Disclaimer: I dont own them, just wish I did. Im not making money off them. Believe me not a dime.
Warning: Mention of child sexual abuse in this story. If that bothers you, dont read on.
Vin made his way through the offices, file in hand, and tiredly sank into his chair. Paperwork was always a struggle and could wear him out faster than a ten mile run. Sighing, he dropped the file on his desk, wishing he had grabbed a cup of coffee on his way. Instead he raked his hand through his hair and settled in to work.
As he reached for the file once more he glanced across his desk to Ezras and stopped short, his hand suspended halfway to the file. The southerner sat at his desk with the morning newspaper open before him. Vin could plainly make out the headline on the front page:
Man, forty-two, killed by former foster parent
Below that was the name Brian MacIntosh.
Slowly, without even realizing he was doing it, Vin stood and moved around to Ezras desk, his eyes still on the news article. Just as slowly, he pulled the paper from Ezras hands and began the slow process of trying to read the story.
"Mr. Tanner, just what do you think you are doing?"
"Sorry Ez " Vin still did not look at his friend. He was trying to make sense of the jumble of letters that swam before his eyes. "Ez, I need yer help. Would ya read this for me? Out loud?"
All of the men knew of Vins difficulty with reading. Ezra studied Vins face. "Of course Vin."
"Man, forty-two, killed by former foster parent," Ezra began. The pair had garnered the attention of the other men in the bullpen, who were now listening to Ezra read, while pretending to do their own work. "Brian MacIntosh, age forty-two, was discovered shot to death in his own house by wife Beth "
Ezra continued to read, but Vin was suddenly ten years in the past. . ."Brian, Beth, Im sorry to do this to you at such a late hour. We just had no place else to take him. And we thought it would be best to get him out of the Purgatorio area." Social Services worker Eleanor Wakefield said as she was let into the backdoor of the white clapboard farmhouse. Following reluctantly behind her was a scrawny, seventeen-year-old youth, a fresh white cast covering his left arm from his knuckles to above the elbow.
"Its not a problem Eleanor. We have an empty bed. Beth just moved Jamie into the other room with the other boys."
"This is Vin Tanner," Eleanor reached behind her and tried to draw the young man forward from his post near the door. Vin flinched at her touch, but moved cooperatively forward, his eyes diverted from looking at anything, or anyone, in particular. "Vin, this is Brian and Beth MacIntosh. Theyre good people, so treat them right. Ive only gotten one change of clothes so far, but Ill bring the rest of his things out in the morning with his files. Here are some pain meds for his arm, but so far he has refused to take them. Wouldnt eat any supper either."
"Are you hungry Vin?" Beth asked as she came around and touched him gently on the shoulder. She could tell the young man fought to keep himself from pulling away from her touch. Vin shook his head.
"Well, I bet youre tired anyway. Why dont I take you upstairs? Get you settled in so we can all get some sleep?" Brian motioned for Vin to follow him, taking Vins bag from the kitchen table. Beth stayed to show Eleanor out.
"Hes a very quiet young man. In my limited dealings with him hes always been polite, but his last foster father says hes gotten rebellious. Hes also started running."
"Well, Brian is putting him in the only private room we have in the house. At one point it was the nursery and the only way to get into the room is through ours. If he tries to leave during the night well hear him. But Im certain he wont."
"Lets hope. Ill be back out first thing in the morning. Then well figure out what to do with him on a more permanent basis. Thank you again, and I hope Jamie isnt upset."
"He didnt even know I moved him. Besides, hell be thrilled when he wakes up in the same room as the older boys."
"See you in the morning."
Beth locked the door behind her and moved up the stairs.
"Sorry for the location of the room. But its the only private one we have."
"Sokay." Vins voice was little more than a whisper as he looked around the room. It was small with the only door being the one leading into a small hallway and on into Brian and Beths room. But it did have windows on two walls. Hopefully it would be enough to keep him from feeling locked away.
"If you need to use the bathroom its right here. Want me to leave the light on?" Brian indicated the room nestled right between the two bedrooms, obviously a converted steamer trunk room. On closer inspection there was a closed door opposite the bathroom that lead out into the main hall, but it looked as though it were rarely used. Vin shook his head. "You need one of your pain pills? Any help?" Again Vin shook his head.
"Okay, well, good night. If you need anything at all, were right in here."
Vin watched the man move down the short hallway. Settling on the edge of the bed, he toed his tennis shoes off, and pulled a pair of sweat pants out of the bag Brian had set on the bed. But before he changed into the sweats he moved over and flipped off the lights. Then he carefully let his loose fitting jeans slide down his hips and pool on the floor before tugging up the baggy sweats.
Finally, exhausted, he crawled beneath the covers and tried to sleep.
At best Vin dozed. Any sound in the house had him wide awake only to settle back in to a restless sleep that lasted fifteen, twenty, maybe as much as an hour at a time. He heard Beth make her way to the bathroom after the alarm went off in her room, heard what he suspected were the other foster kids here start to move about. He tensed when Brian entered his room and made his way to the bed.
