A Better Way

by Joy K

This is a variation of the Little Britches Universe, modern day with Vin, JD and Ezra as children. This is the ninth story in this universe and assumes that you have read the others. It follows "Rollaway". You can find the entire series here.

“Hey, Cowboy,” Chris said brushing Vin's hair off his forehead and testing for a fever. “Buck says you're not feeling so good.”

Vin hesitated, then nodded.

“Is your stomach upset?”

Vin shook his head.

“Is your throat sore?” Chris asked.

Again Vin shook his head.


“Just don't feel good,” Vin mumbled.

“Perhaps he should stay in bed and rest today,” Ezra offered.

Chris nodded. “You go back to sleep,” he told Vin.

“But who's going to help with the horses?” Vin asked, his guilt weighing on him.

“Ezra will help.”

“Me?” Ezra protested, then quickly went silent. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Sure, it would get Vin out of school work today, but he didn't want to get dirty helping with the horses. Now there was no way out. Chris would know something was up if he suddenly declared he was sick, too.

“I'll get dressed,” Ezra said reluctantly as he opened the drawer to find his “farmer” clothes.

When Chris left the room, Vin flopped back on his pillow, emotions at war in his stomach. He should be the one helping Chris with the horses. He had told Chris a lie about being sick, but now he really did feel ill. He didn't like fibbing to Chris, but it was the only way they could think of to get him out of lessons with Miss Nettie today. And that would give him a little more time to figure out how to keep Miss Nettie and Chris and everyone else from knowing he was stupid.

Vin sighed and looked at Ezra. The older boy was pulling on his flannel shirt, grumbling silently to himself.

“Thanks, Ezra,” Vin said softly.

Ezra looked up at him. “It will work for today, but we need to find a better way.”

Vin nodded. “I'll do your chores tomorrow.”

That comment brought a half smile to Ezra's face.


Ezra and JD sat on opposite sides of the dining room table which had become their makeshift classroom. Both boys were working on math problems. Ezra tapped his pencil on his paper as he worked the sum in his head. JD on the other hand seemed to involve his entire body in the process. He shook his pencil in the air. He crawled up onto his knees and peered closely at his paper. He climbed down off his chair and scooted it a little closer to the table before climbing back up, sitting down and writing down his answer.

Nettie smiled. Both boys seemed to enjoy mathematics and from the quick peeks she had taken over their shoulders, they seemed to be good at it. She had put in a request for the boy's school records on Chris's behalf, but the district was overwhelmed with placing students from the flood damaged schools into other schools. Some of the records had been lost in the flood, but the district had backup files somewhere in storage. Chris would get a copy when they got around to it.

“I'm all done, Miss Nettie!” JD declared.

“Very good, JD.”

“And I beated Ezra!” he added with a self-satisfied smirk.

Ezra rolled his eyes. He had a lot more questions to answer than JD did, so it didn't really bother him that JD finished quicker.

Nettie smiled and patted Ezra on the shoulder. “When you finish up, we'll take a little break and then have some lunch.”

“Yes, Mrs. Wells,” Ezra answered.

Nettie walked over to the couch where Vin was resting.

“How are you feeling, Vin?”

Vin opened his mouth to answer, but at that precise moment, his stomach growled.

Nettie chuckled. “It sounds like your stomach is feeling better. Are you ready to try some lunch?”

Vin nodded.

“Good. Then after lunch we'll join the others for some reading,” Nettie added as she headed for the kitchen.

Vin sank back into the pillow. Now he felt really ill.


After lunch Nettie had her hands full with three little boys and reading lessons. As always, JD was boisterous and his reading took more of her attention than the other boys. He was reading aloud and frequently asking, “Miss Nettie, what's this word?”

Ezra seemed to be deeply involved in his reading assignment. Vin was reading, but he kept stopping to rub his eyes or look out the window. He'd sigh heavily and try again. At first Nettie assumed it was because Vin wasn't feeling well, but as time passed she noticed Ezra slip Vin's assignment page under his own and write on the paper. He was very secretive about it, but she caught the movement out of the corner of her eye as she assisted JD.

Ezra glanced at Nettie to make sure she was busy helping JD. He carefully printed an answer on Vin's paper using his left hand. He frowned slightly. It wasn't very neat, but it couldn't look like his handwriting. He answered the remaining three questions and slid the paper back towards Vin, half-grinning when JD got louder and said, “What's this word?”

“Ezra Standish, what are you doing?” asked Nettie firmly.

The eight year old froze momentarily before releasing Vin's paper. “I was just looking to see if Vin and I have the same questions.”

It was a lie, and within seconds he knew that Nettie knew it was a lie.

“This isn't Vin's handwriting,” Nettie said as she picked up the paper in question.

“Yes, it is,” Ezra said, lying again. “See how he makes his E's?”

“Were you copying his paper?” Nettie asked.

“No!” Ezra protested strongly.

“Then you were answering the questions for him?” Nettie pressed trying to keep her anger in check at the boy's lies.

Ezra scowled. “I was just looking at his questions.”

“Young man, go to your room until you can tell me the truth.”

Ezra looked at her with an expression of hurt and confusion. Then he stood and stormed from the room.

Nettie watched him go, slightly surprised by his expression, but she didn't have time to deal with that right now. She needed to confront Vin and find out what really happened.

“Miss Nettie, why's you mad at Ezra?” JD asked.

Nettie looked at the younger boy. He had been helping the two older boys by distracting her, but she didn't think he really knew what he was doing. More than likely, Vin and Ezra were taking advantage of JD's natural exuberance and he didn't have a clue what they were doing.

