Sunday afternoon found Buck and JD riding in the hills surrounding the ranch on Beau and Milagro while Vin and Chris had elected to stay at the house, playing with the pups and relaxing. After the overnight ride, as well as the evening of play, the two blonds were too tired for another ride. It wasn't long before they were sharing the porch swing, napping in the afternoon heat.
Buck led JD's gelding around the property, stopping to point out small animals and unusual plants. He had brought his camera along and had taken several shots of the dark haired boy running after butterflies or staring, eyeball to eyeball, at bullfrogs. They wandered further than he had planned but seeing the return of the exuberant boy that had been missing for several days blinded him to the time.
Wilmington was prepared for the afternoon sun with a bag filled with water and snacks for the outing. Those supplies had been consumed and were now replaced with mementos of the ride. There were shiny rocks, leaves and feathers, along with a one dead butterfly and one live caterpillar. Or at least, there had been. While the boy had been distracted by the frogs, Wilmington had 'freed' the caterpillar hoping that the boy forgot about the little insect by the time they arrived home. He was still formulating the escape route in his head in case JD remembered when it dawned on him that ignorance of the escape was probably his best defense.
The growling of empty stomachs finally had him checking the time and announcing that it was time to head home. He laughed as the boy groaned even as his stomach growled again.
"Can't we stay longer? Pleaaasssee?" the little boy begged, his small hands clenched together as his feet pranced up and down, hazel eyes looking up, imploringly.
"No, son, I think we better get home before it gets dark. 'Sides, that last candy bar was a long time ago and I'm getting hungry. Aren't you hungry?" He watched the little boy shake his head. "You're not? Well, I guess that rumbling sound I heard a minute ago must have been thunder. Or maybe an earthquake?" Buck crouched down, his eyes widened as if scared.
The little boy giggled and wrapped his arms around the tall man's legs. "NO. That was ME."
"You? No way. How could such a little boy make such a big sound? Especially if he ain't hungry?"
"I DON'T KNOW!" JD yelled. He squealed as big hands reached down to peel him from the legs and lift him high into the air. The squeals turned to laughter as he looked down into the man's smiling face.
"You sure you're not hungry? I bet Beau and Milagro are hungry. I know I'm hungry. You're not hungry?"
JD laughed even louder as Buck waggled his slight weight up and down. The boy's hands slapped at the thick arms supporting him and finally admitted, "Okay. OKAY. I'm hungry."
Buck lowered the boy and deposited him on a lean hip before heading to where the horses stood tethered and grazing. Setting the boy on the ground, he tightened the cinches he had loosened earlier. Satisfied that both saddles were secure, he lifted the boy up and plopped him in the saddle. He mounted up and, taking Milagro's reins, he started back toward the house.
"Why did Chris want Vin?"
Not sure of the kind of answer the boy was looking for, Wilmington responded slowly. "Well, I guess that Chris couldn't stand seeing a boy like Vin hurt and living on the streets that way; especially after finding him like he did."
"So, he wanted Vin 'cause he was hurt?"
Buck's brows bunched in a frown and he glanced over at the little boy. "No, not cause he was hurt. Cause well, because Vin needed a home." He spoke hesitantly, not really sure of the reason himself, though he had a few ideas.
"Yeah, but why Vin? Why not some other little boy?" JD persisted. "Does Vin remind Chris of his other little boy, Adam?"
Buck laughed softly at the question, his head shaking in denial. Leaning back in the saddle, he smiled at the dark haired boy. "No. Vin is nothing like Adam. In fact, you're more like Adam than Vin. Adam loved to laugh and play. He'd hang all over ya and he loved to be held. He was loud and rambunctious like Chris used to be."
The blue eyes misted over slightly, remembering the child that was so full of life and that had died much too soon, and the friend whose soul had seemed to die along with him.
Buck blinked and smiled down at the child who had obviously been calling him. "Yeah, JD?"
"Do you think that I make Chris 'member his other little boy?"
"I don't think so, Little Bit. Adam was blond while you have dark hair. No, I don't either of you boys make him think of Adam."
"Oh." The response was soft and Buck almost missed it. He frowned again as he looked at the boy and realized that he looked sad.
"You okay, son? You don't feel bad, do ya?" He reached across the narrow expanse and ran his hand down the sad face.
"I'm fine. I was sad about Chris' other little boy." He cocked his head to one side, gazing at his father. "Vin makes Chris happy, don't he? Cause he's quiet and Chris is quiet, so they go together, right?"
Buck chuckled at the logic. "Well, I don't think it's that easy to explain, but it helps that Vin is quiet, yes."
He watched the dark haired boy nod slowly, his tiny face fixed in a frown. The child seemed to be thinking about the conversation so the man kept quiet and watched. Wilmington wondered about the questions, the reasons behind them. He couldn't shake the feeling that it had something to do with the boy's behavior the previous week, but he could not figure out the connection. Direct questioning had gotten him no where, so maybe by watching and listening, he would get a hint, if JD didn't come right out and tell him.
Finally the boy sighed, his shoulders slumping slightly. "Okay."
"Okay what. Little Bit?"
Hazel eyes turned up and the boy blinked. "I'm glad that Vin makes Chris happy." He blinked again and smiled, but his face was sad and Wilmington's heart ached for him. Apparently the day had only been a reprieve from the sadness for the little boy. Now that they were heading home, the melancholy mood was returning. And there wasn't a thing he could do about it.
Buck decided to call the boys' therapist the next day. If JD wouldn't talk to him or Chris, perhaps he would talk to Dr. Will. At least, he hoped so. He couldn't stand watching the usually cheerful personality so suppressed.
He shook off his own somber mood and smiled at the dark haired waif. "Well, why don't we get home and see what they were doing all day without us to entertain 'em."
Buck broke into a grin as the boy laughed. "I bet they was 'bored, bored, bored'."
"I bet they were, Little Bit. I bet they were."
They arrived home to find Vin and Chris sitting on the jungle gym.
"You boys waiting for something?"
Chris rose, followed by Vin, and started toward the horses and riders. "Waitin' on dinner. Think it's your turn to cook."
Buck pulled the horses to a stop and dismounted as he said, "Well, then, guess I better get these animals taken care of and get to the kitchen."
The dark haired man reached up and lifted the boy from the horse. Setting him on the ground, he led the horses to the barn to unsaddle and groom them. JD followed behind and Vin fell in next to him.
"How was your ride, JD?"
The dark haired boy glanced over and grinned. "We had fun. I brought back some stuff. I can show you," JD said hopefully.
"It'll have to wait until after we eat," stated Chris as he walked past.
JD stopped and looked at the man's back as he passed. His eyes dropped to the ground and he nodded.
"You can show me after dinner, okay, JD?" Vin stated before moving on after the men.
