JD, Vin, Elvis and Ringo were chasing through the yard after Josiah who had somehow found himself volunteered to be "It" in the game of reverse-tag that the boys had talked him into; though he had a sneaking suspicion that the boys had made up the game themselves, especially the part about getting to tickle the "It" person when they were caught.
The other adults were watching and laughing at the antics as Buck made sure everything was set up for the picnic and that the coals were heating as they waited for the Larabees to return from the airport.
Their wait was soon finished as the sound of Chris' truck approaching drew everyone's attention. The game of tag stopped and everyone waited for the truck to stop completely. Josiah paused to catch his breath and found Vin standing very close to his leg, seeking comfort. Placing a hand on the boy's shoulder, he smiled down and nodded encouragement.
Vin watched as his dad's truck came to a stop. He saw the two men step out of the truck and quickly evaluated the man walking beside his dad. The man was about the same height as Chris, but wasn't as thin. He had broad shoulders and looked pretty solid. His hair was the same color as Josiah's. He had a kind face and walked in a relaxed manner. It wasn't until Vin saw the elder Larabee's eyes that he relaxed somewhat. They were the same color as Chris', but held only laughter, love and kindness.
Chris could feel the butterflies in his stomach. It seemed ridiculous to him that he would be nervous. He knew his dad already loved Vin almost as much as he did. He knew his dad was excited to be meeting his new grandson, but still, there was a small finger of nervousness stirring his stomach. Nodding to the others, Chris made a beeline for Vin and Josiah. Reaching the boy, he smiled down at his son. "Vin, I'd like you to meet my dad. Dad, my son, Vin Tanner."
Matthew Larabee had been looking forward to this moment ever since his son called him after finding the boy. He wanted to meet the young child who could revive his son's heart. Holding out his hand toward the boy, Matthew smiled and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you Vin. I've been looking forward to this for a long time."
Vin's eyes grew wide as he shook the man's hand. "Really?" he managed to ask, causing Matt Larabee to laugh. Vin relaxed at the sound. It was a nice sound.
"You have no idea how much," he said quietly, rejoicing when the boy presented him with a lopsided grin.
Chris let out the breath he'd been holding, beamed at the two and then placed a hand on his dad's back, ready to make the rest of the introductions.
Meeting Grandpa Matt was neat.
Yeah, it was, JD.
He had a lot of stories to tell us about the good old days and when Chris was little.
Look, Vin, it still doesn't know how to write a laugh.
I know, JD. I liked when he told stories about Chris and some of the trouble he got into.
It was cool the way you've done some of the same things. But boy wasn't Chris' face red after some of the stories?
The sun was setting and things had mellowed a bit at the picnic. The adults and children were sitting around the picnic table enjoying the last of the day.
"So, tell us what Chris was like as a boy," Travis encouraged, directing his question to Matthew Larabee.
Chris looked a little uneasy and shifted Vin on his lap. "You guys don't want to hear about that stuff," he defended, shooting Orrin a look that said he shouldn't have asked. Travis just smiled in return.
"Sure we do, Stud," Buck said, moving JD slightly on his own lap. The others murmured their desire to know as well.
Matthew Larabee shot his son an apologetic look and cleared his throat. "What was Chris like as a boy?" he repeated the question.
"Dad," Chris pleaded, knowing when he saw the glint in his father's eye that his plea had fallen on deaf ears. Preparing himself for the worst, Chris slouched back in his chair and looked heavenward. He looked down to smile as he felt Vin slide an arm around his neck, his blue eyes clearly asking if Chris was OK. Chris grinned at his son in response and hoped his dad didn't give the boys too much with which to blackmail him.
"Did Chris ever tell you about his dog, Beetle?" Matt asked, his eyes twinkling.
Chris hung his head and groaned. "Not Beetle," he said, knowing exactly what story his dad was going to tell.
"Chris had a doggie when he was little?" JD asked, amazed.
"Oh, not just a dog," Matt assured, "A very clever dog. It was the summer he turned eight. We had a nice property that butted up against the neighbor's. They had a really nice swimming hole on their land that Chris just loved to swim in. The only problem was the neighbors didn't like him swimming there when they weren't around to watch. That wasn't enough to stop Chris though." Taking a sip of his drink Matt continued. "Didn't stop him when I told him not to go swimming without someone else either. Seems he figured out that if he swam with Beetle around, he had someone nearby. He also figured if he swam in his drawers rather than his swim trunks his mom and I would never find out he'd been swimming."
"Very clever, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said, smiling at his friend.
"It was pretty clever until the day Beetle decided he didn't want to watch me," Chris said, a rueful smile gracing his face.
"Oh?" Josiah questioned. "What happened then?"
