Ezra stood back and put his head to one side. His hand came up to cup his chin as he studied his handiwork.
“I believe I have straightened the troublesome tilt.” He said aloud, satisfied that the Christmas tree he’d just bought and dragged into his apartment was now most definitely upright and at a ninety degree angle.
He sighed as he knelt down and reached into the shopping bag he’d dumped on the floor when he’d got home. “Now to put some light into the proceedings.” He said, once more aloud, as he pulled out a box containing one hundred and eighty small white lights.
He sat on the floor with his back to the sofa and began to unravel the lights from their packaging. As his fingers worked his mind wandered back to the office earlier that day.
Vin emerged from the kitchen, clutching a steaming mug of coffee. The grin on his face told everyone present that he’d won another victory.
“Vin, you’re playing with fire, boy. Chris is gonna skin you alive one o’ these days.”
Vin threw Buck a wicked look. “Hell Buck, he don’t scare me. Anyhow I was just pointin’ out to ‘im that the coffee I got to take out to the ranch with us tonight was gonna be a darn sight better than the powdered milk he calls coffee.”
A loud exclamation followed by several curses travelled out from the closed kitchen door.
“Oh yeah.” Vin added as he sat down, a wider grin on his face. “I made ‘im some coffee too. Threw his away when ‘e wasn’t lookin’ and made coffee like it should be.”
“Ya mean thick as molasses, and black as soot.” Buck threw over his shoulder as he sauntered bravely out to the kitchen.
Vin put down his mug, sat back in his chair, and scanned the room. His eyes rested on Ezra’s back. The southerner had been quiet all day, and that wasn’t like him.
“Hey Ez. What’s troublin’ ya pard? Ain’t like ya t’ be quiet, ‘specially not on Christmas Eve.”
Ezra sighed, he knew that he’d be singled out eventually. He put down his pencil and swivelled around in his seat to face Vin. “Mr Tanner, did it ever occur to you that I may be endeavouring to clear my desk of any outstanding or pending reports, to leave the way clear for a worry free day tomorrow?”
Vin pushed himself to his feet, grabbed his steaming coffee mug and sauntered over to Ezra, perching on the edge of his desk. He grinned as he heard Chris shouting and Buck’s loud laughter coming from the closed kitchen door.
“Think you may have ruffled one too many of Chris’s feathers today, Vin.” Josiah observed as he passed by the two men and sat at his desk.
“Aw hell, Josiah. Just tryin’ to educate ‘im on the finer points o’ coffee makin’.”
Vin turned back and looked at Ezra’s perturbed face. “Ya want me t’ pick ya up tonight, Ez?” he asked his Armani suited friend.
“No thank you, Vin. I think I may be busy tonight.”
The Texan slid off the desk and grabbed Buck’s chair. Pulling it over to Ezra’s desk he flopped into it and stared at the southerner.
“What? Ya mean yer not comin’ out t’ the ranch tonight? But Ez, we was all goin’. Won’t be the same if yer not there.”
Ezra stared at the report in front of him, but didn’t see what was written on the paper. He just wished Vin would leave him alone. He thought he could just not turn up at the ranch tonight and leave a message on Chris’s answer machine, telling him something had come up. But no! Vin had to pick up on his mood, like he always seemed to be able to do. Damn him!
“I’m sure you’ll survive.” Ezra said wryly. “Now if you don’t mind, I really would like to try and get these reports finished.” He picked up his pencil and pretended to scan the form, dismissing Vin’s presence as best as he could.
Vin opened his mouth to say something else but closed it again as loud voices broke into the awkward silence. The kitchen door had been flung open and an angry faced Chris had stormed out, closely followed by Buck.
Chris stopped at Vin’s desk and glared down the office at the Texan.
“Vin, why is it that you‘re always at someone elses desk and never your own?”
“I reckon it must be the wanderlust in me, Chris. Jist can’t stay in one place fer too long.”
“Well, get your sorry ass back up here and finish the Kendrick report. Or you’ll be working over Christmas.”
Ezra breathed a sigh of relief as Vin rose from the chair beside him and strolled back to his own desk. At least he was safe for now.
“Hell, Chris. I reckon yer middle name must be Ebediah…uh…Ebe…uh…well, you know, that Scrooge fellas name.”
“Ebeneezer.” Six voices chorused.
“That’s the fella.”
