||Notes: Happy Birthday, Joy! I thought this might be less painful
than if I were to sing Happy Birthday to you. J
Thank you so much for all the things you do!
(and thanks Marnie, for helping me out, again!)
When he thought real hard, he could still
remember what Christmas had been like before his momma died. They had never
had fancy trees or decorations, but he remembered it being a special time,
Even now, he could hear the sound of his mommas voice as she sang songs
about angels, and shepherds and baby Jesus. Back then, he hadnt known
all the words, but when hed sung the few that he could, his momma had
always smiled. Shed had such a sweet, sweet smile, and her eyes had
always been filled with love.
There were other things he remembered, too, like the big trunk that sat beside
her bed and the wonderful treasures it contained. The little wooden statues
of the shepherds and animals, the angels and the wise men and baby Jesus
lying in the manger with His momma Mary and daddy Joseph looking down on
Course Vin knew that Jesus real daddy was God in Heaven, but God picked
Joseph to look out for Jesus and take care of Him here on earth. His momma
had told him Joseph was special and God picked him cause he knew that
Joseph would take care of Jesus and love Him as much as his own son.
Probably a lot like the way Chris and Buck took care of him and JD, he thought.
For more than two years now, Vin and JD had been living with Chris and Buck.
Although he tried not to think too much about what their lives had been like
before that time, he doubted hed ever forget what it felt like to be
cold, hungry and scared. Chris had told him that getting through times like
that made you stronger. He said it wasnt good to dwell on the bad stuff
and let it make you bitter, but we ought not ever forget the hard times we
Chris and Buck had given the boys a home, food, clothes, and maybe most
importantly, love. They made sure they were safe and well and taught them
all the things they needed to know, like to always do the right thing, even
when it isnt easy.
Both boys knew they could always count on Chris and Buck to be there when
they needed them. Vin just wished they knew, right then, how much he needed
He dipped the rag into the cool water again and gently dabbed at his Uncle
Ezras face. A little while ago, his uncle had woken up and blinked
his eyes, like he wasnt sure where he was. Then hed coughed and
coughed until Vin thought for sure something terrible was going to happen,
but hed fallen back to sleep, thankfully still breathing.
Vin sighed. He needed to go get help, but he was afraid to leave Uncle Ezra.
What if he left and his uncle needed him? But, what if he stayed put and
his uncle just got sicker? Maybe there was something else he should be doing
. . . but what? He didnt like to think he was too little to handle
certain situations, but this one was completely out of his realm. Truth was,
whether he wanted to leave Uncle Ezra or not, he was going to have to go
find help somewhere.
Once more he dipped the cloth into the basin of water and swiped it across
Ezras forehead and down his cheeks and neck. He lay his palm against
the mans cheek, disheartened that his skin still felt so hot. Maybe
it was too hot in the cabin? Vin wiped a sleeve over his own sweaty brow.
Maybe he should open a window? No, that probably would make things worse.
He folded the cloth and draped it across his uncles forehead. It was
time to go get help, he decided, and thats all there was to it.
After refilling the pitcher, he carried it back into the room, only sloshing
water over the side once along the way. Carefully, he poured a glass of water
and left it on the nightstand, where his uncle could reach it if he woke
As he headed for the barn, he went over the things he needed to do. First,
he had to get Peso saddled which would be no small feat. He was feeling tired
and fairly worn out; hed been so worried about Uncle Ezra last night
that hed barely slept at all.
Uncle Nathan was closest, but Vin knew that he was already taking care of
other sick folks. Besides, Uncle Nathan didnt have any medicine.
Thats the whole reason Buck had gone to Eagle Bend, and the reason
Chris and Josiah had gone after him. He figured it made more sense for him
to head for Eagle Bend, that way he could bring back Chris and the medicine
at the same time.
Vin had been to Eagle Bend a time or two before. It wasnt that far
away and it was possible that Chris, Buck and JD were already on their way
home. Hopefully, if he stuck to the road, hed meet them on the way
and theyd all be back by nightfall.
Ezra woke up feeling feverish and disoriented.
It took a moment or two before he realized where he was, but he had no idea
where Chris, or Buck or anyone else was. He tried to sit up, but found his
muscles completely uncooperative. Beside the bed which wasnt
very comfortable, to say the least was a pitcher and basin, and a
glass of water. He reached a shaky hand out for the glass of water, thankful
when he managed to bring it to his lips without spilling any.
The cabin was extremely small, in spite of the recent additions, and at the
moment it was also extremely quiet. Apparently he was alone, but how had
he gotten here, he wondered. And where were his friends, where were the boys?
Any other time he would welcome the silence, but now it disturbed him for
some reason. Something was wrong, he just knew it . . . and then everything
came rushing back to him.
Buck had taken JD with him to Eagle Bend. Theyd needed to get some
medicine from the doctor there. A few of the townsfolk had taken ill and
Nathan was running low on quinine. The day after Buck and JD left, several
more people were stricken with the illness.
Late in the afternoon, theyd received a wire from Buck telling them
that he was having difficulty getting the medicine they needed. Apparently,
the illness had hit Eagle Bend even worse than Four Corners. Thats
when Chris had sent Ezra and Vin out to the ranch, with plans for him and
Josiah to ride out and see what they could do to help Buck.
Ezra was having a bit of difficulty remembering for certain which day he
had come out with Vin. Had they been there for two days or three, he wondered,
and for that matter, where was Vin?
Whatever the illness was, it had hit him fast and without warning. He could
only hope that wherever Vin was, he wasnt sick. Vin, he
called out, his voice sounding weak, even to his own ears. There was no reply,
so he pushed himself upright, trying to fight off the dizziness he felt.
His head was pounding, his chest burning and he felt as if he had no strength
whatsoever in his limbs; he couldnt remember ever feeling this horrible.
Vin! he called out again, he squeezed his eyelids shut, trying
desperately to hold off the encroaching darkness.
Somehow he managed to get his legs to hold him up and then carry him to the
doorway. There, he held onto the frame and looked out at the empty main room.
There was no sign of Vin, or anyone else. No sign that anyone had been there
all day. He pushed off of the doorframe and staggered to the front door,
then out to the porch that hed help build. A cool breeze hit him, ruffling
through his hair and over his skin, invigorating him, if only temporarily.
Vin! he shouted, sending himself into another coughing spell.
His throat felt like it was on fire, and his head began pounding immediately.
His discomfort was unimportant to him at the moment, however. He needed to
check the barn and see if Vin was there -- if Vins horse was there.
His head spun and his legs seemed to give out on him; he had to grab hold
of the porch rail and lower himself to the steps. Okay, he told himself,
first things first. He needed to go back inside and put his boots on, perhaps
get a drink of water, and then hed be ready to search for Vin . . ..
