"Fridays I'm usually out of the office," Dr. Two Eagles said as they stepped into the elevator. "I still have to stop by the hospital for rounds."
"What's rounds?" Vin asked, taking a deep breath as the elevator doors closed. He always got a jumpy feeling in his stomach when he rode on elevators.
"That just means going around and checking on my patients who are in the hospital."
"Oh." He heard the elevator ding and he let out his breath when the door slid open.
"My office is right down there. Shall we see if we can scrounge up some new bandages for your knees?"
Vin looked at him uncertainly. He didn't know you could get to Dr. Jake's office from inside the hospital. They'd always come through the other door.
"It won't hurt a bit, I promise."
The doctor knew that if his insurance carrier ever found out he did things like this they'd drop him like a hot potato, but this patient was very special to him. Besides, he'd gotten a verbal okay from the boy's guardian and he had no doubt he be able to get it in writing if the need arose.
The waiting room in his office was empty, but the lights were still on and the receptionist was still at her desk. His partner must be seeing her last patient, he figured, waving as he passed the receptionist who raised an eyebrow, then shielded her eyes with her hand, as if to let him know she wasn't seeing him at all. He motioned Vin into one of the small rooms then pulled a chair over to the small sink. "How about we wash that blood off your hands," he suggested, lifting Vin to stand on the chair. He squirted some soap into the boy's palms then coaxed him to lather them up good before rinsing them off under the faucet.
"Head wounds bleed a lot. They generally look much worse than they are." Once the small hands were cleaned and dried with a paper towel, the doctor patted the edge of the exam table and slipped his hands into a pair of latex gloves. "So, what happened to your little brother?" he asked, while gently peeling the tape and pads away from Vin's knees.
"He tried to jump his bike over a ramp," Vin mumbled, looking from his knees to the doctor with a guilty expression. "Was my fault." Vin waited, expecting to hear a denial of his guilt and was surprised when it didn't come.
"Ah, I remember doing the same thing when I was a boy." Dr. Two Eagles reached up into one of the cabinets and took out the supplies he would need. The gauze pads and antibiotic ointment were all samples, so he didn't really have to account for them. "I ended up with twelve stitches here," he pointed to a faded scar above his eyebrow, "and a broken wrist." Deftly he opened each package, squeezed a liberal amount of ointment onto the gauze pads and gently placed them over each of the boy's knees. "There, all done," he said when he'd finished. "How's that?"
Vin smiled up at him. "It didn't hurt at all."
"I told you it wouldn't." The doctor smiled, removing his gloves and tossing them in a container. "We better hurry before they lock us in for the night," he said teasing, but when he noted Vin's look of alarm he quickly retracted the words. "I'm kidding, they wouldn't do that."
They walked slowly back the way they'd come. Dr. Two Eagles could tell Vin hadn't liked the elevator, but with his banged up knees he figured it was the best option, anyway. "So, let me see if I have this straight?" he asked, pausing before he hit the down button. "I'm guessing that you're the one who set up the ramp, so now you think it's your fault that he got hurt?"
"Yeah." Boy, Dr. Two Eagles sure was good at figuring things out.
"Did you make him jump the ramp?"
"Did you tell him it was okay for him to do it?"
"Well, then it's at least partly his fault, too, don't you think?"
"He's just a little kid. He don't know no better."
Dr. Jake laughed. "I think he knows better than you're giving him credit for. Remember I told you that I got hurt jumping my bike?"
Vin nodded, not even noticing when the elevator door closed.
"Well, it wasn't actually my bike, it was my big brother's. And, he's the one who made the ramp. I watched him and his friend go over it, all afternoon. They even put some of my mother's flowerpots in front of it, seeing who could jump the farthest. I kept begging them to let me try. I thought it looked pretty easy, but he wouldn't let me. He said I was too little."
It was hard to imagine Dr. Jake ever being 'too little'.
"The minute he turned his back, I'm sure you can guess what happened."
Vin looked up at him expectantly, wanting to hear the story.
"My brother and his friend went inside to get something to drink. They left their bikes right out by the ramp. My brother's bike was too big for me, but of course that didn't matter at the time. I knew it was wrong, but I climbed on his bike anyway. Then, I tried to do everything the way I'd seen them do it. I went up the ramp, sailed through the air and landed perfectly," he said with a wistful expression. "The problem was, I was too little and when I landed, I ended up bouncing right over the handle bars."
Vin winced, imagining JD doing the same thing. "Did your brother get in trouble?" he asked, stepping out of the elevator.
