He's a What????? by josette grover
Summary: JD Dunne has a surprise for his friends at the Four Corners Courthouse.
Categories: Non Buffy/Angel Stories Characters: None
Genres: AU
Warnings: Cute Kid, FemSlash, Minor Character Death, Original Character Death
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes Word count: 31720 Read: 8251 Published: 2008.12.03 Updated: 2008.12.03
Chapter 1 by josette grover
Author's Notes:
AN: This modern-day AU Magnificent Seven story takes place in a universe where the Seven are officers of the Court in Four Corners, a bustling mid-sized city a couple hours outside of Denver.
Ezra buries his face in Daddy's shirt, snuggling against the warm shoulder.  Daddy smiles as he buttons the coat; it had been a hand-me-down from an old friend, and more than big enough for a slender man and a small boy.

 

"Ezzie, I want you to be real quiet, okay baby?  Daddy's got to go to work and you're not really supposed to be there."

 

"otay, dada."

 

Ezra drifts back off to sleep, thumb tucked securely in his small mouth as Daddy walks down the stairs towards his motorcycle.  And he's really going to have to find another means of transportation now that he's got a baby to take care of, he thinks as a familiar dark blue van pulls into the parking lot and honks its horn.

 

"Get in son," Josiah calls through the open window, "you're not riding that deathtrap into work today, not with the rain we've been having."

 

"Thanks, 'Siah, I was just thinking I was going to have to get something more practical."

 

Josiah looks at his passenger in disbelief, how many times have the others told him to give up that damn fool motorcycle before he got himself killed.

 

"And what brought that on, brother?  Something to do with the reason you asked for a leave of absence?"

 

"Yeah, I have something I need to tell you.  But I'll wait until we get to the office, no need to tell the story more than once."

 

Josiah talks about what's been going on at the office, worried about the younger man's uncharacteristic silence.  And why he's holding himself so stiffly.

 

The boisterous shouting startles Ezra out of his nap, and he clenches dada's hair, causing him to wince and tenderly stroke Ezra's hair.

 

"All right Junior, what's going on?" Buck Wilmington asks the younger man, hands on his hips as he stares him down.  The other four men clustered around him.

 

Ezra blinks at the light as the coat's taken from around him.  They're stunned to see a small toddler held against their friend's shoulder by a harness.

 

"Guys, I'd like you to meet my son, Ezra Patrick Dunne."  

 

JD heads for the rocking chair in the corner of the room, grinning as all hell proceeds to break loose at his words.

 

"Boy, just because I told you we couldn't get a puppy doesn't mean you can go out and get a baby instead." Buck says, standing over the rocking chair, glaring at his roommate. "How were you going to tell me, wait for me to come home after work and find him sitting at the kitchen table? I know your room's a mess, but you're not going to be able to hide a baby in it."

 

 "Buck, hush, we've got more important questions. Like who's the mother?" Nathan asks, coming over to the chair and gently stroking the fine hair on the back of the baby's head.

 

"She's dead, died in a car accident a couple weeks ago . . ."

 

"The call you got that had you running out of the office?"

 

"Right, ‘Siah. Ezzie was the only survivor of a multi-car pileup . . ."

 

"Was he hurt?"

 

"Nope, the rescuers said he slept through the whole thing. We had a DNA test run to confirm the will naming me his daddy."

 

"JD, the courthouse has a day care center."

 

"He starts tomorrow, Chris. I called them earlier to see if they could take him today since it's an emergency, but they were full since this is the last day before school starts."

 

"Damn, okay we'll work around it. Buck, Vin, you've got court in an hour. One of you run down to the Judge's office and tell Rose that something's up and we need to see him after today's session. Josiah, you're on security detail with me at the front door. Nathan, you're going to have to take JD's place as Court Stenographer. I'll go call Nettie and see if she can come in with Adam and watch Ezra for us this afternoon. JD, you'll replace Nathan this afternoon, I'll take Buck's place as Bailiff, Nathan and Vin can do security this afternoon while Josiah guards the courtroom doors. It will leave us one man short in the courtroom, but it can't be helped."

 

Chris walks to his desk, calling a familiar number.

 

"Larabee residence, Adam speaking." A young voice says in his ear.

"Hi Adam, it's Daddy. I need to talk to Nettie, okay?"

 

"Sure thing Daddy," Chris holds the phone away from his ear, knowing what's coming next, "AUNT NETTIE, DADDY WANTS TO TALK TO YOU!!!!"

 

"Adam Christopher Larabee, what have I told you about yelling in the house like that? I swear I'm going to beat your Uncle Buck's a. . .er, butt bloody for teaching you that stunt." Chris hears Nettie grumbling as she comes to the phone. "Sorry Chris, I was out in the garden. What did you need?"

 

"Nettie, can you and Adam come to the Courthouse this afternoon?"

 

"Why, what's the matter?" Nettie asks, knowing from the tone of Chris' voice that something is the matter.

 

"Well, it seems that JD inherited a baby while he was gone." Chris says, smirking.

"He WWWWWWHHHHAAAATTTTTTTT??????"

 

"JD's a Daddy. A beautiful baby boy named Ezra who looks to be around a year. . ."

 

"Thirteen months." JD corrects him, making a face as he catches a whiff of a newly dirty diaper. He grabs the backpack that doubles as a diaper bag and heads down the hall to the family bathroom.

 

"Make that thirteen months old."

 

"Let me talk to him," Nettie growls, "What the hell was that damn fool kid thinking? A baby?'

 

"He's not in the office right now, he just went to change a diaper."

 

"His or the baby's?" Nettie asks, "He's too damn young to be a father."

 

"Yeah, but at least he's got us to help him out. Hell, there's 12 year olds out there who's got babies."

 

"Well, at least he's got a good example in you. We'll be there in a couple hours. And I'm going to have a little ‘talk' with JD about keeping it in his pants. Damn fool Kid, are we sure that it's his baby?"

 

"JD says he took a DNA test to make sure."

"Damn fool kid, what the hell was he thinking not using protection. He's lucky it was just a baby that's the result. There's worse things that could have happened, like AIDS or other STDS."

 

JD lays Ezra down on the changing table, quickly unsnapping the onesie and lifting it up around his waist. Grabbing a new diaper from his bag, he quickly holds a clean cloth from the pile on the table, holding it over Ezra's waist as he removes the dirty diaper.

 

"JD, need a hand?" Nathan asks as he follows the younger man into the bathroom. JD smiles, he'd been wondering who was going to be the first one to make sure he actually knew what he was doing. Nathan grins as the baby immediately begins to pee the second the diaper is removed.

 

"I take it he's done this before?" Nathan asks as JD calmly drops the dirty diaper and cloth in the garbage can, cleans Ezra up, puts him in a clean diaper, and closes the snaps on the onesie.

 

"Can you watch him a second while I wash my hands?" JD asks, turning to the sink across the room. "Yeah, I got hit about three times before I learned that trick of holding a cloth over him while I'm changing him."

 

"You're quicker than Chris then, Adam got him a good dozen times before Nettie took pity on him and told him to hold a cloth over the baby while taking the diaper off."

 

JD smirks as he lifts the baby into his arms. Ezra immediately holds his arms out to the other man, lips quivering when Nathan just looks at him.

 

"You wanna hold him, Nate? He's gonna start blubbering otherwise." JD says, handing the baby over. Nathan gingerly takes the sturdy body in his arms, grinning as the baby immediately turns all smiles and begins inspecting the bright buttons on Nathan's shirt.

 

"He doesn't seem the least bit shy around strangers."

 

"Nope, as far as Ezzie knows, everybody's a new friend to worship him. His mom owned and operated a small bookstore, he's been around new people every day of his life."

 

"And just who was his mother, anyway? You've never talked about anybody." Nathan asks as they enter the office. Everybody perks up at the question, all eyes falling on JD's bowed head as he sits down, placing Ezra between his legs. Ez stands on his small feet, holding onto his daddy's fingers for a couple of minutes before taking a couple steps towards the loud man, falling on his butt with a giggle. JD hands Ezra a ring of plastic keys, which he waves at the others before sticking them in his mouth.

 

"It was pretty much a one time happening." JD says, looking down at the baby. "Do you remember the case a couple years ago, the mob hit?"

 

"It was moved to Four Corners because the defense didn't feel it could get a fair trial? Yeah, I remember. The main witness for the prosecution ended up going into the witness protection program, didn't she?" Chris asks, smiling as the baby crawls rapidly across the room, swatting at shoes as he goes.

 

"Yeah, Becky did. We knew each other in High School, she cried on my shoulder the night after the trial ended, we both had way too much to drink, one thing led to another, and . . ."

 

"And nine months later you became a daddy, right?" Buck says, growling at the younger man's stupidity.

 

"Umm, yeah." JD says, blushing under the stares of the other five men.

 

"Boy, are you stupid? What the hell were you thinking? Didn't I teach you anything, YOU ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS USE A CONDOM." Buck says, punctuating each word with a swat on the back of the head with his uniform cap.

 

Ezra's across the floor in a second, swatting at Buck's feet with his keys.

 

"NO HURT DADA."

 

"Shh, Ezzie. It's okay," JD says, picking up the red-faced, crying toddler from the floor. "Your Uncle Buck's not hurting me, he's just calling me a fucking moron." JD holds the baby to him, rubbing his back until the cries ease off into hiccups. Buck touches the crying baby's hair; recoiling in mock horror at the angry tear-filled glare the baby gives him.

 

"And for your information Buck, I did use a condom. I do remember that much. The damn thing broke on me." JD says, kissing Ezra's hair before putting the baby back down on the floor.

"Well, at least you did use some form of protection," Buck says grudgingly, bending down at making silly faces at the now smiling baby, "And you've got a beautiful, healthy baby boy."

 

"JD, how are you feeling?" Chris asks, placing his hand on JD's shoulder. "I know how it feels to suddenly find yourself with a baby and alone."

 

"It hurts Chris, Becky and I were just friends, not close friends, but we were friends. To find out that she's dead and you're suddenly a daddy . . ." JD breaks down, crying for the first time since he heard about Becky's death. He's suddenly engulfed in two strong arms, head buried in a strong chest.

 

"Shh, let it out." Chris whispers in his ear as he picks the sniffling baby up from the floor. Ezra holds his arms out to JD, whimpering as the door across the room opens and a tall man in a black robe walks through the door.

 

"Chris, Rose said you wanted to see me after court?" Judge Orrin Travis screeches to a sudden halt in the middle of the room, lifting off his glasses to rub his eyes. But the impossible vision of his court stenographer crying on his Bailiff's shoulder while Chris bounces a sobbing baby remains.

 

"I take it this is the reason you wanted to see me?" Orrin asks dryly.

 

"Umm, yes Sir," Chris says, patting Ezra's back as he tries to calm the baby down. "JD came in earlier today with a small surprise for us, his son. Nathan is going to be your court stenographer this morning. I called Nettie, she's going to come in this afternoon and watch Ezra while JD works this afternoon court session."

"Sounds to me like you have it all settled." Orrin says, walking closer and making clucking noises at the baby. Ezra looks at the new man over Chris' shoulder, grinning to show swollen gums.

 

"He's teething, do you have anything for him to chew on?" Orrin asks JD as the younger man straightens up, blowing his nose in the tissues Nathan hands him.

 

"Y. . .Yeah, he's got a set of plastic keys he's been playing with," JD says huskily, taking the baby from Chris. Ezra looks up at his Daddy, stopping crying instantly once he's in JD's arms. "I also have a teething ring I put in the refrigerator for him."

 

"What about food?"

 

"He's eating solid foods, I have his lunch with mine in the bag." JD says, wiping his eyes on the back of his sleeve. "I'm sorry guys, this is the first time I've cried since I found out that Becky had been killed in a car accident and I was a daddy."

 

"Not to sound too nosy, can I ask you who the baby's momma is?"

 

"Judge Travis, do you remember the Mob case a couple years ago, the case was moved here because they didn't think they could get a fair trial in Denver?"

 

"The bombing case? Yes, I remember."

 

"Becky Jameson, the witness from that case, was an old friend of mine from High School." JD says, bouncing Ezra as he walks to the refrigerator, pulling a plain breadstick from his bag and handing it to the baby. Ezra chuckles as he grabs the stick, immediately sticking it in his mouth. "The night after the trial, before she joined the Witness protection program, she spent the night crying on my shoulder. One thing led to another and we had sex. And before you ask Buck, yes, it was my first time. It was Becky's first time too." JD says, his eyes growing dark as he remembers fumbling with the condom before Becky pulled him to her, guiding his cock towards her vagina. The pain in her eyes when he broke her hymen, and the crying both of them did when the condom broke inside her. "She went into the Witness protection program the next day and I didn't hear anything from her until the lawyer called a couple weeks ago saying she'd been killed in a car accident and according to the birth certificate, I was the father of her baby boy."

"Becky's dead?!?!? What about the baby?" Nettie asks from the doorway as Adam runs across the room to his Daddy. Chris grabs his son, throwing the boy up in the air and catching him to hear the boy laugh. Nettie comes into the room, her eyes wide with distress. She releases a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding when she sees Ezra peeking over his Daddy's shoulder.

 

"Tee." The baby chortles, holding his arms up to be held.

 

"Ezzie, oh thank god you're okay." Nettie says, picking up the baby and holding him to her chest. She kisses his reddish blonde hair and looks down at JD.

 

"You're Ezzie's Daddy?"

 

"Yes Ms. Nettie, I am."

 

"Thank you, boy." Nettie says, kissing JD's forehead as she settles into the rocking chair with her goddaughter's baby. "I know Becky had a hard time leaving her family behind, but this little boy was the best thing that ever happened to her. She and Toni doted on him."

 

"I'll cry later, but tell me how Becky and Toni died. I know they both have to be dead, Becky made Toni the baby's guardian in case anything happened to her."

 

"They were killed in a multi-car pileup a couple weeks ago. Ezzie was the only survivor."

 

"That accident that killed 44 people in California? The one caused by that damn fool kid who threw a rock off an overpass?"

 

"Yes'm Miss Nettie, that's the one"

 

"I hadn't heard there were any survivors."

 

"According to the lawyer, they were keeping it quiet that Ezzie had survived because Becky had been involved in the Witness Protection Program. They were afraid that Ezzie might be a target with his mom dead."

 

"Who's Tony?" Buck asks, grabbing his gun from the locked drawer in his desk as he heads out the door to the courtroom.

 

"Toni was Becky's lover and partner in the bookstore, according to the lawyer." JD says, turning on his computer to go over the transcripts from yesterday's trials. "According to her will, she left everything to Ezra in trust until he turns 21."

 

"According to HER will?" Buck asks, stopping at the door and staring at his roommate.

 

"Toni's short for Antoinette, Buck. She and Becky had been together for nearly ten years." Nettie says, smiling as Chris ruffles Adam's hair. "Before you guys go to work, run out to my van. I brought the folding playpen and some of Adam's old toys with me for the baby."

 

Chris rolls his eyes as he follows Josiah out to the van, he should have known Nettie would immediately take charge of the situation.

 

" ‘Siah, you haven't said anything yet. What's up?"

 

"I figured you and Buck had that under control. Chris, he made a mistake, don't jump down his throat about it. He looks like he hasn't slept very well in the last couple of weeks since he got the call, otherwise he wouldn't have broken down like that. And you might want to tell Buck to back off, you're the only one he'll listen to."

 

"No need ‘Siah, Nettie already gave me the what for." Buck says from the door as the other two bring the playpen and bag of toys in the building. "JD's going to need us now more than ever, and I've got to learn to keep my big fat mouth shut. It could have happened to any of us."

 

Buck walks into the office, watching Chris place the playpen under Nettie's direction. Buck claps his hand on JD's shoulder, bends down to kiss Ezzie's head where it leans against Nettie's chest, and heads for his position in the courtroom.

 

Vin leaves the room silently, walking down to the courtroom door as people slowly begin entering the courthouse.

 

"Hey guys, I'm inviting everybody back to the apartment after work today for dinner." Buck's voice says over the radio on Vin's shoulder. "I'm going to make my famous Chili and we'll grill steaks on the barbecue."

 

"Buck, we're going to need groceries, I haven't been able to go shopping." JD says, angling his head to speak into the radio on his desk.

 

"We'll take care of that easily enough. I need to pick up some stuff at the store before heading home anyway. I will be so glad to be able to sleep in my own bed tonight, I hate extradition, especially when everybody fights it and you spend three weeks at a no name motel."

 

"Chris, Vin?"

"Yeah JD? Yeah Pally?" two voices say in unison as Josiah runs a wand over a frequent courthouse visitor. Her wheelchair's too bulky to go through the metal detector, and as a clerk in the Friends of the Court office she's gone through this once or twice a day for the last five years.

 

"Can you guys go with me this weekend to go car shopping?"

 

"Sure can," Chris says as the initial flow of court employees, parents dropping off their kids at daycare, and people running errands drops off to an occasional visitor. "You decided what you want yet, or waiting to see what they have at the car lots?"

 

"I know I need a back seat big enough for Ezra's car seat," JD says, closing his eyes and rubbing the bridge of his nose to try to get rid of the tension headache that's been plaguing him since he found out he was a father. He's so damn tired, all he wants to do is curl up somewhere and sleep for a week, but he's got the baby depending on him.

 

"Aunt Nettie, does Uncle JD have a headache?" Adam asks, standing next to the playpen watching the baby happily babbling as he plays with a set of soft-sided blocks.

 

"Looks like it, Adam. Here," Nettie pulls a bottle of aspirin from the medical supplies in Josiah's desk, "why don't you get JD a glass of water from the cooler?" Nettie shakes out two pills, drops them in JD's hand, and takes the paper cup from Adam.

 

"Thank you Adam, Ms. Nettie." JD says, gratefully taking the aspirin. JD musses Adam's hair, causing the young boy to giggle.

 

"JD, when's the last time you got a full night's sleep?"

 

"The night before I found out I was a father, I either spend the night laying awake wondering if I'm going to be a good father or waking every couple of hours thinking I heard the baby. I keep thinking about my mother, she was only 16 when I was born; I know she worked two jobs just to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. I keep thinking about all the things that Ezzie's going to need."

 

"JD, you're not alone. The others are more than willing to help you with anything you need. Chris knows what you're going through, he had the same thoughts every time he looked at Adam."

 

"I don't think so, Buck seemed so angry."

 

"Buck was hurt that he wasn't here to help you out, and the others are a little upset that you didn't tell them. All you had to do was pick up the phone and call any of us, we'd have been there instantly."

 

"I know that now, but I haven't been thinking too clearly the last couple weeks. And I know by bringing Ezzie to work today and introducing him as my son was not the best way to tell the others."

