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Josiah was still sitting by the fading campfire when Buck returned, stumbling a little.
"You still up?" Buck asked, approaching him. "Its pretty late."
"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing," Josiah said quietly, poking at the fire with a branch.
"You werent worried, were you, big brother?" Buck asked, smiling.
Josiah shrugged. "Just wondering when youd make it back." He sniffed a little as Buck settled next to him. "You been drinking?"
"Yeah, just a little. They snuck some beer from their folks." Josiah laid his branch down, but didnt say anything. "Come on, Josiah, youre not gonna give me a hard time, are you?"
Josiah shook his head, turning to face him. "Theyre your choices, Buck." Buck looked at him for a moment, a little defiantly, then moved to rise. "You might just want to think about some of the ones youre making, though," Josiah added quietly, when Buck had walked a few steps away.
Buck turned back. "Whats that supposed to mean?"
Josiah motioned toward the tents. "They look up to you, Buck."
"So, think about it a little. Itll come to you."
Buck shrugged him off. "Whatever, bro. Look, its lateIm gonna crash."
Josiah nodded, watching him. "Good night, Buck."
+ + + + + + +
Vin and Ezra crouched quietly next to Bucks sleeping form. Ezra held his hand out, and Vin passed him the shaving cream. Ezra carefully layered the cream onto Bucks outstretched palm. They both tensed at the hiss made by the aerosol can, but Buck didnt stir. Ezra handed the can back to Vin, who tucked it into his waistband and began to back out of the tent. Ezra followed after him, both of them holding their breaths until they were safely out.
They stood, smiling at each other, and exchanged a silent hand slide.
"What are you guys up to?" Josiah asked, walking up behind them. They both jumped, Vin smoothing his shirt down over the shaving cream before turning to face him.
"Nothing, Josiah," Ezra said, grabbing at Vins arm and moving away. "We were just about to go clean something, right, Vin?"
"Yeah, right, clean something," Vin agreed, pointing vaguely in the direction of the campfire. "Cmon, Ez."
The two of them rushed away. Josiah watched them suspiciously as he rattled the tent and shouted for Buck to wake up. The day Ezra cleaned something without being forced to was the day Chris would make a decent cup of coffee, and Josiah had already had some of his coffee today. Decent wasnt the word hed use to describe it.
He wasnt that surprised, then, when he heard Bucks outraged shout. Buck emerged moments later, the side of his face covered in shaving cream. Josiah looked over toward the campfire, where Ezra and Vin were falling over themselves, laughing.
Josiah sighed. Another day in the neighborhood. "Morning, Buck."
"Dont morning, Buck me," Buck grumbled, swiping at his face. "Im going to killem." He glowered over at the campfire, where Ezra and Vin became quickly busy.
"No, you wont," Josiah said patiently, handing him a towel.
Buck accepted the towel, growling, "Why wont I?"
Josiah plastered a pious look on his face. "Because theyre your little brothers, and you love and cherish them."
"Yeah, right," Buck grumbled, wiping the shaving cream off of his face. He looked at Josiah. "Can I at least make them think Im gonna kill them?"
Josiah considered it, and then smiled at him. "Yeah, why not."
Buck flashed him a grin, tossing the towel back at him. "Ezra, Vin," he rumbled, moving toward them. "You boys might want to think about running, right about NOW!"
He took off after them, Ezra and Vin hesitating only a split second before taking off in opposite directions. Buck let them get away a little bit before easily gaining on first one, and then the other. He tossed them over his shoulder and carryed them back to camp one at a time, where he dumped them on the ground. He stood over them, glowering as they both sat up trying helplessly not to laugh. Buck fought to remain serious, too, but finally gave up, reaching down and knocking them both gently back down on the ground.
"You boys better watch out," Buck warned. "Just when you least expect it..." he let his voice trail off, turning to head for the campgrounds shower stalls. He turned back around, flashing them an evil smile. "Expect it."
Breaking camp had started to settle into a routine, and they were packed and in the van by mid-morning. Josiah handed Chris the map as he pulled onto the road. "Were going to head down, pick up I-70. I thought wed push for some miles today."
