Running Blind

by Joy K

Nathan knocked urgently on the doorframe and opened the door to Chris's office. "Chris, something's going on down at the car wash and your truck is involved."

"What happened?" asked Chris as he grabbed his jacket and followed Nathan into the outer office.

"The details aren't clear," said Nathan. "My Jeep's out front. We got a call from Henry saying there was an accident out in front of the car wash and something about your truck blocking something."

Chris's stomach clenched. Were Buck and the boys in an accident? Were they injured? He tried to push away the worry as he got into Nathan's patrol Jeep and they drove the few blocks to the car wash.

The scene was confusing. There were two cars in the street that appeared to have been involved in a rear-end accident. Chris's truck was sitting in the exit lane of the car wash, doors wide open, blocking the other vehicles from exiting. There were groups of people standing around the cars, and some kind of a commotion on the other side of the truck.

Nathan moved toward the cars to see if anyone was injured while Chris went to check out the commotion by his truck and to check on Buck and the boys. As he approached he could hear someone saying, "Please, Mister. You gotta move the truck. It's blocking my customers."

He went around the truck and saw Buck sitting on the curb, both boys wrapped tightly in his arms.

"Buck?" he said as he stepped forward. His breath caught as Buck looked up with tears streaming down his face.

Buck?" he said again in a hushed voice as he knelt on the pavement in front of them. "Are you all right?"

Buck shook his head. He was far from all right. He felt like he was shaking just as much as Vin. He had failed miserably as a protector for the boys. He should have known the water would scare them. He should have known Vin would run. When he saw that car bearing down on him...


Buck shook his head. "Car wash scared them," was all he managed to say.

"Can somebody please move this truck?" whined the attendant.

Chris looked at him. "You have a driver's license?"

The teenager nodded. "But we're not allowed to move the vehicles."

"Move it," Chris ordered. "But any scratches or dents are your responsibility."

"Yes, Sir," the boy answered, Chris's uniform giving him all the authority he needed.

Chris turned his attention back to Buck as Nathan jogged over from the accident site leaving two other officers to deal with the aftermath.

"Let me take a look at Vin," said Nathan.

"Why?" asked Chris.

"The driver said she almost hit him," Nathan said as he tried to get Buck to let go.

Chris sucked in a breath as he saw a tremor run through Vin's body. "It's okay, Cowboy," he soothed. "Let Nathan make sure you're okay."

He gently pulled at the arms that were wrapped tightly around Buck's neck. As soon as Vin let go of Buck, he turned and latched onto Chris. "Easy," Chris said reassuringly.

He could feel the boy trembling but knew that Nathan needed to be able to look at him, so he carefully turned Vin so that Nathan could more easily take his pulse and check his blood pressure.

"Are you hurt anywhere, Vin?" Nathan asked as he gently ran his fingers up and down Vin's spine.

Vin tucked his head under Chris's chin. It wasn't the answer they wanted, but it did tell them that he was responsive and hearing them. Chris couldn't make himself push Vin away enough for Nathan to do a complete exam, but the brief check looked like he was okay physically. Chris nodded his head toward Buck and Nathan followed his lead, checking his friend.

"How are you doing, Buck?" he asked.

"Oh, fine. Just fine," said Buck sarcastically.

"It's not your fault," said Nathan.

"Yeah, right," said Buck, "If I hadn't decided to go to the car wash this wouldn't have happened."

"How's your ankle?" Nathan asked, knowing that Buck's still recovering ankle wasn't ready for his mad dash after Vin.

"It's fine," Buck said abruptly.

Nathan understood the subject was closed, that Buck wasn't ready to deal with whether he was injured when he was feeling so guilty about the whole event.

"Ice it when you get home," he said, "and get some rest."

JD sniffled and Buck hugged him a little tighter. "How're you doin', Little Bit?"

"Is it gone?" JD asked.

"It's gone," Buck confirmed. "You're safe."

