By Joy & GinaD

This was a pretty good weekend. Uncle Josiah took us to the park and 	then to Mr. George's store. He buyed us presents. I won't tell what JD got 	because he'll be mad at me if I do. I got something we all can do together. 	I just wish it didn't make everyone act all funny and talk like Uncle Josiah. Not that Uncle Josiah is bad. I love Uncle Josiah. Just not all the stories that I don't get.

This is me, J.D. and this is my story. We feeded the ducks and played on 	the swings and Uncle Josiah bought me a brand new red ball. We meeted Mr. 	George's brother. He gave us cookies.

Vin, aren't you done, yet?

Just one more piece, JD

You said that hours and hours and hours ago.

I only been doing it fifteen minutes. See? Chris set the timer for me and I get five more minutes.

But you'll come play then?


Okay. Buck! Hey, DA! Can you play with me?


Vin followed JD through the toy aisles. It had been a very fun day with Uncle Josiah.

Their uncle had taken off work early and picked them up for an afternoon of fun. At first it had puzzled Vin that they hadn't gone to church, or they hadn't gone to help at the mission. Those were things they often did with Uncle Josiah. Instead they had gone to a park and fed the ducks and played on the playground. Uncle 'Siah had even played on the swings with them.

Eventually their wanderings had led them to the old corner drugstore and they had found themselves looking at toys. This store wasn't fancy like WalMart or Target, and it certainly wasn't Toys 'R Us, having only a small selection of toys.

"Vin, 'member when we used to play here?" asked JD.

The seven-year-old grinned and nodded, not noticing the concerned look of his Uncle. This store had been one of the best places to come and play when they lived in the warehouse. The man who worked here in the daytime didn't seem to mind two little boys playing cops and robbers in the aisles, with plastic guns still attached to their cardboard displays. He didn't mind the occasional loose ball bouncing around the store. In fact, he almost always had a cookie or two for a couple of hungry boys.

"I wonder if Mr. George still works here?" asked Vin.

"You boys knew George Stefanovich?" Josiah queried.

Vin's eyes widened slightly as he realized they had inadvertently told Uncle Josiah a little about when they lived in the warehouse. He tried not to talk about it because it always seemed to make his Uncles and Buck and Chris sad. They told him it was because they wished they could have helped him and JD sooner, but Vin still didn't like making them feel bad.

Besides, Uncle Josiah already seemed sad today. Oh, he was smiling and laughing with the boys, but Vin could feel it when his uncle just wanted to sit quiet and hold him for a long time. Vin didn't like to be held much, but it was okay when his Uncles or Chris or Buck needed to hold him.

He kind of liked it.


Finally Vin nodded, affirming to Uncle Josiah that they did know Mr. George.

"Does he still work here?" Vin asked.

Josiah shook his head, not wanting to tell them the whole sad story of his neighborhood friend. "He got sick a while back and had to sell the store."

"Oh," said JD. "Then we better be careful."

Josiah raised an eyebrow at the comment, not certain what the boy meant.

"Why don't you boys pick something out?"

Vin shook his head. "Dad said we wasn't supposed to ask you for anything."

Josiah smiled broadly. "Well, now, you didn't ask for anything. I offered."

Vin smiled back. He wasn't about to turn down the opportunity to buy something new, but still Chris' voice of reason rang in his head. He would make sure Uncle Josiah didn't spend very much money.

"Get something little, JD," he whispered.

JD nodded. There wasn't much to pick from anyway. There were model planes, but you couldn't play with them, just put them together and look at them. There weren't any action figures at all.


Vin's soft gasp drew his attention. He trotted over and stood next to Vin, curious to see what had his attention.

"Look!" Vin exclaimed in awe. He pointed to a beautiful picture of a black horse looking off into the distance with clouds in the background. "He looks like Peso." Josiah had to admit, if you were willing to imagine Peso with a shiny coat and a bit more breeding the horse on the box could be him.

JD examined the jigsaw puzzle box. "You can't get it," he stated firmly. "It says ages 11 and up and you ain't 'leven."

Vin's whole countenance seemed to droop. It was obvious that the boy wanted that puzzle.

He reluctantly moved down the aisle to the puzzle boxes that said they were for ages 5 to 7. He frowned, shaking his head.

"What?" asked JD.

"They're dumb."

"They are not!" JD argued.

