by Joy K

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

They had given a lot of thought to what they were about to propose to the three boys sitting at the dining room table. Chris and Buck had several discussions with Josiah and Nathan about the possibilities. A conversation with Dr. Ashby had warned of the possibilities, but confirmed the benefits. She had agreed with Josiah that the boys should be offered options, not pressured to do something they might not feel ready to do. So here they sat, watching Chris with questioning eyes.

“All right, guys,” Chris started, “we have a couple of projects for tomorrow and each one of you will get to choose what you want to do.”

Buck nodded. “You don't have to do what everyone else is doing. It's entirely your choice.”

JD reached over and grabbed Ezra's hand in anticipation.

Chris took a deep breath, realizing they were making the boys more nervous by trying to give them an out. “Okay,” he said, “You boys know Virgil, right?”

The boys nodded.

“Mr. Davis stays at the bunkhouse sometimes,” said JD.

“That's right, Little Bit,” said Buck. “He's been staying here on the days he works, and then going over to Tucker on his days off.”

“What's Tucker?” asked JD.

“That's where his wife and children are staying until they can fix their house,” Buck explained.

JD's eyes widened. “Was it broke by the flood?”

“Yes, Virgil's house was damaged by the flood,” Chris said. “He's been fixing it up, but he needs some help to finish. Tomorrow, Buck and I are going to go help him work on his house. He invited you to come help. His two boys and his daughter will be there, too.”

“We don't know how to fix a house,” said JD.

“We'll show you how to do things,” Buck interjected. “Virgil said you can help paint.”

“What is our other option?” Ezra asked. His question didn't surprise anyone. Ezra didn't like getting dirty, and working on a house or painting would definitely be dirty.

“The other option is to go to Miss Nettie's house and help her,” said Chris. “Either way you'll be helping someone.”

“So what do you think?” Buck asked.

“I wanna go with you,” JD said.

Buck grinned. JD's answer was no surprise. He always wanted to go with Buck.

“Do you wanna go with Buck, too, Vin?” JD asked.

Vin chewed on his lip as he considered the options. He wanted to go with Chris, but he didn't want to think about the flood and fixing the flood house might make him think about it. And if he went with Chris, who would help Miss Nettie?

“Ezra, what do you think?” Chris asked, wanting to take the pressure off of Vin.

Ezra glanced at Vin. He didn't like the idea of Vin and JD splitting up and he wouldn't be able to watch out for them, but he really didn't want to work at the flood house.

“Since most are helping with the house, I'd like to help Mrs. Wells,” he said.

Chris barely contained his smile. Ezra made it sound like a valiant sacrifice to avoid the job he didn't want.

Looking back to Vin, he could see Vin was still struggling with his decision. “Anything you choose is fine, Vin.”

“Can I go with you?” he asked Chris, then glanced apologetically at Ezra.

“Sure. All right, the four of us will go help Virgil,” said Chris, “and Ezra, we'll drop you off at Miss Nettie's on the way. Now we all need to get ready for bed. We'll be up early in the morning.”

All three boys groaned – Vin and JD because they had to go to bed early, and Ezra because he had to get up early.

“I want you to get out your clothes that you don't mind getting dirty,” said Chris. “Lay them out tonight so you don't have to think about it in the morning.”

He grinned at Buck as both men caught Ezra rolling his eyes. It was a rarity that the eight-year-old let his feelings be seen, but they all knew how he felt about wearing his “farmer clothes.”

Chris watched the boys follow Buck down the hall, praying for a good night's sleep for all of them. He was grateful that Josiah and Nathan would both be helping at Virgil's as well tomorrow. Hopefully they wouldn't need Nathan's skills as a medic, but undoubtedly, Josiah's support would be helpful for any feelings Virgil's neighborhood might dredge up.

With a sigh, he stood and turned out the dining room light. Checking the front door to make sure it was locked, he headed for his bedroom. Tomorrow promised to be a long day.

+ N P R 7 +

Nettie chuckled as Chris set Ezra's back pack on the entry way table. Ezra made it as far as the couch and sat down, struggling to keep his eyes open. Seven o'clock was far too early for the boy, especially since they had been up since five-thirty so they could have breakfast before leaving the ranch.

“He's got a couple books and a change of clothes in here,” said Chris. He grinned as Ezra jerked his head up and blinked owlishly. “He's not quite with us yet.”