Three men and two little boys sat quietly on the curb for a few minutes absorbing the shock of the situation and letting the adrenaline finish running it's course. No words were spoken as heartbeats gradually reduced and respirations slowed to normal. JD fell asleep and Vin was starting to doze.

Nathan checked Vin's vitals again before he said he needed to go back to the office.

Chris nodded. "Would you lock up my office for me? I think I'm going to take the boys home. I'll catch a ride with one of you again in the morning."

"Sure. See you in a couple hours." Nathan patted Chris on the shoulder in support as he left the foursome on the curb.

Chris watched Buck rub circles on JD's back. He felt somewhat in the dark over what had happened, but knew that he and Buck would need to talk in private to go over the details. It wouldn't help the boys any to hash it out when they were still so upset. Just from the little he'd said, Chris knew Buck felt responsible and doubted his abilities to care for the boys. But the soothing he was doing for the sleeping child in his arms told another story.

"Let's go home," Chris said softly.


Nettie gently pushed the bedroom door open to check on her young charge. She moved quietly to the rollaway bed and touched her hand to the sleeping boy's cheek and forehead. He had a slight temperature, but that was to be expected as his body worked to heal itself.

Ezra sucked in a deep breath, slightly disturbed by the touch, but he snuggled deeper into his pillow as she re-tucked his blanket around him.

Nettie reached down and scratched Sam's head. The old Labrador thumped his tail appreciatively on the floor. She smiled and quietly went back to the kitchen leaving them both to rest. Ezra's sleep would be disturbed soon enough when the other boys got home.


Buck wished that Vin and JD's sleep hadn't been disturbed. As they moved toward the truck, JD was instantly alert and when he realized where he was going he began to cry and struggle. He did not want to get back in the truck.

Chris had his hands full with a tussle of his own. Vin, though a less vocal than JD, was pushing at his arms trying to get down.

"Let me go. Let me go."

"Calm down," Chris answered soothingly, but Vin continued to struggle. "Calm down!" Chris ordered.

Both boys froze, startled by Chris's authoritative tone.

"There's nothing to be afraid of," he said. "It's just the truck. You've ridden in it dozens of times."

"It's going to woosh us away," JD said with a sniffle.

"No, it's not, Little Bit," Buck said.

"Follow me," Chris said.

Buck followed without question, still carrying JD.

"Where're we going?" asked JD wiping his nose on his sleeve.

"We're going to see what's inside the car wash," Chris said as they approached the entrance. He could feel Vin tense as they got closer.

There were no cars going through, so Chris called the attendant over. "I'd like to walk my boys through so they can see how it works."

"Yes, Sir," the young man said acknowledging the Sheriff's request.

"It's going to woosh us," said JD.

"No, it's not," said Chris. "They won't turn it on while we're inside."

"I don't wanna go," Vin said softly.

"It's all right," said Chris. "There's nothing to be afraid of."

With those words he stepped inside, followed closely by Buck, virtually forcing the boys to face their fears.

"See those tracks on the floor?" he asked. "That's how they roll the truck through the wash." He took a few more steps. "And these nozzles - that's where the soapy water sprays onto the truck."

He could feel Vin's heart beating rapidly and knew that Buck was experiencing the same with JD. The younger boy's natural curiosity, however, was taking effect and he started to look at all the equipment.

"What's that?" JD asked pointing to the long blue strips of cloth.

"Those are the cloths that rub the dirt off," said Chris. "Do you want to touch it?"

JD reached his hand out to touch it, secure that Buck would save him if something went wrong. "It's wet. Hey, Vin, touch it."

Vin shook his head. "It covered the truck," he said in almost a whisper.

"That made you feel a little closed in?" asked Chris shifting Vin slightly on his hip.

The seven-year-old nodded.

"Well, you can see now that it's just cloth, right?"

Vin worked up his courage and slowly reached out to touch his nemesis. It was wet and it was just cloth.

Buck smiled at Chris grateful that his friend had the insight to help the boys face their fear. He figured that neither boy would want to go through a car wash anytime soon, but at least they would know how it worked and wouldn't have to be afraid.

