By Chris G
"Take a seat, Vin. How have you been this week?" Dr. Lowery asked as he took a seat himself at the play table.
"Fine," Vin replied as he sat down. He kept his eyes low and rubbed at a scratch in the tabletop.
The doctor sat silently for a few moments, trying to gauge the boy's mood. He'd gotten a call earlier in the day from Chris Larabee alerting him about Vin's preoccupation with something. "Well," the doctor began slowly, "why don't you tell me how you've been feeling."
Vin sat up straight, pressing his back into the back of the chair. He cocked his head to the side and focused his attention on the scratch on the tabletop that he continued to rub. "What if " he started, then turned his head a little to the other side, "you wanted to ask something but ," Vin took a deep breath and forced it out, keeping his eyes on the table, " you were afraid it might hurt someone?" Timidly Vin raised his eyes to meet the doctor's.
Dr. Lowery had schooled himself in his many years of practice not to let his emotions show in his expression. If he hadn't had that training, he would be showing surprise, relief, and jubilation. This was the first time since he'd been seeing Vin that the boy opened up so readily, asking about something that was bothering him. Instead, he kept his expression one of interest and concern as he replied, "That's a tough one, Vin. Is there something you want to ask Chris and you're afraid you'll hurt his feelings if you do?"
Vin shook his head and looked back down at the scratch. "Didn't say it was Chris."
Dr. Lowery nodded. "No, you didn't." He leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. "Well, I guess if I really thought that I might hurt someone's feelings by asking them something but I really wanted to know the answer, I'd find someone else to ask. Is there someone else you could ask?"
Vin hadn't thought of that. Maybe he could ask Buck. Buck would know if what Vin was wondering about was something that would upset Chris. But would Buck tell Chris what he was wondering? If he asked him to, would Buck keep the conversation to himself? Vin was momentarily lost in his own thoughts and was surprised when he became aware that Dr. Lowery was talking.
" because I think Chris would understand. I think he'd rather have you ask him something, even if it might hurt him, than have you worrying about it."
Vin stared at the doctor, not knowing if he'd solved the problem or made it worse.
Chris and Buck were out in the waiting room with JD when Vin finished his session, JD on Buck's lap with Buck reading to him, and Mrs. Potter obviously gone for the day.
"How'd it go?" Chris asked as he stood up.
Vin didn't look up as he replied, "Okay." He shuffled over to stand beside Chris.
Chris glanced up at Dr. Lowery who smiled and mouthed "Okay" at him. Chris sighed slightly in relief, hoping it meant that whatever Vin's problem was was either handled or would be taken care of soon.
"Well, let's head on home," Chris announced and the group made their way to the exit.
"Buck, can I ask you something?" Vin asked as he took the bowl from Buck and started drying it.
Buck nodded as he stuck his hands back in the soapy water. "You sure can, Vin. Anything, anytime."
Vin continued to wipe the dishtowel around the bowl for a moment, trying to get up the courage. Finally, taking a deep breath, he asked, "If I wanted to ask Chris something that might hurt his feelings, how hurt would he be?" As soon as the words were out, Vin knew it didn't sound right but Buck seemed to know what he meant.
"I think it would hurt him more that you didn't ask, Vin."
"But he'll think " Vin's voice tapered off as he looked sadly down at the bowl clutched in his hands.
Buck grabbed another towel and wiped his hands dry then knelt down to look Vin in the eye. "Well, why don't you tell me and I'll let you know what I think Chris will think."
"You'll tell me true?"
"The best that I can."
Vin took a deep breath as he tried to read the man in front of him. Finally deciding to get it over with, he blurted out, "I just been wondering 'bout my daddy, the one who was with mama, and I was just wondering about him but I don't want Chris to think I want him 'cause I like it here but well, I was just wondering." Vin felt tears form in his eyes, knowing he should have kept quiet after all, knowing he hadn't explained very well what he was feeling and knowing Chris would hate him.
Buck smiled at Vin and tried to sound reassuring. "Vin, there ain't nothing wrong with wanting to know who your born-daddy was. It's perfectly natural to wonder about him and want to know who he was."
Vin looked up hopefully. "Really?"
"Yep. You know, I used to wonder about my father a lot when I was younger and it took me a while to get up the nerve to ask my mom about him."