"Have a hard time sleeping?" Vin remained quiet. "Why dont you stay in bed awhile longer if you want. The others will be off to school soon. Then the house will quiet down." Vin nodded. When the man had moved off and Vin heard him descend the stairs, he nestled into the covers once more and closed his eyes, confident that he would hear anyone climb the stairs and be awake before they could enter his room.
So he was startled when the hand reached out, brushing sweaty hair back from his forehead. So startled that he was at the far side of the bed and nearly falling off before he was even awake.
"Vin, Im sorry! I didnt mean to startle you " Beth sat at the edge of the bed, her hand still suspended. Slowly she dropped it to her lap. "Eleanor is downstairs, but I just thought maybe you would like a shower first. Ill have breakfast ready when you come down." She watched as Vins breathing slowed, then he nodded and crawled off the far side of the bed and reached for the bag of clothes sitting on the floor. "If youll hand me out what youre wearing now, Ill wash up what clothes we have. And I have a plastic bag to put over that cast, to keep it dry."
Vin just nodded and moved to the bathroom with the change of clothes from the bag. He stripped quickly then, hiding behind the door, dropped his dirty clothes on the floor just outside.
"Come on downstairs when youre done!" Beth called through the door as she bundled up Vins well-worn clothes and headed downstairs.
Vin showered as quickly as he could then stiffly pulled on the clean clothes, including socks. Then he stepped from the steamy room and returned to the bedroom. With his one good hand he loosened the laces on his shoes and pulled them on, but he had no clue how he was going to tie them. He left them untied.
He already felt exhausted and he allowed himself to lie back on the bed for a few minutes. If nothing else the dampness he felt from dressing in the steamy bathroom dissipated. He still felt clammy, but his clothes were dry. Suppressing a groan, he forced himself off the bed and quietly made his way down the stairs.
Vin stopped partway down and listened to the voices. They sounded friendly enough, but you could never tell.
" history of running away. Reilly says he found him the last time with a rather unsavory group. Literally had to pull him out of a situation. He didnt go into many details over the phone but I plan to go by there when I leave here."
"He doesnt seem the type, does he?" Beth said as she moved back and forth from the table to the stove.
"No, not really," Brian agreed as he looked over a file folder.
Vin moved down the stairs further, entering the room.
"Well here he is! Feel better after a shower?" Beth asked as she turned back to the stove and began dishing out eggs.
"Have a seat Vin. Beth has cooked enough for three people. Hope youre hungry." Brian pushed a seat out and Vin sank carefully into it. Beth placed a heaping plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast in front of him. A tall glass of cold milk soon followed. Vin picked it up and took a sip, then picked up his fork. But instead of eating he just picked at the food, pushing the eggs around on his plate. All three adults chose to ignore the fact, at least for a short time, in hopes that he might eat if he felt no one was watching him.
"I was just going over your file Vin," Eleanor told him. "Beth and Brian here have said that you can stay here, so were working on getting you placed. So the first matter of business is getting you enrolled in school near here."
"No school " Vins voice was barely heard and his eyes were glued to his plate.
"Im sorry, what did you say?" Brian asked.
"Dont need no school." Vins voice was a little louder but raspy. Beth and Brian exchanged glances and Beth moved closer.
"Well Im afraid school is a must. You only have a few more months 'til graduation." Eleanor admonished.
"Vin, can I look in your mouth? You sound a little hoarse and Id like to check your throat." Beth said as she moved to his side.
"Im fine." Again the whisper.
Vins face took on a puzzled look, his head moving slowly up to look at Beth, then over at Brian, and back again. Now one had ever said please to him before, not like this. Reluctantly he opened his mouth. Beth reached out gently and tipped Vins head back so she could see inside his throat, taking note of how warm his face felt. Reaching behind her she picked up Vins fork and used the handle to hold his tongue down.
"Well, this explains why youve been so quiet and wont eat. I do believe you may have strep throat. At the least you have some sort of infection. And a fever. Why didnt you say something?" Her hand moved comfortingly down the side of his face. "Im going to call our family doctor, see if we can get you in this morning." Beth moved away as Brian took over, taking his own look down Vins throat. Beth came back with a glass of cold water and the cordless phone.
"We have an appointment if we can be there in an hour," she said as she finished the conversation and broke the connection.
"I have to wonder why they didnt catch the fever when he was at Emergency for the arm," Eleanor said as they watched a self-conscious Vin sip at the cold water.
"Can you handle it Beth, or would you like me to come along?" Brian asked.
"Well be fine. You have work to do." Beth happened to glance down and saw that Vins shoes were untied. "Must have been hard to get those tied with one hand. I should have thought of that earlier."
