noticed was the quiet. There was no yelling or shouting. No crying or fighting. He hung up his coat and entered the family room and stopped suddenly at what he saw. Nathan was reading a book. Ezra was working on what appeared to be schoolwork. Vin was showing JD how to play checkers and Buck was reading the paper.
"Did Josiah threaten to kill you all or have you been replaced by the pod people?"
Buck looked up and smiled. "Hey stud. No Josiah has been napping," Buck pointed to the couch, "since he got home."
"We were in the club house and he called us downstairs. When we got down here, minutes later, he was asleep." Nate added.
"Nobody woke him up?" Chris was stunned.
"I thought about it." Buck said. "But heís been such a bear these last few weeks with the Waterman case and all, that I figured he could use the nap so we let him sleep."
Chris smiled and moved into the kitchen. He sat out the pizza while Buck, who followed him in, got the drinks for everyone.
"What movies did you get Buck?" Chris asked.
"I grabbed ĎShrekí for the first installment. I figured it was safe for JD and Vin. Then I got ĎFinding Forresterí for Nate and Ez and ĎThe Matrixí for us more mature folk."
"Youíre not including yourself are you Buck? Youíre far from mature on a good day."
"That hurts Chris." Buck smiled.
"Letís eat. Someone wake up Josiah." Chris said to no one in general.
"Iíll do it." JD yelled.
"Quietly Sprout. Donít jump on him." Chris added.
The first thing Josiah felt was warm and relaxed. He next felt a small hand patting his cheek gently, and then a small and very wet kiss on the same cheek. He opened one eye and smiled as he saw JD standing over him.
"íSiah! Dinnerís ready. Chris says come aní eat."
Josiah opened his other eye and asked, "Dinner? How long have I been asleep?" Josiah sat up and noticed the roaring fire and the rest of the family putting things away to go eat.
"I would say from the moment you closed your eyes, brother." Chris said as he entered the room.
"Chris? What time is it?"
"Itís almost 6:00PM"
"Six? I got home at four. I called the boys downstairs and must have fallen asleep. Sorry."
"No problem Josiah. Buck returned while the boys were picking up the mess in the foyer and Nate started a fire. Ezra even finished most of his schoolwork. They let you sleep because you needed it. Now come and eat before the pizza gets cold."
"Thanks boys." Josiah said as he joined his brothers at the table.
After dinner was eaten and the mess cleaned up, everyone got ready to watch the movies. Chris and Josiah helped Vin and JD get into PJís and then settled on pillows and blankets in front of the large screen TV. They watched ĎShrekí first and everyone laughed. Vin and JD were allowed to watch ĎFinding Foresterí but soon fell asleep. Chris and Josiah carried them to bed and tucked them in. The rest of the family finished off both movies and then headed to bed. Ezra read in his bed until Josiah told him to go to sleep.
Saturday, everyone would sleep in and get their own breakfast with the exception of JD who would get help from any available brothers. Morning cartoons would occupy little boys until big boys rolled out of bed and Josiah would have to drag Ezra out of bed after noon.
Chris just hoped he wouldnít need to help JD through any nightmares tonight.
The weekend never seemed long enough for Ezra, but this weekend was the longest in history. It wouldnít have been so bad if he was allowed to go outside and play like everyone else, but he was restricted to the house. He wasnít allowed on the computer and Josiah had given him a book to read, after all of his schoolwork was finished. Ezra was bored.
"Can I watch a video?" Ezra asked.
Josiah sighed. "Ezra. You know that no one is allowed to watch videos on Mondays."
"But itís a holiday. We didnít have school and I donít have any schoolwork to do. Iím bored." Ezra whined.
"Then go do something."
"There is nothing to do. Everyone else is outside playing and Iím stuck in here. Bored out of my head."
"Ezra. I want you to stop complaining. You got yourself this restriction on your own. Now go find something to do before I do. Have you done your chores?"
"Yes. I even helped JD with his."
"Then go play."
"Outside?" Ezra asked hopefully.
"Inside." Josiah clarified.