Vin looked out over the barren landscape,
wondering how far hed gone. There was hill after hill, as far as he
could see. Once he rode up one, there was another on the horizon. By the
position of the sun, he figured it was early afternoon and he knew Eagle
Bend was several hours further ahead. At the top of the next hill he spotted
a small figure that had to be a person walking. He tapped his heels against
Pesos flanks, urging the horse to go a little faster. Why in the world
would someone be walking out here, in the middle of nowhere?
Once he made it half way up the next hill, he could distinguish that the
stranger walking was actually a boy and he couldnt help wonder what
a boy would be doing alone out here. Maybe hed been on a stage that
had turned over or been robbed? Pulling in the reins he slowed his horse
when the boy stopped in the middle of the road to stare up at him.
Howdy, he said, hoping that he didnt frighten the boy.
He didnt look too much older than Vin, and he was dressed kinda funny
defintely a city slicker.
Climbing off of Peso, Vin took his hat off and said, Names
The other boy nodded, his eyes a little wary. Ethan, he replied,
also removing his hat.
Glad to meet ya, Ethan. Vin smiled then glanced down the road.
He was feeling a little uncomfortable about prying into someone elses
business, but if the boy was in some sort of trouble, well, how else was
he to find out? How comes youre out here walking all by
I could ask the same of you, Ethan responded in a deep, southern
accent that for some reason made Vin relax.
Yeah, reckon you could, cept I aint walkin and you
A grin crept across the boys face, as he met Vins eye.
Touche, he replied, although Vin had no idea what that meant.
The boy flicked a speck of something from the brim of his hat then placed
it back on his head. He put his hands on his hips and turned to look back
the way hed come. The reason I am walking is because, for some
reason, a gang of hooligans decided to amuse themselves by chasing me out
of the town I was visiting. Im fairly certain theyre still after
me, although I havent actually seen them in a while.
Vin looked out at the winding road, in the direction the boy had come from.
There was no sign of anyone as far as he could see. Then he looked up to
the sky, pretty certain the swirling, gray clouds meant they were going to
get some sort of weather -- by the low temperature, maybe even snow. He turned
speculative eyes on the boy, who was a little taller than he was, most likely
a few years older. Vin thought he had a kind of mischievous look about him
. . . but still, he found it hard to believe anyone would be chasing a kid
all the way out here -- unless he did something real bad. Why was they
chasin you? he asked, sounding a little suspicious.
Ethan stared at him for a moment, like he couldnt believe hed
been asked the question. Why? I have no idea why. I was in Eagle Bend
waiting for my mother, who was scheduled to arrive on tomorrows . .
. make that todays stage . . . he frowned, looking perplexed.
Of course, theyre not allowing the stage to stop there at the
moment, so I have no idea where Mother has been detoured. Anyway, I was
innocently entertaining myself in the hotel lobby, doing absolutely nothing
wrong, when this gang of miscreants-- The explanation suddenly halted,
and the boy laughed derisively. They actually accused me of bringing
the plague to their little municipality! Its completely ridiculous.
Ive never been sick a day in my life. Besides, I know for a fact that
a few of the citizens had already taken ill before Id even arrived.
Regardless of that, they obviously felt that I would make a convenient scapegoat,
and thus, after a few derisive remarks concerning my parentage, they felt
compelled to run me out of their quaint little town.
Although Vin had only known the boy for a few minutes, it was easy to tell
that he liked the sound of his own voice. They ran ya outta town .
. . and then they kept chasin after ya? he asked, dubiously.
Well, apparently it wasnt until after I was outside the city
limits that they remembered the quarantine theyd just put in place,
he said with a chuckle. Cretins.
Quarantine? Vin repeated, now worried that Chris, Buck and JD
would be stuck in Eagle Bend until the quarantine was over.
Yes, they enacted it an hour or so before I was so crudely escorted
beyond their city limits.
Great, he looked up to the sky, wondering what to do. Chris and
Josiah had been gone for three days. Had they been stuck there, because of
the quarantine? Of course, that sort of depended on when the quarantine began,
and when or if theyd even left town. How long you been
walkin? he asked, hoping a time frame would be able to help his
You been walkin all night? Vin could hardly believe it.
This kid sure didnt strike him as the hearty, outdoors type. Not to
mention it had been near freezing out last night, and he had no gear, nothing
at all but the dandy jacket he was wearing. All by yourself?
Ethan laughed haughtily. I assure you, I am perfectly capable of taking
care of myself.
Yeah, but . . .werent ya cold? Vin was cold himself, and
he had two shirts and a hide coat -- and hed only been riding a few
F-freezing, Ethan said, shivering for effect. However,
last night I was able to make a fire and avoid what could have been my untimely
demise. As for today, well . . . as long as I keep movin its
not too bad.
Vin nodded, impressed that the city boy even knew how to make a fire, but
still . . .. He narrowed his eyes appraisingly. Ya werent
The boy scoffed, I fear nothing.
Vin raised an eyebrow, looking doubtful even though he couldnt help
feeling a little admiration for the boy. Probably anyone would have been
scared in that situation, even a grown up. Vin would have been plenty scared,
himself. And just like Ethan, he woulda never admitted it.
Well, Im on my way to Eagle Bend. Ill be comin back
this way, afterwards. Youre welcome to ride along.
You mean, you want me to go back there?
Vin shrugged a shoulder. I reckon its better than walking along
this road, all by yourself.
I cant go back there. Who knows what theyll do to me?
Youll be okay. I might not even have to go all the way to Eagle
Bend. Im expectin to meet someone on the road tween here
and there. Leastways, Im hopin to meet them.
Who are you expecting to meet, if you dont mind my asking?
Chris and Buck and my little cousin, JD. Chris and Buck took me and
JD in, a while back. Theyre lawmen in Four Corners. Dont worry,
they wont let nobody hurt you.
Ethan seemed to think on the offer, then he pulled a fancy wallet from inside
his jacket. Listen, if you take me to Four Corners, Ill make
it worth your while.
It suddenly occurred to Vin that the boy didnt have to offer him anything.
He was bigger than Vin and despite his fancy clothes and uppity manner he
could probably overpower Vin and take off on his horse, if thats what
he had a mind to do. Well, if it came to that, Vin would give him one hell,
er, heck of a fight. Im sorry, but I cant. I gotta hurry.
My uncles back at our cabin and real sick. Chris and Buck are supposed
to have some medicine from the doc in Eagle Bend. My uncle needs it real
Ethans green eyes studied him for a moment, seeming to look right through
him. Then he slipped his wallet back into his coat and looked up at the sky
for a moment before asking, How far away is your cabin?
Vin wasnt sure whether or not he should give out that information,
but he felt kind of sorry for the boy. Its back there, a ways,
he said, reluctantly.