Vin reached his desk and sat heavily in his chair, Chris following his progress all the while with a Larabee glare fixed on his face. “Hey Chris, d’ya know Ez ain’t comin’ out t’ the ranch tonight?” Vin informed him.
Chris shot a glance at the southerners back, and was sure he saw it stiffen. “No, I didn’t.” He nodded in Vin’s direction. “You just worry yourself about getting that report done, and not about what other people are doing.” He didn’t wait for a reply, but made his way the small distance to stand at Ezra’s desk.
“You can’t make it, Ez?”
The southerner looked up from his report, deciding that next time he had the opportunity to fire a gun, he would ‘accidentally’ put a bullet in Vin’s rear end. “I may have to give you a rain check, Mr Larabee. Things have materialised that may prevent me from attending.”
Chris studied the under cover agents face for a moment and then nodded his head. “Well, let us know, Ez. Try and come by later if you can make it.”
“I will endeavour to do that, Mr Larabee.” Ezra returned his attention once more to his report, hoping that that would be the end of the questions.
The day wore on, with Vin being like a cat on a hot tin roof, and his mood rubbing off on JD who developed ants in his pants, the nearer to laying off time it got. Ezra was relieved when, in a flurry of excitement and loud voices, five men got into the elevator. The last words he heard as the elevator doors closed were from Nathan and he couldn’t stop the smile that broke out on his face.
“Vin, you don’t calm down, I’m gonna stick a syringe full o’ morphine up your ass.”
Ezra grabbed his coat. The smile still played on his lips as he put an arm into the expensive wool garment. He was startled by a voice.
“Ezra? Everything alright? Didn’t wanna ask you too much while Vin and the others were still here.”
Ezra looked at Chris Larabee who was standing in his office doorway, a few feet from the southerners’s desk.
“Yes, Chris. Everything is alright. It has just come about that my Mother has decided to bless me with her presence for the next two days. She will be arriving tonight.”
“You happy about that, Ezra?”
Ezra thought hard about the question Chris had asked him before he answered. “Yes, I believe I am. When I was a child growing up, my Mother wasn’t always around for holidays and birthdays and so it will be a rare and welcome occurrence to spend Christmas with her.” Ezra had surprised himself. He didn’t realise, until he’d said the words aloud, that he really was looking forward to spending some quality time with his Mother. Usually when they met, it was brief, and his Mother always found fault with who he was with, what he was wearing, and, well just about everything. But, this time it would be different. She was staying with him until the day after Christmas, and they would have time on their hands to just…talk, and reacquaint themselves with each other.
Ezra realised he’d been standing, staring ahead with a silly grin on his face; Chris watching him all the while. “I’m sorry Mr Larabee, I had no idea, until this moment, how much this visit means to me.” He spoke the words almost incredulously, hardly believing himself that he felt that way.
“I’m glad for you, Ezra.” Chris moved forward and slapped the southerner on the back. “Have fun with your Mother. Hell, wish I was spending tonight with mine. The thought of JD and Vin running around tonight, with party poppers and whistling balloons does not make me look forward to it.”
The men shared an amused grin. They knew Chris only half meant what he said. Vin and JD were like a breath of fresh air when they started their antics. And they knew how much Christmas meant to them, Vin in particular. He hadn’t had much experience of a fun filled Christmas until way past his childhood years and it had given the men a warm glow to watch his excitement building as the holiday season grew close.
If the truth were known, Ezra had been having the same feelings of excitement as Vin. As a child, he hadn’t seen very much Christmas cheer. Oh, he’d had all of the gifts and the rich food and the warmth of a large fire in the hearth. But he hadn’t experienced the same warmth from his Mother. When she’d been around, she’d made him so happy that she was spending time with him, however brief. But some years, she would be abroad somewhere with her latest conquest, and had left Ezra behind with his Nanny.
The thought of Christmas Eve at Chris’s had appealed to him greatly and he was silently looking forward to the event. Then, when he’d received the call from his Mother, yesterday morning, he was ashamed to admit that he’d had a sinking feeling in his heart.
But now that had changed and he was looking forward to it.
“See you in a coupla days, Ez. Have fun.”
Chris brought Ezra out of his pondering. “Wait, I’ll ride the elevator with you, Mr Larabee.”
Chris raised an eyebrow as the southerner rushed over and stepped into the elevator just before the doors were about to close.