"Ill get them. Didnt occur to me either." When Vin did not offer his foot to Brian, the man reached down and took his ankle, gently pulling the foot up where he could reach the laces. All three adults caught the widening of Vins eyes and the slight catch in his breath as the boy tried to pull his foot back. Brian glanced at Vin, then slowly pulled back the sagging sock to reveal an abrasion that encircled his ankle. Gently putting the foot down, after tying the laces, Brian picked up the other and inspected the ankle, finding a matching abrasion.
"Those look painful. Want to tell us how they happened?"
Vins eyes had dropped to stare at the top of the table, his hand moving the water glass back and forth. He shook his head but didnt look up.
"Hon, have the doctor check those out too. They look like they could be infected to me."
"I thought wed just have him do a full physical. We usually do when we get a new kid." She added the last for Vins sake. She noticed how Vins eyes widened and moved back and forth, as if looking for a way to escape. But he made no movement other than pushing the water glass around. She plucked the glass from his fingers and refilled it with cold water. Vin sipped it.
Now that they were aware Vin had a fever and inflamed throat, they saw other signs that the young man did not feel well. Signs they had mistakenly taken as reluctance or uncertainty. His movements were slow, as if his limbs were full of lead. The fact that he didnt speak, only a word or two having been whispered since he entered the house. And he acted as if every action were forced and he had no energy.
"We should be going. Ready Vin?"
Vin nodded. He really didnt want to go to a doctor. But he stood anyway, taking the jacket that Eleanor held out for him.
"Ill be going by Reillys house to pick up your things," Eleanor said as she moved toward the door. "He said hed have your things packed after they got the other kids off to school."
Again Vin nodded.
Brian leaned over to give his wife a kiss goodbye. "Have him checked for signs of abuse," he whispered.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
It was all Beth and the nurse could do to convince Vin that he had to strip and wear a gown, and Beth was beginning to think that maybe she should have had Brian come along after all. But in the end all it took was Beth saying please and Vin reluctantly complied. Beth smiled as she stepped out of the room. It seemed, as stubborn as the boy was, he did have some manners. When Beth stepped back in the room she found Vin in the hated gown, his socks still on his feet, and a blush on his face. He also had goose bumps running up his legs and arms.
"Rose, do you have a blanket he could use while hes waiting? Its a bit cool in here."
Rose smiled and pulled a blanket from a nearby cabinet, then continued setting out some of the things the doctor would need for his exam. Then she took Vins blood pressure and temperature.
"100.8. Yep, a bit high all right," Rose said as she marked Vins chart.
About that time a large black man with a booming voice entered the room. The man had a ready smile and despite the deep voice his patients felt very comfortable with him. That did not include Vin. The young man knew that the doctor would find out too much.
"Hi Beth, how is everyone out at the farm?"
"Theyre well. All except Vin here anyway."
"Hi Vin, Im Dr. Bishop." The doctor held out his hand for Vin to shake. He looked at it as if it were an unknown object before finally shaking it briefly. "I understand you are not feeling well at all." Bishop pulled out a rolling stool then took a seat near Vin, where he could talk to the boy and do a few procedures.
"Why dont we start with a look down that throat? Beth told me it looked pretty inflamed and sore. Open wide " Bishop produced a small mirror and a penlight. "Hmmm Rose well need a throat culture. Bishop continued with the basic exam, checking eyes, ears, neck glands, breathing. "Sound a little congested there. Have you been coughing much?" Vin shook his head. "You need to. Need to break up that congestion in your lungs."
Bishop moved back to the stool and picked up one of Vins feet. "Feet cold huh? Im sorry. Ill be quick." Pulling off the sock, Bishop exposed the abrasions around Vins ankles. "Antibiotic crème and bandage these after taking a small sample. They appear to be infected all right."
Bishop completed the cursory exam, dictating instructions to Rose. Then he asked Beth to leave the room.
"Okay, this is the unpleasant part. We need to do a few procedures that are rather uncomfortable. But I promise they are painless and will be over quickly." Then Bishop proceeded to explain what he would be doing.
It took over half an hour to complete the balance of the exam. Bishop was patient, allowing Vin to relax as much as possible between each step and having to talk, cajole and persuade him to allow one particular exam. Bishop thought at one point he would have to sedate the young man, he got so upset. But eventually the exam was completed. Rose took all the blood samples and cultures ordered as Bishop excused himself to see another patient while waiting for results.
Bishop actually went into another exam room to talk to Beth. She was just completing a call on her cell phone when he entered the room.
"Im waiting on some test results, but youve got a rather sick young man on your hands. Ill go over those results with him as well. But more importantly, I found scars where he shouldnt have scars and signs of forced sexual activity, some recent."
"I just got off the phone with his social worker. She talked with his last foster father this morning. He claims Vin was found just yesterday, by him, in the back of an abandoned house with two men. They had him tied up and he was willingly participating in a rather perverse sexual act. Claims the boy was angry about being pulled out of the house."
"Im not a counselor Beth but he doesnt show the signs of a willing participant. He appears to be more of a victim."
"I havent had much chance to talk to him or get to know him, but he doesnt act like the type."