 

Nettie bites her cheek, trying not to laugh at the hangdog expression on JD's face. She can imagine what they must have looked like when they found out about the baby.

 

"Ms. Nettie, what am I going to do?"

 

"I suggest letting the others help out so you can get a good night's sleep tonight." Nettie says firmly. "As for Ezzie, what do you need in the way of supplies for him?"

 

"I need to get some more diapers for him. I don't like using disposables, but I'm out of cloth diapers. I also need to get some different soap for them, the detergent I've been using doesn't seem to be cleaning them as well as I like. The brand that Becky had been using for Ezzie's clothes isn't available here. I don't want to use the brand Buck and I normally use, it seems like it would be too rough on Ezzie's skin."

 

"I know the name of a good diaper service." Nettie says, picking up the phone. "They make pickups and deliveries every day. Now how about clothes?"

 

"Ezzie's good for clothes right now. Toni and Becky had just brought him a couple new outfits before they," JD closes his eyes, swallowing heavily, "they died. The lawyer's in the process of cleaning out the house and having everything put in storage for now. The house is up for sale; it's in a good neighborhood and will sell almost immediately, at the price they're asking for. The house was paid off, and they didn't have any bills, so I'm putting the money from the sale of the house, the insurance settlement for the car, Toni's and Becky's life insurance policies, and any settlement we get from the civil case in an account for Ezzie's college. I thought I'd ask Vin to help me invest it, he's good at that sort of thing."

 

"What about the bookstore?" Nettie asks, hanging up the phone after arranging for a delivery of diapers to be waiting at the condo when the boys get home.

 

"Toni and Becky had a good business there, the lawyer says there's more than enough money coming in to hire a manager for the store. The clerk who helped the girls has already been approached to stay on as manager, and they're hiring a couple salesclerks to take up the slack."

 

"Now what are you going to be doing about the Condo? It's barely big enough for you and Buck, let alone the baby."

 

"The condo next to Buck's is for sale. I've talked with the developer, they've agreed to let me buy the second Condo, tear down the walls between the two units, and make it one big unit."

 

"I bet they didn't have any trouble with allowing it." Nettie snorts, her eyes twinkling with laughter. " Toni owned the company, so it's Ezzie's now. Your lawyer probably recognized the address and told them to let you do anything you wanted."

 

"T. . .Toni owned the company that developed the building we live in?"

 

"And about ten more in Four Corners alone. Toni never talked about it, but she is, she was," Nettie says, eyes closing in pain, "the sole heir to the Standish fortune. She's worth about 75. . ."

 

"All rise, Court is in session. The Honorable Orrin Travis presiding," Buck says, watching Judge Travis cross the room to the bench. "Be seated."

 

"What do we have first?"

 

"The first case is Swenson vs. Henderson, plaintiff alleges that defendant keyed his car when it was parked in the parking lot behind Henderson's meat market. Defendant says the car was damaged before the plaintiff came to his place of business, and the plaintiff is a con artist out to make a quick buck."

 

Judge Travis rolls his eyes when he hears who the plaintiff is, the plaintiff has been before his court numerous times claiming he's been victimized in one way or another.

 

Three hours later, Judge Travis dismisses court for lunch, motioning for Nathan, Vin, and Buck to join him at the bench.

 

"Boys, time for lunch. I had Rose order pizzas an hour ago; they should be waiting for us in the boardroom. I want to hear JD's story."

 

"Lead the way, Orrin," Buck grins at the Judge. "I'm having a barbecue tonight at the Condo, I was hoping you and Evie would come."

 

Judge Travis grins at his former foster son, clapping the bailiff on the shoulder as he grabs the phone. "Sounds good to me, I'll call Evie now and tell her. Knowing Evie, she'll spend the afternoon baking."

 

Buck heads for the office, grinning as he sees JD chasing Ezra out the door. Buck grabs the toddler as he heads his direction, lifting him into his arms and blowing a raspberry on Ezra's stomach. Ezzie giggles, reaching out and touching Buck's mustache. Buck captures the hand, planting a kiss on each finger and the palm of the hand.

 

"Court over already?" Nettie asks, poking her head out the door.

 

"Yeah, and Judge Travis has ordered pizzas for lunch." Buck says as Chris and Josiah come towards them, "Judge Travis has ordered pizzas, everybody to the board room." Chris grins as he pulls Adam into his arms.

 

Ten minutes later, everybody is gathered around the huge table, pizza and sodas in front of them. Josiah's brought a highchair from the day care center, so Ezzie's sitting in it contentedly beating the tray with a plastic spoon as JD warms his lunch.

 

"JD, what do you want to add to the grocery list?" Buck asks, looking up from the list he's working on as Nathan hands him another piece of pizza. JD takes the notepad he shoves across the table, adding a few items to the list before handing it back.

 

"Okay, I'll call it in now while I'm thinking about it. This way, we can just run in, grab the groceries, write a check, and head for home." Buck says, pulling his cell phone from his pocket and beginning to dial.

 

"Oh Buck, you might not recognize the loft when we get home." JD says blushing.

 

"Why, you throw a party and wreck the place? Or," Buck holds his hand over his heart pretending to be shocked, "Clean your room?"

 

"Umm, actually I cleaned the whole condo from top to bottom, when I found out about the baby. I was in shock I guess and I couldn't sleep. I stripped your bed, turned your mattress, washed your sheets and blankets, washed my sheets and blankets, rearranged the linen closet, dusted and vacuumed the living room, rearranged the kitchen cabinets, took everything we'd been saving to the recycling center, and finished reupholstering the chairs you got at the flea market."

 

Buck blinks at his roommate while Nettie smirks at Chris.

 

"Sound familiar?"

 

"Chris?" Buck asks, staring at his college roommate is disbelief.

 

"Adam was about six, no seven months old. He had colic, and I was up all night six days straight trying to calm him down. I was hallucinating by this point from lack of sleep; Nettie had been on vacation so she wasn't home to help. She came home to find me carrying Adam on my back in a baby carrier because that was the only thing that stopped his crying, while I cleaned everything in reach to keep from screaming. She took one look at me, took Adam from my back, and put me to bed. I slept three days straight."

 

"Everything in the house was spotless, he'd even whitewashed the chimney." Nettie says grinning as she remembers the sight she'd come home to. "I think if I hadn't got home when I did, he would have been working on the attic next."

 

"Excuse me?" A voice from the doorway asks. Everybody turns around to find a uniformed messenger standing in the doorway. "Judge Travis' secretary said Mr. JD Dunne was in here? I have a letter from his attorney that needs to be signed for."

 

"I'm Dunne." JD says, looking over from where he's wiping Ezzie's face.

 

"I need to see some identification sir."

 

JD points to the id badge hanging from his pocket, then pulls the driver's license from his wallet and holds it out.

"Thank you sir," the messenger says, "Will you sign here please?"

 

JD signs for the letter, slicing it open as the others watch. He reads the single piece of paper inside before looking at the cashier's check.

 

"What is it, JD?"

 

"The money from Becky and Toni's life insurance policies, plus the money from the insurance company from the accident." JD says distractedly, "Vin, will you help me invest it? I'm saving it for Ezzie's college fund."

 

"Sure thing, JD. What kind of money are we talking about?"

 

JD hands the letter over, grinning, as Vin's eyes grow huge when he sees the seven-figure amount mentioned in the letter. Nettie calmly takes the paper from his limp hand, nodding as she reads it.

 

"How?"

 

"Toni and Becky each had $750,000 life insurance policies, with accidental death indemnities, that would be 1.5 million apiece." Nettie says, looking over at JD and Judge Travis. "Orrin, why don't you and JD go lock that check in your safe until we're ready to leave?"

 

"Yeah, I don't want to leave that laying around. I'll put it in the bank tomorrow on my day off." JD says, following the Judge out the room.

 

"Buck, Buck, BUCK?" Nettie asks, finally reaching over and swatting Buck across the back of the head to get his attention.

 

"Yes, Miss Nettie?" Buck asks, wrinkling his nose as he smells something strange. The look on Ezzie's face tells him exactly what it is he smells.

 

"Oh Baby. . ." Buck says, removing the tray and lifting Ezzie into his arms, "come on, let's get you cleaned up. Chris, hand me his diaper bag will you?"

 

Chris and Buck leave the room, passing JD and Judge Travis as they enter the family bathroom. JD immediately changes direction and joins Buck and Chris in the bathroom, watching the two older men competently change one incredibly stinky diaper.

 

"You were saving that up for us, weren't you?" Buck asks, grabbing the wiggling toes. Ezzie chortles and tries sticking his foot in his mouth. Buck grins as he picks Ezzie up, bouncing the baby as he heads back to the office. Nettie scowls at him, knowing she's never going to be able to put Ezzie down for a nap now.

 

"Come on Junior," Buck says, throwing one arm around JD's shoulders, "Time to go to work."

 

Four hours later the last straggler from the courtroom makes it out the door as JD shuts down the computer and grabs the disc with the transcript of the days sessions. JD drops the disk in the in basket for proofreading and printout tomorrow, grinning as he sees

Adam playing peek-a-boo with Ezzie. Chris smiles, watching in amusement as Nettie takes a picture with the camera that's never far from her hands. Nettie had been a reporter before injuries forced her to retire to a desk job, since then she's put out at least one best selling novel every other year as well as her nonfiction books.

 

"Mom meeting us at the Loft?" Buck asks the Judge, grinning as Chris grumbles under his breath while trying to fold up the playpen. Chris yelps as Miss Nettie calmly swats Chris on the butt with a wooden spoon while Vin smirks broadly.

 

"Boy, you know how I feel about you using that kind of language around Adam. You're not to big to get your mouth washed out with soap." She warns, waggling the spoon under Chris' nose. Chris growls, seeing Buck has somehow gotten the entire scene on video. And just where the hell had he gotten hold of a video camera anyway?

 

"Actually Evie just left to use the bathroom. She'll be right back." Nettie says, picking up toys with Ezzie and Adam's ‘help'.

 

"And how did you get her out of the kitchen so quickly?"

 

"Simple, do you really think anybody was going to keep me away once I heard I had a new grandson?" Evie Travis asks her husband from the doorway. She grins as everything is gathered up and distributed among various vehicles for the trip home. "I baked a couple batches of cookies and a cake. They're cooling in the loft." She smirks, "I was surprised to see how clean the loft was, considering how your room used to look."

 

"You can blame JD for that Mom, he went nuts and went on a cleaning spree." Buck says, wrapping his arms around the only mother he's ever known. He had been about Ezzie's age when his real momma, a streetwalker, had been killed in a drive-by shooting. Judge Travis had immediately taken the baby into his home, raising him as his own son. He hadn't been able to find out anything about the young woman, only that she was a teenaged runaway from somewhere out west who had felt living on the streets and selling herself had been a better life than what she had been running from.

 

Everybody heads for their various cars, Ezzie tucked back under JD's coat much to the dismay of the others. Buck carefully pulls out of the parking lot and heads for the grocery store.

 

"JD, Ezzie's riding in a car seat from now on."

 

"Of course Buck, but I can't strap a car seat to the back of my motorcycle now, can I?"

 

"Then I'll drive you to work until Chris and Vin can find you a car, understand?"

 

"Yes, Buck, I understand." JD grins as he unbuttons his seat belt.

 

"Oh no Junior, you're staying in the truck. Once I got you inside, you'd never come out. I'll be right back, understand. The others are waiting for us at home."

 

Meanwhile, back at the Condo Evie opens the door with her keys, letting the others inside. JD and Evie had been right, the place is spotless. The others immediately head for JD's room, seeing the small dresser beside JD's, a highchair in the corner of the room, and a small crib wedged into the remaining free space in the room. Chris grabs the highchair and brings it out into the kitchen, placing it next to the small table. Josiah settles on the couch, looking in interest at the blueprints on the coffee table.

 

"What's this?"

 

"Oh yeah, JD told me about that. He's buying the condo next door and he wants to knock down the wall between the two units, making it one big place. This place isn't really big enough for two men, let alone two men and a baby."

 

"Whoever drew these plans up does good work." Josiah says, looking over the plans to expand the kitchen, install a small washer/dryer unit so they don't have to run down to use the units in the basement whenever they want to do a load, install a gas fireplace in the space where the two doors had been, and make a home office for the two men."

 

"How the hell does JD plan on paying for the Condo, renovations, and manage a car payment?" Chris asks, looking at the cost breakdown for the renovations. "Even with the rest of us doing some of the work, the renovations would be more than JD makes in a year."

 

"JD has that all taken care of," Nettie says from the kitchen where she's unloading the dishwasher. "Speaking of in hand, they just pulled in. Why don't you boys run down and help bring the groceries up?" she says, making the question into a command.

 

"Nettie, does JD have everything taken care of or is he biting off more than he can chew?" Orrin asks as everybody but him, Evie, Adam, and Nettie leave the loft. "Evie and I can help out a little if he needs more money."

 

"Orrin," Nettie says, wiping her hands on a dishtowel she's stuck through a loop in her jeans. "JD has everything taken care of. Toni owned the company that developed the property, the purchase price for the condo is going right back into Toni's estate. The only thing that needs to be paid for is the renovations. As for the car, JD told me that the lawyer is releasing enough funds to cover the cost of one, so he won't have a monthly payment."

 

"Toni? Toni Sanchez?"

 

"Yes, that Toni."

 

"Orrin, who's Tony?"

 

"Toni is short for Antoinette, Evie. She is, or she was, the sole heir to the Standish fortune. She left everything to Ezzie in her will, in trust until he reaches 21."

 

"How much money are we talking about, Nettie?"

 

Nettie stops talking as the others erupt back into the condo, dumping grocery bags on the kitchen island before going back to the truck for the second load. "Well Evie, let's just say that Ezzie's going to be the only billionaire at the day care center. And that's not counting the money JD got today from the insurance policies." Nettie says dryly.

 

"I'm glad you reminded me of that Nettie," Orrin says, pulling the envelope from his pocket, "Do the boys have someplace safe to put this until tomorrow, or should I take it home with me and have Evie bring it over tomorrow?"

 

"Buck," Nettie orders as Buck and JD come into the room, "Take JD's check and lock it in your safe until he has a chance to go to the bank tomorrow. Evie, do you want to come over and drive him to the bank as soon as it opens, or do you want me to?"

 

"I'll do it, Nettie. I want to spend some time with my grandson anyway. Since I doubt I'm ever going to get any out of Buck. God forbid he ever settles down with one woman and start a family."

 

"Moooommmmmm," Buck whines, rolling his eyes.

 

"Don't mom me, young man. I want grandchildren. I'm not getting any younger, and I want grandchildren to spoil." Evie grins as she swats Buck with a towel as he heads up the stairs to his bedroom.

 

"Hey JD, who drew up these plans?" Chris asks, waving the blueprints. "I'm thinking of having an addition added to the farmhouse."

 

"One of the architecture students at the college. She's doing it as an independent project for credit. She does good work, doesn't she?"

 

"What plans are you talking about, Chris? JD!!!! You organized my underwear drawer?"

 

"I told you I cleaned Buck," JD calls up the stairs, "I found that camelhair jacket you were bitching about not being able to find. It was buried under your old jeans, I took it to the cleaners, it will be ready tomorrow."

 

"Thanks for finding it, that was driving me nuts. I swear I hung it up in the coat closet by the door."

 

"Well, we're going to have a lot more room for all our stuff. If you agree, anyway."

 

"What do you mean, if I agree?"

 

"I'm buying the unit next door. I was thinking about knocking out the walls and making it one big place."

 

"Damn JD, do you know what kind of money that would take? There's no way in hell you can afford that, even if you are a millionaire now. That unit is twice as big as ours, that's why it's never been sold."

A knock at the door interrupts Buck's rant. Chris, being the closest, opens the door to find a man with a briefcase standing outside the door.

 

"Excuse me, is Mr. Dunne at home?"

 

"Yeah, JD, it's for you."

 

The man enters the room, smiling as he sees the baby currently making rounds of the adults in the room.

 

"Hello Ezzie, remember me?" he asks, tugging on one bare foot.

 

"Unka Dim." The baby crows, kicking his feet.

 

"Hello Jim," Nettie calls from across the room, recognizing Becky and Toni's lawyer, "I thought you were still in California."

 

"Hello Nettie, I just flew back less than an hour ago. I didn't expect to find you here, I was going to call you once I got home."

 

"About Becky and Toni? I found out from the others."

"I didn't want you to find out from the news."

 

"Thanks Jim, it's a shock but I'm coping. Now, why are you here?"

 

"I wanted to see if Mr. Dunne had gotten the insurance check, and I'm here to get his signature on a few forms."

 

Jim Gardner sets his briefcase on the coffee table, opening it to pull out a large manila envelope.

 

"Mr. Dunne, I need you to look over and sign these papers saying you're taking over the condo unit next door."

 

"JD, can I look the paperwork over before you sign it?" Orrin asks, sitting down beside JD on the couch. Jim raises an eyebrow. "Sorry, Judge Orrin Travis. I'm the judge JD works with at the courthouse, and Ezzie's unofficial Grandpa if my wife has any say in the matter."

 

"Certainly, Judge Travis." Jim says, handing over the bundle of paperwork dealing with the condo ownership, "I've also cut Mr. Dunne a check for a car and renovations for the condo."

 

Orrin looks over each page, handing it over to JD to initial and sign as needed before Jim passes over a small envelope. JD opens it, revealing a set of keys.

 

"The red key is for the front door, the blue key is for the deadbolt. The black key is for the back door that leads to the stairs, and the orange key is for the mailbox. Congratulations Mr. Dunne, you have just purchased yourself a condo." Jim shakes hands with his client, kisses Nettie on the cheek, and excuses himself to head for home.

 

JD drops the keys into the bowl on the coffee table and leans back into the couch, closing his eyes against the headache that returned earlier.

 

"JD, dinner won't be ready for an hour, why don't you go lay down until then?" Evie says, her eyes meeting Nettie's over the back of the couch.

 

"Will you guys be okay watching Ezzie for me?" JD asks, pushing himself out of the overstuffed couch and weaving his way to the bedroom.

 

"It may have been a few years since Buck was this size, but it's like riding a bicycle: once you learn, you never forget." Evie says, watching as JD instantly falls asleep once he lies down.

 

"Should we wake him up for dinner?" Buck asks, standing in the doorway with Ezzie in his arms.

 

"Let him sleep himself out. Right now he needs sleep more than he needs food. Poor boy, he's probably waking up four or five times a night to check on the baby. Lord knows I did when Buck first came to live with us. Orrin had been called out of town just after we got custody, and I was a nervous wreck until he returned."

