By: Angela B
Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be
Note: Thanks to Heather F for her input and great suggestions.
Thanks to NT for her betaing skills.
I don’t come up with titles very well.
WARNING: This is a setup story to a later story. Though, this story is complete and does stand alone…it will be continued in another story.
Follows Building on Hope
(Moved to Blackraptor January 2010)
It was a Saturday; one of those nice fall days that one enjoyed being out of the house. Chris was out in his workshop piddling around when Vin came running across the yard yelling for him. Chris could tell by the tone there was no danger, only excitement in the tone. The blond waited until Vin came bursting through the open door, his hair blustered every which way, his eyes sparkling and a wide smile plastered on his face.
“Dad, I found a sport I want to try out for,” Vin exclaimed with complete enthusiasm. “It’s great. It looks fun. Please, Dad. Please!!” Vin begged, his smile still a mile wide.
The father went immediately into defense mode. Laying down his tools, Chris took a deep breath and prepared himself. “First, why don’t you tell me what this great sport is? Then we’ll discuss it,” Chris stated in parent mode.
“Motocross racing!” Vin shouted. “It’s really neat. I saw it on T.V. Pleeeeease, Dad,” Vin begged.
“Motocross racing?!” Chris exclaimed, and not out of excitement either.
“Yeah! “Its soooooo neat, Dad. They were jumping hills. And going around curves. And...and…ohh, Dad, it’ll be great! Please, can I try it,” Vin asked, ending in the whine only children have.
“No!” Chris said flatly, without hesitation, the look on his face telling Vin he meant it.
Vin was undeterred by his father’s response. “But, Dad, other kids are doing it. Kids my age. And it’s really safe,” the boy said, nodding his head to emphasize each word. “They make the kids wear all this safety equipment and there is men out on the field to make sure no one gets hurts, and I have to wear a helmet,” Vin said, running off all the things he had seen while watching the show on T.V. “And not just a bicycle helmet…a better one. It’s practically crash-proof. I bet you could run a semi over it and it wouldn’t get a dent in it,” he continued, trying to sell the idea
“I’m sure that they do make the kids wear safety equipment. That doesn’t mean you can’t get hurt,” Chris said, trying hard to come up with reasonable answers for not allowing Vin to try something so dangerous without squashing the kid’s initiative. “Beside, young man, what were you doing watching T.V.? You know the rules,” Chris asked seriously. Chris had laid down strict rules when it came to TV watching, believing that it was better for kids to be out doing things and entertaining themselves rather than sitting in front of the ‘bloob tube’ turning into a mindless zombie.
“I…uh…I was walking through the living room and Buck had FSN on. I couldn’t help but see it, Dad,” Vin replied, trying his best to look innocent.
“Uh huh,” Chris responded, looking at his son sternly, letting him know that they both knew better.
“So, pleeeeease. At least think about it, Dad. Please,” Vin pleaded.
“Vin, I love you and I’m glad you want to try something new. But, there is no way I am going to let you race motorcycles at your age,” Chris explained. Seeing the crestfallen look on his son’s face, Chris felt immediate guilt, but couldn’t let guilt override commonsense. “Sorry, pal,” he said softly.
“Okay,” Vin said despondently, as he walked back out into the sunshine.
Chris went back to rebuilding his work lamp with a heavy feeling in his chest. Denying his son things he wanted was the hardest thing to do.
Vin walked outside glumly. Motocross racing would be so cool. There was the speed, the jumping, the racing and, best of all, he’d get to spend that much more time with his dad. He had seen the kids on T.V. working beside their dad and moms, getting ready for, and during, race day. It had looked like so much fun. It wasn’t that he never spent time with his dad; he did. But, this had looked way cool and it would get them away from Uncle Buck and Ezra. Not that he didn’t love his Uncle and new cousin, but he was getting tired of them ALWAYS being around. He wanted it to be just him and his dad , like before Uncle Buck and Ezra had to move in with them while building onto the old cabin.
Chris had a hard time finishing up in the shop, his mind going over the conversation repeatedly. He had been a daredevil as a child. Had performed plenty of stupid, hazardous stunts. That was why it was so hard to punish Vin when he did things he shouldn’t. How could he punish his son for doing the same things he had done himself? The blond remembered his father had told him the same thing when Adam had been born. Fathers had a harder time punishing their sons for defying rules and spreading their wings.
