Oh The Joys…
by Angela B – aceofspades107@yahoo.com

Here’s my challenge answer, although to be truthful, I wrote it before reading it clearly so it’s not exactly right. I used all the words and most of the challenge scenes. Hope you enjoy.

The small forty passenger aircraft carrying the thirteen people touched down with ease, coming to a slow stop. Disembarking, the seven ATF agents donned their sunglasses in protection against the bright sun. It was vacation time and they were looking forward to fun and relaxation.

The case they had just closed had taken them five agonizing long months to complete and, while they all tired and patience worn thin, it was the undercover agent that had taken the brunt of it. The others had worked hard and put in long hours, but at the end of the day they had been able to go home, eat their food, watch their own TV’s, sleep in their own beds, and had weekends off. They had gone on with their lives; Ezra had worked twenty-four seven without a break. For this reason, the others had planned, packed and made everything ready for this trip. All Ezra had to do, after a week of nothing but sleeping, was climb into the vehicle, be driven to the airport and walk onto the plane.

Chris and Josiah headed for the rental agency while the other five retrieved their baggage. A short time later, Chris and Josiah returned to the group with the keys to the their vehicle, a nine passenger van. They had learned early on that a seven-passenger van did not accommodate seven men, especially when four of them were built big and long-legged.

The quick drive into town had the men pulling into the hotel parking lot a short time later. After room keys were acquired and roommates were assigned, the bags were quickly unloaded and unpacked. Ezra, not given much of a choice, found himself sharing a room with Buck and Chris. The undercover agent figured it was the best deal, considering he wasn’t up to being scrutinized by the team’s medic and psychologist, nor did he want to share a room with the two youngest and their rambunctious natures. Putting away his belongings, Ezra felt the queen size bed closest to him, beckoning him. Stretching out on the bed and closing his eyes, the world melted away to nothingness.

Chris came out of the bathroom and paused, cursing mildly under his breath. Ezra had done nothing but sleep for a week and still the man was falling asleep anytime he lit too long in one place. It told of how taxing the assignment had really been on his subordinate and friend. Buck stepped through the adjoining door, having gone into the next room to check if JD and Vin were ready to go eat.

“This one nearly did him in,” the big man commented sadly, catching Chris’ eye.

Chris could only nod in agreement. “Think we should wake him and make him go eat?” he asked sincerely.

Buck shrugged. It was a toss-up regarding what Ezra needed more: food or sleep. Chris moved towards the bed and, after a few nudges against it with his knee, and Buck hauling the man up physically to a standing position, the three joined the others and left in search of something to eat.

After grabbing a bite, the seven men loaded into the van and headed the thirteen miles to the Rock Art Ranch. Josiah had called the week before and made reservations. It would be the only place they planned on going to that required pre-planning. The group had agreed on it simply because in a group this large, everyone had their own interest and the Ranch provided something for everyone. For Vin and Josiah, it offered a site with Anasazi petroglyphs, which were interesting to the others as well, just not as deeply. It was also a working cattle ranch, which would benefit the cowboys in Chris and Buck. The place could entertain each of the men, whether they wanted to get out and be adventurous or simply walk around and enjoy the beautiful surrounding sites. The afternoon was spent in enjoyment.

The next morning was Sunday and the sun had dawned bright a couple of hours earlier. Six of the seven men took advantage of the chance to sleep in and be lazy. The exception, of course had been the team leader, who had been rising at the same hour every day of the week for the past twenty years. He had already been for a walk around the area and was now reading the local paper. Drinking his third cup of coffee, he looked up, hearing his crew come noisily walking in, and let a smile slip across his features as he watched his friends straggle in. Ezra, shuttled between Vin and JD, was being unofficially escorted along. Chris felt a strike of pride in the way his men took care of each other, even in off duty hours.