"Really?" Vin repeated.
"Really, and I know for a fact that Chris won't be upset by you asking about your daddy at all. Why don't you go talk to him now?"
Vin remained rooted for several moments as he worked through what Buck had told him. Slowly, he began nodding as he turned to leave the room.
Buck grinned as he pushed himself back up to once again tackle the dishes. As Vin left the room in search of Chris, Buck knew he would have to finish the dishes quickly and go keep JD occupied while Chris and Vin had their talk.
Vin stood silently in front of the large desk that took up one corner of the den. Chris was working on the computer and it took him several moments before he felt the presence and looked up to see Vin standing there.
"Something you need, son?" Chris asked, turning his attention away from the computer.
Vin met Chris' gaze but found he couldn't get his mouth to say the words so he just nodded.
Chris crossed his arms and rested them on the desk, leaning forward across its surface. "What can I do for you?"
Vin dropped his eyes for a moment and he took a deep breath. Squaring his shoulders and straightening his back, he looked back at Chris. "I wanna ask you somethin'."
Chris nodded and waited expectantly, inwardly hoping this was 'the thing' that Vin was obviously concerned about the last few days. "Okay."
Vin stared down at the desk separating the two and sighed loudly. Chris took the hint and stood up, rounding the desk and sitting in one of the chairs in the room. He motioned for Vin to join him.
As Vin watched Chris get settled, he felt the butterflies that had been flitting around in his stomach since he entered the room change into dinosaurs. Suddenly in a panic, he spun around to once again face the desk and began to absently toy with a paperweight that rested near the edge. "I can do this, I can do this," Vin repeated softly to himself.
"What was that, Vin?" Chris asked gently.
"Buck said I can do this," Vin automatically answered, his eyes widening when he realized that he'd said it out loud.
"Buck said "
"Buck said I can ask you."
"You can," Chris agreed. "Ask me what?"
"About what I been wondering."
Chris sighed, hoping the whole conversation wouldn't have to be pulled out of the boy. "What have you been wondering, Vin?" he prodded gently.
"About ," Vin started but clamped his mouth shut again and looked down at his feet.
"Vin," Chris said in a soft but firm voice. "Come over here, please." Chris held one arm out to the boy and waited.
It took several moments of thought before Vin hesitantly turned towards Chris and lifted his eyes. Seeing the outstretched arm, he took a deep breath and slowly stepped over to Chris.
Chris' eyes softened even more when he saw the turmoil on the little boy's face. He smiled and gently turned Vin around, spreading his own legs enough so he could pull Vin up against the edge of the seat cushion between them. He wrapped his arms loosely around him, rubbing his palms on Vin's chest. Resting his chin lightly on Vin's shoulder, he spoke softly. "Vin, it hurts me to see you so worried about something. I wish you would talk to me."
Vin nodded slightly. "Buck said you'd say that. So did Dr. Will."
Chris noted the fact that Vin had actually taken his problem to someone, two someones. If he could only get the boy to open up to him. "The most important thing in my life is keeping you safe and healthy and happy. When you're not happy, I hurt."
Vin stood still as he listened, running his finger distractedly along the seam in Chris' pants. The fact that he hadn't pulled away told Chris that he wanted to share something.
"I'm here to help you, Vin."
"I remember my mama," Vin said suddenly.
"I know," Chris responded softly. "I'm sure she loved you a lot."
Vin nodded his agreement. "I miss her."
Chris nodded against Vin's shoulder and tightened his embrace slightly. "I know you do."
Vin took a deep breath. "But I don't remember my daddy "
Even as close as Chris was to Vin, he had to strain to hear the words but as they sank in, he finally understood what had been on Vin's mind. "Vin, have you been wondering about your daddy?" Chris asked, sure of the answer.
Slowly, Vin nodded. "I don't want you to be sad."
"I'm not sad, Vin. I want you to know who your daddy was."
Vin perked up a little and turned in Chris' arms to face him. "You do?"
"Yes. You're a part of him. You should know." Chris guided Vin to take a couple of steps to the side so he could stand up. He stepped around his desk and pulled open a drawer, walking his fingers over file folders until he found the one he was looking for. He pulled it out and returned to his seat, pulling Vin up onto his lap and setting the folder on top of Vin's legs.