"Fine!" Ezra stormed upstairs and didnít stop until he reached the attic. The three-story house had a spacious top floor that allowed the seven boys to have a large playroom as they grew up. One corner of the space was designated the Ďclub houseí. Ezra decided he wanted to Ďdisappearí, so he slowly climbed over some boxes in the storage area of the attic toward the window. The small window was build into a gable eave so it led out to the roof of an outer porch off the master bedroom. The slant of the roof wasnít steep and was warm because of the sunlight shining on it most of the day. The cool autumn breeze didnít bother Ezra because of the natural heat from the roof.
He gazed at the sky and then watched his brothers enjoying the day playing in the yard. As much as Ezra hated getting dirty, he wished he were allowed to play outside today. Soon the snow would fall and it would be colder and Ezra wouldnít want to go out as much. With all the trouble he caused last week, he now wished Chris has just spanked him and not ground him. He was so bored.
He gazed down again at his brothers and saw Vin chasing JD. Vin tackled JD and they rolled down a small grassy hill. When Vin looked up, he saw Ezra on the roof. Ezra and Vin locked eyes. Vin smiled and went back to wrestling with JD.
Ezra breathed a sigh of relief. Vin could have easily pointed him out to JD and then the jig would be up. Even though Chris and Josiah never told him to stay off the roof, Ezra was sure it would become a fast rule if they knew about his quiet reflection spot.
Ezra turned toward the window when he heard Buckís voice. He decided to return to the attic before he was discovered. He was about to shut the window when Buck entered the storage area and saw Ezra near the window.
"What ya doing Ez?" Buck asked.
"Just getting some fresh air and some peace and quiet." Ezra responded as he shut and latched the window.
Buck smiled. "Yeah. I remember climbing out on that roof too when dad had grounded me."
Ezra didnít know what to say. Even though Buck was only 19, he tended to tattle when the act was something as dangerous as being on the roof of a three-story house.
"Donít worry Ez. As long as you promise me you will never go out there when there is snow on the roof, your secret if safe."
"Thank you, and I promise."
"Come on. I talked Josiah into letting me take you with me to run up to the Academy to grab some stuff I need for class tomorrow. I figured you would like to get out of the house for an hour or so."
"That would be agreeable."
"Maybe weíll stop somewhere and do some shopping real quick."
"Sure. Just donít say anything. I told Josiah we were just going to the Academy. I figure it would take an extra hour to change a flat tire. Right?"
Ezra smiled knowingly. "Fine, but I will wager the little deception wonít be that easy."
"You let me worry about that. Sometimes Chris and Josiah forget what itís like to be locked in this house for two weeks. What they wonít know wonít hurt them."
"Very well. Iíll get my jacket." Ezra and Buck left, but only after Josiah told them to be back before Chris was in an hour and a half.
"Yeah JD?" The boys had climbed a tree and were resting in its branches.
"How does Santa get down the chimney?"
"I donít know. Why?"
"No reason. Iís just curious." JD started to climb down from the tree.
As Vin was following JDís decent, Chris drove into the driveway. JD ran into his outstretched arms and Chris tickled his baby brother. Vin was right behind him and jumped on Chris back. Since Chris was prepared for the attack, he lifted both boys and walked into the house.
Buck and Ezra returned from the ĎAcademyí a half hour after Chris got home. Chris wasnít pleased with the delay, but seemed to believe the flat tire story. Buck took the bags of goodies upstairs when no one was looking. He would keep them in his room for Ezra until after Friday, when he wasnít restricted anymore.
The family set down for dinner after Chris had everyone cleaning up the house before Miz Nettie returned later. After dinner, Josiah and Chris took Vin and Nathan to their Boy Scout meeting, while Buck stayed home with Ezra and JD. With school the next day, all the boys were sent to bed early.
Buck was tucking in JD when he was blindsided with a difficult question from JD.
"Buck? Is Santa real?"
"Sure JD. Why do you ask?"
"I heard some bigger boys talking Ďbout how Santa wasnít real." Buck noticed JDís tears.
"Hey Little Bit. You donít listen to those bigger boys."
"But if heís real, hows come he can come down chimneys and have flyiní reindeers?"
"Because heís magic JD."
"Magic?" JD looked skeptical.
"Yes sir. Santa is pure magic and so are his reindeer. Okay?"
