A League of Their Own

By Joy K

  Sckool started back this week. I was sad cause I could not stay home and
  play with Ringo, but it was nice to see everyone again. Well,
  ec…esep…xcep…everybody but Fredy. He got me and JD in trouble.
  Dad was not really mad but I could tell that he wished we had done better.
  He told me that I need to make batter choices. I need to asked uncle Ezra
  what that means. Joey came back to scko

  Hi. This is JD. School started again and we went to the muc..musseem. It
  was fun, but we did not get to see a whole lot, but we got to see a lot that
  a lot of people do not get to see. Da and Chris came and had lunch with us.
  We had to apalgize for getting lost, even though it was Freddy Chainy's fallt.
  I do not like Freddy Chainy sometimes. He is mean and fat and smeely and
  he says

Bowling was fun, wasn't it, Da?


Why did you sigh, Da? I thought you liked bowling.

I do, Little Bit.

You had fun, didn't you, Chris?


Vin, how come Chris is sighing, too? I thought we had fun.

We did. I think they're just tired. Maybe we should just go ahead and tell it.

Okay, Vin. We has game night and I picked bowling…

"Please, Da?" JD begged. "You said I could pick."

Buck Wilmington was beginning to regret his words.

"Please, please, please!" Vin added almost bouncing in anticipation.

Buck looked down at the pleading blue eyes of Vin Tanner, surprised that he had jumped right in and was begging verbally right along with JD. Buck looked over at Chris for help.

The blond had a big grin plastered on his face. He seemed to be enjoying the boys double-teaming Buck just a little too much.

It was family game night, and it was JD's turn to choose the game. The suggestion of going bowling was a total surprise however. And the fact that both boys were so excited by the idea was even a bigger surprise. They had never taken the boys bowling. Their only experience with it that Buck knew of was plastic bowling balls and pins in gym class at school.

The big blue eyes got to him and Buck caved. "Well, all right. But don't go being disappointed if somebody can't come, okay? It's kind of late notice."

Both boys nodded eagerly in agreement as they scrambled for the telephone to call their uncles.

"Me first!"

"No, me!"


The boys tussled over the phone to call and invite their uncles.

"I'll call first, then you," ordered Vin.

"No! Buck said I can call, so I'm gonna call."

Vin literally growled at JD's words and yanked the phone away from the smaller boy. JD was supposed to do what he told him to do.

"Hold it!"

Buck's booming voice halted the sparring.

"If you two can't…"

"JD can call," Vin interrupted, shoving the phone back into JD's hands and instinctively taking a step back from Buck.

Buck closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He didn't know which bothered him more - Vin ignoring his own desires in an attempt to appease him, or the fact that Vin was afraid of him.

The boys had made huge leaps in their progress in adjusting to their new family over the past months, but there were still times, too many times in Buck's opinion, that seemingly out of nowhere the insecurities and fears would surface. He knew that Vin wasn't really afraid of him; rather he was frightened by the loud voice. But it still hurt to see his "son" cower from him.

Chris watched the little scene play out in front of him. His natural instinct was to intercede, but he held back, knowing that Buck needed to handle the situation this time. He felt bad for Buck. The fun-loving man hadn't done anything that he wouldn't have done. It just happened to be one of those times when old fears surfaced. They were becoming fewer and farther between, but it seemed sometimes they just came out of nowhere.

"We'll be good," Vin offered. "We won't argue no more."

JD looked from Vin to Buck, uncertain of what he was supposed to do. He felt Vin's fear, but he didn't understand why Vin was scared. It was only Buck, and Buck would never hurt them.

"I's sorry, Da," JD piped up. Even if he didn't understand why Vin was scared, he knew that those were the magic words that he was supposed to say to make everything all better.

"Come here," said Buck. "Both of you."

JD willingly moved into Buck's open arms as the tall agent squatted down to his level. Vin stepped forward reluctantly, shuddering slightly as Buck closed his arms around both boys.

Buck was quiet for a moment, simply holding the boys in his embrace.

JD broke the silence when his busy mind wouldn't let him remain quiet. "Are you mad at us, Da?"

"It was my fault," Vin added. "I promise I won't ever do it again. Can we still go bowling?"

"Vin," Buck said softly, "Do you remember what we said about raising our voices?"

Vin took a deep shuddering breath and did his best to calm himself.

"Loud voices don't mean you don't love us," said JD, answering for Vin.

"Vin?" Buck persisted.

Vin nodded his head.

"Now I raised my voice because you two were arguing, but you know I love you and I won't ever hurt you."