 

"Exactly Evie," Nettie says nodding briskly, "Chris did the same thing. The only cure is a few good nights of sleep and somebody else around to make sure nothing happens to the baby. Once they're both sleeping through the night again JD will calm down and realize that nothing's going to happen if he sleeps through the night. Ezra's old enough to sleep through the night, he's not old enough yet to be able to crawl out of his crib, so if he wakes up he'll just find something to do until he falls asleep again."

 

"Chris, give me a hand, will ya?" Buck asks, handing the baby over to Nettie as he quietly walks into JD's room. He rolls his eyes as everybody except Nettie, Evie, Orrin, and Ezzie begin to softly clap.

 

"Hardy, har, har Big dog." Buck says, rolling his eyes. "Grab the other end of this crib will ya? I'm bringing it out of JD's room so I can get up in case Ezzie wakes up in the middle of the night. I don't want to wake JD up, he looks like this is the first decent sleep he's gotten since he found out he's a daddy."

"It probably is," Chris says, sliding into the small space left in the room. "Grab the other end of this crib will you, Vin, it's heavy as hell." He grunts softly as he pushes it towards the door. "How the hell did JD get everything in here, let alone have space to move?"

 

"Buck, there is no way in hell you're getting this up to your room." Chris says, staring at the crib. "This thing is heavy. They don't make them like this anymore."

 

"It's a hundred years old, Chris. According to what Toni told me, it's part of a set that was hand carved for the first Standish baby that was born in Four Corners. It's been used by every Standish baby ever since."

 

Chris picks up the blueprints that had been left on the table and grabs the keys from the dish.

 

"I don't know about you guys, but I want to look at JD's new purchase." Chris says, heading for the door. "Ezzie isn't going to be able to stay in JD's room much longer, he's going to need a room of his own."

 

Everybody but Nettie follow Chris out the door to the new condo. Chris whistles as he opens the door, the new condo is easily twice the size of Buck's condo. Looking at the blueprints he begins to point out details to the others.

 

"Damn, look at this kitchen. It's twice the size of ours." Buck says, walking over and opening the cabinets. "Has a dishwasher and everything."

 

"Maybe you'll stop putting off doing dishes until you don't have any clean ones left." Evie smirks at her son. Buck gives her a long-suffering look.

 

"This is the wall between your condos right?" Nathan asks, tapping a wall.

 

"Yeah, that's the wall. According to these," Chris says, shaking the roll of blueprints, "the wall's the first thing that's going to be torn out. Since it's not a load-bearing wall, it's just a matter of knocking a hole in it, tearing it out, and framing up the new rough opening.

 

"What do you plan on doing to your old kitchen?"

 

"Tear it out and enlarge the bathroom." Buck says without hesitation. "This way we'd have two bathrooms. The old one's too damn small and I'd like a separate tub and shower."

 

"You'd have three actually," Josiah says, looking at the blueprints. "There's one off the master bedroom over there." Josiah points to a corner room, "one by the other three bedrooms, and that one."

 

"What does it show for JD's bedroom?"

 

"Looks like the wall's going to be torn out and it's going to double in size. If I'm reading it right, the new room will come out to here," Josiah taps a spot on the wall.

 

"It's going to take a lot of work." Nathan says, "What do you plan on doing first?"

 

"I'd tear out the wall between the condos first." Josiah says, looking out the window. "You can park a dumpster right out here and toss the debris over the balcony. It would give you more room and you could transfer everything from the old kitchen to the new one in one day."

 

"What about the old cabinets?"

 

"They're still good. There's a company that buys old cabinets and stuff, refurbishes it, and resells it. I'll give them a call when we get ready to tear them out."

 

"Don't get everything planned out yet boys." Orrin says, "JD might have a couple ideas when he wakes up and you're going to have to get the proper permits for the renovations. I don't want to find you boys in my courtroom as the defendants instead of my court officers."

 

"Yeah, and we're going to have to sit down and draw up a list of supplies we'll need." Buck says, sighing as he locks the door behind him. "Hell, I don't have a say in the matter really."

 

"Actually you do, according to the papers JD signed, both of your names are on the deeds for the new condo."

 

"You're shitting me, right?"

 

"No Buck," Orrin says, rolling his eyes as they enter Buck's condo, "I am not ‘shitting' you. I looked the papers over before JD signed them, both of your names are on the new deed as owners for the second condo unit."

 

Buck checks the steaks on the grill, then walks back inside the condo as JD emerges from his bedroom, stretching and yawning.

 

"What's Ezzie's crib doing out here?" JD asks, dropping onto the couch.

 

"I figured if I put his crib out here, we'd both hear him if he started to fuss during the night. I don't know how the hell you go it in your room in the first place."

 

"You can't tell, but it comes apart pretty easily." JD says around a yawn. "What's that?" he points to the list Chris had started.

 

"Stuff we're going to need when we start tearing down the wall between the two units." Chris says, "A note to see what permits we're going to need, a list of stuff Buck wants for the new bathroom when we tear out this kitchen, etc."

 

"Vin, in the cabinet behind you there's a folder marked plans. Will you bring it out?"

 

Vin hands the folder to JD who passes it to Chris through another yawn.

 

"And you are going to bed right after you eat, young man, whether I have to put you to bed myself." Nettie says scowling as she watches JD try to swallow another yawn. "You're not going to do Ezzie any good if you make yourself sick trying to do it all by yourself."

 

"What's this?"

"A list of materials and prices the head of the carpentry class at the vocational school gave me after I showed him the plans that had been drawn up. He's arranged for me to get the materials at wholesale price in exchange for allowing some of his students to work on some of the stuff for a final project. They're being delivered next week."

 

"That's going to be a lot of help. With our schedules, it would take us forever to do a lot of this stuff."

 

JD grabs the pad of paper from the table, tears off the top sheet filled with Chris's neat handwriting, and begins to make a list.

 

"Bank, Dry cleaners, anybody think of anything else?"

 

"How about a car seat and stroller?"

 

"Ezzie's got a stroller down in the storage unit, but we need to buy a new car seat." JD says, writing that down on the paper. "The old one was damaged in the car accident, the firemen had to cut him out of it."

 

"You can borrow Adam's old seat until you buy a new one." Chris says, "Ezzie looks like he's about big enough for a front-facing seat."

 

"Is he over 20 pounds?" Orrin asks, poking Ezra in the belly and making him giggle.

 

"I don't know." JD says, looking up at the Judge. "Why?"

 

"The laws say a infant under fifteen months or 20 pounds should be in a rear-facing car seat. Over 20 pounds they can be in a front-facing car seat. At 3 to 4 years old, and over 40 pounds, they graduate to a booster seat."

 

"Damn, I didn't know this was all so complicated." JD says, rubbing a hand over his face as Orrin stands up.

 

"Buck, where's your scale?"

 

"Bathroom, bottom cabinet." Buck says, looking up as his father walks into the bathroom with the giggling baby. Everybody follows him to the door to watch as he places the scale on the floor, then weighs himself and the baby.

 

"215 pounds." He says, looking down at the scale. "I just had my annual physical and I weigh about 198, so Ezzie weighs about 17 pounds."

 

"Then he should stay in a rear facing car seat for a couple more months?" Buck asks.

 

"Probably, it's been a few years since I brought a car seat, but I believe they go up to 22 or 29 pounds. Once Ezzie exceeds the weight limit on a rear-facing seat, then you can move to the next class seat.

 

"You can keep Adam's old car seat as long as you need then," Nettie says, walking into the kitchen. "And buy the larger size one tomorrow to put away until you need it. Now somebody check the steaks, cause it's time to eat."

 

"Vin, give me a hand putting the extra leaves in the table." Chris says, pulling on the table until it reaches its full length. Buck grabs a couple folding chairs and all the stools from around the kitchen island.

 

" ‘Siah, toss me that list would ya? I want to add a couple things to it."

 

"What stuff?" JD asks, putting Ezra in his highchair

 

"We snuck over and looked at the new place while you were asleep." Buck says, "and we're going to need a bigger table and some more chairs. You said something about putting in a washer and dryer?" JD nods vigorously and Buck adds that to the list, "this way we can do an emergency load without having to run downstairs. "We're going to need some more kitchen stuff. There's a set of stainless steel cookware I've been dying to have, but we never had the room before now for it, I'd like to get some new couches and chairs. You need a new mattress and box spring, at the very least."

 

"There's a new furniture store opening downtown, and they're having a one day sale." Evie says, holding up her hand at Buck's protests, "JD and I can look and see what they have. I have a good idea what kind of furniture you're looking for, so I'll get some fabric samples and bring them back here for you boys to decide what will be best. JD, what kind of washer and dryer were you thinking of getting?"

 

"I thought I'd look at those new stacking washer/dryer units, but I have a feeling they'd be just too small for the three of us. If they are, I'd like one of those new Neptune washer and dryers. They're on sale this week at Sears, two hundred and fifty dollars off."

 

"We'll stop and look at them then, the furniture store is right next to the mall where Sears is, and they've got a good children's clothing store in the same mall." JD begins to protest and Evie, grinning to take the bite out of her words, waggles a finger in his face. "Don't bother to protest, Ezzie is my grandson and I'm going to spoil him rotten, since Buck doesn't seem to be interested in settling down and starting a family."

 

"Don't argue JD, Dad and I already learned it's not worth the effort." Buck says smirking as he watches his mother calmly feed the baby while he puts the steaks on the table. Ezzie grabs the bottle in his chubby hands and begins to drink his warm milk while Nettie purees some vegetables for him.

 

"Nettie, Evie, is Ezzie old enough to move to the next stage baby food?"

 

Nettie and Evie look at each other, then over at Ezzie who's cheerfully gnawing on a slice of toast.

 

"Let me look at it tomorrow, I think a lot of the baby food stages was just put out to make more money off first time parents." Evie says, "Ezzie's beginning to eat solid foods, so we can begin to wean him off formula. We didn't have all these different stages baby foods when Buck was growing up, I'd make my own baby food by pureeing what we were having for dinner. And I don't mean fast food either, now that you boys have a baby to think of you're going to have to buckle down and cook some real meals."

 

"Means we're going to have to buy groceries on a regular basis too." Buck says, "instead of letting the cupboards go bare before we break down and go shopping."

 

"Make a list of everything you're going to need for a week's worth of meals, including breakfast, lunches, and snacks." Nettie says, "Then make a list of nutritious meals for the same week. Check the grocery store flyers for what's on sale and stock up on canned goods that won't go bad."

 

"That reminds me JD, we might want to look at a small chest freezer while we're in Sears so you boys can buy meat while it's on sale and freeze it until it's needed." Evie grabs the notepad and begins to write down ideas. "Buck, did you see if there's a pantry in the other condo, or at least more cabinet space?"

 

"No, but we can look after dinner. Any other suggestions?"

 

"Yeah, since you and JD work long hours, I'd cook a few meals that can be frozen and heated up to eat later. That way if you're both tired you can just pop something in the stove to warm up and you're still have a nutritious dinner and won't be stopping at McDonald's for fast food ‘cause you're too tired to cook."

 

"I remember my mom doing the same thing." JD says softly, remembering his mom cooking all day on her days off so they'd have nutritious meals during the week after she got off of work. "She'd also make soups and stews and leave them in a crock pot to cook all day."

 

An hour later everybody makes the trip back to the other condo. Evie and Nettie head immediately to the kitchen, opening two doors in the far wall to find a large pantry. A second door across the room is opened and Evie grins.

 

"Buck, JD, looks like we won't have to look at freezers after all." Buck and JD look over her shoulder and whistle.

 

"Damn, that's one huge freezer." Buck says, walking over and opening the lid. He wrinkles his nose at the musty smell, grabbing the list to write ‘baking soda to deodorize freezer' on the list.

 

"Once you plug it in for a couple days the smell will go away, Buck." Evie grins, turning around to walk through the kitchen. "A side by side refrigerator, with freezer on the bottom, plenty of cupboard space, an industrial sized dishwasher . . . this kitchen was designed with a serious cook in mind."

 

"Hey JD, as long as you're here, what bedroom did you have in mind for Ezzie's room?" Vin asks, leaning over the banister on the second floor. "You've got two bedrooms and a bath down there, a master bedroom and bathroom up here, plus your room once they renovate it."

 

"I have no idea." JD says slowly, bouncing a yawning Ezzie in his arms. Ezzie buries his face in JD's neck as Evie and Nettie look over the two rooms.

 

"This one." They say in unison, sticking their heads in the second bedroom. "There's a window for ventilation, and you can put his crib in this corner until he's big enough for a regular bed, his dresser can go against this wall, there's a big closet for his clothes, and you can put a toy chest right here under the window. He'll need a changing table, and a pail for diapers."

 

"His changing table is still down in our storage unit, I couldn't figure out how to put it in my room and I didn't think Buck would want it in the middle of the living room."

 

"What's a changing table?"

 

"It's a piece of furniture about waist high with a padded surface that you can put the baby on to change his diapers. There's drawers underneath with storage for diapers, diaper wipes, and they're usually covered with something that can be easily cleaned."

 

"What time is it, Daddy?" Adam asks from his spot on Chris's shoulder.

 

"Time for you to be in bed." Chris says, smiling as he brushes a hand over his son's messy hair. "See you tomorrow everybody, it's time I get my son home to bed."

 

"Shoot, I didn't think it was that late." Nettie says, looking at her watch. "Evie, I'll hunt up Adam's old car seat when we get home, clean it up, and Chris can bring it over on his way to work."

 

"I'll be over around nine-thirty JD. We'll look over what you have of Ezzie's in storage, then make a list of what we need to buy."

"Okay, Mrs. Travis."

 

"Call me Evie or Mom, JD," Evie grins as she stands on her tiptoes to kiss first Ezzie's cheek and then JD's. "You're as much my son as Buck is."

 

Orrin puts his arm around Evie's shoulders as everybody heads for the elevator. Evie turns around to see Buck and JD standing outside the Condo door, watching everybody pile into the elevator. The sight of Buck holding Ezzie's little hand up to wave goodbye is the last thing she sees before the elevator door closes.

 

"I don't know about you boys but I feel like I've run the Boston marathon, and I didn't do anything except find out about Ezzie." Evie says, leaning against her husband with a tired sigh.

 

"I know how you feel Mrs. Travis, I felt the same way when I found out that Sarah had had a major stroke and they'd had to deliver Adam by emergency cesarean. An hour ago I'd been a husband and expectant father, then I was a widower with a baby boy who needed me more than ever. Thank God for Nettie, I don't know how I'd have survived Adam's first week otherwise. I was bringing my son home from the hospital at the same time I was burying his mother."

 

"Daddy?" Adam asks, lifting his head from Chris's shoulder.

 

"It's okay Adam, we'll be home soon." Chris pats Adam's back as Adam lies back down, burying his face in Chris's neck.

 

Buck and JD walk back into the condo, shutting the door behind them. As the only tenants on the top floor of the building, they'd gotten used to leaving the door open when they're home. Thanks to the building's security, anybody needing access to the top floor needs a keycard for the elevator so it's safe enough to do.

 

Buck walks over to the window, watching the sun begin to set as JD lays Ezzie down on a blanket on the floor to change his diaper and put him in pajamas. Ezzie yawns again as JD lays him down in the crib, reaches over to touch the teddy bear tucked in the corner of the crib, and falls asleep. JD leans over the side of the crib and watches his son sleep for a minute before walking back out into the living room.

 

"Buck, you mind if I take my shower first?"

 

"Go ahead JD, will I disturb Ezzie if I turn the TV on?"

 

"Ezzie's a pretty heavy sleeper, you won't disturb him."

 

"Adam was the same way," Buck grins, "once he falls asleep he's good for the rest of the night." Buck drops down onto the couch, grabbing the remote from the coffee table to turn the television on as water begins to run in the bathroom. Buck leans forward on the couch, looking towards JD's room and seeing the outline of JD's crib, which he, Vin, and Chris had moved back into JD's room after dinner, and grabs the notepad left on the coffee table. Picking it up, he smirks as he reads his mother's familiar handwriting.

 

Playpen for living room? Toys? Check Ezzie's dresser for clothing sizes and buy outfits a size bigger so he can grow into them.

 

"JD?" Buck asks, sticking his head around the bathroom door and raising his voice to be heard over the water.

 

"Yeah Buck?" JD asks, spitting out a mouthful of water as he washes his hair.

 

"Ezzie got a playpen?"

 

"Yeah, I folded it up and put it in the closet by the door. I let Ezzie play in it while I was cooking dinner, cleaning, etc so he could play while I was working. I put it away this morning so you wouldn't see it when you first got home. I wasn't sure how you'd react to finding a new baby in the apartment."

 

"Which is why Ezzie's highchair was in your room too?"

 

"Yeah, I wanted to keep all Ezzie's stuff in my room so you wouldn't be bothered by it."

"And now?" Buck leans against the bathroom wall, watching the figure move behind the shower curtain.

 

"Now?" JD sticks his head around the curtain as the water shuts off, taking the towel Buck hands him and wiping his face. "Now I know you're not bothered by the baby's stuff, we can put it back up if you want."

 

"Where did you have it?"

 

"Where you had Ezzie's crib earlier. It's far enough from the window he wouldn't get a draft. Why all the interest all of a sudden?"

"I was looking at the notebook and saw Mom had written it down. Another question, are we going to be able to fit Ezzie's car seat in the truck?"

 

"We should, since your truck's an automatic it won't interfere with you reaching for a gear shift lever. It should only be a couple of days until I can get a car."

 

"What kind of car are you thinking of?"

"Mid-sized, big enough back seat for Ezzie's car seat with a big trunk for groceries, etc. One of the older style station wagons would be perfect, you have two rows of seats and a huge cargo area. Maybe a van where you can take the back row of seats out for storage."

 

"Shit JD, those things are expensive."

 

"Yeah, that's why I'm going to do some looking in the used car lots. An older car will be big enough for a growing boy, it should be affordable, and there will be room for cargo. The only thing that worries me is the older cars are gas-guzzlers."

 

"Not as bad as those damn SUV's you see running around in bigger cities. Shit, those things take up at least two parking spaces."

 

"Then you don't want me getting a Hummer?"

 

"Oh Hell no JD, that would be like Mom or Nettie getting behind the wheel of one of them things." Buck shudders as he imagines Evie behind the wheel, then grins as he imagines Nettie driving one. JD grins at the look on Buck's face, he'd been imagining the same thing.

 

"Could you imagine Hank Drevin from Traffic trying to pull Nettie over in one of those things?"

 

"I'll have to tell him that next time he complains about Nettie's speeding again." Buck smirks, imagining the look on the Traffic Captain's face when confronted by Nettie in a Hummer.

 

JD settles on the couch, grinning as he watches Buck moving the playpen here and there in the Condo before finally settling on the spot JD had set it up in the first place.

