When the morning announcements were read, Patrick and Scott discovered that they came in second and third, respectively, in the essay contest. Lenny at the Boys' Home won. The Boys' Home received a 1967 Chevy Camaro for the contest and the tow truck driver donated a 1967 Chevy Monte Carlo as well as two Chevy engine blocks. The boys had a contest and raffled off the cars once they were built. Xander was surprised that he was the winner of the Camaro.
Cody Middle School Broncs were undefeated and played against Jackson Hole, another undefeated team. Although Cody's quarterback was injured during the game, they pulled off a win, remaining undefeated.
In the mock trial, Patrick successfully defended Scott. Even the audience voted in favor of Scott's innocence.
Jim and Zac hugged Patrick and Jake. "We are going to miss you two at Thanksgiving dinner" they whined.
"I know," Patrick commented, "and we'll miss you, but Trevor and Roger invited us to come over there for the holiday break. And you both said we could go."
"We did," Zac confirmed, "and we haven't changed our minds, but we wanted to let you know how much we love you two."
"Remember, Xander is in charge, so behave," Jim added.
"Daaaaaaad," Patrick sighed, "you don't need to worry about us. I will help Jake to behave."
"I don't need help," Jake insisted. "I am six, you know."
Xander pulled up in the Camaro, which surprised Patrick, "I thought we were taking the Mustang."
"That was before I won this car," Xander explained. "I hope you don't mind, but this car has a bigger trunk and more leg room."
"That's cool," Patrick accepted Xander's reasoning.
Tim Thompson was in the passenger seat but got out to aid with putting Patrick's and Jake's luggage in the trunk. "Can I help you with that?" he asked Jake.
"Yes, please," Jake giggled.
Xander put Jake in a car seat and buckled him in. Zac and Jim waved as the boys drove off. They saw Patrick waving back.
Zac looked at Jim, "It's going to be quiet here for the next few days."
"I know, I already miss them," Jim groaned.
"Yeah," Zac concurred, "I do, too. I'll try to keep us busy, so we miss them less."
Jim gave a slight smile, "That won't be easy; what do you have in mind?"
"For starters," Zac crowed, "tomorrow is our first Thanksgiving as owners of the Ranch."
Jim pouted, "I was hoping you meant in the bedroom."
"You can decorate the bedroom for Thanksgiving, if you want." Zac knew to what Jim was referring, and did intend to keep them busy there too, but could not resist teasing his love.
"Why not," Jim laughed, "I already sleep with a turkey."
Zac chuckled, "Yeah, so do I, but I love this turkey." Zac placed his arms around Jim and gave him a sensual kiss.
As the families were gathering in the Party Barn, Heather questioned at Jim, "Where are the boys? I haven't seen them since I got here."
Jim looked down, "They went to visit Trevor and Roger for Thanksgiving."
"Oh," Heather patted Jim's arm as she spoke. "Well, I guess I will have to wait until they return to give them hugs."
"You have to wait in line," Jim smiled, "I already called dibs, and Zac said he was second."
Zac stood up, "Can I have everyone's attention. As you know, Jim and I took over control of the Ranch at the beginning of summer, so this is our first Thanksgiving as the owners. We are thankful for all of you making the transition as easy as it was."
"Well," one of the ranch hands spoke up, "the fact that you are running it the same way Jackson did helped. We all know you, and you know us. We are one big family."
Another ranch hand stood up, "The only real change that you made was adding the Boys' Home. Those boys are a blessing. They are eager to learn, and they ease our work without taking any hours from us."
"I'm glad you feel that way," Zac continued. "We didn't know if the Boys' Home would work out, but we felt a need to try. Those boys have enriched all of us in so many ways."
Robert Kincaid stood up, "I am thankful that Bobby is walking again. Last Easter when Jake gave him that first egg, then all the kids gave him an egg, he was so happy, but when he took his first step since the accident, he was elated beyond belief. He thinks that Jake giving him the egg caused a miracle, and who am I to argue with that."
"I wish Jake were here to hear you say that," Zac commented, "but he and his brother were invited to spend time with Trevor and Roger over the holiday. Jim and I will have a special Thanksgiving dinner when they return."
"You know, a holiday isn't about that one day of the year that it falls on," Heather stated, "you can celebrate any holiday whenever you like."
"Hmmm," Zac looked thoughtful, "that gives me an idea."
"Well, spit it out," Jim urged.
"What do you think of Christmas in July? I know many places have done it, and it's been very successful. We can use the sleighs since they have small wheels, and we can start promoting it in the parade on the Fourth."
"Sounds like something we can discuss so that we pull it off right." Everyone there agreed that it could work and were willing to help.
When Patrick got out of the Camaro, he ran to Jim and then Zac. Jake did the reverse. "We had fun, but it wasn't the same without you and Papa," Patrick claimed.
With a tear running down his cheek, Zac whispered, "We missed you, too. Dad has a Thanksgiving meal waiting in the house."
"Xander, would you and Tim like to stay and have supper with us? We're having a Thanksgiving meal with our family, and…"
"You consider me family?" Xander was choked up. "In a way, I guess you are the closest to family that I have, or at least want to consider. I would love to eat with you." Then he looked at Tim, "Do you mind?"