"Well, Rose is taking samples and cultures. You can go back in and wait with him. I should have some initial results in just a few minutes. Im afraid hes probably a bit upset right now. I had to stop the exam several times to calm him down. Even thought about using a sedative."
"I have a feeling he deserves to be upset. Im just not buying Reillys explanation." Beth stood up and moved to the room, knocking and waiting for Roses okay before she entered.
Vin lay on the exam table on his side, facing the doorway, clearly worn out. Rose had covered him with two blankets to keep him warm in the cool room. His face was a mask and he seemed to be staring at a spot on the wall. He barely reacted when Beth ran her hand down one warm cheek.
"Dr. Bishop said he should have some test results in just a bit. You can sleep awhile if you want." Vin didnt respond as Rose left the room with her samples and the film from a portable x-ray machine. He also didnt react when she came back in and applied cream to his ankles then wrapped some bandages around them. She even slipped his socks back on to help keep his feet warm before covering them with the blankets again.
Rose moved about the room, leaving once more to bring back a juice box, which she popped the straw into and handed to Vin. Sluggishly, almost as if he were afraid, Vin took hold of the box with his one working hand and took a sip. The liquid was cool on his throat and it wasnt long before the juice was drained. Rose quickly produced a second one. It went down a bit slower, but when it was gone Vins head dropped to the pillow on the exam table, his body suddenly boneless, and the effort to hold his head up too much at the moment. Rose rummaged through some cabinets and produced a bottle of red liquid with a spray nozzle on top. Then she moved over and knelt in front of Vin.
"This should help your throat a bit. If youll open your mouth real wide, Ill give it a spray." Mechanically, Vin did as asked. Beth assumed that Vin had finally given in to whatever illness he had and was finally feeling the symptoms. He looked exhausted, yet wouldnt close his eyes and rest.
They waited another fifteen minutes, Beth talking to her new charge, telling him about the house and farm, about the other kids. Vin asked no questions, but she was sure he heard and was filing the information away in his head. Finally Dr. Bishop entered the room, a sheaf of papers and developed film in hand. He popped the x-rays onto a lighted screen, turned the screen on, and then took his seat on the stool. Vin slowly rolled onto his back and Rose moved behind him to elevate the back of the exam table. Beth moved closer so she could see also.
"I dont have all the results back yet, but I wanted to show you this chest film." Bishop stood and pointed to the lungs. "See this? How cloudy it looks? That, my young friend, tells me you have pneumonia. On top of that you are dehydrated, and its hard to say what else we may find once the cultures are back."
"So what do we do now?" Beth asked.
"Well, I would recommend hospitalization," Bishop laid a reassuring hand on Vins shoulder when he saw the young mans eyes widen and heard his breathing increase. "Probably for no more than a day, maybe two. We need to get some fluids in you fast, as well as antibiotics. And we need to get you coughing. That in itself will help break up the congestion in your lungs."
Beth watched Vins reaction to the idea of a hospital. "Can this be treated at home Doc?"
"I wouldnt recommend it. I feel he needs that fast push of fluid from an IV. Not to mention inhalation therapy. Id like a round of IV antibiotic too. I dont think he would get hydrated fast enough just trying to take in fluids at this point."
"Sorry Vin, looks like its the hospital," Beth said apologetically as she reached out to touch his damp forehead.
"Ive already had my receptionist call Denver Memorial and arrange a room as well as a few more tests. Youll be able to take him straight there, get him checked in. Ill be there this afternoon to do late rounds."
Rose helped Beth get Vin dressed. All life seemed to have left Vins body and he willingly accepted their help. But he moved under his own steam out to the car. Once belted inside, he leaned wearily against the doorframe.
An hour later he was being settled into a room overlooking the parking lot.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Brian walked into the room and found chaos. Two orderlies stood facing a corner near the doorway. A nurse stood nearby with a needle in hand, and Beth was trying to insert herself between the orderlies and the wall. As Brian stepped further into the room he could see Vin pressed up against the corner, dressed in one of the ugly and exposing hospital gowns, looking every bit the cornered animal he must have felt like. Several medical items lay on a tray near the bedside. Before Brian could say or do anything the orderlies lunged at Vin, capturing the young man between them and the nurse moved in quickly with the injection.
"Stop it!" Beth cried out.
"Whats going on?" Brian demanded as he pushed his way past one of the orderlies, grabbing the frightened young man around the shoulders and helping him move over toward the bed. He warned the other orderly off with a glare.
"They tried to put a catheter in, but he was dozing and they didnt wake him first. He woke in a panic." Beth answered him as she straightened the disrupted bedding.
"Cant say that I blame him then." Brian said as he turned Vin around and moved the now sedated young man into sitting on the edge of the bed. "Lets get you back in bed Vin. I promise they wont try that again."
"We need to get that catheter in " the nurse began only to be cut off.
"Not against his wishes you wont."
"We need to measure his output as well as input."
"There are other ways of doing that now arent there?"