"You know, Vin, we had to find out as much about you and JD as we could, make sure that you didn't have family somewhere who were looking for you, before we'd be allowed to keep you. We did a lot of research on the both of you." Chris rested his hand on top of the folder as he went on. "We've had this information for a little while but didn't want to bring it up to you unless you asked. We didn't know how much your mom told you about your dad so Buck and I decided to hold off telling you until either you asked us or you were a little older."
Vin sat mutely on Chris' lap. He hadn't known that any searches had been done on him or JD and he never thought to ask.
Chris went on, "We had your mother's name and were able to find out about the shelter you both stayed at, from there, we tracked her to Texas." Chris flipped open the folder and raised up the first piece of paper from it. "This is a copy of your birth certificate from Texas." Chris pointed to each line as he told Vin what was there. "See, this is your name, the date you were born and the time, here's the hospital, here's your mother's name and here is your father's name."
Vin stared at the line Chris was indicating, the 'Tanner' part jumping out at him. Not that he ever doubted it but he now had proof that he was a Tanner, something his mama said to be proud of.
After several moments letting the boy take in the information, Chris set the paper aside and lifted the next one. "This is a copy of your father's service record. It shows where he was during his time in the army. He was based in Texas when you were born."
"The army, like Buck?" Vin asked.
"Yep, just like Buck though at a different base." Chris paused and rested his hand on the top of the open folder, waiting for Vin to digest the information.
Without looking up from his lap, Vin asked hesitantly, "Where is he now?"
Chris shifted his position a little, knowing this part of the conversation would be uncomfortable but it was better to get it said. "Well, Vin, while your father was in the military, there was an accident and ," Chris took a deep breath and softly added the words, "he died." Chris waited a few moments to see what kind of a reaction he'd get but Vin stayed still and silent. Chris reached up and pushed the hair back from Vin's face, getting a better look at his expression. "He didn't want to leave you, Vin."
"Dreaming of angels," Vin whispered, still looking at the paper in Chris' hand.
Chris squirmed again. "Vin, you know that what that really means is "
"Gone," Vin's voice cracked. "Forever," he added in a breath.
"I'm so sorry, Vin." Chris couldn't do anything but hold the boy.
"He's with mama."
"I'm sure he is."
"She's not alone."
"No, she's not alone."
Vin turned his face to look into Chris' eyes. "And I have you."
Chris smiled, his eyes tearing slightly. "That's right. You have me. You're not alone, either."
Vin threw his arms around Chris' neck and held on tight. "Thank you, Dad."
Chris felt a tear roll down his cheek as he hugged back. "You're welcome, Son."
Buck rapped his knuckles on the doorjamb, announcing his presence before he sauntered into the room, looking expectantly at the man behind the desk working on the computer. "So, how did your little talk with Vin go?"
Chris hit the save button on the window he was working in and turned to the other man, a hesitant smile on his face. "I don't think it went too bad. He was sad that his father was gone, glad that someone was with his mom now."
"He seem satisfied with the stuff you told him, I mean, what little we knew about him?"
"Yeah, I guess." Chris sighed and dropped his hands, frustrated, onto the desktop. "I wish we had more we could tell him, more about who the guy was not just that he was in the army and he died."
Buck nodded his agreement as the inkling of an idea began forming in his mind. After a moment, he tapped on the desktop and said, "Well, I'll let you get back to work. Glad it went okay."
Chris bobbed his head towards Buck as he turned and left the room. Another moment spent thinking about it and Chris went back to the report he was working on.
Buck wandered through the house towards his room, poking his head into the boys' room as he passed to find them both asleep. Once in his room, he snatched up his cell phone, dug his 'little black book' out of his top dresser drawer and flipped through the pages. Finding the entry he wanted, he dialed the number.
"I'd like to speak to Cecilia, please."
"This is she."
"Hello, Cecilia, darlin'. This is your ol' pal Bucklin."
"Bucklin? Buck Wilmington! Well, slap me silly. It's been a year or more since I've heard from you."
"I know that, darlin', and I'm truly sorry about that. It ain't easy keeping up with you though."
