The Writing On the Wall

by Nancy W.

Author Note: Thanx to Marnie, who came up with the idea for this story, and the EverybodyWantsVin-or-Ezra lunch bunch, for their input and suggestions.

This week was going really good until the bad thing happened. I didn't mean it to be bad. It just sort of happened. Then everyone started acting all funny and I had to go see Dr. Will. I like Dr. Will but I never knew how much he liked birds.
If I got to pick a hero this week, I'd pick Mr. Tobias. Some people don't like him much, but he helped me figure out my problem. He's real smart.

This is J.D. This week was very very very very very very good. Torkus waked
up! Now G.I. Joe don't have to be lonely no more, but we have to find new place to put some of our toys because Torkus needs his own tank again. Mrs.
Potter says we growed a science speriment in the tank. The end.


Hello computer. It's me, JD. Vin can't come talk to you right now. He's doing his chores. He's got extra chores to do right now and then he gots to do his homework, and he can't even watch TV, neither.

It's no fun when Vin gots extra chores. He can't play with me and it's boring boring boring.

Da says it won't be too many more days and then will be able to play again.

Vin should have just told them Eli Joe did it.

Vin was having a good day. That morning, he had finished all of his Math work and had done it all right and he even got most of his spelling words, right, too. Well, he got half of them right, but that was real good for him.

The morning went by real fast, and now it was time for recess. Recess was Vin's favorite part of the day. Sometimes he played with other kids, but, sometimes he liked to be by himself. Dr. Will had asked him why, and Vin had tried to explain that it wasn't because he didn't like the other kids, or because he thought they didn't like him, even though some of them didn't, but he didn't like them, either... It was just that sometimes, he liked to be by himself. It made him feel all quiet and peaceful inside.

After making sure that Freddy Chaney wasn't anywhere near JD, Vin decided to go check out the little space between the cafeteria and the main classroom building. They left the garbage there for the garbage men, and sometimes, there were cool bugs under the garbage cans. He kinda wanted to find a big, scary bug, so he could go put it in Freddy's face and make him scream like a girl. Freddy had spilled glue on JD's geography work that morning. He said it was an accident but then he looked at Eli Joe Chavez and smiled in a sneaky way that told Vin he did it on purpose. Vin didn't like Eli Joe, either.

Both Freddy and Eli Joe were off in a corner of the playground trying to start a fire with a piece of glass. They were too stupid to know you needed a special glass for that, and Vin wasn't going to tell them.

As he rounded the corner into the little alley, he was surprised to see that the three big garbage cans that were usually there were gone. Even when they were empty of garbage, they were always still there.

He could hear the custodian, Mr. Tobias, whistling in the area behind the kitchen. The children were not supposed to go there, and a small metal gate was in his path. Vin could have easily climbed over it, but, he didn't. He just stayed and watched Mr. Tobias. He didn't say anything, because Mr. Tobias was wearing headphones and wouldn't hear him, anyway. Mr. Tobias liked to listen to music while he worked, but he said the music he liked wasn't 'propriate for little kids. Vin didn't know what that meant. He liked all kinds of music.

Mr. Tobias had the trash cans, and Vin saw that he was painting them! It looked like he was having fun, and Vin was intrigued by how he gently passed the can of paint across the surface of a can and immediately the fine mist of paint turned the rusty, dirty surface to a smooth, even color.

Vin watched, fascinated, until Mrs. Roquette rang the bell that meant he had to go back inside.

The rest of Vin's morning was good, too. He got to play dress up and make up a story and he dressed up in the Robin Hood costume, but instead of Robin Hood, he pretended he was the elf guy with long hair in Lord of the Rings. That elf was the best at shooting arrows, and he never missed. Vin killed twenty-eight orcs, which were really just balls of paper from the recycling bin, before Mr. Beidler told him maybe he should make up a story where nothing got killed.

Vin sighed. Grown-ups were just no fun sometimes, but, it was time for lunch, anyway.

Miz Lottie gave him an extra big apple and two paper cups of peanut butter instead of one. Vin loved peanut butter apples.

