By LaraMee

Link to online jigsaw puzzle

This has been a real citin week, even if we did have to go back to school.  Mrs. R. asked me to do a speshul job an she said she wants me to do it agin when ever a new kid starts our school. Miz Nettie came to see me an J.D. at skool an we talked bout the doption.  Another thing that hapened was that Chris went to see some pikcures at a moozeeum.  I was worried he would be sad cos they was pikcures that Missus Chris liked, but he wasn't sad. Vin

I got worried this week cause I thought I had to get married but Da says I'm not old enuff to even have a girlfriend.  Then Da was sad cause Carry can't come to Amar  Amerr the USA to much now.  Me and Vin only met her one time but she was real nice.  Scool started this week, to. J.D.

We got lots of stuff to talk bout this week.

I know, JD… heavy sigh.

What do you want to talk bout first?

We could talk bout school first.

That's boring, boring, boring.

But you like school.

But I don't want to talk bout it.

Is that cause of Mickey Moskowitz? ????

Stop laughing Vin!

Mickey and JD sitting in a tree… Kay eye…

Stop singing that dumb song, Vin!

Hey, boys, what's going on in here?

???? Nothing ????

He was being mean, Chris! He was singing the kissing song!

The kissing song?

Yes, see? The computer typed it.

Oh, that kissing song. Vin, I don't think Mickey's someone JD wants to be teased about.

Yeah, how would you like it if I started singing bout your girlfriend? Jelly Bean, Jelly Bean, reddest hair I ever seen!

Stop singing that! It's not nice and it hurts Jelly's feelings! That's what Freddy sings!

Well now you know how the kissing song makes me feel.

???? Okay, boys, that's enough.

But he started it!

And I'm finishing it. Come on, both of you, time for a time out.


Crying isn't going to change my mind, JD.

Wow, Dad, you sure whistled loud! I didn't know you could whistle that loud.

It's a gift. Now stop trying to change the subject and let's go.



"Okay, sleepy heads, time to rise and shine."

Chris Larabee's wake up call was met with a pair of long suffering groans. The blond watched as Vin tried to burrow deeper beneath the tangled covers on the top bunk. Below him, on the bottom bunk, JD pulled his pillow over his head and tried to escape to the far side of the bed. Larabee chuckled as he watched Buck Wilmington snag one tiny, sock covered foot and pull the little brunet back across the mattress. Shaking his head, Chris said, "Are these the same little rug rats who've been sitting in front of the TV every morning before we leave for work all summer long?"

"Sure looks like 'em," Buck agreed with a grin.

Turning back to the tiny, blanket covered lump, Chris ruffled the tousled thatch of dark blond hair. "Come on, Cowboy, rise and shine."

"It's too early," Came the whine of protest from beneath the covers.

"Is it too early for pancakes and sausages?" Buck asked as he once more dragged JD back across the bed.

"Pancakes?" Vin asked with growing excitement in his voice. He tossed back the blankets and peered up at his father with big, blue eyes alight.

"Sausages?" JD rolled over and blinked up at his father with hazel-eyed glee.

"Pancakes, sausage, and chocolate milk… if you get up in time to eat them," Larabee explained.

The two boys were instantly awake and climbing out of bed. Their fathers couldn't help but laugh, hurrying out of the way as the two children scurried from the room and raced toward the bathroom.

Despite the menu, breakfast was a rather somber affair. The boys said very little as they ate the special breakfast the men had prepared. Even JD was quiet, the normally boisterous little boy speaking only when spoken to.

"Aren't you boys excited about seeing your friends again?" Buck asked.

"No," came the in unison reply.

"`What about Mrs. R. and Mr. B.? Aren't you excited about seeing them again?"

Again they received a pair of solemn "no"'s in response. Then JD elaborated. "We saw them at the open house Friday."

"I see." Chris looked across the table, locking eyes with his old friend. Buck just shrugged and shook his head. Deep down, however, both men found the reaction comforting. Both Vin and JD were reacting more and more like normal boys. They weren't there yet, but they were all working on it. And if that included having to coax them to get ready for another year of school, then that was just what they'd do.