"We both did. Because we both knew it was dangerous, and we both knew our parents wouldn't have allowed us to do it, if they'd been home. We both got grounded from our bikes for the rest of the summer, which didn't affect me all that much, since I wouldn't have been allowed to ride with a broken wrist, anyway. Then my parents decided my brother wasn't old enough to stay home alone and watch me. So, my Aunt Rose had to come and baby-sit us. We hated that."
"So, it was both your faults?"
"Yes, Vin, it was. I knew what I was doing was wrong, just like I'll bet JD knew he was wrong, too."
"But, if your brother wouldn't have left his bike there and showed ya how to do it . . .."
"Actually, I've been a pediatrician for a few years now and you wouldn't believe how many injuries I've seen from kids doing stunts like that on their bikes. If I hadn't have gotten the idea from my brother I would have gotten it somewhere else. Where did you learn to do that stunt?"
"I saw some bigger boys doing it across from the library."
"See, there you go," he replied waving a hand. "You learned from some older boys who probably learned it from somebody else. A lot of times we do things that we might consider to be dangerous for us, and it never crosses our minds that what we're doing could end up being dangerous for someone else, too. You see," he held up a finger as they sat down in the lobby, "almost everything we do has an influence on somebody else. That's why it's always a good idea to ask yourself if what you're doing, or saying, will have a good influence or a bad influence on those around you."
"Yeah." He'd never really thought about things that way. "I wish I would have thought about that before JD got hurt, though," he said regretfully.
"We all make bad decisions," the doctor said kindly. "The important thing is that we learn from our mistakes, so that we don't repeat them again. Sometimes, it's through our mistakes that we become better men."
"I ain't gonna do anything dangerous, ever again," the little boy vowed.
Dr. Jake laughed. "Well, I'm sure that would be a comfort for your dads to hear, but I won't hold you to it."
Vin wondered what he meant, but he didn't get a chance to ask. When he looked up, there was Buck and JD.
Buck noticed that Vin had fresh bandages on his knees and wondered how long they'd been in the treatment room. It hadn't seemed that long. He was a little disappointed that Chris hadn't arrived, but he figured that he must still be in court and it was required that all cell phones be turned off while court was in session.
Dr. Two Eagles stood and Buck reached out to shake his hand. "Thanks, for everything."
The doctor smiled and nodded then turned his attention to JD. "Are you feeling better, JD?"
JD smiled and pointed to his head. "I gotted eight stitches!"
"Eight stitches, huh? You're a very brave boy."
JD nodded enthusiastically.
"But, you're not going to jump your bike anymore, right?"
"Not 'till I get my trainin' wheels off," JD said seriously.
"You best think on that again, son," Buck warned. "The last thing I want to do is end up bringing you back here."
Dr. Two Eagles laughed and shook his head. "Vin and I had a long talk, and he assured me he won't be doing any stunts, for a while anyway. Isn't that right?"
Vin nodded solemnly, looking at the doctor then Buck.
"It was nice to be able to visit with you, Vin," the doctor said, patting the boy on the shoulder. "Thank you for letting me change the bandages on your knees."
Buck had to smile when Vin nodded and said, "You're welcome."
"Thank you, doctor," said Buck, holding out his hand again.
"No problem," he replied and then he winked at each boy. "Now, you two be sure to take it easy for a few days. No bike riding."
"Oh, trust me, Doc," Buck said with laughter in his voice, "these two won't be doing any bike riding for a long, long time."
Vin sighed, looking down at his suddenly interesting shoes, while JD yawned and rested his head on Buck's shoulder.
"I'll see you boys around." The doctor waved, and then he was gone.
"Well, boys, should we head on home?" Buck asked, and received two enthusiastic nods. "Well, come on then." He led Vin out the automatic doors and into the parking lot. The moment they reached the truck the cell phone rang. Buck flipped it open and held it to his ear. "Great timing, Larabee," he greeted.
"I just got your message. What happened?" Chris asked with alarm in his voice.
"Where are you?"
"Just leaving the courthouse. I'm on my way to the hospital."
"Never mind, Chris," he said, already buckling the kids into their seatbelts. "We're already on our way home. JD had a little mishap on his bike and ended up needing a few stitches."
"Is he okay?"
"Yeah, like I said we're headed home. Why don't you pick up something for supper and we'll tell you all about it at home."
Traffic was heavy as they headed out of the city; it ended up taking almost twice as long to get home than it had taken to get to the hospital. JD had fallen asleep even before Buck had put him in the truck. Vin remained silent, to a point that worried Buck.
The boy stared out the window, his brow pinched.
Finally they pulled into the long driveway. Buck felt immeasurable relief that they were home and the worst of the crisis was over. Chris had somehow managed to beat them home and before Buck had come to a stop, Chris was out the door and walking toward them.