"Yes, they are," Vin countered. "They're all cartoons. And all the pieces are really big. They aren't real like the horse."

"That horse ain't real. It's just a picture…"

Vin growled half under his breath, until he felt a large hand rest on his shoulder.

"Sorry, JD," he immediately uttered.

"Sorry, Vin," JD added quickly, hoping they hadn't messed up their chance to get a toy by arguing.

Josiah's grin assured him that it was okay and JD quickly selected a large red rubber ball.

Vin painstakingly went through every puzzle on the shelf that was for his age. It seemed to take forever, but he finally chose a cartoonish picture of a farm, his mannerisms projecting clearly that it wasn't what he really wanted.

He turned to hand it to Uncle Josiah and was surprised to see he was holding the black horse puzzle.

"Is that the one you really want," Josiah asked "or would you rather have this one?"

"I want the horse, but…"

"The ages are a guideline, Vin," Josiah said softly. "It means the people who made this puzzle think that anyone under 11 will probably get bored with it, or need a lot of help to complete it. It doesn't mean you can't do it."

"Really?" Hope lit the seven-year-old's face.

Josiah nodded. "It will be a lot of work and will probably take a long time."

"That's okay!" Vin said quickly.

"Two thousand pieces is a lot. We'll have to put it in a special place to keep it out of reach of the pups."

Vin nodded. He'd do whatever was necessary. He loved that picture of the horse.

"You'll probably need help to complete it," Josiah cautioned.

Vin paused, his little independent streak flaring. He could do it himself. He could! He looked at Josiah. His Uncle knew a lot more about things than he did, and the box did say eleven years old. So maybe…

"You could make it a family project," offered Josiah, seeing the youngster's hesitation. "Let everyone do a little bit of it."

Vin smiled, content with his Uncle's solution.

"Then, let's pay for these and head home for dinner," said Josiah. "I hear it's pizza night."

"Yeah!" cheered Vin and JD as they hurried to the cashier.

There was a little old man behind the counter. He wasn't Mr. George but he looked a little like him.

"Do you know Mr. George?" JD asked as the man rang up the sale.

"As a matter of fact, yes," said the salesman kindly. "I'm his brother."

"Could you tell him we's sorry he's sick?" asked JD. "He used to play with me and Vin."

Sadness filled the man's eyes. He swallowed hard and nodded.

"I'll do that, young man," he said as he lifted a plate of cookies from behind the counter. "George always insisted on fresh cookies for the customers."

He held the plate out to the boys offering a cookie.

Vin and JD readily accepted, neither noticing the past tense of the man's statement.

Josiah accepted a cookie as well after putting his change in his pocket.

"Thank you for continuing your brother's tradition, Mr. Stefanovich," said Josiah, knowing that the man had lost his brother. "He'd be proud."

The man's eyes teared up as two content little boys followed Josiah out of the shop.

A jigsaw puzzle?

What was Josiah thinking? True it wasn't anything as extreme as Ezra's purchase of the big cars, but jigsaw puzzles, little boys and pups didn't mix.

Chris rummaged through the storage shed, trying to find what he wanted. There'd be thousands of tiny pieces scattered around the house for him to step on in the dark. Those pieces may just be cardboard, but they could do damage when you stepped on the edge of one and thought it was something else.

Larabee knew from practical experience. Sarah had loved jigsaw puzzles and he'd ended up with a stubbed toe more than once by stepping on a piece, stumbling and ramming his foot into the coffee table.

Invariably after Adam was born, a piece or two would end up missing, either gummed beyond recognition by the toddler or simply lost when accidentally knocked off of the table.

Chris had remedied the situation by making a puzzle tray for Sarah's birthday one year. He had made it from Plexiglas, four foot by six foot, large enough for the big puzzles plus room to spread out the pieces. It had a two-inch lip all the way around to keep pieces from falling off the work surface. It also had a top, which could be attached, keeping all the pieces contained as well as providing a surface to use as a table without having to put the puzzle away.

It was somewhere here in storage.

"Ah ha!" Chris exclaimed as he looked up. He had laid it on the rafters.

"Did you find it?" Buck asked from his side of the shed. They really needed to clean this thing out. If they did, they could move the boys' cars out of the garage and into the shed and he could reclaim his parking space.

"Yeah. Hand me that ladder, will you?"

