Always Be Mine

By Joy

Buck could only wish his discussion was going as well. He should have let Chris handle this situation.

Vin was looking at him as if he had snakes growing out of his head.

"Why is Miz Lottie goin' fishin'?" he asked.

Obviously Buck had not communicated as clearly as he thought.

"She's not, Junior. Let me try this again," said Buck, trying to think of another way to express to Vin that Miz Lottie was not the only fish in the sea, and there would be other girls.

"DA! VIN! DINNER!" yelled JD as he ran into the bedroom, his hands still dripping from the recent washing. "I maked the salad and the bread. I was a good helper. Chris said so."

JD crawled onto Buck's lap and Buck gave him a hug.

"Little Bit, would you tell Chris that Vin and I will be there in just a minute?" asked Buck. "We've got something to finish up."

"That's okay, Buck," said Vin. "I don't really feel like talkin' 'bout it anyways."

He took JD's interruption as an opportunity to escape talking about Miz Lottie. It just made him sadder to talk about her. He didn't get what Buck meant about wanting her to be happy. Of course he wanted Miz Lottie to be happy. And he really didn't understand the part about other fish. Buck could be more confusing than Uncle 'Siah sometimes.

Vin scooted out of the room quickly to wash for dinner so that Buck didn't have time to protest.

"How'd it go?" Chris asked as Buck entered the kitchen before either of the boys.

Buck shook his head. "It missed something in the translation. He wants to know why Miz Lottie is going fishing."

Chris smiled, then grimaced. That meant the issue wasn't handled yet. He'd have to try after dinner.

Two boys raced into the kitchen, both holding up hands for inspection. Chris nodded and they scrambled into their chairs at the table, hungry for 'psghetti and 'fat' bread.

As they finished up their supper Chris caught the boys' attention and told them he had something very special to ask them.

"What?" asked JD.

"Hold your horses, Little Bit," said Buck with a laugh. "Let Chris tell you."

"Okay," said JD expectantly.

Vin put down his fork and looked at Chris, knowing that something was important.

"Boys," said Chris, "Aunt Rain and Uncle Nathan asked me to ask you something very important."

"What?" asked JD.

Chris ignored the interruption. "They're going to have a very special day on Saturday, and they would like it very much if you would help them."

"Sure," said Vin. "What kind of help?"

"They'd like you both to be in their wedding," said Chris with a smile.

"Wedding?" asked JD with a frown.

Chris nodded.

"You mean married?" Vin's voice had a definite edge to it.

"Yes," said Chris. He was going to explain more, but Vin's pained gasp stopped him.

The seven-year-old looked absolutely stricken, as if the news he had just heard was the worst possible thing that could happen. He opened his mouth a couple of times as if he were going to speak, but he seemed unable to find any words. Finally, he just bolted away from the table and ran to his room.

"No! I don't want them to get married," JD cried.

Chris stood to follow Vin but stopped. He looked at Buck who shared his confusion. This should be a happy thing, not a trauma.

"JD, Nathan and Rain are already married," said Buck calmly.

"Then they don't gotta get married," declared JD.

Chris frowned trying to figure out what was going on.

"They're already Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain, so they don't gotta get married anymore."

"JD," said Chris, "Why don't you want them to get married?"

"Because I don't want them to go away," answered JD with a sniff.

"Go away?" prompted Buck.

"When peoples get married they go away."

"Well, yes," said Buck. "It's called a honeymoon. It's just a little trip."

"Nuh-uh," said JD. "Vin says they go away forever just like Miz Lottie."

Buck glanced at Chris. "How do you know Miz Lottie's going away?"

"It says so in the school paper," JD informed them.

Chris grimaced. Not only was Vin's crush getting married, she was also leaving. No wonder he was so upset.

"Well, Little Bit," Buck explained, "Most people go for a little trip when they get married, but they come back. Nathan and Rain are only going to be gone for a week. They aren't going away forever."

JD considered this. He trusted Buck, but he also trusted Vin. "But Vin's Mama said they go away."

Chris closed his eyes. Great. Vin's crush getting married and going away, and now he had to try to correct a misconception that came from a sacred source. If he had to put money in the swear jar for the curses he was thinking, he'd be broke and the jar would be full.

Buck heard the unvoiced question from JD wanting to know if Vin's Mama was wrong. What could he say? With as young as Vin was when she died, he'd likely gotten some things confused.

"Sometimes they do go away, Little Bit, but not Nathan and Rain. They're already married and they're still here, aren't they?"