After lunch, he went back to the alley to see if Mr. Tobias was still painting the garbage cans.

He wasn't - they were all done, and they sure did look pretty and clean. There was a green one, a red one and a blue one, and their lids were painted yellow. Vin lightly touched the clean, smooth surfaces, amazed that the paint was dry. The trash cans looked like new.

He figured all the bugs had been scared away when the cans were moved, but he decided to look anyway and had worked his way behind the first can when he saw them.... sitting in a neat row - green, red, yellow and blue. Four cans of spray paint.

Vin wondered if Mr. Tobias had meant to throw them away, but when he picked one up, he discovered it still had paint in it. He shook it the way he had seen Mr. Tobias do. He tried to get the lid off, but, it wouldn't come off. It just twisted around and around.

Then Vin remembered seeing Mr. Tobias pop the lids off with a screwdriver.

Vin didn't have a screwdriver, though. He looked around to see if there was anything else that would work.

There, beyond the alley gate, he saw it. An old, rusted spoon. He wasn't supposed to go through the gate, and he didn't, but he was able to snake his thin arm through the slats and stretch reeeeaaaaallly hard until his fingertips were able to pull the spoon close enough for him to grab it.

Once he had the spoon, it was easy to pop the can of paint open.

Delighted with his success, Vin studied the can carefully and could see the little hole where the paint came out. He shook the can the way Mr. Tobias had. It sounded like there was something inside and it rattled. He turned it the little button so the hole faced away from him and then tentatively pressed down on it the way he had seen Mr. Tobias do.


A pretty stream of yellow paint evaporated into the air.

Wow, that was totally cool!

Vin opened all of the paint cans. He wanted to see all of the colors. Yeah, that would rock!

"Whatcha got there, Vinnnneeeeeeeeeeeeeeee," a mocking voice asked.

Vin looked up crossly at Eli Joe and Freddy. "Go away."

"Make us."

Vin took a step forward, brandishing the spray can like a weapon. "Go away or I'll spray you with poison gas and your eyeballs will melt!" Just to show he meant business, he pushed down on the button.

This time, the spray didn't evaporate. It left a drippy yellow spot on Eli Joe's jacket.

Eli Joe looked at it and using both hands, he shoved Vin backwards, hard, into the garbage cans, causing one of them to fall over with a loud clang.

"BOYS! GET OVER HERE!" Mr. Beidler yelled.

The three of them obeyed, albeit reluctantly. As soon as they were at Mr. Beidler's feet, Eli Joe pointed at Vin. "He started it! He..."

"I don't want to hear it, Eli Joe," Mr. Beidler said. "The rule is 'no fighting'. If someone bothers you, you walk away and come and tell me or Mrs. Roquette, understand?"

"But..." Freddy began.

Mr. Beidler raised his hand to silence him. "Enough! Now, the three of you go find something to do that doesn't involve hitting each other, okay?"


"Freddy, do I need to call your mother?"

Freddy ducked his head. Eli Joe stood stubbornly with his arms folded across his chest.

Vin did not miss the fact that Mr. Beidler hadn't yelled at him. Yup, it was a good day.

Vin was sitting on the floor listening to Mrs. Roquette read them a story. Vin had wanted her to read The Very Hungry Thing because that book made him laugh, but instead she was reading a book called Stella Luna that sounded like a girl's book but when she started reading, it turned out to be about a baby bat who gets lost from his mama and falls into a birds’ nest and grows up thinking she's a bird. It was kinda silly, but, kinda nice, too, because the bird mama loved the little bat like she was her own baby even though she wasn't. Sorta like Chris and Buck loved him and JD.


Vin felt a sharp pain in his back as Freddy's knee impacted with his rib cage.

"Oh, sorry," Freddy apologized. "I was just gonna sit down and listen to the story."

He dropped to his knees, his left one landing directly on Vin's fingers.

"OW!" Vin howled and pushed him away.

"Boys!" Mrs. Roquette scolded.

Freddy immediately sat perfectly still. Vin did too, even though he wanted to sock Freddy in the eyeball.

Luckily, it was almost time for afternoon recess, so he didn't have to sit by "Old Stinky" for very long.