"But he shouldnt be getting out of bed "
"Now I know if you put your mind to it there is another way." Brian turned his back on the nurse and worked at getting Vin settled into the bed and calm enough to allow the sedative to work. Eventually he slept, however fitfully.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Brian sat with Vin the balance of the day and all night through while Beth returned home to care for the other children. Dr. Bishop, upon hearing about the happenings of the early afternoon, had the nurse responsible removed from Vins case and another assigned, making sure she was made aware of their abuse suspicions. Vins sleep had been interrupted often throughout the afternoon as he was taken off for additional x-rays and as inhalation therapy began.
The night was long. Therapists came in every hour with special breathing equipment. Fifteen minutes of treatment was followed by at least that much time of coughing. The sedative had worn off hours before, so after the coughing eased Vin lay awake, totally exhausted, waiting for sleep to come. He would just drift off to sleep before the whole cycle started again. Often he wouldnt even try to sleep in between. It was during these times that Brian talked. He didnt expect Vin to reply to anything he said, but he knew by the widening of the boys eyes that he was listening. And thinking.
Brian talked about his own time in foster care, how he had ended up a ward of the state at age nine, how he had been bounced between good and bad care givers over the next nine years, received love at one house, abuse at another. His experiences had mostly been in good homes, but he made sure he told Vin about the home he entered at twelve. The home where the foster father came to his room every night after his wife went to sleep. And about the home after that, where his new foster parents had discovered the abuse and put the former foster home out of business and the man in jail.
Vin had flashes of memory while Brian talked. Flashes of Reilly entering his room, using and threatening him, of Reilly and his friends and being tied up and used repeatedly, of his arm snapping the last time Reilly had taken him to the abandoned house and one of his friends had gotten too rough. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to stop the visions, but they came despite his attempts to stop them. The visions were followed by tears and Brian gathering him into his arms, letting him cry.
His tears were stopped by the appearance of the inhalation therapists, only to appear again later, as his memories and exhaustion overtook him. Finally he slipped into a deep sleep. When the therapists arrived a short time later, Brian insisted they leave the worn out young man alone for a few hours. He allowed them to return when Vin roused after two hours of sleep.
When Brian started to talk again, he told Vin of his time in the Rangers, of meeting and falling in love with Beth and of their decision to become foster parents, especially when they found they could not have children of their own. By now he knew that what he was saying was clear to Vin. You could overcome abuse and have a life, a good one, if you chose to do so.
Six months later on Vins eighteenth birthday, after putting Reilly out of the foster care business and after he had struggled to get his GED, Brian and Beth stood by proudly as Vin took his oath to enter the Army Rangers. . . .
"Vin? Vin!" Chris voice finally broke into Vins memories, bringing him back to the present.
"You all right?"
"Did you know this guy?" JD asked. Everyone had gathered nearby, their attention now on Vin. He squirmed under their scrutiny.
"Yeah, I did. He was my last foster father. Chris I "
Vin gathered his reports into a pile on his desk then grabbed his leather jacket. Chris followed him toward the elevator.
"Vin, would you like me to go with you?" the blond offered.
"No, Ill be fine. But thanks for offering." Vin looked like he would be anything but fine, but Chris took him at his word. He knew Vin would work through the situation.
"Well be at the Saloon after work."
Vin nodded as he stepped on the elevator. "Thanks Chris," he said as the doors closed behind him.
Forty-five minutes later he pulled his Jeep up in front of the house he had not seen in ten years but remembered as if he had been in it just the day before. Even though the house was silent, Vin heard the sounds of laughter, of typical childhood bickering, of Beth calmly settling the argument and of Brian telling stories while sitting around the dining room table.
He sat in his car, lost in the good memories, for five minutes before finally getting out and moving up the walk. He had no reason to believe that he would be recognized or even remembered. He had only been here six short months and Beth and Brian had taken in many more foster kids in the years since he had been there.
So he was very surprised when the door opened as he reached the porch and Beth stepped out, engulfing him in a big hug before pulling him inside and pushing him into a kitchen chair. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, leaning her forehead against the top of his head. Next thing Vin knew, she was crying. He stood and took her into his arms and let her cry, his cheek pressed into the top of her head, murmuring soothing words.
When no more tears came, Beth pulled back, wiping her face with her hand to clear the tears.
"Im sorry Vin. I didnt mean to do that."
"Ya dont need to apologize."
"You look good Vin. Youve filled out, have that rugged look going for you."
"Im surprised ya remember me. I wasnt here that long." Beth had moved over to pour coffee and brought two mugs over to the table. Both took a seat and Beth offered cream and sugar. Vin passed on both.
"Of course I remember you. Who could forget those blue eyes and that wavy hair? Besides, youre one of our success stories. Brian was so proud of you. So am I."
"Yes really. You became a success in the Rangers. Brian was able to follow your career for a while. Then information dried up. Brian said that meant you had probably been selected for some special duty."
"I shoulda kept in touch better "
"Vin, its okay. You made us proud. You overcame a lot."
