"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe
Thanks McMuse for your friendship and beta skills! Thanks to Kim for the shopping distraction, Carrie for the Title and Ronnie for the Vin guilt and Josiah advice!
'Five down. Two to go,' thought Vin as he watched his favorite Scooby Doo video. The week seemed to crawl by at a turtle's pace. Chris, Uncle Ezra and Uncle Nathan were in Chicago for some dumb training class or something. They wouldn't be home until Sunday.
It wasn't soon enough for Vin.
Vin glanced over at JD who was perched on the arm of the couch looking out the front window waiting for Buck to come home from work. On a normal day, he might be perched on the overstuffed arm with JD, but this was far from a normal day. Buck would not be happy to see him, especially today. For the second time this week Buck had been called to come to Vin's school and talk to the principal. Vin turned his attention back to the video figuring it was the last time he'd be seeing the television in awhile.
He sighed. It just wasn't fair. What happened on Tuesday, well he could be blamed for that. Jerry Collins had been teasing JD about not having a mom and Vin had punched Jerry in the nose just to get him to stop. But today it really wasn't his fault.
"Buck's home!" squealed JD with delight as he dove off the arm of the couch onto the cushions. Rolling off of the cushions onto the floor, he jumped up and raced out the front door.
"Great," mumbled Vin as he got up off the floor and walked over to the TV set. It wasn't his fault he ended up in the principal's office. It was the art teacher, Mrs. Donahue who caused the problem
Vin stared at the pink and white pieces of paper, scissors and glue on the table in front of him. He scowled as the words sank in.
"Children, Sunday is Mother's Day. It is a special day to honor mothers. Today we are going to make cards to tell someone special that we love them. These cards can be for anyone you choose."
Vin wasn't buying it. She was just saying that to be nice. What Mrs. Donahue really meant was Sunday was Mother's Day and he was supposed to make a card for his mom. Well he couldn't do that. Vin leaned back in his seat and watched his tablemates start their projects.
Suzie was really good at art. She folded a paper in half and cut a funny shape. When she opened it up, it looked like a heart. Vin grimaced. His probably would've looked like a lopsided square. Suzie was going to be an art teacher, he was certain.
Tim was more practical. He liked glue. He poured big globs on his card paper and mashed the pre-cut hearts Mrs. Donahue gave them into the white mess. He waved his hands around trying to make the glue on his palms dry faster. Then he began to peel the glue residue off as if it were another skin. Vin didn't know what Tim was going to do when he grew up, but whatever it was, he hoped it wasn't anywhere near him or JD.
Jill was seated next to him at the table. She was carefully printing, "I love you, Mom!" on the card. Jill could print really neat and sometimes helped Vin with some of his letters if he asked. He didn't ask often, but she was always nice when he did.
"Are you having trouble getting started?"
Vin jumped, banging his knee on the leg of the table. He had been deep in thought and hadn't heard Mrs. Donahue come up beside him.
"N-no," answered Vin, rubbing his sore knee.
"Do you need some ideas of what to make?" she persisted.
"No," said Vin firmly. "I'm not gonna make one."
"It's your art assignment. You need to do it," said Mrs. Donahue as she pushed his papers toward him.
"No," said Vin.
"Young man, this is not a difficult project," said the teacher sternly. "You can put it together how ever you want."
Vin shook his head.
"Why not?" Mrs. Donahue asked in exasperation.
"It's for Mother's Day and I don't have a mom." Vin pushed the supplies toward the teacher. Vin thought he heard the teacher sigh, but it didn't matter. The project was for Mother's Day, he didn't have a mom, and so he didn't have to do it.
"I told you that you could make it for someone else."
'How dumb is that?' thought Vin. Anybody he would give the card to would know he made it for Mother's Day. If he were to make a card for someone special in his life it would be Chris or Buck, but neither one of them was a mom and Vin didn't think they'd appreciate being compared to one.
"I don't want to make it for someone else," Vin stubbornly persisted, causing the teacher to let out a large sigh of exasperation.
"Mrs. Donahue?" called one of the other children, "I need help."
"Then make it for your mother. I know you can't give it to her, but you could keep it as a reminder of how much you love her." Mrs. Donahue walked away to help Dan with his question.
Vin folded his arms angrily across his chest. 'Who did she think she was? Now she was saying he couldn't give his card to his mom. What did she know about him or his mom? Nothing! And here she was saying his mom was dead.' Vin kicked his toe against the leg of the table over and over as he fought the angry feelings.
He pretty much knew that dreaming of angels was just a nice way of saying his mom was gone forever, but the seven-year-old wasn't ready to completely let go of the hope that maybe somehow, someday his mom could come back. Mrs. Donahue shouldn't have said he couldn't give her the card.
