A few minutes later Lowery was coming back into
his office, walking behind Vin Tanner. The seven-year-old was as different
from his younger friend as night from day. He had been sitting in the corner
of the playroom, quietly playing with some of the matchbox cars. Buck Wilmington
sat with him, the two of them driving the cars around a track. He had come
willingly enough when Will had asked him to come to the office, but without
any of the chatter than had marked his earlier trip down the hall with JD.
As they entered the office, Vin stepped toward one of the chairs, but didn't
sit down until the therapist invited him to. Then he crawled into the chair,
sitting forward so that his legs dangled from the knees down. His hands were
wrapped around the end of the chair arms, his entire body language letting
the doctor know he was nervous. With Vin, that meant moving slowly.
"So, did you have fun playing with the cars?" Lowery asked as he sat down
at his desk.
"Yeah," Came the quiet response, the large blue eyes focused on the floor.
Dr. Will knew that the former street child was keeping his emotions shielded.
There was definitely something Vin wasn't yet willing to share.
"Good. It looked like Buck was having fun, too."
A faint smile, followed by, "Yeah."
The therapist paused, giving the seven-year-old an opening to say more if
he wished to. When there was nothing but silence for a full minute, he asked,
"How's school been?"
Shrugging, the little boy said, "Okay."
"Anything special going on there?"
Another shrug. "Miz Lottie got married."
"Really? Who's that?"
"She's the lunch lady." Then he giggled a little, for the first time his
eyes coming up to meet the doctor's. "Dad thought I liked her
like a girl. But I don't. I jist like 'er 'cause she's nice."
Lowery smiled as the big eyes rolled and the little boy giggled again. "Yeah,
Dads are like that. Was he worried you'd be sad because she got married?"
"Yeah." He grew quiet again.
"Were you sad?" The doctor leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees.
"But not because she was getting married?"
"No." Little Tanner paused, but then added softly, "I thought she was goin'
away. It made me sad 'cause I didn't think I'd ever see her again."
"Did she go away?"
"Nah. Well, she did for a week 'cause she was on a
that thing, kind
'a like a vacation."
"Yeah, that's it!" He grinned. "Andy said that's where folks go after they
git married an' they kiss a lot."
As the little face scrunched up, Will said, "Yeah, sometimes adults do stuff
There was another pause, but Vin didn't seem to have any more to say on the
subject. So the doctor spoke again. "It seems to me like you've had some
pretty rough times. You were sad about
Miss Lottie, was it?" When the
boy nodded he continued, "And of course things were pretty scary when your
dad got hurt. Did you have sad or bad feelings about anything else?"
The blue eyes darted around the room, as if looking for a means of escape.
Little fingers rubbed on the material of the chair arms, and thin little
legs jiggled nervously.
"Vin? You know it's okay for you to tell me anything, don't you?" The
seven-year-old shrugged and then slowly nodded. "Can you tell me what else
gave you sad or bad feelings then?"
Little Tanner heaved a deep sigh, fidgeted in his chair and then adopted
a thoughtful look. "I jist
I jist don't know how I'm s'posed t' do
"How you're supposed to do what, buddy?"
"How I'm s'posed t' be a diff'rent boy."
Lowery inwardly sighed, but marshaled his emotions. "Is that what you think
you have to do, Vin? Be a different boy?"
Frowning up at the man, the little boy said, "Yeah." Then the frustration
took over and began to spill forth. "I jist don't know how t' do 't, Dr.
Will. I don't want Chris t' be d'spointed in me. I've been tryin' to figger
't out, but
I'm jist too dumb."
"Hey," Will said softly, "you know the rule. You're not dumb, Vin. What you
are is a very strong and brave little boy who had to do a lot of grown up
"Grown up things?" The little blond head cocked to one side and he gave the
man a puzzled look.
Smiling, the therapist said, "Remember all those things you had to do back
when you and JD lived alone?" When little Tanner nodded he said, "That's
what I mean by 'grown up' things. Since there weren't any adults around to
help you, you did those things for yourself, and for JD."
"Y' mean like gittin' food 'n makin' our house?" He asked innocently.
Feeling his heart lurch at the thought of this tiny child having done the
things he had to in order to survive, Lowery managed to say simply, "Yes,
son, that's what I mean."
"But I didn't do a good job like Dad 'n Buck do for us. I couldn't buy good
food 'r make a big house 'r nothin'."