"There's more sprayers," said JD.

"That's right, Little Bit," said Buck. "They rinse off the soapy water."

Vin leaned forward a little in Chris's arms, trying to figure out what the next things were.

"Those are the dryers," Chris said. "They blow air on the car and it blows the water off it."

"They shaked the truck," said JD.

"I'm sure they did," Chris answered. "They blow very hard."

When they reached the end of the building and stepped outside, Vin looked at the street and then buried his face on Chris's shoulder.

"You don't need to be afraid of it, okay?" Chris said.

"I'm sorry," Vin said softly.

"For what?" Chris asked in surprise. "You didn't know what was going on and it scared you. There's nothing to be sorry about."

"I unbuckled," Vin said with his face still against Chris's shoulder.

"Yes, you did," Chris said with resignation. "And you almost got hit because of it. Do you see why only adults should unbuckle you?"

Vin started crying again. Chris knew the boy had been severely frightened by the car wash, but even more so by the car that nearly hit him. He knew that Vin wouldn't consciously make the choice to unbuckle without permission again, but there was no guaranteeing what he would do in panic. Hopefully, as time passed and he felt more secure with everything, there would be fewer things that frightened him.

"I'm sorry," Vin said again. "I didn't mean to get hit by the car."

"I know you didn't," said Chris. "I know you didn't." He held him tightly and fought back his own tears as the realization of how close they'd come to losing Vin hit home.

"I's sorry, too," said JD.

"For what?" asked Buck.

"I don't know," said JD. "I's just sorry."

Buck smiled and squeezed JD, thankful that no one had been hurt.

"Do you think we can go home now?" Buck asked.

JD nodded and the foursome headed to the truck. "Buck?"

"Yes, Little Bit?"

"I like the soap in the buckets and the hoses better."

Buck chuckled. "Me, too, JD. Me, too."


Ezra knew as soon as they entered the house that something was wrong. They were late getting back and Chris had come home with them even though it wasn't time for him to get off work. Vin and JD's eyes and cheeks were puffy like they had been crying. Buck looked exhausted.

"What's wrong?" Ezra asked. "Did Doctor Ashby upset them?"

Josiah stood in the doorway of the kitchen with Nettie watching the dynamics of the miniature confrontation playing out in front of them. Ezra gathered his brothers from Chris and Buck and stood protectively between the boys and the men.

"No," said Chris. "Their appointments with Lynn went well."

Josiah noted Ezra's frown at Chris's statement. They all knew that Ezra tried to hold the therapist at a distance, but it surprised him that he would blame her for the boys' distress.

"Then what happened? Why have they been crying? What did you do to them?"

"Whoa," said Chris. "They just got a little scared at the car wash. They're all right now."

"Then why is Vin limping?" Ezra asked.

All eyes turned to Vin, who in turn scowled at Ezra for drawing attention to him. "I'm not limping," he said. "I'm fine."

Buck and Chris exchanged worried glances.

"Are you sure, Vin?" Chris asked gently.

Vin nodded. "Is it time for supper?" he asked unconsciously attempting to redirect their focus. "Something smells really good."

"It's almost ready," said Nettie. "Go wash up."

Josiah watched as the two younger boys hurried down the hall to wash up. Ezra slowly backed away from the men, before turning to follow.

"That was interesting," said Josiah after Ezra left the room.

Buck sank down into a chair wearily. Now that the boys were out of sight, he could let his guard down.

"It was my fault," he said softly.

"No," said Chris. "You couldn't have known that a car wash would scare them."

"But Vin almost..."

"Almost, Buck," said Chris. "Thank God, it was just almost."

"Almost what?" asked Josiah.

Buck quickly explained the events, filling in a lot of questions that JD's abbreviated version had raised for Chris.

Josiah was silent for a moment before expressing what they all felt. "Thank God he wasn't injured."