Chris nodded. "Sounds good."
"So, how long will we be in the van?" Ezra asked from the back. J.D.s seat had been moved next to the window so that Ezra and Vin could sit together. They had their games laid out on the seat between them.
"Probably most of the day, Ez. Well stop a few times on the way."
"Can we go to McDonalds for lunch?" J.D. asked, his voice not really hopeful. Josiah gave him the expected answer.
"Yeah, thats what I thought," J.D. said sadly, picking up his action figures.
Buck soon fell asleep in the second seat, leaning against the window, and Nathan put on his headphones. Chris concentrated on the map, talking quietly every now and then with Josiah. Ezra and Vin had grown tired of the football game, and had pulled out the Travel version of Battleship.
"C14," Ezra said confidently, looking at Vin.
Vin sighed. "Thats another one." He inserted the peg in his ship.
"That makes three for me," Ezra said, smiling.
"Yeah, yeah," Vin grumbled, examining his pegs. "F 9?"
Vin looked at him suspiciously. "Youre not moving them, are you?"
Ezra gave him a disdainful look. "I dont cheat."
"Says you," Vin muttered, jabbing a white peg into his board.
"Dont be a sore loser, Vin," Ezra advised.
"Shut up, Ez!"
"Why dont you try to make me?!"
"Knock it off," Chris ordered, turning around. They waited until his back was turned again before they crossed their eyes at him, grinning at each other and continuing their game.
The beeping sound of the football game alerted them a few minutes later, and they looked over to see J.D. happily pushing buttons, his action figures tucked next to him in his chair under his seatbelt.
"Who said you could touch that?" Vin asked, plucking the game from his hands.
"Hey!" J.D. protested, reaching for it. Vin passed it behind him to Ezra.
"You might break it."
"No I wont!"
"Leave it alone, J.D.!"
They all turned simultenaously. "Jo-si-ah!"
Josiah looked back. "Whats the problem, guys?"
"They wont let me use their game!" J.D. began, as Vin said, "J.D. took our game without asking!"
"All right!" Josiah interrupted. "J.D., you need to ask first, and Vin, Ezra, it wouldnt hurt you guys to let him use it."
Josiah turned back to the road. "Figure it out, guys, or Ill put the games away and none of youll have them." Chris seconded Josiahs statement with a quick look behind him, and the back seat fell into silence, the three inhabitants examining each other.
"Socan I use it?" J.D. finally asked tentatively, eyeing the game. Vin and Ezra looked at each other, and then Ezra shrugged.
"Fine," Vin said, taking the football game from Ezra and handing it to J.D. "Just be careful with it."
"I am careful," J.D. defended, taking it.
Vin rolled his eyes, and picked up his Battleship board. "How about E6?" he asked, looking at Ezra. Ezra picked up his board, examining it, and then smiled.
+ + + + + + +
The day was a long one, and their tempers had all frayed by the time they got to the campsite that night, well over the Ohio border. Josiah, Chris, and Buck sat up talking after the others had gone to bed.
"We cant do too many days like this one," Josiah said quietly, looking at the others.
Chris nodded. "I know, Josiah, but arent we better off getting somewhere?"
Josiah shrugged. "Well get there, Chris. Be nice if we were all still talking to each other when we did."
Chris nodded again, looking at the fire.
"I didnt think it was so bad, Josiah," Buck said, stretching back. Josiah gave him a look.
"Thats because you slept all morning, Buck."
"So you think we should slow it down?" Chris asked, looking at Josiah.
"Wellat least break it up, some. We went over four hundred miles today. These guys cant sit that long and not get into trouble."
"All right." Chris picked up Josiahs camping guide. "Lets break it up, some, then. How are we doing for money?"
"Well," Josiah leaned back. "Not too bad, actually. We saved a lot, not having to pay for the van."
"Yeah, that was pretty cool of that priest," Buck said, picking up a stick and poking at the fire.
"Yeah, it was," Josiah agreed. "So, anyway, we can afford to spend a little bit."
"Let me see that book," Buck said, grabbing it out of Chriss hands. "You guysll pick something boring, like a museum or something."