Vin stood near the door to the big classroom, watching the other children. The teachers had decided that they would give everyone some time to settle in before trying to do anything too structured. He watched as his friend and 'little brother' bounced around the room, greeting and talking with many of the other children.

The shy boy smiled as he saw one of the teachers approaching. Mrs. R. smiled back, and leaned down to speak to him.

"Vin, could I ask you to do a big favor for me?"

"Yes, ma'am," The little blond nodded vigorously. He liked his teachers; they were always nice to him. Almost as nice to him as his dad, Buck and the rest of the family were.

"Do you see that little girl over there?"

Vin looked to see a slender little girl sitting alone at the puzzle table. She had the reddest hair he'd ever seen. Every few seconds, she would look up from the puzzle she was working on, watching the other children. "Yes, ma'am."

"Her name is Angelica, and she's new. She just moved here from Indiana, so she doesn't know anyone. Could you help me out by showing her around and introducing her to some of the other children? Her parents came to the open house but… well, she wasn't able to come. If you could sort of be her friend I think she'd feel a lot better."

Vin chewed on his bottom lip as he considered the teacher's request. Meeting new people was scary most of the time. He never knew what to say or do. But then he looked at the little girl. She was thin and small like him, and when she looked up he saw the same kind of scared feeling he often had mirrored on her face.

He knew how it felt to be scared in new places, meeting new people, and it wasn't a nice feeling. He couldn't just stand there and let someone else have that feeling if he could help them. Even if it was a girl. Nodding his head slowly, he said softly, "okay."

"Thank you, sweetie," Mrs. R said, "I knew you were the right student to ask."

He smiled shyly and moved away, walking toward the little red-haired girl. She kept glancing up at him and then looking back down at the puzzle table. He tried to keep a smile on his face, even though he was feeling more and more nervous. As he reached the table, he took a deep breath and said, "Hi. My name's Vin Tanner."

"My name's Angelica Beane, but my family calls me Jelly. Jelly Beane." She smiled, showing a big gap where her teeth were missing in the front.

Vin giggled. "Jelly Beane? That's a cool name."

Her grinned widened, green eyes twinkling. "Thanks. Do you wanna help me finish this puzzle? It's got dogs and cats on it."

"I'm doing a great big puzzle at home. My Dad even has a special box to put it in so I can keep workin' on it. It's real big." Then he frowned as he remembered the teacher's instructions. "Mrs. R. said I'm s'posed to innerduce you to th' other kids."

Jelly's smile faltered and she glanced nervously around. In a trembling voice she said, "Oh… well… okay."

Seeing how nervous she was, little Tanner said, "Well I reckon we could make the puzzle first, an' meet th' other kids later."

The little girl's smile returned full force as Vin sat down at the table. They talked a little while they worked, mostly about their favorite toys and movies, their family, and their pets. Vin talked at length about the puzzle he was working on at home, glad that Jelly understood that he enjoyed it for the picture itself. She didn't get all serious and talk like Uncle Josiah about life. Jelly told him about just arriving in Denver that weekend and how she missed Indiana.

"You'll like Denver, Jelly Beane," Vin said. "There's lots of neat things t' do around here."

"Jelly Bean? What kind 'a dumb name's that?"

The two children looked up at the sound of the taunting words. Vin frowned as he quickly recognized Freddy Chaney and Eli Joe Chavez standing over them. Both boys had those mean smiles they wore on their faces when they were going to do something mean.

In a nervous voice, Angelica said, "it's my nickname. Don't make fun of it, please."

"But it's a dumb name," Eli Joe said. "People make fun of dumb names."

Vin looked to see the tears in Jelly's eyes and her quivering chin. He always got a nervous feeling when he argued with the two boys, but he couldn't just sit there and let them make his new friend sad. He stood up, turning to face the bullies. Frowning up at them, he said, "You know the rules. You ain't s'posed t' say mean things to no one. If you don't stop bein' mean t' Angelica, I'm gonna go tell Mr. B. and Miz R. Then yer gonna be in big trouble, boy!"

