Will Lowery entered his office just behind his
seven-year-old client. At the best of times it could be difficult to read
Vin Tanner. At the moment it was impossible.
They settled into chairs, neither of them speaking
at first. Lowery watched the little boy. He sat slumped in the chair as if
the weight of the world had settled on his narrow little shoulders.
In a quiet voice, the doctor said only, "would
you like to talk about whatever it is?"
Shrugging, Vin simply stared into space.
"You don't seem to be in a very good mood today."
"Your dad said you've been having bad dreams
lately, and you haven't wanted to go to school."
The therapist stifled a sigh. How often had he
seen this? A client would go for some time, moving forward; making excellent
progress. Then something would cause it all to come crashing down. Sometimes
it signaled a breakthrough, the pain bringing with it growth and healing.
At other times, however, it simply meant that the client wasn't ready, that
they were in the process of rejecting the changes brought on by examining
He only hoped that he could bring about a positive
resolution with this little boy. There wasn't much he could do, though, until
he got him to talk. "Vin, whatever it is that's bothering you is just going
to keep bothering you. If we talk about it, maybe we can find a way to make
it go away."
"Don't wanna talk t' you, Dr. Will."
"You don't?" When he received a negative head
shake, Lowery asked, "Can you tell me the reason?"
"Don't do no good," Vin said firmly.
"Talking to me doesn't do any good?"
"Well, could we talk about that? If I'm not helping
you in any way, I'd like to know more about it so I can try to change what
The seven-year-old sighed dramatically and rolled
his eyes, but didn't offer to say anything.
Waiting for a few minutes and seeing that the
little boy wasn't going to offer an explanation, he said, "Well, is it the
Blue eyes flared, but young Tanner said nothing.
"How about picking out the pictures?"
The little boy sighed and rolled those expressive
eyes once more.
"Okay, how about our talks about the things that
have been changing?"
Sapphire sparks popped and a 'baby glare' was
aimed in his direction.
"You're not happy about the talks then."
"You lied." The little blond said through clenched
"I did? Could you tell me what I lied about?
I didn't mean to, Vin."
"You said you'd help me stop havin' those feel
bad thoughts if I was patient. I been patient for a long time an' ain't nothin'
"That's what I said."
"Did I promise you that it would be different
The seven-year-old huffed a sigh, folded his
arms and stared out the window behind the therapist.
"Vin, I'd appreciate an answer," Lowery said
in a firm but patient voice.
Young Tanner shifted slightly, but said nothing
for several minutes. Then he finally said, "No."
"But you feel that you've been patient for a
"I've done whatever you said, and I've even done
other stuff, and I'm still havin' feel bad thoughts."
"I'm sorry, Vin," the doctor said sincerely.
He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. The little boy stared at
him, obviously not expecting an apology. "I'm sorry that you feel I've let
you down. I didn't do it on purpose. I know that you're not happy, and that
it doesn't feel good to keep having all those bad thoughts.
I wish I had a magic wand. If I did, I'd tap
you on the head, say some magic words, and all of the bad thoughts would
"But I don't have a magic wand and I don't know
magic words. All I can do is talk things out with you. I'm sorry that I can't
help you more."
"You shouldn't 'a said you'd help me get rid
'a those feel bad thoughts."
"I shouldn't have?"
"What should I have said, Vin? Could you tell
The sandy brows furrowed and the little face
scrunched up as the boy studied the question. "Y' should 'a just said that
me an' you would talk 'bout stuff, and not said you'd help me get rid of
the feel bad thoughts."
"I see. But if that was all I had said, would
you still have worked so hard and thought as hard about things?"
Shrugging, the boy said, "I guess."
"So, maybe you would have, but maybe you wouldn't
"Is that what you mean by 'I guess'? That maybe
you would have, but maybe you wouldn't have?"
The child processed the question and finally
said, "Yeah, that's what I mean."