“I'm not angry,” she said softly. “Can you go check on the dogs for me? You boys have been so busy with your school work that they haven't been able to play with you.”

JD looked at Vin and when Vin gave him a nod he quietly slipped outside to play with Sam and Dobie.

“Do you want to tell me what's going on, young man?” Nettie asked quietly as she sat down beside Vin.

“Ezra was just helping me. Don't be mad at him,” Vin said.

“Helping you and doing your paper for you are two different things, Vin,” said Nettie. “What you were doing is cheating.”

Vin ducked his head in shame.

“Why did you feel you had to cheat?” Nettie asked.

Vin didn't answer. He couldn't tell her. She'd find out soon enough that he was just too stupid to do the work.

“Vin? I expect an answer.”

“Because, I'm too stupid, all right!” Vin said angrily. “Ezra has to help me 'cause I'm too dumb to do it myself.”

Tears of anger, frustration and shame trickled down his cheeks.

“One thing I know,” Nettie said firmly, “is that Vin Tanner is not stupid.” She lifted his chin. “You are a very intelligent boy.”

“But I can't do it,” Vin said softly.

“Well, then, we need to figure out why, and we need to do something about it,” said Nettie firmly. She held out a handkerchief.

Vin took it and wiped his eyes.

“Have you always had trouble with school work?” Nettie asked.

Vin sighed and nodded.

“What did the teachers tell you?” she asked.

“That I's supposed to work harder, but I tried and I still couldn't do it,” said Vin. “That's when Ezra started helping me.”

Nettie kept her emotions in check. She wondered if anyone had ever taken the time to consider that Vin might have a learning difficulty of some kind. It sounded as if the teachers either hadn't realized Vin had a problem, or perhaps they were just too overwhelmed with the number of students to give the attention each individual truly needed.

“Sometimes people have trouble reading because they process things differently,” she said. “It's not better or worse, it's just different, and when we figure it out, we can help them read better. Will you help me see what makes reading hard for you?”

Vin nodded, not daring to hope too much that maybe his problem could be fixed.

“Do you know your letters?”

“Yes, Ma'am,” he said softly.

Standing a few feet away from him, Nettie held up a pack of letter flash cards. “I'm going to hold up a card and you tell me what you see.”

When they had finished she praised Vin for getting them all correct. Next they went through a series of words on cards. Again Vin correctly identified all the words. Nettie was beginning to really wonder what his difficulty could be. She had suspected dyslexia, but he could obviously read the cards without trouble.

She turned to a new reading page in the book they had been working from so that Vin could try another assignment without the benefit of Ezra's answers.

“Go ahead and read this page and we'll answer some questions,” she instructed.

Vin frowned and started to look at the page. Within a minute he was showing signs of frustration. He rubbed his eyes. He tilted his head to one side. He blinked hard several times. After a couple of minutes he pushed the book away.

“Are you finished?” Nettie asked.

“No,” Vin said angrily. “I can't do it.”

“You know these words,” Nettie said. “Most of them were on the flash cards.”

“I know them on the cards,” said Vin, “but they look different in the book.”

Nettie kept her face expressionless. Did Vin suffer conservation delay? Was he only able to recognize words in one place, and not recognize them in others? Or was he possibly dealing with vision problems?

“Let's do a few more cards,” Nettie suggested. She moved to the position she had been in before, picked up the cards, mixed them up and held one up.

“Car,” said Vin.

She took a step closer and held up another card.


Nettie took another step forward and held up another card.

Vin squinted a bit before answering, “Orange.”

Taking one more step, she was less than an arm's length from Vin. She held up a card.

Vin hesitated. He rubbed his eyes. “Book,” he guessed.

Nettie took a step back, pretended she shuffled the cards and held up the same card.

“Boot,” Vin answered correctly.

“Very good,” said Nettie. “I think that's enough for today. Why don't you go play with JD.”

Vin climbed off the chair.

“And Vin?”

“Yes, Miss Nettie?”

“Don't you worry about your school work,” she said, smiling at him. “We'll figure this out.”

He returned the smile and went outside.

Nettie sighed. She needed to talk to Chris, but first she needed to deal with Ezra.


“What happened?” Chris asked. He'd had a sinking feeling when Nettie said she needed to talk to them in private.

“During lessons today Vin and Ezra were cheating,” she said bluntly.

“What?” said Buck in surprise.

“Ezra wrote answers on Vin's paper,” Nettie said. “I think he was just trying to help Vin, but both boys were taking advantage of JD's natural boisterousness and waiting until he distracted me before they wrote down the answers. And when I confronted Ezra, he lied. More than once.”

Chris hissed softly. “What did you do?”

“I sent Ezra to his room. I tried to talk to him about it later, but I don't think I got through to him. The first time he pretended to be asleep. The next time, he nodded and said “yes, ma'am” in all the right places, but I don't think he understands what he did wrong.” Nettie smoothed a wrinkle in her apron. “He wanted to call his mother.”

“No,” Buck said softly.

“I told him he'd have to wait and ask you tonight, that I couldn't give him permission to call her.”

Chris closed his eyes. This just kept getting better and better. Cheating. Lying. Wanting to call his mother. He blew out a sigh.

“And Vin?” he asked.

“I confronted him as well. He told me Ezra had to help him because he was too stupid to do the work himself.”

Chris looked up, anger burning in his eyes.

“Vin's not stupid,” Buck voiced.

