CHRISTMAS REMEMBERED image by Maggie
CHRISTMAS REMEMBERED

by Kate Standish

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Part1: Ezra

 

It was Christmas Eve and the terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was a hive of activity as hundreds of holiday travelers were stranded and at the mercy of Mother Nature.  The blizzard had begun to rage around noon and now, in the half-light of the late December afternoon it seemed, if anything, even stronger. A fierce, icy wind blew the snow before it, obliterating almost everything from sight.

Vin jumped up from his seat and paced to the window to stare out at the blowing and drifting snow.  From his vantage point above the runway, he could see that the airport personnel were fighting a losing battle. Their snowplows just couldn’t keep up with the onslaught of snow that was falling from the ever-darkening sky.

 

Their flight back to Denver was going to be grounded for some time yet.

 

This was not how he had planned on spending his Christmas Eve. 

 

Since Christmas fell on a Thursday this year, Judge Travis had given them a four-day weekend and the seven had made plans to celebrate the holiday at Larabee’s ranch, just as they had done every year since the team had formed. 

 

Leave it to the Federal Government to throw a kink into their plans. 

 

When he had arrived at work on Monday, Vin found that he and Ezra were ‘requested’ to attend a series of training seminars in Chicago.  The flu bug was hitting that city at an alarming rate and, as luck would have it, two of the instructors that had come down with it were experts in their fields of undercover and tactical weapons training.  Under the circumstances, there was nothing Judge Travis could do but accept the ‘requests’…. and so here they were….snowbound in a strange city on Christmas Eve with no way of getting home. 

 

When they had arrived at the airport to find that their flight was delayed, the undercover man had used every trick in his arsenal to obtain a vehicle for them.  It would have been a long drive, but they still would have been able to make it home by Christmas day. Unfortunately a lot of other people had the same idea and there was not one rental car available in the entire city. So now all they could do was wait and hope that the weather would clear.

 

As Vin returned to his chair, he rolled his eyes at his friend. He was mystified as to how the southerner could be completely unaware of the chaos going on around him.  Ezra was totally immersed in a leather-bound book and looked as comfortable as if he were sitting at home before a roaring fire.  The only thing missing was a glass of sherry in his hand.  

 

For the tenth time in two minutes, Vin started to rise from his seat when he felt Ezra lightly grab his arm. 

 

Without looking up from the book he was reading, Ezra spoke, “Please cease and desist, Vin. You’re incessant pacing isn’t going to get us home any sooner.”

 

Vin glanced at his friend and then flopped back down into the chair, “I know, Ez,” he said as he ran his hands through his hair, “just never thought I’d be spending Christmas Eve in an airport surrounded by hundreds of people.”  He sighed heavily as he slouched down in his seat.  “What imbecile decided to schedule training two days before Christmas anyway? In Chicago, no less…don’t they know it snows here? ’Course we’re gonna get stranded.”

 

Ezra calmly closed the book he had been reading, returning it to the front pocket of his carry-on bag. He grinned at his companion.  It was very rare to find Vin in a talkative mood, but apparently today was one of those days. “Imbecile…I’m impressed.  I must say that your vocabulary has improved dramatically since we first met.”

 

“Shut up, Ez,” Vin fired back at his friend before he went on, “How do you do it anyway?”

 

“Do what?” Ezra inquired.

 

“Stay s’calm, don’t ya wanna get home.”

 

Ezra contemplated his answer. “Of course I am anxious to get home, Vin, however, as the situation is out of my control, I see no point in becoming agitated about it.” He stared pointedly at his companion.

 

Vin looked inquisitively at his friend.  Even though Ezra had joined the team over three years ago, there was still a lot about the southerner that had yet to be revealed. Now was as good a time as any to find out a little bit more about the man.  Besides, Ezra had nowhere to run. Vin chuckled at the thought even as he asked, “So, Ez, what’s the best Christmas ya ever had?”