The five-year-old trudged after the other three.
After the horses had been brushed, fed, and watered, the family headed into the house. While Buck prepared the meal, Chris had the boys bathe and dress for bed. Though it was a little early, they weren't expecting to go out. Once the boys were done, Larabee told them that the pups could come in and join them while they watched a video.
Buck's meal didn't take long to prepare and it was ready to eat by the time the bath was finished. The four sat down and ate in silence. The men discussed plans for the week, while the boys said next to nothing, not unusual for the seven-year-old, but very out of character for the youngest. No one seemed to notice, though.
Once everyone was through eating, the boys took their plates and put them in the sink, while the two men cleared the food. The boys let the dogs in and headed to the family room where Chris joined them. Buck went to take a shower, joining the others when he had finished. He settled into his chair to watch the boys playing GI Joe while the dogs napped next to them. Larabee had gone into the office to do some work.
Buck flipped on the television to see the results of the NASCAR race to find that it had been rain delayed and was still running. The roar of the cars caught the attention of the children and soon everyone was involved in TV watching. During some caution laps, JD brought out his treasures and showed them to Vin, explaining about each one. Looking in the bag one more time, he turned to his father.
"Da, where's the cat-a-pitter?" he asked, his head thrust back into the bag.
"He's supposed to be in there. Can't you find him?"
Dark hair flew as the boy shook his head. "He's gone, Da. You think he went home?"
Buck took the bag and looked inside. With a 'hmm', he responded, "Well, I'll bet he did. Guess he was too smart for us, wasn't he?"
The boy sighed and turned back to his friend. "Sorry, Vin. He was really neat. You'd a liked 'em."
"That's okay, JD. I like all the other stuff. That rock looks like gold, like ya see on TV."
"Yeah, that's what I thought, too." He rolled the rock around in his hands and then held his hand out to the other boy. "Here. You can have it."
Vin looked at the extended hand and then the boy. "Thanks, JD. This is cool." He took the stone and turned it over, examining it. With his attention on the object in his hand, the boy failed to notice the look on the younger boy's face, but Buck saw it-'it' being a smile that came with contentment and he couldn't resist reaching down to draw the boy close. As he hugged his son, Vin rose saying, "I'm going to show Dad." He left the room in search of his father.
Buck sat back, the boy resting in his lap, the dark head against his chest. The man leaned down and kissed the dark hair, whispering, "That was very nice, Little Bit. I know that was your favorite."
The boy looked up and smiled. "Yeah, but Vin liked it and I can still see it, so " and he shrugged.
This only made Buck hug him closer. "It was still very nice. I'm proud of you, son."
JD sighed softly and snuggled deeper into his warm nest as the race went back to green flag racing. Buck felt the boy's weight grow heavier as the boy drifted off to sleep. He lifted the foot of the recliner and got comfortable. When Vin returned with Chris a few minutes later, both of the dark haired members of the family were sleeping in front of the TV.
The race was over and Chris and Vin spent the rest of the evening playing checkers. At eight-thirty, Larabee woke Buck as he passed, leading a sleepy-eyed Vin to bed. The boys were put down for the evening, tucked in and kissed goodnight. The dogs were told to get off JD's lower bunk and onto their own beds before the men finally pulled the door nearly closed and retired to the front room for the news and weather before turning in for the night themselves.
"Miz Potter, what's ya going to do with all these flowers?"
The woman looked in the rear view mirror at the two boys. They had gone into town to do some shopping and on a whim, the housekeeper had bought some flowers to liven up the front of the house with a little color. "Well, we're going to plant them to make the yard look pretty."
"Wow! And we get to help?"
"If you want to, dear."
Vin and JD smiled at each other. There weren't any flowers at the ranch. A few shrubs and trees, but no flowers. Buck and Chris would be surprised.
The trio pulled in and parked just a few minutes later and the boys hopped out and ran around to the back of the small van. The side trip to the nursery had thrown them late getting home for lunch and though she had treated the boys to a snack a couple of hours earlier, it was now time to feed them a proper meal.
"Boys! Lunch first. Then we'll plant the flowers when it gets a little cooler this afternoon."
"Okay," two voices called out.
"Can we turn the dogs loose?" JD stood next to the older boy, his eyes wide in question.
"Certainly. I'll have lunch ready in a few minutes, so stay close to the house."
"Yes, ma'am," twin voices answered.
The two dogs bounded out and the four ran around the yard in an uncoordinated game of chase. They came in for lunch and afterwards took a nap. It was four in the afternoon before they returned outside to plant the colorful plants.
Gloria had taken the flowers out of the van and placed them in the shade to one side of the house while the boys napped. Now, they brought them around to the front porch and placed them in an arrangement around the porch. Stepping back, they scrutinized the look.
"So, boys, what do you think?"
Little heads tilted one way and then the other. JD spoke up first. "We gots a small one behind that big one."
"Oh. You're right, dear. Why don't you switch them for me?"
JD ran over to correct the oversight and returned when he was done. He smiled up at the woman as she ran a hand through his dark hair.
The boy once again studied the placement, even moved from one side to the other to get a complete view. "Ma'am, do we have too many red ones on this side?"
Gloria looked and though she didn't think that, she wanted the boys to feel like they were contributing, so she nodded. "I think you might be right. Why don't you spread them around a little better?"
"Okay." He grabbed a little pot and held it out to JD. "Here, JD. You take this one over to that side."
The five-year-old took the plant and headed to the area Vin was pointing at. "Here, Vin?"
The blond head bobbed up from where he was squatted, repositioning two pots. "Yeah, that's it."
Finished, the two boys stepped back again. They looked at the flowers for a moment and then turned to look up at the woman. She stood with her hands on her hips, frowning at the scene in front of her. Then she looked down at the boys.
"It's beautiful." And she smiled. The two boys jumped up and down in delight. "Okay, boys, now we have to plant them." She handed each of them a small trowel that she had bought earlier. The ground in front of the house was soft and loose because she had asked the men to till it for her but had not told them why. The flowers were her idea and she knew that while the men would have no problem with her planting them, they would insist on paying for them. She wanted them to be her gift to the family.
"Now, you know what to do?"
Two heads nodded and the boys began to dig the holes. They carefully removed the delicate plants and placed them in the ground. It was a dirty job with the boys in it up to their elbows. Gloria had to assist JD who appeared to be digging a hole big enough to bury a large tree rather than a small flower. He learned quickly that only a small hole was needed and he diligently dug each hole the correct size.
"Boys, would you like a drink?"
"Yes, ma'am," Vin answered.
"I do, Miz Potter." JD sat up, wiping his grubby hand across his brow, leaving a streak of dirt behind.
Vin rolled his eyes, but said nothing to the younger boy.