"When Vin ran in front of that car..." Buck closed his eyes briefly. "I knew I couldn't get there in time. The only thing that saved him was that she had just started accelerating from the stoplight. If she'd been going full speed..." He ran both hands through his hair. "Somehow she stopped. She was only inches away from him. And then the car behind her couldn't stop in time and rear-ended her. Thank God no one was hurt." Buck let out a deep sigh. "I'm afraid I just set them back even further in their therapy."

"Maybe not," said Josiah. "You walked them through the thing that scared them. They turned to you for security."

"Not Vin," said Buck.

"Not at first," Josiah agreed, "But it sounds like he was clinging pretty tightly after the accident."

"He had no other option."

"Enough," said Chris. "We can't undo anything that's happened to them in the past. All we can do is help them cope and overcome it."

Buck heaved a sigh. Chris was right and he knew that deep inside. He just felt so helpless. Something as simple as going through a car wash shouldn't become a traumatic event.

"I know Lynn is booked solid the rest of the week, but maybe she could see Vin and JD in Ezra's time slot," Buck suggested.

"No," said Josiah. "I don't think it's best for Ezra to keep skipping his appointments."

Buck and Chris both looked at him waiting for an explanation.

"Call Lynn, let her know what happened and get her input if you want to," Josiah said, "But don't cancel Ezra's appointment. Did you notice how quick he was to blame her when he saw the boys had been upset?"

Chris nodded. He had noticed, too, that as soon as he told Ezra it wasn't Doctor Ashby that had the boys upset, that the eight-year-old then blamed him and Buck.

"Ezra is upset that something happened to Vin and JD and he wasn't there to protect them. But it's even more than that," Josiah said. "He's afraid. He's trying to hold everything together. He doesn't want anything to happen to Vin and JD because they are all he has. It comes across as being overprotective, but it's really self-preservation."

The three men were silent for a few moments before Buck said sadly, "I wish they could just be kids."

The bathroom door banged shut down the hall and they knew the boys were headed back.

"Are you going to be all right?" Chris asked softly.

Buck nodded. "Gotta be. We've got little guys who need me to be."


The trip to wash up for dinner had taken longer than normal because Ezra insisted on finding out what had happened. The boys went into their bedroom to talk.

"We wanted to wash the truck," said JD.

"As a s'prise for Chris," Vin added.

"But we didn't know you go inside a big building," said JD as he bounced on the edge of the bed. "We thought the water was going to woosh us away like it did that man in the flood."

Ezra closed his eyes tightly, but it was too late. The unwanted image of the dead man floating past them in the floodwaters filled his mind.

"The water sprayed really hard and it scared me," JD continued. "Vin didn't like it when the cloths fell on the truck because he couldn't see out."

Vin sat quietly on the bed not adding anything to the conversation, but listening.

"And Vin runned out in front of a car."

Ezra's eyes widened in surprise.

"And it almost hitted him," JD added.

"Are you all right?" Ezra asked.

Vin nodded.

"But you were limping," said Ezra.

"I was not!" Vin argued.

"Were, too!"

"Was not!"

"Were, too!"

Vin's heart was beating rapidly in his chest as he remembered the car coming at him and that he couldn't move.

"I'm fine!" he said with a sniff when tears unexpectedly filled his eyes. "We gotta wash up."

JD moved over and hugged his 'brother.'

Ezra wanted to say he was sorry for making Vin upset but his mother had taught him that apologies were a sign of weakness, so he settled for saying, "I'm glad you're okay."


JD retold his story to Miss Nettie, to Josiah and even to Nathan when he arrived later in the evening. The telling of what happened seemed to be therapeutic for him and by the time the evening wound down and bedtime neared, he had forgotten about the car wash and was focused on the Madagascar DVD they were watching.

Ezra's stomach was still bothering him a little and the medication seemed to slow him down, so no one was surprised when he dozed off by eight o'clock. He had started out sitting properly on the couch between Josiah and Nathan, but had gradually listed to his left and was now sleeping against Josiah's arm.