"Okay, so we don't know for sure that you would
have worked as hard if you hadn't known why you were working. But we do know
that you worked very, very hard, don't we?"
Hesitating only slightly the little boy said,
"I did my best."
"You did your best," Will echoed.
"That's what I said!" Vin yelled.
Will watched the anger continue to build and
prepared for the coming explosion.
"All y' do is say th' same things I say, Dr.
Will! Don't keep sayin' the same things I say! I don't know the good words
to say! If you say the same things I say, you can't help me! You can't make
the feel bad thoughts go away if you do that!"
"What do you want me to say, Vin?"
"I want you to say how to make the feel bad thoughts
go away! I want you to say how I can be a different boy!"
Lowery sighed. It seemed that nothing any of
the adults told him had helped the little boy understand what they wanted.
And, unless he could make things clear in the next few minutes, he was afraid
that everything would have been for nothing.
"Vin," he said gently, "what kind of boy do you
think we want you to be?"
know!" The seven-year-old's
voice was raw with pain. "You gotta tell me! I c'n do it if y' tell me!"
I can change to fit the role if you'll only
give me the script. I will be the child you want me to be if only you will
give me his description.
Leaning back, the doctor said quietly, "I want
you to be happy, Vin."
The child's scowl could have scorched Superman's
cape. "I was happy 'til ever'one wanted me t' change!"
"You were happy?" Will questioned.
"Yer doin' it again!" The little blond was rigid
in the chair, two tiny fists clenched and his accent growing in proportion
to his anger. "Don't say my words!"
"All right," the therapist agreed. "I won't use
your words any more today, Vin, unless I don't understand what you're telling
me. And I need to apologize to you again. I thought that I was being clear,
that you understood that this could take a while. I made a big mistake and
"The feel bad thoughts that you've been having
are because you are changing. You are becoming a different boy."
"No, I ain't! I'm the same, Dr. Will! I ain't
a different boy!"
"You're not? Can you tell me how you're the same?"
"I'm the same, that's all!" Vin growled.
"Okay, then tell me how you'll know when you're
"I'll be different when I don't have feel bad
"And what will happen when you're a different
"I won't be scared!"
"What else, Vin?"
Taking a deep breath, he said, "If I'm a different
boy, I'll be Chris' son forever and I won't have to go back an' live by myself!"
Lowery frowned. "Did something happen to make
you think that Chris might still send you away?"
Rather than answer, Vin slumped back in his seat.
A single, heart-rending sob escaped him. For several minutes there was no
sound other than an occasional sniffle. The doctor handed over the tissue
box and allowed the child to cry for a time.
Finally pulling himself together, the little
boy said, "Freddy Chaney heard me an' JD talkin' 'bout comin' to see you.
It was last week, th' day after we was here. He started laughin', an' said
we was crazy if we come to a
head doctor. I told him t' shut
up, an' then I told JD t' go on an' wait for Buck
it was at the end
of school then Freddy said if I was comin' here, it was 'cause I'm a bad
kid and if I didn't get fixed, Chris would prob'ly kick me out. He said that
he had to go to a
'cause his dad wanted him to get
fixed. An' when he didn't get fixed, his dad made him and his mom live somewhere
else. And I know that's true, 'cause he don't live with his dad. An' since
I don't got a mom, 'cept my Mom that lives with th' angels, that means I'd
have to live by myself, so I'd have to go back to the warehouse!"
Will Lowery wanted to groan, or scream, or cry
out against the thoughtless and mean-spirited words that had not only foist
another burden on the already over burdened child in his office. They were
words that had potentially ruined the life of the other boy. "Vin," he asked,
"What do you need from me to help you feel safe?"
The blue eyes snapped once again as the child
said, "I told you! Tell me how to be a different boy!"
"Vin, you already are a different boy," he said
The little boy frowned at the man. "No I ain't.
I'm the same!"
"Can you tell my how you know you're the same
"'Cause I am!" He replied quickly.
"I don't understand that, though. Can you give
me an example?"