“His medication?” Nettie asked.

Chris pulled a prescription bottle out of his jacket pocket. “One tablet thirty minutes before a meal.”

“I'm well aware of that, Chris,” Nettie said, taking the bottle with a chuckle.

Chris nodded. Maybe Ezra wasn’t the only one not quite with it yet. Nettie would know about Ezra’s meds. She fed the boys lunch nearly every day. “We'll pick him up by dinner time,” he said. “I’m not exactly sure what time, but I have a feeling the boys won't last all day.”

“We'll be here,” said Nettie. She quietly closed the door as Chris left. Turning, she looked at Ezra and smiled again. He had surrendered to his need to sleep and was curled up on the couch. “Rest up, Sweetie,” she said softly as she draped an afghan over him. “There'll be plenty to do later.”

+ N P R 7 +

The closer they got to Virgil's house, the higher the tension in the truck. Vin had been contentedly watching out the window as they drove along the highway, but as they turned off into the subdivision, he stopped looking out the window and focused on the zipper pull on his back pack.

JD's thumb was in his mouth as he watched the passing scenery. The little boy who could talk a mile a minute was now silent.

Chris glanced over at Buck. He wasn't sure Buck was faring much better than the boys. There was a sadness etched on his face as they drove through the flood damaged neighborhood. Some homes had been rebuilt or were under construction, but many still sat in ruins. It was disheartening. So many lives had been damaged or destroyed by a single event.

Chris pulled over and stopped, parking behind several other trucks.

“Are we there?” asked JD.

Chris nodded. “The brown house is Virgil's house.” He unbuckled his seat belt and turned sideways so he could look back at the boys. “Are you guys all right with this? We don’t have to stay.”

Vin looked up, meeting Chris's eyes. He turned and looked at the house, then back to Chris. The house looked okay. JD was here. Chris and Buck were here. Even Josiah and Nathan were here. It would be okay. He gave Chris a nod.

“Do you think they have donuts?” JD asked.

Buck grinned. “I don't know, Little Bit. Let's go find out.” He climbed out of the truck, opened the back door and released JD from his seat belt. Scooping him up, he settled JD on his left hip and snatched the bright red backpack from the floor. He gave Chris a nod as Chris opened the door for Vin.

Vin scrambled out of the truck and stood as close as he could to Chris. Chris handed him his backpack and closed the door. Vin slipped his hand into Chris's hand and they walked toward the house to see how they could help.

“Buck, are we gonna fix our house next time?” JD asked.

Buck stopped and waited for Chris to catch up. This was one of those moments they knew could come up with their decision to help Virgil.

“Little Bit,” he said gently, “we can’t fix your old house.”

Vin surprised them by pulling his hand out of Chris’s grasp and continuing to walk to the porch. He sat down on the steps to wait, telling them through his defensive stance that this was not a conversation he wanted to participate in.

“Why not?” asked JD, tears flooding his big eyes.

Buck’s heart was beating a mile a minute, but he knew he needed to present a calm, matter-of-fact demeanor to the boys. He needed to be the steady rock to hang on to.

“JD,” Chris said, resting his hand on JD’s small shoulder as the boy still sat on Buck’s hip, “all the houses where you lived were broken so bad that they couldn’t be fixed. They were dangerous to people and to animals. The city didn’t want anyone to get sick or hurt, so to make it safe, they took the houses down.”

Buck gave Chris a halfhearted smile of encouragement. What he told JD was a lot better than saying ‘Sorry kid, they bulldozed your house.’

“What about Mama?” JD asked, sniffing.

“She’s not there anymore,” said Buck. “Remember? She’s in heaven, and we made the special place to remember her.”

JD nodded. “The seminary.”

‘Close enough,’ Buck thought. The little guy didn’t need a lesson right now on the difference between Seminary and Cemetery. And someday they’d tell JD how Chris sold the property and set the money aside in a trust for him. For now he just needed to know the basics and that no matter what, he was safe and had a home and family.

“Can we go give her flowers again?” JD asked.

“I think that’s a fine idea,” Buck agreed. “Maybe we can do that tomorrow.”

JD nodded and leaned on Buck’s shoulder. Buck held him a little tighter, giving a smile as Chris rubbed JD’s back.