 

“Other than the last three?” The words escaped Ezra’s lips before he even realized what he said.  He ducked his head hoping that in the noise of the surrounding crowd Vin wouldn’t have heard his comment. Unfortunately for him, the sharpshooter’s hearing was exceptional.

 

“Yeah,” Vin replied, “besides the last three.” He glanced at his friend, but before he could question him further his cell phone rang. “It’s Chris,” he said as he flipped it open.  “Hey, cowboy…yep, still stuck here…. nope, don’t know when we’re getting out yet….yep, I’ll call ya when we know….”

 

The conversation continued on for several more minutes.

 

Ezra laughed quietly to himself.  Tanner was really in a talkative mood and he wished he could see Chris’ face on the other end of the line. 

 

Vin closed his phone with a sigh.

 

“And how fare our compatriots?” Ezra asked, “Are they enjoying this lovely frozen gift from Mother Nature?”

 

“Nope,” Vin answered, “sunny and 60 there today, Chris said it was nice enough to take the horses out for a ride.”

 

Ezra stared at the sharpshooter in stunned disbelief.

 

“Warmest Christmas Eve on record,” Vin continued, “…anyway, you were gonna tell me about your best Christmas…”

 

“On one condition,” Ezra said as he looked into the expressive blue eyes of his friend, “once I have shared, you must reciprocate.”

 

“You got yourself a deal there, pard,” Vin replied as he settled comfortably into his chair. This was going to be interesting.

 

“I was 7 years old and my mother was off to who knows where.   I would imagine that she had some sort of con going at the time, even if it was Christmas…”

 

 Vin could hear a note of sadness in Ezra’s voice.

 

“…and somehow she convinced my grandfather and Nana Caroline….”

 

“Nana?” Vin interrupted Ezra’s story.  “You called your grandma, Nana?” 

 

“Yes. Why is that so surprising?”  Ezra asked.

 

“I just thought that you would’ve called her Grandmother or somethin’ like that.”  Vin was amazed that Ezra would use such an affectionate term as Nana; it had taken the other six men well over a year to get him to finally use their own first names.  

 

“I suppose that technically she would have been my step-grandmother.” Ezra responded to Vin’s statement,  “She was my grandfather’s second wife; his first wife, Maude’s mother, had passed away several years before and Nana Caroline was the daughter of a close friend of my grandfather’s.  Needless to say she was quite a few years younger than him.”

 

Vin leaned forward in his chair, fascinated.

 

“That Christmas was actually the first time I met her and I’ll never forget her response when I called her ‘grandmother’.”  Ezra’s green eyes sparkled and his gold tooth flashed.  “My mother dropped me off at their house and I, being my mother’s son, walked up to them, stretched out my hand and said ‘Hello, Grandfather, Grandmother’ just as my mother had taught me.  Well, to everyone’s surprise, including my own, she knelt down in front of me, wrapped me in a great big hug, and said, and I quote, ‘Ezra, darlin,’ a ‘grandmother’ is a big old lady with a poker down her back.  Do I look like a grandmother to you?’

 

Ezra started to chuckle and Vin joined in.  He was having a great time listening to his friend; the man knew how to weave a tale.

 

“She was the furthest thing from that description as I had ever seen,” Ezra continued, “so I said to her, very politely, ‘No, Ma’am.’ I can remember her looking at me in surprise and then she did the most wonderful thing…” Ezra paused for effect, “she leaned forward and whispered in my ear, ‘Ezra, you sweet thing, you just call me Nana Caroline and we will get along just fine’ and then she gave me a very gentle kiss on the cheek.”

 

Vin watched as Ezra reached up and touched his cheek as if recalling that exact moment.  Having met Maude, Vin knew that she offered very little in the way of affection to her son, and he was glad to hear that there had been someone in Ezra’s life that had offered him the attention and love that he craved. 

 

Ezra continued, “…so from that moment on she was just Nana Caroline. She then proceeded to look up at my mother and said, ‘Grandmother… ma’am! Maude, dear, why does this lovely child speak as if he were fifty years old?’” 

 

Vin wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes, “Bet Maude really loved that!”  