 

"Hardy, har, har, JD." Buck grumbles as he gives up and leaves the playpen where it is, "You realize that Mom's going to do the same thing when she arrives tomorrow, right?"

 

"Hey Buck if you don't mind me asking how come . . .?"

 

"Mom and Dad never adopted me? They couldn't, they didn't have a birth certificate for me and didn't know if there were any other family members out there. The best they could do was taking me in as a foster child until I turned eighteen. That's why there are so many kids in the foster care system that can't be adopted by their foster parents, the biological parent won't sign over custody. The only way they can be adopted is if a judge takes away their parental rights."

 

"Damn, I'm sorry Buck."

 

"Don't be JD, I had a wonderful childhood, and I know if Mom and Dad could have adopted me, they would have done so in a second."

 

JD sits up on the couch, head turned towards his room as he listens for the next sound. Buck walks to the door of the room and grins as he listens to Ezzie cooing in his sleep. He quickly walks to the closet where he keeps his video camera, turns it on, and captures the picture of Ezzie, head turned to the side with his thumb tucked in his mouth, sleeping on his stomach while a teddy bear keeps watch over him.

 

JD muffles a huge yawn with the back of his hand when Buck comes back to the living room.

 

"What time is it?"

 

"Not quite ten."

 

"Damn, it's earlier than I thought but I can't keep my eyes open any longer." JD says, getting up and heading for his room.

 

"Leave your door open, JD, so I can listen for the baby too." Buck orders from the couch, "I'm going to get a shower, watch the early news, and go to bed."

 

"See you in the morning then Buck." JD mumbles as he heads for his bed. He lies down and is instantly asleep, not noticing when Buck comes in after his shower and pulls light blankets over both him and Ezzie.

 

Buck stays in JD's room a minute, standing in the small patch of bare floor between JD's bed and the crib. He leans his arms on the side of the crib and listens to the baby sleep a minute before bending down, kissing the baby's hair, and leaving the room.

 

Sleep doesn't come easy to Buck that night, he finds himself lying in bed looking up at the skylight over his bed as he thinks about the baby sleeping downstairs with his father and going through all the things they're going to have to do to keep him safe.

 

"Damn, no wonder JD's exhausted if he's been thinking of this every since he found out about Ezzie. But between me, Nettie, and my mom, he's going to have more help than he knows what to do with." And with that thought Buck checks his alarm clock, closes his eyes, and rolls over to go to sleep.

 

Buck opens his eyes seven hours later: woke not by his alarm clock, but the quiet babbling of a baby. He hears JD waking up and, checking the clock to see it's only ten minutes before he'd normally wake up anyway, turns of the alarm, gets up out of bed, stretches, yawns, and heads for the bathroom.

 

"JD, you mind if I get first shower?"

 

"Go ahead Buck," JD says, from the living room where he's changing Ezzie's diaper. "I'll give Ezzie a bath and get my shower after you go to work." JD turns his head to look over his shoulder at Buck, then turns his attention back to tickling the baby's stomach. Ezzie kicks his legs, giggles, and waves his arms to be picked up.

 

Buck stands under the pounding cold water in an attempt to wake up for a couple minutes before briskly drying himself, dressing in a clean uniform, and walking out to the kitchen to find JD naked except for his bathrobe sitting Ezzie in his highchair.

 

"Buck, will you reach in that cabinet behind you and pull down that box of baby oatmeal?" JD asks, wrapping a bib around Ezzie's neck.

 

Buck hands the box of oatmeal over, sitting down to play with Ezzie's toes as JD fixes the oatmeal and puts it in the microwave a minute to warm.

 

"How do you want your eggs?" JD asks, opening the refrigerator to pull out fixings for an omelet.

 

"Make me a western omelet, JD, while I run down and check the mail." Buck says, getting up from the kitchen island and heading out the door. Chris meets him at the door, grinning as he hands over the car seat, the newspaper, and their mail.

 

"Morning Chris, thanks for bringing the car seat over so early." Buck says, taking the seat and putting it in the middle of the table. Quickly sorting through the mail, he tosses JD's in a pile, including a couple from lawyer's offices, and grins at the squirming baby.

 

"Ezzie quit wriggling, I'm feeding you as fast as possible." JD grins as the baby grabs for the spoonful of oatmeal heading for his mouth.

 

"Here JD, I'll feed him while you make breakfast." Chris says, grabbing the bowl and spoon, "He's almost big enough to try eating on his own." He says, grinning as the spoon is grabbed and it's oatmeal contents spread over nose and cheeks.

 

"How can I tell if he's old enough?"

Chris grins as he puts the bowl of oatmeal down on the highchair's tray, laughing at JD's moans of dismay as Ezzie immediately puts his hands in the oatmeal and begins to lick them clean.

 

"Hey, at least some of it's getting in him." Buck smirks, grabbing the camera from the coffee table and getting the entire scene on film.

 

"And the highchair, and the island, and the floor." Chris grins as a blob of oatmeal is launched across the room, splattering the refrigerator. "He's got a good heft there."

 

"Chris, you're not helping here." JD moans as he turns his attention back to the omelet cooking on the stove.

 

"Buck, give me your checkbook." JD orders over his shoulder, wincing at the sound of an empty bowl clattering to the floor. Buck grins as he takes a picture of Ezzie covered in oatmeal. Ezzie begins wailing as he begins banging on the highchair.

 

"Settle down Ezzie, I'm making you a bottle as fast as I can." JD says calmly, grabbing a can of formula from the shelf, pouring it in a bottle, warming it in the microwave, checking the temperature, and handing it to Chris, who pops the nipple in Ezzie's mouth. Ezzie holds the bottle in his hands, greedily sucking formula while Buck heads upstairs to his safe for JD's checks and his checkbook. Chris smirks at Buck's retreating back, Buck's not even aware of how quickly he reacts to anything JD says.

 

"Why do you need Buck's checkbook anyway?" Chris says, grinning as he wonders how long it will take Buck to realize he's falling in love with JD. Chris is the only person that knows Buck is bi-sexual, attracted to both men and women though he's never taken the attraction to men further than getting drunk one night in college and admitting to looking at guys while pretending to watch girls during spring break in Daytona.

 

"I'm picking up our uniforms and Buck's coat at the drycleaners when I drop off our dirty uniforms."

 

"You send your uniforms out to be cleaned?"

 

"Yeah, that way we don't have to schlep them down to the basement, haul them back up here and iron them. The cleaner does a good job on them, so all we have to do is hang them in the hall closet."

 

"Buck, we might have to look for a new cleaner." JD says over his shoulder, "Rosa told me last week when I dropped off our uniforms and your coat that she was thinking about retiring and she wasn't sure if her granddaughter was going to take over." JD turns the burner off, splits the huge omelet in half, slides it onto two plates, and puts them on the kitchen island before taking the tray off the highchair and picking the baby up.

 

"Crud, I'll have to let Vin and Josiah know when I get to work. They take their uniforms there too." Buck calls from his bedroom.

 

"Am I the only one who actually does their own uniforms?" Chris asks, as JD burps Ezzie before putting him down in the playpen.

 

"Hell Chris, except for you and Nathan, we're all bachelors. It's easier for us to just drop one set off weekly and pick up the other set. And the cleaners give us a special rate on cleaning them." Buck says, dropping onto a stool at the kitchen island and beginning to eat. Without turning around from cleaning the highchair, JD reaches out and swats Buck's hand as he reaches for the salt.

 

"No," he says in the same tone Chris would use on Adam, "You remember what the Doctor told you at your last physical. You need to cut down on the salt, lose about ten pounds, and watch your cholesterol."

 

"But it needs salt," Buck mock-whines as Chris muffles a snicker behind the mug of coffee he'd just poured.

 

"So Buck," Chris asks as they take the elevator down to the garage a half-hour later after waving goodbye to Ezzie and JD. "When did you open a joint checking account with JD?"

 

"Shortly after he moved in, this way we can both write checks for bills. Why?" Buck looks over at Chris as he gets in his truck.

 

"Nothing, just wondering." Chris says, shutting the door of his truck and trusting the tint on the windows to hide the big grin he's suddenly wearing. /If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not about to tell you. You're going to have to figure it out on your own. /

 

Evie smiles as she hears water splashing coming from the open bathroom door as she enters her son's condo.

 

"JD?"

 

"I'm giving Ezzie a bath, Mrs. Travis."

 

Evie smiles as she enters the bathroom, finding JD kneeling beside the tub steadying Ezzie with one hand as he washes him with the other. There's a diaper, clean clothes including a pair of little shoes, and a thick towel sitting on the toilet. She looks at the baby who's happily slapping the water and blinks.

 

"JD, how did Ezzie get oatmeal in his hair?"

 

"Ezzie kept trying to grab the spoon as I was feeding him this morning, so Chris decided to see if he was big enough to try feeding himself." JD says, dripping water on Ezzie's head before adding some baby shampoo. Evie leans against the bathroom wall and begins to laugh, remembering the first time Buck had done the same thing. "Let me guess, he stuck his hands in the oatmeal, ate some of it off his hands, and got the rest all over him?"

 

JD turns around and grins at his roommate's mother. "Yup, he also got it on the highchair, the kitchen island, the floor, and threw a handful across the room onto the refrigerator."

 

JD rinses Ezzie's hair, drains the water from the tub, and takes the towel Evie holds him with a smile before wrapping it around Ezzie and picking him up from the tub. Ezzie throws his arms around his Dad's neck, planting a wet kiss on his cheek as they leave the bathroom.

 

"Here," Evie says, following them out of the bathroom with Ezzie's clothes. "I'll get him dressed while you shower."

 

JD grins as Ezzie immediately holds his arms out to Evie. JD grins as he hands the baby over to his ‘grandma' and heads back into the bathroom. A quick shower later, he emerges from the bathroom to find Evie leaning over the playpen tickling Ezzie's bare feet.

 

"I'll be right out, Mrs. Travis." JD says, shutting his bedroom door and quickly dressing in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. He smiles as he sees the slightly open drawers of Ezzie's dresser; he'd figured that Evie would be checking to see if Ezzie had enough clothes. JD grabs the rolling hamper from the corner of the room, pushing it out into the living room before going into the bathroom for dirty towels and runs up to Buck's room to grab his laundry basket. Putting all the laundry beside the door, JD grabs Buck's checkbook and the envelope with his checks, slides it into the inside pocket of his jacket, grabs the mail from the table to read in the car as he grabs the bags containing their uniforms.

 

"JD, slow down, take a breath, and read your mail. We've got plenty of time." Evie smiles as she watches JD run around the condo like a chicken with his head cut off, "it's only eight-thirty, we've got all day. I'll watch Ezzie if you want to run down to the basement and do laundry."

 

"No, I'll do laundry when we get back." JD says, dropping onto the couch with a sigh. "The laundry soap Buck and I use is too harsh for Ezzie's skin, and they don't have the brand Becky used here, so I have to find a new soap for Ezzie's clothes and diapers."

 

"You do plan on using cloth diapers then?" Evie asks, remembering the bag of disposables tucked in the corner of JD's bedroom.

 

"I don't like disposables, but they're easier to use when we're away from home." JD says.

 

"Do you have the name of a good diaper service?"

 

"Yep, Nettie gave me hers. They'll drop off a new supply of diapers twice a week."

 

"Hey Ezzie, you ready to go for a ride?" Evie asks as she picks the baby up as JD grabs the baby's shoes from the table and slides them onto his feet before they put him in the car seat. Ezzie is quiet as they strap him in the seat, trying to decide whether or not to cry at this treatment.

 

"I want to look at Ezzie's changing table and stroller when we get back." Evie says, "I can do that while you start the laundry."

 

Evie holds the car seat in her hand as JD grabs the two bags of uniforms and drags them out into the hallway before shutting and locking the door.

 

The elevator goes down to the ground floor and the security guard behind the desk immediately gets to his feet and rushes across the room when he sees who's there.

 

"Hey Ezzie, how you doing?" Charlie Thomas, a former Four Corners cop that took early retirement after a shootout and then joined the company that guards the condo units grins at the giggling baby. "Here JD, let me give you a hand with those." He grabs one of the bags of laundry and carries it out to Evie's car.

 

"Thanks Charlie, how's Andi?"

 

"Miserable, she's been complaining for a week about swollen ankles and she can't wait until the baby's born." Charlie says, grinning as he talks about his blushing bride of ten years. "If it wasn't for the fact that I'm her willing slave, I think she might really have castrated me when she found out she was pregnant again." JD and Charlie grin at each other, then say ‘Yeah, right' in unison.

 

"Give her my love and supreme thanks for all the help you guys gave me."

 

"Hey, Ezzie's a sweetie, who wouldn't want to help?"

 

"Who's Andi?" Evie asks as she gets behind the wheel of the car. JD automatically looks back to see Ezzie's comfortable in his car seat as they head for the bank and Dry Cleaners.

 

"Andi's his wife, Dr. Andrea Thomas, a pediatrician at Four Corners General. They've got six children, not including this one; the youngest is a set of six-month-old twins. Charlie took one look at my face when I came home with Ezzie, called Andi at the hospital to come over after her shift, called her mother to watch the children, and they gave me a crash course in parenthood."

 

"Speaking of pediatricians?"

"Andi already told me that she's going to be his doctor." JD smirks as they pull into the bank parking lot. Evie picks the car seat up from the back seat and follows JD into the bank, grinning as the tellers immediately begin fussing over the baby.

 

"Hey Ann," JD says as he walks over to his favorite teller, "I need to talk to somebody about opening a new account."

 

"Hey JD, who's the baby? He's a darling."

 

"This is Evie Travis, Buck's mom, and this is my son, Ezra."

 

"Your son? I didn't know you had a baby."

 

"Neither did I until two weeks ago." JD says softly, "His mother and her partner were killed in a car accident in California last month. I want to open a bank account for him, and I need to make a deposit."

 

"Okay, I can take care of the your deposit now, and Janet can open the account for Ezra when she arrives in a half-hour. She doesn't have any appointments this morning, so she can fit you in easily."

 

"Thanks Ann," JD says, quickly filling out the deposit slip and handing it and the check for the car and renovations back to her.

 

"We've got hot coffee and donuts over there if you want to sit down." Ann says, pointing to the cluster of chairs around a table.

 

"Mrs. Travis, why don't you and Ezzie have a seat? I'll run next door and take care of the dry cleaning while we wait."

 

"Okay JD." Evie says, putting Ezzie's car seat on the table and handing him a biscotti to chew on. "We'll be right here."

 

"JD, I wasn't expecting you so early." Rosa says, coming from behind the counter when one of her favorite customers comes into the store. "Let me run back and get your stuff. "

 

JD drops the uniform bags on the counter, reaching into his pocket for the checkbook and grins at the older woman as she comes in with three bags. "How much do I owe you?"

 

"Thirty dollars for both your uniforms and Buck's coat. What's this I hear about you and a baby?"

"Yup, I have a beautiful little boy named Ezra. He's with Buck's mother right now at the bank, but I'll bring him over before we leave."

 

"Here," Rosa says, throwing the board back that separates the back from the front of the store. "Paulo, I'll be back in ten minutes." She says, leading the way out of the store.

"Si, Mrs. Rescillos, I'll watch the counter until you get back."

 

"Rosa, have you decided whether you're retiring or not?"

 

"I have to JD, I'm seventy-two years old. . ."

 

"Damn, you don't look a day over fifty."

 

"Well thank you, JD, you're such a sweetie." Rosa reaches up and pinches his cheek as she follows him out to the car, then into the bank. "Oh, he's adorable." She coos at the first sight of Ezzie surrounded by his adoring entourage of bank employees, "just like his daddy."

 

"So Rosa, is your granddaughter going to take over the business?" JD asks as he walks the older woman back to her store.

 

"I'm afraid not, JD. I'm selling the store to a chain that wants to move into Four Corners."

 

"I'm going to miss you," JD says, bending over Rosa's hand and kissing it, causing the older woman to blush and giggle like a schoolgirl, "And not just because Buck and I will have to find somebody else to clean our uniforms who's half as good as you."

"Flatterer," she smiles, watching him walk back to the bank. "I'm going to miss him." A clattering sound from the back room makes her pause, "but I'm not going to miss that." she says, shaking her head as she walks back to see what Paulo did this time.

 

"JD?" A voice says ten minutes later. "Ann said you wanted to open a new account?"

 

Evie Travis looks up from the magazine she'd been looking through to get ideas on decorating Ezzie's new room when JD stands up and introduces her to the other woman.

 

"Janet, this is Evie Travis, Buck's mom. . ."

 

"Evelyn Harrison?"

 

"Janey Mitchell, my god it's been years." Evie drops the magazine, and envelops the other woman in a warm hug. "Janey and I were sorority sisters more years ago that either of us care to admit." She tells JD, "And this is my honorary grandson, JD's son Ezra."

 

"My god, he's adorable." Janet says, looking at the grinning baby, "He's going to grow up to be a real heartbreaker."

 

"And he's already got a string of women wrapped around his little finger just like his Uncle Buck."

 

"What kind of account did you want to open, JD?" Janet asks as she settles behind the desk. JD and Evie have Ezra's car seat on the floor between them and the baby's quietly babbling nonsense words while he plays with a string of plastic beads as JD reaches into his jacket pocket.

 

"Ezzie's mom and her partner died last month in a car accident and I want to open an account in Ezzie's name with me, Buck, Mr. and Mrs. Travis, and Nettie Wells on it. I have a check from the insurance company but I don't want to deposit the whole thing."

 

"How much do you want to deposit and how much did you want left out?" Janet asks, fingers flying over the keyboard as she begins to open an account with the five adults as conservators until Ezra turns eighteen.

 

"I'd like to keep five hundred thousand dollars out of the account," JD says, passing over the check, "put the remaining money in an interest bearing checking account please? I've asked Vin to help me invest some of this money."

 

"Vin would be the one to do it," Janet agrees, not even blinking at the seven-figure check JD passed over the desk. "He took a five thousand dollar inheritance left by his mother and tripled it in less than a year through investments."

 

An hour later JD and Evie leave the bank heading for their next destination, Super Wal-Mart.

 

JD takes Ezzie out of his car seat after they park the car, grinning as Ezzie excitedly waves his arms and legs as his daddy carries him into the store. Evie smiles as JD settles Ezzie into the cart's basket, wrapping the belt around his waist as they head for the children's department.

 

"What size clothing should I be buying Ezzie?" JD asks Evie as they begin to look at clothes.

 

"I'd go with the 18 month sizes, that way he'll be able to grow into them." Evie says, picking up a pair of black jeans and white shirt. "Is he walking yet?"

 

"He's taking a few steps, but he's still crawling right now." JD says, moving over to the pajamas.

 

"Then we'll want clothes that will protect his knees." Evie says, looking at some pants, "otherwise they'll begin to wear there."