Matt chuckled softly. "Well, Chris never did tell us the whole story, but near as we can figure, he went out to the fishing hole with Beetle, stripped down to his drawers and went swimming. Seems he took a little longer than usual and Beetle took exception to waiting. Being the clever dog he was, he grabbed Chris' pants and started running. Chris saw this and took off after the dog. He was so intent on capturing Beetle that he didn't realize how close to home he was. That wouldn't have been a problem except his mom had the ladies' auxiliary over that day for tea. Seems young Chris came charging into the yard after Beetle, drawers dripping, his hair flopping in his eyes and he ran smack into old Mrs. MacGurdy who promptly spilled her tea on Mrs. Volenski who overturned the table onto Mrs. Brown's lap." Laughter rolled easily around the table at the thought of a young, mostly naked, dripping wet Chris Larabee causing all sorts of havoc at a ladies' meeting. "And there stood Chris in the middle of all those women blushing from head to toe and just about the same shade he is now."
Chris was laughing softly and blushed harder at his father's last words. He glanced at his son whose blue eyes were twinkling in merriment.
"So, tell us what else the young scamp did," Nettie encouraged.
Guess we fell asleep during the stories.
Must have because next thing I knew it was Friday.
Yeah! Friday was really cool, wasn't it Vin?
Yeah it was. I had a lot of fun at the fair, but I wish I could have gotten the cap gun.
That would have been cool. But the saddlebags are pretty cool too.
Vin woke up and stretched, still smiling after the festivities the day before. Glancing at the clock a momentary panic seized him as he saw the time. The panic subsided a few minutes later when he realized they weren't late for school. School was out for the summer.
Checking on JD, he made his way down the hall, noting that both Buck and Chris' doors were closed. Remembering that Chris' dad was sleeping in the guest room, he tiptoed past that room and made his way to the kitchen to get a glass of juice. It was going to be fun to have Chris and Buck home today. He wished they could be home every day during the summer.
Entering the kitchen, he stopped in his tracks at the sight of Matt Larabee sitting at the table sipping coffee. He was sitting in Chris' chair.
Looking up from his paper, Matt removed his reading glasses and smiled at the boy. "Morning Vin," he greeted.
"Morning, sir," Vin greeted back, worrying when he saw the man frown.
"That's not going to work for me," Matt said, his voice serious, but his eyes twinkling.
Vin shifted nervously, blinked a few times and licked his lips. "What?" he asked, worried he'd done something wrong.
"You calling me sir all the time," Matt clarified. "Makes me sound old and stuffy. I may be old, but I'm not stuffy."
Vin smiled at little at the statement.
"I think we need to come up with something you and JD can call me that you're both comfortable with."
Vin thought about it and nodded. He had no idea what to do. He knew they couldn't just call him Matt. That would be too strange, but he didn't want to call him Mr. Larabee either.
Seeing the boy was thinking it over, Matt smiled slightly. "Tell you what," he offered. "You come here and sit down. I'll get you a glass of milk and you and I will give this a good ponder."
Vin smiled up at the man. That sounded like a good idea. "OK," he agreed, moving over to the chair.
As Matt handed him the glass of milk and settled into his own chair, he looked seriously into Vin's eyes. "Let's see. You're Chris's son, right?" He was rewarded with a bright smile and a nod. "And I'm his dad, right?" Another nod. "Well If you're the son of my son, then you're my grandson," he observed.
Vin tilted his head to the side and thought about that. That was all true, he supposed. He really didn't know about all of the family relations things but that sounded about right. "OK," he said cautiously.
"So If you wanted you could call me Grandpa," Matt tried out tentatively. The brief time he'd spent with Vin had only solidified his feelings for the boy. He had loved being "Grandpa" to Adam and could only hope he would be so honored again by the young blond.
Vin thought this over. This was an important thing. Obviously it was important to Chris' dad. He had to admit he liked the man, too. He rolled the name around his head for a while. It could work. After all, he had an Uncle Ezra and an Uncle Josiah and an Uncle Nathan and an Aunt Raine. He supposed he could have a Grandpa Matt. Nodding his head, his eyes brightened as he said, "OK, Grandpa Matt. I think that would be a good idea."
Matt blinked slightly at the change. Instead of being Grandpa he would be Grandpa Matt, but remembering what Chris had told him about Vin and JD's upbringing, he supposed it was only logical to assume "Grandpa" was a title like "Uncle" or "Aunt". "Well, that's great then," he encouraged, rewarding the boy with a smile and savoring the one he received in return. "We'll let JD know about the change when he wakes up, too, OK?" He smiled as he received a nod from Vin.
Chris glanced in the rearview mirror and caught sight of his happy son. When he had woken up that morning, Vin and his father had informed him of the change in name. Chris had been a little uneasy about it, wondering if maybe his dad was pushing things a little fast, but had to admit Vin, and JD when he woke up and was told, seemed to grow even closer to the man as a result.