Gloria giggled at the sight, but she didn't say anything either, knowing that both boys would need baths once the job was completed, anyway. She went inside and made a pitcher of ice water. Then she removed two popsicles from the freezer and headed back outside. The boys were still working on the planting as the two dogs lay quietly watching. It had taken several scoldings to keep the two canines from 'assisting' with the planting.
"Break time, boys."
The two kids dropped their tools and joined the housekeeper at the picnic table to eat their popsicles, cherry for JD and grape for Vin, and have a drink of water. They sat for a few minutes to cool off and then returned to the job. They finished just as the black Dodge truck rumbled into the drive. The two dogs ran to meet the familiar vehicle as it stopped near the barn with the two boys waiting impatiently beside the housekeeper. When the doors opened, they tore off across the drive.
"DA!" JD cried out as he ran up to the big man, a red mustache covering his lip. Wilmington laughed as he took in the dirt and cherry red lips and tongue, but stepped back at the dirt-encrusted hands.
"Whoa, there, Little Bit. You're a mess, son," he said, smiling, to which the boy just grinned and flexed his hands like claws at the man.
"Dad. Hi," Vin greeted his father as Larabee rounded the front of the truck.
Chris reached out and stroked the soft blond hairs from the boy's sweaty face. "Hey, Vin. What are you two doing? Besides eating popsicles?" He pointed at his own lips and watched the boy's purple tongue poke out to slurp the dark-tinged lips. Both of them grinned as the man ruffled the damp hair, leaving spears of hair sticking out on the boy's head.
Vin fell into step with his father and they walked toward to house. "Miz Potter buyed some "
"Yeah.. she bought some flowers to make the porch pretty."
Wilmington and JD joined them, with the boy adding, "Yeah, we moved 'em all' round 'til they looked real pretty and then we planted 'em. And Elvis and Ringo helped."
"They just wanted to dig, but they didn't put the holes in the right place, so we had to make 'em stop." Looking up at the blond, Vin asked, "What if they try to dig up the new flowers, Dad?"
"Well, we'll just have to keep an eye on the dogs and scold them when they try. I think they're probably just looking for a cool place to lie down."
"Guess what we planted, Chris?" JD asked. He had moved ahead of the two blonds but turned to face them, dancing backwards in front of them. Buck had called a greeting Gloria, striding away to join her at the new flower bed.
Larabee raised his eyebrows and leaned forward, "I don't know, JD. What did you plant?"
"Spitunas. White and red and blue and yellow and purple."
"Pa-tun-ias, JD" Vin corrected. "And some of 'em are striped, Dad."
"Yeah and they look like stars. Cause they're purple and " JD started, but by walking backwards he didn't notice Elvis ran up behind him. Running into the pup, the boy started to tumble over.
"Look out" Chris yelled and jumped forward to grab hold of the flailing arms.
Startled, JD's eyes widened as he fought for balance. As Chris pulled him up, he over balanced and tumbled forward against the man. The child instinctively grabbed hold of the black clad legs forgetting about the mud that coated his hands.
Still wearing his work suit, the man stiffened and reached down to pry the muddy hands from the black slacks. "JD! Your hands are muddy." He pushed the stiff arms down and away from his legs to swipe at the little clods of moist dirt.
The little boy immediately wrapped his hands around each other and looked down at the soiled trousers, his chin quivering.
"I'm sorry, Chris." Tears pooled in the hazel eyes as he watched Larabee attempt to brush the worst of the mud from his slacks.
Larabee looked up from his task to see the tears. With a sigh, he squatted down and ran his hands up and down the small arms. He opened his mouth to speak but glanced up to see Buck standing behind the child, a disapproving expression on his face. He turned his attention back to the tearful face. "It's okay, JD. It's only mud. They needed to go to the cleaners anyway."
The boy's chin quivered but he nodded and smiled shyly at the words.
Ruffling the dark hair, Chris stood up as he said, "Well, I know two little boys that need to wash and change so we can feed the animals."
Chris watched as Buck extended his hand to the somber child and led him to the house. Glancing over, he saw two more disapproving faces and he shook his head. He was not having one of his finer moments. Tossing his hands up in defeat, he confessed, "I know. I know. I overreacted. It's only mud."
"You scared 'im, Chris." Blue eyes bore into green ones and the man looked away first.
"I know, Vin. I didn't mean to. I just " He stopped, trying to think of the right words.
"You should apologize." The woman's voice was soft and carried a hint of understanding in it. "He'll understand. It was an accident and you reacted badly. An apology will help."
Chris looked at the woman for a moment and then nodded. "You're right. Gloria. JD said he was sorry, but I didn't. I should have."
The woman smiled. "I know you'll make it right." Removing the apron she had been wearing to protect her clothing from the mud, she turned toward the house. "I need to be going. I'm meeting friends for dinner tonight."
Chris looked down at Vin and smiled. "Come on. Let's go get you cleaned up so you can go get dirty again." He turned toward the house, but the seven-year-old didn't move, so he stopped and looked back at him. "And while you do that, I'll change and then go apologize to JD."
The boy nodded and ran to join the man. They headed in through the mud room, meeting Gloria as she was departing. Good byes were exchanged and she pulled the door closed quickly after the dogs charged into the house.
Chris helped Vin wash his hands and face at the sink in the mud room. He used the damp towel to brush off more of the loose mud from his slacks and they headed through the kitchen to the bedrooms to change. They found Buck in the bathroom attempting to clean a squirming JD. Both had already changed into jeans and work shirts. They were wearing socks but no boots since the work boots were kept in the mud room.
As Vin continued down the hall, Chris stopped and stepped up to the boy. JD was standing on a stool in order to reach the sink, so the man didn't have to bend down far to be on eye level with the child. "JD? I'm sorry I yelled at you. It wasn't nice of me to blame you for an accident."
Blinking several times, the boy nodded and smiled shyly. His voice was low and soft as he told the man, "That's okay, Chris. I should 'a been more careful and watched out."
Smiling, Chris stood up. "Thanks, kiddo. Listen, I'm going to change and then we can feed the horses. You want to grab a few sugar cubes to treat them with?"
Dark hair flew as the boy nodded vigorously.
"We'll meet ya outside. Still have to get our boots on. Don't we, Little Bit?" Buck said as he scooped the boy up, holding him with one hand and tickling him with the other.
A few minutes later, the foursome were booted up and headed to the corral and barn. Buck had promised his partner that he would straighten the tack room while the others fed the animals. Arriving at the barn, Wilmington headed inside while the others headed for the pasture.
Peso was standing at the far end of the pasture, but with a flick of his tail, he headed in their direction when Vin whistled for him. In his haste to pet the large animal, Vin crawled through the fence and started forward. An odd feeling under his boot had him stopping to look down.