"I know, Buck," said JD.

Buck sighed to himself. He knew that JD was okay, but he needed Vin to answer and JD kept butting in. He looked to Chris for help.

"JD, could you help me for a minute?" said Chris.

JD grinned and wriggled free from Buck. Chris always asked Vin to help, so JD thought it was really special when Chris included him.

He followed Chris into the kitchen.

Buck continued to hold him, waiting quietly for some sort of a response from Vin. Gradually skinny little arms wrapped around his waist and squeezed him. Buck kissed Vin on top of the head and they sat quietly for several minutes just resting in the embrace, reminding themselves that they were family.

"I love you, Junior."

"Love you, too," Vin whispered.

Vin leaned back and looked Buck in the eye. "I really am sorry."

"I know that, kiddo. Why don't you go ahead and call Josiah on my cell phone? JD can call Nathan on the house phone, and we'll all call Ezra. How's that sound?"

"Okay," Vin said, accepting Buck's cell phone.

"Speed dial and three for Josiah," said Buck as he stepped into the kitchen to tell JD the plan.

All the uncles were suckers for the "Big Eyes" even though they couldn't actually see them over the phone - they could feel them, and that was enough. Alternate plans were set aside and a family bowling night was in progress.

Chris shook his head. He didn't know how the boys had done it, but they had managed to wrangle the men into team shirts. Chris had drawn the line at bowling shirts, so Vin's team consisted of black tee shirts and blue jeans for Vin, Chris and Josiah. JD had picked his favorite multicolored "parrot head" shirt that matched Buck's. He insisted on Buck bringing a couple of extra shirts, one of which Nathan was now wearing.

Ezra, often the odd-man-out, was keeping the peace by playing for both teams. He was wearing designer jeans, with a black tee shirt and an oversized Parrot head shirt. And brand new designer bowling shoes. There was no way he would put his feet into rental shoes.

Chris shook his head again. Of all of them, the boys had Ezra wrapped tightest around their little fingers. The man would do anything for those boys, including taking off a shirt or putting it back on, depending on which team he was bowling for - and bowling twice as much as the others.

Chris grimaced at the coarse language that floated their way from the league teams to their right. He tried to ignore it, and to ignore the looks of disdain they cast toward the family. It was just their luck that it was league night and these guys were overly serious about their bowling.

"Bu-uck!" JD called above the noise of bowling balls crashing into pins.

"Wha-at?" answered Buck.

"Tie my shoe?" JD asked, holding up his foot for Buck.

His shoe fell off.

Buck snatched up both the boy and the shoes and sat them on his lap. The shoes were too big, but they were the smallest size the alley had. He slipped them back on JD's feet and tied them as tight as he could. He grinned as he looked over at Chris and saw he was having the same difficulty with Vin.

"Maybe we should've just let them wear their street shoes inside of these," he called with a laugh.

Chris finished tying the too large shoes and Vin tried taking a couple steps. He turned around and blew out a sigh as he walked right out of the shoes. "It ain't fair," said Vin.

"What isn't fair?" asked Chris, picking up the shoes and sitting down on the bench.

"They wants kids to come bowlin' here and then they don't got enough shoes," explained Vin.

"Don't have," Chris corrected.

"They don't have enough shoes," Vin amended. "And it ain't fair that JD gets the ones that are my size."

Chris looked over at Buck and JD as JD's shoe fell off again. They had decided to let JD have Vin's bowling shoes since that was the smallest size the bowling alley had, and Vin would wear the next size available, which unfortunately was two sizes too big. JD's other option was to go in his socks, but prior experience told them that the boys would both want to wear the shoes since it was what you were supposed to do when bowling.

"Boy, I wish my shoes were too big," said Nathan with a grin.

"Why, Unca Nathan?" asked JD curiously.

"Well," said Nathan seeing he had both boys' attention, "only bowling shoes are worn in bowling alleys partly so street shoes don't bring in dirt and little rocks and damage the floor. But the other reason is that bowling shoes are slick so you can slide your feet better, and if my shoes were too big, I'd get to bowl in my socks and then I could slide even better."

"Yeah!" said JD. He ran and slid in his socks. Giggling he ran back and slid into Buck.

"Shoes or socks?" Chris asked Vin quietly.

Vin considered carefully. Wearing bowling with shoes was the correct way to do it, but sliding in his socks would be fun.

"Somebody else might need this size," said Vin with a twinkle in his eye.

Chris grinned. "I think you're right. Let's take the shoes back and go find a ball."