"Good. Now go to sleep." He tucked in JD and kissed him goodnight. He then did the same for Vin.
"Ya should tell him about the goat-deer." Vin giggled.
"You start that nonsense again this year and Iíll beat you myself." Buck said with a smile.
"Yer just upset Ďcause Rudolph was replaced."
"Iím warning you boy." Buck was wagging a finger at Vin when Chris entered.
"Whatís so funny?" Vin came out from under the covers to say, "Buckís mad Ďcause Rudolphís been replaced by Randolph." Vin giggled again. Chris just moaned.
"If you upset JD again this year with that Randoph the red-nosed goat-deer nonsense, Iíll call Santa and tell him you deserve coal and switches in your stocking."
"Iís just joking Chris. ĎSides, Randolph ainít real."
"Just remember what I said. JD isnít old enough to appreciate the joke."
"Okay. I promise to behave."
"Donít make promises you canít keep little brother. Now go to sleep."
"Night." Chris and Buck said their goodnights and tucked in everyone.
"JD? Please settle down before Iím forced to shoot you."
JD moved back to Chris and sighed. Chris noticed the looks he received from others in the waiting room, but ignored them.
"How much longer Chris?" JD was well beyond restless. Chris had dropped Josiah off at the eye doctors and then did some shopping before he picked up JD from school. He had been running late to pick Josiah up but still ended up waiting. JD was full of energy from school and Chris was tired. Not a good combination. "I gotta go pee Chris."
Chris stood up and took JD to the restroom. As he was waiting outside of the bathroom, he over heard a young couple criticize his comment about shooting JD. Normally he would ignore it, but he was tired. Tired of people thinking he would really shoot a 4-year old.
"Do you two have any children?" Chris asked.
Taken by surprise by the question, they paused. "No. Not yet."
"Well, when you have your own kids and have to care for them and work a stressful job, you can criticize, but until then I would appreciate it if you would keep your opinions to yourself."
"And how many children do you have?" The lady sneered.
"Six." Chris included Adam even though he was gone.
"Six?" The couple looked shocked. Before they could respond, JD exited the restroom and saved them any more embarrassment. Chris took JDís hand then asked, "Did you wash your hands Sprout?"
"Yep." Chris gave JD a disapproving look and JD said, "Yes sir."
Chris smiled and said, "Good. Letís go find Josiah. I just want to go home and eat."
Chris spotted Josiah at the receptionist desk. JD squirmed to go ahead of Chris so he let go of JDís hand and said, "Walk, JD."
JD ran to Josiah who scooped him up into a hug. "How was school today JD?"
"Kay. You finally done ĎSiah? Can we go home?"
"Sure we can."
"JD?" JD turned to see Chris. "I told you not to run."
"Iís sorry. I was just Ďcited ĎSiah was done."
"I know JD. Me too."
They were about to leave when the young couple approached. "We wanted to apologize for our hasty judgment. We just found it odd for someone to threaten to shoot a child."
Josiah started to laugh and Chris tried to glare at him. Before Josiah could ask, JD said, "He gots a gun but he only shoots bad men."
Shock was written on their faces, but Josiah quickly added, "Maíam? Chris and I are police officers. We donít shoot children. Chris was only expressing himself."
Embarrassed now, Chris decided to retreat before the conversation got worse. He reached over and took JD from Josiahís arms and stated, "Weíll meet you in the van." Chris then made his escape with JD.
Ten minutes later, Josiah joined them. He was still laughing. "What was that all about?"
"Laugh it up Josiah. That couple had the nerve to criticize how I take care of JD."
"Chris! They said you threatened to shoot him."
"Any moron can see that I wouldnít shoot a 4-year old, at least not in public." Chris smiled.
"We all know you wouldnít shoot him but strangers donít. Stranger things have happened in the world."
"True. But they should mind their own business."
"How come they apologized then?"
"I asked them how many kids they had and when they said none, I told them they didnít know what they were talking about. Said I had more experience since I had six kids."
"Hell Chris. I have six and still donít know what Iím doing."
"Funny. I was never that hard to take care of."
Deciding to change the subject, Chris asked, "How was your appointment?"
"What did the doctor have to say?"
"I have cataracts on my right eye."