Nettie nodded in agreement. “I did some basic observation tests. At first I thought he might be dealing with a reading disability, perhaps even dyslexia. But I think it may actually be his eyesight.”

“What?” Chris asked incredulously. “He has eagle eyes. He can see things long before I can see them.”

Nettie nodded. “That doesn't mean he can see close up. He needs to have a vision screening, and I don't mean just a standard check up. The doctor needs to do more than the eye chart. Vin will pass that with flying colors.”

“Why didn't he say something?” Chris asked.

“Because he has nothing to compare it to,” Nettie said. “For Vin, his vision is normal. He has no reason to think that anyone else sees things differently. So instead he believes he is too stupid to do the work.”

Chris cursed.

“My feelings exactly,” said Nettie.

“What about JD?” Buck asked.

Nettie shook her head. “I believe he's aware that Vin has troubles, but I'm not sure he was intentionally participating in the deception. It's difficult to tell.”

“Sounds like we need to talk to him as well.” Chris leaned back in his chair and ran both hands through his hair. “When did it get so hard?” he asked.

Nettie smiled and patted his shoulder as she stood to go. “You'll both do just fine. I left the number for the Eye Doctor on the bulletin board. His receptionist said he has a couple of openings this week.”

“Thank you, Nettie,” Chris said, rising to follow her out.


It had not been a happy evening. The discussions with the boys had been even more difficult than they expected. Vin was reluctant to speak at all. He seemed to grasp that allowing Ezra to answer his questions for him was wrong, but he was so consumed by his shame that everyone now knew he was too dumb to do the work, that it was almost crushing to Chris to confront him over lying about being sick.

Talking with JD they had discovered that he was a willing participant in the ruse. He knew that Vin had a hard time with school and that Ezra was helping him. It was his job to be loud and get Miss Nettie to spend lots of time with him. Telling JD that what they were doing was wrong was upsetting to the five-year-old. He only wanted to help his brothers and didn't understand why helping was wrong. Buck had done his best to explain the difference between helping someone and doing everything for them, which only ended up with JD angry at Ezra for getting everyone into trouble.

And Ezra. The conversation had been much like Nettie described, with Ezra saying “Yes, Sir,” and “No, Sir,” in all the right places. There wasn't going to be any punishment this time, but there was to be no more lying and no more cheating. Ezra had tears in his eyes, but he didn't cry, he just asked if he could call his mother. Chris had allowed the phone call even though it was three days earlier than their arranged time. They had limited Ezra's contact with Maude to once every two weeks on Thursday evenings. That way Ezra knew when his mother would call and it lessened his anxiety.

Agreeing to the phone call had been a mistake. They'd been unable to connect with Maude and Ezra had become more withdrawn, excusing himself to his room long before bedtime.

The two men sat in the great room watching some mindless show on television. All three boys were in bed asleep, and what should have been a relaxing time at North Pass Ranch was filled with underlying stress.

Buck let out a heavy sigh. Chris glanced over at him.

“Never thought I'd say this, but this house is too quiet.”

Chris had to agree. Vin was pretty quiet anyway, but feeling bad about himself, he was virtually silent. Ezra had withdrawn into himself, speaking only when required. And JD was stewing, refusing to talk because he was mad at Ezra for getting them in trouble.

Even though it didn't feel like it right now, Chris knew they'd get through this rough spot. Exhaling a sigh of his own he told Buck he'd see him in the morning.

Such was life at North Pass Ranch.


“Was it scary?” JD asked when Vin returned to the waiting room.

Vin shrugged. “He had this big black thing that you look through and it was kinda scary when he put it by my nose.”

Vin shimmied up on the bench seat next to Buck and JD, waiting for Chris to finish talking to the eye doctor. Ezra sat across the lobby in a chair by himself quietly reading a book.

“And then he flipped these things back and forth and asked me which ones looked better,” Vin continued.

“Did you pass?” JD asked.

Buck ruffled JD's hair. “JD, we explained it's not that kind of test. It's just to find out how well you see and figure out how to make it better.”

“He said I hafta wear glasses,” Vin said quietly. “When he's done talking to Chris, we're s'posed to pick out the wires.”

“The frames?” asked Buck.

Vin nodded.

“Do I gots to wear glasses, too, Buck?” JD asked, peering up at his protector.

“Well, I don't know Little Bit,” Buck answered. “We'll have to wait until your check up to find out.”

“I'm next?” JD asked.

Buck nodded.

“JD Dunne?” called an assistant.

“Come with me, Buck?” JD begged.

“Sure,” Buck replied. “You wait right here, Junior, all right?”

Vin nodded, slouching back against the seat and watching the cartoon that was playing on the TV in the waiting room.


“The technical word is hyperopia which is a fancy way of saying far-sighted,” the doctor explained. “Hyperopia can be because the eye is shorter than average or because the lens or cornea bends light less than average, or because the lens is farther backward in the eye than average.”

“What does that mean?” Chris asked.

“Most babies are born far-sighted and the vision changes as they grow,” the doctor added. “As the eyeball lengthens with growth, the farsightedness decreases until normal vision is achieved.”

“So what does that mean for Vin?” Chris asked again, trying to be patient. He didn't want the technical information. He simply wanted to know how it applied to his boy and what could be done about it.

“Vin will likely outgrow his hyperopia, by adolescence if not before,” the doctor said, writing more information on Vin's chart.

“But?” Chris prompted.

“But, with the degree of difficulty he seems to be having with his class work, I think it would be best for him to wear corrective lenses. We can correct his vision enough that he will be able to see close up clearly and that should help with the reading. We want to make sure that he can keep up with his grade level.”