The seven-year-old's frown deepened. He considered
the question, but only said again, "'Cause I am."
Nodding, Lowery said, "Could I show you how I
think you've changed?"
Shrugging, Vin simply looked at the man. He knew
Dr. Will was wrong. He hadn't changed at all.
Will opened the file on his desk and retrieved
two of the pictures he kept there. Turning back to his client, he held one
out. "Do you remember this little boy?"
Vin looked at the picture. It was of the little
boy with the black eye, who looked sad. He was sitting on some steps with
trash all around him. "Yeah, that's the picture I picked out first."
"Do you remember the story you made up about
"Yeah." He was growing calmer as they began to
process things together once more.
"Could you tell me about him?"
Heaving a sigh the boy said, "He's sad, 'cause
he's livin' where I used to live. And he don't have good food or new clothes
or toys. He's scared all the time and cold and people try to hurt him."
"All right now, what about this one?" He held
out the second picture.
Vin couldn't help but smile as he looked at the
little boy with the hat on who smiled back at him. "He's happy, 'cause he
lives in a nice house. He's got people that love him and good food and nice
clothes and toys."
"So, can you tell me how these two boys are
one's happy, and one's sad." Vin
studied the pictures. "One has lots of good stuff an' people who love him.
The other one don't."
"Can you tell me the reason you chose the first
"'Cause it 'minded me of me before I lived with
"Okay. How about the second one?"
"'Cause it 'minded me of me now."
"Are the two boys the same or are they different?"
"Different, Dr. Will. I said that already."
"So, if they both remind you of you, and they're
does that mean you're different, too?"
The boy's frown slowly dissipated. "I
Yeah. I ain't the same as I was."
"Then, if you're different, does that mean you've
yeah, well I
is that what you
mean? I'm changed 'cause I'm different since I live with Chris now?"
"That's part of it, yes."
" He sighed, but didn't finish.
"But what, buddy?" Lowery prompted.
I'm still havin' feel bad thoughts."
"Do you share these feel bad thoughts with Chris?"
Shrugging, the little boy said, "Sometimes."
"Did you share the feel bad thoughts that you
had because of what Freddy said?"
"No!" The little boy said quickly.
"What would happen if you did tell him?"
The tiny body slumped as the child said in a
pain-filled whisper, "I don't know."
Lowery saw the fear written across the fine features.
"You need to ask him, Vin."
The thick blond hair flew as the little boy shook
his head adamantly. "No! I can't!"
"What if we play the tape for him?"
The child seemed ready to leap from the chair;
to stop the tape. "No."
"What if I told him?"
"Then is what you're telling me is that you want
to keep that feel bad thought?"
"I'm confused then. You don't want to try and
get rid of this feel bad thought but you don't want to keep it, either. So
what can we do?"
The little boy looked ready to bolt. His eyes
widened, filled with tears, his face paled. Finally he said, "I don't want
it no more, Dr. Will."
"What are you feeling right now, Vin?"
"I'm scared!" The statement exploded into the
room before the child could stop it. Blue fire flared, but quickly died,
to be replaced by something akin to terror.
"What are you scared of?" Lowery prodded gently.
what if F-Freddy's
The little boy stammered.
"What if Freddy's wrong?" The doctor countered.
A glimmer of hope struggled to counter the almost
overwhelming fear. With tears evident in his voice, he whispered, "Will you
"Yes," Will replied calmly. He nodded toward
the phone. "Can I ask him to come join us?"
Taking a trembling breath, Vin said, "Yeah."
With a reassuring smile, the therapist picked
up the phone and asked one of the office workers to send the little boy's
foster father to his office. Hanging up, he said, "He's on his way. This
is your choice. Would you like to tell him, should I tell him, or should
we play the tape?"
I'm scared - I'm scared - I'm scared.
His mind spun, the words echoing over and over. "If
will you help me?"
Nodding, he said, "I'll tell him."