"Well that's true enough so I guess I can't be too angry at you. What have you been up to?"
Buck proceeded to tell her about the radical changes that had happened in his life and then told her the reason he had called. She was only mildly annoyed that the reason he had called her was because he wanted something but couldn't stay mad at Buck, a testament to his way with women.
Two phone calls later and Buck was connected to the person he had wanted to talk with all along.
"I don't know, Buck, I'm not supposed to get into those files."
"Oh, but Maggie, this is for a good cause. And you don't have to tell me anything. I'll email you what I'm looking for and you can forward it to anyone you find who might fit the bill. They can answer or not as they choose."
"Now, I don't want you to get into any trouble but this is for the happiness of a little boy."
Buck could tell by the sound of her voice that she would help him out. She drug out her complaints a little longer but in the end, she gave him her email address and told him to send her a message with the information he had and what he wanted. She would do what she could to help him out.
As Buck hit the button to disconnect the call, he smiled at himself. "Buck Wilmington, you still got it."
Now, all he had to do was wait until Chris was done on the computer and he could set the next step of his plan in motion.
"Home at last. Let the weekend begin," Buck sighed as he closed the front door behind him.
"Long day, Buck?" Mrs. Potter asked from the living room where she had been dusting.
"They're all long when you'd rather be home with your family," he told her. He was one of the lucky souls in life who actually liked what he did for a living but now that he had a reason to come home in the evenings, he was becoming a clock-watcher like much of the rest of the working world's population.
"I hear that," Mrs. Potter agreed and dropped her dust cloth into Buck's hand, grabbed up her coat and purse and headed towards the door. "And on that note "
Buck laughed. "Good night, Gloria."
"Good night, Buck. See you Monday. Call me if you need me."
"Thank you." Buck watched as the front door closed behind the woman then turned his attention back to the house. He heard the sound of the television coming from the den so he headed there first looking for the boys.
He stood in the doorway and watched the two boys color on a large piece of construction paper. There were several other pieces scattered nearby along with a large number of colored pencils, crayons and markers.
"So, what are we up to?" Buck asked as he stepped into the room.
"Buck!" JD leapt to his feet, dropped the crayon he'd been using and grabbed up a sheet of paper off the coffee table. "Look what I got!" he shouted as he waved the paper up at Buck.
"Well let's have a look see."
"It's a email! I got a email! It's from Mr. Beidler's brother telling me thank you for thanking him."
Buck scanned the short email. It did indeed thank JD for thinking of him on Veteran's Day and taking the time to say 'thank you'. "My, my, this is mighty impressive, JD. Maybe we should frame it."
JD's eyes lit up. "Can we?"
"Sure we can. We'll hang it on the wall in your room and you can see it everyday."
"Yay!" JD twirled around in a few circles before he remembered the project he'd been working on and plopped back down, picked up his crayon and continued his coloring.
"So, what are you working on here?"
JD looked up from his crouched position on the floor. "We're colorin' in a card for Joey." He sat back on heels and stared at Buck. "We're still goin' tomorrow to see her, ain't we?"
Buck sighed, knowing he should correct the usage of the word 'ain't' but felt a little hypocritical since he used the word all the time. "Yes, Little Bit, we're still going." Buck squatted beside the boys and looked over their masterpiece. "This is real nice, boys." He turned to Vin. "I'm glad to see you helping with this, Vin."
Vin shrugged. "Just 'cause I didn't know her that well don't mean I don't want her to get better."
"Good boy," Buck said as he ruffled Vin's hair and pushed himself back to standing.
Vin glanced at the doorway, then back at Buck. "Chris didn't come home?"
"He got stuck in a meeting. Ezra's gonna bring him home, and," he told them, pausing for effect.
"He's bringing pizza!" JD and Vin chorused, finishing the sentence.
Buck grinned and nodded. "Getting too predictable?" he asked.
JD frowned, not sure what 'predictable' meant, then shrugged. "Don't matter, we like pizza."
Buck grinned again. "Yes you do. So, before they get here, we have something we need to do." He looked at the two, knowing one of them would think of it eventually.
Both boys looked confused for a few moments, then Vin perked up and said, "It's Torkus day."
"Yep, time to go check on Torkus. Let's get out there before it gets too dark."