The boy rolled his eyes. How far? Is it close enough that perhaps you
could take me there and then ride out for Eagle Bend?
Vin thought about that for a second before shaking his head. I dont
think so. That would mean hed lose a good 2 or 3 hours . . .
and hed be lucky if there was even that much daylight left.
Ethan nodded, wrapping his arms around himself and shivering a little. All
right, I understand. I appreciate your offer, but I feel it would not be
prudent for me to return to that barbaric place. Perhaps well meet
Vin nodded. Ill look for ya when we come back this way. And,
Chris or Buck could probly help ya track down your ma. He wished
he had packed a blanket or bedroll, or even a canteen of water. Unfortunately,
he didnt have anything he could offer the boy. Hed foolishly
left everything behind, planning to ride through the night without stopping,
if thats what it took.
As he climbed back up in the saddle and took hold of the reins, Ethan sneezed
then sniffled, making Vin feel even more guilty about leaving him. Are
ya sure you dont want to ride along? he tried once more.
Itll be warmer, and leastwise things dont seem as bad when
ya got company.
No, thank you kindly, though. The boy, his arms still wrapped
around his torso, started walking in the opposite direction.
Vin watched him for a few moments before turning Peso and heading the other
way. For some reason, he found it very hard to ride away from the boy. He
reminded himself that he was on a mission, of sorts. It was important that
he find Chris and Buck -- Uncle Ezra needed them. The image of Uncle Ezra
lying in Chris bed, fevered and coughing, barely able to open his eyes,
helped motivate him -- for a few minutes anyway.
Reluctantly, he admitted to himself that there wasnt much need for
him to go after them, to hurry them along, since that was what Chris and
Josiah were supposed to be doing. But, what if they were in some kind of
trouble? Vin thought about that for a minute, then realized he didnt
even have a shotgun with him. What did he plan on doing if they were in trouble?
Okay, so maybe he should take Ethan back to the cabin and wait until morning.
Then if he needed to go after them, he could at least be a little better
prepared. But, what if it was too late by then?
Flakes of snow had started to fall and it was cold enough that he could see
his breath, and Pesos as well. He paused to look over his shoulder
at the small, solitary figure walking along the side of the road, and immediately
knew that Chris would never let that boy keep walking. Neither would Buck,
or any of his uncles, especially Ezra. The right thing to do would be to
take the boy back to the cabin, make sure he was warm and out of the weather.
If Chris and Buck werent back in the morning, then he could ride for
Woo-wee! That boy was not happy at
Hell be fine, Chris said in a reassuring voice.
Its not like we had a lot of other options.
Yeah, Buck agreed, although it was obvious he regretted having
to leave JD behind. Maybe we should have rode to town with Josiah and
the doc? Make sure nobody gives em any trouble?
I doubt things are as bad as they were in Eagle Bend.
Yeah, spect youre right.
Unless everyones lost their senses, they arent gonna look
a gift horse in the mouth, Chris said, then added with a wry grin,
or shoot it.
The two were quiet for a few minutes, trying to keep a steady pace, without
overtaxing the horses. Chris horse needed a break even more than
Bucks did and the thin layer of snow now sticking to the ground was
making things slick. Cant believe this weather, Buck muttered.
The rate of snow falling seemed to increase by the minute.
Just as they rode into the yard the wind picked up, making the snow swirl
around like white, powdery dust devils. Both men noticed right away that
cabin was dark and there was no smoke rising from the chimney. What was going
on? Chris wondered. Where were Vin and Ezra?
They tied their horses to the porch rail instead of putting them up for the
night, in case they had to go out again. Chris opened the door, hesitating
for just a moment as he struggled to push away the old images of another
place, and another time hed gone away and left his family home alone.
It was some little relief to find Ezra inside, but their relief was short
lived. Ezra was asleep in Chris bed, which was strange to say the least,
but what really scared them was that Vin was nowhere to be found.
Ill check the barn, Buck offered, turning to head back
out the door. The barn was empty except for Ezras horse and their few
livestock. Both Vin and Peso were gone. Buck checked around the yard, but
the snow was coming down even harder now and he could find no tracks to hint
where the boy might have gone, so he hurried back inside.
Maybe he went to town to get Nathan? Buck suggested, as he piled
split wood into the fireplace. Of course both men knew that scenario didnt
add up well. The house was cold; the fire had been out for some time, which
meant Vin had been gone for some time. If hed only gone to town, he
should have been back already.
He could have, Chris replied, distractedly from the chair by
Ezras his bed. He stared at Ezra for a long moment then
turned to Buck, meeting his eyes. But I got a feeling that he headed
for Eagle Bend.
Thats a long way, Chris. Buck stood up and brushed his
hands on his pants. You think he would have rode all that way to find
I dont know. Maybe, if he got scared? If he wanted to make sure
we brought the quinine out here for Ezra, instead of taking it to town?
Did you try waking up Ezra? Buck gestured toward the man in the
Yeah, hes really out of it, though. Chris leaned closer
and patted Ezras cheek, again. Come on, Ezra, I need you to wake
Ezra, Buck tried, a little more loudly. Come on, Ez, we
need to find Vin.
Vin? Ezra looked up, his eyes unfocused.
Yeah, pard, Chris smiled grimly. Do you know where Vin
Vins uh . . .? He shook his head then began blinking his
eyes and trying to push himself upright.
No, stay still. Youre sick, Ezra. Chris pushed him gently
back down onto the bed. Do you know where Vin went? he tried
Vin . . . I couldnt find him, Ezra mumbled, his voice sounding
desperate. Need to find Vin. On the last word, he began coughing
harshly. Chris and Buck helped him to sit up and after long minutes of coughing
and gasping for breath, he finally settled, slumping against Chris in exhaustion.
Damn, Chris said as Buck helped him lower Ezra back onto the
pillows. Hes out. I dont think he knows anything anyway.
He never would have let Vin ride anywhere alone.
Yeah, youre right. Ezra might put on a good show for the
rest of the world, but when it came to Vin and JD he was as caring and nurturing
as any of them. Maybe more so because of his own largely unsupervised childhood.
What do you want to do, Chris? Buck started pacing nervously.
You want me to ride into town and see if I can find him? Or should
I head for Eagle Bend? He went to the window and pulled back the curtain.
Look at that snow come down. Its too damn cold out there to wait
until morning. We got to find him soon.
Well both go. You head for town, and Ill head for Eagle
What about Ezra? He shouldnt be left alone.
Chris studied Ezra for a long moment then stood up. Yeah, youre
right. Someone should be here anyway. In case he comes back here.
How about I head for Eagle Bend? If he went to town, hed probably
be with Nate, or Josiah by now.