Chris finally finished and headed for the house. As much as he loved Vin and wanted the boy to try out different things, there was a limit to how far Chris was willing to let Vin go in that endeavor.
Vin spent the rest of that Saturday afternoon using his imagination to turn his bike into a motocross cycle, going so far even as to write a number on a piece of paper and scotch taping it to the handlebars. Starting at one end of the large dirt yard, he would pedal with all his speed and then pop a small, almost unseen, wheelie and continuing to the other end of the yard. At other times he would ride in big circles, spinning out his back tire as he made another lap in his make-believe quest for championship. Whatever he did, his small cheering squad, consisting only of Ezra, sat on the sidelines and clapped for each stunt successfully completed and called hearty encouragement for those that failed. Ezra had his own bike but, at the moment, was enjoying watching Vin riding his. Chris let Vin play his game believing that after a few days, like most everything else, Vin would forget about this idea and move on to another.
Sunday morning brought sunshine and the remaining three men of the team out for lunch. They met out at the ‘new’ house, as they referred to Buck’s place, to eat, work and enjoy the day. Vin, having taken his bike over to the other place, was delighted to have a bigger audience and JD was more than willing to give a few whispered hints on improving certain skills, though he was cautious not to let Chris see him do it.
Nathan walked over to Chris and asked in concern, “I heard Vin wants to start motorcycle racing. You aren’t considering it, are you?” he asked seriously, thinking it would be best if Vin was older, like thirteen or so.
“No, I am not,” Chris said adamantly. Buck had made the mistake earlier of jokingly saying he should let the boy give it a try.
“Good,” Nathan said and then hurried to explain himself when Chris gave him a stern look. “Well, I mean,” the forensic scientist began, going on his own skewed perceptions, “children that age don’t always have the coordination required to handle such a machine.”
“Yep,” Chris said, nodding his head. He was glad someone was on his side.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in relative peacefulness that comes from being with good friends and watching Vin speed around the yard.
The rest of the week went by in a flash to Chris. It seemed, some days, he hardly got through his office door when it was quitting time. Vin was still trying to sell the idea of racing every day as soon as he picked the boy up and, if Chris was a suspicious person, he might think the boy was getting encouragement from his Uncle Buck and some psychological war tactics from his Uncle Josiah.
Chris picked up his briefcase and left the office, greatly relieved it was Friday. Buck had left two hours early, claiming he had personal business to tend to. As the boss, Chris hadn’t questioned it because he knew, contrary to popular belief, Buck was not the slacker some agents believed him to be. Buck worked just as hard as the rest of them and never took advantage of their friendship in the workplace, so Chris had no problem letting the surveillance expert go early. Chris drove the block down the street to the center and walked through the glass door. Walking up to the short wall, he shushed the teacher who was about to call Vin over. Instead, the tall blond leaned against the wall and watched as Vin played chase with a couple of the three-year-olds. The seven-year-old ran at a slow jog and pretended to be scared of being caught, throwing the chasers into squeals of laughter. The little group finally caught the older boy and showed their delight by bouncing up and down and laughing. Chris broke out into a smile. He truly had a good son.
Finally, pushing himself upright, Chris called out to his boy, “Hey, pal! You ready to go?”
Vin looked over to the wall and waved, then ran to get his backpack. As Chris waited, he remembered the difficulty he’d had deciding whether to place Vin in the center or hire a babysitter for after school. After talking to the counselors, it had been decided that, after being locked up and kept from social interaction, it would be best to let Vin be around other children as much as possible. It had been the right decision because, while Vin could be a quiet child, he was in no way a wallflower. Vin liked other people and being with other children. Buck’d had the same dilemma with Ezra, though for different reasons, and had come to the same conclusion.
Vin came up to the gate and waited for Chris to open it. The two walked out, hand-in-hand, neither ashamed to show their affection for the other. After helping Vin climb into the back seat of the truck, Chris headed home. He was looking forward to the two short days. Chris no sooner got into traffic than Vin once more started up on his motocross talk. Chris briefly closed his eyes and wished this phase would pass and soon. Chris and Vin ate supper alone since Buck had picked Ezra up and was spending time with the child one-on-one, a difficult task when working full-time and sharing living quarters. Chris would be glad when they got Buck’s house finished and knew, without a doubt, Buck felt the same way.