Once they were outside, Vin ignored Freddy, even though his hand still smarted from having his fingers squished.

He went back to the alley and found the paint cans. He shook each one. Red, yellow, blue, green. There sure was a lot of paint there....

Vin stood back - as far as he could in the narrow alley - to admire his handiwork, and was disappointed to see long, drippy tendrils spreading downward from poorly shaped letters.

Fredie iz a butfaze

The bright yellow paint stood out vividly against the dark red bricks, and Vin had to admit to himself that the desired effect had not been achieved.

It looked ugly.

It was rude.

And, like a slap on the head, it suddenly occurred to him that it was exactly the kind of thing that would get him in Big Trouble.

He dropped the paint can and ran as fast as he could to the boy's bathroom. He pulled out as many paper towels as he could hold and then put them under the faucet to get them wet. Leaving a dripping trail behind him, he hurried back to the alley and began to scrub vigorously at the words painted on the wall.

Nothing happened. The paint hadn't dried yet, but the paper towels only stuck to it, or smeared the drippy parts and made them bigger. Then they just started to fall apart.

Vin thought some words that would have had him putting money in the swear jar at home.

Then he got an idea. The bricks were sorta reddish, so maybe he could cover the yellow with the red paint.

In his haste, he forgot to shake the red paint can. He pushed and pushed on the little button, but nothing came out, at first. Then, suddenly, a burst of bright red spattered against the wall, followed quickly by a second and a third.

Not only did it not match the bricks, it began dripping down the wall and mixing with the yellow paint so there were soon streaks of red, yellow and orange. There were two big, ulgy read splotches covering part of Freddy's name and two of his words, so now it said:

die butfaze

Vin thought that was kinda funny, but now he was kinda scared, too. He looked around to see if anyone was looking, and spotted Mrs. Roquette "counting heads." That's what she did when she was checking to make sure everyone was there. Vin shoved the paper towels into the garbage and ran back to the boy's bathroom so Mrs. Roquette would think he had been there the whole time.

Dr. Will had told Vin he didn't need to do the "empty face" anymore, but Vin didn't know what else he could do. If he told anyone about the paint on the wall, maybe he'd get kicked out of school and have to go back to the other school where they made him be in kindergarten with the five-year-old babies even though he was seven. That made him want to cry, so, he did the empty face and pretended not to care.

Mrs. Potter watched Vin automatically dunk his Oreo in his milk and eat it without seeming to realize he was doing it. He didn't seem sick or upset, but he was distracted by something. She would have asked him if something was wrong, but she knew that seldom did any good with Vin. He would either shrug (which meant yes) or tell her no (which could mean either yes or no).

"How was school today?" she asked him.

"It was fun!" JD piped in. "'cept Freddie spilled glue on my geography paper."

Gloria noticed a subtle change in Vin's posture. Maybe that was it. He was very protective of the younger boy.

"So then what happened?" she asked.

"Nothin'," JD shrugged. "I just did it over." He wiped his face on his shirtsleeve. “It’s Torkus day!” he announced. “Let’s go check on him, Vin!”

Vin looked up at Mrs. Potter, as if he hadn‘t even heard JD, and asked, "Unca 'siah knows how to fix things, right?"

Mr. Potter didn't sense any particular anxiety in the question, even though it did seem to come out of nowhere.

"Well, he does a lot of work with tools," she answered. "So yes, I would think he does."

“Vin, come on!” JD was halfway to the door, but Vin wasn’t paying any attention to him.

"Can I call him?"

Mrs. Potter knew the men didn't mind the boys calling them at work. They never made nuisances of themselves, and she was sure Josiah would be thrilled that little Vin was calling him for advice. But, she cautioned him, "Just remember that your uncles are busy, so don't keep him on the phone too long."

JD sighed, exasperated. “I’ll go by myself,” he huffed, and stomped out the door.

Vin punched in the speed-dial number for Josiah's cell phone. He found the deep, resonant voice at the other end of the line somehow reassuring.

"Unca 'siah?" he asked tentatively.

"Yes, son?"

"How does paint come off?"