Chris and Vin gathered the boys' shoes and headed for the counter. Nathan, Ezra and Josiah had finished donning their shoes and were in the process of getting their bowling balls out of their bags.

"You gots your own?" asked JD in awe.

"Sure do," said Nathan. "Your Uncle Josiah and I used to bowl in a league."

"Like Little League?"

Nathan laughed. "Something like that. We had teams like those fellas next to us."

"Did you play in a Little League, too, Unca Ezra?" JD asked.

Nathan chuckled. "I bet that ball has never touched wood."

Ezra lifted a shiny silver and black marbled ball from his brand new bag. "Of course not," said Ezra. "I've saved it for a special occasion."

Josiah leaned over to Nathan and whispered, "He bought it on the way here."

Ezra shot them a warning glance as they chuckled.

"Wow, Unca Ezra! Your ball is really neato."

"Neato?" asked Ezra.

"Yeah, neato," confirmed JD. "Jimmy says it at school. It means something you really, really, really, really, really…" JD paused for a breath, "…really, really, like."

"I see," said Ezra.

"Buck, I want one just like Unca Ezra's."

"Well, Little Bit," said Buck cringing inside. He knew they wouldn't find a marbled ball in JD's weight. "Maybe we can find a color that's even more neato."

JD grinned and took Buck's hand as he led the way to the ball racks.

Chris and Vin were already going through the balls one by one. Vin was carefully turning each ball so that the finger holes faced out.

"Whatcha doin', Vin?" asked JD.

"Looking for my number," said Vin. He pointed at the brand name and the number below it. "This number has to be a 6 for you or me to use. Chris and Buck can have a 14 or 15 or 16."

"I want one like Unca Ezra's," JD insisted. He ran from ball rack to ball rack looking at all the multi-colored bowling balls. "This one!" he shouted.

"Sorry, Little Bit," said Buck, "That one's a 10. It's too big."

"Aw, Buck. I can do it," JD pouted. He pulled the ball off of the shelf and Buck snatched him clear as the ball dropped to the floor, narrowly missing his toes.

"Too big?" said JD impishly.

Buck grinned. "Yep."

JD ran to the next ball that caught his eye as Buck replaced the dropped bowling ball.

"Aww!" he moaned as he checked the number on the ball.

"Keep looking," encouraged Buck.

Five minutes later Vin had completed looking at every ball in 3 cases and finally found a single 6-pound bowling ball, black, and covered with scuff marks.

"I found one!" he said excitedly.

"Where?" said JD.

"Right here."

JD ran over to examine Vin's find.

"It's plain old black," said JD.

"So?" challenged Vin.

"It's boring! I want a bright one." JD scampered off to find his bowling ball.

Vin frowned. JD was supposed to do what he did and like the things he liked. He watched his friend as he clung to Buck's hand, pulling the tall man from rack to rack.

"Vin, do you want to keep looking?" asked Chris.

"No. I like this one," said Vin firmly. It was just like the one Chris picked out, but he didn't tell Chris that part.

"All right. Do you want me to carry it?"

Vin shook his head and carefully lifted the ball off of the shelf with both hands. He shuffled in his stocking feet carrying the ball back to their lane like it was a cake. He shuffled over to the ball carousel and put his ball with Ezra, Nathan and Josiah's.

Chris smiled and followed suit. Vin seemed to know what he was doing. He watched as Vin climbed into the chair at the scorekeeper's table.

"Are we going to see our scores up there?" Vin pointed up to the projection board above their lanes.

"Well, the clerk told me that the automatic scoring doesn't work in this lane," said Chris, "but we can turn the light on and keep score ourselves."

Vin beamed and flipped the switch that projected the scorecard onto the wall.

"Who's first?" he asked. "Our team or JD's?"

"Why don't we let them go first?" suggested Chris.

"Okay." Vin scrawled JD's name on the first line and his own on the second. Then he wrote Buck's name, followed by Chris. He looked at Nathan and began to write Nathan's name, his tongue peeking out from the corner of his mouth as he concentrated on spelling Nathan's name correctly.

Chris smiled as Vin spelled out "Uncle Nate" followed by "Uncle 'Siah".

Vin grinned as he wrote "Uncle Ezra" on the next two lines explaining that Uncle Ezra had to be on the scorecard twice because he was playing for both teams.

"Vin, lookit!" exclaimed JD as he returned with Buck, who was carrying two bowling balls. One was bright orange and one was bright red.

"Nice," commented Chris sarcastically.

"Yeah," agreed JD, missing the sarcasm. "It's even more neato than Uncle Ezra's."