"Buddy, you did a very good job. Not many boys your age could do the things
you did. You were very brave and very strong." Will watched the little head
duck, the child's elfin features coloring with embarrassment. Smiling again,
he said, "Hey, you should be proud of that, Vin. We want you to be proud
of the job you did. But other boys your age didn't have to do that did they?"
"I don't think so," the little Texan said softly. "Andy said he always lived
in his house since he was borned. An' Jason said he lived in six houses 'fore
he moved here. But they always had their mamas an' their dads. Chris jist
found me last year."
"That's right. And so now you have a dad to take care of things like making
sure you have food and a place to live, and all the other things that Chris
does for you. You don't have to worry about it, do you?"
"Well, I have t' tell him when we're outta peanut butter."
With a smile, Will said, "A very important thing to remember, too. But you
don't have to go out and find the peanut butter now, do you?"
"Nope, Chris buys it, or sometimes Buck buys it."
"Right. And they buy all the other food, and your clothes and toys and everything
else you need, don't they?"
"And does Buck take care of things for JD?"
"Yep. Sometimes he has t' ask Chris 'bout some things 'cause Chris had Adam
'fore me an' JD was there. But he takes care 'a JD real good."
"Do you trust them?"
"Chris and Buck. Do you trust them?"
"'Course I do!" The little boy's chin came up and he defied the therapist
to disagree with him.
"Of course you do," Will agreed gently. "Can you trust them to take care
of you and JD?"
"Yeah, I said they do 't all th' time." Vin huffed indignantly.
"Well that's good. So if they're doing that job, do you have to worry about
things any more? Things like taking care of JD all the time, finding food,
making a house
things like that?"
"No, 'cause they do all that stuff for us now. "
"Okay. Then, can you trust them to be your boss and tell you what to do
things like when to go to bed and what to watch on television?"
"Yeah, 'cause Chris is my dad now an' that's what dads do."
"Buck's JD's dad now, only JD calls him 'Da' 'cause that's what his mama
called her dad."
Will nodded, making certain that he had the child's full attention before
he said, "And you trust them to be JD's boss?"
Vin's gaze dropped back to the floor as he said softly, "Yeah. I trust 'em."
"Vin, you are a very brave young man. Not just because of the wonderful job
you did taking care of JD, though." The little boy frowned up at him, but
he continued. "You're a brave young man because you can trust Chris and Buck
to be the bosses now."
The frown deepened and Vin said, "That makes me brave?"
"That makes you very brave. It's hard to go from being the boss to not being
the boss. And it's scary, too."
Vin considered the man's words for a few minutes before he spoke. "I like
for Chris an' Buck to be our bosses. They treat us real good. An' I'm not
scared all th' time like I was
'cause I know that they'll
take care of us. But sometimes
After a lengthy pause, the therapist said, "Sometimes you don't like being
told what to do?"
The seven-year-old nodded and then ducked his head. He was certain he was
going to be in trouble now. He shouldn't have bad feelings about Chris and
Buck being their bosses.
"I can understand that. I'd probably have some bad feelings about that, too,"
Vin's head shot up, a shocked expression on his face. "You would?"
"Well sure. Like I said, it's hard to go from being the boss to not being
Relief washed over the little blond as the therapist let him know that his
feelings were okay. "Yeah. Sometimes I just wanna
no, that's not right,"
he finished softly.
"Sometimes you want to go back to living where you lived before," Dr. Will
Vin nodded, tears washing over his wide eyes. As the therapist handed over
the tissues, he let some of the tears fall. "I don't really, I don't. I love
Chris an' Buck an' I love where we live. It's a whole lot better but
I don't know!"
Giving the child a few minutes to express his feelings through his tears,
Lowery said. "Everything is different now and it's scary. You want to be
a good boy and make everyone happy, but you're not sure how. You were the
boss for a long time and now you don't have to be, but you aren't sure what
you're supposed to do now. And sometimes you think that you wouldn't have
all these problems if you went back to how things were before, just you and
JD living alone. But you're also afraid that if you don't make everyone happy
that you're going to be all alone. Does that sound about right?"
His tears forgotten, the little boy stared up at the doctor. His eyes were
as wide as saucers and his mouth opened and closed as he took in what the
man had just said. Then relief flooded over him and he smiled. "Yeah."