"Yeah, I guess." Vin studied his cup, needing to know, not wanting to know. "Beth? What happened?"
"Reilly happened Vin. After we got him out of the foster care system, he kind of lost it. He opened another business but was arrested a year later for molesting a child and child pornography. Brian tried to help the case, but the little boy and his parents dropped the charges. So all they had was the pornography charge. It only put him away a few years." Beth stood and refilled their coffee cups. "He got out less than a month ago."
"Theres a good case against him?"
Beth nodded. "He turned himself in before I even found found Brian. The police were already on their way here when I found him."
"Im so sorry Beth. You n Brian meant a lot ta me."
"What have you been doing, Vin? Obviously you arent still in the Rangers." At Vins puzzled look she motioned to his head. "The hair. Unless theyve changed regulation cuts in the last few years." She was rewarded by Vins smile.
"Left the Rangers after a full term. Brian was right. I was in special ops. Went inta bounty huntin when I got out, drifted around a bit. Then I met up with a man named Chris Larabee. Kinda reminds me a Brian, only gruffer. Always seems ta have a hive a bees buzzin round him, keeping him riled up. But hes a good man. Helped me join up with the ATF."
"ATF? Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms?"
"Well, I never would have guessed that. You have done well. Youve got yourself a good job."
"Yeah. I really like the men I work with. Theys family now."
"Married?" Vin shook his head.
"Only ta the job. Thats enough fer now."
"Are you happy?"
"Yeah, I am. Got a good life now. Got you ta thank fer it. You and Brian."
"No Vin. What you have accomplished, you did yourself. Brian and I, we just gave you a little push."
"Well then, thanks fer the push," Vin answered, a crooked grin on his face. The two sat in silence for a time.
"Its so quiet without the kids here," Beth sighed.
"Where are they?"
"Social Services felt it was best to send them to other homes, at least for awhile. Until I can get the room Brian was was shot in, repaired."
"What kind of repairs?"
"New walls, new carpet. I had a service come in and clean it as best as they could, but some of the blood well it just wouldnt come out. And there are holes in the walls, from the bullets."
"What room?" Vin asked, reaching for his cell phone. "Beth?"
"The living room. He died in the living room." Beths voice was a whisper, tears barely contained.
Vin flipped open his phone and punched a few buttons, then gathered a now crying Beth into his arms once more.
"Yeah, its me. Any members a the cavalry free this weekend? Got some construction work that needs doin." Vin spoke a bit longer, then gave directions to the farm.
"A couple of em will be out tonight ta see what supplies well need. Then theyll be back out tomorrow ta do the work."
"Vin, they dont even know me. Why would they give up a weekend to do this?"
"Cuz I asked em to."
"Youve got yourself some good friends there Vin. Hold on to them."
"I plan ta."
An hour later they heard several cars pull up the road. Vin moved over to the kitchen door to look outside. "Thats them. Chris musta closed shop early."
Vin opened the door and six men trooped in, dressed in jeans and work shirts, carrying tools and, in Bucks case, several pizza boxes.
"Knowin you, Junior, Id guess ya havent eaten anything since last night," he said as he put the boxes down on the kitchen table. JD began looking through cupboards for plates as Vin made introductions. By this time Beth had gained control of her emotions once more and tried to act the hostess, but Buck insisted on waiting on her, making a big production of presenting her with a slice of Mama Louisas finest. While the others kept Beth occupied, Vin, Chris and Josiah slipped into the living room to survey the damage. They did a cursory inventory of the work needing done, then moved back into the kitchen to join the others in a late lunch.
Once the table was cleared and the dishes done, Josiah and Buck were sent off after supplies, JD went with Beth to check on the livestock, and the others began work in the living room. Only three wallboards needed replaced, but the carpet was a loss. The men began to pull up the rug, finding a very nice wooden floor underneath. When Vin mentioned it to Beth later and Josiah said that he could refinish it, she decided against carpet and said an area rug would look just fine in the room.
When Josiah and Buck returned with the supplies, they had also stopped at the grocery and picked up the makings for a hearty stew. Beth took the items from them, saying that it would give her something to do while the others worked.
By nightfall the rug was up, the floor given a good scrubbing and the trim removed from the wallboards needing replaced. Beth had the stew ready and the men once more gathered around the large kitchen table and bombarded her with questions about what Vin was like as a teen and embarrassed the sharpshooter with stories of their adventures, and a fair number of Vins misadventures. They managed to keep Beth entertained the full evening. Chris, however, took note when Beth showed signs of being tired and shuffled his men out the door. Vin lagged behind, sticking by Beths side as Chris pulled a duffle bag from inside his truck and handed it to the younger man.
"Whats this Vin?" Beth asked as the others called out their goodnights.
"Im stayin the night," he replied in a tone that left no room for argument. Beth studied his face in the porch light, then nodded and the two of them moved into the house.