"YUCK," he howled as he looked at the green gunk smashed around his boot.
JD ran over wide-eyed at the other boy's exclamation. "Ooo. Gross. You got poop on your boot, Vin."
Blue eyes rolled even as he fought to maintain his balance with one foot in the air. "I can see that, JD."
The two boys stared at each other for a moment, unmoving except to blink. Chris walked up and they both glanced at him. He chuckled as he saw the boy's dilemma. If he put his foot back down, he would push the horse apple even further around the leather boot.
"Looks like you've been enriched, cowboy."
The boy's nose wrinkled and flared as he looked from his father to his boot. "I don't feel rich."
Chris laughed out loud at that, but took pity on the boy. Taking him under the arms, he lifted him back toward the fence. "Here. Scrape it off on the rail."
Vin took hold of the post and began to scrap his boot against the rail until most of the manure was gone.
"Better watch your step from now on."
"Yeah. That was nasty."
Once the boot was clean, the three set about taking care of feeding. JD filled the water trough, while Chris and Vin put out feed for the horses to supplement the hay and grass. Peso stood patiently waiting for the treat he knew the boys would have for him. It wasn't long before the others animals were gathering around waiting for the treats and the head rubs that were always given in the evenings.
"Beau's walking funny."
The man had been busy filling the various containers around the pasture and wasn't watching as the docile animals had approached. Now he turned his head to observe Buck's mount as he moved around. The boy was correct. The big gray was favoring one hoof. He walked over to where JD stood, barely reaching the animal's knee, stroking the slick gray coat.
"Good boy, Beau. You'll be all right. Chris 'll make you all better." The boy hugged the animal's leg even as he moved his hand up and down.
Chris ran his hand down the leg to find no swelling or heat. "He must have picked up a stone or bruised the frog somehow. JD, do me a favor and go get Buck. Ask him to bring a halter out here so we can check Beau's hoof."
"Okay, Chris." He patted the big animal once more and then turned and started to run to the barn.
Vin had joined Chris beside the gray horse as the rest of the herd milled around, munching on feed. The little boy's sudden motion, had all the horses jerking up, startled from their complacency. Though all the animals were domesticated and mostly docile, they were still 'flight' animals and sudden movement could set them off. Vin bumped against Chris' leg as Pony pranced around, forcing the boy to sidestep away from the large rear end and large hoofs.
"Dammit, JD! Don't run!"
The boy whirled around at the raised voice and, stumbling backwards, he went down on his rump, landing in a fresh pile of manure with both his hands and the seat of his pants. He raised his hands and stared at the muck. When jean clad legs appeared between his hands, he looked way up to see Chris glaring down at him.
"You've been told not to run around the horses. Vin was almost stepped on. He could have been hurt."
JD looked from the man to his friend and saw no support in the blue eyes. "I's just trying to get Buck."
"I know that, but you didn't have to run. Now look at you. You're going to have to have a bath before you can even get in the house. If you hadn't 'a been running, you wouldn't have fallen."
"You yelled at me," the boy countered. "I wouldn't have falled down if you hadn't 'a yelled at me."
Larabee's face darkened and he leaned down, bracing himself by placing his hands on his knees. "Excuse me?" He glared down at the five-year-old. "Don't talk back to me, young man. You shouldn't have been running in the field; around the horses. Period. End of discussion. Now, you get up and go do what I told you. Then you go to the house and get out of those clothes. And stay up at the house. Do you understand me?"
JD glared back at the man, but didn't say anything. He pushed out his bottom lip in a pout as he pushed himself up. He turned to glare on his friend for a moment and then turned and headed to the barn and his father.
Vin stood with his head down. He wanted to stand next to his friend and protect him, but he didn't; he held off. JD needed to stand on his own, make his own decisions, right or wrong, just like Dr. Will had told them, but Vin didn't have to like it. JD was only a little kid and though he could get carried away, he never meant to cause trouble. He just had too much energy most of the time to slow down and think first. A hand dropped on his shoulder and drew his attention upward.
"Come on, Vin. Let's finish. Gather the feed buckets up while we wait for Buck." The two went back to their work, moving easily among the now calm horses.
"Buck?" a quivery voice called out.
The man turned to see the boy standing in the doorway. Sunlight obscured everything but the boy's shadowy form.
"What's ya need, son?"
"Chris says to bring a halter so he can look at Beau's foot."
Frowning, the man asked, "What's wrong with Beau?"
The boy's hand came up and moved across his face. "He's walking funny and he might have stopped on a frog or something."
The man chuckling at the image, knowing that the gelding had probably bruised the soft part of his hoof. Taking a halter down from the peg, he started out the door. Seeing the boy clearly for the first time, the man stopped and stared, his nose wrinkling slightly at the strong odor.
"JD, what happened to you?"
That was all it took to break the dam of tears and the boy's eyes quickly filled to overflowing.
"Chris yelled at me and made me fall down. And I got enriched, but he didn't think it was funny like when Vin stepped in poop."
Buck squatted as he listened to the narrative. "JD? Were you running in the pasture?" he asked softly.
The dark hair fell forward as the boy ducked his head. Finally, he nodded. The man's finger tip tucked under the quivering chin and gently pushed up. "You know that you're not to run in the pasture because you could scare the horses and they could get hurt. Or you could get hurt. Right?"
JD took a deep breath, prepared to defend his actions. "Yeah, but Chris didn't have to yell at me. And I was scared cause Beau's hurt and wanted to hurry. And how come it was funny when Vin stepped in poop, but I have to go to the house and stay? It's not fair, Da."
"Chris told you to go to the house? And stay?"
The little boy's head bobbed up and down. "And I didn't do nothing. And I didn't talk back. Nuh-huh."
Buck cocked his head, knowing that the boy was repeating Chris' words. "JD?"
Tears ran down the child's face and he clenched his hands. "It's not fair, Da."
With a deep sigh, the man glanced to the doorway. "Tell you what? You just do like Chris said and I'll talk to him. But if you were talking back, you know that's a bad thing. Even when it's not fair, you don't talk back. You understand?"
"Because it's very disrespectful. If someone is treating you unfair, you find another adult to help you, but you don't talk back." Buck looked at the boy who stood with slumped shoulders, the horse manure clinging to his clothes, and the man's heart went out to him, but he knew he couldn't give in. "JD, you understand?"
The boy slowly nodded. His tear stained face looked up once more and then he turned and headed toward the house, leaving scuff marks in the dirt and hay-matted horse manure in his wake.
Standing, Wilmington headed to the pasture to check on his horse and his partner.
Thirty minutes later, the trio headed to the house. They were discussing the gray's health as they approached the back entrance.