It had been decided that they would take several day trips to the surrounding attractions. Today, they were headed for Grand Falls. Piling into the van, JD and Vin took the back seats while Buck took the middle seat to himself and Nathan and Ezra shared the front bench seat. The forty-eight miles went by swiftly. Turning onto the dirt road, Chris pulled to a stop and read the warning sign which said, ‘Use of high clearance or four wheel vehicles recommended.’ The leader looked over at Josiah and asked, “Well?” in an expectant tone.

“Aw c’mon, Chris. We can make it,” JD cajoled from his seat. He was ready to get out and go exploring.

Buck threw in his two cents and agreed, while Ezra shook his head and Nathan advised, “That sign is there for a reason.”

Chris, still looking to Josiah for his take, saw the small nod as the older brother said, “I think we’ll be okay, Chris.”

The blond nodded and edged forward.

“These things never work out the way they are supposed to,” Nathan complained under his breath.

Buck reached over the seat and slapped the medic on the shoulder. Laughing, he said, “Relax, Nathan. You worry too much.”

“Well, apparently somebody has to,” Nathan shot back. “Some days, ya’ll don’t have the brains God gave an ant.” Silently, the black agent wished he could be different, more relaxed and easygoing like the others, but he was a born worrier and, with this group, there was always good reason.

>Chris steered the van over the slightly muddy, rocky terrain, moving slowly to avoid any rocks that could puncture something vital, like the oil pan or gas tank. Going around a curve, Chris felt the rear end sliding and fought to keep from overcorrecting the vehicle. Letting off the gas, the blond resisted the automatic urge to hit the brakes. The other six felt the van moving sideways, heading off the main road onto the muddier sidelines. Chris’ blue streak of words filled the otherwise silent van. Once the van stopped sliding and came to a stop, Chris slowly applied pressure to the gas and prayed for the best. The ominous whirring of spinning back tires and flying mud hitting the sides of the van was an obvious bad sign.

“Told ya,” Nathan muttered, knowing he would be involved in pushing the heavy vehicle out of the mud. “They never learn.”

“Nathan!” Chris growled out in warning, thinking he should start listening better to the levelheaded man, it would save him a lot of aggravation.

“Well, gentlemen, looks like we’re going to get a bit of exercise today,” Josiah said lightly as he climbed out of his passenger seat.

Buck reached around the front bench and released the sliding door. Wiggling out of the confined space, Buck slapped Nathan on the shoulder and said,” C’mon Nathan.”

Nathan made an ungracious sound, but followed Buck out of the van anyway.

JD followed next, with Vin right behind him, grateful that no one had pointed out that he’d been the first one to claim they could make it, not yet at least.

Stopping at the front bench, Vin turned to the remaining passenger. “C’mon, Ez. Get out here and help.” The Texan had no intentions of making the man actually help, but didn’t want Ezra feeling left out of all the fun either.

“Mr. Tanner, if you recall I didn’t vote to come down this muddy path,” Ezra balked.

Vin cut off anymore forthcoming comments with, “Ezra, get out here!”

The brown-haired man sighed dramatically as he vacated his seat, inwardly relishing being back among his friends, for better or for worse, and feeling secure in the fact that some things never changed. He liked stability after a long life of instability.

Vin looked up and caught Chris’ eye before exiting, giving him a quick, knowing smile. Ezra needed inclusion and security, that much they had deciphered over the years, and that was what he was going to get, whether it was in a dry hotel room or out on a muddy road.

Five of the six men lined up against the back of the van, instructing Ezra to stand on the side and be the communicator between the group and the driver. Chris hit the gas and the men rocked the van forward. Mud sprayed the air and the six men. Ezra tried to dodge the flying assault and backed up further from where he was. Biting back the retort that formed on his lips, he decided it was too far of a walk back to the motel and Chris was getting in a mood that suggested everyone should just work together and free the van. The procedure was repeatedly tried with no success. Finally, Chris climbed out of the van and joined his friend.

“We need a board or something,” Buck suggested.

“We can’t go traipsing around. We’re on the reservation of the Navajos and have to respect their land and the laws that govern it,” Josiah offered.