"Thatís pretty standard surgery now days right?"
"Yeah. He wants to do it as soon as possible, but he canít get me in until after Thanksgiving."
"Thatís fine though, right?" Chris could sense Josiahís anxiety.
"Itís good. I just wish it wasnít necessary. I mean, Iím still a young man and Iím having cataract surgery."
"Always said you were an old man."
Josiah smiled. "Now whoís the comedian?"
"Just stating the facts brother." There was silence in the van for a few miles. Josiah glanced back at JD and smiled when he saw JD was asleep. Turning back to Chris he said, "Iím thinking about retiring from the police force."
Chris gasped and looked at Josiah quickly before returning his eyes to the road. "Why? I was only kidding about you being an old man."
"I know you were only joking. Iíve been thinking about this for some time. Iím tired of seeing all of the human garbage in this city. I want something more rewarding."
"Police work is rewarding. Look at the Waterman case. If you hadnít helped they may not have found that boy alive."
"I could still work as a consultant once in a while, but I need a change."
"What do you want to do?"
"What I would really like to do is teach the boys."
"School teacher? Donít you have to go back to college to do that?"
"Not if I home school them. It would only be Ezra, Vin and JD. Nathan graduates in June and will be attending the Medical school here. Besides, Ezra has been getting into way too much trouble lately and his grades are suffering. Heís smart, but his mouth gets him in trouble. Vin is struggling with his dyslexia and his teachers canít give him the one on one he needs."
"And JD? He hasnít even started primary school yet."
"Maybe I just want to protect him from the harsher sides of school life. He still cries when we leave him a pre-school."
"Heíll out grow that eventually."
"Itís been a year since dad died and JD is still having nightmares."
"I know." Chris sighed. "I was thinking about taking everyone to a family counselor."
"That sounds like a good idea."
"If youíre serious about home schooling, then we need to do some research. When were you looking at leaving the force?"
"Not until spring."
"A stay home mom. What a concept." Chris laughed as he pulled into the driveway.
"Letís see what needs to be done and then decide."
"For what?" Chris turned off the engine and looked at Josiah.
"Supporting me, as always."
"Thatís what brothers do. Itís like Buck taking Ezra shopping on Monday."
"You didnít really buy that, ĎI got a flat tireí line did you?"
"Actually yes I did. Buck doesnít usually lie to me."
"Josiah. Josiah." Chris shook his head and smiled. "Buck rescued Ezra for an afternoon and it was good for them both."
"But he lied Chris. Pa would have his hide for such a thing."
"Maybe. But sometimes mercy is needed more than a strong hand."
"Youíre getting soft." Josiah chuckled as he got out of the van.
"Maybe." Chris leaned over to wake JD, who immediately woke up and ran inside.
Josiah shut JDís door and they all headed inside for supper.
JD was sick. He had hung onto, what Chris figured was a small cold, for a couple of weeks. He would have a bad day and then feel better. He didnít miss any school and he seemed to be getting better around Thanksgiving. However, the mild cold seemed to get worse the same time Josiah was scheduled for his eye surgery. A week later, Josiah was headed for a check-up and JD seemed to get better again.
The morning of Josiahís check-up was like any other. Chris sent all of the boys to school and took Josiah to the doctors. While waiting for Josiah, Chrisí cell phone rang.
//Mr. Larabee. This is Miss Jacobs at JDís pre-school.//
"Yes Miss Jacobs. Is everything okay?"
//No sir. JD appears to have a small fever and threw up right after lunch. I was wondering if you could come and get him.//
"Certainly. Iíll be there within the hour. Thank-you."
//No problem Mr. Larabee.//
Chris hung up and looked toward the receptionistís desk at the same time Josiah exited the exam room. Chris quickly phoned the pediatrician and got an appointment for in an hour. Hanging up his phone, Chris explained what was going on and then they both headed for the school.
When Chris entered the pre-school, he could tell it was naptime. The lights were turned down low and it was quiet. Miss Jacobs, who was watching for him, came over to Chris and smiled.
"Mr. Larabee." She whispered. "JD is over here. We had him lay down and he dozed off a few minutes ago."