“So anyway…” Vin began, taking up where he had left off earlier in the truck.
Chris sighed inwardly and plastered a smile on his face as he half listened to his son.
Later that evening, Buck and Ezra came in. Buck had the small boy hoisted up on his shoulders, bouncing along, jostling the child. Ezra had a hold of Buck’s shirt at the shoulders with a large smile on his face, his green eyes shining in merriment. Some days there was no difference in the child’s behavior since his arrival, and then other days, like today there was a big difference.
After tucking both boys in bed, the two men sat down to watch whatever sport was on ESPN. Chris glanced over at Buck and could tell from years of knowing him that something was up. “You and Ezra have a nice evening?” the blond asked casually.
“Yep,” Buck responded, a smile gracing his chiseled face. “He’s quite a little guy when you get him alone and talking,” he added.
Chris nodded. He figured that was the way it was with most children. “So,” Chris prompted. He was hoping he wasn’t going to have to drag whatever Buck was up to out of him.
“Well,” Buck started hesitantly. “You’re probably going to kill me, but…” he said.
“But, what?” Chris asked. He could already feel his blood pressure going up.
“The reason I left early was so I could go buy us tickets to the dirt racing venue tomorrow,” Buck confessed, thankful the boys were asleep because Chris couldn’t blow his top too loudly.
Chris knew his whole face was turning red. Closing his eyes, he tried that centering stuff Josiah was always preaching about, but couldn’t find his center for all the red fog surrounding him. “You did what?” Chris asked in a low voice.
“Look, what could it hurt to let Vin see racing, up close and personal?” Buck questioned. “Besides, if he sees a wreck or two, he might even make the connection that it’s dangerous, even for grownups,” he rationalized. He had practiced different speeches in his head all afternoon.
Chris sat there thinking about his friend’s point. Vin could live his dream vicariously through the riders and, if he saw a wreck, though not too bad of one of course,” Buck quickly added, “he might change his mind. Though the reasoning part of Chris’ mind shouted that Buck had done it for other reasons, he couldn’t help but concede Buck had made some good arguments. “When?” Chris asked in his way of relinquishing.
“It starts tomorrow at ten,” Buck said. “And the others are coming along, too,” he added. He wasn’t going to tell Chris that young kids would be riding also. He figured, why blow it?
The next morning, Chris told Vin about the races. “Hey, Vin. Guess what?” he asked casually, knowing Vin was about to become a very happy kid.
“What?” Vin asked, looking up from his breakfast, milk dripping down his chin.
“We’re going to go see the motocross races today,” Chris said, casually, waiting for the impending explosion.
Vin sat there for a minute, absorbing the information, before breaking out into excitement. “We are?!” yelled Vin, enthusiastic about the idea of spending just the day with his dad without Uncle Buck and Ezra, or any of his other uncles.
“Yep,” Chris said, nodding his head. Making his son happy always made Chris feel ten feet tall, because it took so little.
“Yippee,” Vin shouted, dancing side-to-side in his chair.
“Yeah, Uncle Buck went us bought us tickets to the dirt bike racing today. Everyone is going,” the blond father said.
“Oh,” Vin said, letting his slip through.
Chris looked at his son with a cross look. “But, if it bothers you that he did this nice thing for us, we can stay home while the others go,” Chris said, letting Vin know he wasn’t happy about Vin’s response.
“No! I’m happy!” Vin cried. Realizing what he’d done, he got out of his chair and raced around the table to his uncle. Grabbing the man around the neck, he squeezed tightly, giving the man what they had affectionately named a ‘Texas Size Hug’. “Thanks, Uncle Buck. I appreciate it,” he said happily.
“You’re welcome, kiddo,” Buck replied, hugging the child back.
Chris cleared his throat and stated, “If we’re going to go, the chores have to be done first.”
