By: Angela B
Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be
Note: Thanks to a great betaer, NT!
Vin walked into his room glumly. It had been one of those days where nothing he did went right. He was angry with himself, depressed, and just wanted to be alone. Walking into his room that he shared with JD, his anger suddenly flared. JD was sitting on his bed rummaging through his ‘before box’; not something that was unusual for the nine-year-old. He was always looking through his box and the thing was loaded with all sorts of trinkets from the kid’s past. Vin thought of his own box that held only three items.
“Hey, Vin!” JD called happily.
Vin just scowled at his brother. He hated to admit it, but sometimes he was jealous of JD. Throwing his bookbag on his desk, Vin slumped into his chair.
JD, who was back to looking through his belongings, didn’t look up as he asked, ““You wanna look at my stuff with me?”
“NO!” Vin said sharply, glaring at his brother with full heat.
JD’s head snapped up at the hate-filled words. Seeing the look he was being given, he tried to remember frantically what he might have done to upset his brother. “What’s wrong?” he asked, uncertainly.
“Why don’t you take your stupid stuff and get out of here ?!” Vin exclaimed, finding a target to unload some of his feelings on.
“This is my room, too,” JD said stoutly, though a little unsure of himself. He and Vin’d had their share of fights, but not like this, without evident provocation.
“Take. Your. Stupid. Box. And. Get. OUT!” Vin hollered, punctuating each word with a threatening step closer to his brother.
JD scooped his things back into his box, scooted off his bed hurriedly, and ran out of the room. Vin slammed the door shut after JD. The twelve-year-old stormed about the room, running himself down in a hissing angered voice, cursing himself and his life. Coming to the hiding place where he kept his box, Vin removed it and slid to the floor, tears threatening to stream down his face.
Nathan arrived a short time later and quietly knocked on the door. Not receiving an answer, Nathan opened the door and peered inside. Vin was sitting on the floor next to his bed with his head hung down, clutching his box tightly to his chest. The senior walked over to the wall and slid down to a sitting position. The two brothers sat in silence, Nathan knowing that it wasn’t a time to hurry his brother.
Vin didn’t want to look up and see who was there. He figured, no matter which one it was, he was going to get an earful for his treatment of JD. He knew he had gone off on the kid without reason, but sometimes life just seemed to be too unjust to cope with. Slowly, he asked, “How much trouble am I in?”
“None,” Nathan answered honestly.
Raising his head, Vin looked at Nathan with beseeching eyes. “Really?” He’d only been living here seventeen months before Bobby and Janis’ had been killed. He had still been trying to figure out the rules of the house when his life changed once again and he found himself with a new guardian once again.
“Really,” Nathan assured his brother. “Ezra talked to JD,” the older boy said, shrugging. There were times when Ezra still baffled him. “Now, JD’s downstairs just fine,” he explained.
Vin let out a sigh of relief. Loosening his grip on is box some, Vin stared down at the treasured gift. It was the first thing Bobby had made for him. In a bare whisper, he admitted, “I really wasn’t angry with JD. I was mad at myself.” Pausing for a moment, he said, “Sometimes life is so unfair.”
“Yeah it is,” Nathan whispered his agreement.
Vin reverently opened his box. “This is all I got left to show for my life,” Vin admitted sadly as tears threatened to spill down his cheeks.
Nathan peered into the small box and sighed at seeing only the three items. What could he say to make it okay with his brother? Vin was right; life was hardly ever fair. He could attest to that himself. He knew some of his brother’s past, but decided to wait, letting Vin decide if he wanted share or not.
Vin sighed as he reached into the box and pulled out a badge. “I’m named after my dad, Franklin Vincent,” Vin said quietly. “Did you know that?” Vin asked, his attention still on the badge.
Nathan nodded his head. Yeah, he knew Vin was named after his birth dad.
“He was a Deputy Sheriff,” Vin said with a hint of pride, his fingers tracing the emblazed shield. “He was killed when I was three. I don’t remember him at all,” Vin added sadly.