Freddy and Eli Joe frowned back. Most of the time they could make the other kids do whatever they said. Vin was different, though, he wasn't scared like the others. He also didn't care about being called a tattle-tale. He wouldn't hesitate to tell the teachers, and then they would be in trouble on the first day of school. Finally, the two looked at one another, shrugged, and turned to walk away. Freddy went out of his way to bump the table, but the puzzle pieces just jumped a little.

Sitting back down in his chair, little Tanner started to search for the next piece to add to the puzzle.

Jelly smiled over at the little boy who had just stood up for her. Softly she said, "thank you, Vin."

The slender blond didn't know how to respond, so he simply smiled back, his face flushing with embarrassment.

"Hi, JD!"

The little brunet turned to see one of the little girls in the class coming toward him. her name was Michelle Moskowitz, but everyone called her Miki. Everyone but Freddy and Eli Joe anyway. They called her Mickey Mouse. Miki didn't seem to care, but he thought it was mean.

Miki was his age, but she was a lot bigger than him, as big as Freddy Chaney at least. She had dark hair and freckles on her nose. He smiled as she came up to stand beside him. "Hi, Miki."

"Hi, JD, how are you? Did you have a good summer? I did. I went to Disneyland and then I went to stay with my Gramps and Memaw for two whole months. They live all the way in Massy-chewits."

The little brunet stood there, nodding his head and trying to keep up with what she was saying. He had forgotten how much she talked. When she finally stopped, he said, "That sounds like fun. I - "

"It was, I had a lot of fun. My brother got to go to Disneyland with us, but he didn't get to go to Massy-chewits 'cause he had to go to camp. And my sister couldn't go to either place 'cause she's in college in Florida."

"Oh, that's too bad - "

"Yeah, I think so, but she says that she's too old for Disneyland, and she can go to Disney World anyway. But I don't think Disney World's as much fun as Disneyland. She had to study all summer, too, and didn't even get to come home at all. I miss her a lot, 'cause she's my big sister and she used to take me lots of places like the movies and shopping. I don't know if I'll ever go to the movies any more 'cause Anna's not here any more to take me. Do you like to go to the movies?"

"Yeah, me an' Da - "

"Anna used to take me to the movies almost every weekend if there was something good on. We had lots of fun and sometimes we got pizza after we went to the movies. Sometimes we ate other stuff. Like sometimes we went to a Chinese restaurant and they had all sorts of stuff I hadn't eaten before and I had some squid one time. Did you ever have squid?"

"I don't think - "

"You should try it sometime, it tastes real good. There was other stuff, too. Some of it was real gross, but some of it was good. Sometimes we went to McDonalds, too, but Anna said the food there isn't healthy. I don't care, though, 'cause it tastes real good. Do you like goin' to McDonald's?"

"Yeah, a lot - "

"Did you know that people call it Mickey D's? That's almost like my name, only my name don't have a D in it. Do you wanna go play?"

JD didn't realize that she had asked him a question until he saw that she was standing there, staring at him. Unable to think of anything else to say, the little boy simply asked, "huh?"

Grabbing the little boy by the hand, Miki drug him along after her, heading for the area set aside for dramatic play. Going to the child-size wardrobe, she opened the door and began rummaging through the costumes. The girl chattered non-stop the entire time, oblivious to the silence from the somewhat dumbfounded boy beside her. Suddenly, she squealed and pulled something from its hanger. Holding it out, she giggled, "Look, JD!"

The tiny brunet did look, frowning as he tried to figure out what it was he was looking at. It was a bunch of pieces of the sort of thing little fish nets at the pet store were made of. They were all stuck together and tied to a piece of plastic that was covered with fake flowers and little pieces of glass. He had no idea what it was, or why Miki was so excited.

"It's a bridal veil!" The little girl chirped.

His frown deepened as JD studied the thing in her hands. He had never seen anything like that on a horse's bridle. Not even in the costume contest during the horse show.

"This is what ladies wear when they get married, " Miki explained with dwindling patience.

"Oh. I - "

Shoving the veil onto her head, Miki asked, "Don't I look beauuuuuuuutiful?"