JD nodded.

Seeing that Buck had this situation in hand, Chris tipped his head towards the boys' room indicating that he was going to talk to Vin.

"Nathan and Rain got married while Rain was still in school," said Buck, "but they didn't have a lot of money and they got married in the town where her school is, and their families weren't able to come to the wedding. Rain wants to have a real wedding with her whole family and all their friends. They've been planning this for months."

Buck smiled as JD climbed off of his chair and into Buck's lap. "They want all of us to celebrate with them," he continued, "and we didn't get to do that last time."

"Okay," JD said. If Buck said it was so, it was so. "What do they want me to do?"

"Well, they'd like you to be the ring bearer," said Buck.

"The ring bear?" asked JD curiously. This sounded like fun. "What's a ring bear, Da? Do I get to wear a costume and growl?"

Chris frowned when he entered the boys' room and found Vin in his "safe place" between the dresser and the bed. Visions of last week's incident with banging his head on the wall were too fresh in Chris' mind. At least today Vin was quiet.

Nettie had told him to put his detective skills to use with Vin to read the signs when the seven-year-old wouldn't or perhaps couldn't voice what was bothering him. It didn't take much detecting to know that Vin was feeling very insecure about something, and that 'something' was probably losing part of his family.

Chris sat down on the small chair at the boys' play table. He waited a few minutes for his boy to make the first move. He could see that Vin knew he was there, but he seemed to be taking a long time to pull himself together. Chris could be a patient man, but when his son's hurting heart was involved, he didn't want to drag the pain out.

"Nathan and Rain aren't going away," he said quietly.

Vin's head shot up and teary eyes looked at Chris questioningly.

"They're going to take a week of vacation, but they'll be back."

Those big blue eyes still questioned.

"Trust me." It wasn't a question. It was a reassurance. A statement of fact.

Vin slowly emerged from his "safe place" and moved to his real safe place - his father's arms.

Chris pulled him onto his lap and held him while Vin let go of the tears he was fighting. Chris rubbed his back and soothed him wishing he could make the pain and uncertainty of the past couple weeks go away.

When Vin calmed, Chris asked, "Can you tell me what's going on?"

"I don't want Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain to go away."

"They aren't," Chris assured again. "What makes you think that?"

"Miz Lottie's going away."

The sadness on Vin's face made Chris' gut clench.

"She's gettin' married on Valentine's Day and goin' away."

"Hey, Cowboy," said Chris, "I know that makes you really sad, but what makes you think everyone goes away?"

"Mama said so," Vin whispered.

Chris took a deep breath knowing that he had to tread very carefully here. He in no way wanted to diminish Vin's memory of his mother, but he needed to help Vin sort through the misconception.

"What did your Mama tell you?" he asked.

Vin hesitated momentarily before speaking.

"We couldn't go see Grandpa. Mama said he lived far away." Vin looked up to watch Chris' eyes to make sure he understood. "Mama said when she got married she and Daddy moved far away from Grandpa and she never saw him anymore."

Chris wasn't certain of the circumstances, whether Vin's mother had chosen not to see her family, or perhaps she had been disowned. Maybe it was simply that Vin's father was in the military and she had moved with him. After his death, maybe distance or money had made it too difficult to return home. In any case, Vin wouldn't have been more than four or five when he had been told the information and his young mind had translated it to mean that everyone moved away when they got married. Miz Lottie's circumstances had served to confirm it.

"I think what she meant, Cowboy," said Chris gently, "was that after she was married she didn't have the opportunity to go back. She didn't mean that everyone goes away when they get married."

Vin frowned, wrinkling his brow in consideration of this thought. "Did you go away when you got married to Mrs. Chris?"

Chris smiled. "No. I had already left home. I was in the Navy when Sarah and I were married."

"But Miz Lottie…" said Vin.

"Tell me about her," encouraged Chris.

"You're not gonna tell me about fish, are ya?" asked Vin.

"No," said Chris shaking his head. "I swear."

"You can't tell no one," said Vin.

Chris nodded in agreement.

"I like Miz Lottie. Lots."

Chris nodded again. No news flash there, but at least Vin had voiced it.

"And it makes me sad that she's getting married."

"Don't you want her to be happy?" asked Chris.

"Of course I do!" Vin protested. "I just want her to stay."

"I know it makes you sad right now, and it's okay to feel that way. But someday you're going to like someone else, someone closer to your own age and you'll want to spend time together…"


Chris was startled by the response. "Huh?"