"You still haven't started," said Mrs. Donahue.
'Well, duh!' Vin thought sarcastically. That was rather obvious. He watched as one by one his classmates finished their projects and were excused to recess.
"Let's do this," said Mrs. Donahue, with an edge to her voice. "Just put the card together and you can decide later who to give it to. Now hurry along. You don't want to miss recess."
Vin growled inwardly. He didn't like to be forced to do anything, but he didn't want to miss recess either. Jerry Collins was still teasing JD and despite his punishment earlier this week, Vin was still ready to pop Jerry in the nose again if he went too far.
Vin stared at the paper. He could make it for Chris, but that wasn't fair to Buck. He liked them both. He could make it for both of them, but only one could keep it.
"Can I make two?" Vin asked.
"No," said Mrs. Donahue. "We only have enough supplies for one per student."
Vin shoved the papers away. If he had to choose between Chris and Buck, he wouldn't make the card at all.
The teacher pushed the papers back in front of Vin. Vin sat back in his chair and shook his head.
"Young man, you will do your project."
"Fine!" snapped the teacher. "Then you will come with me."
And he ended up in a chair outside Mr. Brewster's office waiting for Buck to come. Buck didn't look too happy to be at the Principal's office either. Vin could hear the raised voices as he waited outside the dreaded room. Mrs. Donahue was in there with Buck and Mr. Brewster. So was Miss Taylor. She was Vin's teacher for everything but Art and Gym class. He liked Miss Taylor.
The door opened and Vin looked up. Buck stood next to him with a funny look on his face. Vin couldn't decide if it was mad or sad or maybe both.
"Vin, I understand you had a problem in art class. And it sounds like it had something to do with your mom," said Buck.
Vin nodded as Buck sat down in the chair next to him. Buck sneaked a hurried glance at the clock. He didn't have time to deal with this like he wanted to. He and Josiah were backup for a bust that was supposed to go down in an hour.
"Why didn't you do the project?" asked Buck.
"It's for Mother's Day," said Vin simply.
"Mrs. Donahue said she told you that you could make it for anyone."
Vin nodded. "But I can only make one and I didn't want to pick between you and Chris."
Buck smiled slightly as a warmth rushed through him at Vin's simple declaration of affection. He had come a long way from the frightened child they had rescued in the abandoned warehouse. Still, he had a bit of an authority issue to deal with.
"I can understand that, Vin," said Buck gently as he slipped his arm around Vin, "but this art project is a school assignment for a grade. The teacher said you can just make the card and decide who to give it to later." He could feel Vin tense up. He leaned closer and whispered in Vin's ear. "No one meant to hurt you or make you sad, Vin. Miss Taylor said you can go back to class with her and finish your project during story time. You need to finish it up, okay? We'll sort it all out tonight at home."
Vin nodded reluctantly. He would do the dumb card just to stay out of trouble. He knew if he refused again he would be in big trouble.
Vin popped his Scooby Doo Video out of the VCR and put it on the shelf. He was certain he was going to be punished for making Buck come to school again. Buck seemed to be taking a long time coming inside, so Vin laid down on the carpet again and distractedly watched the sitcom rerun that was playing on Television.
Two more days. Chris would be home in two more days, well maybe one, if you didn't count the rest of today and the day he actually got home. So he just had to wait through Saturday. Yes, he knew Chris would be disappointed that he got in trouble at school, but Chris would also hold him and hug him and make him feel safe.
"Hey there, Junior," said Buck as he carried JD through the door.
Vin smiled, but Buck wasn't deterred by a fake smile. He knew Vin was missing Chris and was worried about the incident at school. Buck tickled JD and flopped the giggling boy on the couch.
Vin yelped in surprise as Buck grabbed him by the ankles and lifted him off the floor. Vin dangled upside down for a moment before Buck lifted him higher, letting go and catching Vin around the waist. He flipped Vin right side up, pleased to see a real smile from the seven-year-old.
"Where's my hug? Gotta have a hug from both my boys."
Vin spontaneously threw his arms around Buck's neck and hugged him tightly. Buck wrapped strong arms around the still too thin child, letting him relish in the security of the moment. Buck smiled as he felt Vin heave a big sigh.
"Me too!" called JD from where he was standing, bouncing on the couch. Buck shifted Vin slightly to his right hip and scooped JD up on his left.
"Ooof," he said with a laugh. "You boys are getting heavy."
"You can put me down," offered Vin.
"Don't want to," said Buck. "Didn't get enough huggin' yet."
Vin leaned his chin on Buck's shoulder as Buck settled onto the couch with his two new attachments.
JD excitedly informed, "We had art class today and I made a card."