Chris shrugged. "Maybe not a museum, but it wouldnt hurt to do something more interesting than roadside miniature golf."
"Well, Ill tell you what," Buck said, grinning. "You pick something and I pick something, and we let them decide. Deal?"
Chris and Josiah exchanged glances.
"Yeah, okay. Deal," Chris said, sighing.
+ + + + + + +
"Cool," J.D. breathed, staring at the flashing lights, and Vin nodded in silent agreement. Ezra tried to look blasé, but the eager look in his eyes gave him away. Josiah and Chris shared a look before Josiah stepped forward, eyeing the three of them firmly.
"All right, heres the deal. No one goes off alone. You guys are with one of us at all times. You can have five dollars each, and Ezra, if youve got more than that, youre not spending it here, and youre not making any deals with Vin for it, okay?" He gave him a look, waiting for his nod. "Youve got one hour, and then we get back on the road." Josiah looked around the crowded arcade and game area, and grasped tightly onto J.D.s hand. "J.D., youre with me."
J.D. looked up at him, eyes shining. "I want to go on that," he said, pointing at a plane ride.
"Well, then, lets go," Josiah said, a resigned look on his face. He looked over his shoulder at Chris. "You get them," he said, indicating the two boys already heading in the other direction.
"Great," Chris muttered, turning to follow. "You guys wait up," he ordered, raising his voice. He looked back at Josiah. "Just an hour, right?"
"Just an hour."
"I can do an hour," Chris said under his breath, walking determinedly off after Vin and Ezra.
Buck flashed a smile at Nathan. "See you in an hour, bro." He turned and headed into the crowd. Nathan looked around him and sighed. Crowds. He headed for a bench off to the side, pulling out his headphones. He put them on and turned up the volume, leaning back to wait out the hour.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah and J.D. were the first to return, J.D. running up to Nathan to show him the paper tickets clutched in his hand.
"Thats great, J.D., you got a lot," Nathan said, smiling at Josiah, who winked at him.
"Im gonna get the magic trick," J.D. said, holding the tickets carefully.
"Wherere the others?" Josiah asked.
Nathan shrugged. "I think Ez and Vin headed for Skee ball. Bucks over that way." He motioned with his head toward the snack area.
Josiah nodded. "Ill go get him. See if you can hurry the others up, and then meet us over at the prize area, okay?"
Nathan rose and moved through the arcade, and Josiah turned toward the food counter. "J.D., stay with me," he said, seeing the boy stop to examine a game.
"Can we play one more?" J.D. asked, lingering in front of it.
Josiah shook his head. "Weve got to get going."
"Just one more? I can be real quick."
"No, J.D." He reached down and took J.D.s hand. "Come on, dont you want to show Buck your tickets and pick out some prizes?"
"Oh, yeah," J.D. agreed, his face lighting up. "Wait till Buck sees how many I got!"
He chattered about the prizes he wanted as they headed over to the tables, Josiah scanning them for Buck. He finally spotted him leaning casually in a booth, talking with two teenage girls. After an hour in the arcade, Josiah was feeling a little evil, so he leaned down and showed J.D. where Buck was. J.D. launched himself in the direction of the older boy, landing on Bucks lap and waving his tickets in Bucks face. By the time Josiah got there, Buck had hooked an arm around J.D. to keep him from falling, and J.D. was talking enthusiastically to the two girls.
"And then I went on the plane ride again, and then I hit the moles and got three tickets, and then I hit them again and got three more, and then"
"Okay, J.D.," Buck interrupted, looking sheepishly at the girls. "Sorry about that, ladies"they giggled"he likes to talk a bit."
"You talk moren I do," J.D. informed him.
One of the girls laughed. "Hes cute, Buck."
"So I hear," Buck grumbled, tickling J.D. a little, then flashed them a smile. "So looks like I gotta be going," he said, nodding toward Josiah. He stood, depositing J.D. on the ground, and moved his arms in a little flourish. "Its been a pleasure talking to you ladies." He flashed them another smile, and they giggled again.
"Yeah, bye, Buck."
"Ladies," he tipped an imaginary hat, and then took J.D.s hand, walking toward Josiah. "Good place I picked to stop, wasnt it, Josiah?"