"I don't like Miz Lottie like THAT!" said Vin. "I don't like her 'cause she's a GIRL. Ewww."

Chris tried very hard not to laugh at the response. How could they have read this so wrong?

"How DO you like her?" he asked.

Vin shrugged. "I dunno. She's nice. She likes me and she doesn't even haf'ta like me 'cause she's not my teacher or nothin'. She smells good and her voice sounds soft and pretty. Kinda like Mama. An' she gives me cookies. An' I like to help her just 'cause she's nice."

Vin paused and then looked up into Chris' green eyes. "I don't want her to go away."

They were interrupted by a knock on the door. Buck stuck his head into the room.

"Excuse me, guys," said Buck. "Chris, I thought you should read this."

He entered the room and handed him the school newsletter, pointing out the paragraph about Miz Lottie.

Chris read it quickly and wanted to groan… or laugh. He wasn't sure which. He could see how Vin could have misinterpreted what he read. It was worded poorly and gave the impression that Miz Lottie was being replaced. Actually, what was meant was after she returned to school next week, she would have a new name, Mrs. Salvatino.

"Is that the letter about Miz Lottie?" asked Vin.

Chris nodded. "Did you read this?"

Vin shook his head. "Jimmy read it. He said somebody named Mrs. Samantino was going to have Miz Lottie's job."

"Let's read it together," said Chris.

Vin was reluctant to read, but he read it aloud anyway, stumbling over some of the words while Chris patiently helped him.

"Wait!" said Vin.


"Does this mean Miz Lottie's not going away?"

Chris nodded.

"She's just gonna have a new name?"

Chris nodded again.

Vin blew out a sigh of relief.

Chris wrapped his arms tightly around Vin and squeezed. They sat quietly in the embrace for a few minutes.

Chris smiled. He could almost feel the gears grinding in Vin's mind as he thought something else through.


Chris's smile grew at the simple word that meant so much to him.


"What was your name before you got married?"


Vin nodded. "Miz Lottie's gonna have a new name. What was your old name?"

Chris ruffled Vin's hair. "My name was Chris Larabee."

"The same as now?" asked Vin, looking up at his dad.

"Yep," confirmed Chris. "Most of the time when people get married, the lady takes the name of her new husband."

"Boys don't change their names?" asked Vin.

"Not usually."

"Good," said Vin with a relieved sigh. "I always want to be Vin Tanner."

Vin gasped when he realized what he said. "Oh! I didn't mean… I don't…"

"It's okay, Vin," said Chris, realizing that Vin thought he had hurt him by not wanting to take his name. "You should be proud of your name. And no matter what name you have or what name I have, you are my son."

Vin smiled and hugged Chris. "And you're my Dad."

Chris hugged him back and they sat quietly for a few moments.

"So, Cowboy," said Chris, "We still have the question about Nathan and Rain's wedding."

"You're sure they're not going away?" asked Vin. He looked Chris in the eyes to read his truthfulness.

"I'm positive."

Vin nodded, taking Chris at his word.

"What do they want me to do?" asked Vin.

"Well, first of all, you don't have to do this. If you don't want to help, that's okay and if you want to help, that's okay, too."

Vin nodded and Chris knew he'd heard the words, but he also knew his son wanted to please and would likely help even if it made him uncomfortable to be in front of a lot of people.

"They'd like you to be the candle lighter for the wedding…"

Friday finally came and it was almost time for the Valentine's Day party at school. Vin asked Mr. Beidler for permission to go to the lunchroom. When he showed Mr. B the package he had for Miz Lottie, Mr. Beidler agreed to let him go for a few minutes.

It was getting late in the day, but Miz Lottie was usually still working when school let out. Vin often helped her after school until someone picked him up so it never occurred to him that on the day before her wedding she might go home early. When he reached the lunchroom door and found it locked he was surprised.

Incredibly disappointed was a better description.

Vin looked down at the present in his hands. Chris had taken him to town, making a special trip to help him pick it out. He had paid for it with his own money and had even wrapped it himself. Some of the corners were kind of rumpled, but Miz Lottie wouldn't mind. And he had made the card himself.

Only now it was too late. She was already gone.

With a big sigh, he leaned against the wall and slid down until he was sitting on the floor. It didn't occur to him to feel sorry for himself or wonder why so many bad things happened, he just took it as status quo. Still, his heart hurt that he couldn't give Miz Lottie her present before she got married. Holding the present in his lap he raised his knees and wrapped his arms around them, resting his chin on his knees.