Vin seemed unsettled. He didn't talk about what happened, but he didn't seem to be able to stay focused on the movie. He played with the DVD cover reading it and the advertisements inside. He lay down on the floor. He rubbed his thigh. He rolled over on his side. He sat up. He lay back down. He rubbed his thigh. He picked at the dirt on the bottom of his shoe. He traced patterns on the carpet. He rubbed his thigh. He ate some more popcorn and flopped back down again.

All of this would have gone unnoticed if it were JD, but this was Vin, the one who was normally quiet and still, and this behavior was odd for him. When he got up to leave the room, Chris followed him.

"Hey, Cowboy," Chris said softly as Vin emerged from the bathroom. "Everything okay?"

Vin nodded, shook his head and shrugged.

"Can we talk about what happened today?"

Vin sighed and rubbed his thigh, but when Chris opened the door to his bedroom, the seven-year-old followed.

Chris sat down on his bed and was pleased when Vin climbed up beside him.

"What's on your mind?" Chris prompted.

Vin fidgeted a little. "It's nothin'.

"If something's bothering you, it's something," said Chris. "What's going on?"

Vin took a slow deep breath. "I keep seeing the car," he admitted.

Chris took a deep breath, searching for the right words to say to soothe Vin.

"I'm sorry I was bad," Vin continued, his voice catching with a sob.

"Ah, Vin," said Chris pulling him into a hug, "You weren't bad. You just got scared and confused. Everyone gets scared some times."

Seeing the disbelief along with the tears, he added, "Even me. I was so scared when I heard you almost got hit. I was afraid I'd lost you."

Vin looked at him, judging the truth in his eyes. "What if I get scared again? I don't want..."

The tears fell and Chris held him tighter. "I don't want anything to happen to you either, Vin. And we'll talk to Lynn about how to help you not get so scared, And Buck and I will try to anticipate things that could be frightening. Maybe we can even change out the locks on the truck to make them childproof so you can't just jump out."

He looked down at Vin and saw him rubbing his thigh again. "Vin, is your leg bothering you?"

Vin nodded and Chris held back a grimace. How many times had they asked if he was all right? How many times had he said he was fine? Why couldn't he just say his leg hurt? Why didn't Ezra say when his stomach hurt? They all needed to have a talk about feeling comfortable saying you weren't well.

"Maybe we should take a look," Chris hinted.

Vin slid off the edge of the bed and carefully lowered his jeans. Chris felt a jab of fear seeing the large bruise on Vin's left thigh.

"How'd you get that?" he asked.

Vin was looking at his leg rather wide-eyed. "Don't know. Maybe when the car hit me."

Chris cursed inwardly. Vin had been hit by the car, not almost. Why didn't anyone know that? Vin was hit. He should have let Nathan take a more thorough look at him at the scene. He was hit. From the look on his face even Vin hadn't realized he was hurt. Despite the fearful turmoil inside, Chris calmly said, "Let's have Nathan take a look and make sure it's just bruised."

"Okay," Vin said meekly.

"Here," said Chris, lifting Vin to sit on the bed. "I'll go get him.

Vin sat quietly exploring his bruise with his fingertips while Chris went to get Nathan.

"Whew," said Nathan as he entered, "That's some bruise, Vin. Does it hurt?"

Vin shrugged. "A little."

"They said the car didn't hit you, that it stopped in time," said Nathan.

Vin squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to think about it, but there it was - the car was coming at him again. He shuddered and Chris squeezed his shoulder reassuringly.

"It stopped," Vin answered almost breathlessly. "But it hit me when the other car hit it."

"Did it knock you down?" Nathan asked as he carefully examined the leg.

Vin shook his head. "Just pushed me."

"I think it's just bruised," Nathan said to Chris. "It's possible there's a hairline fracture, but not likely. We'll just ice it tonight and keep an eye on it. I'll go get an ice pack."

As Nathan left, Chris sat down heavily on the bed causing the boy to tip toward him. He reached out a trembling arm and wrapped it around Vin.

"You're shaking," Vin said. He looked up and saw tears in Chris's eyes. "And crying," he added in a stunned whisper.