When Nathan had shown up around 9, Chris and Buck told everyone they were going to the fair. Nathan and Matt seemed pleased; the boys seemed puzzled. Neither had ever been to a fair and weren't sure exactly what it meant or what to expect.
Since they didn't have a car that would carry all six people comfortably, the group had split up. Vin, Chris and Matt were riding in Chris' Ram and Nathan, JD and Buck were in Buck's truck. At the stop sign, he glanced in his rear view mirror again and felt a smile tug at his lips at what he saw.
JD was in the back in his booster seat, hands waving around animatedly. Nathan was in the front seat, a wide smile gracing his face and Buck's gaze was directed heavenward as if pleading for patience.
His attention was brought back into his own car when Vin asked, "Have you been to a fair before, Grandpa Matt?"
Matt turned slightly to see the boy and smiled. "Been to a lot of them, Vin. In fact, I took your dad to several when he was growing up."
"Really?" Vin asked, eyes twinkling. Grandpa Matt always had lots of stories about Chris.
Matt chuckled softly. "Yes, really. In fact, one time, I suppose Chris must have been around five, we brought him to the fair and went to see the animals. They had a petting zoo there with a little horse, goats, baby chicks and some ducks."
"Da-ad," Chris whined, an embarrassed smile on his face as he knew exactly what story his father was telling.
Matt turned toward Chris. "Hush, Chris. It's a good story."
Vin sat in the back watching the interchange closely. He was learning all sorts of interesting things about Chris and about how fathers and sons interacted. He was surprised that even an adult like Chris would whine just like he did. "What did Dad do?" he asked, curious.
Chris glanced at his son and saw the curiosity in the blue eyes. Knowing that Vin wouldn't be satisfied until he knew the whole story, Chris sighed and said, "OK, Dad. Go ahead and tell him."
Matt smiled back at Vin and continued. "Well, it seems that Chris thought that the pony would be really good to ride, after all, he'd seen other people riding horses and he figured he was a big boy."
"Like JD does?" Vin asked.
"Exactly like JD does," Chris assured, feeling an embarrassed smile forming on his face.
"Since he was such a big boy and the horse was standing so still, he climbed the fence around the animals and tried to get on the horse. Unfortunately, the horse decided to move just at the last minute. But Chris, determined to ride something, saw an equally quiet creature at the other end of the corral. Making his way down there, he made his move and ended up riding the goat!"
Vin's laughter filled the cab of the truck and even Chris found himself smiling and laughing at the memory that had brought his boy such joy.
"But that's not the end of it," Matt continued after Vin had settled down some. His smile grew as the blue eyes fixed on him. "That old goat didn't like Chris riding on him, so he started running around the pen trying to get rid of him. Eventually he came to a sudden stop and Chris went sliding off that old goat and right into the water trough!"
Vin laughed even louder and harder if that was possible. As embarrassing as the tale was, Chris couldn't help laughing along with his boy. The sound of Vin's laughter was still precious to him. Sending a grateful look to his father, he announced, "We're at the fair grounds."
Vin's laughter died out as he began craning his neck to see all around him. When they first pulled in, all he could see were the cars, but looking around, he eventually found an opening and his eyes grew wide as he looked at the Ferris Wheel.
Matt had been watching the expression on Vin's face and quietly placed a hand on his son's arm. When Chris turned toward him, he tipped his head toward the back seat.
Glancing in the rear view mirror, Chris saw the awed expression on Vin's face and smiled. They had made the right choice.
Following the parking attendants' directions, Chris soon parked, shut off the car and stepped out to stretch before helping Vin out of the back seat.
Buck pulled in right next to them and was soon trying to get JD to calm down enough to get him out of his booster seat. "Come on, Little Bit," he encouraged. "Just sit still long enough for me to undo your belt "
Finally JD managed to stop his wiggles long enough for Buck to free him. Bounding out of the car, JD ran over to Vin and began talking. "Vin! Vin! Unca Nathan was telling me about a fair and said there's animals and junk food and games and rides that go 'round in circles like this " JD demonstrated by spinning around in a circle until he was dizzy. "And we get to do all that and "
"Breathe, Little Bit," Buck encouraged laughing softly and shaking his head.
"That's cool, JD!" Vin said, talking every bit as quickly as JD, an unusual response, which clearly showed the boy's excitement. "Grandpa Matt said there might be a petting zoo with animals we could pet and Chris went when he was a boy and rode a goat and I want to go on the Ferris Wheel and see the horses and "
"Breathe, Vin," Chris cautioned, laughing along with the other adults.
Growing serious, Buck knelt down so he could look the boys in the eyes. "We have few rules we need to follow," he said, making sure both boys were paying attention. "There are going to be a lot of people in there and it would be pretty easy to get lost." Seeing both boys nodding their understanding, he continued. "I know you're both big boys, but Chris and I want you to hold one of our hands. Do you know what to do if you get separated?"