Vin headed towards his room and had his side of it cleaned in record time, then dashed out to the barn to help Chris, though, in his excitement to get done, he became more of a hindrance than a help. Finally, everything was done and the four climbed into Chris’ truck. Vin was a chatterbox all the way to the venue. Since Buck had everyone’s ticket, the group met up at the ticket gate. JD, Josiah and Nathan were already there when the two fathers arrived with their sons. Vin let go of Chris’ hand and raced up to the men, “Hey!” he shouted, his enthusiasm showing through brightly. Having gotten over most of disappointment he had felt earlier, he was now happy to be there. “This is so cool! Don’t you think? You think we’ll see any wrecks?” Vin’s verbalized his thoughts in record time.
The three men laughed to see the child so wound up over something. Usually Vin was like Chris, quiet and reserved. But still being a child, today, Vin was as excited as if it was Christmas. JD took the kid into a backwards hug and leaned over and whispered in his ear. “They’re even going to have junior racing, but your dad doesn’t know that, yet.” Vin’s smile got larger as he nodded his head in understanding.
Josiah looked down at Ezra, holding Buck’s hand and looking quite lost and just a little frightened. The profiler cleared his throat and stepped up to the opposite side of Buck, leaned in, and asked, “You think it was all right to bring him? You know how he reacts to noise,” Josiah asked cautiously, he didn’t want to step on any toes, but he was also very concerned for the small boy.
Buck smiled at Josiah. “Got it covered,” he said, as he pulled a pair of kid-size ear protectors from the bag he was carrying. “And if it gets too much, we’ll leave the stands and go take a walk,” the big man added.
Josiah nodded his approval and the five men and two boys walked through the gate. Nathan stepped up beside Chris and gave him a shake of the head and a knowing look. Chris smirked. Yeah, he knew he was being set up.
Chris led the group up into the stands, with Vin running up in front of him, and found a bleacher far up enough to be directly away from the noise for Ezra’s sake and close enough to see well for Vin’s. Trying to accommodate both boys at times was a little bit of a juggling act. Vin placed himself strategically away from Ezra and sat between JD and Chris. After all, this was his chance to get his dad to see the upside of racing and he didn’t need to be bothered. Buck sat next to Chris and placed Ezra between him and Josiah. Nathan sat on the end. They hadn’t been sitting long when the announcer came on and announced that the first ‘race’ was for the three-and-four-year olds. Chris’ jaw dropped and Nathan could be heard saying a word he shouldn’t have. Both boys ignored it, knowing that sometimes the adults were allowed to say words they weren’t. Buck ignored the dagger looks he was receiving from the blond on his right.
The little bikers that came out racing out had everyone laughing and clapping. The dirt bikes were tiny to say the least. The engines were geared down until they probably only ran ten mph at the most, or least that’s what Chris was guessing as he watched the little bitty kids ‘roar’ around a small, smooth track. There were several men on the track that kept close contact with the tyke bikers. At one point, one of the riders took a spill, but instead of crying, she hopped back up, got her bike going again and took off. The race only lasted a few minutes and everyone cheered for all the racers as each received a ribbon.
Ten minutes later, the announcer was calling the race for the five-six-year olds. JD leaned out and looked down the row of friends, as the riders took their mark and commented, “Hey, Ezra could ride in this age group.”
Vin couldn’t help but roll his eyes and grit his teeth. This was going to be his and his dad’s sport. Uncle Buck could find something else for him and Ezra to do together.
Smiling, Buck looked down at his son to find wide, horror-filled green eyes staring up at him. Wrapping an arm around the boy, he leaned down and said in comfort, “It’s okay, Ezra. You don’t have to do any sport you don’t want to. JD was just making a statement.”
Josiah noted the boy’s sudden distress and tried to comfort from the other side. “It’s alright, Ezra. We can just enjoy being an audience.”
Ezra nodded, relaxed and turned back to watching the riders with interest, but had no intentions of actually ever doing that.
The dirt bikes weren’t much bigger, but had more power. These kids were showing more bravado and had their engines set up higher. It was hard to tell whether the riders were boys or girls for all the equipment they were wearing. Only an occasional ponytail would give the identity away. After one nasty spill on a turn, the rider, having been deemed unhurt, walked off the track in tears, crying for his momma. At the end of the race, the winner was announced and trophies were given out.