“Are you ready to help, Little Bit?” asked Buck.

JD nodded, but didn’t relinquish the hug.

“Well, let’s go catch up with Vin and get started,” Buck said, walking toward the porch.

“You all right, Cowboy?” Chris asked quietly.

Vin nodded and stood, slipping his hand into Chris’s hand again as Chris knocked on the door.

+ N P R 7 +

“Welcome,” Virgil said as the family entered through the open front door. “Hi, boys,” he said, addressing Vin and JD. “I'm glad you could come today. Tim and Terry should be back in a minute. They went to get some tarps out of the truck.”

“Sheriff, Buck,” Christine greeted as she came in from the kitchen. “Thanks for coming. And who have we here?”

“This is Vin,” Chris said, “And this is JD. Boys, this is Virgil's wife, Christine, and this is their daughter, Jennifer.”

The boys greeted the ladies. Jennifer was about twelve and looked like a miniature version of her mother.

“DAD! We got the tarps!” Twin nine-year-old boys raced into the house.

“Inside voice,” Virgil warned. “Boys, this is Vin and JD.” He pointed to his boys. “This one's Tim, and this one's Terry.”

“You look just like him,” JD said to the closest boy.

“We're twins,” the boy replied. “Are you going to help us paint?”

JD shrugged. The twins ran to the bedroom.

“Where do you want us?” Chris asked.

“Well, Josiah's hanging cabinets in the kitchen. He could use some more help,” said Virgil. “And the paint squad could use more hands.”

“We'll start with the paint,” Chris said, “and get these guys going.”

Virgil nodded and led them to the bedroom. The twins had started on one wall and were doing a remarkably good job for a pair of nine-year-olds. The lower portion of the wall was half covered, and very little paint was on the boys.

Chris and Buck settled in and patiently showed the boys how to get paint on their rollers and the best way to put it on the wall. The boys could paint everything they could reach, but were to stay off the ladder.

JD started in with his normal gusto slapping paint everywhere on the wall. Buck just grinned and followed along behind, smoothing out the strokes. Vin was much more tentative. He seemed hesitant to start, and when he did, he looked to Chris to make sure he was doing it right.

“Good job, Vin,” Chris encouraged. “Keep going.”

Vin smiled and dipped his roller in the paint pan again, pleased with Chris's praise. He started rolling with a little more confidence.

“Uh-oh!” said JD.

Chris and Vin looked over and saw the splotch of blue paint on Buck's leg.

“That's okay, Little Bit,” said Buck. “It was just an accident. I shouldn't have been so close. And these are my paint jeans anyway.”

JD looked uncertain. Buck had said to be careful because paint was hard to get off. But now he was saying it was okay.

Vin watched Chris curiously as he stepped past him and “accidentally” bumped Buck on the other leg with his paint roller.

“Oops. Sorry, Buck,” he said.

“See,” Buck said, picking up on Chris's lead, “even Chris does it sometimes.” Buck's roller swung dangerously close to Chris, but he refrained from starting a paint war. They were here to help the boys as they helped Virgil's family. They wanted the boys to experience a positive result from the flood – neighbors and friends coming together to help each other start over. And a paint war, though deserved, would distract from their goal.

When the boys went back to their painting, Buck caught Chris's attention. “Watch your back,” he mouthed. Chris grinned and returned to his painting.

+ N P R 7 +

Ezra woke by nine o'clock and volunteered to dust and vacuum. He didn't mind getting rid of the dirt as long as he didn't have to touch it.

Nettie tucked the vacuum cleaner into the hall closet and brushed her hands. “Thank you, Ezra,” she said. “Now, I need a hand outside.”

Ezra silently followed her outside, wondering what they were going to do. He had assumed he would help her cook or bake or do inside chores. He hadn't even considered that they would work outside.

Nettie led him to the barn where she retrieved a hammer and a can of nails from the tack room. She smiled at the look of consternation on his face. “We have a fence to fix.”

“A fence?” Ezra asked as he followed her to the fence line beside the corral.

“We don't want the cattle to get out,” Nettie said.

“I didn't know you had cattle,” Ezra said.

“I don't anymore. These are Mr. Larabee's cows,” she said, putting the can of nails on the ground next to the fence post. “He leases my land.”