“Ride the elevator, Ez?” Chris looked at the smartly dressed man beside him, a smile playing on his lips. “Think Vin is beginning to rub off on you.”
Ezra chuckled. “He does have a way of doing that doesn’t he?”
The elevator doors shut as the two men shared their laughter.
Ezra stood up, the lights laid neatly across his arm. He walked towards the tree and began to arrange the bulbs. His thoughts travelled back again, recalling the events of earlier that afternoon.
He’d been so excited when he’d entered his apartment earlier that day. He knew he had about an hour before his Mother was due to arrive and wanted to go out and buy the best damn tree in Denver.
As he’d thrown his keys on the breakfast bar, his eyes caught sight of the red flashing light on his answer machine, telling him that he had new messages.
Grabbing a Dr Pepper from the refrigerator, he fleetingly thought of Vin and grinned. The Texan would have a field day if he knew that Ezra actually drank Dr Pepper. Vin was always trying to get him to drink what he referred to as ‘every day drinks’, and Ezra wasn’t going to admit to him that he’d actually taken a sip from a can of Dr Pepper that Vin had left in the kitchen one day at the office, and had actually liked it. He’d had a constant supply in his apartment ever since. Always careful to hide it when he knew Vin was coming over.
He walked over to the breakfast bar and pushed the play button on his answer phone, and an electronic voice told him he had one message, sent today at fourteen hundred hours and twenty three minutes.
Ezra sat down on a stool and waited for the message to play. His heart sank as he heard his Mother’s voice.
“Ezra, darling. I am so sorry. Something has come up and I cannot make our appointment. Have a wonderful Christmas and I will speak to you on my return.”
The line went dead, and Ezra sat silently on the stool. The Dr Pepper still held in his hand, he squeezed the can tightly, spilling the drink onto the breakfast bar. The liquid continued to pour from the can as the southerner continued to squeeze, not noticing the fizzy drink dripping on his Armani trousers, and not even feeling the sharp edges of the can cutting his hand and fingers as the pressure broke the tin almost in two.
He sat there, not moving, for he wasn’t sure how long. When reality finally returned, he felt his wet trouser leg and looked down at the dark stain caused by the fizzy drink.
He cursed and jumped from the stool, almost falling hard on his butt as his foot slid on the liquid that had spilled onto the floor. He looked down at the can still in his hand, and noticed the blood that almost covered his hand and fingers.
Walking over to the trash can, he threw away the remains of the Dr Pepper can and grabbed a towel which he wrapped around his still bleeding hand.
“Ah well, another Christmas Eve with James Stewart.” He said to himself, knowing that, on at least one cable station, they would be showing ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.
He stopped walking, and stood in the middle of his living room. Looking around him he realised how dreary the place looked. He thought fleetingly about cleaning himself up and driving out to Chris's ranch, but dismissed the idea almost immediately. There would be too many questions to answer; ones that he didn’t feel like answering.
He turned and walked into his bathroom. Unravelling the towel he’d wrapped around his hand, he studied the wound. There were a few deep cuts but nothing life threatening. He turned on the cold faucet and held his hand under the flow of water, wincing as he felt the cuts sting as the water cleaned them.
Looking down at himself, with his soiled trousers and his bleeding hand, a lop sided smile crept onto his face. What a sorry sight he must look. Here he was, bleeding and covered with Dr Pepper, sulking because his Mother wasn’t spending Christmas with him.
For heaven’s sake, it wasn’t the first time he’d spent Christmas without her. Who needed her anyway? Who needed anyone? He could have a great Christmas on his own.
He opened the cabinet above the wash basin and pulled out a clean bandage. Drying his hand he wrapped the bandage around some gauze and applied the dressing expertly. He’d had plenty of practice helping Nathan patch up the cuts and bruises that Vin and JD had acquired from various antics, and knew how to dress a wound.
After changing into some sweat pants and a t-shirt he grabbed his coat and keys and left his apartment in search of a tree.
Vin wanted to try one last time. He knew that Ezra had been looking forward to the get together at the ranch and was curious and worried at the same time when he’d informed them that he wouldn’t be going after all. He pulled up outside Ezra’s apartment building, and climbing out of his clapped out jeep he headed for the southerners apartment.
“Ez, let me in.” Vin had been standing outside for nearly five minutes, and for the Texan that was an outlandish amount of time. He was eager to get to Chris’s and wanted to get on the road soon.