"I don't think there'll be any problem. Just don't ride him until that bruise heals up and the frog goes down. I'm just glad he didn't cut it on something. As soon as the swelling goes down, I'll have Tommy come out and replace that missing shoe."
"Sounds good, Chris" Wilmington nodded. Noting the dipping sun, he commented, patting his stomach, "I'm getting a mite hungry. What about you two?"
"Me, too," Vin agreed. He walked between the two men, enjoying the day and the company.
"So, is it my turn " Chris stopped as they rounded the corner, a smile tugging at his face, but the forlorn expression the youngest member of the household was wearing had him quickly stifling the grin.
Buck looked at the sad sight and shook his head. JD had come to the house like he had been told. He had stripped out of the filthy clothes, like he had been told. And now the dark haired boy was sitting quietly in the rocking chair that occupied a corner of the porch with nothing on but his underpants and socks. The man was thankful that the rocker was sitting in the shade or the boy would have burned in the short time he sat unprotected from the summer sun.
Buck climbed up the steps, asking, "JD, why didn't you go inside?"
Tear-filled eyes turned to Wilmington at the question, but he didn't reply. Buck moved over and squatted in front of the little boy, placing a hand on either arm of the chair. "JD?"
The boy blinked hard, driving the tears down his cheeks, and he leaned forward to whisper in the man's ear. As the boy sat back, the man's head dropped momentarily. Bringing his head back up, he took the boy in his arms and headed inside. As Buck turned to the door, Chris saw the stain where the manure had passed through the denim jeans to soil the boy's underpants. Larabee remembered telling JD that he would have to have a bath before going inside and since he wasn't allowed to draw a bath himself and couldn't change his underpants until then, the child decided to wait outside until someone showed up to help him get cleaned up.
While the man had felt bad about sending the child to the house, he knew he was right. Buck had even agreed after hearing what had transpired, but that knowledge didn't keep Larabee from feeling like a heel for not checking on the boy or at least having Vin come up to make sure he was okay. Chris closed his eyes and rolled his head to relieve some of the tension in his neck. A pat on his hand drew his attention to the older boy.
"It's not your fault, Chris. I should have come back with him."
"You weren't the one that was being punished, Vin."
"No, sir. But friends have to stick together-good or bad, right?"
Larabee smiled slowly, pride in his eyes as he gazed at his son. "Yes, friends have to stick together." He ran his fingers through the boy's hair, his hand ending up between the slender shoulders. With a small push, he guided the boy up the steps, "Come on. Let's go check on your friend."
Buck had a bath running by the time Vin and Chris arrived in the bathroom. The boy was tucked up tight to Wilmington's side as the man knelt next to the tub. JD didn't turn or acknowledge the two blonds as Chris inquired, "Everything okay in here?" He couldn't help but notice the little boy move even closer to his father.
Wilmington nodded as he dropped an arm around the child, waiting for the water level to rise. His eyes met Larabee's and told his longtime friend that things were okay between them.
Buck's look of understanding had the blond breathing a sigh of relief. It helped to know the mustached man didn't want to lay blame anywhere. Chris reached down and placed a hand on the seven-year-old's shoulder and directed him out of the small room. The two moved to Chris' room and they got cleaned up for supper.
It was thirty minutes later that the dark haired duo reappeared. Chris had prepared a cold meal of tuna fish and chips. For dessert, he had angel food cake, chilled fruit salad and whipped cream. Vin had set the table and was putting drinks next to the plates as Chris brought the food over from the counter. Both paused in their chores as a PJ-clad JD entered and padded up to Larabee, his bare feet slapping the cool kitchen floor.
Chris set the plate of sandwiches on the table and squatted down to eye level with the boy. He placed a hand on each of the boy's arms and asked, "You feel better?"
Dark hair bobbed as he nodded. Hazel eyes looked up even as his tiny fingers twisted together. "Chris, I'm sorry 'bout talking back. I won't do it again 'cause it's dis'spectful. And I won't run 'round the horses no more, either."
"Thank you, JD. I appreciate it." His hands ran up and down the short arms as he added, "And I want to apologize for yelling at you. I shouldn't have done that." His hands left the boy's arms and lightly clasped the young face before drawing him into a hug.
JD smiled shyly when Chris released him. Buck had walked up behind the boy and now he lifted to the child to place him in his chair. The others sat down also and began to fill their plates. Conversation was light and centered around the ranch.
After the meal, the foursome, along with the two dogs, moved to the front room. The boys brought out a board game while Buck read the paper. Chris had brought home some files to study. The evening passed quietly for the family and by eight-thirty, the two boys were asleep on the floor.
Looking over at them, Buck muted the sitcom he had turned on and chuckled. "I think we have a tie."
Chris glanced up with a frown of concentration on his features. The frown disappeared as his gaze turned in the direction Wilmington was facing. He smiled softly at the sight and he turned his attention back to his partner.
"You get 'a hold of the doc?"
Buck shook his head as he relaxed further into the recliner. "Nah. Called, but he's on vacation 'til next week. They gave me a number to his backup, but " He shrugged.
"Yeah, I don't think taking them to someone other than Dr. Lowery is too good an idea. Unless something comes up that we feel we can't handle."
Both men's attention went back to the sleeping kids. "He seemed okay tonight? Don't you think?" Chris asked distractedly.
Buck didn't divert his eyes as he responded. "Still too quiet." Tearing his gaze from the boys, he looked at his boss. "Did you notice how he let Vin pick the game?"
Larabee frowned. "Yeah. But he does that sometimes."
"Not much. And never when he's been in trouble. He gives Junior the 'big eyes' and Vin gives in to him. Not tonight though. He sat down and asked if Vin would pick 'a game. Usually he'd get all excited when he gets ahead, but tonight all he'd do is pump his hand in the air. He never really made a sound."
Chris found his eyes drawn back to the boy and he shook his head. "I wasn't paying any attention. Damn. I was kind 'a hoping it was going to blow over." He looked back at Buck. "Guess not, huh?"
"Is it ever easy?"
Larabee chuckled and shook his head. Pushing up, he stood and dropped a hand on the big man's shoulder as he passed. 'No' he mouthed and then laughed at Wilmington's sigh. "Come on. Let's tuck them into bed."
They gathered the boys up and headed to the bedroom, the dogs ambling down the hall behind them.
The next few days were quiet at the Larabee and Wilmington ranch. JD was a different child. He didn't run when walking would do. He didn't yell or squeal unless he was outdoors and playing. He asked to help with daily chores. And he didn't dispute any idea that Vin came up with. If the older boy wanted to play on the jungle gym, JD agreed. Treehouse? Okay. Sit quietly? Sure.
When the two men arrived home on Thursday, they were greeted at the door by Gloria Potter.
"Chris. Buck. We had a little problem today."