"Sure." Buck stepped over some clutter and made his way to the ladder. "You know, this place could really use a "Clean Sweep" Buck added, referring to the Learning Channel show that Nathan was hooked on.

"I was thinking the same thing," agreed Chris. "It's just…"

When he didn't finish, Buck looked over to see what had distracted Chris, and saw him running his hands over Adam's crib.

"It's a lot of work," Buck soothed, "And it can wait until we're ready."

He set up the stepladder and watched Chris climb up so he could reach the puzzle tray.

"You know, this really was a great invention, Pard," he said as Chris handed the awkward weight down to him.

"Sarah really liked it," Chris said with a smile. "And it sure saved my toes."

Buck chuckled. "Well, let's see how it works with two boys and two pups."

Chris shook his head as he folded the ladder and leaned it against the wall. "I don't know what Josiah was thinking. TWO THOUSAND pieces! Even if Vin stays with it, it could take months."

Buck laughed and carried the tray out the door.

"Don't tear the picture!" Vin said apprehensively as Chris used his pocketknife to break the seal on the bottom of the puzzle box.

Chris resisted the urge to growl at the boy. Vin had been anxious all evening in anticipation of starting his puzzle. He had been jabbering and asking constantly, "Can we do it now?" since they arrived home. It was uncharacteristic of the normally quiet boy, but this puzzle had obviously caught his fancy.

Insisting that they waited until after dinner and said their "thank yous" and "goodbyes" to Uncle Josiah, AND until they'd had their baths, Chris had pushed the boy to his limit . Vin had claimed if he didn't start now it would be bedtime and it wasn't fair because JD got to play with his ball.

He was right and Chris pushed aside his own reluctance about jigsaw puzzles and set up the tray for him.

Both of the boys were on their knees on the dining room chairs watching every move carefully.

"Okay, rule number one."

Both boys looked at Chris expectantly.

"ALL the puzzle pieces remain in the tray at ALL times. They don't go to your room; they don't go to show to someone. In the tray. Period."

JD and Vin nodded solemnly.

"If they got out of the tray, one might be lost and you could never finish the puzzle."

"Okay," Vin said softly, now understanding the reasoning.

"When you're done working on the puzzle, put the lid on the tray. Every time."

Again the boys nodded.

"That way, all the pieces are locked inside, AND we can use the puzzle tray as a table if we need to."

"Yeah!" exclaimed JD. "Then you can see your puzzle while you eat."

"AND," added Chris, "No eating while working on the puzzle. You don't want to accidentally spill on it."

He looked at the anxious eyes of his son. His son. His soon to be adopted, legal, forever son. He smiled and handed the box to Vin. "Open her up and get started."

Vin beamed and placed the box in the tray. Carefully he lifted the lid off of the box and set the lid face up in the corner of the tray so he could see the picture.

"You do that so you can see the picture and copy it," he informed JD.

Chris and Buck exchanged glances. Neither of them had ever done a puzzle with Vin, yet he'd learned somewhere.

Vin scooped out a handful of puzzle pieces and put them in the tray in front of JD. "Look at those and put all the ones that are the same colors in piles. But look for straight pieces and put them in another pile.

JD frowned. He wasn't exactly sure what Vin meant.

"Is this a straight piece?" he asked holding up a dark colored piece.

"No," said Vin with a hint of frustration. "See, that has a sticky-outie thing and a dippy-innie thing on all the sides."

Buck covered his grin with his hand, enjoying the simple explanation, but not wanting to laugh out loud.

Chris worked hard to keep a straight face, but his eyes were twinkling with humor.

Vin sorted through some pieces. "This is a straight piece," he said holding it in front of JD. "See how it's flat on this side?"

"Yeah, I get it. There ain't no sticky-outie or dippy-innie thing on that side."

"It's an edge piece," said Chris quietly.

"Yeah!" Vin gasped, "That's what they're called. Edge pieces. They's the outside edges of the picture JD. When we find all of them and put them together it's like a picture frame and then we fill in the picture."

"Okay," said JD as he started through his pieces.

"Do you want some pieces?" Vin asked Chris and Buck.

"Sure," said Chris. "We can help for a little while." He looked at his watch. "We've got about thirty minutes until bedtime, Okay?"

Vin nodded and hurriedly scooped some pieces out for Buck and then a second pile for Chris.

"I found one!" JD hollered, waving his edge piece.

