Birch '03: A Pretty Mess

Chris glared at the phone. He was torn between picking it up and waiting. He hated waiting, but he didn’t even know who to call so using the phone would just be an exercise in futility. So was glaring at it, but he couldn’t seem to stop doing it.

Two team members were missing that should be here. Sure, it was just a football game to watch and a cookout, but damn it he worried when they didn’t show up. He wouldn’t be worried if they’d say they weren’t coming. Would have accepted that they had other plans. That wasn’t a big deal. But Buck said he’d be there. Ezra had too. Although, Chris expected Ezra to be late. The man was never on time for anything planned on a Sunday. Chris rolled his eyes. Man takes sleeping in to whole new levels on a Sunday.

JD said Buck was picking up Ezra. According to the computer expert his roommate had left early. So by all rights Buck and Ezra should be here by now. Chris pursed his lips in annoyance. He couldn’t very well call out the troops for two grown men being an hour late to a cookout.

Vin handed him a beer as he walked by. “You keep lookin’ at that phone like that an’ it’s liable to burst inta flames.”

“Shaddup, Tanner.” Chris took the beer. “They should be here by now.”

“Ain’t but an hour late, Cowboy.” Vin sipped his own beer, leaning casually against the counter. “That’d be damn near on time for Ez.”

Chris grimaced. That he knew. What worried him was Buck was never that late. Not for a cookout. The man was usually the first to arrive, firing up the grill and getting things ready before anyone else even showed up. The tall surveillance agent loved these get togethers.

The shrill ring of the phone interrupted what Chris was about to say. Chris snatched it up. He growled into it. “Hello.”

“Hey, Chris—"

“Buck, where the hell are you!?” Chris demanded.

“See, thing is…me an’ Ez are at the hospital—"

“Hospital?!” Chris unconsciously tightened his grip on the receiver, knuckles turning white. “How bad is it? Are you okay? What the hell were you doing that – ”

“Whoa, big dog,” Buck broke in. “Whoa. No one’s hurt. Everything is fine.” Buck laughed. “Bit colorful, but otherwise fine.”

Chris could almost feel his blood pressure rising. They’re at the hospital, and the stupid son of a bitch is laughing! “Tell. Me. What. Happened. NOW!”

“Hang on a sec, Chris.” Before Chris could say anything else, he heard Buck speaking to someone else. “Jus’ give me a minute here, Darlin’. I’ll be right there. Yes, Baby Doll, I think that’s a very nice color. Right pretty lookin’.”

Chris couldn’t hear what was said to Buck, but there was the sound of squeals and laughter. He frowned. “Buck…stop chatting up women, and Get Your Ass Back On The Phone.”

“Now, Chris…no reason to get all bent outta shape. I already told you no one is hurt.”

Chris rolled his eyes. “You still haven’t told me why you’re at the hospital.” He got that out through clenched teeth.


“What happened to him?”

“If you’d give me a minute,” Buck snapped back at him. “Nothin’ happened ta him or me. We’re both fine. Jeez! You gotta learn to relax. I can hear that vein in your forehead throbbing from here.”

Chris took a deep breath, deliberately choosing to ignore Buck’s last statement. He reiterated his earlier question. “Then why are you at the hospital?”

“Ez comes ta visit the kids on the weekends.”

Oh. Chris hesitated. He hadn’t known that. “Why?”

“What’d ya mean why?” Buck sounded as insulted as Chris ever heard him. “Cause it’s a nice thing ta do. Cause these kids are scared and hurting and so are their parents. Cause some o’ them ain’t ever gonna go home. Cause some of them need to be able to laugh and play like normal kids. That’s why!”

“Easy, Buck.” Chris held up a hand in a placating gesture even if Buck couldn’t see it. “Didn’t mean it the way it sounded.”

Buck snorted. “Right.”

Chris pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Lately Buck had been more touchy than normal. He was going to have to ask his old friend what was wrong. It wasn’t like him to snap back.

He could hear Buck sigh softly. “Sorry ‘bout snappin’ at ya.” He could almost picture the tall mustached man leaning back against the wall. Somehow Buck never seemed able to talk on the phone without leaning on something. Even when the man was on his cell phone, without a wall in sight, he managed to slouch.

“You should see these kids, Chris. Ez shows up here and you’d think it was Christmas. Nurse told me he read ta them, puts on magic shows, plays games with ‘em.” There was a definite note of admiration in Buck’s voice and something else Chris couldn’t quite identify. “Hell, he even talks ta their parents lets them know it’s okay ta be scared ta death and feel helpless…” Chris could hear Buck take a shaky breath. “Not sure I’d be able ta do that.”

Chris nodded. “You okay?” This time the question was soft, concerned, but not the same sort of desperate worry that came out angry the way he’d asked earlier.

“I’m fine.” Buck’s voice was immediately stronger. “Jus’ wanted to let you know we’d be a mite late.”

Chris sighed. “Yeah, I figured that out myself.”

Buck chuckled. “Sort o’ got that from the way you answered the phone.”

“You still coming over?”

“Yeah, we’ll be by. Gotta clean up first though.”

“Clean up?” Chris felt both eyebrows raise. “Why?”

“Well, see…Ez thought the kids might enjoy finger painting. And things got a bit out of hand.”

Chris’ mind boggled when he heard Buck…giggle. Not laugh, not chuckle, but outright giggle.