Buck made a face at Chris before commenting, "JD says they match our shirts."

Chris turned his face away to keep from laughing.

"Why're you putting the balls over there, Buck?" asked JD as Buck placed them on the carousel.

"This is where they rest until it's time to use them," Buck explained patiently.

"Oh." JD frowned as he looked at the four black bowling balls on the carousel. "How do they know which one is theirs?"

Buck didn't get the chance to explain, as Vin called for JD to go first. Buck showed JD to start on the left lane, patiently explaining where to stand and the object of the game. He didn't bother showing JD proper bowling form since there was no way the youngster would be able to control the six pound ball with one hand.

He walked JD up to the foul line and had him set the ball on the floor. JD pushed the ball with all his might and stood up and clapped as the ball rolled slowly, thunking as it rolled over the finger holes. After a few feet it fell into the gutter and JD laughed and yelled, "Lookit, Buck!"

Buck grinned at JD's excitement. The kid didn't care if he got a gutter ball. He was bowling.

Amazingly, his ball made it all the way to the end of the lane and disappeared into the ball return.

"Hey!" JD yelled when the pinsetter came down, lifted his bowling pins and swept the empty floor. "Buck! It taked my pins. It stealed my ball!" Tears were forming in the big hazel eyes.

"It's okay, Little Bit," assured Buck. "It's supposed to do that. It will give your ball back." He took JD by the hand and led him to the ball return. "C'mere and watch."

Moments later the ball return spit his bright orange ball onto the carousel.

"Wow!" exclaimed JD. "Did you see, Vin? It gived my ball back!"

"Yeah, I saw," said Vin as he wrote a little zero in the first box by JD's name. "You get to go again."

"I do?"

"Yeah," confirmed Vin. "You get to go two times unless you knock all the pins down."

JD looked to Buck for confirmation and Buck nodded.

Vin scowled. It bugged him that JD had to ask Buck if he was right. He knew how to bowl. He knew the rules.

Well, some of them anyway.

JD rolled his second ball with the same results, laughing in glee as the pinsetter knocked all the pins over, swept them up and returned them to position.

"Your turn, Vin!" exclaimed JD.

Vin scooted off the chair with a smile and moved to get his ball.

"Do you want some help?" asked Chris.

Vin shook his head with a grin. He was going to make Chris proud of him. He knew what to do.

Of course, he didn't count on the stocking feet being too slippery.

He started at the proper position, holding the ball with both hands. He ran to the foul line and promptly fell on his backside as his feet slipped out from under him when he slid to a stop.

Vin let the ball roll off his lap and rubbed the back of his head where it had connected with the floor. He looked at Chris to gage his response.

Chris tried to show no expression, not knowing if Vin was upset. "You okay, Cowboy?"

Vin grinned sheepishly. "Socks are slippery."

Chris smiled. "Yep." He retrieved Vin's ball, which had rolled off to the side of the lane. "You might need to leave off your approach."

Vin nodded and took the ball from Chris.

Chris winced as Vin dropped the ball between his feet and gave it a mighty shove. Then he had to try to keep from laughing as Vin leaned and twisted as if his body language would make the ball go where it was supposed to go. Then he grinned widely as the slowly rolling ball hit the head pin and rolled through taking several pins with it, leaving Vin with the dreaded seven-ten split.

Vin clapped for himself and turned around with a big grin on his face.

"Wow, Vin! You got lots!" exclaimed JD. He watched as Buck wrote a small eight in Vin's first square.


"Yes, JD?"

"Vin ain't eight."

Buck grinned. "I know. That's how many pins he knocked down."

"Oh! Hey, how come it only gived Vin two back?" JD asked of the pinsetter.
"Because that's all he has left to knock down with this turn," said Buck.

They watched as Vin moved up to the foul line, moved almost over to the gutter, dropped the ball with a thud and pushed it with both hands.

Vin turned around and walked back and sat down beside Chris, waiting for his ball to reach the end of the lane.

Chris could hear him suck in his breath, hoping for success as the ball rolled toward the ten pin. He hugged Vin as the ball knocked the pin over, leaving one standing. "Good job, Vin!" he praised.

Vin beamed.

"I am impressed, Master Tanner," complimented Ezra.

"Thanks," Vin said softly.

"BUCK'S TURN!" JD called loudly, drawing a snide remark about bowling etiquette from one of the league bowlers in the next lane.

Chris and Buck exchanged glances, each silently agreeing that they would tolerate as much as possible to keep the evening enjoyable for the boys.

Buck took his turn, followed by the other men, the boys wildly cheering for their teams.