Vin had felt a lot better after talking with Dr. Jake, but he still felt guilty and it was hard seeing JD's tear streaked face and his bloody t-shirt. The sight of Chris, when they pulled up to the house, made him suddenly feel like crying. He tried to take a deep breath then another, but he found himself overwhelmed with emotions. He'd tried to be strong, tried not to cry this whole time but now that he was home and Chris was here . . .. He wanted Chris, so bad.
Before Buck was able to get JD's seatbelt unbuckled, Vin was already out of the truck and making a dash for Chris, who stooped low then swung the small boy up into his arms. "It's all right, I've got you," he murmured. Vin was clinging tightly to him, his whole body trembling and his breath hitching as he tried to hold back his tears.
Buck lifted JD, who blinked sleepily at him then looked around and laid his head back down on the big man's shoulder. He closed the car door then made his way toward the house, pausing to give Vin a pat on the back. Chris lifted a questioning eyebrow, but Buck just smiled and nodded to Vin. "We had a rough day," he said simply, "I'm gonna go lay this one down inside."
Chris sat down on the steps, holding Vin and whispering words of comfort. After a few minutes he seemed to compose himself and wiped the tears roughly from his cheeks.
Chris leaned back to get a good look at him. "You okay?"
Vin sniffled, then nodded. "I was just scared."
"I'll bet." He'd seen JD's bloody t-shirt and knew that he would have been scared to death, too.
"It was all my fault he got hurt."
Chris drew his eyebrows together. "What happened?"
"I-I . . .." He hated having to tell the story over again, especially to Chris. He knew that Chris wouldn't send him away. He was hardly ever afraid of that anymore. Still, he hated the thought that he'd done something that would make Chris disappointed in him. But he knew he had to fess up to what he'd done, even if it meant seeing that look of disappointment on his dad's face. "Yesterday, when I hurted myself it was 'cause I made a ramp out behind the barn, and I's jumpin' my bike over it." He paused barely able to meet his dad's eyes as he waited for his reaction.
Chris did the weirdest thing though. He looked up at the sky and kinda laughed a little. Then he shook his head and said, "A ramp?" like he couldn't believe it.
Vin chewed on his bottom lip, then nodded. "Yeah, I made it from a piece of wood. If ya ride your bike real fast up the ramp, you go flyin' through the air."
"Oh, I know how they work."
"Oh, okay . . .well, I told JD that he was too little to ride over it, and 'sides he still gots trainin' wheels, but when I was inside today, he--"
"He did it anyway. I think I got the picture."
Chris was shaking his head, and he had a strange look on his face, but he didn't seem mad; he didn't even seem all too disappointed. "Well, I imagine that would be a pretty big temptation for a boy. I know I'd have been tempted if I was JD."
Chris didn't say anything else and Vin was having a hard time believing that this could be so easy. "Chris?" he said in a timid voice. "Ain't ya mad at me?"
"I'm not particularly happy," he admitted. He didn't want to come across as sounding too lenient or unconcerned, but he didn't want to make Vin feel any more guilty than he already did. "It was a dangerous thing to do. You both could have been hurt a lot worse than you were. I just hope you've both learned a lesson."
"I know it was a bad decision and I promise I won't ever do nothin' like that again." Vin licked his lips and absently played with a button on his dad's shirt. "Dr. Jake said everyone makes mistakes. He says, what's important is that ya learn from 'em, so you can be a better man."
"A better man, huh?" Chris said, with a half smile. "Well, that sounds like pretty smart advice."
"From now on, I'm fixin' to think harder on things 'fore I do 'em, so I can be a good 'fluence for JD."
Chris smiled at him and pulled him close. "You're pretty good already, cowboy."
Vin felt his cheeks grow warm and he gave his dad a shy smile. "I'm still gonna do better," he promised.
With a rush of pride, Chris wrapped his arms around Vin then dropped a kiss on top of the curly head. "I'm really glad you learned a lesson through all of this, cowboy. I know you already had a hard day," he said, leaning back to look his son in the eye, "but I think there's one more thing we need to discuss."
Vin looked up at him seriously, already knowing what his dad meant and willing to face whatever he had coming.
"You're going to be restricted from riding your bike for . . . " he thought for a moment, and while he knew forever was a mighty long time, it was his first choice. He also knew that it was being unrealistic and unfair, so he opted instead for, "a long time."
"Uh, okay." That didn't seem too harsh. He deserved at least that, if not more.
"A really long time."
"Really long?" Vin couldn't help but wonder how long 'a really long time' was? By his calculations a long time was like two weeks, or so. He wondered if a really long time meant a month? Okay, a month was fair enough, he guessed.
