After supper that evening Chris said "Guys we need to have a special Pow Wow."
Vin looked up at his dad. He didn't think they were in trouble but you could never tell with grown ups. JD sat beside Buck and Chris came over to set by Vin. Buck looked at Chris, they had decided the lessons would be a good thing. Not only would the boys learn riding but it would give them confidence not to mention something to do during the long summer days.
"Well, it seems you boys have been invited to join in on some riding classes this summer." Buck said starting the discussion.
"Classes? You mean school?" Both boys said in dismay.
"No, not school, riding lessons, horse back riding lessons, so you both can learn the proper way to ride. The Torres kids will be going, and some other kids you know. It's going to be every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the summer and perhaps a horse show, before 'real' school starts." Buck assured them.
Vin frowned, "We get to take Peso and Milagro with us?"
"Yes, Ms Torres said she'd come by and get you and the horses with her horse trailer, since Buck and I'll be at work during the times of the lessons." Chris answered.
"I get to ride, all by myself and everything?" JD asked
"Yep, but you have to do what Ms Bobbie and Ms Marilyn tell you." Buck answered his son.
JD bounced up and down, "I will I promise Da, I'll be good."
"I know you will, Little Bit." Buck said with a smile.
Chris looked at each boy, "Do you want to do this? It will be a lot of hard work, but I think it'll be fun too. Do you need some time to think it over?"
"No we don't need any time. We want to do it. It'll be great." Vin said looking at JD who nodded in agreement.
Buck opened one eye. It was still dark. The numbers glowed on his clock. 4:15. He closed his eyes and felt the bed shake again.
"Da? It's time to get up. We have to go to our horse lessons," A small voice came out of the dark.
Buck peeled his eye open again and looked at the small boy watching him. "JD, it's still dark." He lifted the covers, "Come on climb in, it's too early to get up."
"But Da, I don't want to be late," JD begged.
"You won't be late, I promise. But we can't do anything until it's day light."
"Oh," came the disappointed answer as the small boy climbed into bed beside his dad.
"Now, close your eyes and be real still. It'll be day before you know it."
"Okay Da, but I won't go to sleep."
"Well, just be still then, okay?" Buck put an arm around the little boy and snuggled him close. Before he was asleep he could hear soft baby snores in his ear. Smiling, he, too, drifted off.
The next thing the big man knew was the boy whispering in his ear, "Da, it's day light."
Buck sighed. "So it is. Okay we can get up." He looked at the clock, 6:02. 'Good enough,' He thought.
JD jumped straight up throwing the covers off. "Yea! I gotta get dressed."
"You do that Little Bit - quietly. I'm going to start breakfast." Before Buck's feet touched the floor he heard JD's small feet go pat, pat, pat, as the five year old ran down the hall.
Not even slowing down JD ran into the room he shared with Vin. "VIIIINNNNN, it's time to get UUUPPPPPP!" He called in a loud stage whisper.
Sitting on the edge of his bunk, Vin frowned. "I know, JD. You don't have to be so loud."
"Well, get dressed. We gotta be ready when Ms Torres gets here. We gotta feed the horses, have breakfast and load all our stuff."
"JD, Ms Torres isn't even going to be here 'til 8:30. That's a long time from now," Vin said grumpily as he yawned again.
"Aren't you 'cited, Vin?" The smaller boy asked standing for once at a full stop, staring at his big brother.
"Course I'm 'cited, but I'm just 'saving my energy' like Dad always says. 'Cause it's gonna be a long day."
"Okay," JD shrugged. But the little whirlwind didn't slow down much as he began to plow through the dresser drawers for pants, shirts, and digging on the bottom of the closet for boots.
Vin sighing jumped down from his bed. He started putting on his clothes, taking twice as long as JD. As he pulled on his boots he looked up and saw that Chris was standing in the door way.
"Ready for some breakfast, Cowboy?" Larabee asked with a smile.
"Yeah, but," Vin rubbed his stomach. "My stomach feels funny."
"It's just first day nerves I imagine. You'll be fine, but you do need to eat. It's going to be a long morning and you'll be working hard."