“Well, certainly they can’t get upset if we just found a board lying about and used it,” JD mused. He wasn’t suggesting trespassing or doing harm to the land; he just wanted to get the van free before Chris had an aneurysm.

“I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about it,” Ezra stated, watching a tractor being driven towards them.

The seven men waited as the tractor pulled to a stop in front of the van. An old Navajo man, weathered by many years in the hot sun, leaned over the steering wheel and gazed down on the men. “Get stuck?” he asked, the amused smile said he’d done this many times before. Chris dropped his head to his chest. Life was too short to be surrounded by smart mouths.

Fifteen minutes later, the men were on their way. Arriving at the parking lot, the men unloaded the picnic supplies they had picked up that morning and walked the quarter mile to the picnic area. Chris got the grill going for the hamburgers while Ezra helped Buck unload the small, cheap, Styrofoam cooler. The remaining four walked around and investigated the area. After a satisfying lunch, the men cleaned up their site and went walking along the marked path. The magnificent waterfall was an interesting site to see with its one hundred and eighty foot drop, making it higher than Niagara Falls. The water, in fact, did look like chocolate flowing over the rocks and down the canyon if one had a very good imagination. Coming to a rest area, Ezra sat down with Chris and Josiah joining him. They watched as the rest hiked around and expended some of their built up energy and stress from the long case. While they might not have logged the hours that Ezra had, it had been very draining on them.

Once they were back in the van and heading back down the muddy road, Chris prayed they wouldn’t have to depend on the Navajo man to dig them out again. There was only so much humiliation he could take. Once back at the motel, the men showered off the dirt and mud acquired during their trip and slipped into their swimming trunks for some clean fun in the pool.

Monday bought another warm and beautiful day. After breakfasting in the lobby the guys loaded up and headed out: destination, Cholla Lake Park. Buck climbed in the driver’s seat and Vin took the passenger seat. Josiah and Ezra took the front passenger seat, Chris and Nathan took the middle seat and JD had the back seat to himself.

Ezra, feeling better, elbowed Josiah and smiled. Josiah groaned, but was happy to see Ezra feeling good enough to cause a little trouble. Without turning around, the brown-haired man asked the blond, diehard Bronc’s fan why his team didn’t make it to the playoffs. The whole van flinched knowing that the specific topic would set the leader off. Chris, feeling the need to defend his beloved team to the stupid and, in his opinion, less sports educated southerner, launched into a tirade with Ezra making seemingly harmless comments. Nathan, sitting next to Chris, leaned his head against the window and wondered what forces in his past life he had ticked off so royally he should endure the torture.

Ezra turned in his seat enough to capture Chris’ eyes and smiled. Chris smiled back and then looked over to Nathan. Everyone needed to decompress, that included their friend, Nathan. The man was a good man, but in general, wound too tightly for his own good; he needed to relax a little. Ezra leaned back into his seat and let the easy movement of the truck lull him sleep. The blond glanced back over to Nathan. Nathan opened his eyes and felt Chris staring at him. Turning his attention towards Chris, he asked sarcastically, “You two enjoyed that, didn’t you?”

Chris couldn’t help but smile bigger. “Nathan,” he said placidly, “You need to relax. Being stressed isn’t good for you,” repeating what the medic had told him repeatedly over the years.

The passenger grumbled under his breath and rolled his eyes, turning back to the window. He did his best to block out the chuckles of his fellow riders. Nathan tried stewing about it, but found it difficult among all the camaraderie. As the van rolled down the highway, Nathan joined in on the different conversations floating around him, keeping their voices somewhat lowered in difference to the sleeping one.

By choosing a weekday instead of the weekend, the lake was less crowded. Buck turned into a parking spot, centrally located. Vin waited for JD to exit the van before the two headed for the rental shop with Buck right in there with them. Finding a shaded spot, the remaining men staked out their site. Ezra sat down on the provided lawn chair and stretched out, watching the birds dive at the water for food.

“We’re headed for the shack,” Chris informed the relaxed man, the invitation clear.