"Like until you're thirty."
"But that's old!"
"Forty's even older."
Vin's eyes went wide. Forty was almost dead! Then he remembered Buck had just turned forty, and Chris was even older. Maybe it wasn't almost dead, but he couldn't imagine wanting to go bike riding when he was as old as his dads were, so he decided it'd be in his best interest to just keep quiet.
Buck came out then and sat down beside them. "I hope I never have to go through that again."
"How's he doing?" asked Chris.
"Boy's out like a light."
"How are you doing?" Buck asked, looking at Vin. "I don't think I've had the chance to thank you for backing me up today."
"Me?" Vin asked wide-eyed. He wondered how Buck could say that after what he let happen to JD.
"Yes, you. You did such a good job today. You were brave and grown up when I needed you to be. You don't know how much I appreciate that. I'm very proud of you."
Vin could hardly believe what he was hearing. "But, it was my fault he got hurt."
"Well, I don't know about that," Buck said with a small grin. "You were in the house so I'm pretty sure you didn't force him to do what he did. He shoulda known better, especially after what happened to you yesterday." He suddenly looked at Chris with panic in his eyes. "Oh, lord. I just remembered something . . . right before we left the hospital the doctor asked JD if he was planning on doing anything like that again and do you know what that boy said? He said not until he got his trainin' wheels off. Can you believe that? What am I gonna do?" Buck stood quickly, looking like he was about to panic. "I've got to hide that bike of his!"
Chris grabbed his friend's arm. "Calm down, Buck," he said with a glint in his eyes. "I've got plans for both bikes."
Vin sighed. It always made him nervous when his dad got that look in his eyes; it made him look like a sly fox, or Uncle Ezra when someone brought out a deck of cards. He wondered if they'd let him say goodbye to his bike, since it would be . . . 23 long years 'til he got to see it again.
Later that evening they held their Family Pow Wow in the living room. Buck was reclined on the couch with JD sprawled against him. Chris relaxed in his favorite chair, with Vin squeezed in beside him.
Before they began, Chris decided to inform them of his plans for their bikes. He said at first he'd wanted to take the bikes to work and have them impounded in evidence storage, but that he decided instead to store them in their own shed as long as the boys both promised they wouldn't even think about touching them until they were given permission.
After that was agreed upon, they continued the meeting in a more normal fashion. Chris told them he had a boring week because he didn't really like to be stuck in court, but the worst thing about the week was when he checked his voice mail that afternoon and found the message from Buck. He said he got really scared and almost panicked until he was able to get through to Buck. "After that," he said, "I just felt really bad. I wish I could have been there for you guys. I hope I can make it up to you all."
"Well," Buck said thoughtfully, "I know I could sure use a nice, thick, juicy steak with all the fixin's."
Chris grinned at his friend and nodded. "You got it, pard."
Buck told them his week was nothing special. He enjoyed being able to stay home with the boys and would have enjoyed it even more, if his boss wasn't such a slave driver. His boss ignored the comment. Then, the dark-haired man got serious as he told them all how scared he was for JD, and then how frustrated he was trying to help JD, knowing that Vin needed him too.
"I was okay, Buck," Vin told him, his blue eyes filled with concern. "I knew ya needed to take care of JD."
"I know that, Vin," he replied seriously. "And I know I've already said this, but I'm proud of the way you acted. That was a scary situation and you were a big help to me." He cleared his throat, looking relieved all over again that the ordeal was behind them. "I was pretty thankful when Dr. Two Eagles showed up. Maybe it's him that deserves that steak dinner?"
JD wasn't his usual talkative self. He simply said that he had a good week, apparently not wanting to discuss the day's ordeal. Maybe he felt he'd suffered enough already, but Buck wanted to be certain the boy had no question how he felt about what had happened and he was more than willing to lead the conversation. It wasn't that he wanted to force JD to relive the trauma, but he didn't want the incident to be completely forgotten, for the boy's own good. "Can you tell me how you feel about what happened today?"
"Well," the boy frowned, looking troubled. "I was scared at the hops-spital. I didn't like gettin' stitches. It hurted." He looked up at Buck. "Did it hurt when you got stitches, Da?"
"It sure did, but ya know something, JD? It hurt me a lot worse to have to watch you get them," he said with solemn eyes. "I don't like to see you hurting, son."
JD nodded, looking just as solemn as Buck for a moment. Then suddenly he tilted his head, looking curious. "Can we take the trainin' wheels off my bike, Da?"
Buck's face went pale and he gave the younger boy a peculiar look then cleared his throat. "Son, ya already took ten years off my life today, what more do ya want from me?"