"Excuse me?"

"You know, like, if you're painting and it gets on something, how does it come off?"

"Well, Vin, that depends on what kind of paint it is, and what you want to get it off of."

"Oh." Vin was disappointed by that vague answer.

"Did you get paint on your clothes?" Josiah asked. "Because if you did, you'd best tell Mr. Potter so she can try to get it out."

"No," Vin sighed. "I was jus' wonderin'.... you know... in case I ever need to get paint offa somethin'."

"Well, if you tell me what the problem is, I might be able to explain it a little better."

Vin sighed again. "No, I was jus' wonderin', that's all."

"Okay, son. But if you think of any more questions, I'll be here."

"'kay Unca 'siah. Bye."

Vin hung up the phone. He was still kinda worried about painting the wall, but he'd been thinking about it, and no one had actually seen him do it. No one knew it was him. So if he didn't say anything, they would just think someone came in the night and painted the school.

Yeah, he would be okay. No one would know.

Vin headed out to the barn to do his chores and almost ran into JD who was running back toward the house. The younger boy was bouncing with excitement, clutching something with both hands.

“Vin! Look! He woke up!!!”

Vin realized the object in JD’s arms was Torkus. The placid reptile peeked languidly up at him, its head just poking out of its shell.

Vin felt a surge of panic. No one had actually told them what to do when Torkus woke up. He wasn’t sure it was okay to be jostling the poor animal like JD was.

“We better put him in his terrarium,” he advised JD. The younger boy agreed and they hurried to the den only to discover that during the winter, Torkus’ terrarium had become a storage place for comic books, GI Joe’s, some toy trucks, JD’s missing SpongeBob slipper and a half-eaten peanut butter sandwich.

The sandwich had mold on it, which had spread all over one corner. The aquarium would need to be cleaned before Torkus could inhabit it again.

Mrs. Potter frowned at the mess. “What on earth is that sandwich doing in there?”

Vin and JD looked at each other with guilty expressions. They had been told a dozen times, at least, that they no longer had to hoard food, but sometimes, they forgot, and it still didn’t seem right to either of them to waste food just because they were full. They knew too well what hunger felt like.

Understanding suddenly dawned on Mrs. Potter. She patted each little head gently. “It’s okay, sweethearts. No one is mad at you. But,” she smiled, “don’t even think of eating that.”

Vin and JD looked at the sandwich. I was all fuzzy and it smelled bad. Mrs. Potter didn’t have anything to worry about!

She said the terrarium probably needed to be taken outside so they could use the hose to clean it, but that Chris and Buck would have to carry it out there. It was heavy, and she didn’t want to drop it and break it.

Mrs. Potter wasn’t sure what to do with Torkus. Sometimes, Vin didn’t think Mrs. Potter liked Torkus very much, because she called him "that thing" and not his name, but she found a box and gave them some lettuce to feed him, and said they should wait until Chris and Buck came home before they played with him.

Vin was excited that Torkus was awake and they could play GI Joe with him again.

He forgot all about the paint.

He didn’t think about the paint at all until the next morning, when he and JD got off the bus and were walking into the school. JD spotted Joey and ran on ahead, so he didn't see Mr. Beidler and Mrs. Roquette standing in the alley looking at what he'd done.

"Is that German?" Mr. Beidler said slowly. "dee... boot fah zee..."

Mrs. Roquette shrugged. "Boot-fah-zee sounds like an African word. And that first word looks like 'die'."

"Die, boot-fah-zee? What does that mean? You don't think it's some kind of threat, do you? Maybe we should call the police..."


Vin's felt the blood drain from his face. Empty face, he thought. He hurried to the classroom and sat down. Empty face. Empty face.

But, nothing happened. Mrs. Roquette and Mr. Beidler came into the classroom and everyone stood up to say the Pledge of Leginz and then school started just like it always did. No one said anything about the paint.

When morning recess came, Vin slowly worked his way to the alley, trying not to look like he was interested in anything there. He wasn't even sure why he wanted to see the painted wall again. It scared him to look at it now, but his feet just kept taking him that way.