“Bobby did some research for me before they adopted me,” the twelve-year-old stated, sniffing. “He got a copy of the report. It said the night my dad was killed, he went to a house where two brothers were fighting. He was trying to get some little kids out of harm’s way when one of the brothers pulled out a gun and shot the other brother,” Vin restated the bare facts. “My dad was able to arrest the man,” he finished, proud of his dad’s accomplishment. “How could two brothers hate each other so much?” Vin asked mystified by the concept. He had learned that family was an important thing to have and not to take it lightly.
The related topic didn’t go unnoticed by Nathan. He wondered if Vin felt that might happen with them. The brother’s did have their share of fights and he knew that there were times when Vin’s past would sneak up on him. Nathan knew it could make his younger brother uncertain of his security here. Seeking to reassure his brother, he said, “There’s a difference between them and us, Vin.”
“I know,” Vin said softly. He did grasp that reality; no matter what happened between him and his six brothers, he really did have a home now that would never be ripped from him, but there were times when he found himself really wondering.
“Driving home that night, some man crossed the center divide and hit my dad’s car head on,” Vin reported sadly. “Once, I heard Bobby tell Janis that if my dad had been killed on the job, mom would have received some help and I would have had received death benefits,” Vin said harshly. “Mom wouldn’t have had to have worked so hard then. Right?” Vin asked in a pleading whisper, turning to his older, wiser brother.
Nathan looked at the pleading blue eyes and felt his gut clench. “I don’t know,” Nathan answered honestly, wrapping an arm around his smaller brother’s shoulders in comfort.
Vin turned back to his box and the two sat quietly on the floor, neither speaking as Vin’s tears finally fell.
After a few minutes, Vin wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and sniffed up the remaining tears. Nathan remained still and kept his arm firmly around his brother. Vin had to take a few deep breaths before he could use his voice normally. When he did, he very softly remarked, “I miss them.”
For Nathan there were no words he could speak that would dissolve his brother’s pain. It was the same deep pain they all carried, the feeling of being lost, abandoned, and alone. The best he could do was sit there and be a silent comfort through this rough period. Finally, needing to say something, Nathan said, “It’s okay to miss them.”
Vin reached back into the box and pulled out a hair clip that had small pearl-like beads threaded along the metal part. Taking a staggering breath, the young boy struggled with his emotions. “I don’t remember if Mom had always worked or if she just had to go to work after he died, but I do know she was working when she got sick,” Vin continued, saddened by the sudden realization that he couldn’t recall her face distinctly any longer, just her smile.
Nathan wondered what it would be like to be so blank on his own childhood. Unfortunately, his had been marred by so much ugliness, it had been too hard to forget
“She worked real hard so we would be all right,” Vin said, his tone challenging anyone to say otherwise.
“I bet she did,” Nathan said quietly.
Vin’s mind focused on the few clear memories he had of his mother. He remembered his fifth birthday, the last they would have together. He could remember a small kitchen with a white Formica table with silver specks in it. His mother had made him his favorite meal at the time, spaghetti. Afterwards, she had placed a homemade chocolate cake with double chocolate icing in front of him and had begun singing his birthday song. He had felt so bad about her having to sing alone he had joined in. He remembered his mother laughing at this. Vin had been so certain that she was the most beautiful mom in the world. She had dark blond hair that came to her shoulders and curled under; her eyes were blue like a summer day; and she loved him. He knew that with all conviction. When she had gotten sick, she had told him it was just a bad cold. Then a lady had come to pick him up from kindergarten and told him that his mommy was very sick and was in the hospital. He recalled it had been raining that day. When he got to the hospital, a doctor had come to see him before they would let him see his mommy. The man doctor had told him his mommy was very sick and he needed to go tell her goodbye. Vin hadn’t understood why he needed to tell his mommy goodbye. She was in a hospital and hospitals were supposed to make people well when they were sick.