"I guess - "

Once more giggling, Miki said, "See, now me and you can get married!"

Little Dunne's mouth dropped open at the girl's pronouncement. Before he could make a sound, the teachers called the class to order.

With a grumbled "darn it", Miki's smile faded and she quickly put the veil back. Then, with another giggle, she grabbed JD's hand and started pulling him along after her. "Come on,
boyfriend… we can get married later!"

JD continued to gasp and struggle to form a word as he was led away by the girl.

Hi computer, we're back. We had a time out so we could chill. I don't know why they say chill, because it's not cold or anything. We just sit in a chair. How come they say chill, Vin?

???? I don't know.

Is it just one of those things people say?

I guess so.

How come you look angry? Are you angry bout something?

No, not angry, just thinking.

Thinking bout what?

Bout Chris' date with that lady.

Oh. That wasn't a good thing that happened this week.


Do you want to talk bout it?

???? It wasn't a good thing. We thought Chris wasn't ever going to have any more dates cause of us.

Yeah, but Chris straightened us out. He said that just cause he didn't get along with that lady doesn't mean he won't find a nice lady the next time. He said he's going to look for someone with better… better pie or tea next time. Vin?

???? Yeah?

What kind of pie does Chris want?


Well what kind of tea does he want?


Vin? How come you're shaking your head? Vin?


Chris and Buck picked Vin and JD up after school. They wanted to spend some special time with them after the first day back at school. The two boys were waiting at the door when the agents pulled up in the big, black truck. As they stepped out of the cab, the two men were wearing broad smiles. Sprinting out the door and running toward them were their sons, wearing smiles just as broad.

Buck braced himself as JD dashed toward him. Leaning down, he caught the dark-haired whirlwind. Swinging the little boy up into his arms, he said, "Hey, Little Bit."

"Hi, Da!" The tiny brunet squealed. "I missed you a bunch!"

"I missed you, too, kiddo."

Nearby, Chris watched the little blond fly toward him. With a whoop of joy, the normally quiet seven-year-old launched himself into the tall man's waiting arms. Giving Vin a hug, Larabee said, "Hey, Cowboy!"

"Hi, Dad! Guess what!"


"Mrs. R. gave me a new job! I git t' help new kids know 'bout the class an' th' school!"

"Wow, really? That's great!"

"Yeah, an' I got to show Jelly Beane around an' innerduce her t' folks. She jist moved here last week from Ind'ana."

"Indiana, huh? That's a long way away. What did you say her name was?"

"Oh," the little boy blushed, "her real name's Angelica Beane. But her mama and daddy call her Jelly Beane. That's her nickname."

"I see." Chris smiled as he drank in the sight of his uncharacteristically animated child.

The foursome enjoyed a hectic but fun evening. First they picked up a few last minute school supplies forgotten during the yearly ritual of 'back to school' shopping. Afterwards they went to McDonald's for dinner, the two boys running off a little energy in the playground after eating half their happy meals.

Arriving back at the ranch, the boys let the pups out of their pen as they headed for the house to change. The men changed clothes as well, going back out to take care of the horses. A short time later they came out to find the boys and their dogs playing a running game.

Shaking his head, Chris smiled as Vin flew past, squealing in delight. Ringo, Elvis and JD pounded after him, the dogs yipping and barking, while the little brunet giggled and called after him breathlessly.

With a chuckle, Buck said, "well, they should sleep well tonight."

The two adults continued working around the yard and corral, letting the boys play. Sighing as he watched the boys running up and down the ramp to the tree house, Chris said, "I hate to have to end this," as he whistled to get Vin and JD's attention. "Come on guys, it's time to go in."

"Ten more minutes?" Vin asked, a hopeful and mischievous sparkle in those big, blue eyes.

The tall blond inwardly groaned. Struggling against the pull of The Big Eyes, he replied, "Five."

A smile spreading over his little face as he once more dashed off to play, Vin whooped, "Cool!"

Clapping a hand on his friend's shoulder, Buck whispered, "That's what I've always admired about you, pard. You always stick to your guns."