"I know. I'll try." Turning to the smaller boy young Tanner said, "Come on, JD."
The two little boys walked past Chris and tried not to run to the kitchen. Buck looked up from his skillet of scrambled eggs. "Just in time, I was afraid I'd have to feed this to Ringo and Elvis." At the sound of their names the pups raised their heads hopefully.
"NO Buck, you wouldn't do that," JD said.
"I don't know, Little Bit. Eggs are good for dogs, makes their coats shiny," Buck teased.
"Daaaa," the boy wailed in dismay.
"Come on, JD. Eat your breakfast, while its still warm," Buck chuckled as he filled the plates.
After several warnings to 'slow down and chew,' breakfast was finally over and the dirty dishes put in the sink. Then the four went out to feed and groom the horses. Chris and Buck got the tack ready and set out for Beth. Then much to the boy's disappointment they returned to the house to prepare for work. The boys followed them inside, JD asking a million questions as he went with Buck into the big man's room.
Following his father to the bedroom, Vin sat down on the bed and watched Chris get dressed for work. "I want you to stay and go with us today," he said.
"I know, Vin. I'd like that too, but I have to go to work. You know that. We're going in late, as it is to make sure you guys get off without problems. I'd come for the whole day if I could, and so would Buck. But we can't be there all the time. I thought you understood this," Larabee said looking at his son.
Vin picked at the bedspread. "I know you have to work. I just wish you could come. It's...it's " he sighed, not knowing how to explain his feelings.
Chris sat down beside the small boy. "It's just that this is new and you've never done this before and it wouldn't be quite so scary if I was there."
Vin ducked his head, "Yeah. How'd you know?"
Putting his arm around the boy, Chris said, "I feel that way too when I have to do something new. Even Buck feels scared at new situations sometimes. But you just have to go and try anyway. You'll do well, I know you will."
"Really?" The boy looked up at his dad.
"Yep. You always try your best," Chris said giving Vin a big hug.
The boys sat on the porch watching as Beth Torres came bouncing down the dirt road to the house. She was driving the oldest beat up pickup they'd ever seen and it was pulling an even older looking two-horse trailer. She drove past the house and stopped at the barn.
Vin called into the house. "Dad, Ms Torres is here."
Gloria followed the boys and the two men to the barn.
"Hi, Ms Torres." JD shouted from Buck's side.
"Hi, boys. Are you ready to go?" Beth asked as she opened the trailer and locked the gate back.
"Yes," they both said.
"Chris, Buck, how ya doing this morning?" Ms Torres asked the men.
"Fine Beth, you sure you want to haul our bunch back and forth all summer?" Chris asked.
"Sure, I don't mind picking up your boys at all. I just made sure my three got to the arena okay and I dropped the girls at a friend's house. It's on the way here anyway. They'd be bored sitting in the truck all morning so I traded time with a friend. The classes will be good for all of the boys," She answered.
"Excuse me. Beth, this is Gloria Potter, she watches the boys for us," Buck said putting an arm around Gloria's shoulders.
Beth looked at Gloria seeing her worried expression. "Don't worry. The truck is old but we had it fitted with seat belts for the kids. She don't look like much, but Ken is a whale of a mechanic and he keeps her purring. Runs better then the new ones I bet. "
Gloria smiled at that and said, "I'm happy to meet you. I take care of the little boys while the big boys are at work."
Beth laughed. "Ain't it the truth? That's my job too. Except I only get room and board." And then she quoted an old saying "The difference between men and boys is the size of their boots and the cost of their toys. Well, except for cowboys. Horses cost the same no matter what size the rider is."
Gloria laughed and nodded. "You've got that right."
The two 'big' boys laughed, too, but the little ones looked puzzled. The boys shrugged thinking it must be a grown up thing.
The red head looked at the boys. "Now where are those two horses I came to get?"
Vin took her hand, "I'll show you. We're taking Peso; he's mine, and Milagro. He's JD's. Chris says that Milagro is a little skittish about loading, so be careful. We have the saddles and stuff ready to go, too."