What he found there surprised him. There was Mrs. Roquette with Eli Joe and Eli Joe's dad. Mr. Chavez's voice was soft, but angry.

"So, someone spray paints the wall and the first person you look at is the Mexican kid, right?"

Mrs. Roquette held up her hands. "Mr. Chavez, I assure you that is not the case. Your son has paint on his jacket."

Vin swallowed hard as she pointed to the yellow spot Vin had put on Eli Joe's sleeve.

Eli Joe stood there with his arms folded, like he didn't care if anyone was mad at him. He probably didn't. In fact, Vin kinda thought Eli Joe liked it when people thought he was bad.

"How did that happen?" Mrs. Roquette asked Eli Joe about the paint spot.

Vin froze.

But to his amazement, Eli Joe shrugged and said, "I dunno."

Mr. Chavez pointed at the wall. "Did you do this?"

Eli Joe looked up at him. "So what if I did?"

He got cuffed on the back of the head for that.

"Mr. Chavez, please... " Mrs. Roquette said. "There are other ways to handle this."

"He didn't do it," Mr. Chavez said bluntly. "I don't know why he wants us to think he did, but he didn't...." He pointed at the wall. "My kid knows how to make and S and he can spell 'butt face'."

"b-u-t-t-f-a-c-e" Eli Joe obliged.

"Butt-face?" Mrs. Roquette frowned and looked at the word as if she were seeing it for the first time.

Vin didn't wait around to hear any more.

He went back insid ethe classroom , his face stinging with embarrassment. He took out his math book and started doing one of the exercise papers. He didn't want to play outside any more. He had painted on the wall, and he had spelled the stupid words wrong. Now they were going to know it was him.

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

But, still, nothing happened. When Mr. Roquette came back inside and saw him working on his math, she praised him for being so 'dilgent," whatever that meant. Then, everyone else came in from recess and still, no one said anything about the paint.

The four other agents could tell by the way Chris was raking his fingers through his hair as he talked on the phone that something was wrong, and they were sure of it when he came into the bullpen and announced that the boys' school had called for an emergency parent conference.

"Is Vin okay?" Buck asked apprehensively.

Chris shook his head. "There was some vandalism at the school. They think Vin might be involved."

The others acknowledged him somewhat sadly. They had all thought they were making progress with the boys, drawing them away from behavior that was acceptable on the street, but not in the world in which they wanted them to live.

"Want me to go with you?" Buck asked.

"No... no... I'll handle it."

"Our concern is the violent imagery," Mrs. Roquette explained. They had already shown Chris the "artwork" that both teachers suspected was Vin's. "The word 'die' and the splatters of blood-red paint could indicate that Vin may be having some dark thoughts about something."

"Are you sure it was him?"

"Well, there is no way to be certain without asking him, which I don't think is a good idea, but he is the only student who still makes his S backwards, and we all are aware of his difficulties with spelling."

"Also, there were some problems yesterday with a couple of the boys. Not exactly fighting, but aggressive behavior that required intervention. And..." he handed Chris a piece of paper with a crude drawing Vin had done to illustrate a story "...he drew this...."

Chris held back a smile despite the seriousness of the situation. Vin had drawn himself with pointed ears, wielding a bow. Some sort of creature (really a scribbled blob) had an arrow in its eye. "Lord of the Rings," he said softly. "Vin loves that movie."

Mr. Beidler smiled. "Most of the kids do. But, all things considered, we thought it might be unwise to ignore what might be a cry for help."

Chris had to agree. "What should we do?"

"Well, I think a visit with his therapist might be in order. Don't confront him - he may not be ready to address his feelings. Dr. Lowery should be the one to steer him in that direction."

Chris nodded, in a way grateful that the responsibility for discussing this with Vin had fallen elsewhere. He was disturbed by what he had seen. Who did Vin wish dead? A classmate? Himself? Either possibility was frightening.

"I'll call and get him an appointment as quickly as possible," he assured Mr. Beidler.

Vin always got nervous when he had to see Dr. Will on a day that he wasn't supposed to see him. It usually meant something had happened that had made him have "feel-bad" thoughts. Dr. Will always helped him with those.