"Not a problem." Chris knelt down next to his little brother and felt his forehead. It was warm and Chris could tell he wasnít resting, even in sleep. Miss Jacobs returned and handed JDís backpack to Josiah as Chris helped JD put his coat on. JD never woke entirely. He opened his eyes and smiled at Chris.
"Hey Sprout. You not feeling good huh?"
"I feel yucky Chris." JD said in a sad pitiful voice. Chris wiped the stray tear away and smiled as he picked JD up.
"Letís see if we canít do something about that okay?"
JDís only answer was a nod as he put his head down on Chrisí shoulder and closed his eyes.
"I hope he feels better soon Mr. Larabee." Miss Jacobs said as the three brothers left the classroom.
"Thank you. Weíll see what the doctor says and Iíll let you know when heíll be back to school."
Chris and Josiah settled JD into the van. Chris then dropped Josiah off at home and then took JD to the doctors.
Christmas was three weeks away and the entire atmosphere of the house was charged with the excitement. The school activities were rushing to finish term work and plays, recitals, and parties were planned. Ms. Nettie seemed to enjoy all of the requests for cookies and other goodies for this party or that. The boys were excited about being out of school for two weeks and of what would await them on Christmas morning.
When Chris returned home with a very sleepy JD, he noticed the normal noises of the house. He could hear Josiah asking for help with setting the table and complaints of having to clean up before supper. Chris walked into the family room and was met by Buck, who immediately took JD from Chris and hugged him close.
"How is he?" Buck asked Chris.
"Let me get our coats off and Iíll tell everyone at once." Chris said as he removed JDís coat. He hung both coats up and returned to the family room to see everyone waiting.
"Well?" Josiah asked.
"Well. Dr. Johnson looked him over and said he would be fine in a few weeks."
"A few weeks? Whatís wrong?" Buck asked.
"JD has the chicken pox." Chris said.
"What? I thought they vaccinate against those these days?" Buck said.
"They do. But it doesnít always mean you canít get them." Nathan added.
"Nateís right. Dr. Johnson said it happens sometimes. The biggest problem is that Josiah, Buck and I are the only ones who have had the chicken pox already. Itís a good chance everyone else will get them too."
"But they say itís not safe for you to get chicken pox when youíre older." Nate said.
"True. But Dr, Johnson assured me that you are all still young enough for it to not be too much of a concern. Of course we will have to keep our eyes open for any complications, but if any of you get sick, Dr. J wants to see you. Weíll go from there."
"Well, dinners ready." Ms. Nettie said. "Letís get this sick little boy some food and then get him to bed."
"I picked up the medication to help once the spots start to get itchy. Dr. J said it was only a matter of days before heís covered in spots."
"Are you saying that we all could end up with those horrible sores all over us?" Ezra said with distain.
"Yes Ezra." Chris helped Buck settle JD at the table and everyone ate.
After supper, JD was tucked into bed and Chris sent everyone to get ready for bed. With everyone tucked in, Chris and Josiah sat down to work out a schedule to stay with JD while he was sick. With that finished, Chris checked on JD and headed for bed.
Chris got no sleep. JD woke up several times during the night crying out for him. Each time Chris helped JD go to the bathroom and wiped away his tears and cooled the fever. JD would settle for a couple of hours and then the whole scenario would repeat itself. Chris was just glad he didnít have to work the next day. By sunrise, JD was sleeping peacefully and so was Chris. Neither brother heard everyone else get up and have breakfast and go to school. Josiah was the last one to leave the house, only after Ms. Nettie promised to take care of Chris and JD. They were in capable hands.
When Chris woke up, he glanced at the clock and saw it was 11:30AM. He jumped from bed and went to JDís room, worried that he had overslept. Upon entering JDís room though, JDís bed was empty. He grabbed his housecoat and headed downstairs. When Chris entered the family room, what he saw made him smile.
Curled up under a layer of blankets and pillows, was JD. Sound asleep.
"Would you like some lunch Chris?" Ms. Nettie asked.
Startled, Chris smiled. "Yes maíam. That would be great. How long has JD been down here?"
"I was upstairs checking on you both about two hours ago and I heard him call for you. I figured you could use the sleep so I gave JD his medicine and settled him down here so he could watch TV and you could rest. He ate a little breakfast and fell asleep."
