"You could have been killed."
"I ain't afraid of dyin'."
Well, shit. That wasn't exactly the response he'd been looking for, but it did give him a little enlightenment. There was definitely something bothering Vin, and now, Chris felt he had a pretty good idea of what it might be. "You and me need to talk, Vin."
Vin glanced up at him with wary eyes, then looked away.
"Something's bothering you. Can't you tell me what it is?"
Vin leaned his head back, took a deep breath and let it out slowly, but other than that he remained silent. Chris waited patiently until it was obvious that the boy either couldn't or wouldn't answer.
"Are you still upset over what happened to Buck?"
Buck had been injured on duty, the week before. It had been minor, a bullet graze in the arm, requiring only a few stitches. But the effect of the incident on both of the boys hadn't been minor, at all. JD had been reluctant to let either one of them out of his sight, while Vin didn't seem to want anything to do with them.
What was worse, Vin had become daring and reckless, almost as if he were bent on harming himself or proving himself invincible. One evening, they'd caught him riding his bike down the middle of the highway, with cars honking on either side. Theyd also found out he'd jumped, at least once, from the hayloft, something the boys were forbidden to do, and to his knowledge, had never done before. Chris knew this type of behavior wasnt unusual for a boy Vins age, and Vin had been known to do risky things a time or two before, but for the most part he was a cautious and sensible kid.
The latest offense had been much more dangerous, though, and Chris knew the time had come for a showdown. Today, Vin had disappeared from school. After hours of searching, worrying himself sick, Chris had finally received a call that his son had been picked up by a squad car in a dangerous, rundown section of the city called Purgatory. When theyd first told him Vin was safe, waiting for him at the station, hed felt weak with relief, but that had quickly turned to anger; even now his emotions seemed to be dancing all over the place. What in the hell would possess his twelve-year-old boy to skip school and go to Purgatory?
"Is that what's bothering you?"
After another long moment, Vin gave him the slightest nod.
Chris let out shaky breath, feeling as if he'd just run a marathon. At least, it was a start. "You're afraid that something bad is going to happen to one of us?"
"Yeah," the whispered answer was barely audible. "I guess."
"You know, we're always careful." Chris had said these words a hundred times before. "Most of the time, all we're doing is sitting at our desks doing paperwork. You know that, pard."
"Yeah, I know. But . . ."
"What? C'mon, talk to me, Vin."
"Its just that . . . there's all this bad stuff happening! Everywhere! There's hurricanes and earthquakes and floods and tsunamis and now . . .."
"And now there's that bird flu! The news lady said it could kill millions of people! What if we get the bird flu?"
"The bird flu?" Chris almost laughed. They'd been talking about it at breakfast that morning. JD had said he was glad they didn't have any chickens because chickens made the bird flu. Buck had laughed and asked, "What are you talking about? What birds flew where? And JD had explained, "Not flew, Flu -- the Flu -- the one you get from birds. And Buck had said, seeming thoughtful, "Bird Flu, does that mean we'll all start sproutin' feathers and layin' eggs?" Then Vin had said, "Maybe they'll shut down all the schools?" -- and apparently decided it wasnt worth going. Chris and Buck hadn't taken the conversation seriously; they hadn't even realized the boys were afraid.
"Come here, son," Chris gestured for Vin to sit next to him. He wished he could hold him on his lap in the rocking chair like he had when he'd been a much a smaller boy. But, there was only so much indignity a twelve-year-old could be expected to bear, so he settled for Vin scooting closer to him in the patio glider and leaning against his side. "You can't live you're life worrying about the bad things that might happen."
Vin looked up at him with wide eyes, and for the first time since all this started a week ago, Chris saw fear and helplessness in those eyes.
"Well, I suppose you could, but," he shrugged, "it ain't gonna do any good. All the worrying in the world can't stop bad things from happening."
"Yeah," Vin sighed, his shoulders slumping, "I know."
"If the bird flu hits, or anything else bad happens, worrying about it isn't going to stop it. There are things we can do to be cautious, to try and protect ourselves, but it's not a guarantee."