 

"I see, like a pair of new shoes will begin to wear in certain spots after you've worn them a couple of weeks?"

 

"Exactly, now let's look at the baby formula and you're going to need to baby proof the new condo?"

 

"Baby proof the condo?"

 

"Put covers on outlets at floor level so Ezzie can't poke something in them once he's more active, locks on the cabinets so he can't open them, and putting breakables up on higher shelves." Evie says, picking up two packages of white plastic items and showing them to JD. "We can put them in when we get home."

 

Evie turns around to find JD staring at one of the items with something like horror in his eyes. Evie follows his gaze and laughs softly. "Don't worry JD, you won't need to worry about toilet training for a few months yet." JD releases the breath he hadn't even realized he's been holding as Evie turns her attention to the baby formula.

 

"JD, what formula are you feeding Ezzie now?" JD points to the can he opened earlier today. "That's perfect, he won't need the other one for a couple months yet." JD grabs a couple cases and drops it into the second cart they'd gotten. "Keep feeding him that a couple times a day along his oatmeal and other solid food." The formula is joined by three boxes of Gerber oatmeal and a couple cases of canned meats and veggies before they leave the baby food aisle. JD wrinkles his nose as he looks at Ezzie, who grins and holds out his arms.

 

"Give him to me." Evie says, grabbing the diaper bag she'd filled earlier that morning. "I haven't had a chance to change my grandson yet, I'm feeling a little neglected." She picks Ezzie up and walks into the ladies room while JD watches the carts.

 

"Where to now?" Evie asks, coming out of the bathroom and putting Ezzie in the cart she's pushing.

 

"Kitchen department. We need a blender for Ezzie's food and then the electronics department."

 

"Electronics department?"

 

"Becky and Toni have a lot of videotapes of Ezzie I want to transfer to DVD before they go bad."

 

"I want copies." Evie says, leading the way to the kitchen department.

 

"Oh creeping crawling CRUD," JD says, turning his cart around and heading back to the baby department.

 

"JD?"

 

"I forgot to get soap for Ezzie's clothes."

 

Evie catches up with JD as he stands looking at the display of baby detergent. "Ah, here it is," he says, grabbing a box from the shelf, "Nettie recommended this." Evie looks at the box, recognizing the brand she'd used on Buck's diapers when he was a baby and grins, "but should I get the powder or the liquid?"

 

"Get the powder for now, if it doesn't clean as well as you like, then you can try the liquid." Evie looks at the shelf for the other brand she'd seen advertised last night. "There's another brand I've heard of, but I don't see it here, so we need to check the laundry detergent aisle before we go."

 

"That reminds me," JD says, snapping his fingers, "We're running low on detergent. I'll get another package of soap while I'm here too, we're nearly out."

 

"How are you boys on bath towels?" Evie asks, passing a display of them in the middle of the aisle.

 

"We're good, I brought some new ones last month when Buck and I did some spring cleaning. The old ones were so thin, you couldn't dry with them anymore."

 

Evie heads for the grocery department, picking up a box of mashed potato flakes and putting it in the cart. "Mix these up until they're watery, and Ezzie can eat them with his hands." She says, "You can also do that with scrambled eggs."

"What about cut-up hot dogs?" JD asks, picking up a package. "Or would that be a choking hazard?"

 

"Not until he's a year and a half, then you can cut them in sections for him to eat." JD opens one of the doors in the refrigerated section and looks at two different egg substitutes before placing one in his cart. He grins at the raised eyebrow look Evie gives him.

 

"The doctor gave Buck hell about his cholesterol during his last physical. I've substituted a light salt for cooking and I thought I'd try this in place of eggs in recipes."

 

"Buy some oatmeal too then," Evie says, "Orrin has to watch his cholesterol also, and we have oatmeal three times a week for breakfast."

 

"Okay," JD says, turning into the next aisle, "What about cheerios? I see toddlers eating them all the time in commercials."

 

"Give him a few months before you introduce them, right now Ezzie doesn't have the fine muscle control to be able to pick them up and put them in his mouth." JD grabs a couple bags of rolled oats and heads for the soap. Two nine roll packages of zest and safeguard end up in the cart before JD pauses before the baby products. An economy-sized refill of diaper wipes ends up in the cart before JD turns his attention to the baby body washes.

 

"Mrs. Travis, when should I start to bathe Ezzie with regular soap?"

 

"You can do that anytime now. But start with something mild that doesn't contain any dyes or perfumes to irritate his skin and make sure you rinse him well." Evie says, picking up a three bar package of ivory soap and putting it in the cart. "Now what detergent do you boys use on your clothes?"

 

JD grabs a large box of Surf powder and a bottle of Tide liquid, looking over at Evie who smiles and puts them in his cart.

 

"What about bleach?"

 

"We've still got some left from last time." JD says, reaching up for the box of detergent Evie had been trying to reach. "Is this the other detergent you were looking for?"

 

"Yes," Evie says, handing the box back to JD. "Let's try the other one first, and if you don't like the way it cleans, we'll try this one."

 

"Ma'am?" one of the employees says, "We've got free samples of that if you're interested in one."

 

"Perfect," Evie says, smiling as she takes the packet handed to her. "Thank you. Now JD, weren't we going to look at car seats while we were here?"

 

"I'd rather look at them in the baby store." JD says, heading to the checkouts. "According to Andi, they've got a better selection."

 

"Good, I want to look at baby gates while we're there." Evie says, beginning to unload her cart.

 

"I hadn't thought about those," JD moans, "We'll need at least one for the front door so Ezzie doesn't get out in the hall, plus the new condo."

 

"Nettie and I are coming back over this weekend. Between the two of us, we can make a list of everything we'll need to baby proof both places." Evie says, pushing her empty cart forward before trading places with JD so he can grab the DVD recorder from the bottom of his cart. "Relax JD, everything will work out okay."

 

"I hope so, Mrs. Travis." JD says, looking up. The sight of Evie holding Ezzie against her shoulder makes him smile. "No, I know so."

 

Evie smiles back at him, "Having a baby makes everything just a little bit brighter, doesn't it?"

 

"Ezzie's only been with me a couple of weeks and now I can't imagine my life without him." JD puts the checkbook back in his pocket as he plants a kiss on his son's head.

 

"I felt the same way when I held Buck in my arms for the first time." Evie smiles as JD, followed by a store employee, wheels the carts out to the parking lot.

 

JD looks at his watch after everything is loaded in the car. "Mrs. Travis, how about we take everything back to the condo before we go to the mall? I'll start the laundry before I bring up Ezzie's changing table and stroller."

 

"Perfect, I'll feed Ezzie while you're doing that and we can put him down for a nap while we decide where we want to go next." Evie says, pulling into traffic. "Do you want to stop to Hunan's for takeout?"

 

Evie unlocks the condo door, holding the door open with a doorstop as she walks Ezzie into the kitchen. He grins as he's put in the highchair before Evie opens a jar of baby food and begins to feed him.

 

Meanwhile, JD drops his armful of bags onto the couch, hanging Buck's coat and their uniforms in the closet before heading back down to the basement with the dirty laundry. He starts the first load going before unlocking his storage unit, unfolding Ezzie's stroller, loading it down with the last of the bags and boxes from Evie's car, and heading back upstairs.

 

Evie looks over the kitchen island as JD comes into the room pushing a heavily laden stroller.

 

"Is that everything from the car?"

 

JD nods as he back downstairs for the Changing Table.

 

"Hey JD, I just heard that somebody brought the condo next to you." James Parker says from the security desk as JD comes out of the elevator. "Looks like you're going to have new neighbors."

 

"Nope," JD grins as he leans against the desk, "I'm the one who brought the next door unit. We're going to tear out the wall between the two units and make it one big one."

 

"You're the new owner?"

 

"Yup," JD grins as he opens the new condo's mailbox and pulls out two envelopes from the condo board. "Pass it on to the others will you? We're going to have some kids from the vocational school coming in a couple of weeks to start renovations. Are Frank and Harry here yet?"

 

James looks at the clock, "Yeah, they should have just punched in."

 

"Can you call them to come help me a second? I need to get something heavy out of my storage unit up to the condo."

 

"There they are now. Frank, Harry, can you give JD a hand with something from his unit before you start your rounds."

 

"Sure thing JD," Harry Mitchell, a friend of his from high school says following JD down the stairs to the basement. "What are we getting?"

 

"We're going to be moving this Changing table up to the condo. It's kind of heavy, so if you can grab the drawers out of it, Frank and I will carry it to the elevator."

Harry pulls the four drawers out of the table before JD and Frank start carrying it towards the elevator. Harry holds the door open as the table is carried inside before sending the car up to the top floor.

 

"Here you go, JD." Harry says as Frank and JD carry the changing table into the living room. "Oh he's got to be the cutest baby in the world," Harry says as he sees Evie bouncing a yawning Ezzie in her arms, "and if you ever repeat that to Kathy, I'll call you a bold-faced liar."

 

"Deal," JD says, shaking both their hands "Your sister was scary before, I'm not about to say anything to a woman who's 8 months pregnant and in the middle of a mood swing."

 

"I always knew you were smart." Harry says, laughing, as he heads out the door.

 

Evie puts Ezzie down in his playpen before beginning to put away his new clothes. "JD, get some warm water and a sponge to clean the table before you start putting away his diapers." She orders over her shoulder as she disappears into JD's bedroom.

 

Evie emerges five minutes later, grinning as she sees JD scrubbing the drawers before filling the drawers with cloth diapers, then running a Clorox disinfecting cloth over the entire table before standing up and dumping the pail of water.

 

"Perfect, easier on your back than kneeling on the floor. It's padded so Ezzie isn't laying on a hard surface, and the diapers and wipes are right at hand." JD grins as he picks up the boxes of baby formula, stacking them in the corner of the kitchen out of the way after filling the cabinet he's taken over for baby food while Evie warms their food in the microwave.

 

Evie and JD perch on stools around the kitchen island as they make notes of what needs to be taken care of at the condo.

 

"Ask Buck to help you with the drawer locks." She says, pointing her fork at JD, "He helped Chris baby proof the ranch for Adam, so he'll know what needs to be done. Now, what are we looking for at the furniture store?"

 

"At least one more couch, two would be better, plus matching armchairs, and maybe a couple more coffee tables." JD says, closing his eyes to think. "Buck's right, I desperately need a new box spring and mattress. We need a second table, either a bigger one for the dining room or a smaller one for the breakfast nook, and at least six more chairs for guests. And I'd like to look at bedroom suites. Buck won't admit it, but he needs a new bed too." Evie immediately gets up and heads across the room to the stairs leading to Buck's loft. She lies down on the bed for a minute and nods emphatically before heading back downstairs and repeating her actions with JD's bed.

 

"You both could use new beds." Evie says, grabbing the list and making a note. "We'll look at them while we're there. In the meantime, a new mattress and box spring will have to do for both of you. So, we'll hit the furniture store first, then walk across to the mall?"

 

"Sounds good to me." JD says as cooing from the playpen tells them Ezzie woke up from his nap.

 

"Hey baby, you awake?" JD asks, walking over and picking up the yawning baby. JD wrinkles his nose as he carries him over to the changing table.

 

"Here, I'll change him while you go take the clothes out of the washing machine, toss them in the dryer, and start a second load."

 

"Must be love," JD grins as he heads for the door, "Volunteering to change diapers."

 

"Your daddy is a smartass, Ezzie. Yes he is," Evie grins as she changes the diaper, dropping it in the garbage can before picking Ezzie up.

 

JD empties the washing machine reserved for the top floor, tossing everything in the dryer before starting the next load. Setting the dryer timer for fifteen minutes, he heads back to the condo.

 

Grinning as the picture of Evie holding Ezzie as she looks out the sliding glass door, he makes a mental note to look at a camera while they're in Sears as he grabs the two letters he'd picked up from the new mailbox and opens them.

 

"What's that?"

"Copy of a notice sent to everybody that the other unit had been sold and we'll be starting renovations in a couple of weeks, lasting a couple months and a copy of the board rules everybody gets when they buy a unit." JD says, putting them on the coffee table before pulling the mail from his coat pocket.

 

"Anything that needs being taken care of before we leave?"

 

"Nope, another copy of the notice that the unit has been sold and we'll be renovating them, a letter from the lawyer in California handling the wrongful death case we're going to be filing against the teenager that threw the rocks that caused the accident, bill for the condo maintenance fees, announcement of the twice monthly board meeting that all tenants can attend to bring up grievances, the light bill, the telephone bill, and the paperwork Buck needs to fill out to get reimbursed for the three weeks he spent in Texas on extradition proceedings."

 

"Ready to go?" JD asks, watching a babbling Ezzie bounce excitedly in the stroller.

 

"How long did you set the dryer for?"

 

"Fifteen minutes. Everything should be dry by the time we get back."

 

"And wrinkled beyond belief." Evie says, rolling her eyes. "Bachelors. Come on, we'll fold everything before we go."

 

Evie looks around the laundry room with a sigh before opening the dryer and beginning to pull items out onto the table.

 

"This brings back memories." She says, "I'm folding everything in separate piles of shirts, socks, underwear, and pants, you'll have to sort out whose is whose later tonight."

 

Ten minutes later she looks at the carefully folded laundry filling one hamper and grins as JD shuts the dryer on the last load of towels.

 

"Okay, now we're ready to go." She says, pushing the stroller down the hall to the underground garage.

 

"How did you and Buck manage to get spots in the underground garage?" Evie asks, pulling out into the parking lot.

 

"First tenants in each building were given the option of buying two inside parking spots as part of their purchase price." JD says as they pull into traffic. "The newer tenants have to make do with the outside parking.

 

"Convenient."

 

"Yeah, especially when it's raining or snowing. This way we don't have to get out into bad weather."

They pull into the mall parking lot fifteen minutes later and Evie pops the trunk. JD unfolds the stroller as Evie lifts Ezzie from his car seat. They head inside the new furniture store, taking the 15% off coupon the employee at the door holds out before heading for the couches.

 

"See anything you like?" Evie asks as JD sits on an overstuffed couch.

 

"I like this one, it's large enough for me or Buck to sleep on, it comes with a loveseat and two chairs. I'm torn between this set and that one," JD points across the room, "That one comes with a sleeper sofa, two chairs, and a smaller couch."

 

"Can I help you?" A salesclerk says, coming over to peek at the baby.

 

"Yeah, can I get brochures and fabric swatches for these two sets?" JD asks, pointing to the other set he's interested in. "I'm interested in them both but I have to ask my roommate's opinion of them before I make any final decisions. Can I put down a deposit to get the sale price?"

"Yes sir, there's about a six week wait for the pieces to come from the factory."

 

"That's fine," JD says, standing up to walk over to the coffee tables. "We're going to do some remodeling, so it should be done by the time the furniture is ready to be delivered."

 

"Sir, I'll run in the back and get the brochures and fabric samples before I start to write up your order."

 

"That's fine," Evie grins, "We've still got some shopping to do."

 

"Evie, what do you think of these two tables?" JD asks, pointing to two tables.

 

"I like this one better, it's bigger, it's one piece so Ezzie can't get his fingers pinched by anything, the top is solid, but you can replace it if you want, and there's storage underneath for magazines." Evie says, pointing to the one on the left.

 

JD grins as the original salesclerk appears with two large folders and a clipboard, accompanied by one of the managers.

 

"We'll take this coffee table and that one," JD says, pointing to a third table in the next aisle, "as well as two full box spring/mattress sets and this dining room set." JD runs a hand over the back of a chair belonging to a table he'd fallen in love with at first sight. "This will go good in the dining room, don't you think?"

 

"It's perfect for the dining room." Evie says, "How about that Tiffany style stained glass lamp to go over it?"

 

"Perfect."

 

"Did you want to look at bedroom sets today?" Evie asks as the clerk begins to total the bill.

 

"No, I talked to Hank and Tabitha, they can get us in the large warehouse in Denver that caters to the professionals. Since Buck wants to tear out the kitchen and enlarge the bathroom, we can look at bathroom fixtures and beds there."

 

"Perfect." Evie says, smiling as JD writes out a deposit for their purchase, promising to be back in a couple days with Buck to finalize the order. She takes the folders, putting it in the pocket on the back of the stroller before heading across the parking lot to the mall.

 

"Where do you want to go first, baby store or Sears?"

 

"Sears, that way we don't have to carry bags of stuff, then come back in." Evie says, checking the ‘you are here' display and briskly making her way down the hall to the corner store.

 

"Can I help you?" An employee asks as the three come into the store.

"JD would like to look at washing machines." Evie says, heading in that direction. "JD, here's that stacking washer/dryer you were talking about. I think you're right though, it's too small."

"Yup," JD says, opening the lid of the machine and grimacing, "where is the Neptune washer and dryer you have on sale this week?"

 

"Over here sir," the employee says, leading the way over to a space age pair of machines. JD stares at all the buttons instead of knobs and dials on the top of the machine and moans. "This looks like one of those coffee makers on Star Trek. Am I going to blow it up if I push the wrong button?"

 

"No Sir," the employee grins, "We get this question a lot. This set of buttons determine which size load you want to wash while this set of buttons determines which type of load you want to do. They're front loading, so they use less water than top loading machines and there's no alternator so no space is wasted."

 

"What's the energy usage?"

 

"They're really energy efficient, they only add about twenty dollars a year to your electric bill."

 

"Perfect, We'll take them." JD says, pulling out his checkbook.

 

"If you'll follow me sir, we can ring you up. When would you like them delivered?"

 

"JD, did you want to look at an ironing board while you're here?" Evie asks as they leave the store ten minutes later.

"No, I thought I'd ask Hank to have the kids install one of those mini ironing board that folds into the wall when not in use."

 

"OHHH, isn't he precious?" A voice says as JD and Evie go into the baby store. The older woman behind the counter comes out to coo over Ezzie. "How can we help you?"

 

"JD wants to look at car seats and baby gates." Evie grins, heading for the baby clothes.

 

"Follow me sir, how old is your son?"

 

"He's thirteen months old." JD says as they walk to a row of car seats, strollers, and other baby equipment. "What's the difference between the different styles of car seats?" he asks, looking at two front facing seats that are nearly identical.

 

"This one is designed to grow with him." The salesclerk says, demonstrating how the inner shell comes out, leaving a booster seat for the baby. "The top comes off once he's outgrown it, leaving just the seat. Once the baby reaches the age of eleven or twelve, he usually just needs a regular seat belt."

 

"Evie, what do you think?" JD asks as Evie comes over to hold an outfit in front of Ezzie. "This one grows with him, the shell comes out to become a booster seat, and the top comes off when he outgrows it, leaving just the base."

 

"Sounds good to me." She says, dropping the clothes into the basket she holds. "JD, does Ezzie have a winter coat?"