Beth made up a bed in one of the childrens rooms for him then retired herself. But when she got up in the middle of the night, restless and unable to sleep, she found Vin asleep outside her bedroom door. Even as she tried to sneak past him, one eye opened, then the other. They ended up talking for several hours before she crawled tiredly back into bed.
Over the next two days the men worked at repairing the damage to the living room, and more. While Josiah began work on sanding the wood floor on one side, Chris, Nathan and Vin tore out the damaged walls and replaced them with new boards, then taped them off and did the finish work. Buck and JD kept busy outside, seeing to the livestock and bringing in a load of hay still in the field. Vin joined them after the demolition work was complete on Saturday. Beth spent the days cooking for the men and preparing the bedrooms for the return of the children, which she hoped would occur shortly after the funeral on Monday.
By the time Sunday night came, the walls were up and painted, the floor was stripped and ready for varnishing and the hay was in the barn. Chris gave Josiah the next day off to come out and work on the floor and of course Vin would have the day off for the funeral and any extra help Beth needed. As it turned out, all seven members of Team Seven were there, as were the current group of foster kids and some of the previous ones, all of whom wondered at the man who was there, being the support Beth needed.
Josiah had blocked off the living room in case anyone came back after the services and had set up tables in the yard for guests to sit at. By the time Beth and Vin pulled up at the farmhouse, friends and neighbors had gathered and food was laid out in abundance.
"I dont know if I can do this Vin."
"You kin do it. And if ya need ta, ya kin go inta the house. No one will think badly about it if ya do." Vin got out of the car and moved around, opening the door for Beth. His friends were there already, watching out for Beths property and acting as impromptu hosts. Beth leaned on Vin as they made their way to the cluster of well-wishers. Vin rarely left Beths side as she greeted each guest. He watched her carefully, and when she began to look tired or about to cry, would lead her away for some peace and quiet until she had gathered herself together once more. Then he would escort her out amongst her family and friends.
As the afternoon drug on, the guests began to leave. Vin recognized one of the women that came up to Beth, but couldnt place who it was. Both were surprised when Beth made the introductions.
"Vin Tanner, you have certainly changed. Last I saw you, you were a gangly teen with a cast on your arm." Eleanor Wakefield engulfed him in a hug, much to his chagrin and the enjoyment of his friends.
"Im so proud of this young man," Beth replied as she took Vins arm. "Hes got a wonderful job, although maybe a bit too dangerous for my taste."
"Really? What field would that be?"
"Law Enforcement," Vin answered.
"Thats wonderful!" Eleanor chatted for a few minutes more, then asked to talk to Beth alone. Vin took the opportunity to get a plate of food and send a glare at Buck and JD, who were prepared to give him a hard time about the way Eleanor had carried on. Both men shut up, but the grin on their faces told Vin it was only a temporary reprieve.
As he ate he kept an eye on Beth, saw the distressed look come over her face, watched as she woodenly took the envelope that Eleanor handed her before placing her hand on Beths shoulder and moving quickly to her car. Vin was at her side in seconds. She said nothing, just handed Vin the envelope as tears streamed down her cheeks. He reluctantly opened it.
"They can do this?" he asked.
"They have," she answered, her voice cracking slightly. "Ive lost them all. Brian. The kids." Beth broke down, sobbing into her hands until Vin gathered her into his arms.
Team Seven took on the clean up duties and Vin took Beth in to lie down for a bit. She was emotionally drained. When he was certain she was asleep, he moved downstairs to help. He began stuffing trash angrily into a plastic bag.
"Leave me alone right now Chris."
"No can do Pard," came the simple reply. "What happened?"
Vin slammed another stack of paper plates into the bag, tying it off then stalked off towards a small dumpster. Chris followed him.
"Theyre taking the kids away from her Chris," he growled as he tossed the bag into the bin. Silently he paced back and forth. "They discourage single parent foster homes, especially fer so many kids. And they feel that it might be best fer her ta take some time ta herself, ta get through her grief."
Vin finally dropped to the ground, resting his arms on his upraised knees. "Theyre all shes got Chris. How kin they take em away from her "
"They have rules for reasons Vin," Chris comment drew an angry glare from Vin. Chris just gazed back at him, a smile curling the corners of his mouth. "But rules were made to be broken."
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Vin spent the next day at the ranch, helping Josiah polish out the floor in the living room and trying to comfort Beth. He had arranged with Chris to take the balance of the week as vacation, leaving Beth only to run an errand into town each day. Beth got through the days by keeping busy, helping Vin with the chores and making sure he ate plenty of her home cooking.
By the time Friday came he had managed to catch up on most of the chores and had arranged for a neighbor to take over the farm land, renting the rich soil for a percentage of the crop come harvest.
He was up early Saturday morning, feeding the few animals that Beth wanted left on the farm, a few hens, a goat, a milk cow. Beth met him at the barn door with a cup of strong coffee in hand.
"Ive got breakfast on."
"Sounds good," he replied and followed her to the house. She had made waffles and bacon and Vin dug in hungrily.