"Find a police man!" JD piped up, excited and pleased that he knew the answer. His smile grew even wider when his father beamed back at him.
"That's right, JD. You find a police officer and they'll help you," Buck agreed. Looking into both boys' eyes, he asked, "Do you boys know Chris and my cell phone numbers?" Seeing the boys nod, he continued. "Both Chris and I have our cell phones with us, so if you get lost and find a police man, you can have them call us on our cell phones." Seeing both boys nod their understanding, he smiled again and finished, "Good!" Then standing, he held out his hand toward JD. "Then let's go have some fun!"
"Yeah!" both boys cheered simultaneously as JD took Buck's hand and Vin sought Chris'.
As they headed for the entrance Vin stopped, JD stopped beside him. Both boys looked at each other and then at the men around them.
Puzzled by the sudden stop, Buck was about to ask what was wrong, when Vin and JD held out their hands toward Matt and Nathan. As Nathan took Vin's hand and Matt took JD's, Vin explained, " We don't want you to get lost either."
Entering the midway, the boys came to a dead stop, halting the adults by default. Looking down, Nathan couldn't help smile as he saw both JD and Vin's eyes were very wide and their mouths had dropped open to form perfect O's. "Pretty amazing, isn't it?" he asked of the boy who held his hand. Receiving a nod in return, he thought it was time to present the boys with some options. "You know, we have all day here which should be plenty of time to see everything. You just have to figure out where to start."
Vin and JD turned to look at Nathan. How could they make that big a decision? There was so much to do, so much to look at
"Where do you boys want to begin?" Chris asked, drawing the boys' attention to him. "Rides, games, food, animals "
"Animals!" Vin called out quickly, his natural love for animals coming to the fore. He then turned to look at JD and sent a silent apology for not checking with the younger boy first, but JD seemed OK with the suggestion.
"Then animals it is," Buck said, heading off in the appropriate direction.
When the group arrived at the area housing the animals, the first thing they saw was the petting zoo. Running up to the fence, JD turned pleading eye on his father, "Please, Da! Please can we go pet the animals?"
Buck laughed, "Sure, Little Bit," he agreed leading the boy over to the entry.
Vin followed along behind, excited about going to pet the animals. As he got to the entrance, he saw that there were baby chicks, ducklings, baby deer, lambs, goats and a small horse. A mischievous smile appeared on his face as he walked through the entrance. Turning to face his father, he said, "I promise I won't ride the goat." A giggle escaped him as Matt laughed and Chris smiled, looking a little embarrassed.
Buck and Nathan turned to eye the duo as Vin ran along toward the animals. "Ride the goat?" Buck asked, an eyebrow raised in query. "Sounds like a good story, Stud."
Chris shook his head.
Matt smiled, his green eyes twinkling. "Well, you see," he began before Chris interrupted.
"Dad!" Matt laughed and stopped the story.
Buck and Nathan exchanged a look that said they'd get the dirt on Chris later.
Turning their attention toward the boys, Chris was thankful he had brought the camera with him.
JD had been drawn to the small, yellow, peeping chicks. Wandering over, he leaned down and tried to pet one. Every time he reached out to one, though, it would hop away. Finally getting frustrated chasing them, he squatted down and stayed very still. Eventually, one of the more curious chicks hopped up to him. Lowering his hand, he was able to pick up the small bird. Standing, he petted the soft feathers, talking to the bird the whole time.
JD's stillness, though, had drawn other attention as well. A baby goat came over to him and butted his head against the boy's hip. Turning to see what had bothered him, JD smiled and greeted the goat. "Hey there, baby goat! Do you have a name? Mrs. Torres names all her goats, but some of them have really funny names. Did you know I saw one of you getting borned? Boy, you're friendly."
Turning toward the goat, he took the hand he had been using to pet the chick and reached out to the goat instead. The chick, upset about no longer being petted hopped out of JD's hand and landed right on the goat's head. JD giggled at the sight of the white goat with a yellow chick standing on his head. Looking over to call Vin, he saw that his brother was surrounded by animals and went over to check it out.
Vin had entered the petting zoo and saw the ducklings in one corner. Heading over to say hello, he stayed still and waited for the ducklings to come to him. Soon he had greeted all the ducklings and his attention wandered over to the little horse. Standing, he headed over toward the horse, unaware that the ducklings were following him.
Reaching the horse, he began petting it. While he was petting the horse a fawn wandered up and butted its head on his other hand. Reaching over, he began petting the fawn as well.
JD soon stopped by to pet the horse, as the goat with the chick still on its head followed. Another baby goat came over and started chewing on JD's shirt. Calling out "Hey!" JD took a step backward away from the goat and tripped over what he thought was a stone until he found himself staring into the face of a giant tortoise. "H'lo," he greeted the tortoise as one of the other chicks he'd been trying to pet earlier hopped up onto him and settled on his head.