"You did? Can I see it?" Buck frowned as he felt Vin tense up. He still needed to talk to Vin about the incident at school, but he really didn't want to do it. Vin should have obeyed his teacher, but she had pushed Vin harder than she should have. Miss Taylor had even chewed on Mrs. Donahue. She had evidently warned the art teacher that some of her students didn't have a mother and that she should be cautious in approaching Mother's Day.
"Nope," said JD. "It's a s'prise."
"A surprise, huh? Now that sounds interesting."
"Buck, can we have a party Sunday?" asked JD eagerly.
Buck laughed at how quickly JD could change channels, but he thought it would be a nice idea to have a party when Chris got home. It might even cheer Vin up some.
"Sure, Little Bit. I think that's a great idea." Buck looked down at Vin who was still snuggled up to him. It was unusual for Vin to stay so close for so long. "What do you think, Vin?"
Vin shrugged, but stayed nestled against Buck.
"JD, why don't you check with Mrs. Potter and see what time dinner will be ready?" said Buck. "I want to see if I have time for a quick shower."
"Okay, Buck!" JD scrambled off Buck's lap excited about the prospect of a party. He started to run to the kitchen, but stopped himself, remembering he was supposed to walk in the house.
Buck turned his attention to Vin. "You all right, Junior?"
Vin nodded against his chest.
"What happened today?"
Vin sighed heavily. He really didn't want to talk about it. He didn't want to think about his Mom. It would only make his heart hurt more. "Mrs. Donahue wanted me to make a card for my mom. Then she said I couldn't. Then she said I had to make a card anyway. When I said I wasn't gonna do it, well you know what happened then."
Buck knew that wasn't the whole story, and although Vin trusted him, he wasn't Chris and he wasn't likely to get the entire tale. He wasn't certain even Chris would get the whole story. The teacher had inadvertently stirred up a little boy's grief. "Did you finish the project?"
Vin nodded. "And Miss Taylor helped me 'pologize to Mrs. Donahue. She said it was the right thing to do even though I didn't feel like it."
"Miss Taylor was right."
Vin leaned harder into the comfort of Buck's embrace. He drew in a deep breath and sighed it out heavily again. Momma used to hold him like this when he was upset. Vin squeezed his eyes shut. He was thinking about Momma again and it made him ache inside.
"Are ya gonna punish me?"
Vin looked up at Buck's face in surprise. "Why not?"
Buck smiled. "Are you going to do it again?"
Vin shook his head vigorously.
"Then you've already learned your lesson, haven't you?" said Buck. "You'll have to tell Chris tonight when he calls."
"Yes, sir." Vin wasn't looking forward to that. He knew Chris would be disappointed and he didn't like making Chris sad.
"And the principal said you have to stay out of trouble for the rest of the school year or he may have to suspend you."
Buck brushed a hand across Vin's cheek and tucked some stray curls behind Vin's ear. "It means you aren't allowed to go to school for a few days." Buck watched Vin's face as he considered Buck's answer. He could see the twinkle in Vin's eyes as he was probably thinking that missing school for a few days would be a good thing, but a darkness came to Vin's expression that, while it made Buck proud, it also saddened him. He knew that Vin had just realized that missing school would put him farther behind the other kids. Vin was trying hard, but he was far behind his peers simply from the lack of being in school. Everyone in Vin's world was doing everything possible to help him succeed and stay in the same grade as the kids his age. He was gaining ground, but it seemed to be too much pressure for a seven-year-old.
"I'll be good," whispered Vin sadly.
Buck kissed him on the top of his head. "I know you will, Junior." Buck knew that Vin had to be hurting from all the reminders of his mother, from worrying about getting further behind in school, and missing Chris on top of all that. "Is there anything I can do to help?" asked Buck.
Vin lifted his head and looked up at Buck. "Make it Sunday?" he asked with a glint of humor.
Buck grinned at the feeble attempt at a joke. "That one I can't do, but I can make Saturday a damn fun day."
Vin held out his hand to Buck, palm facing upward, expecting something.
Buck grimaced. "I did it again, didn't I?"
Vin nodded as Buck squirmed around so he could fish his wallet out of his pocket. He pulled out a dollar bill and handed it to Vin. "This is either gonna break me of my habit of swearing, or I'll go broke."
Vin laughed as he finally pulled away from Buck and headed to the jar in the hallway where they kept the dollars the men had to pay for swearing in front of the boys. Vin stuffed the dollar into the jar and wondered what they would ever do with the money.
JD woke up with a start in the darkened room. He lay quietly on his bed, his heart thumping wildly as he tried to figure out what he had heard.