 

The southerner smirked at his friend, “Needless to say, my dear mother was frightfully offended by that comment. She and Nana Caroline never really did see eye to eye on most things… myself included.” 

 

Vin listened quietly as Ezra continued to reminisce, “She was … exquisite; a petite little lady no bigger than our own Miss Wells. Nana Caroline had the appearance of a porcelain doll, but she was anything but delicate and she made that Christmas one of the best that I have ever known.”

 

Ezra paused in his reflections and Vin could see that his friend had been taken to another place and time. 

 

Shaking his head and chuckling softly to himself, Ezra pulled his thoughts back to the present, “It wasn’t so much that I was actually given a lot of presents that year, but just the fact that I was surrounded by so much….” He paused again, as if trying to find the right words.

 

“Love,” Vin supplied quietly.

 

Ezra looked up in surprise and then he smiled, “Exactly, Vin. Love.”

 

“Your Nana Caroline must have been quite a lady.” Vin commented, “Wish I could’ve met her.”

 

“Maybe one day you will, my friend; she has promised on several occasions to visit me, but it hasn’t worked out for her to do so yet.”

 

Vin was taken aback, “Oh, but I thought….”

 

Ezra laughed at the expression on the Texan’s face, “As I said, Vin, she was considerably younger than my grandfather.  In fact, I would say that she is comparatively close in age to my mother. Of course, I can’t say for certain as a true gentleman would never ask. And now, my friend, it’s your turn to…..” 

 

Flight 3529 to Denver is now boarding at gate 41….flight 3529 to Denver is now boarding at gate 41….

 

Vin looked up as the message was announced over the airport PA system.  Grabbing his carry-on from underneath his chair, he turned to his friend. “Come on, Ez, it’s time to go home. I’ll give Chris a call and let him know we’re on our way.”

 

Ezra nodded, surprised to find that while he had been reminiscing the weather had cleared enough for their flight to depart.  He quickly gathered his belongings and followed after his friend.

 

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Part 2: Vin

 

Ezra knew of Vin’s aversion to confined spaces, so when the Texan had taken off on his second jaunt around the terminal to relieve some of his pent-up energy, he had risen gracefully from his chair and approached the ticket agent. With a twinkle of his green eyes and a flash of his dimpled smile, the weary clerk was more than happy to give him an upgrade to first class.  So it was to Vin’s surprise that as soon as they boarded the plane, Ezra stopped in front of the first row of seats, indicating to Vin that he take the one next to the window.

 

Vin looked at his friend in confusion.

 

Ezra grinned as he said, “While you were off on one of your rounds of the airport, I was able to procure us an upgrade. Please have a seat.”

 

Vin smirked as he sat down. Not only had Standish gotten them better seats but he had also gotten them ones in the first row with the most of amount of leg room. They were going to have a very comfortable flight home. 

 

Contrary to Vin’s belief that he was unaware of the chaos going on around them during their long wait in the terminal, Ezra had observed quite a few things, including the effect that the Texan was having on the female population.  He had noticed that a group of young women were watching his friend and then whispering and giggling behind their hands.  As this same group of ladies boarded the plane right behind them, Ezra glanced at Vin out of the corner of his eye. 

 

Vin was settling into his seat and buckling his seat belt, totally oblivious to the glances that these same women were throwing his way. 

 

Ezra grinned as he, too, buckled his seatbelt.  Tanner had no idea that his own ‘animal magnetism’ could rival Buck’s on any day. 

 

Once their flight had taken off and Vin’s white-knuckled grip on the arm of his seat had lessened, Ezra set out to put his friend at ease by continuing the conversation that they had been having earlier.

 

“So, my friend, since we have quite a long flight ahead of us, now would be the perfect time for you to reciprocate and tell me about the best Christmas that you have ever had.”

 

As the two men settled more comfortably in their seats and accepted the drinks that the flight attendant was passing out, Vin’s thoughts went back in time. 

 

“I was 10 and my grandpa had just died...”