The boys got their jackets and together, the three made their way to the barn to check on the tortoise hibernating there.
Saturday was full of chores and games, errands and visits. JD got to spend several hours with his friend, Joey, while Buck used the time to run some errands for the ranch. Josiah, Nathan and Raine all made appearances at some time during the day.
Vin helped Chris in the barn with the horses and with raking leaves in the yard. Raking wasn't something Chris usually spent any time on because it always seemed to be a losing battle - there were always more leaves - but that didn't seem to matter to Vin.
The boys even managed to get their weekly essays written in preparation for Ezra coming on Sunday to work with them on their memory book. Chris felt he wanted to add something to the book this week so he sat down and wrote a short essay himself. Buck, not wanting to be left out, scribbled a few lines as well.
When the boys were finally tucked in for the night, Chris went to the den to try and finish up the 'never-ending report' while Buck grabbed a beer and a book and settled down to read. The ringing phone spoiled that plan quickly.
"Hi, Buck, sweetie. I think I have some good news for you."
"Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, I think I love you. What can you tell me?"
"I just got an email from someone who was in the army with the man you asked about. He said he sent you an email telling you a little about the guy."
"Already! I figured it would take weeks at least. Maggie, I owe you big."
"I know a way you can pay me back."
"Name it, darlin', you just name it."
"I'm scheduled to go to a training session in Denver next month. How 'bout if we "
"Say no more, just tell me where and when."
She giggled. "I'll email you with the details. And now that I have your email address, and you have mine, I expect to hear from you more often."
"As much as I can, darlin'." They said their good-byes and Buck couldn't help beaming as he headed for the den.
"What is it, Buck?" Chris asked, not looking away from his computer monitor.
"I need to check my email," Buck informed him.
Chris looked up exasperated at his old friend. "Buck, Travis was nice enough to let me have until Monday morning to finish this report. I'd like to do it now while the boys are asleep so I'm not pressed to finish tomorrow. Okay?"
Buck squinted his eyes a little and grinned big. He bobbed his head a few times then tilted it pointedly at the computer. "I need to check my email," he repeated.
Frustrated, Chris sighed as he turned back towards the monitor. He made a big show of painstakingly saving his work and closing down the window he had been typing in. Sliding his chair backwards, he stood up with a huff of displeasure and moved aside so Buck could move in to take his place.
Buck rapidly pulled up the internet access window and double-clicked his way to his email account. Typing in his ID and password, he scanned through the unread messages until he saw the one he wanted. He clicked on the message and read silently, his smile growing as he read.
Chris sighed loudly from behind Buck. "Why don't you print it out and let me get back to work?"
"That's a very good idea." Buck selected the appropriate options, made sure the printer was turned on and printed out the email, including the color attachments.
Chris grabbed his coffee cup and went to the kitchen for a refill, hoping Buck would relinquish the computer when he got back.
Buck smiled as he watched the last page come slowly out of the printer. Looking at it closely, he decided he'd have to take the files to a printer that prints better pictures, but they would do for now. Shuffling the pages around to the proper order, he started reading.
"Can I get back to work?" Chris asked as he re-entered the den, blowing across the top of his cup.
Buck thrust the small stack of papers towards Chris. "Read this," he instructed.
"Buck, I don't have time for the 'email-joke-of-the-day'."
"It's not a joke," Buck denied as he shook his head.
"And I'm not interested in the 'babe-of-the-week', either."
Now Buck was getting frustrated. Flapping the papers, he said firmly, "Will you just read this."
"Okay. Anything to get you out of my hair," Chris agreed, the tiniest of smiles flitting across his lips as he saw Buck pout.
I was both surprised and saddened by your email. I was a close friend of the Tanners' and was sorry to hear that Vin has been left alone. I tried to keep in touch with his mother after his father's death but distance and the constant moving around of military life made that difficult (sorry excuses, I know). I understand that you and your friend have taken on the responsibility of raising the boy and, through a little digging of my own, I have gotten some information on you as well. I think the Tanners' would be proud of the men raising their son.
Chris looked up at Buck with shock showing on his face. "What ?"