But, Vin didn't know why he was there this time. Mrs. Potter had made liver and onions for dinner the night before, and Vin had refused to eat it and said it smelled like toilet germs, and JD did eat a bite, but spit it back on his plate... He supposed that neither was very polite, but not liking liver wasn't really a feel-bad thought. Besides, Buck had just laughed and said liver was a "choir taste" and then him and JD got to eat ravioli out of a can. Vin loved ravioli, so there was nothing feel-bad about that.

What was really making Vin nervous was that Chris seemed worried about something. As they walked down the corridor to Dr. Will's office, Chris held his hand the way he did when Vin was sick or scared.

Vin took a seat in the big chair across from Dr. Will's desk.

"How are you feeling today, Vin?"

"Fine," Vin shrugged. He wished someone would tell him why he was there.

Dr. Will asked him some more questions, and Vin answered politely. He didn't mind Dr. Will's questions. They were usually interesting, even if some of them were hard.

Dr. Will took out the one of the picture books that he let Vin and JD look at sometimes. "Now, Vin, I know you are feeling fine today, but let's think of another day... yesterday... see if you can find a picture that shows how you felt yesterday."

Dr. Will had lots of picture books. This one was pictures of animals. Vin looked through the pictures, not sure if he could even find one. Feel-bad thoughts were easy to find pictures for. So were happy thoughts. But, yesterday was just an ordinary day. Well, except for fighting with Eli Joe and Freddy.

And the paint.

Vin thought he'd better not say anything about the paint, so he looked for a picture to describe how he felt about Eli Joe and Freddy. He found one of a cat hissing with its tail all bushed out. It was a funny picture, but after looking at it a few seconds, he discarded it. Eli Joe and Freddy didn't really make him furious like that cat was. They just annoyed him.

Finally, he found one. An alligator with a bird sitting on its head. It looked like the bird was pecking the alligator. It couldn't hurt the big lizard, but Vin figured the alligator probably wished it wasn't pecking at him.

"This one," Vin said.

"Good choice," Dr. Will nodded. But, he always said that. "Tell me what you think this bird is thinking about."

Vin hadn't thought about the bird. "Well.... " he hesitated. "He prob'ly should be thinkin' that big ol' alligator could just eat him if he isn't careful."

"Interesting," Dr. Will nodded. "Why do you think he is sitting on the alligator's head if he is afraid of being eaten?"

Vin shrugged. "He's probably too stupid to know he's sittin' on an alligator."

Dr. Will nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe he's feeling a little overwhelmed by something that is bigger than he is."

Vin frowned. "Huh?"

"Sometimes, things happen around us that can make us feel like we are small and alone."

Vin nodded slowly. He knew that feeling. He wasn't having it right then - in fact, he hardly ever felt that way since coming to live with Chris and Buck, and going to his new school, but, he knew. "Sometimes they do, I reckon."

"What do you think the bird is doing with the alligator?"

"He's pecking it," Vin stated the obvious. Grown-ups were kinda slow sometimes.

"Do you think that is his way of trying to feel not so small?"

"No. I think he's just too dumb to know it could eat him."

Dr. Will frowned and rubbed his chin. Vin thought maybe he shouldn't have said that. Dr. Will seemed to like that silly bird.

"What would you do if you were that bird, Vin?"

Vin didn't want to be the stupid bird. He wanted to be the alligator. Alligators were cool.

He shrugged. "Fly away, before I got eaten."

Dr. Will nodded, but didn't say anything for a long time. "You know Vin, sometimes we might feel like we are small and helpless and alone, but really, we aren't. What do you think this bird could do that would keep him safe from the alligator?"


Dr. Will reiterated. "Well, he seems kind of small - too small to fight with it. But what are some of the things he can do to keep himself safe from the alligator?"

"Well, he can stop pecking it," Vin said, again as if that fact were patently obvious. Then he saw Dr. Will was waiting for more. "Because if he stopped pecking it, the alligator might forget he's there." Just like Eli Joe and Freddy. If they would leave him and JD alone, he wouldn't have to care about them, ever.

