"They're the same thing," JD said leaning over his desk and looking at Ezra like he'd lost his mind.
Ezra was kicked back in his own chair, arms crossed, feet propped up on the desk, and sending JD a look that plainly said he had doubts about how well the younger man was thinking. "I must beg to differ; they are not."
The debate between the two had been going on for a good fifteen minutes and neither one was showing any sign of backing down. Meanwhile, the remaining team members, minus Chris, watched the exchange with verifying degrees of amusement.
"Yes, they are."
"They're really not."
Both JD and Ezra turned to Nathan in surprise, JD's mouth dropping open slightly. It was rare for Nathan and Ezra to agree on anything, to have Nathan actually backing Ezra up was tantamount to a Christmas miracle. Only it wasn't Christmas.
"Am I to understand you are agreeing with me?" Ezra asked.
"Yeah, I guess so."
Ezra smiled smugly at JD. "I rest my case."
JD threw his hands up. "Because one person agrees with you? Come on, just because the two of you think the same don't mean you're right."
Nathan sort of rolled his eyes and smiled, but Ezra looked almost indigent. "I'd like to remind you, Mister Dunn, that might does not make right. It hardly matters who agrees with me, I am correct. I would also like to point out that no one has agreed with you." He addressed his other colleague then. "Your support is truly appreciated, Mister Jackson."
"Buck," JD called clearly looking for someone to join forces with him. "They're the same, right?"
Buck had been keeping his opinion to himself, but knew that since he'd been called out maintaining his neutrality was no longer an option. He let his gaze bounce between JD and Ezra a minute before he shrugged. "Well, I always thought so. More or less anyway."
JD shot Ezra a triumphant look and the southern man heaved a sigh. "I'm afraid you were misinformed."
"Okay, one's inside the bird the other's a side dish."
Ezra briefly closed his eyes and seemed to have to gather himself before he exchanged another look with his unlikely ally. Nathan's smile was now a grin but Ezra's expression was bordering on tragic. It was the look of despair that finally made Vin break his silence by snorting a laugh. Green eyes immediately sought out blue and Vin grimaced as he realized he had just lost his position as a party that was strictly not involved in this discussion.
"I'm sorry, Ez, but you should see your face right now; you look like your horse just died. Don't you think you're bein' a little dramatic?"
"That . . . is not possible. However, since you have chosen to break your silence, you, my dear Texan, must have an opinion."
Vin didn't miss the reference to his native state and knew why Ezra felt compelled to add it. He looked around the room at the five men now watching him expectantly.
"Well," Ezra prompted.
"Yeah, Vin," JD chimed in. "What do you think?"
"I wouldn't say they're the exact same thing."
"Ha," Ezra called out triumphantly at the same time a disbelieving "What?" came from JD.
The youngest in the room then sought out the oldest. "Josiah, what do you think?"
The big man abandoned the work he'd been trying to do and leaned back in his chair. "I think Buck's right. One's on the side, one's in the bird."
"In the bird," Ezra cried out in disbelief. "Why would anyone wish to eat something that was prepared for the sole purpose of having it stuffed into the cavity of a dead bird? Does no one else see a touch of the macabre there? I was under the impression it was standard practice to remove things from inside an animal before cooking?"
"Stuffing is different than the insides and you know it," JD said.
"There are those who would argue that eating a dead bird at all is macabre," Josiah added.
"No one in this room," Vin mumbled going back to whatever was on his computer screen.
Ezra ignored both of them and focused his attention on JD. "Not much of a difference, I'm afraid. I remember asking my aunt once what stuffing was and why we never ate it. I was informed it was a rather uncivilized way of eating and that particular Yankee food was one that would never be served at our table."
"You guys really still talk about Yankees?" JD asked.
"There are those who use the word with as much disdain and loathing as ever, but I digress. The matter at hand is that of equating dressing with stuffing."
"I'm equating them the same because they are the same. Buck and Josiah's right; dressing is just outside the bird."
"It is not."
"I don't know, Ez, is dressing even really a food?" Buck had also forgotten any work he'd been doing and was now sprawled out in his chair. "I mean, I've never seen dressing mix in the grocery store."
Ezra rolled his eyes. "Says the gentleman who gets his potatoes from a box."
"What's wrong with that?" Buck demanded.
"Nothing; as long as one doesn't mind one's food looking like soap flakes."
It was Buck's turn to roll his eyes. "Well, they don't taste like soap flakes. And you didn't answer my question. How come I've never seen dressing mix in the store?"
"I would hope you never do as dressin' shouldn't come from a store. It should be homemade."
"But it's made the same way right?" Buck asked
"No," Ezra and Vin said together.
Both Ezra and Buck turned to look at the Texan who offered a slight shrug before going back to his computer.
"Vin is correct. The stuffing you insist upon shoving inside of your bird is made from hard, dry crumbs. Which I suppose is fine if you don't mind eating croutons soaked in grease."
"My mama's stuffing was never greasy," JD interjected.
"I have to agree with JD there," Josiah said coming back into the conversation. "Stuffing, if done right, keeps the turkey moist during cooking and is delicious."