JD bolted upright in bed at Vin's cry. A twinge of loneliness made him feel all empty inside. He wanted his momma too. He remembered that it had been a hard day for Vin. He got in trouble at school and then he had to tell Chris on the phone. Vin had gone to bed early, but when JD asked Buck, he said that nobody made Vin go to bed early. He was just tired and sad.
JD remembered that his day hadn't been all that great either. Between the art teacher and Jerry Collins it was a hard day.
"Boys and Girls, do you know what Sunday is?" asked the teacher.
Hands shot up around the room, eager to answer her question.
JD looked around the room. It looked like everyone knew the answer except him. He frowned as Miss Emily Know-it-All answered, "It's Mother's Day."
'Mother's Day?' wondered JD as the teacher began to explain about the day to honor mothers. She was careful to point out that some people don't have mothers, and JD felt as if everyone was staring at him. "I do to!" he wanted to shout. "You'll see! She's just dreaming of angels. You'll see." He crossed his arms across his chest defensively and leaned back against his chair. Somewhere deep inside that little element of doubt was becoming bigger inside the five-year-old, but he was determined not to let it out. His mom was not gone forever. She was just dreaming of angels and she would wake up and come home.
Eventually the teacher's words began to penetrate his thoughts again as she talked about ways you could do something special for your mother or for anyone you loved. JD liked the party idea. Parties were fun. There was always cake and games and lots of fun.
The teacher had no idea what chain of events her words were starting as she laid out the art supplies for the children. She was trying to be careful about how she talked about Mother's Day because she was well aware that some of her students were not from two parent families and that little JD was an orphan. She had been very careful to emphasize that the cards they were making were to be for whomever the children wanted to give them to. But her best efforts were still misinterpreted.
JD excitedly made his card for his mom. He wanted it to be just right. One of the pink hearts kept sticking to his hand instead of the glue on the card and it took awhile to get it to cooperate and stay in place. JD frowned at the globs of glue surrounding the hearts. He didn't want them on the card so he tried dabbing them away with a tissue only to find that bits of the tissue now stuck to the glue. Now his hearts had a ring of fuzz around them instead of glue globs. JD sighed in frustration.
"Wonderful!" said the teacher as she stood by his desk.
"Really?" asked JD.
"Yes, it looks very nice." She pointed to the tissue fuzz surrounding the heart. "I like how you outlined your heart. It's very unique."
JD smiled, his uncertainty washed away with a well-worded praise.
"If you're finished, you may go to recess."
"Oh boy!" JD tucked his card into the desk before scampering to the playground.
He looked for Vin, but couldn't find him. They always had recess at the same time, and some of the kids in Vin's class were on the playground, but not Vin. JD spotted Jerry Collins coming his way. He wanted to hide, but Jerry had already seen him.
"Oh look," said Jerry, "It's the Kindergarten baby who doesn't have a mom!"
"Stop it!" said JD.
"Who's gonna make me?" Jerry taunted. "You're too puny and I don't see Stick Boy around to help you."
"Stop it!" said JD again. He scanned the playground desperately for Vin. Vin had hit Jerry in the nose Tuesday when Jerry wouldn't leave him alone. Vin would help him, but Vin wasn't here.
"You ain't got a mom. You ain't got a mom," Jerry sing-songed as he stalked the younger boy.
"I do so!" shouted JD, trying to remember what Vin told him to do if he ran into Jerry when Vin wasn't around. He smiled as it came to him. "My mom ain't here, but I gots two dads!"
"So?" taunted Jerry.
JD puffed out his chest and stepped toward his tormentor. "My dads are ATF men. They can arrest your mom and dad and put them in jail forever! They won't never get out!"
Jerry looked surprised and worried. He didn't say anything for a minute. Finally, he said, "That's cool that you got two dads. Are they really cops?"
"Wow. Do they have guns and everything?"
"Can I play with you?" asked Jerry.
JD nodded and the two boys raced to the jungle gym.
His day had turned out okay, thanks to Vin's advice, but it had been scary for a while.
Vin cried again in his sleep, and JD climbed out of bed. He rubbed his eyes and yawned before picking up Vin's stuffed cat from the floor. He flung the cat up onto Vin's bed, and then climbed up the ladder to Vin's bunk. He crawled up to where Vin was tossing restlessly in his sleep. He tucked Vin's cat in under Vin's right arm, slid under the covers next to his best friend in the world and laid his arm across Vin's chest. The older boy quieted his restless movement but continued to call for his momma softly.