Vin, after determining JD wasn't hurt, was laughing at the sight of his friend with a chick on his head. The goat JD had been petting earlier wandered over and began nibbling at his shirt's shoulder, the baby chick still resting on its head as well.
Before he could right himself, JD felt a pair of familiar hands brush the chick off his head and lift him. Smiling at Buck, he asked excitedly, "Did you see me, Da? Did you see the animals?"
Buck was chuckling thinking of the pictures they'd taken. "Sure did, sport. Looks like you had some fans there."
JD giggled. "Yep, the goats sure liked my shirt!"
"They did at that," Buck agreed, heading out. Glancing over his shoulder, he started chuckling at the sight of Vin and Chris trying to shoo the ducklings away and stop them from following Vin out of the petting zoo area.
Finally reaching Matt and Nathan, the six headed toward the barns where the larger animals were kept.
Wandering in, JD and Vin gasped as they were presented with the sight of a cow. "They're big," JD breathed. He'd seen cows before, but they were much bigger when you were actually standing next to them than when you saw them from a distance.
Seeing someone in the next stall place a stool next to the cow there, Vin tugged on Chris' hand until he wandered over. Watching, fascinated, Vin was surprised when the man there reached out to the cow's udder and squeezed it. A white liquid came out. "What's he doing?" Vin asked of his father.
Hearing the soft question, the man by the cow turned to face the boy, never stopping his motion. "I'm milking the cow," he explained.
Vin's was puzzled. "Milking the cow?"
The man nodded. "Normally I'd do this at home with a machine, but I couldn't bring it with me, so I have to do this the old fashioned way."
"Oh," Vin said, watching in fascination.
"We get our milk from the fridge," JD supplied, wondering why the adults were laughing again.
"Well, the milk you have in your refrigerator started off in a cow just like Mable here."
"It did?" JD asked, surprised.
"Sure did. Course, it gets pasteurized and homogenized before it gets bottled and set to the store."
"What's pasture-ized and hom-gen-ize mean?" Vin asked.
The man quickly explained about the process milk went through prior to being bottled. The boys were a good audience and were enthralled.
After the explanation of how milk was made, the group continued on and soon came to the horses. The boys loved looking at every one, but were quick to point out why each horse was inferior to Peso and Milagro, much to the amusement of the adults.
As they reached the end of the horses, they were told about a dressage demonstration that was about to start just outside.
Turning to the boys, Chris asked, "Do you boys want to watch?"
He was greeted with a look from Vin asking if he'd lost his mind and JD's wrinkled face.
"I don't want to see no dresses," JD said, wondering what Chris could be thinking.
Buck snorted his laughter as Nathan and Matt chuckled.
Smiling at the boys, Chris explained, "It's dressage, not dresses. There are no dresses involved, just horses and people riding them."
Still a little unsure, JD agreed and Vin nodded his acceptance, too. As they headed out, Nathan was able to spot a group of seats that would provide them an excellent view of the proceedings.
Settling down, the group watched the horses and riders perform. As the first horse and rider started, Vin and JD watched in rapt attention, leaning forward slightly in their seats.
When the presentation was over, both boys started talking so quickly that the adults got lost in the words. It was Buck who let out a shrill whistle that brought the boys to a halt. "Now, hold on there. With the both of you talking so fast, we can't figure out what you're saying. Now, slow down a little."
Vin and JD blinked a few times, trying to slow their excitement. Then both launched off into their rapid-fire chatter again causing Buck to shake his head. At least this time they could make out some of the words. Apparently Vin and JD felt that Milagro and Peso could do those "fancy steps" better than any of the other horses they'd seen.
It was approaching lunchtime and the group headed off toward the large collection of food vendors. They had every kind of food imaginable - as long as it made Nathan cringe.
Shaking his head at the selection, the medic looked at his friends and nephews and informed them, "There's not too much here, but don't eat all junk food." The others assured him they would look around for something healthy.
While Chris and Nathan decided they wanted to wait in line for a kabob, Matt offered to take Vin around and look for something else to eat. Matt saw one of the stands and smiled. "Hey," he said, gaining Vin's attention. "How do you feel about corn-dogs?"
"Corn-dogs?" Vin asked, baffled by what Grandpa Matt was asking.
"Yeah," he nodded. "They're hotdogs dipped in corn batter and then deep-fried."
"But Unca Nathan said to get something healthy," Vin said, liking the idea of a corn-dog, but not wanting to disappoint his uncle.
"Well," Matt said, conspiratorially, "Corn is healthy, right?" He received a nod of agreement. "And potatoes are healthy, right?" Another nod. "So a corn-dog and fries should be healthy, right?" He was rewarded with a brilliant smile. He smiled back, glad Claire wasn't there with him. She never let him eat corn-dogs anymore.