“Shouldn't he have someone fix the fence?” Ezra blurted out before he could stop himself.

“Well, I'm sure he would,” Nettie said, “but this just happened and we're here, so we'll take care of it.” She heard the boy sigh, but didn't comment on it.

“Do you think you can hold this rail up for me?” Nettie asked.

She helped Ezra lift the board. It was awkward and as she reached for a nail Ezra struggled to hold the rail in place. It was heavier than he had anticipated. He tried to shift it so he could get a better grip, but ended up dropping it.

“I'm sorry,” he said anxiously.

“It's all right,” Nettie assured. She frowned in concern seeing Ezra suck on his index finger and then examine it closely. “Let me see,” she said setting the hammer on top of the fence post and reaching for his hand.

“It's okay,” he said, wincing as she touched his finger.

“Looks like you've got a splinter. Let's go inside and take care of it,” she said, pulling him gently toward the house.

“I can do it,” he protested.

“We'll fix this up, and then we'll come back and finish the fence,” she said. “I should have thought to loan you a pair of gloves.”

Reaching the kitchen, she turned on the faucet and had Ezra hold his hand under the water while she went to get her small first aid kit.

Ezra was silent as she made quick work of removing the splinter and putting a band-aid over the tiny wound. It didn't really need the band-aid, but it would help keep it clean, and it was a status symbol to little boys.

Going back out to the broken fence, she gave Ezra the hammer. “I'll hold the rail,” she said, “and you can nail it in place.”

“I don't know how,” Ezra said quietly.

“Let me show you,” Nettie said. She took the hammer, patiently showed him how to place the nail and get it started by pounding a nail into the fence post. “Now you try it.”

Ezra carefully tapped the nail until it was deep enough to stay in place, then let go and hit it a little harder. He missed a few times, but Nettie praised his effort.

She lifted the rail and held it, while Ezra did his best to nail it into place. It took longer for the boy to finish the job than it would for someone else, but he had the sense of accomplishment that came from completing the chore.

They replaced two more rails before declaring the job done. Carrying the hammer and nails back to the barn, Nettie could see that something was troubling Ezra.

“Something's on your mind,” she said.

“You’re a lady and you shouldn't have to do that,” Ezra replied.

Nettie smiled and put her arm around his shoulder hearing the implied ‘and you’re old’ in his statement. “Thank you for your concern,” she said. “Let's see what other chores we can finish before we make lunch.”

+ N P R 7 +

It was just after noon when Virgil called a break for lunch and free time for the boys. They had worked hard all morning and the adults had only had to clean up a few stray paint footprints throughout the house. All four boys had flecks of paint in their hair and on their clothes, and a few smudges on their hands and faces. Buck had to work a little to get the blue streak off JD’s face.

“Why don’t you boys go play while we get lunch ready?” Virgil said, opening the back door for JD and Vin to join Tim and Terry. He had assured Chris and Buck that the back yard had been meticulously cleaned of debris a few weeks earlier, so it was safe for the boys.

Vin and JD felt comfortable enough to run and play with the twins. Tim and Terry had fun teasing the boys pretending to be each other. JD gamely kept trying to get their names right, but the boys were identical. Vin pointed out to JD that Terry had a blue hand print on the back of his shirt. The older boys were baffled at how JD had figured out who was who and why he kept running behind them before declaring their names. As the games continued, the squeals and giggles could be heard inside, bringing smiles to the workers’ faces. Chris and Buck stole glances out the kitchen window when they could, as they helped Josiah finish hanging a cabinet. With the cabinet finished, they, too, took a break.

It wasn’t long before some of the volunteers started setting up the potluck lunch on the back porch. Several couples had brought food for the workers and Virgil’s wife had made a quick run to a nearby market to purchase hot chicken to feed the crew.

The boys stopped playing long enough to tuck hungrily into their food. Hard work and growling tummies pushed away any lingering shyness they may have felt. They sat on the two blankets that Christine had laid out for them for their picnic, while the adults sat on lawn chairs or the edge of the porch.

Chris and Buck smiled as they watched a very animated JD telling one of the twins a story about something. The fact that there was a four year age difference didn’t seem to matter to either boy. Knowing the boys were in good hands, Chris and Buck spent some time enjoying the company of the other adults as they ate.

About a half an hour later, JD wandered over to Buck and climbed up on his lap. Buck handed off his empty plate to Chris as JD snuggled.