Josiah shook his head, but there was a note of grudging admiration in his voice. "Yeah, sure, Buck."
"Hey, squirt" Buck looked down at J.D. "Why is it that, every time you come around, the girls start to ignore me?"
J.D. looked at him thoughtfully. "Maybe they like me bettern you."
Buck reached down and put him in a quick headlock. "Yeah, kid, thatll be the day."
The others were over by the prize counter when they got there. Vin and Ezra were carefully feeding rows of paper tickets into the electronic counter.
"Cool," J.D. breathed, watching the tickets disappear into the machine. "Its eating them."
Vin turned to him. "How manyd you get, J.D.?"
J.D. held out his hand, and the other two examined his stash. "Not bad, J.D.," Ezra said approvingly. "What did you play?"
"Mostly the mole, and the car, and the basketball, and the space one. And the plane, but that one didnt give me any tickets." J.D. frowned a little as he said it. He still didnt think it was fair for a ride not to give out tickets. "What about you?"
"Skee ball," Vin said, turning to wait for the receipt to come from the machine.
"For an hour," Chris confirmed pointedly, looking at Josiah.
"The whole hour?" Josiah asked, lips twitching.
Chris nodded, his eyes shooting daggers. "The whole hour."
Buck walked up, smiling. "This place is great, isnt it?"
Chris shot him a look. "Tomorrow, Buck, I am picking out the place." He stalked over to lean against the wall next to Nathan. Buck shrugged, watching him.
"Whats his problem?" he asked Josiah.
"Skee ball marathon," Josiah explained.
"Ouch," Buck said, wincing in sympathy. "The whole time?"
"Yeah, the whole time."
"Maybe Ill stay away from him for a while."
Josiah turned to help J.D. feed his tickets in the machine. "Not a bad idea, Buck, but thats going to be kind of hard to do in the van."
"Oh." Buck thought about it for a moment. "You know, this whole van thing"
"Yeah," Josiah stood. "I know."
The hour in the arcade was enough to make the idea of another afternoon in the van tolerable to the younger boys. J.D. was absorbed in learning his magic trick, and Vin and Ezra were absorbed in the new hockey game they had pooled their tickets to get. Chris regained his equilibrium once the arcadeand the Skee ball laneswere safely behind them. Buck was still riding on the glow of meeting three pretty girls in less than twenty-four hours, and Nathan was content as long as the others werent bickering. The ride to the next campsite was refreshingly peaceful
There were still a couple of hours of daylight left when they pulled in, and Josiah dug out a football after they made camp.
"Anybody up for a game?" he asked, waggling it at them.
A smile spread on Bucks face. "Now youre talking, Josiah. Throw it here." He took off running, and Josiah threw a lazy spiral toward him, which Buck dropped under and caught easily.
"Nice pass, bro."
"Over here, Buck," Chris called, dropping back. Buck sighted and threw it hard, Chris plucking it out of the air in front of him. He spun and tossed it to Josiah, who had crossed behind Buck.
J.D. took off running after Josiah. "I want to play." He caught up and hurled himself at the older boy, grabbing onto the football. Josiah grinned at him and then slowly lifted the football, so that J.D., still clutching it, dangled in the air.
"Nice grip, kid," Josiah said, wiggling the football a little. J.D. dropped to the ground, and Josiah handed him the ball, looking at the others. "Usual teams?"
"What about him?" Vin asked, pointing to J.D.
Josiah laughed. "Does it really matter?"
Vin smiled, looking at J.D. "Nah, probably not."
They divided up, with Chris, Nathan and Vin forming one team and Josiah, Buck, and Ezra forming a second. J.D. was torn, but decided to play on Josiahs team, mostly because Josiah was still holding the football and J.D. wanted to make sure he stayed near it. He was a little disappointed when, three plays in, the ball was passed over to Chris, and opted to switch teams. The strategy decided the matter, and from then on J.D. played on whichever team had the ball.