JD's eyes grew wide and a moment later he burst into tears. "I'm sorry, Da!" he wailed. "I don't want to take ten years off your life! You're already old! I don't want ya to die!"
Chris covered his mouth and looked away, but Vin could tell he was trying hard not to laugh, which made Vin want to laugh, too. Vin knew it was just a 'spression, but apparently JD didn't. It served him right to worry that he might have caused harm to Buck. Maybe that would make him think twice about doing it again?
"Aw, c'mon, JD." Buck kissed the top of his head. "I'm not gonna die. It's just a saying, okay?"
"O-okay, B-Buck," the little boy stammered, his chest heaving as he tried to stop crying.
Vin went last and admitted that he'd been real scared when JD got hurt and then real sorry when he found out it was 'cause JD was copyin' him. "I promise, " he said, crossing his heart. "From now on I'm gonna be a good 'fluence and a good big brother for JD."
"Aw, Vin," Buck reassured him, "JD couldn't ask for a better big brother than you."
The boy ducked his head, but the two men couldn't miss the blush and the smile. A moment later, he cleared his throat and looked up shyly then cast a significant glance at his little brother, "I promise I won't ever jump my bike again."
"I'm glad to hear that, cowboy," Chris said with a smile. "What about you, JD?"
JD's mouth twisted and he looked as if he was thinking it over. "Well . . .. I'll have to give that some thought," he said with a thoughtful look on his face.
"You'll have to do what?" Buck's eyes went wide.
"I just ain't made up my mind yet," JD told them.
"Well, let me help you out," Buck said in a warning voice. "I forbid you to ever do that again! And, if I get wind you're even thinkin' about doing anything dangerous on that bike, I'm gonna take it away from you and give it to . . . to . . . Freddy Chaney, with a big, red bow tied on the handlebars. So how d'ya like that?"
JD's mouth dropped open and his dark brown eyes went wide. "Ya wouldn't do that, would ya?"
"You bet I would! In a hot second." He put an arm around JD, looking from one boy to the other. "Do you boys know how many kids get seriously hurt in bike accidents everyday? Hurt even worse than you two were?"
Vin nodded. "That's what Dr. Jake said."
"I love the both of you more than anything in the world, and I know Chris feels the same way." He glanced up and received a nod from his partner. "We don't ever want anything bad to happen to either one of you. And we'll do whatever's necessary to keep you safe."
JD swallowed hard, looking guiltily up through his long lashes. "I'm sorry, Da. I promise I won't do it again."
"You know," Buck started, "a few years back, when I was a little fella . . ."
Chris lifted an eyebrow. "A few years?"
"Hey, you're older than I am."
"Right, right." Chris nodded agreeably. "A few years."
"Me and some of my friends set up a ramp, probably just like yours," he said, glancing at Vin and then JD. He chose his next words carefully, wanting to make sure the information came across as a lesson rather than a promotion for misbehavior. "It was in the parking lot across the street from our apartment building. When my momma looked out the window and saw it . . . whooey! She about had a fit. She made us take it down and then she made me come inside and scrub the kitchen floor with a toothbrush. But, the next morning while she was still sleepin' I went right back out there and set it up again. Well, I found out the hard way why my ma was so dead set against the bike ramp. I ended up with a broken arm."
"A broken arm?" Vin looked surprised. "Dr. Jake said he broked his wrist."
"No kidding? Just goes to show ya how easy it is to get hurt doing things like that." Buck was shaking his head a little wistful smile on his face. "I remember thinking I'd probably get off easy since I was hurt, but woo-boy, my momma made sure my behind was in no condition to sit on a bike, anytime soon."
They sat there quietly for a few moments then JD looked over at Chris. "Did they have bikes back when you was a kid, Chris?"
Buck let out a loud burst of laughter and Vin smiled, although for a moment he too had wondered.
"Of course we had bikes, JD," Chris answered with a wry grin then he got a twinkle in his eye. "I was really upset when I had to leave mine back home when our family came over on the Mayflower, but as soon as we got here, your Grandpa Matt bought me a new one."
JD sat forward, his dark eyes wide with amazement. "Ya mean . . . ya mean, you was a pilgrim?"
Buck and Vin burst out laughing. Chris just rolled his eyes. "I think it's past all of your bedtimes."
Josiah checked the barn first, but when he saw no sign of the boy he was looking for he headed for the tree house. He was a little surprised to find Vin sitting beneath it instead of inside.
"Hello, Vin. How are you?"
Vin opened his eyes and looked up at Josiah, his mouth forming the hint of a smile. "Hi Uncle 'Siah. I's fine," he said quietly, then sighed and looked away.