"Not at all," Tim smiled. "I am happy that they invited us."
As they ate, they chatted. Jim inquired of Xander, "This is your senior year, what do you have planned?"
"Not sure yet, but I better get something planned because I won't be allowed to stay at the Home after I graduate."
"Technically, you aren't but Joe agrees that no one gets kicked out. We want you to have a chance to get something figured out and make arrangements to live on your own on your terms. We won't get funding for you, but that doesn't mean you have to leave right away."
"Will he get paid if he stays at the Rescue?" Tim questioned.
Jim replied, "We can't talk for the Rescue, but it is a possibility."
"I like helping at the Rescue, but Matt…" Xander looked like he was thinking, "you know, the one becoming a vet..."
"McCrery," Zac popped out.
"Yeah, him, he asked if I ever thought about being a vet with how much I seem to love the horses."
"So, what do you think?" Jim asked.
"I think it would be cool, and he offered to pay my way through school, plus give me a job once I completed the courses."
"If you want to do that, I think Joe wouldn't mind if you stayed in the dorm until you graduated from vet school."
"Or you can share my room," Jake offered.
Zac spoke up, "We don't mind you offering it to Xander, if that is what he wants, but Jake, you need to ask Daddy or me before you offer to let someone stay in your room."
"But if it's MY room," Jake questioned, "why do I need permission?"
"It is your room as in where you sleep, but it's part of their house," Xander explained with a smile. "I am seriously considering taking Matt up on his offer. I also want to do something with the Home, maybe teach, or train the boys in something."
"Dad could possibly use your help with the Auto Mechanics classes. We saw how well you worked on the Camaro," offered Zac.
"Or you could be the person who instructs them in horseback riding," Jim suggested.
Xander nodded, "I have lots of options, and they all seem good."
"Whatever you decide, we support you one hundred percent."
Tim watched as the family chatted. Xander looked at him and asked, "What do you think?"
"I think they all care about you. I think it's great that you have so many options that you would enjoy. I think that it's great that we met," Tim replied. Tim finished up by saying, "And I think… no, I know, I love you."
"I love you, too," Xander admitted before kissing Tim's hand.
After school, Patrick had finished his homework and was playing his racing game. Jim came in and noticed a sad look on his face. "Whatcha doing, Bud?" Jim asked, "You look upset."
"I'm playing Asphalt 8: Airborne," Patrick answered. "And I am upset."
"Did someone do a knockdown on you? I hate when they do that."
"No, Dad," Patrick responded. "I was in second place, and suddenly, I ended up in first. The guy who was in first must have wrecked or something because he ended up in fourth place. I should be happy that I won, but I feel sorry for PlayerUno."
"Did you cause him to wreck?"
"No," Patrick stated, "heck, I didn't even realize he did until I crossed the finish line and it said I was in first place. Then I looked to see where he finished."
"Patrick, you have a good heart. It's okay to feel bad for them, but if it was their mistake that caused it, you shouldn't let it take away from your fun."
"I know, but…" Patrick started.
"No buts," Jim interrupted, "I am pleased that you aren't happy over another player's misfortune, but I don't like seeing you like this when there was nothing you could have done to change it."
"Yeah, you're right," Patrick cooed as he reached around Jim to give him a hug.
"Now, should I get my laptop and see if we can't get into a few races with each other?"
"That could be fun, but don't wreck me," Patrick chuckled.
"Would I do that?" Jim gave an evil grin.
Patrick laughed, "Maybe if it were just the two of us and you did it in fun."
"Not even sure if I would purposefully do it then."
After Jim logged onto his account and joined a race, he asked, "Are you Cowboy04 in the red Mustang?"
"How did you guess?" Patrick responded.
"Well," Jim explained, "you were born in 2004, and you own a red Mustang."
"By the way, when Xander gave me the keys back after we got home, he told me that if it's alright with you and Papa, he would take me driving in it on the ranch. At first, he offered, but I told him what you and Papa said."
"I'm glad, and I'll talk to Papa, but I think Xander has proven himself reliable enough."
"I'll say, when he was done with my car, he filled the tank, washed it and cleaned the interior. She looked just as good as when Grandpa Vince finished restoring her."
Jim put his arm on Patrick's shoulder, "Good to know and thank you for telling me."
"What's good to know?" Zac asked.
Jim spoke up, "Patrick said that Xander returned the Mustang just as clean as when your dad finished her, and with a full tank of gas. And Xander offered to sit with Patrick while he drives on the Ranch, IF it is okay with us."
Zac inquired, "Do you have any problem if Xander does?"
"I prefer he let us know when he does, but otherwise, no."
"I agree," Zac concurred. "Let's go tell him when you two are done racing."
"Thank you, Dad, thank you Papa," Patrick gleamed.
Jim and Patrick raced several games, with them coming in the top three every race. Patrick won a few and Jim won a few, but the worst they did was third. After they put their laptops to sleep, the three headed toward the dorms.
Xander was sharing a room with Lenny, the boy who won the writing contest. Zac knocked on the door and Lenny called out, "Come in."