I hate to even think of him riding all the way to Eagle Bend, all by
Buck put his coat back on and grabbed a pair of gloves. Ill put
our horses up and use Ezras. Why dont you put some coffee on?
I think Im going to need something to warm me up before I go back out
Chris nodded, watching as Buck headed out for the barn. He hated the idea
of sitting around, doing nothing, but someone had to stay with Ezra. And
for all they knew, Vin could come riding up any minute. Wherever he was,
Chris hoped he was warm, and safe. Please let him be safe.
Vin rode back down the hill toward Ethan,
who apparently heard him coming and looked over his shoulder then promptly
stumbled and fell.
Are you okay? he asked, sliding down from the saddle to help
the other boy.
The boy, Ethan, didnt answer right away. He just sat clutching his
Vin kneeled beside him, trying to get a look. He hoped it wasnt broken
or anything, cause he didnt know the first thing about setting
bones and such. In fact, he wasnt even sure hed be able to tell
if it was broken.
Just as Vin opened his mouth to ask again, Ethan looked up at the sky, and
shouted, Could this day get any worse?
Vin wondered if he was shoutin at any one in particular. My uncle
always says thats a question one should never dare pose. Vin
wasnt sure what pose meant, but he thought maybe it was a fancy word
Yes, well, Ill have to remember that.
Come on, Ill give ya a ride back to the ranch. Vin stood
up then helped Ethan up, too.
Ow, the boy said when he tried to test his weight on the injured
Best not do that, or ya might make it worse, Vin instructed.
Thank you for that oracle of wisdom, Ethan said, giving him a
condescending look. I appreciate your offer, but I thought you said
you were on some important errand?
I reckon I can run you back to the ranch first. Wouldnt want
to leave you out in the weather. The snow flakes were coming down more
steadily now, and the wind had picked up a little, too.
I appreciate that, the boy said seriously, then glanced up at
the horse. Ill drive.
Vin gave him an incredulous look. Nuh-uh.
Nuh-uh? Ethan mimicked the word derisively.
Vin just shook his head. My horse.
My horse, Ethan mocked him again, which brought a slight grin
to Vins face. Im older than you, therefore I should
drive, he stated with an air of authority.
Vin rolled his eyes. My horse, therefore I drive. Besides, you
dont even know where to go.
Ethan made a sound of dismissal, then dug in his pocket and pulled out a
coin. How bout we flip for it? I call heads.
Vins eyes narrowed with suspicion. Let me see that coin,
Whatever for? Ethan replied, deftly flipping the copper coin
into the air.
In a move that obviously surprised and impressed Ethan, Vin snatched the
coin in mid air. Sure enough, it was a two-headed mule, just like one his
Uncle Ezra carried around. In fact, now that he thought about it, this boy
reminded him a lot of his uncle, except he loved Uncle Ezra and the boy was
plain getting on his nerves. Just like I thought. He nodded smugly
and flipped the coin back to Ethan. Im driving, he said
firmly. You want a ride, you hop on back.
Fine, Ethan said, throwing his arms up in exasperation.
Didnt anyone ever teach you to respect your elders?
Vin ignored the comment and let the boy use his shoulder to boost himself
into the saddle, then carefully climbed in front. Ethan might be his elder,
but Vin had his pride, too. No way was he ridin in back on his own
Sorry I cant take ya all the way to town, but you can stay at
the cabin til I get back with Chris and Buck, Vin said as they
started back down the road.
As long as it has a roof and its warm, Ethan said, sounding
Its warm, and has a roof.
Sure, we got food.
Good, I could really use a nice hot meal.
Vin hesitated, chewing his lip. He didnt want the older boy to think
he was a baby, but the truth was, Uh, I aint xactly allowed
to use the stove.
Ethan snorted. Figures. I suppose there are no servants either?
Servants? Vin glanced over his shoulder in disbelief.
Yes, servants. Ethan rolled his eyes. As in someone to
cook and clean?
We all take turns doin that. We dont need no servants.
Great, I suppose you dont even have indoor plumbing?
We got indoor plumbin, Vin answered defensively. He was
pretty sure the pump Chris had rigged up at the sink was considered indoor
plumbing. Most fellers would be grateful just to be out of the cold.
Ethan didnt say anything for several minutes, then he said in a quiet
voice, I am grateful to you, Vin.
Vin could feel the boy shivering so he snapped the reins, urging Peso to
go a little faster. My Uncle Nathans a healer. Maybe he can take
a look at your ankle, too. If Nathan couldnt come, maybe Buck
could fix it up . . . as soon as Vin found them. Not that Buck was particularly
gifted at healing, but he knew a thing or two, and he was always good at
cheering ya up and making ya forget whatever was paining ya. That was a special
gift in itself.
You certainly have a lot of uncles.
Yeah. Thinking about his uncles always brought a smile to his
face. A couple years ago, the only family he had was JD, and hed been
thankful for that. Now, he was blessed to have more family than hed
ever had before, and the thought of it still amazed him.
The snow was coming down pretty hard now and the wind was whipping it in
their faces. It was hard to see where he was going, which worried Vin. He
hoped Chris and Buck and JD were somewhere warm and safe and not out in this
weather. Even if that meant they were still in Eagle Bend.
Chris set the coffee pot on the stove and
went to check on Ezra. He was coughing some, but other than that, he seemed
to be sleeping soundly. The pillow and blankets were damp, although when
he laid his hand against Ezras forehead it didnt seem quite as
hot as it had been when theyd first arrived. Maybe the fever was breaking?
He opened the chest to get some fresh bedding, wishing there was a way to
change it without disturbing Ezra. He didnt think there was, but he
figured itd be worth it anyway. Ezra would be a lot more comfortable
with clean bedding.
He managed to get Ezra up and sitting in a chair while he quickly changed
the sheet and pillowcase. He also got the man to drink some water, which
had to be a good thing. He only wished he had some tea, or something that
would help the rattling he could hear in the mans lungs. It wasnt
long before he had Ezra back in bed, covered with warm dry blankets.
Thank you, Mr. Larabee, Ezra said with a sigh then he opened
his eyes as if suddenly becoming aware of everything. Vin? he
asked, his brow creased with worry.
Bucks heading out to look for him, Chris said, pushing
him back down when it looked like he was trying to get out of bed.
Dont worry, Buckll find him.
I-Im sorry, I didnt even realize I was ill. It just . .
. hit me, all of a sudden. I can barely remember anything after arriving
here . . . the day before yesterday?
More like three days ago.
Doc Carter thinks its Influenza. They lost a few folks over in
Eagle Bend, mostly older folks, but he thinks its past, for the most
part. There were no new cases by the time we left. He could hear Buck
outside now. He must be ready to go. By the way, if you dont
mind, Bucks gonna borrow that fancy mule of yours.