Chris interrupted, "Buck and I thought we'd let you guys handle it to see if they load okay. Then when we're not here we know everything will go well."
"That sounds like a good idea," Beth said to the men. She looked in the corral at the small brown horse and the larger black. Then turning asked Vin, "How 'bout we load Peso first, then maybe Milagro won't be afraid?"
"That sounds okay I guess." Vin said not certain how all this was going to be done.
Beth and Vin opened the gate and went into the corral. "You stay there, JD while we get Peso," she called, smiling as Gloria reached out a restraining hand to hold back the eager younger boy.
Walking slowly holding out sugar cube, Vin came up to Peso. The horse ducked his head to lip the cube out of the boy's hand and Vin snapped the lead on his halter. He turned and smiled at Beth as he led the compliant horse out to the trailer.
Beth had put green alfalfa and some sweet grain in the trough at the front of the trailer to encourage the horses to load. She took the lead from Vin and led Peso to the opening and as the horse climbed in she threw the lead rope over his shoulder. Once he was inside and munching on the treat she fastened the padded chain behind him and walked around to secure the lead to the side of the trailer.
Vin then went into the corral with another sugar lump and quickly caught the smaller brown horse. He led Milagro out to the trailer. The small horse snorted and tossed his head, balking at getting near the trailer.
"It's okay, boy," Vin said in a soft voice. "See, Peso is already inside. We're going to have some fun. Come on." The little blond slowly led the skittish horse to the opening.
Milagro looked around and into the uncovered trailer his ears flicking quickly back and forward. Peso turned his head looking at his stable mate. He continued to munch loudly his mouthful of grain. The bay's nostrils flared as he caught the smell of the sweet and with a toss of his head climbed in beside Peso.
Beth quickly latched the chain and closed the door. "Well, that went easy. Let's throw your tack in the back and get going." Glancing at Gloria as she heaved the saddles she said, "We should be back around 1:30. I've got snacks and water for all our kids. Mine are close enough to ride home so there won't be a long wait."
"Thanks Beth, I'll be looking for you," Gloria said waving to the boys and heading back to the house.
The boys climbed into the pickup without a backward glance not noticing that their respective dad's were waving. Beth smiled sympathetically and waved back at the men as she drove off. It wasn't easy being ignored by your kids, no matter how excited they were.
Buck sighed. Letting them go off to have fun without him was harder then he'd thought it would be. "Come on stud. They'll be fine," he said more for himself then his friend. "It's tough letting them go without us, huh?" the big man added.
The blond glanced at the other man. "Yeah, harder then I thought it would be. Damn Buck, I want to be there with them."
"Me, too, pal, me too. But we're the grownups and we have to go to work."
"Yeah, I know," Larabee said shaking his head sadly. "Sometimes it's hell being the grownup."
With a snort from Buck the two men dejectedly walked back to the house to finish getting ready for their day.
The drive didn't take more then 15 minutes once they got on the highway. Finally after turning onto a dirt road, Beth pulled to a stop beside another truck and trailer. The arena consisted of a tall fenced area with a large gate at one end. There were shuts and small pen at both ends of the oval area for holding calves and goats for roping practice. Most of the people who used the arena spent their time on horseback or in their trucks so there were no bleachers. Today there were horses and trucks and trailers and people everywhere. Vin's eyes got bigger as he saw what he was sure were hundreds of people and horses. He shrank back into the seat. There were so many people and he hated crowds. He just couldn't do this. There wasn't supposed to be this many people here.
Beth stopped the truck and jumped out going to the back of the trailer to get the horses. When she walked around to latch the truck she saw Michael beside the passenger door. "Hey, son."
"Hi, Mom, Michael said, bending down to see inside the truck cab.
"Vin?" JD said pushing at the older boy. "Hurry up, get out."
Vin pushed JD back. Then looked out when he heard Michael.
"Come on, Vin," the waiting boy said impatiently. "We can ride around some before we start."
Sighing, Vin opened the pickup door and jumped out with JD following. From the back of the horse trailer Beth called, "JD, you and Vin stay close to the truck until I get the horses out."