Josiah stood there for a few moments, taking the opportunity to look up and inspect the structure, impressed all over again at the fine job they'd done. When Vin said nothing further, Josiah decided that he would sit down beside his nephew. As he sat there in the shade, he felt a sense of peace wash over him, like the slight breeze that ruffled his hair. With a smile, he closed his eyes and relaxed, enjoying the sounds of nature. He could hear the leaves rustling in the tree above them and a bee flew past, buzzing very close to his ear. The horses nickered to one another as they trotted around the nearby corral; the birds were chirping merrily all around and the crickets were . . .. His eyes popped open and he shuddered, feeling suddenly as if insects were crawling all over his skin. He detested crickets. He shuddered again, barely resisting the urge to jump up and start stomping around madly.
"Uncle 'Siah, you okay?"
He looked over to see two big, blue eyes filled with concern. "Of course, Vin," he said calmly, even managing a smile.
Vin nodded, but kept watching him.
"This is lovely place."
"Yeah, it is." Vin pulled a long blade of grass and began twisting it around his finger. "I missed ya, Uncle 'Siah," he said shyly. Vin always worried about his Uncle Josiah when he went to visit his sister because he always seemed real sad when he came back home. When his uncle was sad it made him feel sad, too.
"Thank you, Vin. I missed you, too." Josiah gave him a toothy smile and a wink, and Vin couldn't help but smile back at him.
"Sounds like you and JD had a rough couple of days?"
"Yeah, 'specially yesterday. It was scary." After a few moments of silence Vin gave him another shy glance. "Did you have a rough couple of days, too, Uncle 'Siah?"
Josiah took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Maybe a little rough. The doctors are giving Hannah a new kind of medicine and she seems to be doing a little bit better. So, it was an okay visit."
"If the medicine is makin' her feel better, then that's good right?" Vin questioned, not understanding why Josiah didn't look more cheerful.
"Yeah, it's good."
"Then . . .." Vin hesitated not wanting to make Josiah more unhappy, but still wanting to know, "how come ya still look sad?"
"It's kind of hard to explain, Vin. When I visit my sister it always makes me think about the girl she used to be," he said with a far away look in his eyes. "She was smart and full of life, with such a sense of humor. She was also very stubborn and strong willed. She thought she knew it all and refused to listen to any advice, especially from me. She was set on doing anything and everything she could to make my father angry and there was nothing I could say to change her mind. Of course, I guess I wasn't exactly setting a good example for her to follow. Maybe if I had tried a little harder to behave myself things would have turned out differently. But at the time I was just a kid and I didn't see that." He sighed, shaking his head sadly.
Vin didn't know what to say to Josiah's admission. He couldn't imagine his uncle being anything other than the kind, smart gentle hero that he'd always been to Vin. Dr. Jake said sometimes you can become better by learning from your mistakes and Vin figured that his uncle had done just that. Still, he knew that sometimes it was hard to live with past mistakes, even if you never make them again. "Uncle 'Siah?"
"Yeah?" The big agent struggled to force a smile, but one look at Vin and the smile became genuine.
"I just wanted to tell ya . . ." Vin's cheeks flushed as he absently traced a pattern on Josiah's knee. He wished he could say something or do something to make everything okay, but he knew that he couldn't. Nobody could change the past but Vin could maybe tell Josiah that he loved him now. "I don't know about when you was a kid, but I know about now," he said in small, quiet voice. "You help me lots and you teach me lots of things and . . . and I just wanted to tell ya that I love ya." Then he leaned in and wrapped his arms as far around the big man's middle as he could get them.
Josiah carefully lifted the boy into his lap and hugged him tightly, sending up a silent prayer of thanks. He was pretty sure he'd never done anything good enough to deserve having these boys in his life, but he always made it a point to let the Lord know how grateful he was for the blessing. "I love you, too, Vin."
For a few more minutes the two of them enjoyed the peaceful, relaxing atmosphere. And then the crickets began chirping again. Josiah remained calm as he carefully scanned the surrounding area. His sharp eyes spotted a beetle crawling up the tree bark, a yellow butterfly resting on a blade of grass, several ants, but thankfully no crickets. That, of course, only meant that the little abominations were lurking somewhere unseen, perhaps hiding in the grass, or behind a stone. He knew they were out there; he could hear them. "I could sure use a nice, cold drink; how about we go inside and get one?" he suggested, hoping to avoid embarrassing himself.
"Nah, I'm okay." Vin sighed contentedly.
"Oh." He tried not to sound too disappointed. "Well, okay then."
"Ya know crickets can't hurt ya, Uncle 'Siah."
Narrowing his eyes, he looked down at his cherished 'nephew' and found the boy smirking at him. "Of course, I know that, son. Everyone knows that."