Of course I dont mind.
They heard the door open and Buck stomp his feet. Chris leaned through the
doorway, a wry smile on his face. Youre supposed to do that outside,
Buck looked down at the snow hed just brought in. Oops, sorry.
But Chris didnt think he was too sorry. Its colder than
Dont even say it, Chris cut him off, not in the mood to
hear any of Bucks colloquialisms for the weather.
Buck just grinned at him then nodded to the stove. That coffee ready
Yes. Chris halted the big man before he could cross to the stove
then pulled out a chair and pushed Buck down into it. Here. He
set a mug of coffee down on the table. Just stay there, he ordered,
then grabbed the broom and started sweeping the snow toward the door.
Youre as bad as a kid, tracking snow all over the place.
Buck couldnt keep from chuckling. Sorry about that, Miz
If I was Miz Nettie, more than likely, youd have this broom up
Ah! Dont say it! It was Bucks turn to cut him off,
but he was still grinning as he cautiously sipped the hot coffee. The instant
he saw Chris glance worriedly at the window, the grin faded and he set the
mug back on the table. Well, I reckon I best get going.
Chris looked away from the window, his eyes meeting Bucks. Drink
your coffee first. Itll warm you up some.
Buck nodded, taking another sip.
Buck . . ..
Chris just stared down at the table for a long moment then shook his head.
Nothing. Never mind.
Buck had already known what his friend was thinking. Dont worry,
Chris. Ill find him.
It was snowing and blowing badly enough that
Vin didnt even realize he was home until he saw the light in the window.
He slid off his horse and led it up to the porch, and then it dawned on him
that there was a light in the window! Did that mean Ezra was better? Ezras
horse was tied to the rail, so Vin figured he must be feeling better. Or
else hed noticed that Vin was gone and even though he was still real
sick he was planning to go out looking for him. It was a good thing hed
come back, because even if Ezra was feeling better, Vin was sure he
shouldnt be going out in the cold already.
Can ya get down? he asked Ethan, who was still up in the saddle.
When Ethan attempted to move his injured leg, he winced. Im not
sure. Its really hurting. Is there someone inside who could come out
and help me?
Yeah, hold on a minute. Ill be right back. And suddenly
his legs felt like they each weighed a ton. Everything seemed to move too
slowly and he found he was barely able to put one foot in front of the other.
Somehow, he made it to the porch, but the world around him started to tilt
and spin. He blinked, trying to stay focused. What was wrong with him? He
was so close, all he had to do was step up but his legs just
wouldnt cooperate. Then he was falling, the snow biting at his exposed
skin as he landed on his hands and knees, then he pitched forward and everything
. . . the horses, the porch, the light in the window . . . and Ethan blurred
and faded away.
While Buck was donning an extra pair of socks
and long johns, Chris gazed into the fire, thinking back to when theyd
first found Vin and JD. He remembered looking into a pair of solemn, blue
eyes and feeling as if he already knew the boy. Still, he had tried so hard
to emotionally distance himself from the boys, to the point that hed
almost fooled himself.
As for Buck, it was like hed fallen under a spell. Right from the start,
hed made it no secret that he wanted to keep them both. Chris had remained
stubborn, insisting it was in their best interest to find them a family,
or families. Now, just the thought of losing one of the boys sent a spike
of pain through his chest. He thanked God that hed never carried through
with his original intentions.
The boys had somehow managed to restore his soul, to give him a reason to
start living again, and to make sure he was living right, so he could be
the best example possible. The same went for Buck. While he was still --
and probably always would be -- fond of the ladies, that all came second,
after his responsibilities to the boys, and the ranch. Finding these two
children had changed their lives, maybe it had even been their salvation.
Surely God wouldnt take one of them away so soon?
A loud thump from out on the porch startled him and slid his Colt from its
Buck had heard it too, and was out of his room at the same time Chris was
edging toward the door. It could be that the wind had knocked something over,
but neither man was in the habit of taking chances. Drawing his gun from
the belt hed hung on the wall, Buck moved to the other side of the
door, giving a nod that he was ready.
Slowly, Chris reached out with his left hand. In a quick motion, he twisted
the door handle and pulled the door open. The last thing theyd expected
to find was Vin, lying face down in the snow.
Shit. Both men swore then tucked their guns away in unison. Chris
was the first to reach Vin and carefully roll him over.
Buck glanced up and noticed that the boy had managed to hitch his horse next
to Ezras, but apparently he hadnt been able to get much past
that. He noticed Chris seemed unable to do anything other than stare into
Vins face, as if he couldnt believe it was really him. Come
on, Chris. Lets get him inside.
Carefully, Chris lifted Vin into his arms, as if he were a fragile treasure.
Hes so cold, he said, as he carried the boy through the
door and over to the hearth.
Buck took one more look around, thinking that he ought to get the horses
into the barn, and then deciding they could wait a few more minutes. He might
need to ride to town, but he wouldnt know until they got a good look
at Vin. Ill get some blankets, he offered, after shutting
By the time he had the blankets out of the old trunk, Ezra was up, albeit
unsteadily, and standing in the doorway staring down at Vin. Chris had already
removed the boys hide coat and was working off his small boots. The
coat and boots were saturated, along with the rest of his clothes. Buck stepped
around Ezra, giving his shoulder a squeeze as he passed. He set two wool
blankets beside Chris then hurried for the boys room to get some fresh
long johns, and anything else he could think of on the way.
Chris? Vins small voice was a welcome sound. Chris brushed
the long bangs back from his forehead and frowned as he laid his palm against
the boys forehead. His hands were cold and his cheeks were cool, yet
rosy. His forehead felt way too hot, though. Still, he managed to give the
boy a smile when he saw the bright blue eyes looking up at him.
Hey, there, son, he said quietly. You had us scared for
a while there. We didnt know where you were.
Vin seemed to think on that for a minute, then he licked his lips and frowned.
Was lookin for you.
Now wasnt the time to discuss whether or not Vin should have gone out
searching for them, alone. Yeah, we kind of figured that. Its
a good thing you decided to come home. Its pretty nasty outside.
Chris stilled, looking puzzled. Who?
Ethan. He hurt his foot. Might be broke. Vin looked around the
room and then with a sigh, his eyelids slowly closed. Chris resumed stroking
the too warm forehead. He had no idea what Vin was talking about. There
hadnt been anybody else with him when theyd found him outside,
Yeah, pard? Buck came out of the boys room with a pair
of clean long johns and a nightshirt.
Could you go take a look outside and make sure nobodys out there?
Vin said something about someone else, who might be hurt. I dont know
if its the fever talking or what.