"Yes, ma'am," both boys said automatically as they leaned against the truck.
Beth backed Milagro out of the trailer and brought him around to the side of the trailer near the front, tying him to the ring in the front of the trailer. Then she brought Peso around. She quickly saddled the two horses and gave each boy a boost up.
"You guys be careful and just walk your horses around. JD, you and Vin stay with Michael while your looking for Richard and Matthew. They're around here somewhere checking things out."
"We will," the boys said as they turned their horses toward the other kids. Vin was surprised at how different things looked from the back of his horse. There didn't seem to be as many people around and he could see everything from Peso's back.
"Okay Kids, everyone in the arena," Bobbie called from the gate. "All of you go line up along the far side. Keep your horses at least a length apart. That means to pretend there is a horse between you and the next horse. Your horses need to get used to each other too."
The fifteen kids guided their horses inside and lined up in a more or less straight line. Bobbie stood in front of them. "I want you to tell me one at a time your names, how old you are and your horse's name. We'll start at this end. Go on " she said pointing to the girl on her left.
Each rider took their time saying their name, age, and the name of their horse. When they finished Bobbie and Marilyn talked a bit with each other while the kids waited. Then Marilyn said, "Okay, I'm taking the peewee's. Richard, JD, Kayla, Jared, Lucas, Pablo, and Lisa, walk your horses down the far end of the arena and line up. The rest of you are in the junior class and will stay with Bobbie."
Vin watched as JD and the other younger kids went to the other side of the big arena. Then his attention was drawn back to Bobbie as she began to give instructions.
"I want you to make a big circle around me at a walk. Carol you lead off. Stay one horse length between horses and try to listen to what I say. Okay now, remember, heels down. The stirrup should be under the balls of your feet. Hold your reins in your left hand just in front of the saddle horn . Put your right hand on your thigh. I know this feels strange to some of you but it just the way it's done That's good, relax, this is fun... No don't look at me, look straight ahead. You look were your horse is looking Good . Now trot... Hold on with you knees... Alan we aren't riding English, no posting... Western style is just to ride the trot out... Good."
The other circle was moving much the same way with Marilyn calling out instructions and encouragement to the younger ones.
"Okay, you are doing good," Marilyn said. "Now stop. Pablo, and turn your horse to face me, JD you get in line beside Pablo and then Kayla next to JD. That's right. All of you line up just like Pablo, JD and Kayla. Keep your horses still while I walk around to talk to each of you." Marilyn walked up the line stopping and asking questions of each child trying to determine just how much each knew about horses and their horse in particular.
"Hey, JD isn't it?" Marilyn said stopping beside Milagro.
"Yeah, I mean yes ma'am. That's me," the boy answered.
"What's your horse's name?" She asked.
"Milagro, that means miracle 'cause he's a miracle. We rescued him and he got all well," JD said relating the horse's history.
"You did? JD do you know why you use a hackamore bit?" Marilyn asked.
"Uh-huh, 'cause Da says his mouth got all tore up by mean people and a real bit won't work with him. So we got this one. It don't hurt his mouth."
"I see. Well, he's a fine horse for you." Marilyn said patting the neck of the horse.
"He's the best horse in the world, and I love him," JD said proudly.
"I know you do JD. Now sit still while I talk to the others." With a last pat Marilyn went to the next child and horse.
JD nodded and reached down to pet Milagro on the neck.
The morning passed fast with several breaks for water and snacks, and before the kids realized it, it was time to go home.
Two very tired but happy little boys tried to stay awake as Beth drove them home. She pulled up by the corral and hopped out. "Okay boys time to unload." She helped the boys put their tired horses in the pasture and set the saddles in the barn. Then she gave each a hug, "See you day after tomorrow. You guys did real well today and I hope you had fun."
"Yes ma'am, we did," they both answered.
"Okay, scoot to the house and get some lunch," Beth said smiling as the boys turned and ran to the house shouting, "Ms Potter, we're home."
Elvis and Ringo ran to meet them as they opened the back door. Gloria started setting lunch out. "I'm glad to see you. Now go wash up and you can tell me all about everything while you eat lunch."