A big, dimpled grin spread across the young face and Vin shook his head.
"They're God's creatures," Josiah said calmly, eyes darting nervously around the yard. "Although, I have no idea what He was thinking when He created them." He glanced penitently up to the heavens. "No offense, Lord."
"Reckon I could use a drink after all." Vin couldn't figure out how his fearless uncle could be scared of an itty, bitty, harmless cricket, but he wasn't about to make him suffer any longer.
Josiah set Vin on his feet and managed to scramble up off of the ground in the blink of an eye. Then he smiled and calmly gestured toward the house. "Shall we?"
Vin nodded and reached out to take his uncle's hand.
When they entered the house, they found JD sleeping on the couch and the others seated around the kitchen table. "You go ahead, I have to use the restroom," Josiah said, motioning for Vin to head for the kitchen.
"Hey, cowboy," Chris greeted with a big smile and Vin climbed up into his lap. "Where's Josiah?"
"He had to use the restroom." Vin smiled, he was pretty sure his uncle was checking his clothes for crickets, but he'd never give his secret away.
"Hey, buddy." Buck scooted his chair closer and propped the little boy's feet in his lap so he wouldn't have to bend his knees. "How are those knees doin'?"
"Only hurts when I bend 'em," he admitted then glanced worriedly at Buck. "Is JD okay?"
Buck gave him a gentle smile and leaned close, tipping the boy's chin up until their eyes met. "Yes, he's fine. He's just a little worn out from everything. In fact, I'm a mite worn out myself, maybe I ought to go take a nap, too."
"Don't even think about it," Chris said. "We need to get the grill started."
"No rest for the handsome," Buck drawled. "How about you get the grill going," he said to Chris, "and I'll check on JD and then bring the steaks out?"
"No napping along the way."
Buck gave him a half-hearted salute. "Yes, sir."
Chris settled Vin in the chair he vacated, scooting Buck's vacant chair close so the boy could put his feet up. "I'll be outside if you need anything, okay?"
Vin nodded, watching as his dad grabbed the supplies he needed then gave him a wink and headed out the door.
"Well, Mister Tanner, that leaves you and me," Ezra said with a wink. He took a sip of his lemonade then raised his eyebrows. "Would you like a glass of lemonade, Vin?"
"Okay." Vin watched as Ezra went to the refrigerator, noticing JD's 'newspaper' hanging on the front. "Uncle Ezra?"
"Can you help me make a newspaper, too? Like JD's?"
"Well, of course I can." Ezra set a cup of lemonade on the table in front of him. "Let's see, we'll need paper, crayons and a pencil."
"We have all of that stuff in our room." Vin started to get up, but Ezra held up a hand.
"No need, I'm perfectly capable of getting the supplies. You give some thought as to what you'd like to include in your paper and I'll be right back."
Nathan and Rain pulled into the driveway just as Chris was putting the steaks on the grill. Buck trotted over to the car to help carry some of the supplies the couple had brought along for the meal.
As Rain handed over a sack, she took a moment to read the front of the mustached man's cooking apron then stood on her tiptoes and dutifully placed a kiss on his cheek. A broad grin spread across his face. "Why thank ya, darlin'."
"Hey," Chris protested from the grill, "I'm the one doing the cooking here."
"Pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain," Buck said with a wink as he passed Chris on his way into the kitchen.
Rain paused to give Chris a quick kiss, too, then patted his cheek and followed Buck inside. Chris grinned at Nathan when the dark-skinned man stepped up beside him.
"Guess you're gonna have to borrow his apron next time." Nathan said, then raised an eyebrow when he saw the apron Chris wore was turned inside out.
"This is one of his aprons. Trust me you don't wanna know what it says."
"You're probably right," Nathan said with a chuckle. "So, how are our little daredevils doing today?"
"Pretty good. They're a little stiff and sore, but other than that . . .."
"I still can't picture those boys pullin' a stunt like that."
"Yeah, well . . . I couldn't either to tell ya the truth, but," he shrugged, "when I remember that not so long ago they were living in an abandoned warehouse, digging through the garbage for food, playing on rooftops . . . this stunt was just so . . . normal. I never woulda guessed they'd do something like that or I would have got that wood outta there a long time ago."
Nathan thought about it for a few moments before nodding. "Yeah, guess you and Buck are gonna have to start looking at a lot of things with a new perspective. So, ya gonna let them off easy this time?"
"I wouldn't say they got off easy," Chris replied. "We're hoping that trip to the emergency room will stick in their heads for a while, and both of them are restricted from their bikes."
A short time later Buck joined them, handing a beer to each of the men.