He knew he should go back to class but somehow he just couldn't seem to make himself move.


Vin looked up and smiled shyly. "Miz Lottie, I thought you were gone."

"I was, Sweetie," she replied as she unlocked the door. "I forgot my overcoat."

Suddenly Vin felt very awkward about his gift. He attempted to hide it with his arms, but Miz Lottie saw it anyway.

"What have you got there?" she asked.

"It's a present," said Vin. "For you."

Lottie smiled. Vin Tanner was a tenderhearted child.

Vin carefully stood and held the present out to her. "You can open it later," he said, suddenly finding his shoes very interesting to look at.

"May I open it now?" she asked.

Vin looked up and grinned. He nodded.

Lottie unwrapped the gift carefully, trying not to tear the paper that the boy had so obviously labored over.

"We put the card inside," Vin explained, "So it wouldn't get lost. Sometimes they can fall off the presents."

Lottie nodded and opened the hand made card. She smiled as she read the childish scrawl.

Dear Miz Lottie,

I am glad you are my friend. Thank you for liking me. I hope your new husband will be very nice. I'm glad you are not going away.


"Thank you, Vin," she said, blinking back tears. She opened the box and smiled. In the box was a bottle of cheap perfume and a small heart shaped box of chocolates.

Lottie knew that the cheap perfume would not smell good, but she made a big show over it anyway, knowing that it had been given from a loving heart. She smelled it and dabbed a little on her wrists. "Thank you so much, Vin. This was so thoughtful of you."

Vin dropped his head shyly.

"Would you like some of the chocolates?" she offered.

"Oh, no, Ma'am!" he said, "Those are for you and Mister… Mister…"

"Salvatino," said Miz Lottie.

"Salvatino," repeated Vin. "That's a hard name."

"Yes, it is," said the cafeteria lady. "But I would really like it if you would still call me 'Miz Lottie,' Vin."

"Really?" asked Vin.

"Yes," she confirmed. She glanced up at the clock on the wall. "Don't you have a Valentine's Party to attend?"

"Oh, yeah," said Vin.

"Well, then you had better head back to class, but not before I give you this." Lottie pulled the shy boy into a hug. "Thank you so much, Vin Tanner. You are quite a gentleman."

Vin smiled. "Thanks, Miz Lottie."

As he headed down the hall, he turned and waved. "Have a real nice wedding tomorrow."

She smiled and waved back.

Both boys had enjoyed the Valentine's Party at school, and both were very excited with all the candy they received. The only thing they didn't like was that both of them had received Pepe LePue Valentine's cards from Freddy Chaney.

Unlike the other kids in their class, Vin and JD hadn't gobbled down all their candy. Both boys ate the cookies that had been served at the party, but saved their candy. Both of them not only wanted to show Buck and Chris everything that they had received, but their street life had ingrained in them a hoarding instinct that was hard to shake.

In their bedroom at home, Vin had carefully placed his candy in his treasure box next to the few pieces that still remained from Halloween. JD had put his stash in the drawer where G.I. Joe lived. Both boys would stretch the candy as long as it lasted.

In a way, Chris and Buck were grateful for the hoarding - it meant they didn't have to deal with a sugar high throughout Nathan and Rain's wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, but both men would have rather had the boys gobble their candy like any other kid, than to have lived through the circumstances that taught them to hoard.

It was much later than they hoped, when they finally arrived home from the rehearsal dinner and tucked two very tired boys into bed. Both men hoped that the late night wouldn't show itself during the wedding with frayed tempers.

The party at school was fun, wasn't it Vin?

Yes, except for the girls.

But they gave you lots of cool stuff. You got balloons and heart boxes full of candy and stuffed animals.

But it was from girls.

I know. I liked all the stuff I got. Did you see how Da smiled real big when he saw all the stuffs we got from the girls?

Yes, but did you see how sad he looked when he saw us putting it in our dresser to save it for later?

He says we don't have to save it, and we don't have to hide it.

But if we don't save it, we won't have any for later.

But Da and Chris said they'll buy us some more candy. Not all the time, but sometimes. They said if we save it too long it won't be good no more.

Maybe they're right. That candy I have from Halloween tastes kind of dry and it's kind of hard to chew.

Time to shut her down, boys.

But, Da, we haven't told about the wedding yet.