Dr. Lowery smiled as he watched the child's demeanor changed. "I'll bet that
if Buck or Chris or your uncles had been in your place when they were little,
they'd feel the same way. I know I would."
The office grew quiet for a few minutes, the therapist allowing the little
boy to consider everything they had discussed. Then, suddenly, a giggle filled
the air. Lowery watched as the child's anger and frustration dissipated.
Replaced by relief at finding out that someone understood; that people he
respected and loved would feel the same way. He enjoyed that giggle for as
long as it rang out.
"I was thinkin' 'bout Unca' Ezra havin' to live in a box. He don't like t'
git dirty an' he always wears real nice clothes," Vin confided in the therapist.
Lowery had met the meticulous agent and chuckled as he pictured what the
boy described. "I don't think he'd be a very happy man," he said with a shake
of his head.
Vin giggled even harder. When he finally calmed his expression turned serious.
"I don't feel so sad now Dr. Will, but I don't
"You still don't know what to do with those feelings when you get them? Those
bad, sad and mad feelings about not being the boss any more?"
"Yeah," the little boy said softly, his shoulders slumping.
"Well, that's what you and I will be working on for the next few weeks, when
you come to visit me. And hopefully we can get things figured out. Would
that be okay?"
The little blond nodded. He trusted Dr. Will and if he said that they would
figure things out then that was what would happen.
"Good. Now, I have some pictures and I'd like you to look at them. Okay?"
Lowery turned to one of his file cabinets and opened a drawer. Taking out
a thick folder, he turned back to his young client. Holding the folder out
he said, "There are a bunch of pictures of kids in this folder. I want you
to look at them and pick one out that makes you think about when you lived
Vin took the folder and opened it up. He began to look at the pictures inside.
They were mostly from magazines and had been put on construction paper and
then put inside plastic. Some of them were of girls and some were boys. He
didn't look at the girls for very long, because he wasn't a girl. Some of
the boys were big and some were little. Some were Black and some were Asian.
Some were happy, some were mad, some looked scared and some looked sad. He
didn't find any that looked like him, but then he turned to a picture and
stopped. When he looked at the little boy he got some of the feelings he
had been having lately. Picking it up, he said, "This one."
Lowery looked at the little boy in the picture and nodded before saying,
"Okay, thank you. Now what I'd like to do is to keep this picture out and
we're going to use it next week when we talk, okay?"
"Now, I gave JD some homework, and I'm going to give you some, too." Chuckling
at the look of displeasure on the child's face, he said, "Don't worry, it
won't be too bad. Every night I want you to sit down with your dad and think
about back before you came to live with him. And I want you to come up with
one thing you liked about that time and one thing you didn't like about that
"Y' mean like
I liked not havin' t' go t' bed early?"
"You got it," Lowery nodded. "Then I want you to make two lists, a good list
and a bad list. Every night you'll write down the two things you came up
"An' I'll put the thing I liked on th' good list and the thing I didn't like
on th' bad list?"
"Hey, you're doing my job here!" The therapist teased, smiling at the little
boy. "That's exactly what I want you to do. Now, I'm going to tell Buck about
your homework, just like I'm going to tell him about JD's. Is that okay with
"Good. That way if you need help remembering the whole homework, he can help
you remember." When Vin nodded, he continued. "Then I need you to bring that
list with you next time and we'll talk about it. And we'll also talk about
the picture you picked out."
"An' then I won't have them bad feelin's any more?"
"Well, it may take us a little time to get those feelings to go away, but
we're going to start working on it. Okay?"
Vin sighed. He thought that Dr. Will would help him get rid of those feelings
today. But Chris told him that sometimes it takes a long time to stop having
bad feelings, and you just had to be patient. Deciding that this was one
of those times, he looked at the therapist and nodded.
Easily reading the disappointment in the little boy's face, the doctor leaned
forward and looked into the big blue eyes. "We're going to get them to go
away, Vin. And we're going to figure out how you can make the changes the
grown ups have asked you to make. And we're going to do that without you
stopping being Vin Tanner. Can you be patient for a little longer?"
The little boy nodded.
"Good and I want you to remember this, buddy. It's okay for you to have those
feelings, and it's okay for you to feel scared. When you have feelings that
make you sad or mad or scared, you can talk to Chris, Buck or your uncles.