The rules they used were ones they had developed over time, and specified who could cover who (Josiah and Buck had to leave Vin alone, and Chris, Ezra); what counted as a tag, depending on who had made it (Vin and Ezra could tag anywhere they could reach, the others had to be above the waist); and when a do-over was permissible (essentially, whenever Josiah and Chris could agree on it, which wasnt that often). J.D. made up his own rules as he went along, but since all he was really doing was running in circles, they ignored him and let him do what he wanted.
In the end, Chriss team won, which according to their running tally put Josiahs team two games in the lead. Buck found it necessary to remind the other team of this fact when they bragged about their win, and Chris found it necessary to then wrestle Buck to the ground and sit on him, declaring him a sore loser.
Buck sat up, pushing Chris off. "Im not a sore loser, Chris, I just havent had much experience with it, is all, with you boys losing to us so often. This one mustve just took me by surprise." Chris snorted and pushed him over again. Buck grinned at him, rising to his feet, and reached down to give Chris a hand up.
Back at camp, they all dropped on the ground near the tents.
"So whatre we gonna do for dinner?" Vin asked, laying on his side and pulling at the grass.
Josiah sighed and looked at him. "Vin, are you ever not hungry?"
Vin thought about it. "Yeah, sometimes, I guess."
"It was rhetorical, Vin," Josiah said tiredly, stretching.
"It was Forget it. Hows franks and beans sound?"
"Gross!" Ezra corrected, sitting up. "Josiah, you cant possibly expect us to keep eating this campfire fare, and I use the term loosely, can you?"
Josiah eyed him. "You feel like doing some cooking, Ezra?"
"I dont know how to cook anything."
"Then you probably shouldnt complain too much about the food."
"Same oughta go for coffee," Chris murmured, looking away as Josiah flashed him a quick look. He winked at Vin after Josiah had turned back away, and Vin laughed before he could stop himself. Josiah turned back around and caught them looking away from each other.
"All right, Christopher, you can zip it too, unless you feel like cooking us something."
Chris shrugged. "Dont know what youre talking about, Josiah. I think youre a fine cook."
"Damn straight," Buck agreed, nodding.
"Damn straight," J.D. echoed, smiling. His smile faltered as he took in the glances suddenly being leveled at him. "What?"
"Dont you say that, kid," Chris warned, shaking a finger at him.
"You know what."
"But he said it," J.D. said, pointing over at a now sheepish-looking Buck.
"Buck shouldnt have said it, either, J.D.," Josiah said. He gave him a look. "Right, Buck?"
"Yeah, right," Buck said, face coloring. "You shouldnt curse, J.D."
Vin choked back a laugh, and Ezra snorted, lifting his hand to cover his mouth.
"Whats with you two?" Chris asked, turning his frown toward them.
Ezra got under control more quickly than Vin, and tried to explain. "Its just that Buck and saying ," he laughed again when Vin elbowed him, "Its just kind of the pot and the kettle " his voice trailed off as he tried to quiet his chuckles.
Vin gave him a sideways look. "Which ones Buck, pot or kettle?" They held eye contact for just a moment, before breaking into helpless laughter.
"Either ones equally amusing," Ezra finally managed to gasp, causing Vin to roll over onto the ground.
J.D. frowned at them, wanting to laugh but not sure what was funny. "I dont get it."
Josiah stood. "You know, I love these family discussions we have." He walked toward the campfire. "Did we decide on franks and beans?"
+ + + + + + +
Josiah waited patiently outside the plastic curtain, listening to the sounds of splashing.
"You about ready in there, J.D.?"
"Nope," J.D. replied, patting at the curtain from the other side. "Five more minutes, okay?"
"Okay," Josiah said, smiling a little. J.D. didnt have much sense of time, but had settled on five minutes as a reasonable request, and used it whenever he wanted to keep doing something that somebody else wanted him to stop.
"Josiah?" J.D. had moved away from the curtain, and his voice was muffled.
"That was a good plane ride."
There were sounds of splashing. "Buck sure likes girls, doesnt he?"
"Yup, he sure does." The splashing got louder. "J.D., what are you doing in there?"
The splashing stopped. "Nothing." A pause, and then the splashing started again, a little more softly. "He shouldnt of said a bad word."
"Nope," Josiah agreed. "And neither should you, right?"