"You know I have a friend or two still in the service. I made a couple of phone calls, sent a couple of emails, asked a couple of questions and," Buck waved a hand at the papers Chris still held, "there you have it." Buck couldn't help but smile big at his accomplishment.
Chris shook his head and, with his mouth open in wonder, went back to reading.
As to your inquiry, I have written a separate letter to Vin trying to explain, as much as I am able, the circumstances surrounding his father's death and tell him a little bit about the man I knew. I hope it answers some of his questions. If he comes up with some that aren't addressed, please feel free to send them on to me and I will answer them as best I can.
I dug around in some storage boxes after I got your email and found a couple of photographs that Vin's parents are in. The shots are a little blurry but I hope to find the negatives and see if I can get better prints. If I am successful, I'll ask for a mailing address to send them to. Until then, I've scanned the pictures in and will attach them here.
Please let me know if there is anything else I can help you with.
Major Randall Carpenter
Fort Huachuca, Arizona
PS As I was writing the details of Vin's father's death, not knowing the sensitivities of the child, I thought I might be saying too much. I do not want to upset Vin more than he already is. I've cut and pasted the original paragraph that I wrote below and will include a more general description in my letter to Vin. I'll let you decide if he can handle the more detailed information.
>I was asked if I could provide some information regarding your father so that you might know a little about the man he was. Let me say this first you should be very proud of your father. He was a strong, loyal, brave man who gave his life to save his fellow soldiers. I can't give you any details of the project that we were working on at the time because it was classified (that means it's a secret and only those people working on it can know anything about it). There was an accident while running a test and a resulting explosion that caused part of the building we were in to collapse. Nine of us were trapped, myself included, in an area that looked ready to fall completely down and bury us all. Your father wouldn't wait for emergency personnel to arrive for fear that the remaining structure wouldn't last that long. He, along with two other men, began digging us out. They reached us fairly quickly and began pulling us out. It was through a narrow opening that these people had to work so we could only be rescued one at a time. We all had some injuries, most minor thankfully, but it did slow down the process. Even with the threat of being crushed, your father remained until the last person could be pulled from the rubble. The last person was more severely injured (though not enough that he couldn't insist, and of a high enough rank that he could insist, that everyone else get out ahead of him) and needed extra help. Your father remained with that person, helping to get him out and was caught when the building finally collapsed around them. They both died as a result. We were assured by the emergency personnel that they died quickly. <
Chris finally closed his mouth and looked up at his friend. "Buck, you are amazing sometimes."
Buck looked shocked. "Sometimes," he snorted.
Chris smiled and looked back down at the pages he held. He pulled the top one off and slipped it to the back. Seeing the greeting "Dear Vin" at the top of the next page made him want to stop and let the boy have his privacy but his own curiosity proved too strong.
My name is Randy and I was a good friend of your father's when he was in the army.
Buck moved around to where he could read over Chris' shoulder. He hadn't gotten past the first page when he was reading. Chris glanced up at the man and then they both went back to reading.
I was asked if I could provide some information regarding your father so that you might know a little about the man he was. Let me say this first you should be very proud of your father. He was a strong, loyal, brave man who gave his life to save his fellow soldiers. We were both part of a team working on a secret project for the army and there was an accident that injured several soldiers. Your father risked his life to save those soldiers. In the process of rescuing eight men, your father and one other soldier died. I am alive because your father was so brave and cared so much. I thank him every night in my prayers.
As a man, he was quick with a smile, a kind word or a helping hand. He valued all life but would fight hard against those who would hurt his family or his country.
As a friend, you could not find one truer. He and I had many good times and shared many experiences. He loved to laugh. He loved the outdoors. He loved riding horses and we would go whenever we had the chance. There wasn't a sport he didn't like or want to try. His favorite food on the planet was cheeseburgers and french fries. And it was a toss up which was better, chocolate ice cream or oatmeal cookies. He was deeply in love with your mother and treated her like a queen. They were both so happy and proud when you were born. The picture of the three of you together is a month or so after you were born. The other picture is a group of the men from our company. Your father is the third man from the left. I am standing next to him with his arm across my shoulders and mine across his.
Your father was a good friend of mine and I miss him. I have enjoyed thinking about him as I've written this. I'll try to remember other things, more specific things and, if you'd like, write them down and send them on to you. Feel free to email me any questions you may have and I'll try to answer them.