"You should have got me up." Chris said as he sat down to a ham and cheese sandwich.
"Nonsense. Iím sure he was up most of the night and you were right there with him. Besides, if the others come down with the chicken pox, youíre going to have your hands full."
"Thatís for sure. I hope they donít get it, but Dr. J said itís almost a sure thing they will."
"Well eat up then. Youíll need your strength."
Chris ate and helped Ms. Nettie throughout the day with JD. By the time boys were returning from school, JD had spots all over him. Over the next few days, Vin came down with spots, followed by Ezra and Nate.
Nathan and Vin took being sick in stride, but Ezra was far from happy with the turn of events and made sure everyone knew it. Of all the boys, Ezra had spots everywhere. There wasnít a single area of skin that didnít have spots. At first everyone was teasing Ezra about his appearance until Josiah noticed Ezra was withdrawing from everyone and everything. He spent hours in his room sitting in the dark and wouldnít let anyone turn up the lights. He hid whenever people came to visit and getting him to go to the doctors was a major battle just to get him out of the house. The teasing stopped, but Ezra didnít want anyone to see him. Josiah tried to comfort him but Ezra just asked to be left alone and then cried himself to sleep.
A week before Christmas, Chris figured the boys needed a diversion. Josiah and Buck went out and got a tree and everyone set about decorating the house for the holidays. With several attempts, Josiah finally convinced Ezra to join the family in trimming the tree. By the end of the afternoon, Ezra seemed to have forgotten the spots and was enjoying himself. When the tree was finished, they turned out the lights and lit the tree.
As Christmas got closer, JD recovered completely with Nathan following him. While Ezra and Vin were feeling better, they still had the scabs as evidence of the pox. Ezra had shared with Vin that his one and only wish was for the scabs to be gone by Christmas morning.
Christmas came and went, and so did the last of the chicken pox.
Josiah was getting his jacket on to meet Chris for lunch, when the phone on his desk rang. Since it may be Chris, Josiah quickly picked it up.
"Mr. Sanchez. This is Principal Stanley at the middle school."
"Yes, Mr. Stanley. What can I do for you?"
"I need you to come down to the school. There has been more trouble with Mr. Standish."
Josiah sighed. "What did he do this time?"
"We caught him playing a high stakes poker game in the boyís locker room."
"Where is he now?"
"I sent him back to class and told him I was contacting you to come fetch him."
"Iím meeting Chris and then we both will be there within the hour."
"Iíll let him know. Do you want him in the office when you arrive?"
"No sir. Chris and I can fetch him after we talk."
"Very good. Iíll be expecting you and your brother shortly."
"Thank you Mr. Stanley." Josiah hung up and sighed. Iím going to kill him. Josiah walked out of his office and locked the door. A quick stop to tell the Captain he was taking the rest of the afternoon off, Josiah headed for the lobby to meet Chris.
"Ready for lunch big brother?" Chris asked with a smile.
"A quick one. The middle school just called."
Chris groaned. "What did Ezra do this time?"
"High stakes poker game." Josiah got into his suburban and Chris followed.
"When will that boy ever learn?"
"Soon, if his self preservation works. Can you get away to go with me or do you need to be back to the station?"
"I have the afternoon off. Vin has a dentist appointment at 2:00."
Josiah looked at Chris. "Did I know that?"
"Donít sweat Josiah. I only made the appointment 3 days ago. Vin has been favoring the left side of his mouth so I made an appointment."
"He doesnít know does he?" Josiah said with a smirk.
"Hell no! He would just tell me he was Ďfineí and get out of it someway. This way I figure he doesnít stress about it for days."
"Smart move." Josiah pulled into the KFC close to the school. Both brothers ate a quick lunch and then headed for the middle school. As they walked up the school steps, Chris asked, "What are we going to do about Ezra?"
"I was just going to wring his neck. Whatís your plan?" Josiah smiled.
"Pretty much the same as yours."
"Well then, letís go kill our little brother." Josiah and Chris entered the office and smiled at the secretary.
"Hey Mandy. Weíre here to see Mr. Stanley."
"Heís expecting you, so you can go right in."