As the two made their way to the front of the line, Vin's eyes were drawn to the stand next to theirs. There was a man there dipping apples in caramel. He'd heard about caramel apples, but never seen one.
Taking their order, Matt noticed the direction of Vin's gaze. "Pretty good looking apples," he said quietly. Vin looked up at him, a hint of guilt in the blue eyes. "Reckon I could get you one if you want it," he offered.
Vin felt nervous about asking for anything. "That's that's OK," he said.
Matt knew Vin wanted an apple. Smiling at the boy, he informed, "You know what one of the most fun parts about being a grandpa is?" Vin looked at him and shook his head. "It's getting to spoil your grandchildren." He watched the blue eyes widen. "How about we get them apples?"
Vin smiled up at the man. "Apples are healthy," he offered with a giggle and a wink.
Returning to the table, Buck and JD had staked out, they were greeted by a slight frown from Nathan and raised eyebrow from Chris.
"Corndogs, fries and caramel apples?" he asked.
Vin looked a little nervous, but Matt stepped right in. "Potatoes and corn are healthy for the boy. So's the apple," he defended.
Chris chuckled and Nathan joined him. Buck grinned and quickly wiped away the mustard that dripped from JD's chili-dog. "Guess they've got you there, stud," he offered.
Settling down to eat, the group discussed what they wanted to do next. The boys both wanted to go on the rides, but the adults felt it would be better to give their food time to digest. With all four men pleading their case the two boys eventually agreed to try out some of the games and other midway attractions.
The first thing that caught the boys' eye was the sign for the family fun house. JD tugged on Buck's hand. "Da! I wanna do that!" he exclaimed, pointing at the house.
Buck hesitated. He thought it might be a little scary for the boy, but JD was hitting him full-force with puppy dog eyes.
Nathan saw the hesitation. "I'll bring him, Buck, if you're too scared," he teased.
Buck glared at Nathan. "I am not afraid," he stated Then more quietly, he added, "I'm just wondering if JD will sleep the night or not afterward."
Vin had been watching the area. He saw parents with kids around their age standing in line. He supposed it was something that he and JD could handle. Looking up, he asked, "Can we, Dad?"
Chris was a little uncertain. He certainly didn't want to bring the boys somewhere that might give them nightmares, but seeing that other young children were going, he figured they'd give it a try. "OK, let's go."
The group waited in line and eventually made it into the house. The boys were thrilled with it and not scared at all. Chris, Buck and Nathan were relieved that it wasn't scary. They knew that in some fun houses, they would have dummies or even people jump out at the kids. The people putting on this fair seemed to have foregone that. Instead they had funny mirrors, moving floors, odd projections on the walls and a few supposedly scary scenes - not to mention slides, spinning tunnels and conveyor belts that would suddenly change direction on you.
Leaving the fun house, they headed off to try their luck at some of the games. Nathan, Chris and Buck each took at turn at trying to dunk the clown - much to the amusement of Vin, JD and Matt who cheered from the sidelines. When Chris finally managed to hit the target and dunk the clown, they laughed out loud.
Moving on, Buck, Nathan and JD stopped to try their hand at the ring toss while Matt, Chris and Vin went looking for something else to play. Chris's phone rang and he pulled it out. Signaling for Matt and Vin to continue on, he found a quieter place to talk.
Looking around, Vin saw a game where you shot at duck-shaped targets. Looking at the prizes, he saw a cap-gun that looked just like one a sheriff in the old west would carry. Pulling on Matt's hand he pointed at the stall and asked, "Can I try that one?"
Matt smiled down at the boy. "Sure. Let's go."
Walking up, Matt paid the fee for the game and helped Vin set up to use the gun after explaining the way the game worked.
Nodding his understanding, Vin settled down and waited for the game to begin. Focusing on the targets, he tuned out everything around him, not noticing when his accuracy began attracting a crowd.
Matt watched with awed pride as Vin managed to hit almost every target with a precision most adults would never achieve.
Chris hung up his phone and started looking around for his father and son. His eyes wandered over to one of the booths where a large group of people were gathered. Seeing his father's head, he made his way over to the booth. As he approached, he caught sight of what was happening and his heart skipped a beat. Everything within him rebelled at the wrongness of the sight. There, in the center of all the people, stood his boy, his son who had been shot, who had suffered at the hands of guns, who had experience more violence in his short life than any boy should, firing a gun and knocking down target after target.
Charging forward, Chris reached his dad and Vin just as the game ended and the crowd cheered.
Matt turned, having seen his son's approach. Looking into Chris' eyes, though, his smile faltered. There was a fear dancing in the green eyes that had him immediately concerned. "What's wrong, Son?" he asked, reaching out a hand and placing it on Chris' shoulder.
Chris ignored the question and reached out to Vin who was waiting to tell the booth operator what prize he wanted. "Vin," Chris said, his voice betraying his tumultuous emotions.