Be proud of your father, Vin, for he was a true hero.
"Wow," Buck breathed out when he got to the end of the letter. He leaned back and waited for Chris to turn towards him. "Sounds like Vin comes from good stock."
Chris nodded his agreement. "It wouldn't matter to me but, yeah, it does sound that way." Chris took the top page off and stilled as he was putting it at the back. The next page was the first of the scanned pictures that were sent and it showed a waist up shot of a couple, the woman holding a baby. The baby's face was visible and they could tell by the angle of the woman's arms that she was intentionally holding him so his face was towards the camera.
"Whoa, Vin's parents. His mom was real pretty," Buck said softly. "Oh and look," he cooed as he leaned in and tickled the picture near the baby's chin, "baby picture of Vin."
"Yeah," Chris quietly agreed, sounding somewhat in awe. He had never expected Vin to have any mementos from before their life together but now he had one.
The two men stared silently for several more seconds, then Chris flipped to the second picture. The shot was of eight men, all standing close together in front of what looked like a barracks building. It looked like it was a happy time for the group of men. Chris and Buck glanced at the man with his arm draped over Vin's father's shoulders, now having a face to go with the name on the email they had just read.
"I was gonna take those picture files out to get better prints of them made. Kinkos is open all night, aren't they?" Buck asked, breaking the silence.
Chris nodded absently as he flipped the pages back to look once again at Vin's family picture.
Buck grinned at Chris' preoccupation and patted him gently on the shoulder as he moved back to the computer to download the files onto a disk. Once that was done, he stepped away and headed for the door. "I'll be back," he called softly as he reached the doorway. "Try to move before I get back," he grinned as he looked over his shoulder.
"...And it was a toss up which was better, chocolate ice cream or oatmeal cookies. He was deeply in love with your mother and treated her like a queen. They were both so happy and proud when you were born. The picture of the three of you together is a month or so after you were born..." Chris read the letter, pausing to put the first picture in Vin's lap so he could see.
There was a sharp gasp before a whispered, "Mama." Vin raised his hand and gently put his fingertips on the picture over his mother's face. He felt the tears form in his eyes as he ran barely touching fingers down the image's cheek.
Chris wrapped his arm a little tighter around Vin's waist.
"She looks like I remember," Vin whispered. A tear rolled down his cheek and fell to the paper. Vin quickly brushed it away with an irritated sound, hoping the moisture didn't ruin the picture.
"It's okay, Vin. We can get as many printed up as you want."
Vin stared at the picture of his mother for several minutes before his gaze shifted to the man beside her. He stared into the eyes of the man who was his father. The eyes were blue, the same color as his. Slowly, Vin let his gaze take in the whole man. He was taller than his mother by several inches and was wearing the uniform of his service. His hair was closely cut so it was difficult to see exactly what color it was but it appeared to be a light brown.
Chris kissed the top of Vin's head, partly to get his attention, and asked, "You ready for me to go on?"
After several silent moments, Vin nodded and took another look at his mother.
Chris continued reading as he slipped the second picture on top of the first one. "The other picture is a group of the men from our company. Your father is the third man from the left. I am standing next to him with his arm across my shoulders and mine across his." Chris paused and turned slightly so he could look into Vin's face. The boy was looking at the man identified as his father and the friend who stood next to him. Chris continued reading, "Your father was a good friend of mine and I miss him. I have enjoyed thinking about him as I've written this. I'll try to remember other things, more specific things and, if you'd like, write them down and send them on to you. Feel free to email me any questions you may have and I'll try to answer them Be proud of your father, Vin, for he was a true hero. Randy Carpenter"
Chris set the letter aside and looked down at the boy on his lap. Vin continued to look at the picture of the group of men for a minute, then silently turned back to the picture of his parents. It had been a shock to see his mother again even as it was exciting to see what his father looked like.
Chris waited patiently as he let Vin absorb all that he'd heard and seen in the last few minutes. Finally, he asked, "So, what do you think, Vin?"
Vin tore his gaze away from the picture and raised it slowly to meet Chris'. He wasn't quite sure what to say until something flashed in his mind. "Mama said that I was a Tanner and I shouldn't forget that. I guess being a Tanner is a good thing."