 

"No, and he'll need one won't he?"

 

"Yeah, just in case something happens and you have to be outside for any length of time, such as getting in an accident. You can wait a couple of months though, and buy him one of those insulated snugglies since he's not big enough to be walking anywhere. Once he hits 18 to 24 months, then you'll have to buy him a coat and boots."

 

"What kind of baby gate do we need?" JD asks, looking over the different types.

 

"Here, this one is adjustable and can fit any space from 38 to 60 inches." Evie says, grabbing one, "This one will do until we can measure the doors of the new condo and decide how many more we'll need."

 

"Thank you and have a nice day." The salesclerk smiles as they leave the store.

 

"Any other place we want to hit today?"

"I don't know about you JD, but I'm exhausted. Let's get everything back to the condo and start dinner."

 

"Sounds good to me, I need to finish the laundry." JD says, heading for the exit as Ezzie wrinkles his nose and JD's eyes begin to water.

 

"Bathroom," they say in unison, heading for the nearest one.

 

An hour later, they arrive back at the Condo. JD heads downstairs to pull the remaining laundry from the dryer and bring it back upstairs as Buck's pickup pulls into the parking space beside Evie's car.

 

"Hey squirt, where's Ezzie?" Buck asks, jumping out of the truck and wrapping an arm around JD's neck. JD playfully shoves an elbow in his stomach as Judge Travis exits from the passenger seat. Evie had dropped him off at the courthouse that morning, planning on riding back home together after spending a couple hours with their son and grandson.

 

"Upstairs with your mom." JD says, shoving the laundry basket at his roommate. "Help me carry this stuff upstairs and we can look over the folders and swatches we brought back from the store."

 

Buck grunts and groans in mock agony as he struggles through the door with the laundry basket. Evie rolls her eyes from her spot at the kitchen island where she's preparing dinner while Ezzie claps at the funny sight from his spot in the playpen.

 

"Funny Buck, but if you boys didn't wait until the last second to do laundry it wouldn't be so heavy." Evie says, tilting her head so Buck can kiss her on the cheek.

 

"Hell mom, until a couple weeks ago JD and I were both carefree bachelors." Buck smirks, easily dodging the wooden spoon waved under his nose, "I think it's a law that bachelors are supposed to be slobs with sinks of unwashed dishes, dust a layer thick on everything, and we don't do laundry. We wear the same clothes until they can stand up on their own."

 

"And now?" Judge Travis asks, eyes twinkling as he leans over the playpen and picks up the baby. Ezzie smiles hugely, showing off the new tooth that he'd been cutting yesterday and giggles as Orrin begins tickling him.

 

"Now JD has somebody depending on him. There will be three meals a day, dishes washed after every meal instead of left in the sink, laundry will be done as often as needed, not waiting until we can't put it off any longer, and groceries will be brought every week, no waiting until there's nothing left in the refrigerator except the light bulb." Buck says, holding his hand up in the semblance of a Scout salute.

 

"Be right back," JD says, setting the rolling hamper just inside the condo door and heading back down to the storage unit. Ten minutes later he re-enters the condo, carrying a rocking chair in his arms that he places next to the couch. Sitting in it momentarily, he moves it slightly so it doesn't hit anything, and stands up.

 

"Perfect, I can't count how many times I rocked Buck to sleep after a hard day." Evie says, smiling as she sits down in the chair.

 

"JD, what the h. .eck is that?" Buck asks, hurriedly changing what he had been about to say as Evie reaches for the spoon before pointing over to the changing table tucked against one wall.

 

"That's Ezzie's changing table." Evie says, grinning as Ezzie is put down on the floor and immediately begins crawling towards the sliding glass door. Babbling at the baby he sees in the reflection, he's unaware of everybody smiling at him and the buzz of the video camera in Buck's hands.

 

"Jeez, that thing is nearly as big as Ezzie's crib, no wonder you didn't have room for it in your room." Buck says, continuing to film the baby as his mom shuts JD's bedroom door so the baby can't get in there and positions the baby gate across the front door.

 

"I want a copy of that one too." Evie says as JD begins to put the sheets and towels away in the linen cabinet.

 

"Huh?" Buck asks, looking up from the camera.

 

"Becky and Toni have a bunch of home videos." JD says, pointing to the box sitting next to the entertainment system, "I brought a DVD recorder so we can copy them before they go bad."

 

"Gimme, gimme, gimme," Buck says, rubbing his hands, "I've always wanted one of those."

"I know," JD grins indulgently, "You can set it up after dinner."

 

"Where's the stuff from the furniture store?" Buck asks, pushing away from the table an hour later as JD clears the table.

 

"In the back of Ezzie's stroller." Evie says, wiping Ezzie's face and hands before burping him. The loud belch Ezzie lets out brings a grin to everybody's face and he giggles when Evie puts him on the floor. Ezzie starts crawling to the laundry basket and pulls out a pair of boxer shorts that end up pulled over his head.

 

"Buck, please tell me you got that on film." Orrin says, smiling as Ezzie's hand emerges from the fly and waves at the others, while his other arm emerges from one leg over his head.

 

"Oh yeah," Buck says, smiling at the picture he sees through the lens. "I'll need to put in a new videotape after he goes to bed, though."

 

"I got some of those too," JD says, pointing to two bags sitting on the other side of the entertainment center. "I told the store we'd be back in a couple of days to finalize the order."

 

"What are we looking at?" Orrin says, opening the first folder.

 

JD looks over his shoulder as he wipes off the kitchen table. "This set consists of a sleeper sofa, a smaller one, two chairs, and two ottomans." He says, pointing out each piece. "I thought we'd put the sleeper sofa in my old room, and the smaller sofa in the new family room. The other sofa would go here, with the matching chairs." He says, showing Buck the other set he'd picked out. "All three are big enough to sleep on, I took off my shoes and laid on them with my arms over my head to make sure."

 

"JD, you brought two box springs and mattresses?" Buck yelps, looking at the bill for the first time.

 

"You needed a new one just as badly as JD did." Evie says, glowering at her son. "They're being delivered Sunday, so don't even think about complaining."

 

"We'll talk later, JD." Buck growls. Evie smirks as JD makes yakking motions with his hand behind Buck's back.

 

"Buck, you can bitch me out later," JD says, "now help me decide which color and fabric looks better in the other condo."

 

"You two plan on repainting over there?"

 

"Only Ezzie's new room." JD says, closing his eyes, "at least for now. This place though, desperately needs a new coat of paint."

 

"JD, you're already spending too much money."

 

"Then you can buy the paint and we'll invite everybody over one weekend to go over all the rooms. Grill steaks on the balcony, everybody can chip in twenty bucks for pizza and beer, and the seven of us can get everything done in one day while Evie and Nettie watch Adam and Ezzie." JD says, "We'll make it our last cookout before winter, the renovations should be completed by then."

 

Buck begins to grin at that idea, his bad humor magically disappearing as he kisses his mom goodnight as Evie and Judge Travis get ready to leave. Ezzie is put in his playpen to throw blocks against the walls while JD pays the bills and Buck opens the recorder box.

 

"JD, what did we get in the mail?" Buck asks over his shoulder as JD prepares to run downstairs to drop them in the lobby's outgoing mailbox.

 

"Notice that the condo next door had been sold, involving construction that might last up to two months. Notice for the twice-monthly board meeting next Wednesday. Light bill, telephone bill," JD picks up a ringing cell phone and tosses it to Buck after seeing which one was ringing, "the paperwork for your reimbursement, and the monthly maintenance fees."

 

JD comes back five minutes later, shutting and locking the door for the night to find Buck sitting on the couch reading the recorder's instruction manual. Ezzie babbles happily in the playpen

 

"JD, did you get any recordable dvds?"

 

"Yeah, I got five re-writable DVDs and twenty-five one shot DVDs in the bag with the videos. This way you can play with the recorder to see how it works, burn a DVD, then erase it and record something else. Once we know what we're doing, we'll burn a good one and copy it on the computer."

 

Buck grins as he sets down the instruction manual and kneels by the entertainment center. Ezzie pulls himself to his feet in the playpen, hanging onto the padded top bar as he watches everything Buck does with huge eyes. JD grins as he captures the entire scene on film, standing back so you can see Buck grumbling over the instructions and the tiny little boy hanging onto every word.

 

"Okay, the DVD recorders connected to the TV." Buck says, groaning as he gets to his feet. He turns the TV and recorder on, popping in a commercial DVD to play to check everything's hooked up correctly as JD comes out of his room after putting the clean clothes away.

 

"Everything good to go?"

 

"Yup, I'll play around with it tomorrow." Buck says, turning everything off before picking up the thick packet of paperwork he'll need to finish so he can be reimbursed.

 

JD picks up a yawning Ezzie from the playpen, carrying him over to the changing table to put him in a clean diaper and sleeper for the night before sitting down in the rocking chair and giving Ezzie his last bottle of the night. Ezzie sucks contentedly on the bottle, the nipple falling from his mouth as his eyes close.

 

JD burps Ezzie before putting him down in the crib for the night, coming back into the living room to join Buck in the kitchen to pack his and Ezzie's lunch for the next day.

 

"You nearly done with that stuff?"

 

"Hopefully," Buck groans, signing his name on the last form. "I'll make copies of everything when we get to the courthouse tomorrow and drop this in Rose's outbox."

 

"I need you to come with me tomorrow when I drop Ezzie off at the daycare center."

 

"Why?"

 

"You need to sign some paperwork so you can pick him up in case something happens. Ideally, I'd like to get everybody's name on the paperwork in case of an emergency."

 

"Whose name and number are you going to put down for an emergency?"

 

"Think your mom would mind?" JD asks, looking over his shoulder at Buck.

 

"How many times has she said that Ezzie is her grandson?" Buck asks, rolling his eyes, "She'd skin both of us if you didn't." Buck snorts.

 

"You tired?"

 

"Nah, I'm wound up if anything. Why?"

 

"Can I get you to give me a back rub? I feel like I twisted something moving Ezzie's stuff today."

 

"You go bring out the cushion, I'll warm up the lotion." Buck says, getting up and walking up to his room.

 

Ten minutes later JD is stretched out on his stomach with Buck straddling his back over his butt as two strong hands run up and down his back.

 

"You get a chance to look at a washer and dryer?"

 

"Yeah, I brought that new Neptune washer and dryer we were looking at a couple months ago. They're on back order from the company, it will be about six weeks before they're delivered."

 

"You figured out where you want them yet?"

 

"Nope," JD says, tensing as Buck hits a particularly sore spot, "I figured we could decide on that when we drew up the final plans for the laundry room and the bathroom and kitchen demolition." JD relaxes under Buck's hands.

 

JD lifts his head at the sound from his room and moves to get up, but Buck is faster on his feet and reaches JD's bedroom first. They stand in the doorway and listen to Ezzie's quiet breathing, grinning as Ezzie snorts softly in his sleep before rolling over in the crib.

 

"What time is it?" JD asks, peering towards his alarm clock.

 

"Half-past eight."

 

"I feel like I've just drunk three triple expressos." JD says, turning his back so Buck can wipe the massage oil off his back. "Oh, I nearly forgot. Rosa is retiring, and she's selling the store to a chain store, so we're going to have to find a new cleaner."

 

"Crud, that's what I was afraid of. I'll ask for a copy of the list when I give Rose this stuff tomorrow."

 

"Help me baby proof the condo?" JD asks, dropping onto a stool in the kitchen and sliding a pad of paper across the island towards Buck. "Evie helped me make a list of everything we could think of earlier."

 

"Outlet covers," JD points to a paper bag on the counter and Buck upends it between them, pulling out three packages. "I'll get my drill and start installing the latches while you plug every outlet that doesn't have something in it." Buck says, heading down the hall to the room set up for his workshop. "Do me a favor and measure the space between the island and the kitchen cabinets," JD calls down the hall, "I thought we'd grab a couple more baby gates this weekend, we can block off the kitchen so Ezzie isn't crawling under our feet when we're cooking."

"Good idea, then we can use the baby gates to block off rooms after we move into the new space." Buck says, coming back into the living room with his toolbox.

 

* * *

Meanwhile, in a ranch outside of Four Corners, Evie Travis looks up from her book as her husband settles in bed beside her.

 

"Orrin?"

 

"Yes Evie?" Orrin says, pulling off his wire rim glasses and reaching onto the nightstand to turn off the lamp.

 

"Tell me about the Standish fortune? You and Nettie seem to know all about it."

 

"Nettie and I are history freaks." Orrie grins, "Four Corners was settled in the middle of the 19th century, and a true frontier town until after the civil war when seven men later called the Magnificent Seven by a writer named Jock Steele first started working together. A local Indian village hired them to protect the village from a group of thieves after their gold."

 

"Gold?"

"Uh-huh." Orrie grins, "there'd been rumors for years that there was a abandoned gold mine somewhere around the town. Anyway the men who were interestingly enough named Chris Larabee, Buck Wilmington, Nathan Jackson, Josiah Sanchez, JD Dunne, Vin Tanner, and Ezra Standish."

 

"You're kidding me," Evie says, leaning up on one elbow to stare at her husband.

 

"Cross my heart, and swear to god." Orrie grins, "Nettie's did a little digging and it turns out that our seven are the descendants of that seven men, just like I'm the namesake and descendant of the traveling judge for this circuit. Anyway, my great-grandfather saw how the men worked together and hired them for the huge sum of a dollar a day, including room and board to protect the town."

 

"And the Standish fortune amassed from that?"

"Not quite, it seems that during the battle at the Indian village one of the seven found that abandoned goldmine and they made a pact that the last member of their group would get the whole thing. The last member was Ezra Standish, who by the time he died in the flu epidemics in the early 20th century had tripled the money from the gold mine by investing it."

 

"The other men obviously had families, since the boys are descendants of theirs, why didn't they split the money and leave it to their families?"

"I've read letters some of the seven wrote, and they said they wanted their children to make their own ways. And Standish didn't leave the others completely out of it, if the other families needed something, they knew they could go to their ‘uncle Ezra' and he'd take care of it. Ezra Standish created a fund that made low interest loans to people who wanted to start their own businesses, students who wanted to go to college, and other charitable functions."

 

"Is that the fund you write a check to every three months?"

 

"Yes, I received a loan for college and law school, and I decided to make contributions to the fund after I repaid the loans."

 

"That's nice dear," Evie says, rolling over so she's lying on top of Orrin with her head cradled on his shoulder. "Are they the same foundation we attend the monthly dinners for?"

 

"Yep," Orrin says, leering as he kisses his wife, "Turn off the light."

 

Evie reaches over and snaps off the lamp on her bedside table, "I thought you had afternoon court tomorrow?" She says, then shrieks. "Orrin" she laughs, swatting a roaming hand.

 

"Who said anything about going to sleep?" Orrin grins against her lips, while his hands move down her hips to slide under the blue silk teddy he brought for her birthday.

 

* * *

Buck settles in front of the base cabinets, the open toolbox beside him when he sees which latches JD brought.

 

"JD, why'd you buy these latches?" Buck raises his voice slightly to be heard by JD who's crawling down the hall, "The ones that screw into the wood are better."

 

"I didn't want to mar the cabinets," JD calls over his shoulder, "Since we're going to be tearing them out in a couple months. Evie said these would work for now."

 

"You got the receipt?"

 

"Yeah, on the coffee table under the bowl."

 

"We'll take these back to Wal-mart tomorrow and I'll get the other ones." Buck says, straightening up with a groan and a hand to his back. "Chris and I put these in when we first baby-proofed the ranch, we ended up breaking half of them within a week. Better off buying the other ones and a jar of wood putty to fill in the holes when the cabinets are taken out. They'll refinish the cabinets after they pick them up anyway."

 

"Okay," JD says, straightening up with a grunt as he comes out of their workshop, where Buck keeps his woodworking tools and he keeps his jewelry-making tools. During the summer, the two men rent a booth in the local flea market and spend the weekends selling their merchandise.

 

JD walks into the kitchen, pulling the refrigerator open and looking inside.

 

"Buck, what you want for dinner tomorrow?" JD asks, looking over his shoulder at the other man.

 

"How about your special meatloaf and soup? We can stop at the bakery on the way home and get a loaf of French bread or garlic bread to go with it."

 

"Perfect, I can make everything up tonight," JD says, grabbing items from the refrigerator and putting them on the counter beside the refrigerator, "I'll turn the slowcooker on tomorrow morning before leave so the soup can cook while we're gone, and I can put the meatloaf in when we get home." JD looks at the vegetables he pulls out of the crisper and sighs, "And we really need to use this stuff up before it goes bad."

 

"Need some help?" Buck asks, leaning against JD's back as he snitches a slice of green pepper.

 

"Yeah, peel that clove of garlic and mince it up for the meatloaf, will ya?" JD says, pulling the hamburger and eggs from the refrigerator, breaking the eggs into the mixing bowl and adding the minced onion, tomato paste, hamburger, bread crumbs, and other spices before adding the hamburger and milk and mixing everything up. Putting the cover back on the baking dish and putting it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

 

"Toss me the notepad from the refrigerator, will ya JD?" Buck asks from his spot at the island. JD hands it over before turning his attention to the vegetables he's washing and peeling before slicing into the crock pot as Buck makes a list of groceries they'll need to pick up that weekend.

 

"Onions, green peppers, tomatoes, celery, carrots . . .anything else you can think of?"

 

"Not right off hand," JD says, pouring a large can of broth over the vegetables, rice, and barley before sliding the crock pot back against the wall on the counter, "we need to take the time to actually look when we grocery shop instead of just make a list and run through the store as fast as possible."

 

Buck looks over the Sunday and Monday papers for the ads while JD cleans the kitchen and slides onto the stool opposite him.

 

"Hey JD, they got hamburger helper on sale this week, 4 for 5 dollars, want to stock up?"

 

"Nope, I picked up a book of copycat recipes and figured out it's cheaper to buy the rice, macaroni, and other stuff and make it myself. This way we can size up the recipes without having to buy more boxes of it."

 

"Decent, I know Nettie and Mom do the same thing." Buck says, folding the paper and putting it back in the recycle pile before picking up the next paper. An hour later they have a large grocery list, separated by store, ready to be picked up Saturday when they go shopping.

 

An hour later both men finally drag themselves off to bed, dropping off to sleep the second they hit their respective beds. The sound of an alarm clock wakes JD the next morning, and he rolls over to shut it off to find Ezzie standing in his crib grinning at his dad. Ezzie begins bouncing and babbling when he sees his Daddy looking at him, losing his grip on the crib rails and plopping back onto his butt with a giggle.