“I’m tired,” JD said with a sigh.

Chris glanced over to see how Vin was doing. He was only slightly surprised to see the seven year old sacked out on the blanket. Five thirty was almost eight hours ago, and the boys had worked and played hard. Even Tim and Terry were just lying on the blanket playing quietly with some action figures. Chris stretched, thinking he wouldn’t mind a cat nap himself.

“Well, Little Bit,” said Buck as he saw the other boys resting, “why don’t you just lie down next to Vin?”

“I don’t need a nap!” JD’s protest was spoiled by a yawn.

“I didn’t say you had to take a nap,” Buck said, familiar with JD’s argument that naps were for little kids. “Just lie down and rest a bit so you have more energy to help later.”

JD yawned again. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Buck agreed with a grin, carrying JD back to the blanket and helping him settle.

The adults cleaned up the mess and started back to work. Christine told Tim and Terry to let the other boys sleep until they woke up on their own. She gave both boys their portable video games to play and instructed them to keep the sound turned down.

It was almost two hours later when Terry ran inside the back door anxiously calling, “Dad!”

All work stopped at the tone of the boy's voice.

“What's wrong, Terry?” Virgil asked.

“Um... Well... uh...” Terry stammered, not certain what to say. Finally he looked up at Chris. “Mr. Larabee, I think you'd better come.”

Buck and Chris exchanged worried glances as they followed Terry out into the backyard.

"JD was crying and Vin was pulling him behind the shed. I - I think Vin was crying, too," Terry stammered as he led them toward the newly rebuilt shed. “They won’t come out and they won’t say anything and I don’t know what’s wrong!”

“It’ll be all right, son,” said Virgil, draping his arm over Terry’s shoulder. “Tim, come over here,” he added, calling Tim away from the edge of the shed.

“We didn’t do anything, Dad!” Tim said.

“I know,” said Virgil slowly guiding the boys away from the shed so Chris and Buck could get to their boys. “Vin and JD have been having some rough times,” he explained. “Their mom died,” he said softly.

“In the flood?” asked Terry.

Virgil nodded. Seeing tears of sympathy flooding his sons’ eyes, he pulled both boys to him and hugged them tightly. “You did the right thing, boys. You befriended them and then came and got us when they needed help.”

“Is everything all right?” Christine asked as she stepped out onto the back porch and joined Virgil and the boys.

“Honey,” said Virgil, “why don't you and the boys get started on Jennifer's room? We'll be in to help in a little while.”

The boys moved from his arms to their mother's, and she gently guided them inside.

+ N P R 7 +

“Thank you for helping me today, Ezra,” Nettie said, handing him another jar to label. “I’m sure you would rather have gone with Vin and JD.”

Ezra unconsciously shook his head as he carefully placed the label on the jar.


Ezra looked up wide-eyed, realizing he had given away his answer.

“I didn’t want to get paint on me,” he said.

“I see,” said Nettie, knowing that there was much more than the need to stay clean that motivated Ezra.

“Do you think they’re okay?” he asked quietly.

“Why wouldn’t they be okay?” she asked, handing him another jar.

Slightly distracted by his work, he said, “Because the houses and everything are still broken.”

Nettie sat down beside him. “Is that why you didn’t want to go?” she asked.

Tears filled his eyes and he wiped them away in frustration. “I wanted to help, but I didn’t want to see,” he said closing his eyes so he wouldn’t see her disappointment.

His eyes opened as she slipped her arms around him and kissed him on the top of his head.

“You are helping, Sweetie,” she said. “Remember, Chris gave you two choices of places you could help. Neither is better than the other.”

Ezra turned and looked up into her eyes, his disbelief clearly showing in his expression.

“What?” she said. “Is helping an old woman do her chores any less important than helping a family build their home?”

“You’re not old,” Ezra said.

Nettie smiled. “And you have no reason to feel ashamed. There is no shame in wanting to avoid something that makes you feel bad.”

“But I should have told Vin and JD,” Ezra said. “I shouldn’t have let them go.”

“Things aren’t as bad as they were when you went to the city,” she said. “Yes, there are still damaged homes and buildings, but some of them have been repaired. That’s what Chris and Buck wanted to help you see. They wanted you boys to be able to help someone else who had flood damage and see that things will get better.”