Ezra took his turn for JD's team, and then prepared to bowl for Vin's team. He was making his approach when JD shouted, "Unca Ezra, Wait!"

He stumbled, caught himself and turned to the boy. "What is it, Master Dunne?"

"You gots the wrong shirt on!"

"Excuse me?" he asked.

"You gots my team shirt on."

Ezra looked at the gaudy brightly colored shirt. Why he had every agreed to wear it in the first place was beyond him.

No, that wasn't true. It was the "big eyes." JD almost had the "big eyes" down as well as Vin.

"Oh, quite right," he said, placing the ball on the carousel and removing the Jimmy Buffett "Parrot head" shirt, and revealing a black tee shirt for Vin's team.

Vin grinned as Uncle Ezra rolled a better score for his team. He made a slash mark in the box when Uncle Ezra knocked the rest of his pins down. He'd leave the adding to one of the grownups, but he knew the counting and writing part.

On his second turn, JD decided he was going to try a three-step approach like the grown-ups were using.

"Watch me, Da!" he called as he ran with the bowling ball. He slipped and slid to a stop bringing the ball out to his side with both hands, and then flinging the ball forward with all his might. It landed with a heavy thud, bouncing a couple of times before rolling down the lane and knocking down three pins.

Unfortunately it was three pins in the next lane.

"YAY!" JD screamed. "Did you see? Did you see?"

Buck was doing his best not to laugh, when ranting and cursing from the next lane, as well as teasing laughter interrupted his chuckle.

While the automatic scoring didn't work on their lane, it DID work on the lanes the league teams were using, and JD's ball had just counted as one of their scores.

JD stood with his mouth slightly open, staring at the man who was cursing. "You need to put lotsa dollars in the swear jar," he said matter-of-factly.

"What the hell are you…" growled the angry man.

Buck scooped up JD. "Now hold on there, Mister. It was an accident. No harm done."

"No harm? Damn it! That was on a strike." The man let out another string of cursing.

Buck winced. He knew that the automatic scoring couldn't be changed, but it was only a game. It wasn't worth getting so upset over.

"Excuse me, sir?" said Ezra, "I believe I have an equitable solution. I'd be most willing to ante up the prize money you may miss out on tonight due to the unfortunate incident, if you would be so kind as to forget the whole thing and perhaps tone down the language a bit. There are children present."

"Better take it, Jack," taunted a man from the next team. "It's the best offer you'll get."

The man muttered under his breath and nodded in agreement.

The tension dissipated for the boys and they began to explore the lanes as their teams bowled. Vin showed JD the fun things, like the hand dryer on the ball return. When he pushed a button the dryer would blow air.

JD pushed the button, taking his turn playing with it. He leaned over, laughing as the dryer blew his hair.

"Da! Lookit!" He giggled.

Chris grabbed JD and pulled him to safety just as his ball came out of the ball return, preventing the boy from getting beaned by the bowling ball.

JD, unaware of the danger just giggled and asked if his hair was all sticking up like Vin's.

Chris looked at his son and laughed. Vin's hair definitely had the windblown look.

"Okay you two," he warned, "No more blowing your hair with the dryer. Don't want you getting bonked by the bowling balls, okay?"

Both boys nodded as Chris set JD down next to Vin. JD reached up and patted Vin's hair down, smoothing it into place.

"Go, Unca Nathan!" he shouted as Nathan released his ball.

Nathan rolled his eyes and reminded himself that this was only a game and not to expect high scores with constant interruptions from the boys.

On Uncle Ezra's next turn, the boys were up playing at the ball carousel again.

"Boys," said Chris.

"I not blowing my hair," said JD. "See?"

Chris nodded and returned to his conversation with Nathan.

"Vin, what does this button do?" asked JD pushing the reset button just as Ezra released his ball.

"Nooo!" said Vin with a groan. He put both hands over his eyes.

JD watched as the pinsetter came down and grabbed the pins and Uncle Ezra's ball thunked on the outside of the sweeper and got stuck.

Josiah walked up behind the undercover agent, who strangely had not turned around to face them. Josiah put his hand on Ezra's shoulder and felt it spasm under his touch. He looked at Ezra's face and realized he was laughing, but trying very hard to hide it.

"JD?" gasped Ezra.

"Yep. JD strikes again," confirmed Josiah.

"You do realize we'll have to get assistance to reset?" asked Ezra.

Josiah nodded and laughed aloud, unable to hold it in.

They turned to JD and Vin, with smiles.

"Did I do that?" asked JD.