"Okay, put it in this pile!" said Vin.

For the next thirty minutes two boys and two men sat around the table sorting puzzle pieces and chatting about what they had done today and things that popped into their minds, freed by the simple act of being together and being quiet.

Surprisingly, even little JD who was always on the go stuck it out for the full thirty minutes, although the last ten, he flitted about from chair to chair "helping" the others.

All too soon, it was time to put it away for the night. Chris helped with the lid as Vin carefully closed the latches and checked one more time around the table. No pieces had escaped.

"Do you think Uncle Ezra and Uncle Nathan and Uncle 'Siah will want to help tomorrow when they come for the barbecue?" asked Vin as they headed down the hall to the bathroom.

"I don't know," said Chris. "You'll have to ask them."

"We got most of the pieces sorted, so now we just have to put it together." Vin grabbed his toothbrush and struggled to squeeze the toothpaste on it.

Chris steadied his hand thinking that they had completed the easiest part of the puzzle, and wondering just how much frustration was ahead for the seven year old. The puzzle wouldn't be easy even for an adult. With the exception of the horse and the monument, there weren't any easy reference points in the puzzle and many of the colors were similar throughout the picture.

Memories of Sarah patiently working for hours on a puzzle made him smile. When he glanced at Vin, the boy had a curious look on his face.

"Just thinking," he said in response to the boy's unspoken question. "Let me see."

Vin gritted his teeth together and gave a Cheshire cat smile. "See?"

Chris laughed and wiped some toothpaste off of Vin's cheek. "They pass."

Ringo yapped at them wanting to be a part of the banter. "Not now, Ringo," said Chris. "It's bed time."

The pup followed them into the room where Buck was giving JD a good night kiss. He turned and roughed up Vin's hair. "Night, Junior."

Vin gave him a hug and whooped as Buck scooped him up and turned him upside down. "Woo-wee, how did these get so dirty?" he said, looking at the bottoms of Vin's feet. "Didn't you just take a bath?"

Vin giggled and nodded.

"You want this guy?" Buck asked Chris. "You might want to put socks on him just to keep the bed clean," he teased.

"Bu-uck!" Vin complained, and then broke into giggles as Buck handed him off to Chris, tickling him in the process.

Both pups were yapping and jumping wanting to be a part of things.

"Bu-uck!" complained Chris, copying Vin's inflection, "You're not helping."

Buck just grinned from ear to ear as Chris playfully 'tossed' Vin onto his bunk.

"Good night, Cowboy," he said as he pulled Vin's blankets up and tucked them in around him.

"Night, Dad. Thanks for doing the puzzle."

Chris gave him a quick kiss, then leaned down and kissed JD as well. "Night boys."


He turned to the pups. "Blanket," he ordered. Both pups immediately moved to their doggy bed in the corner.

Buck flipped off the light and they pulled the door mostly closed, hoping for a good night with no nightmares.

"You all right, Pard?" Buck asked quietly as they walked back down the hall. Life had a funny way of throwing memories at you in unexpected situations, and he knew that between digging through his family's old stuff in the storage shed and sitting and working on the puzzle itself, Chris' memories had been stirred.

"Yeah," said Chris. "It just feels… odd." He picked up a few stray items and straightened the pillows on the couch, much like Sarah would have done before she and Adam were snatched away.

"I miss them, too," said Buck, "But it's nice to see that puzzle tray being put to good use."

Chris nodded. "I just hope it doesn't become a frustration to him."

"I bet you he finishes it," said Buck. "It may take a while. Weeks. Months maybe. But he's just stubborn enough to stick to it and finish it."

"Like Sarah," Chris whispered, wondering if it was strange to compare his late wife's tenacity to his soon to be adopted son's.

"Never took her months," said Buck, giving Chris a smile. "Why, I remember some nights where she stayed up way too late working on that thing just to finish it."

Chris smiled. "And I remember her giving you the elbow to hand over the last piece you had stolen."

Buck grinned.

"And, you will put that piece back in the tray right now."

"Aww," Buck groaned.

"It's too important to Vin this time. If he wants to do another, well, then he might be fair game."

Buck nodded. "I know, Pard. It's just…" Buck paused as he unlatched the top of the puzzle tray and put his piece back. "It's just so much fun to put in the last piece."

"When you haven't done a bit of the work," said Chris.

"Hey! I helped."