The boys devoured their sandwiches and milk, even eating every bit of the fruit cocktail that they had for dessert. As they ate they told Gloria all about their morning finishing sentences for each other as they went.
"It was so much fun, Ms Potter. I can't wait until next time," JD finished with a big yawn.
"That's good, JD. I'm so glad you had a good time. Now, if you and Vin are finished why don't you go pick a video to watch while it's so hot outside."
" 'Kay." JD said as he headed to the living room. "Come on Elvis," he called to the patient pup. The boys studied the shelf of videos, finally picking "Spirit" to watch. JD called loudly, "We found one Ms Potter." Each boy grabbing a big pillow and laying down on the floor with his pup waited for Gloria to start the DVD.
"Okay, JD. I'm coming." Gloria went over and turned on the TV and started the DVD. Then she left to clean the kitchen. She checked back on them in a little while and all four were sound asleep curled up together.
Rain answered the ringing phone. "Hello."
"Vin, is that you?"
"Uh-huh. Aunt Rain, I, that is me and JD need a favor."
"Well, sure sweetie, if I can. What is it?"
We're going to be in a horse show an' one of the classes is a costume class an I, we need help getting our costume." Vin let out all in one breath.
Rain smiled. "I'd be happy to help. When is this horse show?"
"Saturday after next, the 28th. We just found out what all the classes were gonna be."
"Well, that gives us almost two weeks. How bout I come out this weekend and we can discuss it and see what we can come up with. Is that okay?"
"That's great Aunt Rain, and thanks."
The two little boys and two pups waited impatiently on the porch. Their stomachs growled but they were determined to wait. Their fathers said they'd be home for lunch. So even though it was almost two they waited. Vin kept watching the road while JD threw a Frisbee for the pups.
Finally, Vin could see the dust coming up the road. He stood. "Ringo come. JD get Elvis." With the pup at his side and grabbing Ringo's collar holding him until the Ram came to a stop.
JD ran to Buck as he got out and turned to get the packages from the back of the truck. "Da, what took you so long? Ms. Potter has had lunch ready forever. We have lots to do."
Buck smiled down at his son. "Breathe, Little Bit. We aren't late. What is for lunch?"
"Ms. Potter made chicken salad. I got to help cut up the grapes. It's good too, I taste tested it. I'm starved. Let's eat now. What's in the bags?"
"The shampoo and stuff for the horses," Buck said.
JD frowned. "Horses have shampoo?"
"Sure they do," Buck answered as they went inside.
Vin waited while Buck and JD went into the house. He watched as Chris opened the back door of the Ram, and pulled out his brief case. The blond silently handed the case to the boy and they also headed for the house.
"I'm glad you came home early," Vin said quietly.
"I'm glad, too, Cowboy. It's going to be lots of hard work to get everything done, but I think the four of us will get it done."
Vin looked up at his father. "I know. We'll be together and it'll be fun, too."
Chris smiled and ruffed Vin's hair as they went inside.
The four ate lunch and then Chris and Buck insisted everyone change into work clothes that it didn't matter how dirty or wet they got. Then they headed for the barn.
Buck placed the small saddles on low racks outside in the shade. He set a bucket of water between the saddles and handed each boy a rag. "Okay, this is the way we clean the saddles. First you get your rag damp. Here, Little Bit." Buck took JD's rag and squeezed it almost dry.
"Now, you rub lightly over the saddle soap and then you pick a spot on the saddle, and start rubbing in small circles."
With each instruction he showed the eager boys how to clean their saddles. Sitting down he began helping JD by cleaning the other side of his saddle. Buck kept an eye on just how much of the paste the boys used. Knowing that too much would leave a thick film on the leather that would be hard to clean off.
While Buck was setting up the saddle cleaning Chris was getting the horses ready for their cleaning session. They'd decided to go with what Chris had used when he was a boy, Joy soap. He squirted some in a large bucket and added warm water. Once he had the bucket full he took a large sponge and began washing Peso. After he'd gone over the horse from head to hoof, with the sponge he took the water hose and rinsed Peso off, making sure he got all the soap.