"All right." Lowery smiled at the little boy
then stood at the sound of someone knocking at his door. Opening it, he greeted
the tall blond and stood back to allow him to enter the office.
Chris swung into the room, his gaze immediately
going to the obviously upset seven-year-old huddled in a chair. Fighting
the urge to scoop the boy up, he said, "Hey, Cowboy."
Vin looked up with a wan smile on his face. He
wanted to speak, but suddenly couldn't seem to manage it.
Larabee watched his foster son worriedly even
as he settled into a chair. He set aside his crutches and said, "So, the
lady up front said you wanted to see me?"
Lowery paused long enough to allow Vin to speak.
When he didn't, the doctor said, "Vin has a question for you."
"Okay," Chris kept his gaze on his son.
"Vin, could you tell Chris the story you told
me earlier, the conversation you had with Freddy last week?" Will prompted
when the silence lengthened.
The child took another deep breath. Then he slowly
stammered through the recount of his confrontation with the other boy. He
spoke haltingly, at times needing the doctor's help to continue.
When the tale came to an end, the therapist looked
from father to son and back. He easily read the building anger in the elder's
face and the responding sorrow and fear in the younger's. Turning to the
tall man he asked, "What are you feeling right now, Chris?"
Sparing the man a quick look, Larabee's attention
stayed on his foster son. "I'm feeling angry
"What!? No!" The blond shot an incredulous look
at the other man.
"Are you certain?" Lowery felt the burn of the
agent's glare, but didn't dare back down.
"Of course I'm certain! What are you getting
"Look at Vin," Will said gently.
"I am," Chris growled. Then he stopped as he
looked past his anger. He saw the dejected and frightened stance of the child.
"Ah, Vin," he nearly moaned.
"Vin," Lowery continued, "What are you feeling
right now?" He saw Chris open his mouth to speak, but stopped him with a
shake of his head. As painful as it might be, the little boy needed to work
don't know. I
" tears began to
fall from those fathomless eyes.
"Think about it, Vin, take your time."
Taking a deep breath and letting it out in a
sigh, the child said, "Don't be mad, Chris. Please?"
Forcing his features to smooth out, Larabee avoided
mentioning how many times he had made such promises to the boy. Instead he
said only, "I promise, Cowboy."
"Scared," he admitted quickly before he lost
"Scared of what?" Lowery asked.
Ducking his head, the little boy said, "scared
I'm scared 'cause Chris is mad."
"Do you feel like he's angry with you?"
"No," Vin shook his head, "he ain't angry at
me. He's angry 'cause
he's angry 'cause of me."
"He's angry because of you?" Will asked. He turned
a glance at Chris and found the man looking very confused. Turning back to
his young client, he said, "Can you tell us more about that?"
Another sigh, and then the child spoke in a rush.
"Whenever somebody does somethin' mean or bad to me an' Dad finds out, he
gets real mad."
"And that scares you?" When Vin hesitantly nodded,
he said, "Can you tell us more about how that scares you?"
"It just does!" The baby glare flashed once more.
Come on, buddy, talk to us! Larabee's
mind screamed. Then he saw the look of fear that filled his child's face.
His gut clenched and his heart skipped more than one beat. He had to force
himself back to the conversation as Will Lowery spoke.
"Vin, tell us what scares you when Chris gets
angry because of you."
"No!" He didn't want to say it. Saying it out
loud would be scarier than keeping it a secret.
"Cowboy," Chris said gently, "Please
us what it is so we can work on it. Please?"
Vin chanced a look up, his eye focusing on his
foster father's face. He saw a sad look and felt bad that he had put it there.
Please don't be sad, Dad. I'm sorry. "I
I get scared 'cause
Dad, you get so mad at people when they do stuff to me. And
and I get scared that you're gonna keep getting' mad and mad and - " He broke
off, gulping air as his little body trembled.
"Oh, God, Vin," Larabee leaned forward, hands
wrapped around the chair arms until his knuckles bled white.