Vin peeked between his fingers to see if anyone was mad. Seeing the smiles he let go of the giggles he was holding inside.

Josiah picked up JD and Ezra scooped up Vin.

"You think this is funny, Master Tanner?" said Ezra.

Vin nodded.

Ezra laughed.

"You got a zero, Uncle Ezra," said Vin with an impish grin.

Ezra rolled his eyes. "So I supposed that means you're ahead of me now?"

"Nope," giggled Vin, "But at least you was bowling for JD's team."

Ezra snorted. His nephew was a competitor.

It was real funny when Uncle Ezra's ball got stuck and the man had to go and get it for him.

Buck didn't think it was so funny when we did it to him.


JD, stop giggling.

But it's funny Vin. When Da found out Uncle Siah and Uncle Nathan told us to push the button, he put his french fries in Uncle Siah's Coke.

???? and Uncle Siah almost got a french fry up his nose.


What's all the giggling in here?

Oh, Hi Uncle Ezra. We was just telling about the french fries…

The boys were having fun, especially the big boys. Buck nearly ended up with a wet french fry in his ear.

Buck had just finished his turn and had bowled his third strike in a row.


Vin frowned, then stood up with his hands on his hips.

"Buck is not a turkey. You take that back!" he growled.

The man in the next booth laughed at him.

"Take it back!" Vin yelled.

"Hey, hey, what is going on here?" asked Chris, coming to stand beside Vin.

Vin pointed at the man. "HE called Buck a turkey."

JD came up on the other side of Vin. "It's not nice to call someone names!" he pronounced. "And my Da ain't a turkey! He's a A-F-T agent and he can 'rest you and shoot you!"

"A-T-F," Vin corrected.

"Yeah!" said JD.

The man laughed again, causing Vin to fume more. At least it wasn't the same man who kept saying bad words, but he still called Buck a turkey.

"Gentlemen," said Ezra, "I believe he was referring to the fact that Buck bowled a turkey, not that he IS a turkey."

"Huh?" said JD.

"A turkey is three strikes in a row," explained Ezra.

The man nodded, an amused smile on his face.

"Oh," said JD.

Chris looked down at Vin with raised eyebrows, waiting for a response.

"Sorry, Mister," said Vin softly.

"No problem, son," said the man. "I thought the same thing myself once."

He smiled as the boys turned back to their game.

"Unca Ezra?"

"Yes, JD?"

"Do they call it a chicken if you get four strikes in a row?"

On his fifth turn JD somehow got a strike, knocking down all the pins. He jumped up and down whooping and hollering in celebration. All the others clapped for him, again annoying some of the league players next to them.

JD went suddenly quiet, his entire countenance drooping. He shuffled back to his seat with his head low.

"Hey, Little Bit," said Buck. "What's the matter?"

He gathered JD into his arms noting that the five year old was crying. "Hey," he said again softly. "Did you hurt yourself?"

"No," JD sniffed. "I did bad."

"No you didn't Little Bit. You got a strike. That's good," said Buck.

"But I gots an X. The teacher always makes an X on my paper when I do something wrong."

Buck pulled JD's head to his chest, grinning over the boy's head at the misunderstanding, but offering comfort just the same. It struck him funny that JD hadn't noticed the X's for anyone else, just his own. He squeezed him tight and then moved JD back so he could look at him.

"JD," said Vin, "in bowling an X is a good thing."

"It is?" JD asked Buck.

"It is," Buck confirmed.

Vin frowned and let out a big sigh. JD wasn't taking his word for anything.

"You okay?" asked Chris.

"Fine," said Vin, turning his attention back to the scorecard.

"You're up," said Chris.

"Oh, yeah." Vin scooted down from the chair and took his turn bowling.

JD recovered quickly and soon was climbing on Uncle Josiah. When Vin returned to the seats after his turn, Josiah was holding JD upside down by the ankles while JD played with Josiah's shoes.

"Vin, Vin! C'mere," squeaked JD.

Vin walked over to his best friend and cocked his head sideways in an attempt to make eye contact.

"Feel!" said JD as he stroked Josiah's shoes. "They's fuzzy."

Vin stole a glance at Josiah, checking to see if it was okay. Josiah winked and Vin bent over and petted the suede shoes.

The men chuckled as the boys checked out all their shoes. Chris was taking his turn bowling when the boys became super spies and we're peeping over the bench seat to the next lane over, trying to see if anyone else had fuzzy shoes.

"Back off, kid," growled one of the league bowlers as JD peered over the edge while Vin was ducked down. It was that man that kept saying all the bad words.