The look on the housekeeper's face told the men they would not like what she had to say.
"The boys had a slight altercation."
"A fight?" Chris' voice was tight while Wilmington's eyebrows shot up as the woman nodded.
"I don't know what happened. They were outside at the barn. I heard yelling and stepped out in time to see Vin push JD. Before I could get out there, JD hit Vin. Slapped at him actually. I asked what was going on, but they refused to tell me. I sent JD to your room, Buck and Vin is in yours, Chris. I hope you don't mind."
"No, that's fine, Gloria. I'm just sorry it happened." He moved across the room but turned, forcing Buck to stop abruptly behind him. "How long have they in there?"
Checking her watch, she commented, "About an hour. I'll see you tomorrow."
With a raised eyebrow, she told the men, "Have a good evening, gentlemen."
As the woman left for the evening, the two men went in search of their sons and an answer to the problem between them. The doors to both rooms were closed, so the men approached and with a nod to each other, they reached for the knobs.
Vin didn't look up as his father entered the room. He was curled up on a chair, looking out the window at the mountains.
The boy ducked his head and swiped at his eyes before turning toward his father. If he was trying to conceal the fact that he had been crying, the red eyes and nose gave his secret away. The boy watched the man as he moved across the room, dropping his jacket on the bed as he passed.
Chris kicked off his shoes and then sat cross-legged next to the chair. He placed his hands on the slender legs and rubbed gently.
"You want to tell me what happened?"
The young boy's chin quivered and he shook his head but he started talking. "It's my fault. Don't be mad at JD." Boy slipped off the chair and into the waiting arms of his father. Hot tears soaked into the man's shirt as he sat and held the sobbing boy.
After several minutes, Vin finally pulled back and swiped at his wet cheeks. Chris used both hands to push the fine blond hair back away from the reddened face as he assured the youth that he wasn't mad at either of the boys. He only wanted to understand what had happened.
Vin sniffed and wiped his nose on the back of his hand. "I got tired of JD acting weird and I told him to stop. Then he said he wasn't acting weird, that he was acting like me. And I said no he wasn't and he said yes he was. And I asked him why he couldn't just be him and he said cause he couldn't be. But he wouldn't say why. And I told him that he couldn't be me and said he could be who he wanted to be and "
"Breathe, Vin, breathe." Chris smiled as the boy's face reddened.
Wiping his nose again, the boy smiled sadly. "I guess I could be JD." But tears filled his eyes. "That's when I pushed him. He fell down. But then he jumped up and slapped my hand and then Miz Potter came out and I got sent to your room."
He rubbed the tears from his cheeks as he looked through his lashes at his father, the guilt evident in his young eyes.
Chris sat just holding the boy, trying to think of how to deal with the problem. His hand moved up and down the boy's spine in a comforting manner as he thought. He could feel the tension in the boy's muscles under his palm and gently pulled the slender body closer and whispered, "I'm not mad, Vin. Honestly."
He was rewarded as the boy relaxed a bit against his chest. With one hand cupping the boy's hip, the other one caressed the boy's cheek while Chris' chin rested on the fine blond hair. The man closed his eyes and enjoyed the moment.
Finally, Vin pulled away and Chris released his hold. The boy turned so he could look at the man.
"Dad, what's wrong with JD?"
"I don't know, Vin. Maybe Buck can find out." The boy nodded and Larabee continued. "Now, as to the fight "
"I know. I shouldn't have pushed 'em."
"Correct. And you shouldn't have argued with him, either."
Buck walked into the room to see the five-year-old sitting in the middle of the bed, his arms crossed and eyes glaring at the door.
"VIN STAR " the boy started, but stopped as the man threw up a warning hand.
"Whoa. Stop right there. First-do not yell at me. I can hear just fine." He moved across the room to place a hip on the bed, one leg braced on the floor. "Second-we're not going to start this conversation by pointing fingers at anyone."
"JD? What did I just say?" An eyebrow was raised in warning and Buck felt a moment of guilt when he saw the boy swallow hard and the color rise in his young face.
Dropping the angry pose, the boy lowered his eyes and allowed his arms to relax and fall into his lap. "Sorry."
Buck released a silent sigh of relief that the boy had decided to listen instead of continuing to argue. "Now, Miz Potter has already told us what happened. I want you to tell why it happened."
The boy's mouth opened to speak.
JD blinked and his mouth snapped shut as he swallowed. Glancing down, he fiddled with his shoelaces for a moment and then looked back up at his father.
"Vin told me to stop acting weird and I told 'em that I wasn't and he said I was. And I said it wasn't weird 'cause I was acting like him and said 'nunh-huh'. And then I tried to 'splain, but he wouldn't listen, and he told I couldn't act like him and I said yes I could." The boy's head bobbed up and down as he talked in an effort to empathize his view of the events. "He's not my boss no more. And I wasn't in any danger, so I told that if I wanted to act like him, then I could and he said 'not' and I said 'could' and he said 'not' and then he pushed me and I felled down, but I got right back up and I "
His eyes widened at the near admission and he stared at Buck. "You " the man prompted, his head cocking to one side.
Tears filled the hazel eyes as JD finished, "I hit Vin." The words were whisper soft and spoken to his shoes as he looked down once again. The small boy seemed to melt as he leaned forward until finally his head was lying on the dark slacks that Wilmington wore. The man could feel the moisture of warm tears seeping through the material. "Da, I didn't mean it, but I 's tired of trying to be good. I tried to be good to be like Vin but I ain't Vin I's JD," the boy sobbed.
Buck's hand had already begun to rub the heaving back and now he gathered the child up and hugged him close, 'shh'ing' the boy and rocking gently. When the crying began to let up, he stood and moved to the rocking chair that sat in a corner and generally served as a clothes rack. Kicking two days worth of clothing onto the floor, he sat down without relaxing his hold on the boy and began to rock. Several minutes passed and Buck thought the child had fallen asleep until, from his shoulder, he heard the young voice ask
"Da? You 'member where we lived before?" JD hiccupped causing his body to lurch in Buck's arms.
Patting the narrow back, he responded. "You mean the warehouse?" Movement told him the boy was shaking his head.
"Not me and Vin. Me and you."
"Oh, the townhouse? Sure, I remember it. Why?"
"Can we go back and live there?"
The rocking motion stopped as Buck froze; the question was so out of the blue. "Why would you want to go back there, Little Bit? This is our home now."
There were a few moments of silence and Buck began to think the boy was not going to reply.
When he finally did answer, his voice had a weary quality to it. "Cause Vin don't need me anymore. I got you and he's got Chris. And I make Vin crazy 'cause I talk too much and I'm too loud." The voice was low and interlaced with hiccups but the next words were even softer and broken as the boy's breath hitched. "And Chris he didn't didn't want me he wanted Vin I ain't his 'sponsibility, I's yours."
