Vin sat alone in his room with his treasure box on his desk. He smiled as he looked at his purple cast with all his family's signatures on it. It seemed so long ago that he had broken his arm. He still remembered how scary it was when he broke it, and how much scarier it was to be all alone at the hospital, but he also remembered how safe he felt when Chris arrived and stayed with him the whole time.
He grinned at the picture of him as the Headless Horseman on Peso. They had a copy of this photograph in their memory book, but Chris had made an extra copy just for Vin to keep. Halloween was a long time ago. The stale piece of candy he unwrapped and began to chew attested to that fact.
Swallowing the candy, he picked up the ticket stub from the football game. That had been scary when the troll came after Uncle Ezra, but they had found Bubba the horse and he had kept them safe when they got lost. He wondered what Bubba was doing today and where the posse was working.
Tears clouded his eyes as he looked at the picture of his mom and dad, and he clutched his father's harmonica tightly. He was so happy to know about his father, but it also made his heart sad that his father was gone.
So many things were changing, but one thing always stayed the same.
"There you are. Nathan and Rain will be here soon," Chris said as he sat down beside his son. "Are you all right, Cowboy?"
Chris was always the same. Loving him, taking care of him, helping him do the right things.
"Yeah," said Vin, putting his treasures back in his box. "We're gonna finish the book tonight, right?"
Chris nodded. "And then we'll take it and get a copy made for each of us."
"They're here! They're here!" JD's shrill voice called from the living room.
Vin quickly tucked his box away and raced to the front door. He had tried so hard to trust that Nathan and Rain weren't going away forever, but he'd fought with a nagging doubt all week. Now he stood at the front door, beaming, without a clue that next time it would be just a little easier to trust because Chris' word had come true.
"Hi, Unca Nathan!" shouted JD. "Hi, Aunt Rain! How was your hummymoon?"
"JD, that's not something you should ask," said Buck with a huge grin. He didn't think Nathan could blush.
"C'mere you two rug rats," said Nathan fondly.
JD leapt off the porch into his arms as Vin ran down the steps to stand next to him.
Nathan freed one arm and pulled Vin close. "Did you miss me?"
"Yeah," said JD. "I fell down and scraped my knee, but Da said I couldn't call you. He said you was on your hummymoon and we shouldn't 'sturb you. Why can't we call you on your hummymoon?"
"Hey, Little Bit," Buck laughed nervously, "We should let Nathan and Rain come inside. It's chilly out here."
"Oh yeah," said JD. He squirmed out of Uncle Nathan's arms and grabbed him by the hand. "We got choclit cake!"
"After dinner," added Buck.
"But we gots peas for dinner," said JD making a yuck face.
Nathan laughed as Vin grabbed his other hand and Aunt Rain's hand and the boys led them into the house.
After dinner the family sat in the living room and paged through the memory book together, laughing over the fun times, and quietly reflecting on the more serious moments.
They added a page with digital prints from Nathan and Rain's wedding, showing the entire family in their tuxedos.
Josiah presented the boys with copies of their illustrations for "The Empty Kingdom" book that he had written, and the pages were added to the memory book.
The three ring binder was now bulging with pages.
"Well, boys," said Chris, "I think that just about wraps up this book."
"NO!" said Vin sharply.
Chris looked at him.
"I mean, no," said Vin with a softer tone. "Everybody needs to write one more essay for the book."
Chris smiled. "I like that idea, Cowboy."
Vin hurried over to the desk and grabbed some paper from the printer. JD grabbed the cup of pencils and the two boys passed around the supplies.
JD threw himself on the floor on his tummy and started writing immediately.
Vin sat himself down, leaning against Chris' legs, and tapped his pencil against his teeth as he thought about what to write.
The room was silent except for the sound of lead scratching on paper.
The room was uncomfortably quiet after the essays were read, the emotions strong, until Ezra, of all people, broke the tension. He was seated on the couch next to Rain and Nathan. Buck was sitting on the arm of the couch on his other side. Ezra impetuously shoved him off the arm of the couch.
Unable to catch himself, he landed on his backside with a thud.
Ezra flashed him an unapologetic grin.
"Now you've done it, Boy!" threatened Buck. From his place on the floor, he used his superior body weight to pull Ezra over the arm of the couch.
JD dove right into the middle of the wrestling match.
Vin tensed and stepped toward the tangle of arms and legs, instinctively trying to protect JD, but the roughhousing itself made him pause.
The threesome rolled into Chris and brought him into the free-for-all. Somehow Nathan and Josiah ended up in the melee as well, as Rain watched from the relative safety of the couch.
"Vin, help me!" squealed JD as Buck tickled him.
Vin stepped forward again, but the guys rolled towards him and he flinched away. He still felt guilty about knocking JD off the couch in their wrestling for the remote control, and truth be told, just the roughness of the play scared him a little. He'd wrestled with Buck and Chris and JD a few times but not with everybody.
A black clad arm reached out of the pile of bodies.
Chris pulled him into the dog pile and wrapped his arms around the seven-year-old to give him a sense of security. Soon Vin's squeals mixed with JD's as Ezra slipped free from Josiah's grasp and began to tickle Vin in earnest.
After a few more minutes, the wrestling match quieted to a pile of tired bodies, breathing hard from the roughhousing. As they lay draped over the top of each other, somewhere in the midst of the pile a blond seven-year-old giggled. The sound was pure and sweet, something that had been missing for too long. The contagious giggle quickly drew in the laughter of five men, another little boy, and one woman watching from the couch.
Undoubtedly there would be many more bumps in the road ahead. Many more things would be added to their "Things We Learned" list, but they would go through each one together as a family.
Things We Learned (Index)
Special thanks to LaraMee and Gina D who contributed greatly to the story by allowing me to bounce ideas numerous times, and extra thanks for each of them writing most of the final essays and fixing continuity problems.
Thanks also to each other who has participated in both of these series, "In the Good Ol' Summertime" and "Things We Learned." It has been a pleasure to work with each of you. Some how we managed to post 32 stories... on time, each week. You are the best!
And thank you to each person who has taken the extra effort in offering feedback on the stories. You will never know how much you comments encouraged us!