"I know." He struggled for the right words to help this child who meant the world to him, because he knew Vin would see right through anything that sounded like false assurances. What came to his mind was more of a philosophy, given to him some years ago by an old friend. At the time, it had been an attempt to help him work through a tragedy that had been impossible for him to accept. Oddly, the words seemed to make more sense now.
"Josiah once told me that even before were born, God already knows exactly when well die. How long we live isnt something that we have any control over; the only thing we control is what we do with our lives while were here. When that day comes and God decides to take us home, it won't matter if we're flying in a plane, or walking across the street or sitting in front of a TV . . .." He shrugged.
He waited while Vin seemed to think it over. Whether his words were helping or not, he couldn't tell. But, he didn't know what else to say . . . or whether there were any words that would help.
"The most worrying can do is make you miserable over something that might not even happen."
"I know." His voice sounded strained, like he knew this -- knew he was making himself miserable, but didn't know how to stop.
For a while, they sat there together under the stars, swaying back and forth gently, feeling the crisp autumn breeze ruffle their hair. "You know," Chris said quietly, breaking the silence, "back when I was a kid, one year, my family went on vacation to the Grand Canyon."
Vin looked up at him with raised eyebrows.
"I was so excited. We had all these plans: hiking, riding the trails, rafting on the river, things like that, you know? But, just before we got there my parents warned us to be on the lookout for rattlers and scorpions and black widow spiders; they said to always watch where we were walking and remember to check our shoes and clothes and bedding, that sort of thing. To this day, the only thing I remember about those two weeks is the sick feeling I had in my stomach. I was so worried about the spiders and snakes and scorpions that I missed out on all the fun. I didn't enjoy a single minute of it."
Glancing sideways and down, he was glad to see that he had Vin's attention. He knew his experience wasn't quite the same as what Vin was going through, but he hoped that it was close enough to be a reasonable comparison.
"Whenever I get to worrying too much, well, I just think back to that vacation, and how the only thing I can remember is feeling sick the whole time. If you let it, fear will take over your life and make everything good just fade away."
Vin nodded his head and whispered, "Yeah."
They sat there quietly for a while and then Vin asked, "Ain't you ever afraid?"
"I was today." Earlier that day, when he'd gotten the call from Vin's school, he'd been nearly paralyzed with fear. Fear for Vin, and for himself if anything were to happen to Vin. Only one other time had he ever felt that way . . . and today, it had nearly overwhelmed him, and might have if it hadn't been for his team. If it hadn't been for Buck, who'd been the one to drive him to the station, the one to hug Vin and tell him he loved him, then turn around and in the next breath, rip him a new one -- all while Chris stood uselessly by.
"I don't know why I did that . . . what I did today, but I'm sorry. I-I promise, I won't ever do it again."
Chris nodded, hugging him a little closer. "Just promise me that from now on, you'll talk to me, cowboy."
That was enough for now. Chris had always been able to count on Vin's word; he'd never gone back on a promise. Things weren't fixed, but he felt they were definitely on the mend.
Another good sign, he'd been Chris for the past few days.
"Ya ever think about going back to the Grand Canyon?"
Chris shrugged, leaning his head back and smiling up at the stars.
"You could do some of them things ya don't remember doing before."
He didn't need to look to know Vin was rolling his eyes.
"And, I could protect ya from them . . . those bitty little spiders and such, this time."
Vin snorted and rested his head against his hero's shoulder.
"Who knows, maybe this summer," Chris proposed, "the four of us could go. Might be kind of fun."
After some quick thinking, Chris shrugged, "Sure, I don't see why not." He was the boss, after all.
A summer vacation would give them all something to look forward to, and that was always good for taking a person's mind off their worries. In the spirit of the moment, he decided to wait until tomorrow to let his son know he'd be grounded until then.
"Love you, Dad."
Those words were few and far between these days; they were like a gift and each time he heard them he cherished them, stored them away in his memory to be kept safe through the years to come.
"Love you too, kiddo."
We have nothing to fear but fear itself.
~ Franklin D. Roosevelt