"I could have lost you, Vin," Chris said pulling Vin onto his lap and holding him tightly. "I could have lost you."

Vin was confused. It made him feel good that Chris didn't want to lose him, but sad because Chris was crying. "I'm right here," he said cautiously reaching up and touching the tears on Chris's cheek.

Chris squeezed him. "Thank God."

They sat together in silence, Vin settling in and enjoying the secure embrace, and Chris grateful that he could still hold Vin.


"It's bad," said Buck.

"Yup," agreed JD.

"It definitely needs improvement," added Ezra.

The three stood next to Buck's truck in the driveway. It was even dirtier than Chris's truck had been.

"Well, I don't want to drive all the way to town," said Buck, "Especially if you guys can't come along."

JD nodded. They couldn't ride in Buck's truck because it didn't have a back seat like Chris's truck did. "We could get a bucket."

"We could," Buck agreed.

"What's up?" Chris asked as he and Vin joined the trio. They had been working in the barn.

"We were just thinking that maybe we could wash my truck," Buck answered.

Chris looked at Vin to gauge his reaction to the idea.

"With soap and a bucket?" asked Vin.

"Yep," said Buck.

"Okay," Vin agreed. "I'll get some buckets."

"I'll get the soap," said JD running toward the house.

"I think I'll take a nap," said Ezra.

"The nap can wait," said Buck not wanting to leave Ezra out. "We need your help."

Ezra frowned. He did not want to get wet.

"I'll let you hold the hose."

Ezra sighed. "All right, if I must."

Soon the five of them were working together to wash Buck's truck, but there seemed to be more water and suds on Vin and JD than there was on the truck.

"Hey, we're missing all the fun," said Nathan as he and Josiah walked up from the bunkhouse.

"Rinse," said Buck pointing at the wheel and winking at Ezra.

"You can help," said JD. "We got more sponges."

"Nah, I think we'll - Hey!" Nathan yelped in protest as the cold water sprayed him.

Ezra's eyes were huge, but Buck was laughing as he guided the eight-year-old's hands to spray Josiah as well.

"I didn't do it!" Ezra protested as Josiah and Nathan advanced on him. He let go of the hose and Buck took full control, liberally spraying both men.

Josiah grabbed the bucket of water next to JD, and Ezra seeing the threat sprinted away from Buck.

Josiah threw the water at Buck while Buck sprayed him. Soon the yard was filled with laughter and little boy squeals as a full-fledged water war broke out.

By the time they were done, everyone was soaked and the truck was shining.

Seven wet people sat down on the porch together.

"Looks good," said Buck.

"Yep," said JD.

"Much improved," added Ezra.

"Can we do it again?" asked JD. "It's lots better that the car wash."

"I'd like that," Buck said brushing his finger down JD's nose fondly.

"Never did say thanks," Chris said. "I appreciate you guys getting my truck washed. Next time, let's wash mine here, too."

Vin nodded with relief.

"We could wash mine," said Josiah.

"And mine," said Nathan.

"I think Mrs. Wells wants me in the kitchen," said Ezra.

They all laughed.

"Let's go get cleaned up," said Buck.

"But I'm already washed," said JD.

Buck laughed. "You sure are, Little Bit."

Josiah and Nathan headed toward the bunkhouse as Ezra raced Buck and JD into the house.

Vin leaned over and hugged Chris.

Chris smiled. Vin wasn't very free with his affection, yet, so every little step forward meant so much. The car wash incident had been traumatic. Washing the truck together had brought laughter. Both experiences had helped all of them trust each other just a little more, bringing them one step closer to being family.

Chris hugged Vin, chuckling when their wet clothes made a squishing sound.

"Let's go find some towels," he said, standing and offering Vin his hand. He hoped that Vin would grow to have complete trust in him one day and never feel the need to run blind again.

Vin took his hand, unaware of the symbolism of trust in the simple act. He smiled as they walked inside and closed the door.

He felt safe.

He was home.

The End

Next: Rollaway

North Pass Ranch Index