Vin pulled JD down and away from the grouchy man, but instead of hiding with Vin, JD looked over at Buck and with the bravado of knowing Buck would protect him, he turned back to the man and stuck his tongue out.

"JD!" gasped Vin, trying to pull JD to safety.

"Why, you little brat!"

"Is there a problem here?" asked Josiah, using his height to intimidate the bowler.

"The brat stuck his tongue out at me," the bowler defended.

"Excuse me?" demanded Buck, approaching threateningly.

Josiah held his arm out, pushing Buck back, hoping to prevent anything from getting out of hand. "I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding," said Josiah. "I'm sure this 'gentleman' wasn't threatening a five-year-old."

"Uh-no," stammered the man.

Josiah nodded. "Come on, boys. Why don't you sit on the other side of the booth?"

Vin pulled JD with him barely hearing the man muttering about 'people controlling their little brats.' He saw Buck's angry face and watched Josiah pull him away from the mean man.

"JD, you should'na done that," said Vin quietly.

"He was mean," said JD.

"I could'na protected you," said Vin.

"Buck could'a," JD said confidently.

Vin felt a sharp hurt inside him that he didn't like at all. He frowned and moved over and sat between Uncle Nathan and Uncle Ezra. He leaned on Uncle Ezra's shoulder, grateful when that arm shifted and wrapped around him.

"JD," said Buck, "Did you stick your tongue out at him?"

JD nodded reluctantly. "He was being mean."

Buck rubbed his hand across his face trying to give himself some time to both calm down and to figure out what he should say.

"He called me a brat and he's been saying bad words and mean things," added JD.

"That doesn't mean you can stick your tongue out at him and be mean back," said Buck. "That makes you just like him. I want you to apologize."

"But, Da!"

"No 'buts', JD," said Buck.

"It was my fault," said Vin, defending his little 'brother'.

"And just how do you figure that?" asked Buck with a little more frustration in his tone than he intended. He saw Vin flinch and regretted it immediately.

He knelt down in front of Vin, putting himself on Vin's level and removing some of the size factor.

"Did you stick your tongue out?" Buck asked softly.

Vin shook his head.

"Did you tell JD to stick his tongue out?"

Vin shook his head.

"Then I don't see how it could be your fault," said Buck. "JD made his own choice and he needs to be responsible for his actions."

"He's little," said Vin in a hushed protest.

"He's old enough to know that sticking his tongue out at someone is wrong," said Buck, cautiously taking Vin's hands into his.

"But I didn't tell him not to," said Vin.

Buck looked at the sincere blue eyes before him. This was one of the most difficult dynamics for Buck to deal with. Vin had been JD's protector when they were living on the streets and in his quest to protect his 'brother' by taking the consequences on himself, he took the blame and responsibility for everything the younger boy did.

"JD?" asked Buck.

"Yes, Da?"

"Did you know it was a bad thing to stick out your tongue at that man?" Buck asked without taking his eyes off of Vin.

"Yeah," said JD softly.

"See?" said Buck. "You didn't have to tell him. He already knew. It's not your fault and you're not to blame."

He stood up. "Come on, JD. You need to apologize."

Chris returned from his turn bowling, having observed the aftermath. He sat down on the bench and motioned for Vin to join him.

As much as Vin liked the security of sitting with Uncle Ezra and Uncle Nathan, his "dad" was the ultimate safety. He bolted off the bench and nearly jumped into Chris' lap.

Chris wrapped arms around him, holding him tightly as they watched Buck and JD go to the next lane. He felt Vin tense as the man turned his attention to JD. That tension was something Chris both admired and regretted. He admired Vin's sense of loyalty and his responsible nature, but he deeply regretted that Vin and JD were forced into that position, and that it was such a struggle for Vin to find a good balance.

Buck and JD returned, and the look on Buck's face told Chris that the man had been a jerk about the apology.

"JD," he said.

JD looked up at Chris.

"You did the right thing in apologizing. I'm proud of you."

Slowly JD's face lit up. Chris had praised him.

He ran to Chris and Vin and hugged them.

"What do you say, we get back to our game?" asked Chris.

"Yeah," said JD. "Whose turn is it?"

The rest of the game went without mishap, except for JD dropping his bowling ball on Buck's toe.

The boys found it to be a lot of fun to slide across the foul line and make the little beeper go off. And they found that you could use the squares on the scorecard to play Tic-tac-toe.

They still had a knack for timing their cheers just at the moment that would mess up the shot, and with Josiah and Nathan's encouragement had managed to press the reset button on both Chris and Buck at inopportune times. All in all, they were having a great time despite the tense moments with the neighboring lane.