“C’mon Ez. I know yer in there. Y’aint had time t’ pretty yerself up to go out.” He waited for a reply but when he didn’t receive one he thrust his hands deep into his jacket pockets impatiently.
A triumphant smile appeared on his face as the fingers of his left hand rested on a metal object. “The clouds parted, and out came the sun….or somethin’.” Vin drawled as he pulled a single key from his pocket. He knew it was going to fit Ezra’s front door. The southerner had given him the key the week before so he could pick up his cell phone for him. He’d been running late for a court appearance, but knew he would need his cell phone, so Vin had offered to get it for him, and Ezra had given him a key to his apartment.
When the Texan had given Ezra his cell phone later that day, the key had been forgotten when an urgent stake out suddenly needed planning.
As Vin put the key in the lock and turned it, he wondered whether he should be entering Ezra’s apartment without his permission, but as the door opened, revealing an empty living room, Vin pushed his doubts aside and walked in, closing the door behind him.
He called out Ezra’s name several times before he realised that the Southerner was not at home. He was about to make his way towards the door when he noticed the mess in the kitchen and walked over to inspect it.
Vin’s brows furrowed in worry as he noticed the mixture of fizzy drink and blood on the breakfast bar. What the hell was going on? He figured that the injury Ezra had obviously sustained was not life threatening. There wasn’t enough blood for it to be too bad. Maybe Ezra had gone out on the town and hadn’t had time to clear up the mess before he left, although he would have had to get ready in record time to have left so soon.
Vin decided to give him a call just to check he was okay, before heading off to Chris’s. He reached for his cell phone and stopped in mid action as his eyes caught sight of the answer phone. The red light was flashing, telling him that Ezra had a message.
Vin knew that he was probably over stepping the bounds of their friendship as he reached out and pushed the rewind button, settling back on a stool uneasily as he waited for the message to play.
The Texan’s heart clenched as he heard Ezra’s Mothers words. It all began to fall into place. He turned off the answer machine as another message, received only ten minutes ago from a restaurant manager began to play. He was returning a call Ezra had made earlier that day. He’d booked a table for two for that evening and the manager was calling to confirm the booking.
Vin sat back on the stool, remembering all the times he’d spent Christmas alone, and recalling all the disappointments he’d had over the years, from people raising his hopes and then dashing them at the last moment. His heart went out to the southerner as he realised that he knew exactly how Ezra felt…only too well. He’d had his share of lonely, empty Christmases too.
“That ain’t gonna happen.” Vin said determinedly as he pushed himself off of the stool and made his way out of the apartment.
He walked to his jeep and climbed into the driver’s seat, returning peoples stares as they looked disapprovingly at the heap of metal that was his pride and joy. He shook his head and grinned. Hell, Ezra sure did live in a high falutin’ neighbourhood.
He reached for his cell phone and pushed a speed dial number.
Ezra studied the lights that now twinkled on the tree. Yes, they were nicely spaced, just how he liked them.
He bent down absently and, without taking his eyes from the mesmerising lights he reached into the shopping bag and pulled out some tree decorations. He looked at the different colours of the baubles, counting how many he had of each, trying to visualise a symmetrical pattern in his mind. “Oh, to hell with it. I think I’ll take a leaf out of Vin Tanners book and be spontaneous.”
He grabbed an armful of decorations and haphazardly hung them on the branches of the huge tree. His task completed he once again stepped back to admire his work.
“A masterpiece, Mr Standish.” He told himself. “I must congratulate you on your creative abilities.”
Picking up the now empty shopping bag he headed to the kitchen, wincing as he realised he hadn’t cleaned up the mess from the Dr Pepper and his bleeding hand. “A mans work is never done.” He sighed, and after throwing the bag in the trash can, he picked up a cloth and started to clean up the spilt liquid. The blood had turned the Dr Pepper a very interesting colour and Ezra pondered on what to call the exciting shade he had inadvertently discovered as he wiped over the breakfast bar.
His thoughts turned to the six men he was supposed to spend the evening with. He dismissed thoughts of his Mother as soon as they entered his head. He wasn’t ready to deal with that yet, the hurt feeling in his chest rose as soon as his mind thought of her and he didn’t want to make this Christmas any more lonely than it already was.
The six were probably all around the table in Chris’s kitchen, or seated with plates balanced on their laps, watching an old movie on tv, or a ball game.