JD thought about all the times Vin had climbed into bed with him when he had bad dreams. He looked over at the doorway, looking for Buck. Sometimes if the dreams were really scary Buck or Chris would come into the room and see if they were okay. Sometimes they would just come and stand in the doorway and that was enough for the boys to know they were safe. But Buck wasn't in the doorway, so he must not have heard Vin crying. As the older boy called out for his momma again, JD rested his head on Vin's left shoulder and patted his right shoulder with the arm that lay across Vin's chest. "It's okay, Vin," he whispered. "Everything will be all right Sunday. You'll see."
After Saturday morning chores were completed, two little boys hurriedly piled into the back seat of the truck and struggled with the seatbelts on their child safety seats.
Buck laughed as he stuck his head inside the vehicle. "You guys are really anxious to go, aren't you?" He checked the seat belts to make sure they were secure before climbing in and adjusting his own safety belt.
"Arcade Town, here we come!" Buck said as he started the engine. JD and Vin cheered loudly as the truck started down the driveway.
An hour later the Arcade noise was starting to wear on Buck. All of the games had their own sounds, but it was the relentless noise of children yelling, screaming and generally just having a good time that grated on the tired man. At least Vin and JD seemed to be having a great time, and that was what today was about.
"Can we do the race cars now?" asked Vin.
"Okay. Looks like they're available now," agreed Buck as the threesome walked over to the racecar games. There were four games with seats and steering wheels designed like racecars. The games were interconnected so that all the drivers could participate in the same race against each other if they chose to do so.
JD jumped into the blue car in the middle and put on his seat belt. The seat belt wasn't necessary for safety in the game, but the manufacturer's had made it so the game wouldn't work without the seatbelt fastened, in hopes that it would teach kids to buckle up. Vin chose the red car to JD's right and Buck took the yellow car on JD's left. The fourth seat remained empty as Buck helped the boys set up their cars for the easiest course. He put in the coins and started the game.
Soon the boys were laughing as they tried to steer the cars and stay on the road. The large screen in front of them showed their success. JD seemed to think it was a lot more fun to run his car into the walls and watch it crash. Vin was trying to be competitive but was having trouble reaching the gas pedal and steering and watching Buck's car all at the same time. Buck's car was always a little ahead of his, and JD seemed to be having so much fun crashing A playful grin spread across Vin's face as he steered his car into Buck's and made him crash into the wall.
"Hey, not fair!" called Buck, but he laughed when he saw the pure glee on Vin's face as he was now in the lead of the race. It was a stunt Chris would have pulled. "Come on, JD. We've gotta catch Vin!"
JD had finally mastered staying on the track and was starting to move well. He caught up to Buck and mimicked Vin's movement, crashing Buck into the wall again.
"All right, JD!" cheered Vin.
"You guys are mean!" said Buck teasingly. He straightened his car out and raced after the two tricksters.
The game ended with all three laughing as Vin crossed the finish line and crashed into the podium at the winner's circle. Vin looked up and was slightly embarrassed to see that they were surrounded by people who had been watching their game. Buck smiled at him reassuringly. "Let's let someone else have a turn. We've got shopping to do."
"Yay!" yelled JD as he unbuckled and climbed out of the car. "I git ta pick, right?"
"Yes, JD," said Buck, "The party was your idea, you get to pick."
JD grabbed one of Buck's hands and Vin took the other as they headed for the truck. They had a party to plan.
The next stop was the party store. JD insisted that they needed balloons and special plates and napkins for the party. Buck figured it wouldn't hurt to indulge once in awhile, but he was surprised when JD picked out the flowery plates that said "Happy Mother's Day" instead of a nice "Welcome home."
"You sure you want those, JD? They're a little frilly," said Buck. He was pretty sure that JD could read the words, even though he was only in Kindergarten.
JD scowled at him. "You said I could pick!"
"Okay, okay." Buck held up his hands to appease the five-year-old. "I just thought you'd want something that said, 'Welcome Home.'"
JD pondered for a moment. 'Welcome Home' would work too. If he got the napkins that said 'Welcome Home' and the plates that said 'Happy Mother's Day' it would be perfect. He snatched up the package of napkins that didn't match the plates. "I want these."
Vin rolled his eyes. The plates were violet and had pretty flowers. The Napkins were red and black. They didn't match at all.
"JD, those are ugly," said Vin flatly.
"They are not!" JD defended.
Both boys looked up at Buck.
"We could skip the party altogether," said Buck.
"Nooooo!" whined JD. "We gotta have the party. Vin, tell him."
Vin looked from JD to Buck and shrugged. He didn't know what JD meant.
"I want these for the party," insisted JD waving the plates and napkins.
"All right," said Buck. "Vin, why don't you pick out some balloons?"
"Balloons are stupid," said Vin. He didn't want anything to do with something that said 'Mother's Day' on it. He'd already had enough trouble on account of Mother's Day and he didn't want to think about his mom any more.