"Oh, shut up, " Larabee growled half-heartedly.

His own smile forming, the big brunet continued. "Yep, you're like a rock. Set those limits and never back down."

Slanting a glare at his friend, Chris said, "You know, Travis was looking for a volunteer to work Saturdays for the next couple of months, down in the archives."

Wilmington just laughed, shaking his head as he walked away.

The evening was drawing to a close. They settled in for the nightly pow-wow, the adults noting that JD seemed a little preoccupied. Buck asked, "Little Bit, is there somethin' botherin' you tonight?"

With a frown the five-year-old said, "Well, there's this girl at school that was bein' a little bossy, that's all."

"Is she trying to get you to do something that would get you in trouble?"

The little boy shrugged, uncertain of how to answer that. He didn't think he would get into trouble, but he certainly didn't want to get married! Heaving a trembling sigh, the confused child said, "I don't think so."

"You sure seem upset about something," Chris added to the conversation.

"I guess… well, maybe… a little bit."

"Was Miki bein' 'nnoyin'?" Vin asked.

JD actually flinched at the mention of the girl's name. Realizing that his brother had seen him with her, he took a deep breath. Then he began to vent his fears and confusion. "She was bein' real bossy and tellin' me what to do and then she took me over to the dress up area an' she was goin' through the clothes and she found this thing that brides wears and she started gigglin' and then she said that me and her's gonna get married! I don't wanna get married! I'm too little to get married!"

The two adults looked at one another, working hard to suppress smiles at the child's dilemma. Finally Buck managed to say, "Married?" His heart went out to his son when he saw how distraught the child was.

Nodding slowly, looking like a condemned man at the gallows, the little boy explained further. "She said we was gonna get married, but then we had to get in our seats 'cause it was time for school to start, so she said we'd get married later. But I don't wanna be married, 'cause I'm just a little boy!"

"So, don't play getting' married, " Vin said matter-of-factly.

JD frowned at his foster brother. "But I don't wanna hurt her feelin's."

"Little Bit," Buck said, rubbing a hand over his face, "You do realize that it's just a game, don't you?"

Dark brows furrowing, the five-year-old said, "but… but… it is?"

With a compassionate sigh, the big man said, "Yeah, it is. You don't have to marry any one. Not for a long… long time."

"Oh," Little Dunne responded with a sigh of relief. Then his little face brightened and he smiled. "Good, 'cause I don't wanna marry nobody. 'Specially not no girls!"

The marriage crisis laid to rest; the boys were put to bed a short time later. Both of them were asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Ringo and Elvis tussled a little then quickly settled into their beds as well. The two fathers retired to the great room, settling in for a little quiet time before they followed their sons into slumber. Buck turned on the TV to catch the news, while Chris opened the newspaper. From time to time a comment would pass between the two men, but for the most part they shared the companionable silence of old friends.

"Hmmm," Larabee mumbled absently.

"Glancing over, Wilmington said, "something interesting?"

"What? Oh, sort of. Yeah. They're having a special program tomorrow night at the Denver Art Museum. They're kicking off an exhibit of Ansel Adams."

"You should go," the mustached man urged. He knew what the photographer's work meant to his friend. Sarah had gotten him interested in Adams right after they met. This was an opportunity Larabee shouldn't miss.

The blond sighed and looked tempted, but then shook his head. "It's a school night."

Smiling, the bigger man said, "I think we could let you stay up past your bedtime for once."

Larabee chuckled. "Point taken. It's just that…" He trailed off, not certain just what it was that was holding him back.

"It's just that you've only been out once or twice without one or both of the boys since they came to live with us. Even super dads' go out sometimes without their kids."

"It's not that," he glared at the look his friend gave him, "it's not. Honestly? I really don't want to go anywhere without them."

His voice softening, Buck replied, "I know. I feel the same way. But think about it. You couldn't drive for over two months; you were either stuck here at home or relying on me or Josiah to take you places."

"Don't remind me," he groaned.

"And even before and after that, you've hardly gone anywhere that isn't kid or work related. Shoot, pard, it's pretty sad when a five-year-old has more of a social life than you do."