“Okay,” Chris agreed. “Does he wear them all the time?”

“No, just for reading,” the doctor answered, knowing how difficult it was to keep glasses on an active boy. “This is his prescription,” he added, handing Chris a slip. “Take it to Janine in the front office and she can help you with selecting frames and ordering the lenses. It should only take a few days.”

Chris nodded and shook the doctor's hand. “Thank you, Doctor Gregory.”


Vin stared at the boy in the mirror. The frames looked funny on his face. And they felt strange on his nose. He looked up at Chris and sighed.

Chris smiled reassuringly. He'd explained to Vin that he could pick whichever frames he liked and that the insurance would cover most of the cost. Janine had suggested titanium frames which were virtually indestructible, a definite plus with children.

“Do you like those?” Chris asked quietly.

Vin shrugged. “I don't like any of them.”

“I think they look nice,” said Janine.

Vin sighed. It was too hard to choose. He thought every pair he tried on made him look stupid. He looked over at Ezra who was still seated in the chair reading his book. He wanted to ask Ezra which ones he liked, but Ezra was mad at him. Or at least it seemed like he was. Vin figured he'd disappointed Ezra as much as everybody else with the 'cheating' incident, and knew he'd caused the adults to be upset with Ezra.

“Do you want to ask Ezra?” Chris asked.

Vin nodded without realizing it. “He's busy.”

“Ezra,” Chris called. “Come here a minute.”

Ezra looked up, put his bookmark in his book, closed it and walked over to Vin and Chris.

“Vin wants your opinion,” Chris said. “Which frames do you think look best on him?”

“We narrowed it down to these three,” said Vin softly, pointing to two frames on the counter in addition to the pair on his face.

“Let me see the others,” Ezra replied in a businesslike manner.

Chris helped Vin put on the other pairs and model them for Ezra.

“I like those best,” said Ezra flatly after Vin had tried on all three frames. His face was expressionless and he seemed detached from the situation. “They go best with your coloring and the shape of your face.” He shrugged, “But really, any of them are fine.”

“Do you like 'em?” Vin asked Chris.

Chris nodded. “They look good.”

Vin looked in the mirror and sighed again. They still looked stupid to him, but if Ezra and Chris thought they were good, he'd just have to go with it. “Thanks, Ez,” Vin said softly.

Ezra nodded in acknowledgment and returned to his seat, and his reading.

“We'll take these,” Chris affirmed, handing the frames to Janine, but watching Ezra with concern.


Buck drove the boys back out to the ranch while Chris returned to the office. He had some paper work to do, including signing off on his deputies time sheets so they could get paid.

Buck sat in on the boys' lessons with Nettie for the afternoon. Vin and Ezra sat at opposite ends of the dining room table, not at Nettie's suggestion, but at Ezra's insistence. Clearly he was still upset over the cheating incident and was making sure there could be no further accusation. Vin seemed to take it in stride although he seemed a little nervous that Buck was watching.

“Miz Nettie?” asked JD. “I'm not trying to 'tract your 'tention. I just gots a question.”

“It's all right, JD,” Nettie assured, “You go ahead and ask.”

“What's this word?” JD asked, pointing to a word in his book. Nettie moved to help him.

Vin was busy trying to read what Miz Nettie had written for him on the big white board on the tripod. She had written out a paragraph in big print so that he could see it. When he was done reading it she was going to ask him some questions.

Ezra read two pages, then answered the questions on his sheet of paper.

Buck sighed softly as he watched him. It seemed like the life had gone right out of him and he was a little emotionless robot. He hoped it would get better with time, but it seemed to be getting worse. Maybe Dr. Ashby could help at his next therapy appointment, but that wasn't for a couple more days.

Vin seemed to be coping, although he was still very insecure about his school abilities and the glasses. Hopefully when he started wearing them, they'd make all the difference for him. Buck smiled as Vin answered Nettie's questions. He was an intelligent little boy. They just had to help him realize it.

“Buck? What's this word?” asked JD. Buck grinned and got up to go help JD. He'd never been a whiz at school work himself, but he figured he'd be able to help JD for a few years at least before the kid was beyond his skills.


“How's it going, Ezra?” Josiah asked. He had volunteered to help the eight-year-old dry dishes. Ezra was entirely capable of drying them, but needed help putting the plates and cups in the upper cabinets.

“Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Sanchez,” Ezra replied, stacking a plate on top of the others.

“My pleasure,” said Josiah, manning another dish towel and wiping a glass. “You've been pretty quiet,” he observed.

Ezra didn't reply. He picked up another plate from the dish rack and started drying it.

“If something's bothering you, sometimes it helps to talk about it,” Josiah suggested. He didn't miss the skeptical glance Ezra sent his way.

Ezra thought about it for a few moments. Mr. Sanchez had not been involved in the school fiasco, but the likelihood was that he would side with all the other adults and blame him for the whole thing just like they did. He'd say Ezra cheated and then try to explain to him and Ezra would still not understand how helping Vin was wrong. Cheating implied personal benefit and he had received nothing from helping Vin. How could he be cheating?

But maybe Mr. Sanchez would listen to his side of things and maybe...

Ezra sighed. “Everything's fine, Mr. Sanchez.”

Josiah fought back a sigh of his own. He had seen the momentary turmoil cross Ezra's face, as if he was actually debating whether to talk or not. He picked up the stack of plates and put them in the cabinet. “If you ever have anything you want to talk about,” he said, “I'm a pretty good listener.”