Vin turned and looked at his father, his smile fading as he read the worry and fear in Chris' eyes. "What's wrong?" he asked.
Chris saw fear suddenly flare in Vin's blue eyes and swallowed several times. Pushing aside his own fear and concerns he smiled. "Nothing, just was worried when I couldn't see you through the crowd." He hoped Vin wouldn't hear the lie in the words.
"I'm OK, Dad," he assured. "Grandpa Matt was with me."
"So, name your prize young man," the booth operator interrupted, anxious to let other people try their hand at the game.
Vin turned back and smiled, excitement once more seeping into his face. He was about to point to the cap gun, when he figured he should ask Chris. "Can I get the cap gun?"
Chris took a deep breath and released it. He couldn't explain his sudden aversion to seeing Vin with weapons, but quickly scanned the available prizes on the same shelf as the gun. Settling on one of them, he said, "Why don't you get the saddlebags with the sheriff's star on them?"
Vin turned and looked. The saddlebags were pretty cool. "OK," he agreed. "May I have the saddlebags, please?"
"Sure thing," the operator said, taking a box from under the counter and handing it to Vin. "That's a new set that hasn't been sitting outside all day," he explained when Vin looked at the box in confusion.
"Oh, OK," Vin agreed, accepting the box.
Just then the others walked up and Vin quickly began telling JD all about what he'd done and the saddlebags he'd won.
Matt looked at his son. "Did I do something wrong?" he asked, worriedly.
Chris shook his head. "No. I just " Turning toward Buck he said quietly, "I saw Vin shooting with that gun and I don't know. I just It was wrong. There's been too much violence in his life - in our lives. I don't think we need him thinking guns are toys or guns are fun or "
Buck put a hand on Chris' shoulder. "Hold on, stud," he soothed. "The boys know guns aren't toys. They know the difference between real guns and fake one. When we get home, we can discuss what to do about it, if anything needs to be done. We already monitor what they watch and don't let them watch anything violent, maybe we need to watch what they play, too."
Chris took a deep breath and released it. "You're right," he agreed. "We'll talk about it later at home. Right now, I think we're ready to go ride some rides."
Buck grinned at Chris then turned to the others and announced, "Boys! It's time to ride the rides!"
The desire to ride the rides proved to outstrip their ability. The men were unable to go on several that the boys wanted to try simply because the two kids did not meet the height requirement. Still, they managed to go on several rides together.
One of the rides JD talked Buck into riding involved the car they were in spinning in a circle while the arm it was on spinning in the other direction and then tilting. JD just barely made the height requirement and Buck figured if he rode with the boy, he could hang on to JD.
It was a mistake.
The ride began and JD whooped in joy. He loved the spinning and tilting and his laughter rang out. Each time they would pass by the four waiting on them, he would wave and call out.
Buck wasn't terribly thrilled with the spinning, but about halfway through the ride, his stomach began spinning in a direction wholly unrelated to the ride they were on. Closing his eyes, he fought against his nausea and prayed he could hang on until it was over.
Soon, though not too soon for Buck, the ride came to a stop, though his stomach and head didn't.
JD launched himself out of the ride, rattling on as quickly as he could about how exciting it was.
The others listened to JD as they watched Buck stagger out of the ride, holding his stomach and looking distinctly green around the gills. "Never again," he gasped to Nathan as the medic had approached to make sure he was all right.
By this time it was close to sunset and the lights were being turned on all throughout the fair. Chris and Buck mentioned going home but the boys begged and pleaded to go on one more ride. Giving in, they asked what the boys wanted to ride. The duo called out at the same time "Ferris Wheel!"
Making their way to the Ferris Wheel, they were relieved to see JD just made the height requirement. Buck was still feeling too queasy to go on and Nathan volunteered to stay with him. That left Matt to go with JD and Chris with Vin.
Moving forward in line, the four waited for their turn. JD and Matt got into one of the seat, making sure they had their seatbelts on and the bar was secured in front of them. Chris and Vin took the next car.
The ride was slow and as they headed upward, the sounds of the fair faded away. From the height they had a beautiful view of the sunset.
"Grandpa Matt," JD asked, looking up at the man.
"Yes, JD?" Matt asked.
"Do you think you could be Buck's Da too?"
Matt blinked at the small boy. "Doesn't Buck have a father?"
JD shook his head. "He only had a mama just like me. But now I have Da and he still doesn't have a Da. It's not fair."
Matt was touched by the boy's thoughtfulness. He had known Buck Wilmington almost as long as Chris had. He knew him to be honorable, kind and the type of man any parent would be proud to call son. "I'll tell you what," he said. "When we get home tonight, you and I will ask him what he thinks of that idea."
JD beamed at him. "Good," he said, turning his attention toward the scenery as he leaned his head against Matt's arm. "Then you can be my Grandpa Matt for real."