"Ri-ight," J.D. agreed half-heartedly from the other side. His voice got stronger. "But Buck really shouldnt of."
Josiah listened as the splashing grew louder again, and said, "Okay, J.D., time for hair."
"Was it five minutes?"
"Then, okay," J.D. agreed, pulling back the curtain and popping his face around. Josiah smiled at him. J.D.s hair was plastered to his head, and rivulets of water ran down his face. He had somehow managed to completely miss a streak of dirt which ran from just below his ear and down across his shoulder all the way to the top of his back.
Josiah picked up the shampoo bottle and squirted some on his hand. The first time they had confronted the need for bathing, J.D. had told him in a dignified voice that he could shower all by himself, because he wasnt a baby. Josiah had agreed to wait on the bench outside the shower stalls, allowing J.D. to manage the rest of the process alone. One time had been enough to learn that his idea of clean and J.D.s were two entirely different things, and since then, hed supervised. Theyd managed to make it through two showers now with a minimum of fuss, and Josiah suspected that J.D. hadnt really gotten down the knack of showering by himself before he met up with them, anyway.
Josiah laid one palm across J.D.s forehead, and with the other began to work the shampoo through J.D.s hair. J.D. wriggled a bit under him, making the water fly with the palm of his hands.
"Are we driving again tomorrow?"
"Yup, for a while more." Josiah worked the shampoo into the hair above J.D.s neck, blinking as a stream of water hit him in the face. "Quit splashing me, J.D."
J.D. giggled and splashed some more water back toward Josiah, who rewarded him by growling. J.D. jumped around and then slid a little before Josiah grabbed him by the upper arm, steadying him.
"All right, kid, settle down."
"Whenre we gonna get to our home, Josiah?" J.D. asked, standing more quietly.
"Well, we have to find it first, J.D. It wont be too long, though." Josiah rinsed his hands under the spray of water, and then placed his palm back on J.D.s forehead. "Time to rinse. Shut your eyes." He waited until J.D. had closed his eyes and then dropped his hand over his eyelids, tilting J.D.s head back and using his other hand to work the water through. He let J.D. up once the suds had all rinsed clear.
"My turn again," J.D. told him, moving to close the curtain.
Josiah reached a hand up to stop it. "Just a sec." He picked up the washcloth J.D. had ignored and wet it under the stream, holding J.D. by the arm and quickly wiping away the various smudges covering the little boys torso. "All right, but just another minute."
"Five minutes?" J.D. asked, pulling the curtain closed. The sounds of splashing immediately started up again.
"All right, five minutes."
Josiah waited for most of a minute before saying, "Times up, J.D."
"Its not five minutes," J.D. protested, continuing to splash. Josiah reached in and turned the faucets off.
"It is by my watch." He picked up the towel and held it up, and J.D. reluctantly moved from behind the curtain. Josiah wrapped him in the towel and picked him up, carrying him over to the bench where he had laid the pajamas.
"Im not a baby," J.D. objected, struggling to get down. Josiah deposited him on the bench.
"Nope. Youre a warrior, right, J.D.?"
J.D. broke into a smile. "Yeah. A warrior."
Josiah sat next to him and handed him his pajama top. "So, Ive been thinking about tomorrow."
"What have you been thinking about tomorrow?" J.D. asked, pulling the shirt over his head. Josiah tugged it down, and J.D.s head popped out.
"Well, I was thinking about what we were going to do for lunch." Josiah handed him the bottoms, and J.D. pulled them over his feet, standing and discarding the towel to get them the rest of the way up.
"What are we going to do for lunch?"
Josiah retrieved the towel from the floor and pulled J.D. to stand between his legs, toweling off his hair. "Well, I thought maybe, as a special treat, somebody might want to go to McDonalds?" he raised his eyebrows in question.
J.D.s eyes grew wide. "We could go to McDonalds?"
Josiah smiled at him. "Thought you might like that."
J.D. nodded his head vigorously, and Josiah stood. "All right, then. Its a plan."
J.D. climbed up onto the bench, and Josiah hooked an arm behind him and pulled J.D. onto his back.
"You ready to say good night to the guys?"