Chris nodded. "Your father was a very brave man, Vin. I think you should be very proud of him."
"I'm glad he helped those people, even if it meant he went away."
Chris hugged the boy gently. "That's very brave of you, Vin. It's not easy to feel that way when it's someone close to you. I'm proud of you."
Vin smiled shyly and looked back down at the picture once more. A few moments later, he wiggled off of Chris' lap and stood before him, another few moments passing before he looked up. "Thank you," he whispered.
Chris leaned forward to give a quick hug, not knowing if the 'thank you' was for the compliment or for the information. "You're welcome."
Vin slowly headed out of the room with the two printed pictures held tightly in his hands. Chris watched him go and sighed heavily as the boy got out of sight. Knowing he had something to take care of, he went around the desk to the computer and turned it on. Once it was booted, he opened a window and started writing a message to the army major who helped them out.
Chris entered the boys' room and found Vin sitting at the small play table with the picture of his parents laid out in front of him.
"Your Uncle Ezra's here. You want to go work on your memory book with him?" Chris asked softly.
Vin didn't look away but slowly nodded his head.
Chris stepped up to the side of the table and knelt down. He saw the tear tracks running down Vin's cheeks. Gently, he rubbed the boy's back. "I'm sorry, Vin. I didn't want this to make you so sad," Chris told him, tapping his index finger beside the picture.
Vin sniffed once before he spoke, though he never looked away from the picture. "I wanted to know about my dad, and now I do. And I got a picture of him with mama." Vin slowly turned his eyes to meet Chris'. "Seein' her made me remember stuff with her."
Chris smiled sadly, his own eyes tearing as he thought briefly of what seeing pictures of Sarah and Adam sometimes did to him. "I hope it was good stuff."
Vin nodded and a small smile played on his lips. "Lots of things I didn't remember before." Vin sniffed again. "Even though I miss her, it's nice to remember."
A quick image of Sarah and Adam laughing flashed through Chris' mind. "Yeah, it is nice to remember."
Vin looked back at the picture and focused on the man there. "I like that mama's not alone."
Chris nodded his agreement. Wherever Sarah and Adam were, he was glad that they had each other. "You sure you feel like working with Ezra?"
Vin wiped a hand down one cheek. "Yeah." He looked up. "Can I show him my picture?"
"Sure you can." Chris stood up and held out his hand. Vin smiled as he stood and slipped his tiny hand into Chris' bigger one, the picture of his parents clutched in his other hand. Together, they left the room.
Stopping by the bathroom to give Vin's face a washing and his nose a wiping, they headed towards the den where JD was eagerly awaiting them. Ezra and Buck were coming out of the kitchen to join them.
"What possessed you?" Ezra asked as he waved the four sheets of paper back and forth.
Buck shrugged. "Chris and I just felt we wanted to write something this week. No big deal."
"I hope you don't think you've set a precedence regarding these essays for I don't believe I will be engaging in such an activity."
Buck shrugged again. "Write one, don't write one, it's entirely up to you. I ain't saying we're gonna write one every week, just when the mood strikes. May never write another one. Who knows."
Ezra stared at Buck a few moments and let a small smile creep up on his lips. Perhaps the mood would strike him someday. He tipped his head and headed towards the desk in the den where two boys waited for him.
Chris and Buck stood silently at the doorway watching as the work got underway. After a moment, Chris tilted sideways until his shoulder bumped into Buck's. "Did I tell you thanks?" he asked in a whisper.
Buck never looked away from the boys as he shook his head. "No, you didn't and you're welcome."
They watched for several more minutes then left the three to their project.
This is an excellent memento to have of your parents, Vin. I'm sure it will look wonderful framed and mounted beside the rest of the family photos.
Here's the picture I drawed, Uncle Ezra.
Well, that's quite impressive, JD.
You spelled thanks wrong.
??? But ??? See, there's the tank we saw at the parade and I wrote tank you. Get it?
??? That's bad, JD.
No, it's not, it's funny.
Everyone will enjoy it, JD. Now, is there anything else you boys want to add?
Then I guess we've completed our task for another week.
Then perhaps we should all say good night.
Next: Cowboys and Trolls
Things We Learned (Index)