Watching the man's body language, the doctor
said, "What do you want to do right now, Chris?"
"What?" The blond hesitated then said, "I want
I want to hold him - "
Blinking as he tried to focus on what he needed
to do, the man nodded. "Vin, I want to hold you right now. I want to make
sure you're okay. I want to hug you and make you understand that it is okay.
I want to make you understand that I would never want to give you feel bad
thoughts with my anger."
"What's your body language telling him?"
Chris frowned, not certain what the man meant.
Then in the next second he realized only too clearly what Lowery was saying.
He was rigid, his entire body as taut as if more then his leg was in a cast.
It was no wonder Vin continued to be confused and so tentative at times.
No matter what he said, his words were overshadowed by what the child saw.
With an effort, he forced himself to relax.
"Why don't you hold him, Chris?" The therapist
Heaving a sigh, the man said, "Vin gets scared
when someone touches him unexpectedly."
The seven-year-old shook his head, eyes squinting
as he frowned.
"You don't look like you agree with your father,
Vin," Will prompted.
Taking another deep breath, the little boy said,
"Not you, Dad. Not no more."
Larabee thought back as he took in his son's
words. How often had he held back for fear of startling his son? How often
had Vin needed his touch to soothe his fears? How often had Vin seen anger
on his face and felt guilt for having caused it? When had things changed,
and why hadn't he changed with them? Why had he not been aware enough to
truly accept the gift of his son's trust? He had noticed individual incidents,
but had considered them exceptions. When had they become the rule?
Feeling like a drowning man, the ATF agent turned
toward the therapist. How badly had he blown it? Would the doctor be on the
phone to Nettie Wells in the morning, suggesting a change of placement for
the boys? The look of compassion on the other man's face offered him some
comfort, but he still worried.
"I see surprise on your face, Chris," Lowery
said quietly. "I also read several other emotions."
Shaking his head, the blond said, "Why am I only
understanding this now, Doc? Why didn't I see this before now?"
"I'm sorry to tell you this," the doctor replied,
"but you're a human being, Mr. Larabee. And, where Vin is concerned at least,
you're a very loving, caring and fiercely protective father. It's my guess
- and at this point it's only a guess - that you've been so focused on caring
for the child you found in that warehouse, you haven't seen the little boy
who lives with you now."
The object of their exchange sat listening to
the men. He didn't understand a lot of what they were saying, but he followed
what the therapist said last. "Dr. Will?"
"You mean Dad don't know the different boys?
Like we talked 'bout while ago with the pictures?"
Smiling, the doctor said, "Exactly. Would you
like to show them to your dad?"
"Sure." Picking up the two pictures, the child
brought them over and stood beside his foster father's chair. Holding up
the first picture, he said, "See? I picked this picture when Dr. Will asked
me to find one that 'minded me of me b'fore
b'fore you founded
"So this reminds you of that time?" Chris asked
as he looked over the picture.
"Yeah, see? He's sad, an' he gots a black eye
'cause maybe someone hit 'im. An' he's got all this trash 'round him 'cause
he's looked for somethin' to eat. 'Kay?" Vin's finger pointed to the various
aspects of the picture that had reminded him of his life on the streets.
"Okay," Larabee said in a voice choked with emotion.
He couldn't understand how the son of his heart could talk of that time so
"'Kay. So that's like me
b'fore. Now this,"
he handed over the second picture, "is like me now. See? He's smilin'."
The tall blond grinned at the child's explanation,
eloquent in its simplicity. "Yes, Cowboy, I see he's smiling."
His own smile overshadowing that of the child
in the picture, Vin added, "See, he's got a cowboy hat on, 'cause you call
me Cowboy. An' he gots lots of good things now. An' he gots lots of people
that love him. 'Specially his dad."
Chris swallowed hard, overwhelmed by the emotions
his son's words evoked.
"Dad?" Vin's smile wavered as he tried to make
sense of his father's reaction.