"Good night to the guys," J.D. parroted, smiling.
"Very funny," Josiah growled, jumping around and causing J.D. to pop into the air.
"Youre funny looking," J.D. said, giggling and clutching at his neck.
Josiah turned around, eying the grinning face perched on his shoulder. "J.D., you have been spending way too much time with Vin and Ezra."
+ + + + + + +
Chris had the map out and was studying it when Josiah awoke the next morning. Josiah eyed himand then the kettlebalefully, before walking over and picking up a cup.
"Thought I told you I was making the coffee from now on," Josiah grumbled, pouring himself some.
Chris looked up briefly from the map. "Then you might want to get up before me and make it."
Josiah sat, stretching, and sipped at the cup, making a little face. "Itd help if you slept past dawn, every now and then."
"Itd help if I didnt have Buck and J.D. in my tent."
Josiah nodded, licking his lips. "Youve got a point."
"So get used to my coffee." Chris gave him a half-smile, before motioning toward the map. "I found a good spot to head for, today."
"State park in Illinois, not too far off the highway. Theres campsites, a lake, bunch of things to do."
Josiah thought about it for a moment. "Might be too many people there. Someone could have seen their pictures."
"Yeah, I thought about that. Fact is, were far enough away, most people wont ever have heard about them. Almost better to be somewhere theres a hundred screaming kids running around."
"So our little jerks wont stand out so much?" Josiah asked, smiling a bit.
Chris nodded. "Exactly."
"Let me see the map."
Chris handed it over to him, holding his finger on a spot. "Heres where it is."
Josiah looked at it, and then nodded. "Yeah, okay. Looks good. Theyve got things to do, there?"
Chris shrugged. "Well, they dont have skee ball."
Josiah grinned. "Still havent recovered, huh?"
"Next time we go somewhere like that, and that will be a very long time from now, you get to go with Vin and Ezra."
Josiah handed him back the map. "You offering to take J.D.?"
Josiah laughed at the vehemence in Chriss voice. "Language, little brother," he teased. Chris gave him a pointed look.
"Shut up, Josiah."
The tent flap unzipped, and Vin emerged, followed by J.D..
"Morning, guys," Josiah said, taking in their appearance. Vin was stony-faced, and he held firmly onto J.D.s hand. The younger boys eyes were red, and he looked sweaty, his hair clinging to his forehead in wavy strands.
"Something wrong?" Chris asked, seeing the same things Josiah did.
J.D. shook his head quickly, and Vin answered, leading J.D. over to them. "Nope."
"You sure, Vin?" Josiah asked, exchanging glances with Chris.
"Yup." Vin pushed J.D. down onto the log and then sat next to him, resting his arm across J.D.s shoulders. J.D. immediately nestled into him, and Vin shifted a little until they were both comfortable.
Josiah looked at them. "J.D., did you have another bad dream?" he asked, his voice gentle. J.D. shook his head, and then nodded slowly. Josiah moved to sit on the other side of him. "You want to talk about it?" J.D. shook his head, hard.
"Hes fine, arent you, J.D.?" Vin said, squeezing him a little bit.
J.D. nodded again. Josiah rested his hand on J.D.s hair and ruffled it. "Im sorry you had a bad dream, kid."
J.D. looked at Josiah, suddenly remembering. "Is today the day were going to McDonalds?" he asked hopefully.
Josiah smiled at him. "Yup."
J.D.s eyes brightened. "Im gonna get the box with the toy in it," he said, pulling away from Vin and going to look at the fire.
"What else are we doing today?" Vin asked.
"Were gonna head to a park in Illinois," Chris answered him.
"How many states does that make?"
"You tell me."
J.D. broke in, turning and listing them. "New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Ill-i-nois." He pronounced the last one carefully.
Vin looked at Chris. "He missing any?"
Vin nodded. "Thats five, then."
"Thats a lot of states," J.D. said, moving closer to the fire. "Are we gonna get to our home today?"
"J.D.," Chris said warningly. He looked pointedly at the fire when J.D. turned to look at him. He waited until J.D. took a step back, pouting a little, before answering him. "No, our home isnt going to be in Illinois."