Sure thing, Chris. Buck handed him the clothing and grabbed his
coat off the hook again. Do you need me to ride into town and get
Nah, not tonight. Chris shook his head. If hes worse
in the morning, one of us can try getting through then.
All right, then, Buck pulled the collar of his coat up around
his neck and put his gloves on. Ill bed down the horses and be
back in a bit.
Thanks, Buck. When the door closed, Chris glanced up to find
Ezra all but melted into the old rocking chair with a blanket wrapped around
himself and his glassy eyes fixed on Vin. How are you feeling,
I feel like Atlanta, after Sherman, he said, then began coughing
into a fancy embroidered handkerchief.
That bad, huh? Chris couldnt help smiling a little when
the man finished coughing. Why dont you go back and lie
No, thank you. Id rather stay here for a bit, if you dont
mind. He studied Vin for a few moments as Chris deftly changed the
boy into the clean dry clothes Buck had brought in. He has it too,
Chris lifted Vin and wrapped him up in a blanket. Maybe. With
one hand, he slid another chair closer to the hearth then sat down and settled
the small boy against him. Probably, hes getting pretty warm
Im so sorry, I had no idea that I was coming down with
Chris gave him a rueful look. Nobodys blaming you, Ez.
Yes, well . . ..
So quit blaming yourself, he added, then shook his head sadly.
Some things we dont have any say in.
When Buck finished in the barn, he came back inside and Chris heated some
broth. After getting Ezra to drink a mug, they managed to get him back to
bed. Vin had taken a few sips of broth and a little water, too. Ezras
fever was much lower, while Vin seemed to grow warmer as the minutes passed.
What began as a battle to get the little boys temperature down soon
turned into a long night of struggling to keep it from going any higher.
Vin kept mumbling about Ethan and finding Chris and something about finding
Ethans momma. Chris didnt know anyone named Ethan. He wondered
if it was someone from Vins past, maybe one of the orphans hed
At some point Chris managed to talk Buck into catching a few winks. It
wouldnt do anyone any good if they were both exhausted in the morning.
He lost track of time as he focused on trying to fight the boys fever,
get him through the coughing spells, and coax him to drink as much as he
could. Thankfully, Vin finally seemed to settle down enough for Chris to
get a cup of much needed coffee.
He forced himself to drink the dredges of one pot and started another. While
he was waiting, he happened to glance out the front window and was surprised
to see the sun was already up, although mostly hidden behind cloud cover.
Usually by this time, he had the chores finished and breakfast on the stove.
Chris wondered how JD was doing. He hadnt been happy about being left
at Nettie Wells, even though he usually loved to play with her little
niece, Casey. He and Buck had been worried about the boy being exposed to
the illness going around, and felt it was best to leave him at the Wells
ranch since it was pretty remote.
Buck slept late into the morning, and Chris busied himself with chores and
keeping a close eye on Vin. It was sometime around noon when he heard the
sound of hoof beats out in the yard. Buck came out of his room, yawning and
pulling up his suspenders, just as Chris looked out the window to see Nathan
and Josiah dismount and tether their horses.
Most of the snow had melted by then, but from the way the sky was looking
Chris predicted theyd be getting more soon. The two men came inside,
the chill of the outdoors lingering only a moment in the warmth of the cabin.
Hows everything in town? Chris asked as he poured them
both a cup of coffee to help warm them up.
Pretty quiet, Josiah answered before taking a sip of the coffee.
Thats cause most folks are too scared to come out and cause
trouble, Nathan added. But, nobody else seems to be getting sick
and we didnt lose anyone.
Well, thats a comfort, Chris said then nodded toward the
back rooms. I got two more patients for you here, though.
Nathans eyebrows shot up. The boys?
No, not both of them, anyway. JDs at Netties, Chris
told him. Its Ezra and Vin. Ezra seems to on the mend, but Vin
came down with it after Ezra. He was outside last night, looking for us and
Im sure that didnt help much.
Nathan set his coffee down immediately and went to the boys room and
began to check Vin over. Josiah handed him his bag, before he even asked
for it and he smiled his gratitude then looked at Chris. Remember that
group of soldiers came through town last week? he asked as he pulled
out his stethoscope. The doc seems to think theyre the ones who
started this whole thing. Says they came through Eagle Bend a few days before
Chris thought about that for a moment while Nathan listened to Vins
lungs and heart. He remembered the soldiers passing through, but he
couldnt remember any of them being sick.
Nathan put the instrument away and pulled out a pouch that Chris suspected
contained some awful tasting remedy that Vin would not appreciate. Right
now, hed be happy to hear Vin complain about it.
Ezra was awake by the time Nathan entered his room. After a brief examination,
the healer agreed that Ezra was indeed on the mend, but in no condition to
even think about riding back to town yet. Amazingly, Ezra didnt put
up an argument. He was too worn out from the short trip, hed insisted
on taking, to the outhouse earlier.
Nathan and Josiah headed back to town before supper, but not before making
sure Vin had taken some broth and drank some of his infamous herbal tea remedy.
He was still doing the same, not any better, but no worse either and hed
been well enough to make an awful face over the taste of Nathans tea.
Ezra was able to join them for supper, but ran out of energy before hed
even finished his soup. Buck helped him back to Chris room and got
him settled. By the time he came back into the kitchen, Chris was just starting
to doze at the table. Buck shook his head, realizing that the man had gotten
very little sleep in the past few days. Come on, stud. Pulling
Chris to his feet, he manhandled him to his own room, since Chris was
already occupied. When Chris attempted to protest, Buck cheerfully pushed
him into the bed. Nighty-night, Chris.
After cleaning up the supper dishes, he went to check on Vin. Thankfully,
the boy had been sleeping more peacefully since Nathan had given him the
tea. Buck dipped the cloth theyd been using into the basin. After
hed wrung it out and folded it in half, he pressed it against Vins
forehead. The boy sighed, turning his head toward Buck, his eyes opening
just a little. Buck.
Buck smiled at him as he trailed the cloth over his cheeks and down his neck.
Hey there, little pard. How ya feelin?
Im hot, Vin complained, his voice sounding hoarse.
Yeah, I know, Buck murmured, continuing to wipe the cloth over
the boys skin.
Vin lifted his chin then sighed as Buck trailed the cloth down his neck and
chest. That feels good.
Buck smiled, dipping the cloth in the basin again. I think your
fevers comin down. Maybe I ought to get you another cup of
Vin made another face at that and shook his head, but relaxed when Buck pressed
the cool cloth to his skin. A few moments later, Buck was pretty sure the
boy was sleeping again, so he decided hed wait a bit longer before
trying to coax him to drink the awful tasting tea.
Vin wasnt sure where he was. Nothing
looked familiar to him, not that he could see too much with the thick fog
all around. There was grass under his feet and the ground was kinda squishy.