It took a moment for the words to register in the man's mind and then the conversation from the last week, the conversation that had taken place the night before all the strange behavior had started, came rushing back and Buck groaned realizing that JD must have heard them talking on the porch. Chris had told him on the way to work Tuesday that Vin had revealed that JD had been crying the night before. Now the boy's attitude was beginning to make sense and a lot easier to understand.
This had all started due to a misunderstanding and Buck meant to correct that as he said, "No, JD. Chris wants you here, just like he wants Vin here."
JD's tiny hand had been stroking the man's back, a calming motion for the boy and man, alike. It was something that the boy often did when he was being held in his father's arms and Buck relished the contact as he waited for the child's response.
The stroking increased in rhythm as the boy stated, "No. No, he don't. 'Cause he see'd me first and he picked Vin. Maybe he just wants a quiet little boy now."
"JD " His words were cut off by a soft knock on the door and JD tensed again, drawing his body closer to Buck's as if afraid he was going to be torn away from the embrace. Trying to keep his own emotions in check and not squeeze back, thus reinforcing the boy's fear, he glanced over as the door cracked open and Chris stuck his head in, mouthing, 'okay?'
Buck sighed and shook his head. He knew that it was going to take getting the four of them all together to get this problem solved.
"Chris, we'll be out in a few minutes. Why don't we meet you at the kitchen table for a pow-wow?"
Larabee nodded and, pushing the blond head at his hip back out, he quietly closed the door.
"I don't want to pow-wow, Da."
"Why not? How are Chris and Vin supposed to explain their feelings if you don't ask them about it?"
"But I know how they feel. 'Sides, they wouldn't tell me right, 'cause they wouldn't want to hurt my feelings." JD had released his strangle hold on his father's neck and now stood on the strong legs as Buck gripped his fists. "They ain't mean, Da. They just don't want me."
Buck shook his head. "Well, son. I really think that we're going to have to talk about this. All of us."
The little chin began to quiver again.
"JD, remember when Joey got hurt and you didn't tell us how you felt and it just got worse?"
The boy nodded.
"Wouldn't you have felt better if you had asked about going to see Joey instead of worrying about her all that week?"
"Maybe that's what you need to do now. Talk to Chris and Vin."
The dark hair flew around as the boy shook his head adamantly.
"Yes, and I'll be there, too." Buck pulled the boy closer to lean his knees against his chest and then cupped his hands around the shaking head, holding it steady. "Yes. And, if after we all talk, you still want to leave here, we'll-me and you-will move. Is that a deal?"
JD's hands were wrapped around Buck's wrists and he now released that grip and leaned forward to hug the man. Wilmington's long arms folded around to encase the small boy who responded by burying his face in the man's thick neck.
"Okay, Da," he mumbled.
Standing, Buck supported the slight weight with one arm as the other wrapped around the boy's back, hugging him close. "That's my boy."
He headed to the doorway and the family that waited beyond.
Buck entered the kitchen to find Chris and Vin sitting at the table, waiting. Evidence of the tears shed still showed on the older boy's face as he stood between Larabee's knees, his arms wrapped around the man's legs. The young blond chewed on his lip as he watched the tall man approach. Before Buck even sat down, Vin released his hold on Chris and moved toward the new arrivals.
"JD, I'm sorry about pushing you. And about saying you were acting weird." He tentatively reached out to touch his friend's leg, but JD's response of pulling his leg away from the touch had Vin backing away to ensconce himself back within his father's protective embrace, tears shimmering in the blue eyes.
Buck sighed and shook his head at the other man as he took a seat at the table. He pried the dark haired boy from his shoulder and turned him to face the others. Reaching across the table, Wilmington took a napkin from the holder and wiped the moist mess from the petite features, knowing that the same mess soiled his shirt collar.
"Okay," the dark haired man began. "I think we need a pow-wow." He looked to Larabee and the man nodded, indicating that Buck lead the discussion.
"I know that you boys had some trouble today. We aren't going to discuss who started it or who hit who. What we're going to talk about is the reason that it happened. Since Chris and I weren't here, you two need to tell us what happened."
Looking from one boy to the other, he asked, "So who wants to go first?"
Silence greeted the question as one boy looked at the floor and the other turned away and into his father's shoulder.
The men waited.
"Alright, I'll start." Buck offered. Neither boy moved. Looking at his partner, Buck narrowed his eyes and shook his head slightly in a 'bare with me' motion. "JD wants to move back into town."
"NOO!" the blond boy wailed while the younger boy whimpered.
Chris frowned and his grip tightened around the seven year old as Vin clutched the arms wrapped around his stomach even as he leaned forward.
"I'm sorry, JD. I won't push you again. I don't want you to leave. You're my brother and you have to be here. I need you."
"NO. You don't. I gots Buck to po-tect me now, and you gots Chris. You don't have to look out for me, now. Or find stuff to eat. Or make up games to play."
"But why do you want to leave here?" Vin asked, tears streaming down his face.
JD had turned his head to look at the other boy and now he squirmed around to fully face the other two members of the house.
" 'Cause you don't like me no more. When we was alone, you had to take care of me 'cause you was the oldest and the smartest. And we played games and had fun, but now I talk too much and I'm too loud and you don't play with me anymore."
Vin's head was shaking back and forth in denial. "We do too play and you don't talk too loud."
"That's what you told Chris. You said I drive you crazy 'cause I always want to play and I yell and I'm always asking 'what can we do now, Vin' and saying that it's 'boring, boring, boring'."
The older boy stiffened at the words and he leaned back into his father's embrace as if the words were physically hitting him.
JD had obviously heard what had been said last week in Chris' room and the older boy remembered Chris' admonishment about his words coming back to haunt him and he began to shake.
"JD, I "
But the younger child wasn't finished yet.
"And Chris doesn't want me, either. He wanted you and he's not 'sponsible for me. That's Buck's job."
Larabee's brow knitted as he thought about the words. When he recalled the conversation from the porch the previous week, his green eyes looked over at his friend and he saw the slow nod.
"Okay, my turn," he stated. He pulled his hands back to rub the trembling arms of the boy in his embrace and then, pulling another chair close, he lifted the upset youngster and set him in the chair. Patting Vin's knee, he turned his attention to the younger child.
JD had crossed his arms high over his chest, his lip stuck out as if daring the man to deny his statement.
Chris leaned forward, his arms on his knees, supporting the weight of his upper body.
"JD, when I said that I didn't mean that I didn't want you or wasn't responsible for you. You misunderstood."
"You told Da that I's his 'sponsibility. Not yours." Hazel eyes glared at him and, if the situation weren't so serious, it would have been funny.