"I'll tell you my first thought was to lock both bikes in Evidence," Chris said chuckling. "Then Buck threatened to give JD's bike to Freddy Chaney.
Nathan couldn't help but laugh. "That'd teach him."
"Yeah, but with our luck," Buck said, then took a long draught and wiped his mouth, "Freddy'd get together with Eli Joe and use JD's bike as a getaway vehicle in a string of lemonade stand robberies, and we'd end up getting blamed for it all."
Josiah stepped outside in time to add, "I can see it now: your faces pinned up in every post office in America. Wanted. Five dollar reward."
"Gee thanks, Josiah," Chris said dryly.
"Ya know," the big agent said, as he sat down in one of the lawn chairs, "I remember when I was a kid, a few years older than Vin, I made a ramp, too. Rolled a few empty barrels in front of it and tried to jump them with my mini bike. Wanted to be like Evel Knievel -- until I wiped out and ended up splitting my forehead wide open. Twenty two stitches later, I decided to become a cop instead, it's a much safer career."
"I did the same thing. Me and a neighbor kid set up a ramp in the parking lot down the street," Buck said grinning and shaking his head. "No stitches but I broke my arm. When my mom and I were leavin' the ER, my arm in a cast, two paramedics stopped when they saw me. One pulled a 20 out of his wallet and handed it to his partner. The partner said to me, 'Thanks kid. We saw you and your friend earlier and I bet him that we'd be seein' one of you in here before the shift was over'."
"I never did anything like that," Nathan declared then he chuckled. "I just hung out close by and watched."
"You watched?" Chris asked.
"Heck, yeah," Nathan replied with an evil grin. "I knew some fool would get his self hurt and then I'd get my big chance to play paramedic. I never missed an episode of "Emergency!" so I knew exactly what to do, all I needed was a victim."
"Well, I was a very sensible kid," Chris lied, "I knew better than to do things like that."
"I seem to remember your dad tellin' us otherwise, pard. Unless he was just makin' up that story about you takin' that little ride on a goat?" Buck reminded them all.
Chris gave his oldest friend a scowl.
Buck smiled sweetly. "There were a few other stories he told us about his 'sensible kid'. Let's see, there was that one time . . ..."
"Did I mention that the DA was wondering if I could spare any 'volunteers' to reorganize the file system down in dead records?" Chris said, cutting his friend off before he could further embarrass him.
Buck's mouth fell open, but before he could respond, Ezra stepped outside.
Chris took the opportunity to steer the conversation away from him. "So, what about you Ez?"
"What about me?" Ezra asked, narrowing his eyes.
"You ever do any tricks or stunts on your bike when you were a kid?" Buck asked with a grin.
"Please, gentlemen. I would never debase myself by peddling a common bicycle."
The others rolled their eyes and made rude noises.
"I, of course, had a mo-ped."
Vin hobbled out just in time to save his uncle from having to recount the details of his embarrassing ordeal.
"What's a mo-ped?" the boy asked, climbing onto Ezra's lap with a yawn.
"It's similar to a motorbike," Ezra explained. "A popular mode of transportation for teenagers."
"Really?" Vin's eyes grew wide with anticipation. He'd be a teenager soon. Well, kind of soon.
"Don't even think about it, pal." Buck warned before Chris could even open his mouth.
Like a normal kid would do, Vin turned the big eyes on Chris who only laughed. "You won't be riding anything with two wheels until-"
"I know, 'til I'm 30," Vin said with a longsuffering sigh.
"That's right," Chris waved the spatula at him.
Vin held a paper up for Chris and Buck to see. "Uncle Ezra helped me make a newspaper." He squinted his eyes and looked up at Ezra who gave him a wink.
"And bein' that you're my dads and all, I'm gonna let ya have the first one for no charge."
Buck laughed out loud while Chris just gave Ezra a bemused look and said, "Well, that's mighty kind of you, son."
"Uncle Ezra said it's good business to give constumers a sample of fine quality mer . . . uh, merchandise. It's good 'centive," Vin said matter-of-factly, handing the paper to Buck, his blue eyes twinkling with pleasure. Ezra had mentioned something about bait and hook, but Vin didn't understand what he was talkin' about. His paper didn't have nothin' about fishin' in it, but maybe he'd ask Chris if they could go fishin' sometime soon and then he could write about it.
Buck moved to stand beside Chris, holding the paper so they could both see. Both men could only laugh at Vin's imaginative picture, which appeared to be of two sad looking, old men with gray hair and canes, standing beside two very small bikes. The slightly shorter man also had a gray mustache and his bike had training wheels.
Everyday Heroes Index
Next: The Torkus Incident