Matt smiled and fought the sting of tears at the child's generous heart and simple logic. Moving his arm so it encircled JD, he assured, "I'll be your Grandpa Matt for real whether Buck wants me as his dad or not."
In the seat behind him, the father and son enjoyed their ride in silence. The wheel stopped just as they reached the top and Chris heard Vin's breath catch at the beauty of the sunset. "Beautiful isn't it, cowboy?"
"It's perfect," he breathed, leaning against his father.
Chris smiled and wrapped his arm around Vin's shoulders, unknowingly imitating his father and JD. "So you had a good day?" he asked. He was rewarded with brilliant blue eyes and a huge smile. Chuckling he squeezed Vin's shoulders and said, "Good" before the two fell into their comfortable silence again.
As they started to move again, Vin moved slightly and asked, "Dad?" Waiting for Chris to acknowledge him, he continued, "Will Grandpa Matt come and visit us again?"
Chris smiled down at the boy. "Would you like that?"
Vin smiled and nodded.
"OK. I'll mention it to him."
They rode for several more minutes before Vin asked, "Do you think he would email me?"
Chris stopped and thought about it. He knew his parents had a computer, but he always called them. "Guess we'll have to ask," he supplied.
"K," Vin said before settling in to finish the ride in silence.
Once the group returned to their vehicles, it took almost no time at all for the boys to fall asleep. So exhausted were they that they didn't even wake up as their fathers carried them into the house and changed them for bed.
Buck wandered out onto the porch where Matt and Chris were sitting, . He settled into a vacant chair and picked up the beer they had brought out for him. "It was a good day," he said, fatigue evident in his voice as he stared up at the stars.
"Yes, it was," Chris agreed.
"You two have some mighty fine boys," Matt observed, enjoying the peace with the two men.
After several moments of silence, Matt sat up straight in his chair and leaned forward so his elbows rested on his knees. Chris straightened as well, knowing what was coming; he and his dad had talked about it in the car.
"Buck," Matt began, waiting for the man to turn toward him. Locking eyes with the agent, he continued seriously, "JD asked me something tonight on the Ferris Wheel that I've given some thought to. I discussed it with Chris as well and now I just need to ask you." Seeing the worry and confusion on the man's face, Matt smiled. "JD mentioned that you don't have a mama anymore and don't have a dad. He felt concerned that Chris had me, Vin had Chris and he had you." He watched as Buck's eyes softened at this recital of JD's thoughts. "He asked me if I would be your Da just like you're his." He waited a bit as the words sank in. "You're a fine man; a man any parent would be proud to call son. It would be an honor to add you to the family," he finished, watching the man closely.
Buck felt overwhelmed. He felt tears well up in his eyes and tried to sort through the emotions cascading through him. He was honored and humbled by Matt's description of him, stunned by the offer, happy beyond words, and a little sad at what he was missing. Glancing up at Chris, he saw the blond smiling at him.
"You're already my brother in every way that's important, Buck. It would be downright selfish of me not to share my parents with you," he said softly.
Buck took a shaky breath and let it out, trying to get a hold of what he was feeling. "This is pretty big stuff," he said, clearing his throat.
Matt nodded, reached out and patted Buck's leg before rising. "You think on it and let me know when you're ready." Heading into the house, he added, "That'll give me time to figure out what I'm going to tell Claire."
The two men sat in silence. "You all right?" Chris asked softly, easily reading the emotions flickering on his friend's face.
Buck let out a laugh. "I have no idea." Looking into Chris' eyes, he asked, "How did I get so lucky? That little boy... after all he's been through, he's still so concerned about me he would ask..." Standing, Buck ran a hand through his hair and walked to the edge of the porch, shaking his head. "I didn't even know I was jealous of you and Matt, that I was missing something until he asked me... said those things about me..."
"Every word was true," Chris assured quietly. Standing and walking over to his friend, he rested a hand on Buck's shoulder. "I would be honored if you would share my parents with me."
The two stood in silence for several minutes. Finally, Chris sensed it was time for him to go. Turning, he headed into the house and called over his shoulder, "Don't stay up too long."
Hearing the door open, Buck called out, "Chris?" He turned and saw the blond had stopped in the doorway. "Think I'll have to call him Dad?" he asked, a smile gracing his face.
Chris grinned a wide, genuine grin. "Don't know, little brother. Guess you'll have to take that up with him."
Then it was today. Boy we sure fell asleep in a lot of places this week.
Sure did, JD
But that's OK. I was sad to see Grandpa Matt leave today, but he said he would email to me.
Me, too. He also said something about Chris' mom maybe visiting or us going to visit them.
Yeah. Hey! Now we have grandparents!
You're right! That's pretty neat.
Hey, that's Dad's truck. C'mon JD. He said we could go riding when he got home and I want to try those fancy steps with Peso.
Me, too! With Milagro.
Everyday Heroes Index
Next: The Thing About Fathers