JD tugged at his collar. Nobody said anything about wearing dress up clothes. He hated dress up clothes. The tie made him feel like he was choking. And the worst part was that he couldn't even go play. Buck was afraid he'd get the funny suit dirty. Nobody asked him about dressing up. Oh no. All Aunt Rain said was she wanted him to walk and carry a pillow with rings on it. She said it would make her really happy, and because he loved Aunt Rain, JD had agreed. He pulled at the collar again. Nobody said anything about dress up clothes.

He didn't understand why Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain were getting married again. They were already Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain. But Buck had told him that when they got married Aunt Rain was still in school and they didn't have money for a big wedding and they tied the knot with a Justice of the Peas in the town where Aunt Rain was going to school.

JD didn't know what tying knots had to do with getting married. He didn't see no ropes. And he sure didn't like peas. He hoped they weren't having peas later.

And he still didn't get this 'ring bear' thing. He thought he'd get to dress up like a bear and growl and stuff, but all he got to do was wear a 'seedo and carry a pillow. It didn't seem very bear-like to him.

Buck said Aunt Rain felt bad that her family and friends couldn't come to her wedding and they had decided to have a wedding again so all their families could come. And that meant JD and Vin, too. So they waited until they had enough money for a special wedding and that's why they were getting married again now.

JD tugged at his sleeve where the stiff shirt made him itch.

"Don't fidget," whispered Buck.

JD looked up at Buck and slowly dropped his hand to his side, leaning against the railing. He was tired. Nobody said anything about standing still forever either. He had done his thing with the pillow. He walked down the aisle and held it perfectly. He heard some of the ladies whispering how cute he was. Hah! They didn't have to wear this tie. He gave Josiah the pillow when he was supposed to and Josiah had untied the rings and gave them to the man in the black robe. Then the man in the black robe talked forever. JD had to stand still the whole time and this had to be the most boring thing he had ever done. He just hoped it was over soon.

JD yawned widely, forgetting to cover his mouth. Buck reached out and pulled him in so JD was leaning against his leg. Buck winked at him and JD smiled. Buck started watching the man in the black robe again so JD decided to look at everyone else.

Everybody was wearing dress up clothes, too. Uncle Josiah was standing beside Uncle Nathan, and Uncle Ezra was standing on the other side of JD and Buck. There were frilly ladies standing by Aunt Rain, and Miz Inez was at the end of the row of ladies. JD scrunched his face, closing both eyes in his version of a wink. Miz Inez smiled and winked back at him.

JD turned his head and looked at where the people were sitting. His smile widened at the sight of his 'brother'. Vin had to dress up like a penguin, too. That's what Chris had called the suits, but Buck had called them 'seedos or something like that. Vin got to carry a shiny thing that had fire at the end of it and light some candles. But he didn't have to stand up the whole time the man in the robe was talking.

Chris and Vin were sitting on a bench together, but they hadn't walked in together. Chris had walked in with Aunt Rain. Vin had told him that Chris was walking with Aunt Rain because her daddy was dreaming of angels.

Chris winked at him and gave him a thumbs up. JD started to wave, but quickly put his hand down remembering he wasn't supposed to do that.


JD knew that word. His eyes darted back to the man in the robe. Amen meant it was over.

Nope. He was still talking and Aunt Rain and Uncle Nathan were looking at each other all goo-goo eyed and, oh yuck. Now they were kissing.

JD couldn't help it. He covered his eyes. Kissing girls was icky unless it was Mama.

Music started playing and Aunt Rain and Uncle Nathan walked out. Buck took JD's hand and latched onto a pretty lady in a frilly dress with the other.

At least JD didn't have to walk with that girl with the flower petals. Then they followed Uncle Josiah who was also holding onto a frilly lady, as they followed Aunt Rain and Uncle Nathan.

When they were outside Buck let go of the frilly lady and picked up JD.

"You did great little man!" He tickled the five-year-old with a grin.

"Can I go play now?"

"Not yet, buddy. We have to have some pictures taken," said Buck.

JD groaned and laid his head on Buck's shoulder.

"I'm tired of being good."

Buck began to laugh.

JD lifted his head and looked into his eyes trying to see what was so funny. He couldn't figure it out so he just settled back on the shoulder and soon was snoring.

Vin was glad it was over. Lighting candles wasn't easy. You had to walk really slow so the flame wouldn't go out on the wand. Then you had to light every single candle, and there were lots of them! And you had to make sure you didn't accidentally set the curtains on fire. But the worst part was he had to do it while everyone was watching.