 

Ezra could hear a note of sadness in Vin’s voice.

 

“….and I was being sent to a foster home,” Vin continued, “I wasn’t quite sure what to expect being sent to live with strangers and all, but they were a real nice family.  Mr. Thatcher was a truck driver so he wasn’t home a whole lot, so Mrs. Thatcher took in foster kids to help with their income. They had two children of their own and another foster kid, Sam, who was my age…”

 

As Ezra listened to his friend reminisce, he realized just how very much they had in common.  He knew what it was like to be shuttled from family to family and the holidays were always the worst, except when he was able to stay with Nana Caroline, but at least he knew that Maude would come to get him eventually.  He couldn’t imagine what his friend’s childhood had been like knowing that he had no real family of his own.

 

“…me and Sam had a lot of fun together that Christmas. On Christmas Eve, Mrs. Thatcher dragged us all into the kitchen…she was making gingerbread men for the neighbor kids….I remember me and Sam standing around the kitchen table putting faces on those things…” Vin laughed, “there musta been a hundred of ‘em. Well, once we was done some of those little men had the funniest expressions...”

 

Vin startled to chuckle and Ezra joined in.  He was having a great time listening to his friend; the man knew how to weave a tale. 

 

“…but Mrs. Thatcher didn’t care. She took both me and Sam in her arms and gave us the biggest hugs and told us we were right fine artists, then we divided out those cookies and took ‘em around to all the kids in the neighborhood.  They lived in a real poor area of town and I think for some of those kids that was the only thing they was gonna get for Christmas.”

 

Vin stopped to take a sip of his drink, “I can remember the looks on their faces…and I realized then that there’s a real joy to givin’….lot more than you’ll ever get from receivin’….”

 

Vin paused in his reflections and Ezra could see that his friend had been taken to another place and time.

 

Shaking his head and chuckling softly to himself, Vin pulled his thoughts back to the present, “…and Mrs. Thatcher could make a mean peach pie…’bout the best I ever tasted,” he paused, “…just don’t tell Ms. Nettie I said that….”

 

Ezra laughed.  He also enjoyed Ms. Nettie’s peach pies and he certainly wasn’t going to be the one to tell her.  Heaven forbid if she ever quit making them!

 

Vin continued, “That was the first and last Christmas that I spent with ‘em….stayed with ‘em a few more months and then they had themselves another baby and Mrs. Thatcher just couldn’t handle five kids so they moved me to another home. I guess the thing that made that Christmas so special was the feeling of….” He paused, as if trying to find the right words.

 

“Family,” Ezra supplied quietly.

 

Vin looked up in surprise and then he smiled, “Yep. Family.”

 

“The Thatcher’s sound like wonderful people, Vin. Do you still keep in touch with them?” Ezra asked.

 

Vin nodded. “Yep, still hear from ‘em every so often. Sam, too.”

 

Both men became quiet as they reflected on the people that had meant so much to them when they were younger.  Before they realized it, the pilot’s voice came over the intercom.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, we will be landing in approximately five minutes. Thank you for flying United Airlines and welcome to Denver.  The flight crew wishes you all a very, merry Christmas.

 

As the airplane finally taxied to the gate and stopped, the two men, by mutual and silent agreement, sat patiently in their seats as the rest of the passengers quickly retrieved their luggage from the overhead bins and from under their seats.  They were more than willing to wait for the others to disembark.

 

Due to strict airline regulations most families would be meeting their friends and relatives outside of the terminal or at baggage claim, but both Ezra and Vin knew that Chris would have pulled some strings and would be waiting for them as they exited the plane. 

 

Once the last passenger had disembarked, they grabbed their luggage and left the plane.   

 

As they walked side by side down the concourse and saw the other five members of their family waiting for them at the end, the two men reflected on the meaning of Christmas.  It wasn’t about where you were; it was about who you were with. 

 

They glanced at each other and grinned. This Christmas Eve might not have gone as they had planned, but it was definitely right up there with the best. 

 

THE END

 

 

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