“God, Chris you should see it.” More giggles that made understanding his long time friend increasingly difficult. “It is just one hell of a pretty mess.”

“A pretty mess?”

“Well…the place is sort o’…drab. Or it was.” Buck snickered. “Walls look right nice with red, blue, yellow an’ green hand prints. Got us a flower garden growing over by the wall. And we even managed ta get a few trees ta show up. Course me and Ez had to do the tops…well, I got the upper branches. Ez took care o’ the lower ones. Managed to get us some wildlife too.”

Chris smiled trying to picture it. “You have to wash it all off?” He thought that might be what Buck meant by cleaning up.

“No. No. Hospital’s okay with the walls. Kids did a bit o’ coloring on me an Ez too.” Another snicker. “Mind you, I think he looks jus’ fine with green hair, but Ez don’t agree. And I gotta admit I’m not too keen on goin’ too far with my eyebrows painted red.”

Chris’ smile grew. “Green hair?”

“They thought it would look good with his eyes.”

“And red eyebrows?” Chris asked, voice dry.

“Red is Missy’s favorite color.” Buck said that like it explained everything. And Chris realized to Buck it probably did.

“We’ll see you when you get here.”

“Okay.” Buck agreed cheerfully. “See ya soon.”

Chris hung up shaking his head.

Vin raised an eyebrow. “So?”

“They’re fine. They’ll be here as soon as they get cleaned up.”

Vin’s half smile appeared. “Green hair and red eyebrows?”

Chris chuckled and explained what Buck had told him. He sobered. “I didn’t know Ezra when to the hospital on the weekends.”

Vin shrugged. “I did.”

Chris pinned him with a firm look. “And you didn’t think to say anything?”

Blue eyes met his squarely. “Hell, Cowboy, I ain’t the sort to talk about ‘nother man’s business. An’ ‘fore you get yer knickers in a twist, Ez don’t have to tell you everythin’ he does in his off time. Ain’t like you tell him everythin’ you do.”

It was hard to argue that point. Chris knew his men needed time to themselves and he did his best to respect that. If he expected his privacy to be respected then he had to return the favor.

“He tell you?” He wouldn’t be surprised to know that Ezra had told something to Vin. For two seeming opposites, they were surprisingly good friends.

Vin shook his head. “Nope.”

“Then how—”

“Had to take one o’ my basketball team ta get a broken finger looked at. Saw Ez there.” Vin sipped his beer. “We talked a bit.”

Chris nodded. Vin spent a lot of his free time at the youth center in Purgatory. He was the first one the kids came to when they needed something. Doesn’t explain how Buck knew Ezra spent time at the hospital.

“How did Buck find out then?”

Vin smiled. “Told him.”

Chris frowned. He doesn’t tell me but he tells Buck? “Why?”

Vin just shook his head. “Iffen ya wanna know that then you should probably talk to Buck.”

Meaning Buck had asked Vin for the information, Vin hadn’t simply offered it. Curious. “This have something to do with him being so touchy lately? Something Ezra can help him with?”

Vin’s smile turned enigmatic. “Might.”

Chris pursed his lips. Sometimes he wished Vin was more talkative. He knew he wasn’t going to get more than that. He’d talk with Buck. Failing that he’d talk to Ezra. Mentally he snorted at that. He wouldn’t get any more information than he did from Vin. More words but not really any more to work with.

Chris frowned. He’d let it go for now. “Let’s tell the others Buck and Ezra got held up. No reason for anyone else to worry.”

Vin laughed. “Only one worried was you.”

Chris scowled, and made a universal hand signal at Vin. He glared at his friend. “When I worry everyone worries.”

Vin grinned not the least bit offended or intimidated. “Yeah, yeah. You jus’ keep thinkin’ that, Cowboy.”

Chris shoved Vin toward the door. The others were all still out on the deck. The game wouldn’t start for another hour or so. Ezra and Buck will be here in time to watch the game. Don’t imagine there will be much in the way of leftovers though. With this bunch it’s first come first serve.

Josiah gave him a look. “Buck called.”

“And?” The big man raised an eyebrow.

“He and Ezra got held up. They’ll be here in a bit.”

The others just nodded. Chris knew Vin was probably right, the only one worried was him. The others would have given Buck and Ezra another hour or so before getting too concerned.

Chris idly wondered if they knew Ezra spent time at the hospital. He shook his head. It didn’t matter. He’d save the pointed questions he wanted to ask for when he could talk to Buck. Chris wanted to know what was wrong with the man and he was going to find out what.

Chris sat back and watched the others interact. No one expected him to say much, so his lack of commentary wouldn’t draw attention, letting him think in peace

Maybe Buck’s off his game a bit. Haven’t heard him talking about his ladies as much. Gotta admit I was sort of relieved not to hear his tall tales of conquest. Still, don’t see how that is something Ezra could help with that. Ezra doesn’t date much that I’ve seen. Course, the man is discriminating. The few woman I’ve seen him with are definitely ladies. Real class acts. Maybe that’s what Buck wanted to ask Ezra about…how to talk to a real lady. Might be he’s got his eye on someone classy. Might be he’s finally lookin’ to settle down and wants to do it up right.

Chris sipped his beer. Nope. Can’t picture that. Just going to have to ask him. He nodded to himself. Yep. Jus’ ask the big galoot when he gets here.