"It's okay, buddy," Larabee said softly. "What
you just told me gave me a very good
a very big, good feeling."
"It did?" The little boy asked innocently.
No time like the present to make some
changes. Reaching down, he scooped his son up and settled him in his
lap. Despite the tears that managed to slip down his face, he smiled even
wider. "Yes, Vin, it did. It's the same kind of feeling I've had every day
since you came to live with me."
Cocking his head, the little blond touched a
finger to his father's face and brushed away a tear. "It ain't a sad feelin'?"
"No, it's not a sad feeling."
Another tear was brushed away by a tiny finger.
"It ain't a bad feelin'?"
"No, it's not a bad feeling."
Placing a little hand on each broad shoulder,
he asked, "It ain't a mad feelin'?"
"No, you don't give me mad feelings, son. I promise
and I will say this to you every day if you want. I will never
be mad at you."
"But you get mad 'cause 'a me." It was a painfully
straightforward statement. Once more the little blond's smile wavered.
"Vin, I can't tell you that I won't stop getting
angry at people who do mean and hurtful things to you. I've never lied to
you, have I?"
"Nope," little Tanner said firmly.
"And I never, ever will. So I want to make you
a promise son. No matter how many people I get angry at because they're mean
to you, I will never be angry at you."
"Vin," Lowery interrupted the father and son
exchange. "Can you tell Chris why it scares you so much?"
Tears once more filled the big blue eyes and
the full little mouth trembled. Then, his voice barely audible, he said,
"I get scared, Dad. I get scared that you'll be tired a bein' mad, and tired
'a all the problems. I get scared that if I ain't a different boy you
you won't want me 'round no more."
Mustering every ounce of strength and forcing
himself not to rail against that pain-filled statement, Larabee looked directly
into those too-old eyes. "Vin, you are my son. You will be my son forever.
Forever and ever. No matter what happens, no matter what bad things we have
to deal with. You
son. I will never grow
tired of you. I will never want you to be anyone but who you are. And, please
listen to me and believe what I say. I will never, ever, ever
want to send you away. Never. And that is a promise I will never break.
"You will not ever have to go back and live in
that warehouse. Not unless I live there, too."
Vin couldn't help it. He giggled as he remembered
the talk they had had before. Chris had told him that if he went to live
in the warehouse, then the rest of them would move in with him. As the rest
of his foster father's statement began to sink in, he said, "Never?"
Stroking his fingers through the thick, blond
hair, the man said, "Never, Cowboy. Even if someone makes me angry every
day for the rest of my life, I will never send you away."
His smile returning full force, the little boy
wrapped his arms around his father's neck. In return, he felt strong arms
wrapped around him. With a contented sigh he said, "Okay."
Deciding to give them a few minutes to gather
themselves, Lowery said, "Vin, do you think your dad would like to help you
pick out a picture for this week?"
Leaning back far enough to look into Chris' face,
the little boy said, "Do y' wanna, Dad?"
"Sure," Larabee responded with a smile.
As the therapist handed over the folder, Vin
said, "we didn't talk 'bout the picture I picked out last week, Dr. Will."
"We didn't, did we?" The therapist replied. He
knew that they had touched on it much more than the child knew. Do you remember
what the picture was about?"
The little blond frowned as he thought back to
the previous session. "It was s'posed to be 'bout how I
frown deepened and then he said in a surprised voice, "Hey! We talked 'bout
"You know," the therapist said, proud of the
little boy for putting two and two together so easily, "I believe you're
right Vin. Well then, what I'd like you to do this week is to find a picture
that makes you think of being safe and happy. Can you do that?"
Little Tanner smiled then nodded as he turned
to the business at hand. Settled on his father's lap he began to go through
the file. With a smile he said, "This one."
Lowery saw a look of joy cross Chris' face as
he saw the picture his foster son had chosen. When he saw the picture, he
could easily see why. "Thank you, Vin. I'll put this one with the others,