“Thank you, I'll remember that,” Ezra said, folding the towel and hanging it on the rack. He excused himself from the kitchen and headed down the hall to his room.

“No luck?” asked Chris as he stuck his head in the doorway.

Josiah shook his head. “He claims everything is fine.”

“It's not.”

“I know,” Josiah agreed, “but he won't talk until he's ready.”



“Mr. Larabee, I must have been cut off.”

“Mrs. Standish?” asked Chris. It was her bi-weekly night to call, and Ezra had already taken her call.

“Yes, I was just speaking with my son and we were cut off.”

“Just a moment,” Chris said, setting the phone on the table and walking to the boys' room. He had seen Ezra go down the hallway a few minutes earlier and assumed he had finished talking to his mother.

“Ezra?” he said as he knocked on the door. “Your mother's on the phone.”

Ezra fisted away tears, trying to look like nothing was wrong.

“She said you were disconnected,” Chris said. He saw Ezra grimace and take a deep breath.

“You hung up on her?” Chris asked curiously.

“She's waiting,” said Ezra, climbing off his bed and heading toward the door.

“You don't have to talk to her if you don't want to,” Chris offered, instinctively wanting to protect Ezra from whatever Maude had said that made him hang up on her.

“She's waiting,” Ezra repeated, moving past Chris and heading down the hall to the great room.

Chris cursed under his breath and followed Ezra.

“Mother?” Ezra said, answering the phone. “Yes, Mother, I'm sorry. I don't know what...”

Chris frowned hearing one side of the conversation. Maude had obviously cut him off and was doing all the talking.

After a few minutes Ezra said, “Yes, Mother, I promise. Goodbye.” Tears were again welling in his eyes, but he held the phone for several seconds after the call was ended, reluctant to give up the connection to his mother no matter what was said between them.

“Are you all right?” Chris asked softly.

Ezra wanted nothing more than to tell Chris everything, to let him hug him and chase the hurts away, but he knew Chris didn't really want anything to do with him. He didn't want to be around a cheater.

“It's okay,” Ezra replied before walking a little too quickly out of the room.

“Vin's crying,” JD called to Chris from the front door.

Chris blew out a deep sigh. He loved these boys, but sometimes trying to help them adjust was a bit overwhelming.


Stepping out onto the front porch, Chris could see that Vin was sitting under the oak tree. The sun was just beginning to set. Buck was seated next to him and the two were talking. JD stood halfway between Chris and the pair under the tree, wanting Chris to intervene.

“Come here, JD,” Chris said softly offering his hand. “Let's give them a few minutes to sort things out, okay?”

“I wanna play with Buck,” JD said, taking Chris's hand and walking with him toward the barn.

Chris smiled. “Why don't we settle the horses in for the night and then you can play with Buck?”

“Okay,” JD replied eagerly. Feeding the horses was fun. It was even more fun because Chris was spending time with him.


Under the tree, Buck waited until Vin seemed to have some control over the tears, simply offering an arm around the shoulders.

“So what's goin' on, Junior?” Buck asked, squeezing Vin slightly.

“I don't wanna wear glasses,” Vin said softly.

“Aw, all the girls will think you're cute,” Buck soothed, then gave a small chuckle at the look of distaste Vin gave him. “Well, a few years from now you'll feel a mite different about girls.”

“I'll look stupid.”

“No you won't. All the kids will think you're really smart because you wear glasses,” Buck countered

“And then it will be really bad when they find out I'm not smart. I'm stupid.”

“Vin Tanner,” Buck scolded. “We talked about this. You are not stupid, and we don't want to hear anyone saying different. Even you.”

Vin nodded. He knew the words in his head, but his heart was having a hard time believing them.

Buck waited a moment before speaking again. “You know Doctor Gregory said that you probably won't have to wear them very long. Your close up vision will catch up with your distance vision soon and you won't have to wear them at all. But for now...”

“I hafta wear them,” Vin whispered.

“Just wait until you get 'em tomorrow,” Buck said with a grin. “You'll be able to see the words and numbers on the pages and in no time at all you'll be all caught up with your schooling. It'll take some work, but we'll all help and you'll do it.”

Vin looked up at him with undisguised hope. He wanted to be able to do his papers just like Ezra and JD. He wanted Chris and Buck and Miz Nettie to be proud of him.

“And every six months Doctor Gregory will check your eyes again...”

“And he'll know when I can stop wearing 'em,” Vin finished.

“That's right,” said Buck. He ducked his head down, trying to look Vin in the eyes. “What?” he asked, trying to get Vin to voice the rest of what was bothering him.

“What if it doesn't work?”

Buck swallowed hard at the fear expressed in those few words. “It will. You already know the words and numbers, you just can't see them up close.” He ruffled Vin's hair. “It will work. And Chris is proud of you, no matter what. We all are.”

“Buck, look at me!” JD called from Chris's shoulders as they walked back toward the house.

“Hey, Buck,” said Chris, “have you seen JD? I can't find him anywhere.”

JD giggled uncontrollably and Vin grinned at the silliness.

“I'm right here,” JD said, patting the top of Chris's head.

“Oh, there you are,” Chris said flipping JD over his head and zooming him around like an airplane. JD squealed with laughter. “You want this?” Chris said dangling JD by his ankles in front of Buck.

Buck stood and grabbed JD, tucking him under his arm like a football. “Let's go see what we have for a snack for tonight,” he said.

Chris smiled and held out a hand toward Vin. Vin wiped the last remnants of his tears and grinned at Chris, accepting his hand and walking toward the house.