“But I didn’t help,” Ezra said dropping his head forward.

“Oh, but you did,” said Nettie. “Do you know where most of these jars of fruit are going?”

Ezra shook his head.

“We’re taking them to the food bank at the Sheriff’s Office,” Nettie said. “Families who don’t have enough food because of the flood will get these.”

Ezra impulsively hugged Nettie. It wasn't his usual hit-and-run hug. When she hugged him back he relished the feeling and lingered in the embrace. Nettie made him feel good. He couldn't define why he really wanted to come here today. Part of it was that he didn't want to get paint on him. More of the reason was because he didn't want to be reminded of the flood, but the biggest reason was that he just needed to be with Miss Nettie today. She smelled good and she made him feel special.

And although the two women had very little in common, she made him miss his mother just a little less.

+ N P R 7 +

It had taken just a little coaxing to get JD out from behind the shed. Getting a clear explanation from him was a lot more difficult. He was crying so hard that he was having trouble catching his breath.

“Easy, Little Bit,” Buck soothed as Chris continued trying to coax Vin out. “Are you okay?”

“Vin...” JD sobbed. “Scared.”

Buck wrapped him into a tighter hug trying to transmit to JD that he was loved and he was safe. He took a few steps away to give Chris a little more room to work with Vin.

“Hey, Cowboy,” Chris soothed. “It's okay. You're safe. I'm here.”

Vin seemed not to hear him.

“Vin, come on. Look at me. You're all right,” Chris coaxed. He kept talking for what seemed like several minutes. His desperation to comfort his son outweighed his patience. Carefully he reached between the shed and the fence and pulled Vin out, picking him up and holding him tightly, repeating over and over that he was safe.

The movement was enough to shake Vin out of his unresponsiveness. When Chris's words sunk in, he threw his arms around Chris's neck and held on.

“That's it,” Chris said. “I've got you. You're safe.” He turned toward Buck, giving him a nod.

“Are you all right, Son?” Buck asked JD.

JD hiccuped and nodded. “Vin scare-did me,” he said softly. “He waked up crying and he was shaking real hard and he wouldn't talk to me.”

“Did he have a bad dream?” Buck asked.

“He wouldn't say nothing,” JD repeated. “He grabbed my hand and pulled me over there,” he added pointing at the shed.

Josiah, Nathan and Virgil were listening to the conversation, but staying back to allow Buck and Chris to handle the situation. It was somewhat of a relief that JD's reaction wasn't related directly to the flood. He was frightened by his brother's reaction and calmed down when he saw Vin calming down.

“Maybe he woke up and didn't know where he was,” Buck suggested. “That can be pretty scary.”

Josiah gave Buck a nod as he walked over toward Chris and Vin. As a counselor, Vin's reaction concerned him. It was likely that he'd had a nightmare and it was probably spurred by the destruction they had seen on the way here. That was to be expected. It was the withdrawal and flight response that put him in counselor mode.

“Are you all right, Cowboy?” Chris asked quietly.

“I didn't know where I was,” Vin confessed.

“Did you have a bad dream?” Chris asked.

Vin nodded and relaxed his grip slightly.

“Do you know where we are now?”

Vin nodded again. “We're at Mr. Davis' house.”

Josiah was close by, but didn't see any need to intervene. Chris and Vin were doing fine on their own. He gave Chris a nod of encouragement and quietly walked back to the porch and sat on the steps with Nathan and Virgil. The men silently offered their support, willing to step in if needed.

“Is Vin okay?” JD asked.

Buck smiled with quiet pride. His boy had gone from being upset and frightened by Vin, to concern. “Take a look,” Buck said. “What do you think?”

Chris was now sitting in a lawn chair with Vin on his lap and they were talking. Vin had stopped crying and appeared to be calm.

“Can I go see?” JD asked.

Buck nodded and let him down. JD needed to see for himself that Vin was okay. JD ran over to Chris and Vin with Buck trailing behind him.

“Are you 'kay, Vin?” JD asked.

Vin took a deep shuddering breath, and hiccuped. “Sorry I scared you.”

JD reached up to hug Vin and Chris pulled him up on his lap, wrapping his arms around both boys. “How about you, JD?” he asked. “Are you all right?”

JD nodded, his black hair flying with the movement.