Dr. Will frowned. Not very much, but Vin noticed it. He had to remember to stop saying mean things about the bird, because Dr. Will liked it, and he liked Dr. Will. Maybe Dr. Will thought Vin wanted to forget he was there. Maybe Dr. Will was having feel-bad thoughts now...

"He's a nice bird," Vin said. "If I was that alligator, I wouldn't care if he sat on my head."

Chris took Vin back to school and returned to the office. Dr. Will hadn't been able to get him to reveal any motivation for the graffiti or even to admit that he did it.

Chris shared his concern with the rest of the team when he got back to the office, and that was when Josiah mentioned Vin calling him to ask how to remove paint.

"So, he did do it," Chris said, disappointment and concern evident in his voice. He let out a heavy sigh. Maybe they still had much longer to go with Vin than any one had thought.

Vin got back to school from seeing Dr. Will just a few minutes before afternoon recess, which was fine with him. He didn't really feel like playing, though. He felt like going back to look at the wall he had painted, although he didn't know why. It made him feel kinda scared and embarrassed at the same time whenever he looked at it.

He was surprised to find Mr. Tobias in the alley. He almost walked right into him, in fact. Mr. Tobias pulled off his head phones. "Hey, little dude," he gave Vin a thumbs up sign.

Vin liked Mr. Tobias. His hair was real long - longer than Vin's - and he had said Vin's long hair was special, and made him look like a rock star.

Vin didn't feel so special right then, though, when he saw that Mr. Tobias was busy scrubbing at the paint on the wall.

Vin just stood there, fingering the corner of his shirt and looking down at the ground.

After a few minutes, Mr. Tobias stood up and stretched his back. "Man, this is hard work!"

Vin continued to look at the ground, but he nodded slightly.

"Don't know if all of it will ever come off," Mr. Tobias added.

Vin looked up at him then, his bottom lip between his teeth, but then he looked down again.

"Is there something you want to tell me, Vin?" Mr. Tobias asked softly.

Vin nodded.

Mr. Tobias squatted down in front of him so they were the same size. He put his hands on Vin’s shoulders. “Hey, you know us long-haired guys gotta stick together, right?”

Vin nodded again.

“So tell me your tale, buddy,” he smiled.

Vin looked downward again. "Sorry," he whispered in the tiniest voice he could.

Mr. Tobias cupped his hand over his ear. "How's that? I didn't quite hear you."

"I'm sorry," Vin said more firmly.

Mr. Tobias stood up again, his hands on his hips. "So, it was you who did this, Vin?"

Vin nodded.

Instead of getting mad, Mr. Tobias lifted Vin's chin up. "Vin, who do you want to die?" he asked in a soft, sad voice.

Vin frowned. "Huh?"

Mr. Tobias pointed to the wall. "It says 'die' and there's all that red... It makes me think you want someone to get hurt."

Vin's eyes grew wide. "NO!" he shook is head vigorously. "It was supposed to say ‘Freddie is a butt-face‘... but ... but…"

He told Mr. Tobias the whole story.

Mr. Tobias stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Freddy is a butt-face, huh?"

Vin shrugged. "Guess that wasn't very nice."

"But you don't want him to die, right?"

Vin shook his head again. Freddy was a butt-face, but Vin didn't want anybody in his school to die, not even Eli Joe. He remembered how scary it had been when Joey got hurt, and the doctors had to cut off her leg because they couldn't fix it.

Mr. Tobias looked at Vin and then at the wall. "Wanna hear a story about when I was a kid?"

Vin was happy to change the subject and nodded yes.

"Well... I was about 12 or so, and my friends and I, we used to like to skate in the parking lot of an office building downtown. One day, the people in the building called the cops on us to get us to go away..."

Vin nodded sagely. Sometimes, grown ups were mean that way.

Mr. Tobias continued, "This place has a big fountain in front of it, so we thought we'd get back at those people and we poured a whole box of laundry soap into it. There were bubbles everywhere... " He winked at Vin. "It was pretty awesome."

Vin smiled uncertainly. He wasn't sure that kind of thing was a good idea, although, the thought of a fountain full of bubbles was kind of funny.