Ezra rose from his spot and joined the group. The crushing feelings he got from being gone for so long were slowly dissipating with each passing day. Walking behind Josiah and Nathan, the undercover agent felt, more than saw, his leader, on and off duty fall in step beside him. A sense of something he couldn’t name, but liked, filled Ezra.

Walking into the shop, the four men were assaulted with JD’s high-pitched, excited voice competing with Buck’s lower baritone. The teenage boy behind the counter had the look of a captured hostage. Josiah walked up to the two men, placing his hands on their shoulders. Shaking his head, he said, in mock admonishment, “Boy, boys, boys.”

JD turned to Josiah. “Don’t you think windsailing would be cool?” He asked with bright eyes.

Josiah shrugged. “Never done it,” he admitted.

Buck popped in with his two cents. “Me and the kid figured if we rented four jet skis and three windsurf boards that would give everyone something to enjoy,” he said with thought out assurance.

“Sounds good,” the psychologists said.

Nathan bit down on his tongue. He could see a hundred different things going wrong with these men using jet skis and windsurfs, but he was determined to relax and enjoy this week regardless of what happened. Trying for the ‘deal with it as it comes’ motto, Nathan turned around and unconsciously began searching for the nearest medical supplies.

Meanwhile, Chris walked up next to Vin. “So? What are you doing?”

>Vin had been mulling the choices over and answered, “Prefer jet skis myself.”

Chris just nodded and turned to search out Nathan.

Ten minutes later, after renting the equipment, plus life vests, Buck and Chris were paired up against JD and Vin in a made-up game of water soccer on jet skis, using a beach ball JD had purchased at the last minute. Using landmarks as guide posts, the four men kicked, pushed and bumper boated their way to the desired goal.

Ezra had quietly slipped onto one of the windsurfs and thought he had found seclusion on the vast lake. Catching a glimpse of color on his right, Ezra turned his head, consciously making sure he didn’t turn his body, and thus the boat as well. The loner found Josiah sailing up beside of him. Facing forward, Ezra spotted Nathan on the other side.

“Didn’t want to stay and watch the game?” Ezra asked with a laugh.

Nathan huffed out a breath of air. “I’m sure if they need me, I’ll hear them,” Nathan said. “Besides, this is my vacation, too. Let them figure it out for themselves.”

Ezra nodded with a knowing smile. Nathan talked a good game, but he had a lousy poker face, Ezra knew that if one of the guys did get hurt, Nathan wouldn’t let anyone but himself tend to them.

The three men turned their attention back to business, and skimmed the waters surface, making the bright sails of the small surfboard-type boards dance against the bright blue sky.

Only the rumbling of stomachs and dry mouths that needed quenching forced the big boys to park their rented toys and head for their spot. JD, having grabbed a bottle of water, plopped down in the sand next to Nathan, splattering white particles onto the man. Brushing off the sand, Nathan scowled at the youngster beside him before tossing a handful of sand back at the youngster.

“Hey,” JD screamed in aggravation, before finding himself pinned down.

“You like sand so much, how about being buried in it?” Nathan asked with an evil grin and a glint in his eyes.

JD panicked, not because he was worried that Nathan would really hurt him, he didn’t want to chance being buried either. JD threw him off. Laughing at the surprised look the medic had on his face, the youngest sprang to his feet and took off a couple of feet, taunting the bigger man. Before JD could blink, Nathan was on his feet and charging. JD took off, running with the friend hot on his heels.

The five men watched the duo as they ran away.

“Ever the optimist,” Vin whispered loudly referring to JD.

“Anyone wanna make book that someone has to go unbury JD?” Ezra asked amusedly.

“No bet,” Buck laughed, turning back to help Chris.

It wasn’t long before Nathan returned alone. The men didn’t ask what happened, all Vin asked was, “Where?”

“Up there aways,” Nathan replied, grabbing a handful of chips out of the bag.

Backhanding Ezra lightly on the chest, Vin said, “C’mon, let’s go.”