He had walked into the hospital room and looked at his mommy lying there on that hospital bed. Everything in the room was white: the walls, the sheets, and his mommy’s face. He had walked up to the bed and stepped up on the frame to climb onto the bed. His mom had opened her eyes and smiled at him. He knew she would be all right. She wouldn’t leave him. He had laid his head on her chest to hug her and she had put her arm over his back. They had lain there a long time. He listened to the rain pounding against the windowpane, accompanied by the lightning and tremendous thunder. He also listened as his mommy’s chest made a rattling sound as she tried to breathe. Vin had lifted his head and looked at his mommy’s blue eyes that were no longer bright and sunny like summer. She had spoken to him then, rasping out her words. “You remember two things, Vin,” she said. First, you’re a Tanner and that’s a name to be proud of, so do good by it; and two, remember always that your daddy and I loved you very much and will always be looking over you.”
He had promised, with a cross of his heart, that he would always remember he was a Tanner and that he would grow up to be good just like his mommy and daddy. He had sat in that white covered room, watching his mother die and the storm rage outside. The thunder and breathing machine had been vying for domination in his hearing.
His only other perfectly clear memory of that time was of her funeral. He always thought lots of people went to a funeral and had been greatly upset when only the new social worker and a few ladies from where his mother worked attended with him. After the funeral, his social worker had told him he would be going to live with a new family and have a new mommy and daddy. He hadn’t wanted a new family; he wanted his old one, but that didn’t happen.
Nathan watched his brother lose himself in the memories and wished there was something more he could do. There were times when he felt so inadequate in making his younger brothers feel better. Josiah and Buck were the ones, he knew, who were really good at dealing with personal problems. Even Chris, with his no-nonsense style seemed more qualified than him.
Vin lifted out the last of his memories from his box. It wasn’t from when he lived with him birth parents, but Bobby and Janis had told him repeativily that this was his box to put in whatever he wanted to. So, he had put in the talisman necklace his last foster parents had given him. In a way, it represented his life from the time he was orphaned to the time when he was bought here to the ranch. It reminded him of all the foster homes and group homes he had gone through before landing here.
As he tightly gripped a small suitcase containing some of his clothes and a small backpack with a few mementos the social worker had let him gather up on his last visit to his house, Vin walked into the first foster home after the death of his mother, believing it would be okay because the social worker had said it would be. For the first time he could remember, he had a father figure and the mother stayed home. The couple was middleclass with two children of their own already. The children treated him like a new toy at first, always doting on him and taking care of him. Soon though, the newness had worn off and the reality that he was there to stay and take away part of their parents’ attention dawned on the children. Nice times faded and trouble began. Five-year-old Vin didn’t understand the change in behavior. The couple began fighting, or at least he seemed to notice them fighting more and more. The two children blamed him and taunted him relentlessly that it was his fault that their parents didn’t get along anymore. He didn’t know that they had been fighting before he came. One day, one of the children took his small bag of keepsakes and ran away with it. Vin had gone straight to the woman who had tiredly, and begrudgingly, retrieved the satchel, minus some articles. The natural child swore up and down that the things must have already been missing because she didn’t take them. The mother sided with her own children and accused the foster child of causing trouble. Vin never saw those things again. Following that incident, it seemed he could do nothing right, and the children seemed to delight in it, sometimes going so far as making things up about just to see him get in trouble. He found himself spending a great deal of time in his room, having a time-out and being alone. Instead of family court so he could be adopted, Vin wound up being taken away, labeled a troublemaker. At the age of six, Vin Tanner was learning the bad side of being an orphan.
His next move had been to a two story home where there had been a lot of children. At times, he felt lost in the mix. The woman often had a hard time remembering his name. He hadn’t stayed for very long and remembered very little about the experience except that he felt more like a thing than a person.
He went to a group home after that. There he learned just how brutal the outside life really was. He also learned that being the smallest made him an easy target. He lived there almost a year and, in that time, learned the foster kid degree. “Do unto others as others have done unto you.” Most of the abuse he endured had more to do with being made the scapegoat or being forced to act as some of the older ones’ butler. There was very little advocacy for him, so he began fighting back. Unfortunately, he was always caught and spent a great deal of time in the ‘time-out’ room. He would have been perfectly satisfied with the arrangement if he hadn’t been separated from him precious belongings. Every time he went in, something would be missing when he got out. After three items became ‘lost’, Vin decided he would rather take the punishment the older children dished out than to rebel and lose more memories.