Lynn glanced over her notes before walking down the hall to get Ezra. Her sessions with Vin and JD had been difficult but enlightening as the boys dealt with their first real problem in their new home. In the few days that had passed since the incident, JD had pretty much moved on. He expressed anger at Ezra when he and Lynn discussed the subject, but it quickly dissipated and he moved on to other subjects. Vin's session had been more difficult, but also more rewarding. Vin had finally opened up and talked to her about his problems with school and that he perceived himself as stupid since he couldn't do the school work. As the other adults in his life, she had assured him he was very intelligent. Though he felt guilty about allowing Ezra to do his work, and for lying about being sick, by the end of his session Vin seemed hopeful that the glasses they were picking up after their appointments with Lynn would help him.

Returning to the play room, she sat down, allowing Ezra to choose what he wanted to do. He simply sat down at the table and did nothing. Ezra's silence spoke volumes. Normally the eight-year-old would talk incessantly with the therapist, avoiding the issues that dogged him.

Despite his silence, it was easy to see that Ezra was burdened. He needed to talk. He looked like a fish in a bowl as he made several false starts, opening his mouth to say something, then stopping himself. Finally the eight-year-old folded. Tears trickled down his cheeks and he broke down and cried. Ezra folded his arms on the table and leaned forward, trying to hide the tears.

Lynn wanted to wrap the child in her arms, but knew that she could not do that. After a couple of minutes she reached over and touched his arm, pushing a box of tissues in front of him. Ezra looked up, sniffed, then took a tissue. It took him a few minutes to compose himself.

“Can you tell me about it?” Lynn asked gently.

“I don't know what to do,” Ezra said hesitantly. “Everyone is angry with me.”

Lynn waited, giving Ezra the opportunity to direct the discussion.

“Even mother,” he said sniffing. He wiped his nose and threw away the tissue.

“You spoke to her?” Lynn asked, knowing that his mother was supposed to call the previous evening. She and Chris had deliberately scheduled the boys' appointments to coincide with the bi-weekly phone calls whenever possible.

Ezra nodded. “I hung up on her,” he said in a guilty whisper.

“You must have had a good reason.”

Ezra sighed. “I told her what happened. I thought... I thought she'd be on my side.” He rubbed his finger on a scratch in the table top. “But she said I did everything wrong, and she wouldn't listen and she just kept talking and I hung up.”

Using the index finger of his other hand, he rubbed the scratch harder as if trying to erase it. “I shouldn't have done that. I love her... but she was mad that I got caught. But I didn't do anything wrong. Everyone says I cheated, but I didn't. They keep explaining it but I don't understand and now I can't tell them I don't understand because I told them I did understand and they'd know I was lying and they're mad at me for lying.”

It was no surprise to Lynn that Ezra blurted everything out in a very JD-like manner. He was unaccustomed to talking about what bothered him and wanted to get it all out at once.

“Tell me what happened,” she said.

Ezra looked up and met her eyes. “I don't know what I did wrong,” Ezra said hesitantly. “I helped Vin, but everyone says it was wrong. Helping someone is good, but they say it's wrong. They say I was cheating.”

“Tell me what cheating is,” Lynn asked.

“Cheating is what you have to do to win, sometimes,” Ezra replied, “but Vin didn't win anything and I didn't either.”

Lynn knew Ezra was not being deceptive. He was simply acting as his mother had taught him and he truly didn't see anything wrong with what he had done. He didn't realize that he did have personal gain from the incident, but it was well beyond his understanding to see that in helping Vin keep up with his class, that he was trying to hold on to the status quo – trying to keep everything in his upside down world together. He was holding on to Vin and JD. But that was for another session. Right now he only had to deal with his mother's morals directly conflicting with Chris Larabee's.

“I didn't want Vin to feel bad. He feels bad when he does school work, so I thought if I could help him, he would feel better.”

“Did he?” Lynn asked.

Ezra chewed on his lip, then shrugged. “I think he would have if Mrs. Wells didn't get mad at us.”

“Let's play a game,” Lynn suggested. “Let me grab Jason and he can play, too,” she said stepping out into the hallway to call her assistant. She spoke quietly with Jason before coming back to the table. Pulling a deck of cards from the drawer, she said, “Let's play Bump.”

Ezra looked at her. “I don't know how to play. I've never heard of it.”

“That's all right. Jason and I will show you how to play,” she said as she dealt the cards around the table.

Ezra nodded to Jason in greeting. Jason gave him a friendly smile and pulled up a chair, joining the game.

Lynn gave a rapid-fire version of how to play the game, with several rules that didn't seem to make any sense to Ezra.

Jason played his cards first. Then it was Ezra's turn. He had no idea what he was supposed to do.

“Let me show you,” said Lynn. She looked at his cards and pulled two seemingly unrelated cards from his hand and laid them on the table in front of him as if they were a set. “Now it's my turn.”

Lynn set three cards on the table in front of herself. None matched. They weren't in sequence. They weren't in the same suit.

Jason quickly took his turn and drew four cards from the pile before laying down five.

“Let me help you,” he said to Ezra, looking at the boy's cards and choosing three to play.

It made no sense. He couldn't figure out the rules. Dr. Ashby might play four cards, and Jason would play two. Then they played three cards for him. It made no sense.

What he didn't know was that “Bump” was never played the same way twice. It was a game created entirely by the therapist to create a 'bump' that would nudge the client in the right direction.