Chris turned after watching his ball roll for a strike. He was surprised to find Vin with his face buried against Josiah's chest, and the profiler holding the boy in a tight embrace, gently stroking Vin's hair in an attempt to comfort the seven year old. Chris raised an eyebrow in question, but Josiah just shrugged. He didn't know what had brought on the sudden tears. Just moments ago Vin had been all smiles and chatter.

As Buck moved to help JD take his turn, Chris approached Vin and Josiah, placing his hand on Vin's back and rubbing gently.

"You okay, Cowboy?" he asked.

Vin stiffened, then pulled away from Josiah, valiantly wiping his eyes as if nothing had happened.

"I'm fine," he answered with a sniff as he slid off of Josiah's lap and plastered on a fake smile.

Chris frowned, but let the charade continue, not wanting to embarrass Vin any more than he already was about crying.

Vin climbed into the chair at the scorekeeper's table to watch JD, as Chris sat in the seat next to Josiah.

"What happened?" he asked.

"I'm not exactly sure," said Josiah as he watched Vin.

The boy fiddled with the scorekeeper pen for a few moments, and then he turned to look at the woman in the lane next to them. She had just arrived; taking the place of the family that had just finished their game.

"But I think it has something to do with them," Josiah added, nodding toward the woman and the little boy in the next lane.

Chris watched as the woman patiently helped the little boy roll the ball down the lane. He looked over at Vin and saw him with fresh tears. Chris chewed on his lower lip, guessing that the scene beside them was stirring up memories for Vin, but not exactly sure how to approach the subject. He stood and walked to the scorekeeper's table.

"This seat taken?" he asked.

Vin wiped his eyes on his sleeve.


"Mind if I join you?" Chris persisted.

Vin sighed.

Chris had an incredible urge to sweep the boy into his arms and hug him so hard that Vin couldn't doubt he was loved, but he didn't. He knew that Vin needed to have control. He sat next to the boy as JD's squeals of laughter rang through the lanes.

"JD's doing pretty good," he said.


Chris wanted to sigh aloud. Getting Vin to talk was like pulling teeth.

"You bowl well, too." And it was true. Vin did bowl well for a seven-year-old, even though it consisted pretty much of dropping the ball and pushing it with both hands.

Vin nodded.

"Did someone teach you how?" Chris asked, almost wincing at the deer-in-the-headlights look that Vin gave him.

Vin nodded slowly, with fresh tears brimming.

"Mama," he whispered.

Chris smiled and put his arm around Vin, giving him a squeeze. Now he understood why Vin was so excited about bowling, and where he'd learned about the game.

"She did a great job. She'd be very proud of you. You're growing into a fine young man, Vin Tanner."

Vin leaned into the hug, cherishing the words of his dad. He missed his Mama, but it made him feel better to know that she would be proud of him.

He wiped at the annoying tears. He didn't mean to cry. He'd been having fun and all of the sudden seeing that little boy with his mama had reminded him of going bowling with Mama and her sweet laughter as they played together.

"Vin! Vin! I did good. Did you see me?" jabbered JD excitedly as he hopped up and down next to the scorekeeper's table.

"How many did you get?" asked Vin, putting aside his moodiness for the sake of his little brother.

"Four!" shouted JD happily.

Vin ran his finger across the page following JD's line and wrote a big four in the last box.

"Your turn, Vin!" said JD.

Knowing it was his last turn, Vin looked up at Chris. "Can we come bowling again sometime, Dad?"

Chris smiled. "You bet."

Vin smiled and went to take his last turn.

And Uncle Nathan had the most points.

No. Uncle Ezra did.

JD, you don't get to add both of Uncle Ezra's scores together.

Why not? He bowled them all.


That was Vin sighing, computer. You should have learned it by now.

Are you boys finished?

Almost, Dad. We were just telling the scores.

And Vin says Uncle Ezra can't add both his points together. I forgot, Vin. How many points did Da get?

He gave me a dollar not to say it in our book.

He did what?

He gave me a dollar, Dad. See?


Where's Chris going? Chris? Chris? Can I have a dollar so I don't say your points?

Things We Learned:
1. Don't take the boys bowling on league night - Chris
2. Or without adequate supervision. About 5 more adults ought to be enough - Buck
3. Always look in your cup before you drink - Josiah
4. Don't wear new shoes - Ezra
5. I told you you'd get blisters - Nathan

The End

Comments: Joy K


Things We Learned (Index)