"Are not!" argued JD.
"Are too!" Vin insisted.
"Boys," growled Buck.
Vin and JD looked at each other, both knowing if they kept it up the party wouldn't happen. Vin didn't want Mother's Day, but JD looked almost desperate. "JD can pick the balloons," he conceded.
"YAY!" hollered JD with a hop, before trotting down the aisle toward the balloons.
"Didn't want to pick out stupid balloons anyway," muttered Vin softly as he scuffed his feet and followed JD.
Buck stood back for a moment watching the two boys knowing that something was going on, but not having a clue what it was. Before he could consider it further, a pretty brunette came down the aisle asking if he needed any help. They struck up a conversation and Buck was slightly distracted as he walked through the store, pulling the cart behind him as they talked.
The boys could see that Buck was occupied, so they continued making decisions as Buck led the cart through the aisles. JD threw rolls of streamers into the shopping cart, while Vin threw in a bag of plastic cowboys and Indians. JD found a big banner that said "Happy Mother's Day" and the two boys argued over it silently tugging back and forth between that banner and the "Welcome Home" banner. Finally they put both of them in the cart. The candy in the candy aisle was begging to go home with them and they put more in the cart.
Buck wasn't saying, "No," to any of their choices. He was too busy talking to Ginny. He even continued his conversation with her as the other checker began to ring up their purchases. Nothing caught his attention until the cashier finished and said,
"That will be One hundred fifty five dollars and thirty-nine cents."
"Excuse me?" Buck asked in surprise. He looked at the pile of goodies on the counter and rolled his eyes. He looked down at JD and Vin. Vin was avoiding looking at him, but JD had on his sad puppy, 'please' look. Buck shook his head.
"I'm sorry, ma'am. Some of this has to go back."
"But " JD pleaded.
"No buts, JD. This is too much." He started sorting through the pile, much to JD's and the cashier's dismay. She hated doing overrides and returns.
"Plates, cups, napkins, balloons, and you can each pick one bag of party favors - either toys or candy. Everything else goes back," said Buck.
"Told ya so," muttered Vin as he glumly picked the candy over the cowboys and Indians. The big people would like the candy better than the toys anyway.
JD chewed on his lip as if it was the most important decision in his life. He finally settled on the party horns and grabbed some of the other things to put them back.
"Oh, no honey," said Ginny. "I'll take care of putting those back for you." She felt sorry for the boys, knowing that her flirting had allowed them to get their hopes up with all the goodies. She shot a glare at the checker who was bemoaning having to start all over. "Susan, you can go on break now. I'll ring this up."
A short while later they threesome left the party store with a much more reasonable bill paid and a clerk's phone number on the back of the sales slip. Their next stop was the grocery store where, much to Buck's amusement, JD picked out a Mother's Day cake.
"Can we get flowers, Buck?" asked JD as he looked at the bouquets in the small floral section in the market.
"Flowers?" asked Buck. "What do we need flowers for?"
"Mrs. Thompson said flowers is a nice thing to give someone you love," answered JD.
"Well, that's true," said Buck, "but I don't think we need to get them for Chris."
"They ain't for Chris," said JD as he pawed through the loose flowers.
"Then who are they for?" asked Buck gently pulling JD away from manhandling the flowers.
"It's a s'prise," said JD. He looked up at Buck with pleading eyes.
Buck sighed. That look was nearly impossible to resist. He thought the request was a little strange, but he figured maybe JD was trying to surprise him for Mother's Day. He didn't exactly think he was much of a mom, but he appreciated the sentiment JD was trying to express.
"All right, JD," said Buck, "but only one bouquet."
JD began to pick through the ready-made bouquets of cut flowers to find the perfect bundle. Buck turned to check on Vin. The older boy was hanging from the handle on the four-wheeled shopping cart, swinging, keeping himself entertained.
"Vin, do you want some flowers too?" asked Buck
Vin stood up and looked at the flowers. He looked at JD, then back to Buck. He blinked back the tears that were suddenly at the corners of his eyes as he remembered getting flowers with his mom. They had never bought a whole bouquet like JD was doing. His mom always bought a single flower and put it in that old vase she had. Vin walked over to the flowers and picked out a single stalk of white daisies, the kind his mom liked. It looked lonesome compared to JD's big bouquet, but it was all Vin would take.
In the checkout line, the clerk looked at the daisies, and said, "You realize the whole bundle is ninety-nine cents?"
"I only want one," said Vin as he watched her punch the key on the cash register.
She looked at the small boy and something in his eyes made her choose not to argue the point. "We'll just include it in the price of the other bouquet, honey."