Play continued around the table for several more hands, with Ezra getting more and more frustrated with each round as Lynn and Jason continued to help him with his turn.

“Congratulations, Jason,” said Dr. Ashby. “You won.”

Ezra stared in disbelief. Jason still had cards in his hand. He had a mishmash of cards on the table. It looked as mixed up as his own cards.

“Let's play another round,” she said, knowing her client's love of card games and his drive to win. “You lead, Ezra.”

“I can't,” Ezra said in frustration, tears brimming in his eyes. “I don't know how.”

“But we just played for you,” said Lynn. “We took your turns for you so you could play. We helped you.”

Ezra lowered his head and began to cry. Lynn mouthed “thank you” to Jason and he quietly left the room.

She waited a few moments, letting the boy regain a little control. “You don't want to play again?” she asked.

“No,” Ezra said with a sniff.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because the rules don't make sense. I don't know how to play.”

“Even though we did your turns for you?”

“You did them, but you didn't tell me why to do them.”

“And you feel frustrated... confused... maybe a little angry?”

Ezra looked at her.

“There's a difference,” said Lynn, “between helping someone do something, and doing it for them.”

Ezra wiped away tears with the back of his hand. “I made Vin feel worse.”

Lynn was pleased that Ezra had made the connection. Experiencing his own frustration had allowed him to see that his way of “helping” Vin wasn't really helping him.

“No one is angry that you wanted to help Vin,” she said, “especially not Vin. In fact, he's feeling pretty bad about being the reason you got in trouble.”

“It wasn't his fault!” Ezra defended.

Lynn nodded. “Each of us is responsible for our own actions. It is a very admirable thing to want to help someone else, Ezra. No one is upset about that. What they are upset about is that they didn't know anything was wrong and that it was hidden from them.”

“But Vin didn't want them to know,” Ezra said. “I didn't want him to feel bad.”

“So you lied about it,” Lynn said non judgmentally.

Ezra nodded without remorse. “But I didn't do it well enough. Mother says I'm out of practice.”

Lynn was not surprised by the revelation. Maude Standish Wingo had taught her warped morals to her son for eight years.

“What does Mr. Larabee think about lying?” she asked.

“He doesn't like it,” Ezra said.

“Why not?” she prodded.

Ezra shrugged. “I don't really know, but it's very important to him.”

“Why do you think it's important to him?”

Ezra shifted in his chair and rubbed the back of his neck. “I don't know,” he finally admitted.

“If Mr. Larabee says he is going to take you to the store, how do you know he's going to do it?” Lynn asked.

“Because he says he will,” Ezra answered with another shrug.

“How do you know Mr. Wilmington will make dinner for you? How do you know that Mrs. Wells will stay with you until Mr. Larabee and Mr. Wilmington get home from work?”

Ezra frowned. “Because they do. They told me they would and they do.”

“What if Mr. Larabee lied to people? Or Mrs. Wells? Could you depend on them?”

Ezra shook his head unconsciously. He knew too well what that was like. He knew how awful he felt when his mother said she would do something and then she didn't do it. It made his stomach hurt. He put his hand on his stomach imagining the upsets he had experienced in the past. He still didn't know if his mother would come back this time, but she said she would and he wanted desperately to believe her.

“Sometimes it makes my stomach hurt,” he said quietly.

“What does, Ezra?” she asked.

“Not knowing for sure,” he answered without getting specific.

“Do you know for sure that you can trust Mr. Larabee?” she asked for clarification. She thought he was speaking of his mother, but needed to be sure that he wasn't that uncertain about his new home.

Ezra nodded. “I feel safe,” he whispered. “But I made them feel bad because I lied?”

“They need to know you'll tell the truth just like you need to know you can depend on them.”

Ezra sat quietly for a few minutes, wiping stray tears. He didn't like to think that he had made their stomachs hurt. He wanted to tell them he was sorry, but Mother said never to apologize. But, she had also said in the phone call last night that he was supposed to behave and do exactly what Mr. Larabee wanted. He was supposed to stay out of trouble.

“Dr. Lynn, what should I do?” he asked fisting away the tears again.

She wanted to leap for joy at Ezra's use of her first name. He had doggedly used her last name since day one despite her repeated attempts to get him to call her Lynn. He had fought tooth and nail up until today, but this session had been a major breakthrough for Ezra and she was proud of him.

“What do you want to do?” she asked him.

“I want to tell them I'm sorry,” Ezra said softly.

Lynn nodded and touched his forearm. “I'm proud of you, Ezra. Don't be afraid to tell them you're sorry.” She smiled at him. “Is there anything else you wanted to talk about today?”

Ezra shook his head. “I'm kinda tired.”

“Me, too,” said Lynn. “I think it's lunch time. Shall we?” she asked, standing and offering Ezra her hand.

He accepted her hand and walked with her down the hall to the waiting room.


“Lemme see! Lemme see!” JD clamored.

Vin sighed. He carefully opened the glasses case and removed his new glasses. His inexperience with the frames cause him to fumble a bit as he put them on.

“Wow!” said JD. “You look just like Harry Potter!”

Vin looked in the mirror. He didn't think he looked like Harry Potter, but being compared to him was kinda nice. He was smart and had all kinds of great adventures.

“Can I try them on?”

“No,” Vin said quickly. “Chris said no playing with them. I put them on for reading and put them back in the case when I'm done so they don't get lost or broke.”

JD stood next to Vin looking in the mirror. “I bet I'd look just like Harry Potter, too.”

“Your hair's already the right color,” Vin said before carefully putting his glasses back in the hard shelled case. “I'm going to put these on my dresser, and then we can go play.”