With a sigh he sat down in the pew where he was assigned. He carefully made sure the flame was out and laid the wand on the floor under the pew. He watched everyone else come in, smiling at Aunt Rain as she walked down the aisle with Chris. She was so pretty.

The preacher man asked who was presenting Rain to be married and Chris said, "Her family and friends," and then he came to sit down with Vin.

Vin tugged at his collar as he watched JD fidget. At least he didn't have to stand up there the whole time like JD. He looked over and smiled as Chris patted him on the knee. He yawned and covered his mouth, barely resisting the urge to lean his head on Chris' shoulder and take a nap.

He looked at all his uncles on the platform. Uncle Ezra was the only one who looked comfortable in the fancy tuxedos. But they all looked really nice.

Everyone had 'forgotten' to mention to the boys that they'd have to dress up fancy for the wedding. Uncle Ezra had come to the house and measured them, but no one had told them it was for the 'seedos. If they had, Vin and JD probably would have protested.

In fact, they hadn't even mentioned the wedding until a couple days before hand. Chris said it was because they didn't want the boys worrying about it, but Vin figured it was more likely that they didn't want JD to ask fifty bazillion times, "How many more days?"

Vin tugged at his collar again. He didn't feel bad about fidgeting. He'd watched Buck and Chris, Uncle Josiah and Uncle Nathan fidgeting in their 'seedos before the ceremony started. Even Uncle Ezra played with his collar, but when Uncle Ezra did it, it didn't look like fidgeting. Uncle Ezra actually LIKED clothes like this.

"You may kiss the bride."

Vin looked at Uncle Nathan. Oh yuck. They were gonna kiss in front of everybody. Vin wanted to cover his eyes, and found it hard to cover his giggle when JD actually did.

Chris nudged him with his elbow and grinned. Then the music started and everyone followed Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain out of the room. After all the people on the stage went out, Chris and Vin got up to follow them.

Unfortunately, once they were outside, they weren't done. There were pictures to be taken and people to shake hands with and Vin got tired very quickly of hearing, "Aren't you handsome! Aren't you cute!"

There were a bunch of kids playing off to one side of the big room, but Vin didn't know them and he was supposed to be really careful with the tuxedo. So he stayed close to the adults. Eventually he found himself sitting on a chair next to Chris and this time he didn't resist the urge to lean on Chris' shoulder and snooze.

After a short nap the boys were finding things to do while the grownups talked with other grown ups.

Vin cringed as the little girl in the frilly dress approached him again. She'd been following him everywhere.

"Hiiii Vinny," she sing-songed sweetly, batting her eyes at him.

"Hi," he said politely, like he had been taught. He really didn't want to be nice to her. He wanted her to go away and leave him alone. She'd already tried to kiss him. TWICE.

"I think my Dad's calling me," said Vin.

"I didn't hear nobody, Vin."

Vin scowled at JD. He wasn't being very helpful. Of course HE didn't have a little girl following him everywhere saying he was cute.

"You have such pretty hair," she said as she touched Vin's hair.

Vin took a step backwards.

"I can be the princess and you can be the prince," she said as she removed the crown of flowers from her hair and reached toward Vin.

Vin's eyes grew larger as the flowers neared his head.

"I gotta go to the bathroom!" the shy boy blurted out as he ran to escape the little girl.

"Hurry back so we can dance!" she called, as JD ran after Vin.

Vin closed the bathroom door, shutting JD on the outside.

"Hey!" JD pounded on the door. "Vin, lemme in!"

"Go away," Vin yelled back.

"Is there a problem, Master Dunne?"

"Hi, Unca Ezra," said JD. "Vin won't let me in."

"Well, perhaps he needs a moment of privacy," said Ezra.

"Nuh-uh. He's hiding from Aunt Rain's niece," said JD. "She was trying to put flowers in his hair. I think she was gonna kiss him."

"I see," said Ezra as he straightened JD's bow tie.

"And now he's mad at me."

"I don't think he's mad at you." Ezra knocked on the door. "Master Tanner, are you all right?"

"Is she gone?" asked Vin through the door.

"Yep," said JD.

Vin opened the door and peeked out.

Ezra forced himself not to laugh or even smile at his nephew's reaction.

"There you are!"

Vin jumped at the female voice, but blew out a sigh of relief when he realized it was Miz Inez.

"Hi, Miz Inez!" said JD eagerly. "A girl was trying to kiss Vin."

Vin scowled at JD. He didn't want everyone to know.