Buck lay his hand on the back of Vin's head and brushed gently down to his shoulder. Vin looked up at him and gave him a shy smile.

The smile faded when he looked past Buck and saw the house. He could see the men on the porch and others glancing out the window. He closed his eyes and tucked his chin to his chest.

“Vin?” asked Chris, seeing the change.

“Sorry I 'barrassed you,” Vin mumbled.

“You didn't embarrass me,” Chris said.

“Ever'body's looking,” Vin said.

“That's because they're concerned,” Buck said. “They just want to be sure you're okay.”

“There's nothing to be embarrassed about,” Chris said, realizing that Vin was really embarrassed for himself. “You had a bad dream and it scared you. That's normal.”

“Yep,” Buck agreed. “I can remember one time I was staying at my friend's house. I had a bad dream and when I woke up, I didn't know where I was. You know what I did?”

Vin and JD both shook their heads.

“I hid under the bed until I figured it out.”

JD giggled trying to picture Buck hiding under a bed.

“You're too big,” he said.

“I wasn't when it happened,” he said. “I was just a little older than Vin.”

Vin looked at him trying to discern if he was telling the truth.

“Same thing happened to me,” said Chris.

“Did you hide under the bed?” JD asked.

“No, I hid in the barn.” Chris held both boys tightly for a couple of minutes, just letting the feeling of safety sink in. Buck crouched in front of them, a hand on each boy's knee.

“Well, guys,” Chris said, “do you feel up to helping a little more, or would you rather go home?”

Vin trembled slightly. Chris tightened the embrace.

“It’s up to you,” Chris said. “Either way is fine.”

Vin wanted to go home. He wanted to get away from here and never ever ever ever think about the flood again. But Tim and Terry needed their help. Terry said they had to stay in another town with their mom and her parents and couldn’t even see their dad unless he had a day off. They wouldn’t be together until their house was finished.

He looked at JD. “Is it ‘kay with you if we stay?” Vin asked.

JD nodded. “I like to paint.”

Chris smiled. He knew it was hard for Vin to make the decision to stay, but he had done it. “Well, shall we go see if we can finish Jennifer’s room?”

JD reached for Buck and giggled when Buck scooped him up and tickled him with his mustache. Chris waited for a cue from Vin whether he wanted to walk or be carried. Vin slid off his lap and held out his hand. Chris took his hand and they headed toward the steps.

Approaching the steps, they could hear Josiah, Nathan and Virgil deep in conversation. Chris doubted that the boys would recognize that the conversation was solely for their benefit.

“You did that, too?” asked Nathan, when Josiah finished speaking. “After my Mama died, I had bad dreams all the time.” He looked at Josiah and continued at Josiah's nod of encouragement. “Sometimes I'd wake up screaming. Sometimes, I cried. One time I locked myself in the closet. I wouldn't come out until Daddy convinced me he wasn't gone, too.”

“Does that still happen?” Josiah asked.

“No,” said Nathan. “Sometimes I'll have dreams about Mama or Daddy, but most of the time they're happy dreams. If I do have a bad dream, it might scare me a little, but I just remind myself it's not real.”

“I still have nightmares every once in awhile about my service in Iraq,” said Virgil. “I remember waking up one time and I didn’t know where I was. I thought I was sleeping in a tent over there. It took Christine several minutes to convince me she was real and I was home.”

Josiah nodded. “Nightmares are a very normal response to a traumatic event… like the flood, for example. We all have bad dreams about the flood, but eventually they’ll get better.” He looked up and caught Vin’s eyes watching him.

Vin leaned his cheek on Chris’s arm. Chris squeezed his hand tighter and shook it a little. “These guys are ready to help some more,” he said.

“Great!” Virgil said with a smile. “We want to try and finish painting the bedrooms and then we’ll call it a day.”

Everyone stood and moved toward the house. Chris stepped forward, but paused when Vin didn’t move with him. He looked down and saw Vin staring at where Josiah had been sitting. The seven year old was deep in thought.

“He’s right, you know,” Chris said softly. “Everyone has nightmares… and they will get better.”

Vin nodded and stepped toward the house.

Chris wasn’t sure Vin really agreed, but at least he was thinking about the fact that maybe he wasn’t alone in his nightmares and that maybe they were normal.

+ N P R 7 +