Chris could feel Vin’s anticipating eyes on him. With great reluctance, the blond turned and look down on his son. Vin’s blue eyes were shimmering with joy and Chris felt his resolve give just the tiniest bit. “Isn’t this the coolest, Dad?” Vin exclaimed with pure happiness.
“Yeah, Vin. This is pretty cool,” Chris reluctantly agreed. “But this doesn’t change anything,” he said, trying to sound stern.
“Yeah, I know,” Vin agreed, with a smile.
Chris had a feeling though Vin was just going along with him for now.
The next racers were seven and eight year olds. As they lined up at the starting line, Chris leaned his head over towards Buck and whispered, “You’re so dead when we get home.”
Buck smiled and pretended not to hear the threat, though he was hoping that, by the time they did get home, Chris was thinking about other things than ripping his head off. Vin scooted to the edge of the bleacher in anticipation. This would be his race if he ever talked his dad into letting him try it. He studied the bikes, the uniforms, the helmets, everything. He took in every detail and memorized it. Vin studied how they geared up for the straight-aways and throttled back on the turns. He watched with fascination as they took the small jumps and kept their seats with the jarring landings. Vin knew this was his sport. It was an independent sport. Where winning and losing was solely dependent on the rider and his/her bike, but he would be among other kids with the same interests as him.
Chris watched the riders, but cast sideway glances at his son throughout the beginning of the race. Vin was completely enthralled. Chris finally quit watching the race and just watched his son enjoying the sport. Vin never moved, or hardly even blinked, during the whole time. The father began asking himself if this sport should be given a chance, and then, just as quickly, shook his head at the thought. ‘This was crazy’, he told himself. ‘Who in their right mind would let kids this small ride something that could hurt or maim them?’ Chris kept a running dialog going with himself throughout the race.
While Buck had enjoyed watching the little kids race, he had kept an eye on his son and could tell that while the child might be enjoying the races, he had taken the noise as long as possible.
When the race was over, Buck announced, “Think me and Ezra are just going to walk around for awhile.”
“Think I’ll go with you. I could stand to stretch my legs,” Josiah said, taking one arm of Ezra’s as Buck happily took the other. The two swung Ezra down the steps of the bleachers. The little boy’s sudden squeal could be heard for several seats. The boy’s seldom-expressed happiness made their hearts lighten, as they swung Ezra all the way down to the ground.
“I could use something to drink,” Nathan said to no one in particular, as he got up and followed.
“Me, too,” JD chipped in, jumping up and following the older agent.
Vin sat looking expectantly at his dad. Chris couldn’t keep from smiling as he uselessly asked, “Are you thirsty?”
Vin’s head reminded Chris of those bobble heads people had in their cars. Taking the youngster’s hand, the two headed off for the refreshment stand. Once everyone had their drinks, Vin asked tentatively, “Dad, can we go look at the bikes. Please?”
Chris, intrigued in how they got such small bikes to run, nodded his head. “Yeah, I guess so. If the owners don’t mind us looking,” Chris said. Vin’s smile only widened.
After getting their refreshments, Buck led Ezra along a dusty path. He was beginning to wish he had brought his own truck. He wasn’t sure if Ezra would go along wearing the protective hearing gear he had brought. He would have to wait and see how well Ezra held up. He reasoned, if it got to bad, he could borrow someone’s vehicle and take Ezra home. The roaring of motors and clapping from the stands let it be known the next age group race had started. The duo hadn’t gone far when Josiah caught up to them. The two men and Ezra walked around the backfield and soon came across a makeshift playground where the small kids, done for the day, had changed and now were playing a variety of games.
“You want to join them?” Buck asked Ezra in a cajoling tone.
Ezra shook his head, but stood and watched. Buck and Josiah backed up and sat on a sparse patch of grass. Buck had the patience of Job when it counted. He figured Ezra just needed a little time to really decide if he wanted to play. A few minutes passed when a boy about Ezra’s age ran up to him and asked him if he wanted to join them. Ezra looked back at Buck and waited until he got an encouraging nod from his foster dad before running off with the child to play.
“He’s making progress,” Josiah commented, as they watched the two boys unite with some other kids.
Buck shook his head. “Some days, it seems like we make monumental strides and other days, it’s like he’s the same child we found on the balcony,” Buck said sadly.