 

"Good morning, Baby," JD says, picking Ezzie up and burying his face in the red-blond curls, "You have a good night's sleep?" Ezzie happily babbles his way through a diaper change, being dressed in a new diaper cover and clean clothes, and bangs a wooden spoon on the highchair tray as Buck plants a kiss on his head on the way to the bathroom.

 

JD grins at Buck's retreating back as he scrambles eggs in one pan while oatmeal is cooking in another one.

 

JD walks across the room as the intercom from the security desk downstairs begins to ring.

 

"Yeah Tony?" JD asks, hitting the two-way button.

 

"You've got a delivery from the diaper service, JD." Tony says.

 

"Send them up, Tony." JD says, shutting down the intercom and walking back into the kitchen to stir the eggs. He reaches into the refrigerator, pulls a bowl of diced stew meat out and dumps it into the slow cooker before turning it on as a knock is heard at the door. Turning the flames down low, he walks to the door and peers through the spy hole in the door. Grinning, he opens the door for the young man who's almost hidden by the huge bundle of diapers. JD grabs the bundle and carries them into the condo as the other man replaces the full diaper pail for the empty one carried over one arm.

 

JD looks over as Buck investigates the smells coming from the kitchen as he watches the deliveryman get onto the elevator before shutting the door.

 

"JD, Ezzie's never going to be able to eat that much oatmeal." Buck says, turning to glare at his roommate.

 

"That's because it's not Ezzie's oatmeal, Buck, it's ours." JD says calmly, dishing up the now cool eggs onto a plate and beginning to feed Ezra. "Your mom suggested oatmeal to bring down your cholesterol when I got the egg substitute yesterday."

 

Buck glowers at JD's back and grumbles as he dishes up a bowl of oatmeal. "Can I at least have something in it or does it have to be plain?" Buck whines, making a face at the first bite. The grin on his face lets both of them know he's not really upset.

 

"Cinnamon sticks are in the first cabinet, next to the maple syrup." JD says over his shoulder, "and quit grumbling, your mom and dad eat oatmeal three times a week because your dad needs to watch his cholesterol too. If it's down by your next physical, you can stop eating it."

 

"But I don't wanna eat oatmeal," Buck says with a huge pout, smiling at Ezzie who's watching every word he says with huge eyes.

 

JD looks over his shoulder and grins at his roommate. "Tough," he says, grinning as he dishes up his own breakfast. "And don't even think about dumping it in the garbage while I'm taking my shower. Your mom told me about the brussel spouts under the couch incident when you were eight."

 

"You are such a tyrant." Buck grins as JD flips him the bird on his way into the bathroom. Ezzie babbles in his highchair as Buck removes the tray, takes Ezzie's dirty bib off and tosses it in the direction of the kitchen sink, and lifts Ezzie into his arms. Ezzie lays his head on Buck's shoulder, covered by a cloth diaper he'd grabbed on the way into the kitchen, and grimaces as Buck begins patting his back. The loud ‘urp' Ezzie lets out is heard even in the bathroom, and JD grins while spitting out a mouthful of water.

 

"Ohh, you didn't like that at all, did you?" Buck asks, patting Ezzie's back as he wipes his mouth with a clean cloth. Ezzie blinks before tucking his thumb in his mouth and closing his eyes. Buck lays Ezzie down in the playpen and wipes down the counters as he listens to the news on the radio.

 

"Anything important on the news?" JD asks as he heads for his bedroom.

 

"Bunch of kids were arrested breaking into a store, they'll be arraigned today and probably released in their parent's custody if it's their first offense and a couple kids from Denver hotwired a car so they could go joyriding." Buck says, "at least that's all I heard on the police radio last night. Between that and the traffic tickets, you should have a busy day in criminal court."

 

"Joy," JD grumbles as he runs a comb through wet hair, "at least it's Judge Knott I'm working with today, she tries to keep everything moving smoothly in her court."

 

"I haven't worked with her yet, good Judge?"

 

"Yeah, I wasn't sure what to expect from the ‘great judge swap' but so far it seems to be working." JD says, referring to the law that had allowed judges to take six-month sabbaticals for various reasons while other judges covered their benches. "She talks about her family a lot, she's the youngest and only girl out of about a dozen boys, including two sets of twins. She had just lost her seat in the last election in her county and jumped at the chance to do some traveling. I think that she might decide to stay in Four Corners, and put her name on the ballot for the seat."

 

"How do you know all this?" Buck asks with a raised eyebrow.

 

"She's renting my mom's house," JD says, referring to the house his mother had inherited from a former client a couple years before her death, finally allowing her to move out of the small one bedroom apartment he'd grown up in, "We got to talking one day during a lull when she realized who I was."

 

Buck and JD arrive at the courthouse an hour later, grinning at the employee entrance guard before heading to Orrin's office.

 

Rose, his dad's secretary for as long as Buck can remember, grins at the two men as they enter the room, quickly standing up and grabbing a gift bag from the closet.

 

"Here you go, JD, I ran out and brought you and the baby something when Orrin told me you had a son yesterday. He is adorable, just as cute as his daddy."

 

"Thanks Rose," Buck says as JD blushes, "I need to copy this stuff for my extradition reimbursement, and we need to get a copy of the dry cleaners that give a discount on cleaning our uniforms. The shop we use is changing hands and I'm not sure if they're on the list."

 

"Thank you Rose," JD says, finally getting his tongue back under control, "Say thank you to the nice lady, Ezzie." He says, sliding the straps of the bag over his arm.

 

"T'ank you," Ezzie says, grinning at the older woman.

 

"Give me that," Rose grins as she watches Buck trying to figure out the new copier in the other room. "Everything needs to be copied for your records?"

 

"Yeah Rose, thanks." Buck says, gladly handing over the thick manila envelope stuffed with papers. She makes a face at the idiocy of bureaucrats that need everything in triplicate and soon has a steady stream of papers filling the basket.

 

"Here you go, Buck." She says, handing over the copies while she slides the originals back in the envelope, weighs it on the scale, puts the necessary postage on, and drops it in the out basket. "Oh JD, you should know that a bunch of the secretaries and other court employees are getting together to plan a ‘welcome to the family party' for you and Ezzie. Evie's holding it at her place, I can't tell you when it's going to happen, but Evie's going to be kidnapping you and Ezzie some weekend."

 

"Moooommmmm," Buck moans as JD laughs, "Thanks for the warning, Rose, I'd better make sure she doesn't catch me in my underwear."

 

Buck snorts, "As many times as my mom walked in on me naked, I don't think she's going to be bothered by seeing you in your ratty boxer shorts."

 

"Yeah but she's your mother, Buck, she's changed your diapers and already knows you have nothing to hide." JD says with an evil smirk.

 

Rose laughs as she watches Buck chase a laughing JD out of the office.

 

Buck catches up with JD outside their office, sitting down on the couch to play with the baby since the daycare center doesn't open for another hour, while JD boots up his computer, checks his e-mail, and pulls a steno machine from the closet. JD quickly checks the machine out to make sure it's in working order and puts it on the corner of his desk as the others slowly begin making their way into the office.

 

"Hi Ezzie," Chris says, reaching over to ruffle the baby's hair as he looks over Buck's shoulder. "You keeping your daddy and Uncle Buck in line?"

 

Everybody in the office laughs as Ezzie looks at him seriously, then nods.

 

"Where's everybody working today?" Chris asks, walking over to the whiteboard across the room where he keeps track of everybody's location during the day.

 

"I'm in courtroom 2 with Judge Knotts," JD calls from his desk, "Buck's on door duty this morning, then switches to Courtroom 1 this afternoon with Judge Travis."

 

The others mark off where they'll be located, Chris nods in satisfaction that everything is covered, pulls out his desk chair, and sits in it backwards.

 

"What plans did the two of you have this weekend?" Chris asks as Buck puts a fussing Ezzie down on the floor. Ezzie stands on his feet, securely held in place by Buck holding his hands and begins to bounce on Buck's newly shined shoes.

 

"We're going to pick up some new latches for the cabinets after work," Buck says, "cause Mom and JD brought those damn things we did when we first baby proofed the ranch for Adam," Chris nods, remembering the days when he'd break two or three of them a day before somebody at the store had told him about the other ones that were stronger, "we need to stop off at the furniture store and finalize the order for our new stuff, and check out the used car lots for JD."

 

"You decided what kind of car you're looking for?" Vin asks, leaning against the wall as the clock across the room clicks on nine o'clock. JD leans over and slides his arm through the handle of Ezzie's diaper bag, a proper diaper bag thanks to Evie and not the old backpack he'd been using, and picks Ezzie up from the floor.

 

"A mid-sized car with a big backseat for Ezzie's car seat and a large trunk for packages, One of the older station wagon would be perfect, or a van." JD says, "Guys, can you come down to the daycare with me? I want everybody's name on papers so you can pick up Ezzie in case something happens."

 

Marsha at the day care center smiles as the six men enter the room in a group, her eyes automatically finding the small toddler held securely in his dad's arms.

 

"And this would be Ezra?" she says, smiling as JD puts the baby down and he starts crawling across the room to a set of tiny drums and begins banging on them. JD winces at the noise while the others laugh at him.

 

"Yes," he says, straightening up, "This is my son, Ezra Patrick Dunne." Marsha grins at the proud statement and pulls a folder from her office.

 

"JD, I just need your name on a few forms and we're all set. I assume these other gentlemen are going to be put down on the form as authorized to pick Ezra up?"

 

"Yes, and I'm putting Mrs. Travis down as the ‘contact in case of emergency' name and number," JD says, filling out the paperwork before the others sign where she tells them.

 

"Okay, everything is set." She says, straightening the papers and putting the file away, "You're going to be picking him up for lunch at noon and returning him at one before picking him up at 4, correct?"

 

"Yes, if I'm going to be late, I'll call and let you know." JD says, crouching down to kiss Ezzie's hair as other court employees begin to bring in their own children. "You be a good boy for Marsha, Ezzie, and I'll see you in a couple hours." JD hands over Ezzie's diaper bag and heads for the door before he can change his mind. Ezzie watches his Daddy leave the room with huge eyes, his lips trembling. Marsha picks the baby up as he begins to sniffle as Chris and Buck pull JD into their arms.

 

"Dammit, I didn't know it was going to be this damn hard." JD gulps, burying his face in his hands.

 

"JD, I've been through this before," Chris says, pulling JD's hands away so he can look the younger man in the eyes, "and it's never easy to let go even a little, but you can't take care of him 24/7, he's going to be away from you sooner or later."

 

"Did you go through this the first time you had to leave Adam home with Nettie when you went to work?" JD says, pushing away from the wall he'd been leaning against and heading back to the office for his gear.

 

"Oh yeah," Chris says, remembering that day like it was yesterday. "I must have tried leaving Adam a dozen times before, even to just run errands, but I couldn't force myself to do it, not with Sarah's death still so raw. Even though it was Nettie I was leaving him with, I still called at least ten times that day just to see if he was okay."

 

"According to Nettie, who was about ready to string him up when he got home." Buck smirks, "it was more like twenty or thirty times that day and she couldn't do a damn thing because she had to keep answering the damn phone all the time. The only reason she didn't skin him is the fact that he barreled out of his car the second he got home, barely stopping to put the brakes on and turn off the engine and ran into the house, heading immediately for Adam who was sound asleep in his cradle."

 

JD smiles shakily, glad he's not the only one who's felt this way leaving his child behind when he had to go back to work, and heads into the men's room to check his appearance in the mirror before heading to the courtroom.

 

"Good Morning, Judge Knott," JD says, looking up from setting up his equipment as Judge Knott and her Bailiff enter the courtroom. Judge Knott smiles at the young court stenographer before heading for her bench to go over the case load with her bailiff.

 

"Oh JD, don't let me forget to give you a bag when we break for lunch." Judge Knott says, pushing her glasses up on her nose, "I did a little shopping when I heard about your son."

 

"What's this about a son?" The Bailiff says, peering over his glasses at JD. He'd been on vacation for the last two weeks, coming back to find a new Judge presiding over the bench and he's been playing catch up ever since.

 

"Yeah, I have a 13 month old son named Ezra." JD says, pulling a picture of the baby from his wallet and handing it over to the judge and bailiff. "I only found out I was a daddy three weeks ago, when his mother and her lover were killed in a car accident. Ezzie's been with me ever since."

 

"He is adorable," Deborah Knott says, grinning at the picture of a baby playing peek-a-boo with an older child. "This is the only thing I miss about moving to Four Corners, my nieces and nephews. Who's the other boy?" She passes the picture to the bailiff, who grins, remembering when his kids were that age.

 

"Chris Larabee's son Adam." JD says, putting the picture back in his wallet.

 

Judge Knott looks over at her bailiff as JD runs to the bathroom before court starts.

 

"Chris Larabee is another court employee, he was the blond at security when we came in this morning." Burt grins, "his wife had a massive stroke five years ago when she was eight months pregnant and they had to perform an emergency c-section to save the baby. He has a nanny/housekeeper named Nettie Wells who takes care of the ranch and Adam while Chris is at work."

 

"I see you're the person to come to for all the good gossip at the courthouse." Deborah grins as she runs into her ready room to change into her robe as the door across the room opens to the public and people begin to fill the gallery.

 

"Oh yeah, I know everybody who works here." Burt grins, maybe this judge won't be so difficult to work with after all.

 

"All rise," Burt says, repeating the words he's been saying for the past fifteen years he's been working at the courthouse, this time with a new addition, "the Honorable Judge Deborah Knott, presiding."

 

JD looks up from putting the cover on his steno machine as the clock chimes fifteen minutes to twelve. Deborah grins as she hands over the big gift bag stuffed with packages and watches the young man head for the door.

 

"Never seen anybody so interested in lunch before." She looks up as her bailiff laughs.

 

"We have a day care center on the top floor," Burt says, "for court employees and people who work nearby. If possible, the center asks that parents come in and feed their children, so the employees can take care of the rest of the kids. JD's probably going to pick up Ezzie and take him to their office for lunch."

 

"Their office?"

 

"Yeah, there's three or four separate offices for each set of court employees, it depends on which court they're generally assigned to. Since we don't have a cafeteria, they each have a small breakroom attached to the office with a refrigerator for their lunches and a table to eat at. Depending on how long a judge has worked with his employees, they may or may not join them for lunch. Judge Travis usually joins them for lunch, but then his Bailiff Buck Wilmington is also his foster son."

 

"The court allows a judge to work with a member of his family? Usually they split them up in case there's a conflict of interest."

 

"We're pretty loose around here." Burt says, "Did you plan on leaving the courthouse for lunch?"

 

Judge Knott grins as she pulls a bag from the small cube refrigerator in the corner of her office. She'd wondered about its presence the first day until she realized the courthouse didn't have a cafeteria. She'd started bringing her lunch the second day, usually walking outside to eat it on the picnic benches in good weather. She follows her Bailiff out the door, pausing as a tall man goes past them carrying a highchair followed by JD who lifts Ezzie's hand to wave to the judge and Bailiff. Deborah grins as the three go past the courtroom, the baby is even cuter in person.

 

"That was Buck Wilmington with the highchair," Burt says as he heads for his office with the judge, "He and JD live together, have been for a couple of years now, ever since JD started working at the courthouse."

 

Deborah stops in the doorway, automatically lowering her voice "Are they . . . together?"

 

Burt snorts with laughter, "Nah, they're not gay, Buck likes to flirt with the ladies too damn much for them to be like that. They act more like brothers if you know what I mean?"

 

"I'm the youngest of twelve and the only girl," Judge Knott grins, "I know exactly what you mean. Between the boys I was actually related to, and their friends who were at our house more often than they were home, I grew up surrounded by men who made sure nothing ever happened to ‘little debbie' even after I grew up."

 

Burt nods, "Well, that whole bunch act like brothers," he grins. "They usually get together for a barbecue at Larabee's ranch at least once a month. Buck and JD live in that complex by the river, Buck moved in when the condos first went up for sale, and JD joined him a year or so later when the kid started working here while still in college."

 

"I'm renting his mother's house, he says his mother inherited it from a client?"

 

"Yeah, I used to live in the same apartment building they lived in before I married Marjorie and we brought our first house. His mother was still a teenager when she became pregnant, and according to a couple of the old biddies that lived there her family threw her out when she started showing. She raised JD on her own, worked two jobs to keep a roof over their head and food on the table, and cleaned houses on the weekend. About five years ago, one of the older women she cleaned for died and left her everything in her will. Unfortunately, she died of cancer about six months after she inherited it, while JD was still in college. JD was devastated, and Buck took the kid in under his wing. They've been together ever since."

 

Buck drops the highchair at the end of the table and straightens up, his hand massaging the middle of his back.

 

"Sh . . . oot JD," Buck says, hurriedly changing what he'd been about to say when he sees Ezzie looking at him with huge eyes. He holds his arms out and Buck holds him as JD gets Ezzie's lunch out of the refrigerator. Ezzie looks around the room, and Buck could swear he's making sure the others are present and unharmed before allowing Buck to place him in the highchair. He takes the bottle JD hands him, and kicking his feet, begins to drink his formula as the others pull out their lunches and begin to eat while talking over their plans for the weekend.

 

"Ouch!" Buck yelps, looking up as Ezzie's bottle lands on his head with a thunk. JD smirks at the look on his face as he feeds Ezzie applesauce. Chris snickers openly at the shocked look on Buck's face as Ezzie pushes the spoon of applesauce away, wailing for his bottle.

 

"Ezzie, the bottle's empty." Buck says, trying to placate the crying child. Ezzie's not impressed at that piece of logic and continues to cry, kicking his feet against the chair and banging on the tray.

 

"That's not why he wants it." Chris, the experienced father says, as he wipes the bottle off and hands it back to the baby. Ezzie's all smiles again as he bangs the empty bottle on the tray while he allows his father to feed him, throwing the bottle again a second later, this time managing to hit Nathan.

 

"Ezzie," JD says, rolling his eyes, "I'm not going to give you the bottle back if you're going to keep throwing it at the others."

 

"BBBBBBLLLLLLAAAAAAATTTTTTTT" Ezzie responds to that announcement, blowing a raspberry and managing to splatter the last spoonful of applesauce all over his father, Buck, and Chris.

 

"Ezzie," JD moans while the others laugh and clean themselves off.

 

"Let him be, JD." Chris says, taking over the job of feeding the baby so JD can go clean himself off, "he's not hungry right now, he wants to play instead." Chris grins at the baby, removing the tray and wiping his face and hands. Draping a cloth over his shoulder, Chris burps the baby, grinning at the aroma of a newly dirty diaper, upchucked formula, and baby powder. Grinning, Buck hands over the diaper bag and Chris leaves with the baby.

 

"Where's Chris and Ezzie?" JD asks, coming back in five minutes later wiping his face and hands.

 

"Changing Ezzie's diaper," Buck smirks, "It's like riding a bicycle, once you know how to do it, you never forget."