Ezra didn’t argue, but simply followed behind. He wondered when JD was going to learn that just because he was the youngest, it didn’t mean he would win against the older, smarter, stronger members of the team.

Vin and Ezra burst out laughing as they approached the buried figure. JD scowled at them. “Shut up and help!” he demanded hotly, embarrassed that Nathan had been able to bury him without any help.

Vin put his arms akimbo and simply said, “Ask nicely.”

JD swallowed his comment and said, “C’mon guys, I’m starving. Help out.”

Ezra looked at Vin and said, “Well, he did ask nicer. Besides,” he went on, “the longer we’re gone, the more time the others have to eat the food.”

“Good point,” the sharpshooter concurred.

JD was freed in a matter of minutes, spouting threats against Nathan. Vin rolled his eyes as JD took off down the shoreline towards the food. “He’ll never learn.”

“Lets’ hope not,” Ezra laughed. “He’s a wealth of entertainment.” Vin barked in laughter.

The rest of the afternoon was spent playing, harassing, dunking one another and napping under the hot sun. Late in the day,the boys returned the rentals and headed back to town. The energy that had been drained away from them during the case was slowly returning by being together.

Tuesday, the last day, the guys loaded up and headed for the desert. They would take in the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. Vin had wanted to be there at sunup, but not even Chris was willing to get up that early, so they compromised and decided to be out there when the sun set.

With Nathan driving this time and Chris calling shotgun, Josiah and Vin rode in the first bench seat, JD and Buck were in the middle and Ezra took the back to himself. They hadn’t driven out of town before Vin and JD got into a discussion over which was the grossest film, The Thing or Dawn of the Dead.

Josiah glanced up front and inwardly chuckled at the interesting shade of color Nathan’s face had turned Taking pity on the man, he decided he’d better put an end to the discussion before Nathan had to pull over and get out.

“Boys’, I think it’s time you found a less…,” Josiah paused a second, choosing his next words carefully. “…Stomach churning topic.” At this, Chris turned worriedly towards the driver.

JD and Vin stopped their arguing and turned their attention to the front, nodding in understanding. It was known only within the small group of Team Seven that the medic, who could put his hands inside of bleeding wounds and could handle patients throwing up, and had a strong constitution when dealing with mangled bodies, had a weak stomach when it came to everyday gross things, like said discussion.

The men sat in companionable silence for about thirty seconds before JD was asking his seatmate, “Hey, Vin, you catch Navy Seals other night?”

“Yeah,” Vin replied. “I flipped between that and Aliens.”

“I think Alien Resurrection is the best,” JD said.

The soft sound of a head thunking back against the driver’s seat went unnoticed by the duo in the back as they carried on their conversation. Josiah sighed and wondered how long he should let the boys continue their conversation before calling it to a halt once more, while he kept glancing up front keeping an eye on the medic.

Arriving at the south entrance of the Park, called Rainbow Forest, Chris paid for a pass, The seven men walked the path, stopping along the way to study the different spectrums of color that vibrated from the fallen logs. JD looked at the first glimpse of the scattered wood.

“This is it?” the young man asked in disappointment.

“You were expecting them to be still standing?” Buck asked in amusement.

“Well….yeah,” JD said dejectedly. His idea of fun hadn’t included looking a old trees to begin with; now, to find out they weren’t even trees, but fallen dead logs was even more depressing.

“Sorry, kid. They ain’t,” Buck said with a laugh, slapping the youngster rather hard on the back before moving on. Personally, he was intrigued by the mummification of the trees.

Walking along the short foot trail, called the Giant Forest, the seven passed onto the next trail, which offered views of the biggest samples of the petrified logs. There they saw an old hut constructed entirely of the wood, the sign stated it was built in the sixteenth century by Indians.

“Wow,” Josiah exclaimed. “That had to take some doing to get that built.”

The other six had to agree.

Chris kept a suspecting eye on his team of troublemakers throughout the walk. He kept halfway expecting one to either roll one of the logs, or do something regrettable that would get them thrown out. His team wasn’t lawbreakers, but they were no angels either.