"Then I applaud the cooks in your life; I haven't been fortunate enough to make their acquaintance and hold to my opinion that stuffing is little more than stale greasy bread."
"It does sound kinda gross when he says it like that," Buck conceded with a glance at Josiah.
"Dressin', however," Ezra continued, "Is made from cornbread, in an iron skillet; the only way it should ever be made."
"Yes," Nathan said. "Cornbread from a pan ain't the same as cornbread from a skillet." Ezra raised his coffee mug in a silent toast and Nathan returned in kind.
"Wait, I have seen cornbread stuffing mix at the store, so how do you explain that?" JD raised his eyebrows as though his point had just been made.
"Good Lord, will the indignities never end. As I have already explained, JD, it shouldn't come from a store."
"I have a question," Buck broke in. "If what you eat with turkey is dressing, what do you put on a salad?"
"That is also dressin'," Ezra said without hesitation.
"Salad dressin'," Nathan expounded.
"But they're both called dressing?"
"And that doesn't create any confusion?"
Ezra sighed. "I've never known it to until today. Back to the matter at hand, proper cornbread dressin' should not come out of a box. Not even my mother would attempt a travesty like that."
"Course there's always the risk of gettin' dressin' that taste like soggy cornbread," came Vin's voice.
JD pointed to Vin. "Now that sounds gross."
"Whose side is he on again?" Nathan asked Ezra while Ezra gave the Texan a sideways look.
"I'm beginning to wonder," Ezra replied with a hint of irritation.
"I'm just makin' sure it all gets covered," Vin offered with a grin.
"Can't imagine there's any part of this topic left to cover," Josiah said as he stood and started to the coffeepot to refill his mug.
"Neither can I," a new voice broke in. "I think every conceivable angle has been covered."
Six pairs of eyes went to the door of Chris's office where the lean blond was now standing, observing his team with a glower. Stepping out of his office Chris crossed his arms addressed the six men in front of him. "Is this where we all pretend to be busy because the boss walked into the room?"
"I don't even think we're pretending anymore," Buck said taking a look around the room. Vin and Nathan were the only two who might be able to convince someone they were working. The rest of them had given up even the appearance of work some time ago.
"I can see that," Chris snapped. "You think any of you might want to work on that?"
JD moved back behind his computer and Ezra took his feet off the desk.
"Thank you," Chris said sarcastically.
"Just a friendly debate while we work," Buck said as he scooted his chair closer to his desk.
"While you work being the key phrase there, Buck; maybe a little more work and a little less debate. I realize we're getting close to a holiday but we ain't there yet. Today is a work day and we do have reports to turn in. I suggest if any of you have any interest in enjoying a long weekend, you get them done because no one leaves tonight until paperwork is in order."
Chris watched as one by one they all at least tried to look as though they were doing something productive. He turned to go back into his office only to be stopped by JD.
"Hey, Chris, do you have an opinion?"
"About?" he asked impatiently his tone telling anyone who might have doubted that he wasn't in the best mood.
"Dressing and stuffing; are they the same thing or not?"
"This is really what all this talk is about?"
Ezra and JD glanced at one other before JD answered. "Yeah."
It was time for Larabee to roll his eyes. "Did any of you have any revelations?"
"Well, no. But me, Josiah, and Buck say it is and Ezra, Nathan, and Vin say it's not. At least I think that's what Vin thinks."
"And now you want to know what I think?"
"Why not?" Buck said leaning back in his chair once again. "You gotta have an opinion."
"Indeed, Mister Larabee, you could be the one to cast the deciding vote."
Six pairs of eyes were once again trained on Chris and he let his gaze slowly scan the room. "So it's three against three right now?"
Buck nodded. "Yep. You agree with us and we might just get Ezra over there to admit he's wrong." The phrase brought a scoff of disbelief from the southern man and a long stretch of silence followed.
"You do have an opinion don't cha?" Vin finally asked.
Chris nodded. "I do."
"And?" Ezra prompted tensely.
"And I bet all ya'll would just love to know about it." A self-satisfied smirk came to Chris's face as he turned and went back into his office closing the door behind him.
The six men he left behind stared at the closed door for close to a full minute before JD looked across the room at Ezra. "I guess that means he's not gonna tell us."
"I think that's precisely what it means, Mister Dunn."
"So what do we do now?" JD asked flopping back in his chair. "It's still three to three. Do we just leave it there?"
Buck chuckled. "I don't think Chris left you with much of a choice, Kid."
"I don't know about that, Buck," Josiah said thoughtfully. "I think this may be an occasion in which we thank the good Lord for friends, family, good food whatever it may be called, and simply agree to disagree. As most debates usually do end."
Chris was in his office listening as the debate came to what some would consider a less than satisfactory end. He went back to his own desk, smirk still in place. Over the next couple of days, possibly the whole holiday season, he was sure the topic would come up again. Now that he'd left them hanging, they would all be chomping at the bit to know what he thought, especially since he was supposed to end their stalemate. Something Chris Larabee had no intention of doing.