Vin frowned. He didn't like being called honey. When she started to put the flower in JD's bundle, Vin protested. "No, I'll carry it."
The clerk smiled and looked to Buck for confirmation. He nodded and she handed the flower to Vin.
On the drive home, Buck glanced in the rear-view mirror at two very different boys. JD was bouncing happily to the music on the radio excited about the party plans. Vin was reflectively toying with his flower, his mind clearly a million miles away, or maybe just as far as Chris Larabee in Chicago. Vin shifted and looked out the window.
"What time is it, Buck?" Vin asked.
It was only ten minutes since the last time he asked. "Three fifteen. Chris will be home in about twenty-one hours." Vin met Buck's eyes in the rear-view mirror and Buck smiled reassuring the seven-year-old. Vin leaned his head back on the seat. This day was going to last forever.
Buck let the two boys play in the yard while he fixed the top rail of the corral. It had come loose, probably from the horses leaning on it to reach their favorite two short people and the carrots, sugar and apples the boys offered. He wasn't concerned when they disappeared from site behind the house. They liked to play in the small grove of trees at the end of the meadow. He could hear their laughter faintly on the breeze and was glad that Vin had lightened up a little and was having some fun.
After awhile he realized he couldn't hear the boys anymore. He stopped his work and looked down toward the tree grove. He couldn't spot any movement. Buck set aside his tools and walked through the field towards the grove. Silence was never a good sign with these boys.
"You're slopping it!" complained Vin.
"I am not!" said JD.
"Well then what's that?" asked Vin pointing to the large puddle of water behind the bucket.
"Well we have to get the floor wet anyway!"
Vin shook his head and got the mop down. The two boys had tired of playing in the trees and had wandered back into the house while Buck was busy with the fence. They had tracked in some dirt with them and JD insisted that they clean it up. The house had to be perfect for the party. So two little boys who had watched the floor be mopped a few times, decided that they could do it.
They didn't count on the fact that the mop was taller than them, or that they didn't know how much soap to put in the bucket, or how to squeeze out the mop. A few minutes into the job two frustrated boys stood in the middle of the room, soapsuds surrounding them, their shoes soaked and their jeans wet up to the knees.
"What're we gonna do, Vin?" asked JD with his lip quivering and tears creeping into his eyes. They were supposed to clean up and they had made a bigger mess. The house had to be just right for the party.
"Don't cry," said Vin, "I'll think of something." He stared at the mess and sighed. They needed something to dry up the floor. "Towels!"
"Yeah!" agreed JD as they raced down the hall to the linen closet.
Buck walked in through the back door of the kitchen. He stopped in the mudroom and pulled off his boots. "Boys?" he called as he sorted through the mail. They weren't in the grove so he assumed they had come back to the house. He made a quick detour to the mailbox on his way back to the house and picked up the day's mail. He tore open an envelope, reading the contents as he walked into the kitchen. Before he knew what was happening, he found himself flat on his back on the kitchen floor, mail scattered everywhere and water soaking into his clothes.
Recovering from his shock, he sat up amid the soap bubbles covering the kitchen floor and spied Vin and JD standing in the door, arms loaded with bath towels.
"No!" he said, shaking his head before they could move forward. "Don't use the bath towels," he ordered.
"I'm sorry, Buck," said JD. "We's just trying to clean the floor so the house will be pretty for tomorrow."
Buck took a deep breath and counted to ten. The boys did not need to be hollered at for trying to do something good, even if it turned out wrong.
"Okay, put the towels back and come back in here. I'll help you finish it up."
The boys trotted down the hall as Buck picked up the soggy scattered mail and set it on the counter. He grimaced at the watermarks half way up the cupboard where the water had slopped. Picking up the mop and bucket he took them into the mudroom and rinsed them out in the big sink. It was going to take several times of rinsing the floor to get rid of all the bubbles.
"I'm sorry, Buck."
Vin's soft voice pulled Buck's attention from the mop bucket.
"I know you are, Junior," said Buck with a sympathetic smile. "Here. You carry the mop for me." Buck handed him the mop and followed Vin back into the kitchen. Then, with much more patience than he knew he had, Buck showed the boys how to rinse off the soapsuds and to wring out the mop. It took a full forty-five minutes before the floor was clear of bubbles. It was still wet, but the job was done.
"Next time "
Buck didn't get to finish. "We'll ask for help," volunteered JD.
Buck nodded to the boys, "Let's go get cleaned up."
"But we can't walk on the floor," said JD. They had mopped themselves into the mudroom and couldn't get to their bedrooms or the bathroom without crossing the wet floor.
"That's why we have two doors," said Buck with a smile. "Come on." JD grabbed one hand and Vin followed close behind.