They love you, and they're going to do their best to help you with those
feelings. And you can tell me about them, because that's what I'm here for,
to help you figure them out. Got it?"
The smile returned and the little blond said softly, "Got it."
"Good. Now, shall we go see what's going on in the playroom?"
Buck looked up from where he was playing with JD as the door to the playroom
opened. He watched with concern as Vin entered just ahead of the therapist.
There were traces of tears on his little face, although he didn't seem upset
at the moment. He wasn't certain that he liked the fact that both boys had
been crying. JD had been his usual chatterbox self when he'd come into the
room earlier, but he had seen the signs. He hadn't pressed the five-year-old
for an explanation, and Lowery had only said that they had been talking about
Now, as the slender seven-year-old walked over to him, silently leaning against
his leg, he was even more concerned. Vin was still hesitant to have physical
contact with anyone and, if he did, it was typically to comfort JD or take
comfort from Chris. The big man tentatively shifted slightly, and the little
boy slipped closer to him, allowing himself to be pulled into a loose embrace.
Wilmington looked up at the therapist. Lowery looked back at him with an
understanding expression. All that he said, however, was, "Both the boys
worked really hard today, Buck."
"Well, I guess that's good, isn't it?" The brunet asked.
"Very good. You should be proud of them."
Gently ruffling the little blonde's thick hair and receiving a soft giggle
from the child, Buck responded, "Always am."
Making certain that he had the attention of all three members of the family
group, Will said, "Well, guys I'd like to borrow Buck for a few minutes and
let him know about the homework. Would you two like to play with the blocks
for a few more minutes?" When both boys hesitated, he added, "We'll just
go over to the art table, okay?"
Vin slowly moved away from the comforting embrace and slid into the chair
beside JD. Looking up at the big brunet, his blue eyes asked for reassurance.
Smiling, Wilmington said, "I'll be right over there if you need me, okay?"
Although JD answered with a slightly distracted "okay", it was Vin's reaction
he watched. The little boy offered him a smile and turned to join his friend
The two men moved across the room, settling into chairs on either side of
the low, white-topped table. Lowery quickly filled Buck in on what had occurred
while he talked to the boys alone leading up to the homework assignments
he had given each of them. He watched as Wilmington grabbed a piece of art
paper and a slim marker from the art supplies on the table.
Seeing the man give him a curious look, Buck grinned. "You have met Larabee,
right Doc? If I can't give him a run-down I'm likely to end up with a
Lowery chuckled. "Well, tell him that he can call me if he has any questions.
How long is he going to be laid up, anyway?"
"For a while, it looks like. The way he broke his leg, he's in a cast from
his toes to mid-thigh. Makes it hard to get him in and out of the truck."
Rolling his eyes, the brunet said, "That's putting it mildly. He's working
from home right now, taking care of backed up reports and such. And calling
the office about every fifteen minutes."
"Well, I'm sure we can fit you in if you need an emergency session," The
therapist said with a wink.
"Well, you might save a spot for Gloria
our housekeeper. She's putting
up with him during the day."
Buck pulled into the garage, glancing into the backseat as he turned off
the truck. They had gone to McDonald's for dinner and made a second stop
on the way home, so it was evening by the time they reached the ranch.
JD was playing quietly with the toy that had come with his Happy Meal. To
the man's surprise, though, Vin was asleep, tousled head leaning against
the backseat, soft snores coming from slightly parted lips.
As he got out of the cab, he smiled as the side door of the garage opened.
Chris made his way over the threshold slowly, moving awkwardly on his crutches.
He had called the blond three times after they had left the mental health
clinic. And each time he had heard the blonde's voice grow more anxious.
"Well you're movin' pretty spry," he said with a smile.
"Yeah, right," Larabee grumbled as he moved closer to the truck.
Buck saw the man's hands fairly twitching on the padded handgrips. He knew
his friend was aching to get his hands on the son of his heart. "He's asleep,
"Asleep?" The blond brow furrowed with concern.
"Yep. Why don't you see if you can wake him up while I get Little Bit out?"
Nodding, Chris swung himself around the front of the truck to where the seven
year old sat. Propping once crutch against the cab while he leaned on the
other, he popped the back door open. He smiled as blue eyes blinked open
owlishly. Softly he said, "Hey, cowboy."
Vin managed a sleepy smile, watching as his foster father unfastened his
belt. Without thinking, he reached out, wanting to be held.