When he was eight he was sent to live with an older couple. Both of them were in their fifties and retired. The man had been some kind of professor and the lady had been a child caregiver. They had endured Vin’s surly mood and worked to improve his disposition, telling him that they knew a sweet kind kid was in there somewhere. Vin clutched to his dwindling memories and waited them out. He finally began surrendering to their loving attention and once again bloomed back into the loving, kind child he had been before the group home. The professor and the woman both worked to get Vin’s fallen grades back up. They took him to cultural events, the children’s hands-on museum being his favorite. Being the only child in the home, he received undivided attention and was the sole recipient of the couple’s love. Vin began believing he was finally somewhere where he was safe, wanted and could stay forever. His stomach would clench every time the social worker showed up for a visit, but she always left without him. Vin was happy. Then life turned on him again. His social worker showed up at school. Flashbacks of another time when a woman showed up at his school popped into his head and his stomach seized in fear. The man, the one he had become so attached to, had died of a sudden heart attack. Unlike the other foster homes though, the woman had kept him, at least for a little while, but soon she realized that she couldn’t do it without her husband and she had relinquished him back into the system. She had sat Vin down before placing the call to Social Services and explained what she was going to have to do and why. She made it a point that it was not Vin’s fault and it had nothing to do whether or not he had been a ‘good’ boy. It was all her doing. She had repeatedly told him, she wished she had been a stronger woman, but she wasn’t and he needed a younger family. With great sadness and a growing hole in his heart, Vin was taken away from that home.
With great fortune smiling down on him, Vin was only forced to reside in a new group home for a little over a week before his was taken to a new family. Vin was shocked upon his arrival. The foster family was Seminole. He had never seen people of such orgin before and was intrigued and a bit frightened at the prospect of living with them. The room designated as his was done in a soothing teal color with light tan trim. It gave him a feeling of serenity and peace. The artwork throughout the house was representative of Native American work. The couple was patient and demanded nothing more of Vin than he could deliver. The then barely nine-year-old was made of tougher stuff now that four years had passed since being orphaned. He had endured countless rejection and had built a fortified wall around himself to protect his sensitive heart. Jonathan Tsosis had often taken Vin out in the desert, showing the young boy the ways of his people and quietly teaching Vin how to see the beauty around him despite all the ugliness he had endured. Maria had sung or hummed traditional songs while working around the house, or tucking him in at night. The songs, like everything else around the house bought tranquility to the little boy’s life. He adjusted quickly, but opened up slowly. Jonathan had a quick mind, was fast with snappy comebacks and loved practical jokes. Vin couldn’t resist being around him. Vin was learning to live again. Then in its infinite wisdom, Social Services decided Vin was becoming too attached to his foster family and arrived one day without warning and took the devastated child away. It was back to a group home for him.
This time, when Vin walked through the doors, he knew what to expect. It might have been a different setting, but the rules were the same. Older kids were top dogs and little ones were underlings. The nine-year-old celebrated his birthday with a cake mix cake and one present: a simple little toy meant more for three year-olds. Vin had easily relinquished it to the younger ones. When he wasn’t defending himself from the attacks of the older kids, he was defending the youngest ones. Vin learned quickly how to block and punch. On more than one occasion, he had been jumped by more than one of the older kids at a time. Bruises and sprains became old habit. He began believing in the same motto as he had been brutally taught, ‘Do unto others as others have done unto you’, except for him, it meant doing this to the older, meaner kids, rather than the younger defenseless ones.
One afternoon, he caught Eddy Simmons stealing his backpack of memories, which by now then had diminished to almost nothing. Vin knew if he told on Eddy, the boy’s room would be searched and nothing would be found, and Vin himself would wind up in trouble. It had happened before, because Eddy had a secret hiding place. Vin put some of the lessons he had learned from Jonathan Tsosis to practice. He watched, followed and studied the boy and his habits. It took him less than three days to find the boy’s secret hiding place. Instead of blowing the whistle and only getting back his stuff with little retribution to Eddy, Vin waited. That night Vin snuck into the boy’s room and retrieved his box. He also found Eddy’s secret stash of marijuana. Taking the drugs, Vin put it into the boy’s backpack. The next morning Vin went complaining to his group parents. Putting on the act of his life, he claimed Eddy had taken his shirt. Of course, Eddy had denied it and that’s when Vin had made his move. Vin had exclaimed loudly that he saw Eddy put it in his backpack. Eddy not thinking twice, had thrown the backpack at his group home parents and challenged them to find the shirt. Vin couldn’t tell who had been more shocked when the drugs had been found: the parents or Eddy. That afternoon, Eddy had not come home from school and it had been announced he had gone to live in another facility. Vin quietly let it be known to the other older kids that if they messed with him, he wouldn’t sit idly by and take it. Vin was seldom in a fight after that. Vin survived that foster home for over a year.