"Where will our home be?"
"Wellsomewhere a little farther away."
"Oh." J.D. picked up a stick off the pile and sat down with it.
"Im hungry," Vin declared, moving to rummage in the supplies. "Whens breakfast, Josiah?"
"Tell you what," Josiah said, pulling him away from the box. "You get all the others up and Ill make breakfast, okay?"
Vin considered it. "Whatll you make?"
Josiah nodded. "Yup. But youve got to wake everyone up."
"Yeah, okay," Vin said, sticking out his hand. "Deal."
Josiah shook it solemnly and then turned away, hiding his smile. Chris shook his head as Vin moved toward the first tent.
"That was mean, Josiah."
Josiah shrugged. "Hey, kids got to learn not to take a bad deal."
Chris raised an eyebrow. "So youre actually doing him a favor, huh?"
Josiah smiled. "Something like that."
"Whys it mean?" J.D. asked. He sat on the ground, digging with the stick. Dirt covered his pajamas and hands. Josiah groaned when he saw him.
"J.D., what are you doing?"
J.D. looked up. "Drawing. Whys it mean?"
An outraged shout came from over by the tents, followed by stammering speech and then more shouting. They watched as Vin backed out quickly, closing the tent flap with a slightly shell-shocked look on his face. He looked at them, blinking a few times.
"Bucks awake," he said unnecessarily, before moving to the next tent.
Josiah turned back to J.D., smiling. "Buck doesnt like to be woken up, remember?"
A smile slowly grew across J.D.s face. "Oh, yeah."
Josiah began to rummage through the boxes, and Chris turned to J.D., who was once again digging in the dirt. "J.D., go change out of your pajamas. Were going to start driving right after breakfast."
"In five minutes, okay?" J.D. said, continuing to dig.
Chris started to shake his head, and then stopped. "All right. Five minutes." He scowled at the amused look Josiah flashed him, and moved to build up the fire. When it was burning, he turned and took the bowl Josiah handed him and placed it on the ground, stepping back as Josiah moved forward with a large pan.
Chris brushed his hands off on his pants, and turned back to J.D. "Okay, kid, times up."
He waited a few seconds, but the artist, intent on his work, didnt move. "J.D."
"Just one more minute, okay?" J.D. pulled his stick carefully through the dirt.
Chris shook his head. "No, J.D., now. Everyonell be up soon."
"But Im drawing."
"You can draw after you change," Chris said, moving next to him.
J.D. glared at him, holding onto his stick. "Ill go in one minute."
"No, J.D., now!" Chris said, frustrated.
"Just one minutes!" J.D.s voice was getting high-pitched.
"J.D., go change, and you can draw when youre done!" Chriss voice was rising along with J.D.s.
Josiah looked up, holding a pan in one hand and a box of pancake mix in the other. "You want to go to McDonalds today, kid?" His voice was calm.
J.D. folded his arms and looked at Josiah sideways, frowning. "You said we could."
"Do you want to go?"
J.D. nodded, still frowning.
"Then do what youre told." He held J.D.s gaze until the little boy put down his stick and rose, stomping over to his tent. Josiah looked at Chris. "You cant argue with him, Chris. Hes seven."
Chris held up his hands defensively. "Hey, I wasnt arguing with him, Josiah. I was justwhat are you grinning at?" He scowled at Josiah, who turned away to hide his smile.
"Nothing at all, Chris."
Chris opened his mouth, but he was cut off by another shout, followed by two different angry voices. He looked over toward the tents, the corner of his mouth turning up. "Guess Ezra and Nathan are up."
Josiah smiled back. "Guess so."
Chris stretched out, watching Josiah mix the batter. "Some family we got, huh, Josiah?"
Josiah laughed. "You can say that again."
"Some family we got, huh, Josiah?"
Josiah turned and gave him a look. "What is it with you guys?"
"Well " Chris started, smiling. Josiah cut him off.
"It was rhetorical, Chris."
"What?" Chris asked, feigning confusion.
"It was oh, forget it!" Chris laughed, and Josiah turned away, scowling. "Wiseass," he muttered, but the other boy only chuckled some more.