There were trees all around, but not like the trees he was used to seeing.
These looked like the cypress trees hed seen when hed gone east
after his momma had died. As far as he knew, there werent no place
like this in New Mexico territory, so where in the heck was he and how did
he get there?
As he continued to walk the fog began to clear some, although not completely.
In the distance, up a hill, he saw a big white house, and figured it was
worth a look. Maybe someone there would be able to give him directions, but
he knew to be careful. Even if there were folks around, it didnt mean
they were friendly.
When he made it to the house, he was unsettled to find that other than the
very front which looked perfectly in tact -- the rest of the house
was open. There were no walls, nothing more than a frame. By the look of
it, the house had been almost burned to the ground. The front door was closed,
and for some reason he opened it, stepping inside what he guessed had once
been a grand house. He wasnt sure, but he thought maybe it was one
of those big plantation houses that hed seen pictures of before.
What are you doing here? A familiar voice startled him, and he
turned to find a boy seated at a table.
Ethan? What are you doing here? Vin looked around in amazement.
Other than the table and a few chairs around it, everything else in the house
had been destroyed. The table and the boy seated at it looked strangely out
of place among the rubble.
I believe I asked you first, this time Ethan replied with a grin.
I . . . I dont know, Vin admitted distractedly as he took
in the destruction. There were piles of debris, broken china and shards of
glass lying all around, but he could tell that the room had once been a fancy
dining room. I dont even know where here is?
Well, perhaps I can enlighten you. He gestured vaguely at their
surroundings. Welcome to my humble abode. Or whats left of it,
anyway. As you can see, the Union army chose to do a little redecorating
during their latest pilgrimage.
Vin opened his mouth to say something, but wasnt sure what there was
to say. Hed heard about things like this happening during the war,
but he didnt know they still went on. He wondered where Ethans
momma was, then remembered the boy saying something about meeting her for
Christmas in Eagle Bend. He was pretty sure this wasnt anywhere near
Eagle Bend, so why was he here? Wherever here was. He looked down at his
feet and found a broken, tarnished frame and picked it up to look at it.
The photograph it held was of Ethan, along with a man and woman he assumed
were his parents.
Wheres your ma and pa? he asked, curious that the boy was
My mother, is . . . who knows? he replied with a chuckle, not
looking up from his cards. Probably out somewhere, on business, of
course. And, I dont have a father.
Well, whos this then? Vin asked, holding out the photograph.
That is . . . was my step father, although, Im not allowed
to speak of him. Ethan glanced up at Vin, noting his puzzled expression
then he reached out for the picture and gazed at it sadly. I miss
him, he said, his voice wistful. I always thought he was my father,
until . . .. We were happy, everything was fine until . . . the war.
Vin felt like he should say Im sorry, or something to make
Ethan stop looking so sad, but then he wasnt sure if there was anything
anyone could say to make a person feel better about losing someone they loved.
My step father, he continued, went off to fight
for the Confederacy, of course. My mother was furious. She begged him, she
threatened to leave him, she even tried to convince him to take a trip abroad,
but he would hear nothing of it. Ethan sighed, then set the picture
aside and began shuffling the cards again. I know she loved him, but
when he left . . . it was like she . . . changed. Somehow she just seemed
to cut off all her feelings, for him . . . and everyone. Thats when
she told me he wasnt my real father, and tried to pretend wed
never been a real family. It makes me so mad, sometimes I want to scream
at her, but in the end, I just feel sorry for her.
Vin felt sorry for Ethans momma, too, almost as sorry as he felt for
Ethan. He was pretty sure Ethan wasnt looking for pity or sympathy
though, so he kept quiet.
You really shouldnt be here, Vin, Ethan said, never looking
up from the deck of cards he was shuffling. You should go home.
What about you?
Yeah, you aint gonna stay here by yourself are ya?
Where else would I go?
Vin thought about that for a moment. Since he wasnt sure where he was,
he really didnt know how he was supposed to get home. But if it was
dangerous for him to be there, that meant it was also dangerous for Ethan.
Well, youre welcome to come home with me, although I aint
rightly sure how to get there.
The boy glanced at him, his eyes glittering with amusement, and maybe some
other emotion, too. Why, thank you, Mr. Tanner, he said, in a
voice that suddenly seemed a little deeper and more familiar to Vin. Then
he neatly placed the deck face down on the table and drew the top card.
But, I believe youll find that I am already there. Looking
up, he flashed an enigmatic smile and held out the card hed drawn.
It was the ace of spades.
Vin opened his eyes to find Uncle Ezra sitting
in the chair beside his bed. Uncle Ezra, he whispered, gazing
at the man in wonder. Its you.
Yes, Vin, Im right here.
Vin was in and out the next day, but the
day after that, he finally woke up with a somewhat clear head. He felt damp
and sweaty and uncomfortable, but managed a smile for Chris who was sitting
in a chair by his bed.
Well, hello, cowboy, Chris said, leaning forward and laying a
hand on Vins forehead. I think your fevers finally
He could remember seeing Ezras face, but he wasnt sure if it
had been real or a dream. The last clear memory he had of his Uncle Ezra
was of him being very ill. Uncle Ezra? he asked, trying to raise
his head and look around.
A moment later, Ezra appeared, looking a whole lot better than he had before.
Good to see you awake, Vin.
Then he remembered his Uncle Josiah had been sitting there at some time,
talking to him about angels and such. Vin wondered if theyd been worried
he was going to dream with angels?
Buck went out to Netties to fetch JD. Chris moved to sit
on the edge of his bed and helped him sit up to take a drink of water.
Nathan was here earlier and said he thought it would be okay for him
to come home tonight.
Vin didnt remember JD going to Netties, but at the moment, his
memory seemed a little cloudy. The only thing he was sure of was that the
water he was drinking tasted real good, so he gulped down as much as he could,
until Chris pulled the glass away. Slow down, theres plenty
Is it Christmas? he asked next.
Chris looked a little bit sad as he shook his head. Sorry, pard, Christmas
was yesterday. He set the glass aside and hugged Vin close, looking
down at him with concern in his eyes. Dont worry about that,
though. We decided to wait and have our own special Christmas, as soon as
you felt up to it. He cleared his throat and leaned closer to Vin before
continuing, I have to tell ya, though, I already got my Christmas
Ezra had taken up the chair beside his bed, and he leaned forward placing
his hand on Vins. That goes for me, too.
Vin felt his cheeks grow warm. He studied Ezra for a moment, remembering
the dream hed had and wondered if any of it had been real. Maybe someday
hed find out? It was all so confusing and he was starting to get tired
again. He yawned, feeling perfectly safe and comfortable with Chris and Uncle
Ezra close by. He fell asleep again without even realizing hed closed
The next time Vin awoke, he found himself
looking into a pair of big brown eyes. It took a moment for him to get his
bearings then he cleared his throat and smiled, JD!