"She has excellent taste," said Inez. "You are very handsome, mi chiquito."

Vin blushed and ducked his head.

"And I'm handsome, too," said JD.

"Absolutely, mi hijo," said Inez.

"Is my bruise showing?" asked JD.

Inez brushed at his cheek where she had applied make up before the ceremony to cover his bruise from his fall from the couch last week. She had done the same for the yellow remnants of Vin's black eye from the fight at the after care center from the previous week.

"It looks fine," she replied. "Senor Standish, would you care to dance?"

Ezra raised his eyebrows in surprise at the question from the lovely lady. She made it a point to keep a professional distance from her customers, but Team Seven had become more than customers. They were friends. Besides, she needed an accomplice in her teasing of Buck.

"Senor Buck is being persistent," she explained.

"I'd be delighted," said Ezra with a sweeping bow. He took Inez by the hand and led her to the dance floor, much to Buck's dismay.

"Da! Wha'cha doin'?" asked JD.

Buck turned to his boy and smiled as he approached.

"Just mingling, Little Bit," said Buck. "What are you two up to?"

"We's hiding from girls," said JD.

"Hiding?" said Buck.

JD nodded, his hair flying with the nods.

Buck grinned. He couldn't remember a time when he didn't like girls, but there probably was when he was little. Nah, more likely he was the one chasing them.

"Did you boys get some cake?" he asked.

"Nope," said JD.

Vin shook his head.

"Well, let's fix that right now." Buck led them over to the cake table and helped them each get a piece of cake. He had them sit down and cautioned them to be careful not to spill on the tuxedos because it would cost extra money to get them cleaned.

Seeing the boys were occupied with the food, he excused himself for a few minutes to see if he could snag a dance with Inez.

Nathan felt a small body squish its way in between him and Rain. He looked down expecting to find a dark haired five-year-old in a miniature tuxedo.

"Vin!" he said in surprise. The seven-year-old didn't like close spaces and usually avoided physical contact, but here he was worming his way in between Nathan and Rain.

He watched as Vin looked over his shoulder as if he were hiding from someone.

"What's up?" asked Nathan.

"Nothin'," said Vin. "I just wanted to say, 'hi'."


Nathan watched his 'nephew' cringe at the sweet little girl voice, recognizing immediately that he was trying to avoid Rain's niece, Keisha.

Vin looked up at Nathan and gave him the "big eyes" pleading for rescue.

"Hello, Keisha," said Nathan, trying to think of a way to help Vin out of his predicament.

"Hi, Uncle Nathan. Hiiiiii, Vii-nny," said Keisha as she blinked big brown eyes at the blond.

"Hi," said Vin abruptly. He tapped Aunt Rain on her sleeve. "Aunt Rain?"

"Yes, Vin?" she answered.

"You look real pretty," said Vin.

"Well, thank you," said Rain. "And you are very handsome."

"Yeah, he is," said Keisha sweetly.

Vin cringed.

Nathan cringed for him.

Rain looked from Vin to Nathan to Keisha and immediately recognized the 'problem.' She thought it was cute that Keisha was following Vin, but she realized that it would be embarrassing to the shy boy.

"Is it time for our dance, Vin?" she asked.

Vin's mouth opened slightly in surprise. He hadn't asked Aunt Rain to dance, and he sure didn't want to be out there in the middle of the room with everyone staring at him, but it was better than dancing with a GIRL.

He quickly nodded in agreement, trying desperately to remember what Uncle Ezra had done when he and Miz Inez danced. He bowed and then he held out his hand for Rain.

Rain smiled and took his hand walking with him to the dance floor.

"Miss Keisha," said Nathan, "Would you give me the honor of a dance?"

Keisha giggled. "Sure, Uncle Nathan."

The couple joined Vin and Rain on the dance floor as the next song started.

JD ran over to where Buck was sitting with Inez.

"Miz Inez!" he blurted out as he edged in between them.

"Hola, mi hijo," said Inez.

JD giggled. He liked it when Miz Inez called him the Spanish words.

"What's up, Little Bit?" asked Buck.

"Look!" he said pointing to the dance floor. "Can you and me go out there?"

"Me?" said Buck.

"No, that's silly," said JD. "Miz Inez."

Inez grinned. "I'd be delighted, JD."

She took JD by the hand and walked him to the dance floor while Buck sat at the table lamenting his loss. He had yet to woo a dance from Inez.