Not about to disappoint the child, Larabee shifted his one-legged stance
and scooped the little boy out of his booster seat. With a precarious balance,
he moved enough to straighten. Vin's arms were wrapped tight around his neck,
the blond head nestled against his shoulder. He knew they were both on the
verge of landing on the garage floor, but wasn't about to let go.
Then Chris felt something against his back. Glancing behind him, he saw Buck
standing there, supporting him. He smiled gratefully then turned his attention
back to the little body in his arms.
As Vin came fully awake, he realized why they weren't moving. Little head
popping up, he looked into his dad's face. "Oh, Chris, I'm sorry! I forgot
'bout yer leg!"
Smiling, Larabee said, "that's okay, Pard. I'm fine. And I've been waiting
for a hug all day long."
"You know, JD's already gone to get the dogs," Buck said over his friend's
shoulder, "and I was all set to give someone a piggyback ride."
"Well gee, thanks, Buck, "Chris said, with a twinkle in his eye, "but I think
I'm a little too big for that."
Vin giggled, then said shyly, "I ain't too big."
The bigger man steadied the blond then shifted the little boy out of his
arms. Settling the seven-year-old on his back, he waited just long enough
to make certain the other man was situated. Then he led the way toward the
house, Vin dangling from his back.
A short time later, the family had gathered in the den. Buck was in the recliner,
while JD lay on his tummy on the floor. The two dogs flanked him, each of
them chewing contentedly on a treat.
Chris was sitting sideways on the couch, his right leg propped up on the
cushions. The little blond sat on his lap, leaning against his broad chest.
He was awake now, but still seemed to need the physical closeness of his
Brushing his fingers through the thick, loose curls, Larabee said, "You guys
are gonna have to get ready for bed pretty soon." Receiving dual sighs he
continued, "I know, but you've got school in the morning."
Checking the clock, Wilmington said, "Well, we've got close to half an hour
before bath time. The boys and I
well we came up with a special art
Both boys giggled. JD popped up off the floor and moved over to lean against
the end of the couch. Vin sat up, blue eyes shining as he smiled at his father.
Chris looked at each of them, confusion giving way to concern. Then he noticed
that their attention had shifted. To his cast. The blond looked down at his
leg. He had been surprised to wake up, finding his leg encased from the ball
of his foot to mid-thigh in black. One of the nurses had confided in him
that Buck had insisted on it, saying that it was either that or purple, and
that he would never be able to tolerate purple.
Larabee frowned up at his old friend. "What's going on?"
The boys giggled and Wilmington simply smiled in reply. He rose from the
chair, a white sack in his hand. Approaching the couch, he watched the blonde's
eyes narrow and smiled wider.
Chris watched as the bigger man slipped something out of the bag and discreetly
hand it to JD. The five-year-old giggled harder, both hands clasped around
the mystery object. He looked down at Vin. The seven-year-old was still giggling,
blue eyes crinkling. He patted his father's arm then slipped from his lap.
Going to stand next to JD, little Tanner reached up and secretively took
something from Buck. Then all three of them looked back at the man on the
couch, smiles growing wider.
"We thought we'd brighten things up for you," Wilmington said in way of
explanation. Then he nodded toward the little, giggling duo. "Boys?"
As one, the children revealed what they had been hiding, complete with
accompanying "Ta-Da" s.
Larabee frowned. Markers?
"They're th' special kind," JD informed him.
"Yeah," Vin agreed. "They c'n write on black stuff."
Chris flinched. The thing he liked most about having a black cast was that
he wouldn't be sporting graffiti on his leg. Then he saw the undisguised
mirth shining from the two little faces. Suddenly, becoming a piece of 'living
art' didn't seem like a bad thing. He wasn't about to spoil their fun.
Any of the fun.
Groaning dramatically, the blond said, "Oh no! Not that!"
The giggles bloomed to full-fledged belly laughs. The boys uncapped the markers,
pausing only long enough to make certain that it truly was okay. Then they
bent to work, decorating the cast.
The two foster fathers exchanged a look over the little heads. Larabee grinned
wryly, a look that offered both forgiveness and future retribution. Then
his mouth fell open as the other man reached into the bag again.
Retrieving four more metallic markers, Buck handed them over to the boys.
Chris looked at the markers, caught sight of their color-coded caps, and
then glared up at the mustached man.
The next appointment: