Buck paced nervously back and forth in his apartment. It had been hours since
Chris had called. He had said that he was at the state line so Buck figured
he should be in Amarillo by now. He should be calling any time now.
The rest of the team had assembled at Buck and JD's apartment after Buck
had passed on Chris's earlier news. They were all just as eager for word
on Vin as Buck was but were a little better at containing it. Buck's pacing
was driving them all nuts. They were about to hog-tie the man when the phone
rang. Buck dove for it and hit the speaker button.
"Chris?" he said.
"Yeah, Buck, it's me. I'm in Amarillo. Vin's here. He's basically okay and
we're coming home." Chris sounded really tired.
"And what, pray, does 'basically okay' mean?" Ezra asked.
"Ezra?" Chris asked.
"Yeah, everybody's here," Buck told him. "So what does 'basically okay' mean?"
Chris took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It means physically, he's
not hurt too bad. Broken bones in both hands and wrists, a lot of scrapes
and bruises but nothing too serious."
"Physically?" Josiah pondered.
"Does that mean there is a 'mentally'?" Nathan asked.
"Yeah, there's a pretty big 'mentally'." Chris took another deep breath.
He knew no matter how he said this, it wouldn't be clear. "Vin doesn't seem
to understand English anymore. Can't read, write, or talk."
"Huh?" JD blurted.
"Come on, Chris, how can that be? How does someone just stop understanding
"I don't know, Buck, but it's happened. You'll see when we get there. The
doctors aren't sure what's going on with him. They don't really even understand
it but they think it's a trauma induced thing."
"So, are you gonna try and make it back today, or head home tomorrow?" Nathan
asked, trying to steer the conversation away from the subject that Chris
obviously couldn't elaborate on.
"We're gonna hit the road hopefully within the hour. The doctor's working
up the release papers now. We should get in late tonight."
"In time for Vin's court appearance tomorrow...except ...well...he can't..."
JD's voice tapered off as he realized even though Vin would be here, he wouldn't
be able to testify.
"I haven't decided what to do about that yet, JD. I don't want to push him
into something he's not ready for. Much as I want Chassen's ass, Vin's my
"Yeah, of course," JD agreed.
"Listen boys, I've got Vin's records to pick up and a couple of prescriptions
to fill before I collect Vin and we can get out of here. I'll let you know
when we get in, okay?"
"Okay, Chris. And if you can find a way to let Vin know we're with him...?"
Josiah put in before anyone else could speak.
The men could hear the weary smile in Chris's voice as he answered. "I'll
try. See you later." The line went dead and the five men looked dumbfoundedly
at each other.
"Looks like Chassen's gonna win anyway," Nathan sighed.
"Awful convenient, Vin not being able to talk," Josiah said absently.
"How could he do that to him? I mean, how could Chassen make it so that Vin
would turn up not being able to talk?" JD asked.
"No way I know of," Nathan told them.
"Is it possible that Chassen is not at the bottom of this?" Ezra asked.
"If it wasn't Chassen, who was it? And whoever it was, what did they do to
The five men looked at each other but no one had any answers.
******* ******* *******
Before Vin could leave the hospital, the doctor wanted the wounds on his
hands and arms cleaned and bandaged one last time. He also wanted Chris to
have two prescriptions filled for Vin. One was for pain and the other was
a mild mood elevator. Vin seemed to slump into some deep depressions as his
week in the hospital wore on and the doctor was worried that it would inhibit
his recovery. The anti-depressants helped with the lowest moods but couldn't
do anything to counteract the isolated feelings Vin was experiencing.
Chris had arranged for the doctor to pass along all of Vin's medical records
and he had to wait while those were collected.
Once the records were delivered to Vin's room, the bandages were changed
on his injuries and Chris had filled his prescriptions, they just needed
to get Vin dressed. Unfortunately, his clothes had been cut off of him in
the emergency room, having been pretty well torn up in his fall from the
car anyway. He had been wearing hospital scrubs since then. They did manage
to save his sneakers and socks so Chris put those on him. He ran down to
the hospital gift shop and bought a sweatshirt that would at least provide
Vin some warmth.
With Vin as ready as Chris could make him, he got the nursing staff to bring
the obligatory wheel chair to take Vin out in. Vin resisted getting in and
the nurse was trying to explain that it was hospital rules that he ride out
in the chair. Chris coaxed him in and the nurse began pushing the chair down
the hall. Vin kept shifting in the seat, looking over his shoulder back towards
the common area. Chris finally figured out what the problem was.
"Wait," he told the nurse. "Before we leave, can we swing by that group area.
I think Vin wants to say goodbye to his therapist."
The nurse smiled sweetly and nodded as she turned the chair. She stopped
the chair in the entrance and Vin stood up and stepped into the room, Chris
at his side. It took him a moment to spot Marti, then he walked up to her.
"Well, Joh-- Vin," she smiled as she corrected herself. "Heading home, I
Vin looked pleadingly into her eyes, wanting desperately to convey how he
felt. Finally, he wrapped his arms around her and squeezed briefly, then
pulled back and smiled.
"You're welcome," she said as she touched her palm to his cheek. "You take
care of yourself, okay?"
He smiled again and raised one splinted hand, waving it slowly.
Marti turned to Chris. "Call if you have any questions or problems."
"Thanks, I will." With that, Chris guided Vin back towards the awaiting wheel
chair. Before they got there, Vin stopped again and leaned down beside a
young man sitting at a table. He raised his hand again and waved it at the
"You leaving?" Andy whined when he realized what was going on.
"I'm taking Vin home," Chris explained to the man, not knowing who he was
but knowing he meant something to Vin.
"Vin? That his real name? We been calling him John." Andy smiled, losing
his whimper from a moment ago.
"Yeah, his name is Vin and he lives in Denver. I'm taking him back there."
"Well ...bye." Andy turned his attention back to what he had been working
on. Vin straightened back up and continued on towards the door. Chris thought
this was an odd exchange and made a mental note to ask Vin about it, when
Back in the wheel chair and moving back down the hall, the group made it
to the elevator this time and within a few more minutes, Chris had Vin loaded
into his truck and they started on the journey home.
******* ******* *******
The ride home was turning out to be more uncomfortable than Chris could ever
have anticipated. He expected the silence, understanding that Vin could not
speak. It was the curious stares he got, the lack of comprehension in Vin's
eyes that unnerved him the most. There were a few gestures he could do that
Vin would understand but he wasn't able to do them and drive. Chris was relieved
when Vin finally fell asleep in the passenger seat.
Chris looked at his watch when he crossed the state line from New Mexico
into Colorado. Almost eight. It had been a long day and he was still a few
hours away from home. He glanced over at Vin. He seemed to be still asleep
but he had his head turned to the window so Chris couldn't see his face.
Suddenly, a sharp grumbling sound could be heard even over the roar of the
engine and before Chris could pinpoint its source, Vin shifted in his seat
and pressed his arm into his stomach, trying to squelch the noise. Vin turned
his head to Chris to see if he'd heard.
Chris had glanced over and seen Vin's action. He reached over and gently
patted Vin's stomach. "Are you hungry?" he asked, then moved his hand up
to his mouth and pointed in. He raised his eyebrows, which he had learned
was the best way to indicate he was asking a question.
Vin blinked a few times and then nodded sadly.
"Well, why didn't you say--." Chris stopped short and bit his lips together,
glad that Vin couldn't understand his last statement. He nodded his head
and patted Vin's thigh reassuringly. "We'll get something," he murmured.
Vin watched him for a moment, able to tell from Chris's body language that
something had happened but couldn't tell what. Finally, he shifted his eyes
out the front window to the road ahead.
The next truck stop they came to, Chris pulled off the highway and found
a parking spot near the main entrance. He pulled off his seat belt and opened
his door. Circling the vehicle, he opened the passenger side door and leaned
in so he could release Vin's seat belt. Vin had tried to undo it himself
but didn't have the strength in his fingers to press the release mechanism.
He smiled at Chris gratefully as he eased himself out of the truck.
The interior of the truck stop had everything most truck stops had. There
was a shopping area where travelers could get any number of munchies, showers
for road weary truck drivers and, what Chris was looking for, a small cafeteria.
He guided Vin in and the two men approached the counter.
"What'll you boys have?" asked a middle aged woman who had probably seen
Chris squinted up at the menu that was posted on the wall behind the counter.
"What do you recommend?" he asked her back. Sometimes these places had the
best food, sometimes it was the worst.
"The turkey sandwiches are good. Gravy is nice and thick today," she boasted.
Chris looked over at Vin who was looking dejectedly at the text on the wall.
Chris sighed and turned back to the woman. "Do you have anything with pictures
of what you serve? He doesn't understand English."
She stole a glance at Vin and began rummaging through some stuff under the
counter. "I think we still have an old menu under here somewhere." She continued
searching. "Here it is." She produced a plastic coated menu that also had
seen better days. Chris maneuvered it in front of Vin and raised his eyebrows.
Vin looked down at the menu and scanned the pictures. He saw several things
that looked good to him and by coincidence, picked the open-faced turkey
sandwich with mashed potatoes. Chris eyed him a moment, wondering if he had
somehow understood the woman and then ordered the meal for Vin and the same
for himself. She seemed pleased with the selection and hollered the order
through a small window that opened into the kitchen. Presumably, there was
someone back there to prepare them.
"Oh, could you have one of those orders leave the gravy off of the potatoes?"
Chris asked before the woman had stepped back up to the counter. She relayed
the information through the window and returned to the counter.
"Anything to drink, boys?"
Chris looked over at Vin, trying to recall what Vin usually drank, aside
from beer that is. "Uhmmm," he stalled. "Why don't you give us a couple of
iced teas?" He figured that was safe. He'd seen Vin drink iced tea before
so he knew he liked it. Whether it was what he wanted right now or not was
another matter. There weren't any pictures of drinks around so it would be
hard to ask him.
"Okay, boys. You go on and sit anywhere and I'll call you when your food
is ready. It shouldn't be too long."
"Thank you." Chris pushed himself away from the counter and steered Vin over
to a relatively clean table where they sat. Silverware was neatly bundled
in a napkin and Chris began to unroll his, a little surprised at his own
nervousness. Vin tentatively unrolled his silverware as well, using just
the tips of his forefinger and thumb. Then he began absently picking at the
corner of his napkin. Chris could tell he was a little nervous too. This
was an awkward moment. The two men had felt comfortable together since the
minute they'd met. Why should now be any different?
Chris reached out his hand and gently pinched one of Vin's finger tips between
his thumb and forefinger. Vin raised sad eyes to meet his. As they stared
at each other, feelings were exchanged. Chris knew how scared, confused and
frustrated Vin was and Vin knew how happy Chris was to have him back and
that he would be there to help him. Both men smiled at the other and relaxed
"Food's up, boys," the woman at the counter called over to them. Chris looked
up and then stood and stepped up to the counter to retrieve the plates. He
grabbed one plate and one glass and took them over to the table, setting
them in front of Vin. He looked around for a moment, walked over to another
table, picked up a half empty bottle of catsup and returned, setting it in
front of Vin after he had twisted off the cap. He smiled at Vin before he
went back to the counter to get his plate and glass. He set his own meal
down and then settled himself back in his chair.
Chris looked over at Vin and watched as he tried to pick up the bottle. When
he became obvious he wasn't going to be able to manage, Chris picked it up
and turned it over above Vin's plate. He wrinkled his nose somewhat repulsively
as he watched the red paste slide down the fluffy pile of potatoes.
Gingerly picking up his fork, Vin stirred the red stuff into the white stuff,
making a pinkish kind of paste. He looked up to see Chris wrinkle his nose
at the action. Vin had explained his logic on this before. 'You put catsup
on french fries, why not mashed? They're both made from potatoes.' It just
didn't seem right to Chris.
Chris shook his head and turned back to his own meal. Several moments went
by before he realized Vin wasn't eating. He looked back at his friend. "What's
wrong, Vin?" he asked, leaning towards him.
When he heard Chris speak, Vin's eyes darted up to Chris's for a moment,
then returned to his lap. He slowly raised one hand and held it out to Chris.
In his hand was a knife and Chris suddenly realized that though Vin could
get the food from the plate to his mouth by himself, he couldn't get the
food small enough to eat by himself. He sighed at his own lack of thought
as he took the knife from Vin, picked up his fork and began slicing the food
on the plate into bite sized pieces. When he was done, he set the knife down
and handed Vin back his fork.
Vin didn't move to take the fork back and when Chris looked closer, he saw
that Vin's jaw was set tight and his eyes were glistening with unshed tears.
Chris reached out and placed his hand under Vin's chin, raising it up so
he could look him in the eye.
"It's all right, Vin. It won't be forever, just a few days and you'll be
able to do all this for yourself again."
Vin looked into Chris's eyes as he spoke. The words were just meaningless
sounds to him but the sincerity and compassion in Chris's eyes were what
spoke to Vin. He drew in a shaky breath and nodded his head slightly as he
reached up and took the fork in his hand, holding it pressed against his
curled forefinger by his thumb. He turned his eyes to his plate and slowly
began to eat.
Chris watched sadly for a few seconds before he turned back to his own meal.
He thought how hard it must be for someone as independent as Vin to rely
on help just to eat. He hoped he was right and that it wouldn't be long before
Vin could do the simple things for himself again.
Neither man ate everything on his plate but both ate most. It was the most
food Vin had eaten in one sitting in over a week. The food at the hospital
didn't have much taste to it so he wasn't eager to get a lot of it.
When they were finished, Chris got up and went to the counter to pay for
the meals. Vin stood by their table and waited. After Chris paid, complimenting
the food to the woman at the counter, he led Vin out into the lobby area.
He guided Vin into the restroom where he began to take care of nature's business.
Vin also felt the need but because of his inured hands, was not able to
manipulate his clothes as quickly as Chris. Chris was done before Vin ever
got started. Chris debated whether he should offer to help or not. If they
were alone at home, he might have, but here in a public facility, he knew
Vin would be more self-conscious about accepting help. Vin seemed to be managing,
if somewhat slowly so Chris let him know he would wait outside.
A full ten minutes went by and Vin hadn't come out of the rest room. Chris
had wandered through the whole store area and was now reading a plaque on
the wall in the lobby of the building. Finally, Vin emerged from the lavatory.
Chris stepped up to him, trying to read in his eyes if everything was all
right. Vin kept his eyes low. He didn't want Chris to know that the hardest
thing for him to do was open the door to get out. It was a heavy door that
he needed to pull in to open and he couldn't get a good enough grasp of it
to do that. Finally, he bit his lip and withstood the pain as he looped his
hand into the handle and pulled hard. All the use he had given his hands
in the past hour was causing them to throb.
Chris led the way to the truck outside and opened the door for Vin. Vin climbed
into his seat slowly, holding his hands high against his chest. Chris reached
in to fasten the seat belt and heard Vin breathe sharply when he accidentally
bumped his wrist.
Chris pointed to Vin's wrists. "Do they hurt?" he asked. He reached into
his pocket and pulled out one of the pill bottles. He shook the bottle in
front of Vin so the pills rattled. "Do you want one of these?"
Vin looked briefly at the bottle, then looked to Chris and nodded. Chris
held up both hands, palms facing Vin, then curled in all his fingers except
his index fingers indicating Vin should wait. Chris gently closed the door
and ran inside the building again. He went to the shopping area and picked
up a couple of bottles of water. As he stood at the check out to pay for
them, he mentally kicked himself for not picking up on Vin's pain earlier.
He had to be hurting a lot for him to agree to medication so quickly.
Back at the truck, Chris re-opened the door and leaned in to turn on the
interior light. He pulled the medicine bottles out of his pocket and, for
the first time, read both labels thoroughly. The pain pills allowed for two
at a time up to six times a day. The anti-depressants were one at a time,
twice a day. He held on to the pain pills and slid the other bottle back
into his pocket. He opened the bottle and fished out two, holding them up
so Vin could get them on his tongue. Once Vin took them, Chris recapped the
bottle and put it away, then grabbed a water bottle and twisted off the cap.
The whole procedure took longer than it should have and the pills were starting
to dissolve in Vin's mouth. As Chris raised up the water bottle for Vin to
drink from, he noticed the look of distaste on his face.
"I'm sorry Vin. I'll do better next time." He let Vin drink his fill from
the bottle, then recapped it and set it where they both could reach it. Chris
stood a moment at the side of the truck and looked at Vin, eventually raising
his hand up and resting it against Vin's cheek. Vin turned his eyes to Chris's
and for one of the few times since they met, could not read what was displayed
there. His eyes turned questioning but Chris never explained. He finally
removed his hand, stepped away from the truck and closed the door.
Climbing in from the driver's side, Chris kept his eyes in front of him as
he started the truck and pulled out of the parking spot. He didn't drive
far, stopping at the gas pumps to fill up. He got out, pulled his credit
card out of his wallet and swiped it through the reader at the pump. A few
seconds later, the pump beeped and he began pumping his gas.
Vin watched him for a moment, wondering what he was thinking about. His attention
was drawn away by a familiar tone. He looked down and saw Chris's cell phone
sitting in its charger. He glanced back towards Chris but his back was towards
him and Vin didn't have any way to get his attention. After a minute, the
phone stopped ringing and it was several minutes after that that Chris climbed
back into the truck.
Vin reached over and tapped Chris on the arm. Chris turned to him and Vin
pointed to the phone. At first, Chris thought Vin wanted him to call someone
but he couldn't imagine who. Finally, it occurred to him that the phone probably
rang. He picked it up and hit the call back function. The last number that
had tried him was called back.
"Wilmington." Chris could have guessed that was who it was.
"Buck? Did you just call?"
"Yeah, Chris. I know you said you'd call when you got in but me and the boys
are getting antsy. How are you and Vin doing? Where are you?" Buck probably
could have rattled off several more questions but decided he'd let Chris
answer these first. He switched his phone to speaker.
"Are all the boys still with you?" Chris asked and was answered by a chorus
of 'yeses'. "Vin and I are fine. We just stopped for dinner. We're at a truck
stop just north of Trinidad. Should be home in three and a half or four hours."
"You taking him to your ranch?"
"Yeah, he can't take care of himself completely and I don't really have a
lot of trust in his neighborhood right now."
"I hear ya. You think you'll need any help? You want one of us..." Buck began.
"Or all of us ..." JD interjected.
Buck nodded agreement. "Or all of us to meet you there?"
Chris was about to answer when a car horn sounded from behind him. He looked
in his rear view mirror and saw that someone was wanting him to move on so
they could get to the pumps. "Hang on a second, Buck." Chris fumbled for
his keys and then started the truck, pulling away from the pumps and then
easing himself back out onto the highway headed north. "I probably could
use some help, and I'm pretty sure Vin would like to see you all but I don't
want to overwhelm him. He's had a lot to adjust to."
"How's the trip been so far?" Josiah finally got a word in.
"Quiet. And a little uncomfortable."
"Uncomfortable for you or for him?" Josiah pressed.
"Me, definitely. Vin, probably. It's hard not knowing what's going on in
his head. And it's weird talking to him, knowing that as far as he's concerned,
I'm speaking Japanese."
"But you can communicate enough to get by, right?"
"Well, yeah. We figured out, or actually, his therapist figured out that
if you use pictures, he knows what you're talking about. But not everything
has a picture. And I dropped the ball on him already tonight. Couldn't tell
when he needed his pain medication until he was really hurting."
"Vin never complained much when he felt bad, you know that."
"Yeah, I know, but he seems so vulnerable now." Chris glanced over at his
friend beside him.
"So, tell you what," Buck interrupted, getting back to his last point. "JD
and I will head out to your place and be there to help out if you need it.
We can switch off with the rest of the boys over the next few days until
we figure out what to do, okay?"
Chris let out his breath as he thought for a moment. He knew there were going
to be a lot of things come up with Vin that he didn't anticipate and would
probably need help with. He was grateful he had five others to call on. "Yeah,
thanks, Buck. I appreciate it. I'll see you in a few hours."
"Okay. See ya, Chris."
The connection was broken and Chris replaced the phone in the charger. He
looked over at Vin. He was sitting with his head turned towards the side
window, a sad look on his face. Chris reached over and rested his hand on
Vin's leg and kept it there as he drove towards home.