“It’ll take a long time. You know that, Buck,” Josiah said, his gaze never leaving the child.
Buck nodded. “There are nights when I wake up in a cold sweat. Sometimes, I have nightmares that he jumped,” the father admitted softly.
Josiah turned and stared at his friend, unaware until that moment that Buck had been affected so much by those few moments. “But he didn’t,” Josiah stated. “You got him off that balcony and saved his life,” Josiah counseled. “In more ways than one.”
Buck didn’t have anything to say to that. There was no way to explain how the child had changed his life more than he could ever describe.
Nathan could see the tides turning, even if Chris wouldn’t admit it. Chris was adventuresome, loved a challenge, and the sport held a certain appeal to the blond friend. Nathan would be the first to admit that they were all like that to a degree; they had to be to survive very long doing what they did. Nathan knew Chris would never intentionally put Vin in harm’s way. The man did have a weakness when it came to the boy. Nathan headed off to the medical tent to talk to the medics that attended the sport. Maybe, if he could get some statistics, it would give Chris the ammunition he needed not to let Vin join this sport.
JD walked alongside Vin and Chris. They had passed by the adults readying for their races later in the afternoon. Those that won would move on to the semi-finals, and then they would race in the big races the following day. As they walked along, sometimes they would stop, and Chris and JD would study the bike and talk to the rider. Vin kept his impatience in check and held his tongue. He could see where some of the young riders were located and he wanted to move his father in that direction, but knew if he became to pushy, his dad would balk and they would either return to the stands or go home.
Chris knew Vin was dying to get where the smaller bikes were, and perhaps that made him drag his feet all the more. Sometimes it was just plain entertaining to see how long Vin’s patience held out before the kid burst. Seeing that Vin was getting antsy, a sure sign the kid was almost at the end of his rope, Chris stopped dilly-dallying and headed for the young riders group. Not many of the kids were around. Squeals of laughter let it be known most were off playing. Chris, Vin and JD walked slowly past several mini-motorcycles. Vin would point out different things that would catch his observant eye, such as the small engines, or the shock absorbers, or anything else he found fascinating. As they passed by one father working on a small bike, the man looked up and smiled.
“Hey,” he greeted.
“Hi!’ Vin greeted back.
“You here watching the show?” he questioned with a smile, as he kept working.
“Yep,” Vin answered. Then becoming puzzled, he asked, “How did you know?”
“We’re a small family,” the man began, glancing around at the other people around them. “Never saw you before, reckoned you’s a spectator,” he finished.
“Oh,” Vin said, nodding his head at the common sense.
“So, you interested in racing?” the man asked with a knowing smile.
“Yeah,” Vin answered eagerly, plopping himself down on his knees next to the bike.
Looking Chris over once, the man smiled. “You’re not so sure?” he asked with a laugh.
Chris shook his head.
JD had stood a little ways off to the side and held back a snicker. Keeping his thoughts to himself, he let the man talk to Chris and answer the questions he knew were plaguing his boss.
“I was the same way when Ryan brought the subject up the first time,” the man continued as he worked a bolt loose from the carburetor. “Said ‘no’, flat out.”
“What changed your mind?” Vin asked in earnest.
The man simply laughed, knowing exactly where the kid was going with the conversation. “Ryan kept talking and talking about the racing and about the dirt bikes. I figured I’d take him to see a couple of races. I got to talk to some of the parents and got a lot of information,” he said. Looking at Vin seriously, the man continued, “Still didn’t say ‘yes’. It took awhile for me to come to the conclusion that this was the right thing to let my son do. It isn’t for every kid.”
“It’s for me. I know it is,” Vin exclaimed.
The man shrugged as he lifted the carburetor out and began tearing it down. “It’s more than just getting out there on the weekends and riding around in circles, son,” he spoke to Vin as he worked. “It takes a lot of time to keep the bikes in shape and you have to practice. Then, if you travel around, there’s school work to keep on top of.” He made a point of looking at Chris at this last part. Chris gave a silent nod, the two fathers understanding each other. Racing was a sport, but it should come second to school.
“Yeah, my dad says that with anything I want to do,” Vin said, watching as the man put new rubber rims in and began putting the carburetor back together.