Chris laughed. "Okay, you've convinced me." With a wicked gleam he added, "But it's on your head if some woman drags me off and marries me!"

Despite his hesitation in going to the Adams opening and leaving the boys behind, Larabee woke the next morning in a different frame of mind. He announced his plans at breakfast, watching Vin's reaction for signs of distress. He found himself growing melancholy when the big blue eyes regarded him with relative calm.

"Is Buck stayin' with us?"

"Yeah, he'll be here," father reassured son.

"An' you'll be home t'night?"

"You'll probably be in bed before I get home but, yeah, I'll be home tonight."

"Will y' come say goodnight when y' git home?"


The seven-year-old considered things for a moment then nodded. "Okay."

It was that simple now. The agent remembered a time just a few months ago when such a separation would have been a source of trauma. While he was happy to see the trust in the child's face, he couldn't help but be a little sad. Even good changes were sometimes hard to deal with.

Chastising himself silently, Chris said, "Then you're okay with staying home with Buck and JD?"

His mouth full of Cheerios and milk, Vin only nodded in response.

Reaching out to ruffle the thick blond hair, Larabee said, "good, I'm glad."

JD thought it was over, but soon discovered that he was wrong. As he stepped into the big classroom the next morning, he was set upon by the little girl once again.

"Hi, JD!" Miki chirped happily as she hurried across the room toward him.

The little brunet's eyes widened as he watched her coming closer. He backed up as far as he could, but found himself against the wall. "Uh, hi."

"I'm glad you got here before the bell rang! We got time to play now… boyfriend!" She reached out and grabbed his hand, tugging him away from the wall.

JD swallowed hard, following the girl in a daze. One word echoed through his mind over and over again… BOYFRIEND. He found a little relief in seeing that they weren't heading for the dramatic play area. Instead, they were moving toward the library area next to it. Then he balked as he realized that Miki was heading toward one of the beanbag chairs. He wasn't certain what she intended, but he was certain that he wasn't comfortable.

"Um, Miki… I don't wanna - "

"C'mon, boyfriend, let's sit over here," she sing-songed, pulling her hapless victim toward the chair.

Realizing that he had to make a stand, and fast, the boy dug in his heels. Pulling away, he said, "Stop, Miki! I don't wanna sit in the chair with you!"

The little girl said, "Sure you do, that's what boyfriends and girlfriends do!"

"But I don't wanna be a boyfriend an' I don't wanna be married! I'm only little!"

The dark-haired girl's eyes filled with tears and her chin quivered. "But… but…" she stammered heartbrokenly.

JD felt a pang of guilt as she began to sniffle. "I'm… I'm sorry, Miki. I don't wanna hurt your feelings, but you're bein' too bossy."

Miki gave him a final, teary-eyed stare before turning and hurrying away. The distraught little boy could only stand there helplessly. Then his shoulders slumped and his gaze dropped to the floor. It was not a very good day.

Vin smiled as he caught sight of Angelica coming toward the classroom. There was a lady with her, holding her hand as they walked down the hall. Vin's expression turned wistful as he realized that this must be her mama. Even though he loved Chris, Buck and the rest of his new family, he still missed his own mama. He knew he always would, he just hoped that some day it wouldn't make him so sad.

"Hi, Vin!" Jelly Beane called out as she came toward him. Then, turning toward the woman beside her, she said, "Mom, this is Vin. He's my friend."

The lady looked down and smiled. "Hello, Vin. Angelica was telling us all about how nice you were to her yesterday. I wanted to say thank you."

Blushing furiously, the little blond tried to smile as he stared down at his shoes. "Mrs. R. asked me to help out an' show Jelly… um Angelica… 'round."

Bending down to catch the child's eyes, the woman said, "Well, your teacher made the perfect choice. She knew who would be a good friend to Angelica. And I want to thank you, too, for standing up for her. I understand that you got two of the boys to leave her alone when they were teasing her."

Shrugging, the boy said, "ain't nice t' make fun 'a someone's name."

"You're right, it's not. But it takes a very special person to stand up for a friend."