"Thanks Mandy." Chris said as he followed Josiah into the principalís office. He could still remember spending a lot of time in the principalís offices in all of the schools he attended. His father was a familiar face also.
Josiah entered the office and shook Mr. Stanleyís hand, followed by Chris. Both brothers sat down in front of the principalís desk.
"Iím sorry to get you gentlemen down here under these circumstances again, but Ezraís complete disregard for school policy has gone over the line this time. Ezra is a very smart young man, but he appears to get bored and thatís what is causing a lot of the problems. He acts out in class and has been disruptive all week. Miss Marshall has sent him out of the class room at least once a day for the last week."
"Mr. Stanley. I hadnít realized Ezra was being disruptive all week or I would have put a stop to it immediately."
"Notes were sent home, and signed according to Miss Marshall."
"We never saw any notes but that will be dealt with also."
"I have no other choice but to suspend Ezra until next Wednesday. When he comes back he will be required to do two weeks detention."
"Sounds fair enough." Chris said.
"I should also warn you Mr. Stanley, that Iím going to be home schooling Ezra next year. Weíre in the process of getting all of the paper work needed to have me teach Ezra, Vin and JD."
"That may be the best thing for Ezra. He could definitely benefit from some one-on-one learning."
"Thank you for your time Mr. Stanley. Weíll deal with these problems and Iím sorry about the gambling. I guarantee it will stop." Josiah stood and shook the principalís hand.
"Very well gentlemen. I will see you and Ezra in a week."
"Thank you." Chris and Josiah headed out of the office and toward Ezraís classroom. Chris could tell, that Josiah was having a difficult time controlling his anger. He didnít want to kill Era in school; such things should be done at home. Chris let a small chuckle out.
"Whatís so funny?" Josiah sneered.
"Nothing. I was just wondering if you were going to be able to keep from killing Ezra in front of his class."
Josiah forced a small smile. "Iíll try my best."
Both brothers arrived at Ezraís class and knocked on the door. Upon seeing Josiah, Miss Marshall told Ezra to gather up his books. Ezra noticed the arrival of his very angry brother also.
"Maíam. I would rather stay here. Itís safer."
"Ezra, you brother is waiting. I would think you were in enough trouble without making it worse."
Ezra looked toward Josiah and saw fury in his eyes. Josiah moved into the room and said, "NOW EZRA!"
"But Josiah, school isnít over yet." Ezra stalled.
Josiah walked over to Ezra and took him firmly by the arm, "I said NOW," and dragged him out of the room.
Chris smiled at Miss Marshall as he gathered Ezraís books. "Sorry about the disturbance Miss Marshall. Ezraís been suspended for a week, so heíll be back Wednesday. Do you want him to continue on his work?"
"Certainly. I collected all the books and assignments already." The teacher handed all of Ezraís work to Chris and then Chris headed after Josiah.
Somewhere between being hauled out of the classroom and the suburban, Josiah had retrieved Ezraís coat and book bag. When Chris arrived at the suburban, Ezra was quietly crying in the backseat, rubbing his arm and backside.
Josiah drove back to the police department to drop Chris off. "Iíll see you at home?" Chris asked.
"Yes. Ezra and I are going to have a long talk." Josiah glanced from Ezra back to Chris.
"Okay. Iíll see you after Vinís appointment. Buckís picking up JD."
"Good." Chris walked to his car and headed for the elementary school; the entire time praying Josiah wouldnít kill Ezra.
When Chris and Vin returned home, it was almost dinnertime. Everyone was home and the house was full of activity. Josiah was playing with JD in the family room and Nathan was reading. Ezra wasnít in sight, while Buck was washing up for dinner. Chris helped Vin remove his coat and sent him to wash up for dinner. Chris sat on the couch and smiled at Josiah the Ďhorseyí and JD the Ďcowboyí.
"Whereís Ezra? You kill him and hide the body?"
"Funny. We had a nice long talk and heís now in his room working on the pile of homework he has for the next week."
"Have we figured out how Ezra is going to be supervised for the next week?"
"We could always ask Nettie, but I wouldnít do that to Nettie. I have the time, I might as well find out what it will feel like to stay home all day and teach."
"I have some time also if you canít get the whole week."