Ezra sighed wistfully, almost wishing that he had the nerve and the energy to drive over to Chris’s and join in the mayhem he was sure that Vin and JD would soon be causing. He was always rolling his eyes and making droll comments about the two youngest members of the team. But right now he would give anything to hear Vin’s chuckle or Texan drawl and JD’s childlike exclamations of glee as the two men got up to their usual tricks and managed to earn themselves yet another dose of the famous Larabee glare.
A huge grin was firmly plastered on Ezra’s face as he threw the soiled cloth he’d used to clean up his mess in the trash. He retrieved another Dr Pepper from the refrigerator, and was about to head towards his sofa when the phone began to ring.
“Well Ezra, someone wants to speak to you. Wonders will never cease.” He reached for the phone and clicked the talk button, screwing up his face as the cuts on his hand stung at the movement.
There was no answer. After a few seconds he heard a click and the dial tone sounded in his ear.
He looked at the phone questioningly before replacing it in it’s cradle. “I was mistaken. Some other lucky soul is about to receive a call from a friend or loved one.” Ezra tutted at his forlorn words and spoke to himself once more. “For heavens sake man, get a grip on yourself. You are a grown man and are quite capable of spending an evening alone…” He walked to the sofa and as he sat down he reached for the remote control. “…all by yourself…” he pushed the button to turn the tv on and settled back into the sofa as James Stewart’s raspy tones filled the room. “...a solitary soul…” He smiled a bittersweet smile as he pulled the ring on his Dr Pepper and began to sing along with James Stewart. “Buffalo Girl won’t you come out tonight, aaaaaaand dance by the light of the moooooon.”
Vin hung up the phone and grinned sheepishly to himself. He’d been busy since leaving Ezra’s apartment. He was leaving nothing to chance and the final piece of his plan had just fallen into place. With a satisfied nod of his head, he grabbed the bag from the passenger seat and jumped out of his jeep. As he sauntered along, he began to sing.
“I’m dreamin’ of a white Christmaaaas.” He screwed his face up in disgust. “Pffft, who am I kiddin’.”
The loud knock on the door startled Ezra enough for him to spill Dr Pepper over his sweat pants. He jumped quickly to his feet. “Land sakes, how many more times…” He exclaimed in disgust. He walked quickly to the kitchen and threw the can in the trash and his feet almost left the floor as his door was pummelled loudly once more.
“Who in tarnation…?”
His voice trailed off as he impatiently walked to his front door and flung it open, ready to expel a barrage of abuse at the loud offender.
His mouth stayed wide open as, the moment the door was open, a long haired, Levi clad, grinning Vin Tanner barged into the room and headed for his kitchen. “Hey Ez, best t’ shut yer mouth pard. The express train’s comin’ through an’ I wouldn’t want the driver t’ mistake ya fer a tunnel.”
Ezra shut his mouth quickly, and shut the door, watching Vin’s back as he continued to walk. The southerner followed behind, a look of total bewilderment on his face.
“Mr Tanner. What in heavens name are you doing? And why may I ask are you not at the ranch where you are supposed to be? Won’t Mr Larabee be wondering where you are?”
“He ain’t my Mother, Ez.” Vin answered as he deposited his bag full of shopping on the breakfast counter and turned to face the under cover agent. “B’sides, figured you needed the company more ’n he did.”
“And how may I enquire did you reach that conclusion?”
Vin’s face turned serious. “Look Ez, I know what it’s like to be alone at Christmas.” He put up his hand to stop Ezra as the southerner opened his mouth to respond. “I’ve had my fair share o’ let downs over the years, and the way I figure it, you could use a friend right now.” He grinned and spread his arms out to his sides. “And here I am.”
He turned around once more and began to empty the contents of his bag.
Ezra slowly walked around to the other side of the breakfast counter to face, Vin. “How did you reach the conclusion that I needed a friend, Mr Tanner? And how did you know that I had been let down?” he crossed his arms in front of him and waited for a response.
Vin sighed and his shoulders sagged. He flopped down heavily onto a stool and turned apologetic blue eyes on the waiting man. “Ez…” he began. “Aw hell.” He reached into his pocket and took out Ezra’s door key, placing it on the counter in front of him. “I used yer key to get into yer apartment.” He looked at Ezra to gauge his mood, but all he got was a raised eyebrow so he continued. “I saw yer machine flashin’ and couldn’t resist.” He watched as Ezra unfolded his arms and rested his hands on the table.