"Hey, Lenny, Hey Xander," Zac said as he walked in. "Xander, can we talk to you?"
"Do I need to leave?" Lenny asked.
"No," Jim assured, "this isn't anything private."
"Are you here because of what I told Patrick?" Xander surmised.
"Exactly," Zac responded. "We just wanted to let you know you have our permission, but we do ask that you let us know when you are taking him to drive."
"That sounds reasonable," Xander agreed. "Patrick was sure that you wouldn't have a problem with it, but we both wanted to be sure. Patrick is a good kid."
"Yes, he is," Jim cooed, "and so are you. I cannot tell you how happy you have made us by giving us a chance."
Xander laughed, "I was just telling Lenny about when you first brought me here, and how happy I am that I gave this place a chance."
Zac wiped a tear as he spoke, "We aren't much older than you, and at this point adoption would be silly, even if your dad would let us, but we think of you as one of our boys. Heck, we feel that way with most of the boys here."
"I know," Xander grinned, "and most of the boys here needed a father figure who cared about them. I admit I did, and I feel loved here, truly loved like I am part of your family. When you invited me to stay for your Thanksgiving meal, it just made me feel even more so."
"You always will be," Jim choked out. "You are truly loved, and you are a part of our family."
"What about me?" Lenny giggled.
"YOU?" Xander said louder than he intended, "if it wasn't for you winning that contest, I probably wouldn't have my Camaro." Xander grabbed Lenny and started tickling him. Lenny did not fight it, he enjoyed the attention and feeling like he belonged. Jim and Zac left the boys playing.
Over the next couple of weeks, Xander did more and more with Jim and Zac. They made him truly feel like he was a part of their family. He reduced his hours at the Rescue so he could spend more time at the Ranch. On this date, they were decorating the Ranch for Christmas, especially the Party Barn. They continued talking about Xander's options. "I've decided to definitely take Matt up on his offer. And you were right, Joe said that while I am in school, I can stay in the dorms, but I do want to eventually get my own place."
"This is a big ranch, what if we build a house between us and the road?" Zac suggested.
Xander looked surprised, "You would actually do that for me?"
"We discussed it, and neither of us wants to see you leave any time soon," Jim declared. "We know that someday you will, but until then, we want to help you, yet give you a space you can make your own."
That night, all the employees of the Ranch, the Rescue and the Home gathered for their annual Christmas party. The boys of the Home were in attendance, too. Zac stood on the stage and announced, "I want to give a special thanks to Xander for assisting Jim and I with decorating this year. Xander graduates at the end of this school year, and I hope he doesn't mind me saying this, but he plans to go into veterinarian medicine and working with Matt."
"No, I don't mind," Xander yelled back.
While they were enjoying the party, Santa Jackson walked in. He asked Jim and Zac if they would be upset if he continued his Christmas tradition of giving gifts. Jim and Zac agreed but only if they were to be a part of getting the gifts. Jackson was pleased with that arrangement.
Jackson looked at a small boy, "What's your name?"
"You know me, Santa," the boy declared, "I'm Gabe Collins."
"Well, Gabe, would you like to be Santa's helper today?"
"What do I have to do?" Gabe inquired.
"Hand out the gift to whom I tell you."
"I can do that," Gabe grinned.
Jackson pulled out the first present. When he saw the first gift he pulled out, he gave a low groan. "The first present is yours, Gabe."
"Peter can watch it for me. I'm helping Santa," Gabe proudly proclaimed. Then he handed it to Peter. Jackson was relieved he didn't need a new helper.
Gabe made quick work of passing out the presents. He listened closely as Santa told him to whom to give them.
Xander was surprised when Gabe handed him a present. "Santa said that you've been a very good boy," Gabe told him.
He opened up the present to see a doctor bag filled with a stethoscope and a few other items a vet would need. "How did Santa know? Zac just announced it," Xander exclaimed. "Heck, I just let them know today what I decided."
"Santa knows everything," Tim told him. "After the party, can you go to my house so we can play doctor?"
Xander smiled, "Sure, but you know I plan to be an animal doctor."
After the party died down and everyone left, Jim, Zac and the boys made it to their house. Jim looked at Zac and asked, "Did you see the look on Xander's face when he opened his present?"
"I think you know me better than that," Zac commented.
"Can I see the picture you took? I'll show you mine."
"Oooooooo," Zac teased, "one of those, 'you show me yours and I'll show you mine.'"
"Yeah, well…" Jim paused for effect. "I'll show you mine anytime you want."
"Please, Dad, I know what you are talking about," Patrick whined.
Jake looked confused, "What?"
"Never mind," Jim, Zac and Patrick said in unison.
I hope you enjoy the story and that it draws you in, wanting more. If you have any suggestions or concerns, don't hesitate to email me. Thoughts and suggestions are always welcomed and may or may not be implemented. Concerns will be considered and addressed as much as possible.
Also, I have created a mailing list. If you would like to be added to it to be informed of new submissions, please contact me at Zarek A Dragon... Please let me know that you read it on The Story Lovers' Website, or whichever Fort Family Site you've read it on.