"Buck? What time is it?" asked Vin.
Fortunately, Vin was behind Buck when Buck rolled his eyes. He had heard that question far too many times today. Vin's birthday wasn't far away and Buck was beginning to think that a wristwatch was the perfect gift. Vin could tell time if he saw a clock, but he didn't have one to look at, so he kept pestering Buck.
"It's 1800," Buck teased.
"That means " Vin reasoned it out as he trotted to keep up with Buck's long strides. "That means it's six o'clock!" said Vin in triumph.
Buck stopped and looked at Vin in surprise. "Where'd you learn that?"
Vin beamed. "Chris told me! He heard you tease me like that and told me how to figure it out."
Buck grinned at Vin's pride. "Well, you're right!" Buck held out his arm inviting Vin to come closer. He rested his hand on Vin's shoulder. "And that means eighteen more hours."
"Oh boy!" shouted JD. The party was getting very close now.
Buck smiled and guided the boys into the house giving careful instructions to go in to the bathroom and take off their wet clothes. They were to put them in the bathtub, not the laundry hamper so they wouldn't make the other clothes wet and smelly. Then Buck wanted them to change clothes and play quietly in their room until Josiah brought the pizza for dinner.
Dinner was eaten quickly as two hungry boys dove into the pizza. Josiah laughed as Vin animatedly told him how Buck tried to trick him and he figured out what time it was. JD told him all about the video arcade and the racecars, and both boys insisted that next time Uncle Josiah should come with them so he could race too.
In typical JD style, the conversation bounced from one topic to another as quickly as his mind could think. Vin's interest in the conversation waned. He focused his attention on his dinner finishing his soda.
"Does my mom know where we live?" asked JD brightly.
Buck and Josiah were both surprised at the question that seemed to come from nowhere.
"What do you think, JD?" asked Josiah.
"I think she does, 'cause she watches me all the time and if she watches me then she has to know where I live." JD bit off another piece of his pizza.
Buck frowned as he noticed Vin had gone quiet again. He appeared to be ignoring JD's chatter, but his unusual interest in the pepperoni on his pizza told Buck otherwise. Vin's emotions had seemed to travel in spurts all week, but they seemed magnified today since Buck had spent the entire day with the boys and had been able to observe them. Vin would play happily for a while, and then he would get quiet and reflective. Buck was sure that most of Vin's moodiness was because he felt lost without Chris, but Buck was concerned that the "Mother's Day" thing and the talk about moms was making Vin miss his mother as well.
"So what did you do today, Josiah?" asked Buck, redirecting the conversation to a new theme. He winked at Vin as the seven-year-old looked at him. A smile toyed at Vin's lips before he took a bite of pizza.
After dinner and bedding down the horses, the foursome settled in to watch a video. JD was far too excited about the coming day to really catch much of the story. Buck and Josiah were sitting on the couch while JD and Vin lay on the floor by the TV. JD was fidgeting and asking questions about what he missed when he was fidgeting. Vin had shushed him several times. It was wearing on everyone's nerves, but when JD rolled over and accidentally elbowed Vin in the side, it was the last straw for the seven-year-old.
"JD, will you just shut up and lay still!" Vin shouted.
JD stared at Vin with wide eyes.
"Vin!" scolded Buck. 'Shut up' was a term the boys weren't allowed to use, and Vin knew it.
"Sorry, JD," said Vin unhappily. He didn't like apologizing, especially when it wasn't really his fault. JD shouldn't have been all squirmy and then he wouldn't have said, 'shut up.'
"Okay," said JD, but he scooted away from Vin and settled on the floor near Buck and Josiah's feet. He didn't understand why Vin was so angry. Chris would be home tomorrow and they would have their special party and everything would be okay. Vin should be happy. JD shrugged and turned his focus back on the movie.
"Why are they doing that?"
Vin groaned dramatically and buried his face in his arms. Josiah and Buck just grinned.
Eventually JD wound down as the movie sucked in his full attention. After a very dramatic scene between a little boy and his mother, Buck found JD crawling up in his lap and snuggling close. Buck hadn't known the scene was in the movie or he would have picked something different to watch. He looked over to see how Vin was handling it.
'Damn,' he muttered to himself. Vin was gone. He must have slipped out while they were all wound up in the scene.
"Josiah?" Buck nodded toward the empty space on the floor where Vin had been.
"I'll find him," said Josiah softly as he picked up a few of the leftover glasses and popcorn bowls and left the room.
"Don't worry, little boy," said JD to the television. "Your momma will come back."
Buck squeezed JD a little harder as the words were spoken. He wished he could say the same and that JD's momma could come back and take away the pain that JD faced without her, but he wouldn't give up JD in a million years.
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