The southerner looked at Vin in disbelief. “You listened to my message?”
Vin tilted his head to one side. “Well, actually Ez, there were two. The first one was from yer Ma.” He darted a look at Ezra and continued. “The other one was from a manager about a table reservation ya made.”
A silence filled the room as both men contemplated the situation.
“’M sorry, Ez. I know I shouldn’a touched the machine. I was jest worried about ya when I saw the mess.” His eyes caught sight of the bandage on Ezra’s hand. “Ya hurt bad?”
Ezra sighed resignedly. He was not angry with Vin. How could he be? He was more touched than anything. It was nice to know that someone cared enough to check up on him, and to care that he was alright. He turned his head to look at the Texan who was almost visibly squirming in his seat. “No Vin, I am not badly hurt. In fact, the only injuries I sustained were a few minor scratches.”
“Didn’t look like that t’ me. I saw tons o’ blood, Ez.”
“You exaggerate, Mr Tanner.”
Ezra watched as Vin took two beer bottles from the table and walked around to the refrigerator. His eyes grew wide as he realised the younger man was about to open the door. “Mr Tanner, allow me.” He reached out to take the bottles from the Texan.
“S’okay Ez, don’t wanna get yer bandage all messed up now do ya?” Vin opened the refrigerator door and kneeling down, he went to put the bottles inside. He faltered and a grin spread across his face as he noticed the other contents of the refrigerator. Turning to look at the southerner who was standing uncomfortably beside him he widened his grin. “Hell Ez, yer a darker horse than Peso. How long you been acquainted with Dr Pepper?”
“Now Vin. I don’t think this is the time to talk about the contents of my refrigerator. If you don’t mind, I am missing my favourite James Stewart movie, and I like the ending, where we discover Clarence has finally won his wings.”
Ezra’s words had the effect he intended them to. Vin jumped up from the floor and slammed the door of the refrigerator shut. “It’s a Wonderful Life? On tv now? Why didn’t ya say so?” He handed one of the beers to Ezra and walked to the sofa, falling into the soft leather of the seat. “I jest love the part where he says ‘Zu Zu’s petals! Zu Zu’s petals!’”
Ezra chuckled and, grabbing a bottle opener from the drawer, he settled himself beside Vin, whose eyes were now fixed on the tv screen. He opened his own beer bottle and handed the opener to the Texan, who took it without taking his eyes from the movie.
A loud banging on the front door startled the two men. Ezra groaned as some beer spilled from his bottle onto his sweat pants, mixing with the Dr pepper stain already there. Rising from his seat, he reached into his pocket, ready to hand over some coins if the new invaders of his peace turned out to be carol singers.
He opened the door and his mouth opened in disbelief as, once more, someone barged in. But this time they were followed by four more ‘someones’.
“’Bout time you guys showed up.”
Ezra’s mouth remained open as he turned his stunned look towards Vin, who pushed himself to his feet and made his way to the kitchen, helping the men to unload their full shopping bags.
Ezra slowly shut the front door and made his way to the kitchen.
“What happened to your hand Ezra?” Nathan’s voice snapped Ezra from his stunned silence.
"I cut it on a can.” The southerner replied, not taking his eyes from the men who continued to unload piles of food. His face finally broke into a smile as he watched Vin and JD excitedly pull open packets of whistling balloons.
“Well, let me take a look. Wanna make sure ya don’t need stitches.” Nathan grabbed Ezra by the arm and began pulling him towards the bathroom. The southerner let himself be led, too caught up in the excitement of the moment to care what was happening to him.
Nathan put down the lid of the toilet and pushed Ezra gently, until he was sitting down. He began to unravel the expertly wound bandage.
“Nathan. I don’t understand. Why are you all here?”
The medic stopped what he was doing and looked at the under cover agent. “Vin called. He told us what happened, and we decided that your stupid pride would stop you comin’ to us. So we decided to come to you instead.”
Ezra stared back at Nathan, disbelief written all over his face. “You would do that for me?”
Nathan sighed and sat on the edge of the bath. He held Ezra’s injured hand in both of his own and examined the wounds before looking up. “Why wouldn’t we, Ezra? You’re our friend. Besides, it was eating Vin up. He took it real bad that you’d been let down. He didn’t want you to have a bad Christmas when the rest of us were having a good one.”