"Yes, I said that, but " and he looked up at the blue eyed man for a moment and then continued. "You are a very smart little boy. And I know that you didn't buy that story about Buck walking into a wall."
Chris saw the boy's posture droop slightly and he clutched the hand on his stomach even as he noticed Wilmington's posture tense.
He held up a hand and Buck clamped his mouth closed.
Still looking at the boy, he continued. "Right?"
JD glanced up at the man holding him and then back down as he nodded.
"Okay. Now, you know that I'm Buck's boss and as his boss, I have to protect him. Sometimes from him own self."
In a small voice, JD asked, " 'Cause he takes chances and could get hurt?"
"Yes. And he does that because he loves his job." Chris paused and slowly reached out to grip the boy's leg. "Almost as much as he loves you."
Finally, the little boy smiled slightly and gripped his father's hand even harder as it held him secure.
"The things that I said last week well, those are things that a boss says to his team to get their attention, to make them think and be careful at work. I never said that I didn't want you here. You're my son as much as Buck's, just like Vin is Buck's son, also."
JD's face clouded over. "But you picked Vin and you love Vin bestest; cause he's quiet like you."
Larabee frowned as he tried to think of a way to explain. His eyes glanced over at Vin and back to JD, sweeping across the table as he did. And he smiled. He leaned forward and took hold of the boy, drawing him into his lap.
Setting him on one knee, he explained, "Can't I love two little boys the same amount even if they are different?"
JD shook his head. "You have to love Vin more. Ya'll 's co' naked. That's what Uncle 'Siah says. 'Two bodies, one soul.' " JD dropped his voice in an imitation of Josiah's baritone voice.
Chris chuckled, as did the others. "Well, maybe Vin and I * are * connected, but that doesn't mean I don't love you, also. I love Buck. And I love " Chris paused, finding the words hard to vocalize. "And I love my team. All of them, Josiah, Nathan, Ezra. And they're all different."
JD shook his head. "But you has to love 'em, Chris. They's your team. You take care of 'em. You don't have to love me. I's Buck's."
"No, I don't have to, but I do. Look at the table, JD."
Everyone turned to look at the table.
"What do you see?"
The boy shrugged. "Just the table stuff, Chris."
"You see the salt and pepper shakers?"
"When we eat, do I use both?"
The boy frowned as he considered the question. Finally he turned to the man. "Most times."
"I love salt and pepper, don't I?"
"I guess. You sure do make your eggs black."
Chris smiled slightly. "But they're different, aren't they?"
Nodding vigorously, the boy agreed. "I like salt, but pepper makes my nose itch." And he reached up and rubbed his nose at the thought.
"So, how could I love them both if they're different?"
JD looked at the shakers and then the man and back to the shakers. "I guess cause they taste good?"
"Right. I use the salt on a lot of things because I love the taste. But the pepper well, I use that to add spice to the food."
JD tilted his head and frowned at the man, as if questioning why they were talking about the condiments.
"You and Vin are like the salt and pepper. Vin is the salt. He adds to the flavor of my life. Salt is a preservative-Vin preserves my life."
Seeing the frown deepen on the youngster's face, Chris laughed. "Okay. maybe I'm getting a little too deep here. What I mean is Vin adds to my life one way and you add to it another, but I love both of you equally. I can't imagine how dull it would be around here without BOTH of you here. I don't want you to leave, JD. Neither you nor Buck. You're family and I don't have enough as it is. I sure don't want half of them to move away."
The little boy sat, gazing up at the man for several moments. With a sigh, he looked at his friend. "Do I drive you crazy a lot, Vin?"
Tanner sat back in the chair with his short legs sticking straight out and now he crossed one foot over the other as his hands gripped the sides of the seat. Quietly, he said, "Not all the time." He glanced down at the words but quickly looked back up. "It's kind 'a like when you yell 'VIIIINNN', you know? But I get lonely when you ain't around. Like when you and Buck go to town and I stay here? I think that it'll be fun, but then I turn around to tell ya something and you ain't there and then it's no fun anymore, 'cause I don't have nobody to talk to."
He looked up at his friend, hoping that the younger boy understood.
JD stared at the older boy for a moment and then grinned. "I do that, too. Don't I, Da?"
"You sure do, Little Bit." The man looked at the older boy and winked. "Last week, he was just talking away and there wasn't a soul around. People were staring at him, probably thought he was touched in the head, talking to himself. I started to say something and he looks up and laughs and says, 'Da, I forgot. Vin didn't come. 'member what I was telling him for when we get home.' But I don't have to. JD always remembers."
"Well, most always remembers, then."
Vin had moved off the chair and now stood with his hands on Chris' free knee. Now JD wriggled off the man's lap and stood in front of his friend and said, "I thought if I was like you, Chris would like me better, but it's too hard being you. So, I'll just be me and if I start driving you crazy, you just tell me and I'll try to not do that. Okay?"
Vin smiled and nodded. The two little boys moved together and wrapped their arms around each other, hugging tight to one another.
Wilmington looked at Chris and blew out a silent breath of relief, a big grin plastered on his face. Larabee was smiling as he nodded in relief also.
When the boys pulled away from each other, Chris placed a hand on each boy's shoulder. "So, is everything okay, now?"
Two heads nodded.
"No more fighting?"
Two pairs of eyes looked at each other and turned to the man. Both boys shrugged.
"Why, you little rascals." Chris pulled the two bodies in and squeezed them together, amid squeals of laughter. "There better not be any more fighting." Even as he said it, the man knew there would be. It was the way of brothers, to fight as they grew, but as long as they also talked, he knew that each fight would bring a new understanding and respect to each of the boys.
Hi computer. It's JD. And Vin, too.
This week started out real bad, but it got lots better.
Yeah. We had lots of fun yesterday. Da took us to the zoo. And I got a alligator.
It's a crocodile, JD.
They look the same.
No they don't. Didn't you read the sign? It told how they look different and you find them in different places.
Oh, yeah, Alligators have a fatter nose.
And the crocodile has that tooth that sticks out.
Yeah, he looks mean. Tell the computer about your snake.
Yeah. Buck got me a snake and it's as tall as him. I can wrap it around me FIVE times. It's cool.
I like the snake Vin.
Dad told Buck he was going to spoil us.
Yeah, he was rolling his eyes around. Like this.
AWW, JD stop. You're making me dizzy.
Am I acting weird again Vin?
No. You're acting JD again. I like it.
Ah, hugging again? You boys are turning into girls.
Da, you take that back.
And who's going to make me.
Watch those knees. Little Bit.
CHRIS! HELP! I'M BEING ATTACKED!
CHRIS? EZRA? SOMEBODY!!
Everyday Heroes Index
Next: Do As I Say, Not As I Do