 

Chris comes back to the break room, a freshly diapered Ezzie yawning on his shoulder. Chris waves off JD's automatic attempt to take the baby and settles back in his chair, allowing the baby to fall asleep on his shoulder.

 

"I missed this," Chris says, propping his feet on the table as he rubs circles on Ezzie's back. "During the summer, I'd sit on the porch swing, Adam on my shoulder and watch the sunset. There were times I could swear Sarah was sitting next to me, her hand on my shoulder telling me that everything was going to be just fine, I wasn't going to be a failure as a father

 

"Hell, Chris, you never failed at anything in your life." Buck scoffs softly, not wanting to disturb the baby hanging off his best friend's shoulder.

 

"You're wrong there, Buck," Chris says sadly, "I failed Sarah."

 

"No, you did not." Buck says, standing up, hands on his hips as he stares at his friend. "Now you get that notion out of your head right now. Sarah dying from a stroke could have happened to anybody. Hell, look how long it took the coroner to find a cause for the stroke. It wasn't your fault you weren't home, it wasn't the doctor's fault for not being able to diagnose the aneurysm. Sarah was healthy as a horse, never sick a day in her life, and we don't know she would have survived if she had been right in the hospital when she had the stroke. Hell, if you want to blame somebody blame Adam. It was the added strain of her pregnancy that caused that vessel in her head to blow."

 

"Buck, I would never blame Adam for his mother's death." Chris says, coming out of his chair in one swift motion, one hand holding Ezzie to his shoulder. "That vessel could have burst at any time, even if she wasn't pregnant." Buck grins at the outraged look on Chris's face.

 

"Exactly," he says, running his hand over Ezzie's back. "Quit beating yourself up for not being there for Sarah and Adam. She died the second that vessel burst, the doctors only kept her alive long enough to cut Adam out before turning off the machines."

 

"Damn it, Buck," Chris grumbles, settling back down in the chair. "I hate it when you're right." He sighs, closing his eyes in defeat. Chris looks up at the clock ten minutes later and swears softly. "We've got ten minutes before we need to go back to work."

 

JD reaches over for the baby, but Chris grins and stands up, motioning for Buck to grab the highchair as he heads towards the elevator. Walking into the daycare, he kisses Ezzie's head before lowering the sleeping baby into a playpen and pulling a blanket over him.

 

Everybody heads back to their posts as the clock clicks one o'clock and the afternoon sessions seem to crawl by for JD as he watches the clock. Exactly at four o'clock, he walks into the daycare center where an amused Marsha is waiting for him with a fussing Ezzie who squirms in her arms and reaches for his daddy. JD picks the baby up and he's magically all smiles the second he's in his father's arms. Marsha grins at the change in the baby's attitude as she slides the diaper bag over JD's shoulder.

 

"Now that is one baby who has his daddy wrapped right around his little finger." She says to her assistant as they pick up scattered toys and clean the room for the next day.

 

"And he's got the rest of that crew there as well." Sandy says, pushing a lock of hair out of her eyes. "You weren't here when Chris and Buck brought the baby back. Ezzie was sound asleep on Chris' shoulder, and if it wasn't for the fact they had to go back to work, I think he'd have stayed there until he woke up."

 

"Chris always has been a good father," Marsha says, "You weren't here when his wife died, but he was devastated at the loss. The only thing that kept him going was the baby. If it hadn't been for Adam, I think Chris would gladly have crawled into a bottle and stayed there."

 

Ezzie bounces happily in his dad's lap as JD translates his shorthand into legible notes on today's court cases. The minute the computer is shut down Ezzie starts babbling and slapping at the computer keys as Buck appears with Ezzie's car seat.

 

"Let's get going, JD. I heard on the news we got a storm coming in and I want to run our errands and get home quick."

 

"We're still stopping at Wal-mart then?" JD asks, sheltering Ezzie from a gust of wind as they run to the truck. JD slides Rose' and Judge Knott's bags behind the seat before buckling Ezzie's car seat in.

 

"Yeah, I want to get a baby blanket to keep in the truck to cover Ezzie in case we're somewhere and it starts raining."

 

Buck pulls into a parking space as close to the store as possible, grumbling under his breath as the rain pours down.

 

"You need anything here, JD?" he turns to the other man, grinning as he sees JD bent over the car seat playing with Ezzie's toes.

 

"Nope, why don't Ezzie and I stay in the truck while you run inside and get the cabinet locks and blanket to keep in the car?"

 

"Okay, I should be back in about ten minutes. If there's too big a line at the service desk, I'll just buy the new locks and we can return these later." Buck slides the bag in his pocket, pulls an old Stetson from behind the seat to keep the rain out of his face, and quickly exits the truck. JD watches his roomie run through the raindrops to the front door and disappear inside the store.

 

"Yeah Ezzie," JD grins down at the baby who's watching his daddy with huge eyes. "Your uncle Buck ran inside to get you a couple of things, than we're going home so we all can get something to eat."

 

Buck climbs back into the truck ten minutes later with a bag from the store. He shoves the bag in JD's hand and starts the truck back up. Turning the windshield wipers on full, he opens the door to pour water from the Stetson and drops it onto the seat beside Ezzie's car seat.

 

"That was quick." JD says, opening the bag to see a navy blue blanket inside.

 

"I managed to hear the weather report as I was checking out. This storm is supposed to blow over rather quick, so do you want to run into the bakery?" Buck asks, pulling out of the parking lot.

 

"Yeah, I'll be right in and out." JD says as they pull into the parking lot. Buck pulls up right next to the store and JD opens the truck door. True to his word, JD returns almost immediately with a bag of homemade bread and cookies.

 

"Hey JD, I was thinking," Buck says as he pulls into their parking spot ten minutes later. Shutting off the engine, he turns to look over at his roomie who's busy unfastening Ezzie from the car seat. "Does Ezzie have any books? I've never seen any in his stuff."

 

JD grins, he'd wondered when somebody would ask him that question. "Becky and Toni owned a bookstore Buck, of course Ezzie has books. There's about five or six boxes of them down in our storage unit, I want to bring them up when we have the room. Ezzie's a little young for them right now, but when he's a little older I plan on reading to him as much as possible."

 

"Good, I remember Chris reading to Adam and Mom always read to me. That's why we're certified geniuses." Buck smirks as they walk to the elevator.

 

"I don't know about Genius, but I agree, you're definitely certifiable." JD smirks in reply.

 

"JD, I'm hurt." Buck dramatically puts his hand to his heat. "How could you say something so mean?"

 

"Simple, I know you." JD grins, putting the key in the lock. By now Ezzie is visibly fussing, and JD hands Buck the bags before carrying Ezzie to the changing table. Less than ten minutes later, Ezzie's diaper is changed, he's dressed in a sleeper, and he's banging on the highchair tray as JD warms a bottle to hold him until dinner.

 

Buck unplugs the slowcooker, taking off the lid to allow the aroma of soup to fill the kitchen while JD grabs the meatloaf from the refrigerator and puts it in the oven. Setting the timer for an hour, he grabs the bakery bag and puts the loaves away.

 

JD looks over as the intercom between the condo and the Security desk downstairs begins to buzz. Buck wipes his hands on the kitchen towel tucked in his belt and walks across the room to the unit.

 

"Yeah Jack?" Buck asks, pushing the talk button.

 

"A Ms. Jackson and Mr. Curtis are here to see JD?"

 

Buck looks over at JD who's busy checking the meatloaf and raises an eyebrow.

 

"Tabitha is the one who designed the blueprints for the renovations, and Hank is the guy in charge of the carpentry department at the vocational school. I asked them to come over after you got back so we could talk over any changes we wanted to make to her designs."

 

"Send them up Jack," Buck grins, "JD's been expecting them."

 

Buck walks over to stand by the open door as the elevator dings and the door opens. A tall woman, wearing a pair of black slacks and a white short-sleeved blouse comes out of the elevator first, followed by an older man wearing jeans and a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up.

 

"You must be JD's roommate Buck." Tabitha says, taking a seat on the couch and dropping her briefcase onto the coffee table. "I'm glad to finally meet you."

 

"Likewise, we really like the blueprints you drew up."

 

"Did JD tell you that your blueprints got me a job even before I've graduated?"

 

"Congratulations Tabitha," JD calls from the kitchen, "How did it happen?"

 

"I put in my name for an summer intern program at a architectural firm in Denver." Tabitha says, grinning, "The competition was between me and two other students but the judges were impressed that I had been able to do all this from the original blueprints and descriptions you gave me of what you wanted."

 

"Well, I'm officially the owner of the other condo if you want to take a look and see if there's any surprises." JD says, burping Ezra before coming into the living room. Ezra is put on the floor and immediately crawls over to Buck's chair, dragging a stuffed dog behind him. Using Buck's pants to pull himself up, Ezzie stands next to Buck's knee.

 

"First things first, are there any major changes that you want to make to the designs I drew up for the condo renovations?" Tabitha asks, pulling a blueprint from her briefcase.

 

"Yes, Buck says, "I want to tear this kitchen out entirely and expand the bathroom into that space instead. The other kitchen is easily three times the size of this one."

 

"Let's take a look at the other condo so I can take some notes before we discuss what you want in the new bathroom?" Tabitha asks, grabbing a cassette recorder before standing up. Buck picks Ezra up as JD grabs the keys from the bowl on the coffee table and leads the way out of the condo.

 

"Okay, where do you want to start first?" JD asks as they walk into the other condo. Hank blocks the door open before slowly turning around to take everything in.

 

"This is the wall between the two condos, right?" he asks, tapping on a wall.

 

"Yep." Buck says.

 

"It's not a load bearing wall, we could easily rip it out in one day. It would take another day to frame out the rough opening though, and we'd have to come back after the major renovations are done to make it flow with the rest of the condo."

 

"Where would you start?" JD asks.

 

"Either tearing out the kitchen or demolishing the wall between the two units. What about the other condo, will the owners complain about the noise?"

 

"We're the only tenants living on this floor." Buck says, "The owner of the other Condo disappeared about three years ago. Nobody knows what happened, the condo's just been sitting empty all this time. It can't be sold until they're declared legally dead, the condo and it's contents will probably be sold cheap to cover the maintenance fees."

 

"First question, which condo are you going to be living in while the renovations are happening?"

 

"That one," Buck says, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. "Once the wall is down, we're going to be moving Ezzie into this room," Buck says, waving at the doorway of a room and JD's going to be moving upstairs to the master bedroom."

 

"Where do we want to build the laundry room?" Hank asks.

 

"How about over here?" Buck says, walking towards the kitchen. "You already have water lines running from the kitchen and bathroom."

 

"What did you have in mind for the laundry room and have you decided what ones you'll be getting?"

 

"I brought a Neptune washer and dryer,"

 

"Okay, I just put a pair of those in my own home," Hank says, pulling a tape measure from his tool chest and measuring a spot on the wall. "If you put them here, I'll need to run a couple lines for the hot and cold water, as well as put in a pigtail for the dryer. Anything else?"

 

"I want a shelf over them for soap and other laundry products, a rod so we can hang clothes to dry, and how about a mini ironing board that folds up in the opposite wall?"

 

"We can do that easily." Hank says, writing in his ever-present notebook. "What do you plan on doing with that room you want enlarged when the wall comes down?"

 

"I'm not sure right now," JD says, looking over at his roommate, "We both have hobbies that involve power tools. I was going to suggest one of us move our stuff into the new room, but Orrin said Buck would be moving his stuff into a pole barn on their property next spring."

 

"Dad said that?" Buck asks, raising an eyebrow since this is the first he's heard of it.

 

"Yeah, something about them hearing you wanted to expand into making furniture but you really can't do that here?"

 

"Damn, I didn't think they were paying attention." Buck says, "I don't have half the stuff I need for a real workshop."

 

"Well, once you see what the place looks like, then you can look for new equipment." JD says, "Make a list of what you think you'll need or want and go from there."

 

"You might want to check out the Vocational School's yearly sale too." Hank says over his shoulder as he makes notes. "We have companies come to the school every year with their products to show to the teachers. It's open to the public, and you usually get a ten percent discount."

 

"Yeah, I've got some stuff there before." Buck says absently as Ezzie snuggles against his shoulder. A second later he gets the whiff of a newly dirty diaper.

 

"JD," Buck says, heading for the door, "I'm going to change Ezzie and check on the meatloaf."

 

"Okay Buck," JD says absently as Hank and Tabitha take notes on various things that need to be done, "We should be back in a couple of minutes."

 

The sight of Buck lying on the floor with a giggling baby bouncing on his chest greets the others when they enter the condo. JD raises a finger to his lips to keep the others quiet as he takes a picture of the pair.

 

Buck looks up at the sound of the camera and mouths ‘help me' to the others. Ezzie giggles, swats Buck's head with his stuffed dog one last time, and crawls off Buck's chest.

 

"He is adorable, JD." Hank says, watching the baby crawl across the floor towards his daddy. "You must be so proud."

 

"I am Hank," JD says, bending down to pick up the baby, kissing him on the cheek and receiving a kiss from Ezzie in return, "Three weeks ago I didn't know I had a son, now I can't imagine life without him."

 

"Buck, JD, did you have anything planned for this condo besides ripping out the kitchen and enlarging the bathroom?" Tabitha sits down on the couch and begins sketching the interior of the loft with the kitchen removed. "And what sort of fixtures did you have in mind for the new bathroom? Also," She gets up and walks over to the closed bathroom door, "We could bring it the bathroom out to this wall." She points at the outside kitchen wall. "That would make your entryway bigger.

 

"Hey JD, I just had a thought."

 

"Be gentle with it, Buck. It's probably terrified at being in a new place."

 

"Hardy, har, har." Buck rolls his eyes, "Do we want to keep this door here or take it out?"

 

JD looks over at the door for a second and shrugs. "Well, I had been thinking about tearing it and the closet out and replacing them with a gas fireplace, but that would leave us short an exit door in case of an emergency."

 

Hank gets up and walks to the closet, scowling as he measures off the space. "You won't need this once the wall comes down, I can easily tear it out and put a fireplace in. Do you want just glass doors in the wall or a faux fireplace with rocks and a mantle around the gas box?"

 

"I'd like one that looks like the one in the other condo, but on a smaller scale."

 

"Yeah, we can do that easily." Hank says, making some notes, "If you guys are willing to help, we can put it in after the major renovations are over. It will only take a couple of days."

 

"Sounds good to me." Buck says as Tabitha quickly sketches the room again, this time removing the closet and putting a small fireplace where it had been.

 

Buck shamelessly watches over her shoulder as a picture of the larger bathroom takes form. He points to a spot in the corner, where the kitchen sink is now, where he'd like a separate shower stall to be installed.

 

""Hey JD, we need a larger tub?"

 

"Yeah, I'd like another one in the corner where the old one is now," Tabitha sketches in the tub angled in the corner, putting a vanity with two sinks between them and the toilet across the room. "What do you think guys?"

 

"I like it," Buck says, looking over the drawing. "What kind of tub you looking for?"

 

"I'll settle for a garden tub like your mom and dad have in their bedroom, but what I'd really like is one of those old fashioned cast iron tubs with the feet."

 

"Damn JD, those things are huge."

 

"Yeah, but I want something I can lay in and soak."

 

"Hell JD," and Tabitha snickers as she sees the big man hold his hands over the baby's ears. "You're so small you can soak in Mom's thimble."

 

"Bite me, Buck," JD rolls his eyes, "You know how I like to soak and think. And I keep banging my knees and elbows in the tub we got now."

 

"JD, by the time we get around to tearing this bathroom out, you're going to be in your new room with your own bathroom."

 

"Hadn't thought of that."

 

"And a bigger tub will be harder to lean over to bathe Ezzie in. Unless you plan on getting in there with him and bathing him that way."

 

"That might be the easiest way to do it." JD says, "He's a little wiggle monkey in the tub, and if I'm there with him, he can play in the water."

 

"I know a shop in Denver that specializes in old bathroom fixtures." Hank says, "You want the name of it so you can go look for an old tub?"

 

"Yeah," Buck grumbles half-heartedly, the big grin on his face a stark contrast to his tone of voice, "Since Junior there is paying for all this, the least I can do is let him have his own way about that."

 

"Oh Tabitha, that reminds me. Do you have the passes so Buck and I can go into that Merchandise Mart you were talking about?"

 

"Right here," Tabitha grins as she pulls a folder out of the briefcase she'd left propped against the couch. "Here's a folder with all the details you'll need. I've got you two passes that are good for six months from the first time you go there, and if you want to become members, it's only fifty dollars for a lifetime membership. And Buck, they have a good selection of tools there as well, so you might find something you want for your woodworking."

 

JD grins as he puts the folder in the file cabinet before escorting them to the elevator. "Hey Tabitha, hope you won't mind doing another job for me in a couple of years. I've already told the condo board as soon as the other unit goes up for sale, I plan to buy it and make this entire floor one unit. Since we own the other two units on the floor, they'll be giving us first refusal."

 

Tabitha blinks as she sees the possibilities and moans.

 

"You are an evil, evil man JD Dunne. Now I'm going to spend the entire night making drawings for the new renovations."

 

"Oh I know," JD chuckles softly, "I get the same way when I'm designing a new piece of jewelry and Buck will lock himself in the workroom for hours when he's got the inspiration for a new sculpture."

 

JD watches the lights over the elevator count down the floors to the lobby before going back inside, finding Buck sitting on the couch bouncing Ezzie in his arms, the meatloaf cooling on the stovetop, and the table set for dinner. Ezzie yawns and blinks, and Buck kisses his forehead before putting him in the playpen while they eat dinner.

 

"Buck," JD points a fork at his roommate, "What plans did you have for Thanksgiving and Christmas."

 

"I figured we'd better have Thanksgiving with Mom and Dad, otherwise Mom would come over and drag us to the ranch by our ears." Buck chuckles as he clears the table. "You know how Mom hates cooking anywhere but her own kitchen. She and Nettie are probably already making plans for it."

 

"That's what I figured." JD says, filling the sink as Buck hands him the dishes. "I want to put up a small tree by the sliding glass door. I haven't felt like celebrating Christmas since Mom died, but I've still got all her decorations down in the storage unit."

 

A couple hours later JD settles down in his bed, snuggling under the covers as he watches Ezzie sleeping in the crib beside him. As his eyes close involuntarily he grins, realizing that everything's going to be okay and both he and Ezzie are starting a new life.

 

The End

 

AN: Don't scream, there's going to be more stories in this universe, promise. This story was just the beginning, I already have plot bunnies lined up with the story of Ezzie's first Halloween with the guys (Buck, Chris, and JD take Ezzie and Adam trick or treating), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Ezzie's second birthday.

 

 

 

 

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