"Yeah, right," Chris scoffed. "I'm going to feed the horses."

"I got dish duty and the laundry calls," agreed Buck, recognizing they both had chores to do.

He looked at the puzzle pieces. Nah. Chris was right, Junior wasn't ready for a piece to be missing. Maybe next time. He latched the lid and walked to the kitchen.

The barbecue was a rainout, but all the uncles came anyway. They could always cook indoors and there was always a good game on TV. After a hearty lunch the boys were playing with JD's new ball in the hallway. Chris had conceded and allowed them to play in the hallway since there were no lamps to break, but it was limited to rolling the ball on the floor between them. That became boring quickly, so soon the game on TV was interrupted for Torkus visits.

The tortoise was recovering from being run over by Vin's Jeep, but he was doing well. Still, an appropriate sick-Torkus visit was required of each uncle.

Later a crash in the boys' room, brought the men running. Vin had tripped over Ringo and knocked over their small play table. Neither boy nor dog was injured, and with the table set up again, the men returned to the game on TV.

JD joined them, entertaining himself by bouncing from uncle to uncle. He stayed on a lap for a short time before moving to another uncle and pestering him. They wouldn't have it any other way, each of them enjoying the open love and trust the little boy gave.

Vin had quietly asked Chris if he could work on his puzzle and Chris helped him remove the top of the tray. He wasn't too concerned about Vin being alone in the dining room while they were in watching TV in another room, but he told Vin to call out if he needed anything.

The seven-year-old sat on his knees and began to fit together the edge pieces of the puzzle. It was hard because the pieces were small, and though he was well coordinated for the most part, his fine motor skills were still developing so some things were a bit clumsy.

He had been working for almost fifteen minutes when Uncle Josiah came into the room. "Mind if I join you?"

"Hi, Uncle 'Siah! I started my puzzle. Uh… your puzzle. Uh… the puzzle you buyed me."

"You were right the first time, Vin. It's your puzzle," said Josiah.

"Do you want to help?" Vin asked.

"Sure. I'll give it a try," said Josiah as he sat down next to the boy.

"These are the edges," Vin said, pointing to a pile. "I'm trying to make the outside first."

"Good strategy," commented Josiah. "It's good to have a plan."

The two were quiet for a few moments as they worked. Eventually Josiah spoke.

"You know, Vin, life is like a puzzle."

"You mean it's got lots of pieces and they're all mixed up?"

Josiah looked at him thoughtfully. "That's one way to look at it. But I was thinking more along the lines of how everything fits together. When you look at all these pieces separately, they don't make sense, but when you fit them together, they make a beautiful picture."

Vin nodded absently and Josiah wasn't sure if the boy understood his meaning.

"You've worked on a puzzle before, haven't you?" Josiah asked.

Vin nodded. "Mr. George showed me how."

Vin smiled as two pieces fit together. "Mr. George liked puzzles a lot. That's how come he had so many in his store. And he liked model airplanes, too."

"Sounds like he was a good friend."

Vin nodded. "He always had cookies for me and JD and sometimes he gave us peanut butter sandwiches and sometimes fruit." Vin paused as he looked up and made a stern face. Then in his best Mr. George imitation he said, "You're growin' boys and growin' boys need to eat."

Vin's eyes widened as he realized what he just did might be disapproved, but Josiah just smiled. "That was a pretty good imitation of George."

"Did you know him, too?"

Josiah nodded as they worked on the puzzle. "He helped some at the mission until he got too sick."

Vin stopped at the words "too sick." He was afraid of what they really meant. His Mama had gotten "too sick" and she had gone away forever. It made him sad to think that Mr. George might have gone away, too. He didn't want to know for sure that he had gone away, so he didn't ask Uncle Josiah. He picked up another puzzle piece hoping they could talk about something else.

Josiah could almost see the gears turning as Vin thought and sensed the boy probably knew that George had died, but didn't want to talk about it.

"You know, life's puzzle pieces aren't always happy or pleasant. Some of them are very hard or difficult, but when you fit them all together then you can see the big picture."

"I need a drink of water. 'Scuse me," said Vin.

Josiah smiled and shook his head. The seven year old wasn't ready for philosophizing.

When Vin returned, Buck and JD joined them. "Mind if we help for a bit?" asked Buck.

Vin shook his head.

"I'm going to take a break for a while," said Josiah. "I need to stretch."