“You play other sports?” the man asked to make conversation.
“I played in Little Dribblers last year,” Vin answered. “And T-ball.”
“Well, another thing, racing is an expensive sport. So you gotta know you’re going to stick with it before you jump in,” the man explained as he put the carburetor back into place.
“There’s the bike, which is a big cost. Though I imagine you can find one on the internet for less than in a store, at least until things begin to look serious,” he said in a serious tone. “Then, there’s the equipment, the body armor, the clothes, helmet, and all the other stuff,” he continued. “And the registration isn’t always cheap, but that depends on the races,” he informed the boy beside him, looking up occasionally at Chris.
Vin sat there for a moment, thinking about all that. He hadn’t considered how much it might cost. He had just thought it was a cool thing to do. “Oh,” the boy finally said in a disappointed tone.
Getting up on his feet, Vin walked back over to his dad. “Thanks for letting me look at your bike,” he said.
“No prob,” the man on the ground said. Looking at Chris, he added, “there are upsides to it. The kids learn a lot about sportsmanship and we’re pretty tight knit group of families.”
Chris nodded his head and stuck out his hand. “Thanks,” he said genuinely.
Taking Chris’ hand, the man shook it and replied, “You’re welcome.” Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a card and handed it to Chris. “Here. If you have any more questions give me a call.”
“Thanks,” Chris said, taking the card.
Chris placed it in his pocket as the trio walked away. “Sorry, Dad,” Vin said honestly. “I didn’t think about it costing money.” The tone was sincere and sad.
“That’s okay. You’re not suppose to think of those things,” Chris responded, squeezing his son’s shoulder.
The three soon met up with Josiah and Buck. Vin went off to play with Ezra and the other kids while the men sat and talked. Nathan, having wandered around a bit looking for the group, finally spotted them and walked over. Sitting on the ground, the forensic asked, “So, what do you think?” No one questioned who he was talking to.
Chris shrugged. “Well, I’m still not quite in favor of it. There’s a lot more cons than there are pros, but I’m not quite as dead set against it as I was,” he said.
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I went and talked to the medics over in the tent and they said there are far less injuries to the younger kids than there are to the older ones,” Nathan shared. “The medic I talked to, who also has a kid that races, told me that the younger a child starts, the better they are. They develop better skills and dexterity. Also, by the time they reach the age where they are really racing, they are better equipped to handle tight situations and able to think in advance and avoid more problems. That and the younger kids are more pliable,” he added with a laugh.
“What’s that suppose to mean?” Buck asked, looking at Nathan strangely.
“Well, for one, when the older ones fall, if they’re new to the sport, they automatically tense up, which causes more injuries, and second, the younger one’s bones, though weaker, bend a little easier,” Nathan explained.
“So, you’re saying they don’t break as easy?” JD asked in confusion.
“Well,” Nathan began, “any bone will break under certain conditions. I’m just saying the younger ones, while they do get banged up from time to time, they…they,” Nathan faltered, becoming agitated with himself. “Well, they just get seriously hurt less. That and the regs for kids to race are pretty rigid,”
“Like what?” Chris asked, ignoring Nathan’s battered language.
“Well, the protective gear and helmet have to fit certain requirements and the bikes have to go through inspection before each race,” Nathan said.
“Hmmm,” was all Chris would say.
“Of course, he also said that getting the appropriate bike was an important thing. You want a bike that’s not too small or too large and one that is geared down to his abilities to handle. Basically, you want to get a bike that the kid can keep upright by balancing on their toes and it doesn’t have more power than he can handle,” Nathan finished giving his report. Instead of giving Chris reasons for waiting, he realized he had done just the opposite.
The five men sat and watched the kids play for quite a while before gathering the duo up and heading back to the stands. Buck could tell that Ezra had readjusted with the time out from the noise. He had asked Josiah earlier if he could borrow the profiler’s truck if needed to later on and the profiler had automatically agreed.
By the time they got back to their spots, the track had been re-graded and redone to make it a more difficult track for the older riders. The seven spent the rest of the afternoon watching the ‘big boys’ race. Some were pretty amazing to see. Chris could tell it took a lot of skill and practice.