The day Bobby and Janis had shown up, Vin took no notice of them. He knew without a doubt they weren’t here for him. Nobody wanted him, not anymore. He had long ago been labeled a ‘Troublemaker’. With his guarded expression and toughened heart he watched surreptitiously as the couple walked through the group home. When Bobby had stopped to talk to him, he had been polite and well mannered, but distant. He hadn’t believed it when they asked him if he would be willing to go live with them. On the way home, they explained he would be the sixth boy in their family, but that three of them had already moved out. When he arrived at the ranch, with its sprawling acreage and big home, Vin was in awe, bringing back memories of his last foster family, the Tsosis’. Getting out of the truck, he eyes latched on to the corral and the many horses contained within.
Upon his initial arrival, he had met Buck, Nathan and Ezra. Buck and Nathan had greeted him warmly while Ezra greeted him guardedly. It hadn’t been until three months later when JD showed up that Vin understood that guarded behavior. When JD came, Vin wondered if he was being replaced and he suddenly understood why Ezra had been so indifferent to him. Their uneasiness and insecurity about their place in the family was what bonded Ezra and him. Vin began seeing Ezra as a person like himself, who was too old and too scarred for one’s age. The first weekend of his new placement, Vin had been introduced to the other two boys. Vin had liked both of them immediately. There was an air of warmth and protectiveness in both. Vin knew then that there was something different about this family. Chris hadn’t been in the house fifteen minutes when the tall blond had snuck around to Vin’s side and asked if he was willing to join in on a practical joke on the black-haired one named Buck. Vin eyed Chris suspiciously wondering if the boy was already trying to make trouble for him. Chris must have guessed what he was thinking and went on to explain that Buck was a good-natured guy and they weren’t going to do anything harmful. For reasons Vin couldn’t explain, he had gone along with Chris’ joke. Chris had been right about Buck having a good sense of humor and the retaliation Buck had planned was in good spirit and didn’t hurt. Vin had latched onto Chris to like a drowning man to a life raft. He needed this family in a way he couldn’t explain. It was like being in the dark for a very long time and suddenly stumbling across someone with a lantern. He knew Chris and the rest of the family was his way out of the darkness he had entrenched himself in during those five long years of being bounced around from one place to another. Three months after JD arrived, Vin found himself in court, family court, where he was officially adopted. The family had celebrated big time that night and, for the first time in a long time, he had slept securely. The months that followed, he had slowly unfurled from himself and found the child he had been so long ago before the death of his birth mother.
Vin looked over at Nathan and sighed. “When mom and dad died, I didn’t think I was going to make it,” he confessed quietly. “I couldn’t bare the thought of going back into the system and being bounced around again. That’s why I ran,” the admission was guilt ridden.
Nathan squeezed the shoulder his arm was wrapped around in a protective gesture. “I know, Vin,” Nathan said supportively. “So do the guys.”
A minute of silence stretched out to two. “You’re home now and you will always be a Tanner in your heart,” Nathan offered quietly.
Vin sniffled and turned red-rimmed eyes to his brother. “And a Walker.” It helped in a strange way being bonded together by the last name.
Nathan could only smile and nod. He knew better than to think this little walk down memory lane had miraculously cured all his brother’s pain. None of them would be wholly free of the pain caused in their young lives, but there was something to that ‘time heals all wounds’ theory. With time, the pain wouldn’t be so overwhelming, not when Vin had six brothers to keep it at bay.
7 B Ranch Index