"Okay," said Vin. "You can start on these, JD."

Buck and the boys worked on the puzzle for only a few minutes before JD threw a piece back into the pile in disgust.

"These don't fit. I keep trying and trying, but they don't work."

"Well, Little Bit, sometimes it takes time," said Buck. "You know, life is like a puzzle…"

Vin looked up sharply. That was what Uncle Josiah said, too.

"Sometimes the things you try don't fit. So you have to keep on trying until you find the right pieces and then put them in the right places."

Buck fit two pieces together. "You can't force them into place, or pound them in."

"I'm going to watch the game," said JD scooting off of the chair and trotting down the hall.

"Are me and JD puzzle pieces, Buck?" asked Vin sincerely.

Buck nodded, happy that Vin was seeing he meant that they fit together as a family.

"So, if we don't fit are you gonna put us back and try other pieces?"

"Whoa!" said Buck in surprise. Where had that twist come from?

"No!" He took Vin's hand in his to catch his full attention. "Not at all, Vin. I didn't mean that. I meant that we were always looking around for the right pieces and then we found you and JD and you fit. You belong together with us."

"Oh," said Vin. This was so confusing. He always thought a puzzle was a bunch of mixed up pieces that you had to sort out and put together. Uncle 'Siah said the pieces were a mess and you couldn't see the picture till you were done. Buck said they were the pieces and they were done.

"Buck, can you come play with me?" JD's voice floated down the hallway.

"In a minute, Little Bit." He turned his attention to Vin. "You understand we would never ever give you back or put you back. We want you. We love you."

"I love you too, Buck," said Vin, a bit relieved when Buck went to answer JD's call.

"It's just a puzzle," he mumbled. "I like the horse."

Vin was able to work quietly for a bit, before Nathan sought him out.

"Hey Vin, Josiah was telling me about your puzzle. Can I help for a while?"

Vin nodded smiling up at him. "I'm working on the edges." He indicated the appropriate pile.

Nathan sat down, pulling a couple of pieces together. "You know this makes me think about how life is like a puzzle."

Vin didn't say anything this time, only giving Nathan, an odd look. He couldn't know that Buck had sent Nathan in to be sure Vin was okay.

Thinking that Vin might still be upset by what Buck had said Nathan continued, "See? Look at this piece." He held up a random non-edged one. "Right now it doesn't fit anywhere. But eventually as you build the puzzle up you'll find the exact place it goes."

From the expectant way Nathan was regarding him Vin figured he'd better say something. "I guess that's true." Vin decided he'd said the right thing because the slightly worried glint in Nathan's eyes disappeared and he gifted Vin with one of his best smiles.

"Of course it's true. Life's the same way. Sometimes you find something that you can't see fitting in anywhere. Then later on you find out it was the most important part there was. You and JD are important pieces. You know that right?"

"Sure, Uncle Nathan," Vin reassured even though he was beginning to think everyone was acting weird today.

He just liked the horse, and the picture looked like a great place to go.

Having accomplished his agenda, Nathan didn't stay too much longer. He'd only been gone a little while when Ezra wandered in. "Hello Vin, I was wondering what had your attention this afternoon." Ezra sat down peering into the puzzle tray. "What an ingenious contraption. How's it going?"

"Okay, I guess." Vin waved a hand at the box, "You can help if you want too."

"I'd be honored." Instead of taking some of the edge pieces Ezra pulled a pile of the sky pieces over. He started trying them together. Vin thought about saying something but decided not to bother.

"I spent one summer with a Great Aunt who loved puzzles," Ezra said smiling as he found two that matched. "She used to say, 'Ezra, life is like a puzzle'."

Vin rolled his eyes, though he was careful not to let Ezra see. He then waited for whatever example Ezra intended to use.

Unaware of the earlier discussions Ezra continued, "She was a different sort of woman. I actually found my time with her quite palatable. Once involved in one of these," he indicated the puzzle, "she paid me little attention. At thirteen I found it very unfettering."

Vin wasn't sure what Ezra meant but he was sort of used to that. He just let the words wash over him, enjoying the southern cadence.

They worked in silence for a time. Ezra had managed to put together eleven of the sky pieces before he spoke again. "This is going to be a fine picture once it's done. What are your plans for it when it's complete?"