"Anyway, we hung around to see what would happen and you know what? We never saw the people who called the cops on us. All we saw was this poor old dude about a hundred years old who had to come out there and clean up our mess."

"The custodian?" Vin said softly.

"Yup. See, Vin, when you spoil something, or damage it, no matter why you did it, the only person you really hurt is the one who has to make it right again,“ he said gently. “And it really isn’t fair for someone else to have to clean up your mess, is it?”

Vin looked down and shook his head. He wasn't really scared of Mr. Tobias, but he wasn't sure what to think or say now. He was embarrassed. He wanted to just run away and leave Mr. Tobias to clean up the wall.

To fix up his mess.

Suddenly, he knew what he had to do. "Can I help clean it up?" he asked meekly.

Mr. Tobias smiled and nodded. "I think that would be a real good idea, Vin."

Instead of going back to his class, Vin spent the next two hours with a brush and bucket of soapy water. Mr. Tobias put some special stuff on the wall that made the paint melt off. It smelled really bad, and he had to wear special gloves because he told Vin it would burn his hands if he didn't. He gave Vin some gloves too, and he gave him an old tee-shirt to put over his regular clothes so they wouldn’t get dirty. It had a bunch of lightning on it, so he liked it.

Vin washed the wall real good after Mr. Tobias had wiped all the smelly stuff off. Mr. Tobias showed Vin how to work his brush across each row of bricks so that the paint residue that remained blended in.

Getting the paint off the bricks was a lot of hard work - much harder than putting it on. Vin was really glad that Mr. Tobias knew how. Now, he wouldn't have to look at the stupid thing he had done any more, and neither did anyone else. Vin thought Mr. Tobias had to be one of the smartest people he knew. He could fix all kinds of stuff and make it look like new again.

He was also kinda glad Mr. Tobias knew it was him who painted the wall. He knew he'd probably be in trouble, but somehow, that seemed better than being afraid someone was going to find out.

Finally, the wall was clean. Mr. Tobias opened his lunch cooler and pulled out two cans of Coke. Vin never had Coke at school, but Mr. Tobias said a man deserved a "cool one" after a hard day's work. Then, he promised to show him how to paint for real. He said he was going to paint the swing set next week, and that Vin could help, if that was okay with his teachers and Chris.

Vin sipped his Coke. “Are ya gonna tell on me?” he asked. It would be okay if Mr. Tobias did. Painting the wall had been a bad thing to do. Vin just hoped he didn’t get in so much trouble they made him leave.

Mr. Tobias seemed to be thinking it over. “Nope. I ain’t gonna rat you out, little dude. Don’t worry about that.”

Vin was surprised that he was only slightly relieved to hear that. Even though he figured that by now, the teachers knew it was him who had made the mess, he didn’t know why no one had gotten mad at him for it, and he kinda wanted to get that part over with.

“If you like, though,” Mr. Tobias began, and then took a swig of his Coke before he continued, “maybe I’ll go with you when you tell them yourself.”

Vin looked at him, shocked. Mr. Tobias just smiled.

Vin got a funny feeling in his tummy, but, he knew that Mr. Tobias was right. The only way he’d stop feeling bad about what he did was to let everyone know he did it. Vin sighed and nodded.

“Finish your Coke, then we’ll go talk to Mr. Beidler.”

“So that’s why you can’t watch TV for three nights, huh?” JD said.

!!! Heavy sigh. Yeah.

“Ya shoulda just said Eli Joe did it.”

“That ain’t right, JD. Then he woulda got in trouble.”

“Eli Joe is always in trouble.”

“Well, ya can’t say someone else did something you done. Ain’t right.”

Are you boys finished?

Almost, Chris.

Vin, you have chores to do.

??? Okay, Dad.

I'll help you, Vin.

That's very kind, JD, but this is something Vin needs to do himself.

??? Okay, Chris. Sorry, Vin.

Shut the computer off, and let's get busy.

Okay. Bye Computer. Vin?


Next time don't get in trouble, okay?


Everyday Heroes Index

Next: You've Got Mail

Comments: Nancy W.