“Okay!” said JD. “EZRA! WE'RE GONNA GO PLAY!!!”

“Young man,” said Nettie, “Your inside voice?”

“Oops. Sorry, Miss Nettie,” said JD. He ran down the hall to get Ezra.

She smiled as Vin shook his head. “Not s'posed to run, neither,” he said softly.

“He'll learn,” she said. “Would you like me to put those away for you,” she said pointing at the glasses case. “I'm sure Ezra's awake by now.”

The boys had returned home after their appointments with Dr. Ashby, picking up Vin's glasses and going to the diner for a late lunch. All three boys seemed to be tired, so Buck and Nettie agreed just to let them rest a bit and have a free afternoon with no school lessons. Of the three, Ezra was the only one to have actually fallen asleep while they were resting.

Vin carefully handed Nettie his glasses case. “Thank you, Miss Nettie,” he said before trotting down the hall to find JD.

Nettie walked to the boys bedroom and knocked before pushing the door open. Ezra was sitting on the edge of his bed, yawning.

“I didn't want to wake you,” Nettie said as she walked to Vin's dresser with the glasses.

“JD already did that,” said Ezra.

“Are you going to go outside to play?” Nettie asked.

Ezra nodded. “Mrs. Wells...”

“What is it Sweetie?” she asked.

Ezra cringed at the endearment. Mrs. Wells had called him Sweetie since the first day she met him. He secretly liked it, but how could she call him that when he'd lied to her and upset her?

“I'm sorry,” he blurted out, ducking his head, unable to look at her.

Nettie crossed the room and gently lifted his chin. “Thank you, Ezra. How about giving an old lady a hug?”

She opened her arms and Ezra awkwardly hugged her. Nettie smiled. Someday hugs would come natural to him. She'd make sure of it.


Vin settled on to Chris's lap in the recliner. Chris shifted and got comfortable. It had been a long day for everyone. Lynn had phoned him after the boys' appointments and told him they had made good progress today, particularly Vin and Ezra. The progress was obvious in both boys' attitudes.

The highpoint of the evening so far had been Ezra's hit-and-run apology. Just after dinner the boy had approached him and gave a rapid fire, “I'm sorry. I don't want to ever make your stomach hurt.” Ezra had then given him a quick hug and hurried out of the room. Chris had managed to get in a quick 'thank you' before Ezra was gone, but he was still somewhat baffled by the stomach comment. He figured it must have something to do with Ezra's ulcer, but he didn't want to press him for answers. He knew that it had taken a lot for Ezra simply to apologize and he was grateful for the progress.

Chris had talked to Josiah about needing some time alone with Vin tonight, so they could try out his new glasses without an audience. Josiah had helped out by inviting Buck, JD and Ezra out to the Bunkhouse to watch a video, so now it was just the two of them in the great room.

“Are you ready to give it a try?” Chris asked.

Vin bit his lip and nodded. He carefully opened the case and fumbled a bit as he put on his new glasses.

“They look good,” Chris said as Vin put the case on the table by the arm of the recliner. He offered Vin the book.

Vin hesitantly took the book and opened it, turning to the place that was marked. It was the book Chris was reading to him each night – Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express. He looked up at Chris.

Chris nodded to him and smiled.

Vin took a deep breath and looked at the page:

“At mid... At midnight, Bill got... ready for his ride. His pony... Bluetail... was ready, too.”

Tears filled his eyes and he looked up at Chris with a huge smile on his face. “I can see 'em. The letters are all bright and big and I can read 'em and I don't have a headache.”

Chris was smiling, too. He was so happy for Vin. He knew that the glasses would help, but Vin couldn't be sure until he actually tried them.

“Everything over there looks funny,” said Vin.

“Yes,” Chris agreed. “The glasses are only for close up things, like reading.”

“Can I do some of my lessons?” Vin asked, eager to try the glasses on his school work.

Chris chuckled. “Why don't we leave that for tomorrow. You can show Nettie how well the glasses work. Tonight, let's just read for fun.”

“Okay,” said Vin. He leaned his head back on Chris's chest and returned his attention to the book. “Suddenly a horn... sounded. Ta-toooo! Ta-toooo! 'Here comes the Pony Express!” cried... Ben.”

Vin continued reading until it was obvious the strain of the day was catching up to him. He had read several pages before Chris picked up the reading and the seven-year-old was content just to lay against his chest listening to the rumbling words.

When it was obvious Vin had fallen asleep, Chris carefully removed his glasses, put them in the case and tucked the case in his pocket. It was amazing what some very expensive plastic and titanium wires could do for a little boy's self-esteem.

He carried Vin to the bedroom and gently tucked him into bed. Ezra and JD were already in bed. He'd seen them come in and stand in the doorway of the great room listening to Vin read. Both of the boys had big grins on their faces as Buck shooed them down the hall.

Chris checked JD, re tucking the boy's blanket. He bent down to check Ezra, pulling his blanket a little higher.

“Dr. Lynn was right,” Ezra whispered. “There was a better way...” he paused, yawning and vainly attempting to stay awake, “...for Vin...”

Chris lingered by the bed as sleep claimed the eight-year-old before he could finish his thought. They had found a better way to deal with Vin's reading problem, but something told him that Ezra had found a better way for himself, too.

He quietly left the room, heading for his own bed knowing that he and Buck, Nathan, Josiah and Nettie... and three little boys... would continue to find 'a better way' as a family.

The End

Next: Rebuilding
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