"Already have. I spoke to Captain Harrison less than an hour ago. He said it was okay and that if anything came up and they needed me, he would let me lock Ez in the holding tank." Josiah smiled.
"Iíd pay to see that." Buck added as he entered the room. "So what kind of trouble did he cause this time?"
"Poker game." Chris and Josiah said together.
The tree of them had a good laugh.
"Dinner will be ready in 20 minutes. You boys go wash up and someone needs to set the table." Nettie said from the kitchen door.
"Yes maíam was heard from everyone."
"Iíll call Ezra to do it." Josiah stood up and went upstairs to get Ezra. Nathan came into the family room and asked, "Hey Chris?"
"I got my letter today." Chris looked up and saw how happy Nathan appeared.
"Well let me see." Chris smiled back as Nate handed the letter to Chris. "This is great Nathan. Itís an honor to get into this med school. You should be very proud. I know I am."
"Thanks Chris. Itís going to be weird not going to high school. College will be so much work."
"Just remember, it should be fun too. The next five or six years should be a great learning experience. Enjoy yourself at the same time as you learn. The whole life experience is more valuable then just the medical degree."
Nathan grinned like a fool. He was happier than he had been in over a year. Thinking about his father made him frown slightly and Chris guessed what the change was from.
"Dad would be very proud Nate."
"Yeah I know." He wiped away a stray tear. "I just wish he was here to see me graduate and then become a doctor."
"He can see you Nate. You carry him with you in your heart. Whenever you need an answer to a tough question or problem, just ask yourself what dad would say. And you have us. We are all very proud of you and we love you." Chris hugged Nate close. After a few minutes, they separated and smiled at each other.
"Well, soon to be Dr. Jackson, letís eat." Nathan quickly washed his face for supper, while Chris helped JD and Vin get settled. Buck joined the fray as Ezra tried to sit lightly on his chair. Even with the extra cushion, his backside was on fire from his little talk with Josiah. Josiah was the last to sit down.
Grace was said and food was dished out. Nettie had made a special soft dinner for Vin since he had a couple fillings filled at the dentist and his mouth still hurt. Buck shared with the family that he passed all of his finals at the academy and that graduation was in two weeks. After that, he would be starting as a rookie in Vice with Chris.
After supper, everyone sat down and told Ezra, Vin and JD that Josiah was leaving the police force and staying home to teach school, starting in September. JD had a million questions and Josiah tried to answer them all. Vin liked the idea of not having to go to school. He hated feeling dumb and hating getting picked on by his classmates. He knew Josiah would never say he was stupid.
Ezra had mixed feelings. He didnít mind school except he found it boring. He wasnít so sure staying home was going to be any better, but he was willing to try. The next week should be a good indicator of whether he could adjust to the change.
After little brothers were tucked into bed, Chris, Josiah, and Buck sat down with coffee to enjoy the peace and quiet.
"So Josiah? How did you convince Ezra to behave for the rest of the school year?"
"That was the easy part Chris."
"Ya beat it into him?" Buck asked.
"No. I did spank him, but that was mostly for the forgery of my signature on the notes we never saw."
"Then what did you say? He appeared to be very contrite after dinner, trying to assure you he was going to be a model student until June."
"Iíll believe that when I see it." Buck added.
"I donít know Buck. He had a look about him that makes me believe he was frightened of something, and that fear was going to keep him in line. So I ask again, Josiah, what did you do?"
"I simply told him what I would do if he caused any more trouble at school."
"What? You threatened to hang him by his toes?" Josiah shook his head. "Ground him for life?" Again, Josiah shook his head. "What? What could be so bad that Ezra would be so afraid to cause more trouble?"
"I simply told him, that I wasnít going to yell or spank him anymore for his bad behavior in school."
"WHAT? And that worked?" Buck asked.
"Whatís the rest Josiah?" Chris asked with curiosity.
"Well, I did mention that I would follow him to school and throughout the day to assure he behaved."
Chris and Buck started to laugh. "Yep." Buck said. "That would scare me."
"Me too." Chris added.
Both Buck and Chris had to dodge Josiah as he lunged at his cheeky brothers. Josiah joined their laughter and smiled. Changes were on the way and they would face them all, as a family.