Ezra’s heart clenched at the medic’s words. He knew he had things in common with Vin. More than a lot of people would probably think. But Vin knew. Instinctively, Vin knew that Ezra’s life had not been the easy ride a lot of people assumed it had been. And Ezra felt a strong kinship with the Texan. They were as different as chalk and cheese in a lot of ways, but in others they were like soul mates, their paths running parallel as they both struggled through their childhood in different ways.
Ezra winced as Nathan rebound his injured hand. “Don’t think it needs stitches, but I want to check on it every day for the next few days, just to make sure its healing right.”
Ezra nodded and both men stood. “I suppose I should go and greet my guests.”
“Yeah Ezra, I suppose ya should.” Nathan slapped the southerner on the back and the two men walked back out to the kitchen, only to be met with mayhem.
“Vin! What the hell are you doing?” Chris bellowed, peeling crazy string from his face.
“Tryin’ t’ get that bah humbug look offa yer face, Larabee.” Vin shot back, squirting him with more silly string before running and hiding behind the Christmas Tree. “Hey Ez!” he called out. “The tree looks real good pard.”
“Thank you, Mr Tanner.” Ezra responded, sinking into the leather sofa between Buck and Josiah.
“What’s this all about Ez?” asked Buck, nodding to where the movie was still in full swing on the tv.
“It’s a Wonderful Life, Buck.”
“Well darn it Ezra, you sure got that right.” Buck replied as he received a large amount of silly string into his mouth.
An hour later, Ezra surveyed the room. He still sat on the sofa between Buck and Josiah, but his living room was filled with other sprawled bodies. JD lay on his stomach in front of the tv and Chris sat in the armchair, his hair still sporting signs of the earlier crazy string fight. Nathan was perched on a stool he’d brought from the kitchen and Vin was seated cross legged on the floor near the tree.
All of them were totally absorbed in the movie.
As Ezra looked around the room, he had a warm feeling in his stomach. These were his friends and they were here because they wanted to be. They wanted to spend time with him, to hang out with him, to laugh with him. He looked down at his soiled sweat pants and a smile played on his lips. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d looked this scruffy and unkempt. But he realised it didn’t matter. Not one of the men seated around the room had uttered a word about his appearance, he figured he could be sitting there wearing a black plastic bag and these men wouldn’t give it a second thought. The warm feeling grew warmer and Ezra checked his stomach, to make sure it wasn’t glowing.
He looked back at the TV. James Stewart was holding ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ in his hand. Ezra watched as the book was opened and, as he read the words on the inside cover written by Clarence the angel, his heart flipped over.
‘Remember no man is a failure, who has friends.’
It was like someone had read his mind. He’d always thought of himself as a failure. He found it hard to make friends. Acquaintances were easy. But friends? Now that was a whole other ball game.
But as he felt the warmth in the room, from the companionship and easy relaxation, he knew he wasn’t a failure. These six men were his friends, and he was proud to be amongst them.
He felt eyes on him and immediately turned his head towards the Christmas tree. Vin was looking back at him, a knowing look in his eyes. The Texan raised his beer bottle in a silent gesture, and Ezra felt a strong bond form between them.
He raised his bottle slightly, in response and the two men turned their attention back to the tv and they watched a bell ringing on the Christmas tree. Seven men spoke in unison, drowning out the words of the little girl in the movie. “Every time a bell rings, an Angel gets his wings.”
The room filled with the men’s laughter and Vin shifted his weight slightly, hitting his knee on a branch of the Christmas tree, making two of the ornaments hit together to create a ringing sound.
As the laughter continued, and the credits started to roll at the end of the movie, none of the other men noticed as Vin and Ezra both raised their eyes heavenward and held up their beer bottles in a silent gesture of thanks to the angel who had just received his wings for helping them to have the best Christmas Eve either of them had ever had.
Ezra stretched his legs out in front of him and crossed them at the ankles, a contented smile plastered on his face. He looked at the gifts that the other six men had placed under his tree. But, as he listened to the playful banter and the sound of laughter filling his apartment he knew that the best gift he would receive this year wasn’t under the tree. The men seated about the room, laughing and joking with each other had already given him the gift that nothing else could surpass.
The gift of friendship
M * E * R * R * Y * C * H * R * I * S * T * M * A * S