Vin shrugged, he hadn't thought about it. When Mr. George had finished a puzzle it had always gone back in the box.

"Did you know they make a special glue you can used on finished puzzles so that they will stick together forever?" Ezra asked.

"Really?" Vin's eyes lit up. He liked the thought of having the picture forever. "Could I do that with this one?"

"If you'd like." Ezra stood up to go back in the living room. "When you've finished it, let me know and I'll help you with that part."

"Thanks Uncle Ezra." Vin grinned delightedly.

"You've been at it all afternoon, Vin. Aren't you tired?" asked Chris as he joined his son at the puzzle table.

Vin shrugged. He really hadn't gotten much accomplished on the puzzle because all of his helpers wanted to talk.

"You're doing pretty good with the edges," Chris noted as he picked up a piece and fit it in place.

Vin scowled. He'd been looking for that piece for quite a while and Chris had just walked in and plopped it in place. Vin pulled some of the important pieces closer to him so that he could put them in place before Chris.

"You know, life is like a puzzle…"

"Why does everybody say that?" Vin asked in exasperation. "First Uncle 'Siah said it, then Buck. Then Uncle Nathan and Uncle Ezra. And now you!"

"Maybe they say it because it's true," Chris answered calmly.

"I didn't feel like a puzzle till everybody said I was," said Vin.

The seven-year-old reached over and ran his fingers across the lid of the puzzle box, again admiring the beautiful horse and the far off valley in the background. "He looks happy. Wish I could go there."

Chris hesitated, wondering if there was some reason behind the wish, or if Vin simply wanted to see the place.

"Maybe we can someday. That looks like mountains to me."

"You know where it is?" Vin exclaimed.

"It looks sort of like the Sierra Nevadas," Chris explained.

"Is that far away?"

Chris smiled. Sometimes he forgot that children had an entirely different sense of time and distances. "It's not too far. It's several hours from here, but it would make a nice vacation trip.

"Do you think we'll see him?" Vin asked running his fingers over the horse.

"He sure is a beauty, isn't he?"

Vin nodded appreciatively.

"Well, I think he probably runs free on the mountains and stays far away from people," said Chris.

"Yeah," Vin agreed turning back to his puzzle pieces. "Yes!" he exclaimed, snapping another piece into place adjoining two of the edges.

Chris waited, continuing to work on the puzzle. He knew that the distraction of piecing it together gave them freedom to talk, maybe with a little less self-consciousness.

"Sometimes, I feel like a bunch of puzzle pieces all mixed up inside," confided Vin.

Chris nodded. "So do I."



"What do you do when it's all mixed up?" asked Vin.

"I do exactly what you do."

Vin looked up at him.

"I start with the pieces I know, like the edge pieces, and I put them together." He held up the last edge piece and handed it to Vin.

The boy happily snapped it into place.

"And like you, now that we have all the edge pieces in place, we can start figuring out where the rest of the pieces fit."

"Is adopting us one of the edge pieces?" asked Vin.

Chris shook his head. "It's part of the puzzle, but the edge is already done. It's you and me and JD and Buck, and Ezra and Josiah and Nathan and Rain. It's the fact that we are family no matter what, even if you aren't adopted."

"Does it ever get done?" asked Vin.

"Are you tired of working on it?" countered Chris.

"I think maybe I worked enough on it today," said the seven-year-old with a yawn.

"Okay, let's put the top on."

Chris lifted the Plexiglas into place and Vin snapped the latches.



"Do puzzles always make people talk like Uncle 'Siah?"

Chris snorted. "I guess they can."

"Well that's one part of making a puzzle that I didn't know about," said Vin. "But it's okay because it's more fun if everyone helps you with it."

Chris nodded. "It's a lot better than working alone."

"Thanks, Dad," said Vin giving a rare self-initiated hug. "I like being part of your puzzle."

Later that night Buck found Chris in the dining room studying the partially started puzzle.

"Hey." Buck hesitated, not sure how Chris was.

"I'm okay, Buck," Chris turned enough to smile at Buck. "Just thinking that it feels right somehow. Seeing this here I mean."

"I'll be sure to remind you of that in a couple of months when we've had to move it 40 times and it's been dropped at least once."

Chris' laughter rang out. "I just bet you will."

The End

Next up - Show Ribbons by Jeanne.

Index - Puzzling Out Life's Little Lessons

Comments: Joy & GinaD

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