An hour later, the men climbed into the van and headed to the North entrance of the forest and straight into the heart of the Painted Desert.

Stopping along the route every so often to get out, look and stretch their legs, the seven were enjoying the trip much better. On one such stop, the ice cooler was opened and water bottles were handed out.

Nathan, feeling much less stressed, and in a good mood, walked up behind his blond leader and pulled the plug up on his lid. Giving the bottle a hard squeeze, he sprayed a solid streak of water over Chris, who jumped is surprise. Whirling around, expecting to find one of the juveniles or pranksters, he was startled to find Nathan staring at him with a wide, daring smile. He could hear Buck in the background saying, “It’s always the quiet ones.”

The War of the Water began. Chris, who outside of the job had a good sense of humor and could give as good as he got, turned his bottle on Nathan, who jumped behind Josiah at the last second, squirted the big man right in the face. Josiah, in turn squeezed his weapon, aiming for a dodging Chris, hit Vin in the chest. Five minutes and half a cooler of water bottles later, six of the seven were drenched and laughing so hard they couldn’t hardly stand up. Straightening up from a leaned over position, Buck noticed Ezra had innocuously sat down on the cargo floor of the van to watch the spectacle. A wicked gleam lit in the blue eyes. “Hey, guys,” he said, garnering everyone’s attention. “Ezra isn’t wet,” he announced with an evil smile.

Ezra’s eyes went wide. “Oh no!” he cried, only having time to raise his arms defensively before being sprayed relentlessly by six friends.

While waiting to dry off, JD insisted they have a group picture taken. Amongst the groans and complaints, the six men let JD shuffle them into position. Setting up the tripod, the black-haired agent readied the camera and pushed the timer button. Running to stand by his friends, the seven men squinted in the hot sun and waited for the timer to go off. …And waited.

“JD, are you sure you set the timer correctly?” Buck hissed.

“Yes,” JD replied in agitation. These guys had no patience whatsoever, he thought.

“You sure?” Vin questioned as seconds went by. He was ready to climb back in the van and turn of the air conditioner.

“I’m sure,” JD said heatedly, garnering attention from all six just as the timer went off and the picture was taken. JD sighed. There was no way he was going to talk the guys into doing another one.

A couple of hours later, they arrived at the heart of the Painted Desert. They all agreed it was a sight worth seeing. Being it was at the highest heat point of the day, they drove to Holbrook for supper. Once the sun was going down, they headed back to Winslow, taking the scenic route back to through the Painted Desert. Going into Holbrook, they had picked out the spot where they would stop and watch the sun set.

Squatted down, keeping off the hot asphalt, with their backs against the van, the seven men watched the spectacular colors glimmer and shine as the last of the golden orange light bounced off the floor of the desert. The silence of the men demonstrated the effect the brilliance of the natural demonstration had on them. They waited until the last of the light show faded before climbing into the van and heading for Winslow.

Riding back to town, Josiah had taken over the driving once again. Chris and Buck had taken the front seat, with JD and Vin in the middle, and Ezra stretched out in the back. Buck stretched and accidentally backhanded Chris in the forehead.

“Watch it,” Chris growled.

“Sorry,” Buck replied, unrepentantly.

“No, you’re not,” Chris shot back tiredly.

“Said I was,” Buck argued, his ire growing. It had been a long day with lots of driving.

“Well, we both know you’re not,” the blond argued.

“Am,” Buck said heatedly.

“NOT!” Chris said, straightening up in his seat.

The others had sat up in apprehension and anticipation. Josiah looked back over his shoulder and said the first words that came to mind. “Boys, don’t make me pull this van over.”

The whole van fell silent. Then a low snigger was heard coming from the middle seat. The snicker grew louder as it was joined by a couple others. Soon the whole van erupted into laughter. The trip back into town was filled with friendly silence.

The next morning as the men loaded the van to leave for the airport, Chris surveyed his friends. Each looking better and healthier than when they had arrived. The trip had renewed more than their strength; it had renewed their bonds as friends and family.