Larabee glanced over at Vin. The little boy was diligently rubbing away at his saddle but he kept glancing at the horse. "Vin? You want to come help me with Peso?" Chris called out.
Vin's eyes lit up. "Yeah," he said and carefully laying the rag down he went over to stand by Chris.
The blond handed the boy a curry comb. "Here you go. We need to comb the tangles out Peso's tail. Now don't worry, you can't hurt him. Horses don't have nerves in their tails, so if you just do a little at a time he won't mind. Once we have it all smooth, I'll show you how to braid it."
"Braid it? Peso's not a girl," Vin protested.
Laughing, his dad said, "No but if we braid it this afternoon, tomorrow before the show when we unbraid it it'll be all clean and wavy. He'll look really good." Looking at the child's frown he added, "Trust me?"
"Alright," Vin said still doubting just a little. He took a small section of tail hair and started working the tangles out. Peso had a long thick tail and it took a long time to get it all smooth. While Vin worked on the tail Chris combed the mane and taking a small set of hand clippers he trimmed the hair around Peso's fetlocks removing the feathers.
When Vin was finished combing the tail, Chris began at the root of the tail and braided a French braid. When he got to the end he tied it with a strip of cloth. Then he and Vin stood back admiring how beautiful Peso looked. His black coat shone and he held his head up proudly. "Okay, Cowboy. Lets put him in the pasture and we'll let Buck and JD work on Milagro while we finish your saddle," the blond said. Sitting down Chris took a dry rag and began buffing the side of the saddle Vin had already soaped.
They worked hard on the saddle, until JD's cry caught their attention. Looking up the saw that Buck was leading the now shampooed and braided Milagro into the pasture. JD was watching between the bars of the fence. It was then the piercing yell caught every ones attention.
"NO PESO! Bad boy! Bad horse!" JD yelled at the top of his lungs.
Vin jumped up and ran to where JD stood. He looked through the fence. Peso was lying on his back in the sand, rubbing back and forth his legs sticking straight up in the air. With each rub Peso let out grunts of contentment.
"Peso get up, you're ruining your bath." Vin started to run into the pasture.
Chris grabbed the boy. "Whoa there Cowboy, not so fast."
"But Dad, he's getting' all dirty. We'll have to wash him again."
"No we won't Vin. He's dry and the sand is dry. We'll give him a good brushing tomorrow morning. He just had an itch he needed to scratch." Chris reassured the worried boy.
Vin's lower lip stuck out as he looked back at his horse. "If you say so."
"I do say so. Come on, let's finish the chores and go have supper. I'm starved," Larabee said to distract the boy.
Later that evening, after their baths, the two boys were curled up in their father's laps, looking for another book for the dads to read. Nothing seemed interesting tonight. Finally JD looked up at the tall man that held him. "Everybody's going to come see us?" He asked again still not believing it.
"Yep. Everybody is going to be there, except for Ezra, maybe. Ezra went undercover this week, for a case. He'd come if he could, but we don't think he'll be there. Just in case, he asked Chris and me to tell you he'd be there in his heart and he was very sorry circumstances have occurred to necessitate his absence."
JD looked at his father. "Huh?"
Buck and Chris smiled. "Your Uncle Ezra said he's very sorry that he probably won't be there tomorrow because he has to work."
"Oh, that's okay Da. We'll miss him if he can't come, but maybe he'll be able to come if we do it again," JD said with a huge yawn.
I'm sure he will, Kiddo." Buck said as he carried the little boy to bed. Bending down his long frame he managed with practiced skill to lay JD down and pull the covers up. He tucked in the end and bending over kissed the little boy on the cheek. "Night, Little Bit."
"Night, Da. I love you," JD said between yawns.
"I love you, too," Buck said.
Vin climbed into his bed and looked seriously at his dad. "You tell Uncle Ezra we understand, but we miss him." The boy turned on his side holding Cat while Chris pulled the blankets up and tucked them in.
"I will Vin, the next time I talk to him. Now, good night, sleep tight." The blond leaned down and kissed the boy on the forehead.