That was all the encouragement the younger boy needed. He climbed up on the
bed and began his characteristic rambling. You sleeped for a long time,
Vin! Mr. Chris said you was just tired from bein sick, but I thought
you was never gonna wake up! You wanna come and see the tree? Its real
big and we decrated it with popcorns and cramberries and pinecones
and lots of stuff. And Miz Nettie bakeded us gingerbreads and cookies with
icin on em, and we got presents! I got a boat and some marbles
and peppermints and mittens and a scarf and you got a boa--
Whoa, there, Little Bit!
Vin was glad to hear Bucks cheerful voice and he turned grateful eyes
to the man whod become his second father. Truth was JD had lost him
after the first couple of sentences.
Buck just grinned, shaking his head as he plucked JD from Vins bed.
Youre not supposed to tell people what theyre going to
Oops, JD slapped a hand over his mouth then looked up at Buck
with repentant eyes. I didnt mean to, it just came out.
Buck set him on the floor and gave him a pat on the behind. Why dont
you go ask Ezra if hell heat some water for us?
Vin coughed, then struggled to push himself up. His arms felt weak and his
brain felt a little sleep muddled, but other than that he felt a whole lot
better than he had the last time hed woken up.
Buck adjusted his pillow to give him a little support then smiled and winked.
You feel like trying to eat some soup?
Vin nodded, now that he thought about it his belly was feeling pretty empty.
Be right back. He pulled the blanket up a little higher then
Vin tried to push himself a little more upright and couldnt believe
just doing that could make him so tired. His arms felt weak and his brain
felt a little muddled, but other than that, once he got situated, he realized
that he felt a whole lot better than the last time hed woken up. He
had hazy memories of the past few days, of waking up and drinking tea or
broth, coughing a lot, and his head and chest hurting. Suddenly his face
burned as he recalled being helped to use the chamber pot. He hadnt
cared at the time, but now . . .. He pulled the covers up to his chin and
tried to push away the urge creeping up on him, although there was no denying
it. He had to go.
A few minutes later, Chris entered the room, carrying a tray. He smiled at
Vin and set the tray on the crate that doubled as a nightstand. How
are you feeling?
Vin pulled his blankets up higher and cast a wary look from the soup to the
cup of tea, then to his pa. Uh . . . I kinda gotta go, he mumbled,
the last words barely audible.
Chris already figured on that, though. He reached under the bed, and had
to bite his cheek when Vins eyes went round as saucers and what he
could see of the boys face turned crimson. Dyou . . . uh,
need any help?
Vin shook his head emphatically.
Okay, Ill be right outside the door incase you need . . .
Vin didnt move until Chris had closed the door behind him. Then he
pushed away the blankets and climbed slowly out of the bed. He had to lean
against the bedpost for a moment to make sure he had his legs under him then
he glanced up at the door again, praying that it would remain closed until
he was finished.
Who woulda thought bein sick could be so humiliating, he wondered?
If he had anything to say about it, he wouldnt ever get sick again
-- and if he did, well, hed just crawl off to the woods or somewheres
nobody could find him and he wouldnt come back til he was all
Later that evening, Chris sat in the rocking
chair with Vin, watching through the window as the snow came down in big
wet flakes. Already, a layer of white glistened over everything from the
ground on up. Amazing, how in just one evening the drab, familiar landscape
could be made to appear white and fresh and new. The bundle in his lap shifted
then snuggled against him, letting out a contented sigh. Chris looked down
at him. You doing okay?
Yeah, the boy answered quietly. Snow looks real pretty,
Yep, it sure does, Chris agreed. I dont recall ever
seeing so much snow, not around here, anyway.
For several minutes, neither of them spoke, they just continued rocking back
in forth, enjoying the view outside and the peacefulness of the moment.
Vin thought back on the evening. JD had been right about everything.
Thered been a great big Christmas tree and presents and all sorts of
things. All of his uncles had stopped out to see him, but theyd left
when it got dark out. JD had already opened his presents, but theyd
saved Vins. He felt kind of bad that he hadnt had any presents
for them, but theyd said his getting better was good enough
which, felt kind of good, but kind of embarrassing too.
Hed reluctantly brought up a question about the boy hed met on
the road to Eagle Bend. Hed thought for sure the boy had come home
with him, but Chris and Buck told him, again, that there had been nobody
with him when hed gotten home that night. Uncle Siah said something
about maybe it being an angel sent to watch over Vin and see to it that he
got home. Vin had never heard of such a thing, but he wasnt going to
say so to his uncle.
With a yawn, he tipped his head back to look up at Chris. Chris? Do
you believe in angels, like Uncle Siah said?
Well . . . Chris kept rocking as his thoughts wandered back over
the past few days. I dont know, Vin. Josiah seems to think
theyre real, and he knows a lot about things like that. More than I
do, anyway. Chris couldnt help smiling at the memory of Vin telling
them that Ethan had reminded him a lot of Uncle Ezra. While the
rest of them had tried not to laugh at the image of Ezra as angel, Josiah
had simply murmured albeit, with some amusement, the Lord does
work in mysterious ways.
Nobody could deny that it had been a miracle Vin had made it home that night.
With the storm that blew in, he never would have made it to Eagle Bend. Even
so, Chris wasnt so sure he believed in angels, and he couldnt
seem to quiet the small voice in his mind that questioned: if such beings
existed, where had they been when his wife and son needed them?
Of course, Josiah had an answer for that, too. Many times over the past few
years, the former preacher had tried to explain to Chris that God had His
reasons for doing the things He did. And sometimes, He allowed us to understand
His workings, and sometimes they were simply beyond mans comprehension.
Josiah had told him that those were the times when we were called on to have
faith faith to believe that God didnt allow things to happen
without reason, and that now, Sarah and Adam were safe and happy and waiting
for the day the Lord saw fit for Chris to join them. It was something he
wanted to believe that God wouldnt have let them suffer,
wouldnt have allowed them to die for no reason. Sometimes, he almost
believed it and other times it seemed so completely unjust that he just
couldnt fathom it at all.
Right now, though, as he gazed out the window, the moonlight shimmered on
the freshly fallen snow, it was hard to deny Gods existence. The miracle
he held in his arms only reinforced that, for surely Vin had arrived in
Gods perfect timing, and like a light, he had chased away all of the
darkness Chris had been lost in.
Vins eyes were closed and his breathing was even; his lungs still rattled
a little, but sounded better than the day before. Chris gently pressed his
lips to Vins forehead, still slightly warm, but much cooler than it
had been. Yeah, cowboy, he whispered even though he was pretty
sure his son was asleep. I guess I do believe in angels.