Three other very eligible bachelors joined him as Ezra, Josiah and Chris pulled chairs up to the table. The four watched their boys with great pleasure.

Vin's version of dancing consisted of holding hands with Aunt Rain and swaying from one foot to the other, while JD jumped around like a wild man even though the music was slow. Inez gently reined him in and JD started doing an imitation of Vin's slow dance.

At the end of the dance, Rain bent down and gave Vin a kiss on the cheek. He hugged her and then made a beeline for the table where the men were sitting. JD followed at a slower pace, bringing Inez back with him. Uncle Nathan kept Keisha occupied for a few minutes offering her a glass of punch.

Almost an hour later the crowd was beginning to thin out and the children that remained were getting more rambunctious. Chris excused himself from a discussion with one of Rain's cousins and went to find his family. He ran into Buck and Inez coming off the dance floor.

He grinned at Buck. Buck had tried to bribe Ezra into switching places with him in the wedding party so that he could escort Inez during the ceremony, but Ezra had staunchly refused. Buck had finally gotten his dance with Inez, but she hadn't made it easy for the rogue. She had danced quite a while with Ezra, had a few dances with Josiah and even one with JD, before she had finally relented and danced with Buck. It had been fun watching her switch from guy to guy leaving Buck out. Chris wondered if Buck had figured out it was all a big joke on him.

"Having fun?" he asked.

"I am now," said Buck, bobbing his eyebrows.

Chris frowned as he looked over at the far wall. "Someone isn't."

Buck followed his line of sight and saw Vin and JD standing against the wall like little wallflowers, watching the other kids play. At least Keisha had found someone else to chase after for a while.

Buck sighed. "I told them not to get the tuxes dirty," he said softly, knowing that the boys had taken his instruction to the extreme. They were not playing with the other kids because they were afraid to get dirty and cost more money.

"Don't blame yourself. I told them the same thing," said Chris.

Chris and Buck walked over and joined the wallflowers, each standing by his boy. The DJ put on a very peppy song and soon four heads were bobbing in time with the music.

Chris looked at Vin, nodding in time to the music, and if he'd taken the time to think about how he 'looked', he probably wouldn't have reached down, grabbed his son and spun his way onto the dance floor.

Vin squealed in surprise and then began to giggle as Chris spun him around and around.

Seconds later Buck and JD were right out there in the middle of the floor with them laughing heartily.

Their uncles and aunt watched as two daddies and their boys made total fools of themselves on the dance floor, having an unforgettable moment of fun.

When the music ended, another song started with a much mellower mood. Neither Buck nor Chris seemed inclined to leave the floor as each slow danced carrying his boy.

Following an unexpected impulse, Ezra made his way to the middle of the floor and tapped Chris on the shoulder.

"May I cut in?" he asked.

Chris looked at Ezra and then he looked to Vin. "What do you think, Cowboy? You wanna dance with Uncle Ezra?"

Vin nodded and laughed as Chris passed him into Ezra's arms. He stepped back as they spun away and laughed as Josiah swept JD away from Buck. The boys' laughter rang across the dance floor as they danced with their uncles.

The wedding was fun, wasn't it, Vin?

Yeah, except for Keisha.

I liked her. She was real nice.

She weren't trying to kiss you!


Stop laughing at me, JD!

It was funny when you danced with her.

I didn't want to, but Buck said I had to be nice.

??? It was funny when she slugged you.

I didn't mean to step on her toe.

Yeah, but then she started thinking that other boy was cute.

Yeah, that was good.

And I liked dancing until I got in trouble.

You wasn't supposed to get the tuxedo dirty.

I didn't do it on purpose. I was just dancing.

I don't think lying on the floor, spinning in circles is dancing, JD.

Yah-huh. Uncle 'Ziah said it's called breaks dancing. And then Uncle Ezra said, "Yeah, 'cause you break something doing it.


Why'd you sigh, Vin?

I miss Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain.

Yeah, me too, but they're coming back on Saturday.

I hope so.

Buck said so, Vin. So did Chris and Uncle 'Ziah and Uncle Ezra and even Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain.

I know, it's just…

We're even having a party for them. We wouldn't have a party if they weren't coming home.

Are you about finished, boys? Buck already gave you the five-minute warning.

Hi, Chris. We was talking about Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain. Vin's still worried they aren't coming home.


Well, you are!

They'll be home Saturday, and they're coming for dinner, remember?


You're just going to have to trust me, Cowboy. Now, let's wrap this up. You guys need to get to bed.

Okay, Bye computer.