"I hope ya dont mind, but some of the guys said they might come by today. Gonna help me repair that leak in the roof a the barn and the section a fence down near the road."
"Thats fine Vin. I owe you and your friends so much already."
"No ya dont. Jest keep feedin us and well work forever," he replied with a grin. "Here they are now."
The two of them greeted the six men that piled out of the trucks entering the yard. Josiah and Nathan carried bags of groceries with them.
"We thought wed cook for you this time," Josiah said as he set about unloading the bags.
"Thats not necessary. Im happy to cook for you men."
"We insist. In fact, we thought maybe a barbecue would be good." Nathan answered, putting packages of hamburger and hot dogs into the refrigerator as well as large bowls of potato salad and macaroni salad, and heads of lettuce.
"Well you brought enough food to feed an army," Beth said as she poured coffee all around. Vin and Chris stood in one corner talking quietly until Beth came around. "Dont let me interrupt boys."
"Sorry Beth, just talking work. Updating Vin on a case," Chris replied. Vin looked into his coffee mug.
The men set to work, finishing up with the repairs around eleven that morning. Beth found herself with seven men converging on the house, using hoses to clean up, before taking over her kitchen. Buck started the large gas grill outside as Vin and JD began to form hamburger patties. Chris set up tables outside, then helped Nathan carry out the bowls of food, paper plates and plastic forks.
"You boys must have worked up an appetite. Youre making enough food to feed twice as many people," Beth said as the burgers and hot dogs were removed from the grill.
"Well," Vin answered as a large white van moved down the road. "Were expectin a few extras fer lunch."
Beth watched the van pull up and Eleanor step out of the passenger seat. Instead of walking towards her, Eleanor opened the side door and six children poured out, running at a shocked Beth. Buck, JD, Chris, Ezra and Nathan headed to the back of the van and began to pull out duffle bags and suitcases as the children engulfed Beth and Eleanor stood by, a satisfied smile on her face. Josiah stood back, guarding the food from the farm dogs that had joined the group.
Beth managed to look up at a smiling Vin and Eleanor. "Thank you for this. A picnic with my kids "She stopped talking as five men walked past them with the luggage from the van. "Whats going on?"
"You have a very convincing friend," Eleanor answered. Beth just looked all the more puzzled.
"Mr. Tanner can be quite eloquent when he has a mind to," Ezra said as he passed by the small group.
"Well, I couldnt let these kids be deprived a livin out here with ya. Its the best thing ta happen ta me. They deserve the same thing."
Beths hands moved to her mouth, stifling a sob, then she moved forward and gave him a hug, reaching up to place a kiss against his cheek.
"Mom? Can we eat now? Were hungry," a boy of around eight came up and tugged on Beths shirt.
"Well, it looks to me like the food is ready." Beth looked at Josiah.
"That it is. Dig in kids."
Chaos reigned as younger children were taken under the wing of one of the agents and older children vied for seats. Food was passed around after a short blessing by Beth, who gave thanks to her guardian angel, her gaze resting on Vin.
After lunch Eleanor and the driver left the kids in Beths capable hands. The afternoon was spent playing games of softball and soccer, with four of the seven agents in the middle of the throe. Chris, Josiah and Nathan stayed behind to clean up.
Beth and the three men tried to sit in the shade of a large oak tree sipping ice tea when the work was done, but they had barely settled in chairs before Vin ran up, a small boy on his back.
"Hey Cowboy, this heres Jake. He needs someone ta help him hit the ball and we all elected ya." Vin said breathlessly.
"You did huh?"
"Yep," Vin said as he dropped the small boy into Chris lap, knowing that Chris could never refuse a child. "And we need two more players ta fill all the positions. Thats you two," he said pointing at Beth and Nathan. "And we need an umpire Josiah. Reckon yad be the fairest a any a us. Lets go! Games awaitin."
Chris watched Vin run off, marveling at the child that was showing through. "What do you say Jake? Ready to go play some ball?" The four adults joined the game.
As supper time drew near Josiah and Beth headed to the kitchen and fixed soup and sandwiches. The kitchen was soon filled with the boisterous sounds of children happy to be back home. Vin stood off to the side, the sounds bringing back memories of happy times spent in the too few months he had lived here. Chris watched him, making sure his friend didnt give in to the bad memories of other homes that were not as happy.
The men stayed and helped Beth get the children settled in. After rounds of baths or showers, and stories for the younger ones, everyone was tucked safely into bed by ten. Beth escorted seven tired men to their cars. She snagged Vins arm as he climbed into his Jeep.
"I dont know how you did it but thank you. You will never know how much this means to me."
"I think I have a good idea. This is where they belong. Besides," he said as he started the Jeep. "Part a the agreement is that I get ta come out and play now and then. Same with the other guys. Im thinkin that the case wes workin on should be done in a week or so. So how bout a picnic weekend after next?"
"That sounds like a good idea." Beth reached in and gave Vin a kiss on the cheek, then waved as the entourage of cars drove down her lane. Smiling she turned and moved into the house.