Buck took out the ear protectors and twisted around so that he could look at his son better. “Hey, buddy?” the father asked.
Ezra spied the red protectors suspiciously. “Yes, sir?” he asked slowly.
Buck could tell by the proper language Ezra was tensing up. Forcing himself to appear more relaxed and smiling bigger, Buck changed his tactics. “Well, these bigger bikes are going to make a lot of noise and I want to protect your hearing, so I need you to wear these, okay?” he said as he adjusted the insulated cups over the small ears.
Ezra automatically put his hands up over them and felt around. Looking past Chris to Vin, he asked, “What about Vin?”
Buck loved that Ezra was concerned about the other boy and was able to express it. “Since he’s a bit older, he doesn’t need to wear them unless the noise begins to bother him,” Buck said.
“Oh,” Ezra replied, accepting the simple justification.
Before the evening was over, Ezra fell asleep. Feeling a solid weight against him, Buck looked down to see his son slumbering with his head bowed, leaned against his arm. Gently, Buck lifted the child into his arms. With Ezra lying there in his arms, Buck couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and adornment for his son swell up in his heart. The little boy had done well today and even seemed to have enjoyed himself. Ezra was going to be one those kids that could be taken anywhere without having to worry about being embarrassed by inappropriate behavior.
During the following week, Chris tried to surf the net for sites about kids and motocross racing and kept coming up empty. He found a lot of sites that sold the gear for youth motor racing, but sites pertaining strictly to youths and racing were hard to find. After trying for three days, using a variety of combination of words to search for sites, Chris gave up his search in frustration, pulled out the card the guy at the race had given him and gave the man a call. He could feel his resolve slipping, though he kept telling himself he was just investigating and wasn’t planning on doing anything stupid. The man met Chris for lunch and the two had a long talk. Chris walked out of the lunch with more information than he intended to get and was back to thinking the sport wasn’t such a good idea. Not so much because of the danger aspect, but because of the time, effort and expense it would generate.
That night, Vin was sitting at the table, drawing, while Chris cleaned the last of the pots and pans from supper. Chris didn’t have to ask what his son was drawing, he knew. Without stopping what he was doing, Chris asked offhandedly, “You really like this sport?”
Vin looked up. “Yeah, Dad, I do,” Vin answered, laying down his crayon.
“What about next year when Little Dribblers starts again, or T-ball this summer?” the blond questioned.
Vin was silent for a moment as he thought over the question. “I would rather do this than either of those,” Vin said honestly.
“What about Cub Scouts?” Chris asked, this had been the first year Vin had been eligible for the group and Vin had been very excited about joining. Chris had even signed up as a Troop Co-Leader.
Vin immediately asked the question, “Can’t I do both?”
Chris was stuck. As he now thought about it, he didn’t see how the two would conflict except for the weekend ‘Jamboree’ held in the summer. They could just skip a weekend of racing when it came down to it.
“I guess so,” Chris relinquished.
“I really want to do this, Dad,” Vin stated quietly.
Chris acknowledged the statement with a nod. He neither shot down the idea nor endorsed it. He was still investigating it.
The next couple of weeks, Vin had given up trying to directly convince his dad to let him try the racing, but continued to pretend on his bike. At the diner table, the blue-eyed boy would give detailed versions of the race he had held in the yard and what had happened. Vin had even persuaded Ezra to pretend his bike was also a race bike, so he would have someone to race against. Chris would patiently endure the blow-by-blow recounting. Buck sat on his end of the table and pressed his lips together to keep the laugh from exploding out. Chris would wait until the boys left the table before glaring at his best friend.
One Saturday, Vin woke to find his dad gone. Coming through the house after searching everywhere, he found Buck in the laundry. “Where’s Dad?” Vin asked, watching Buck sort out the clothes.
Buck stopped long enough to look over at his nephew and shrugged. “Don’t know, kiddo. He just told me last night he had to run into town this morning and run some errands,” he said, turning back to loading the big washer.
Vin’s face fell. “How come he didn’t take me?” he asked, his voice heavy with sorrow.
“Maybe he thought he’d be nice and let you sleep in,” Buck suggested, knowing Chris had his reasons for leaving the boy behind.
“I wouldn’t have minded,” Vin said, his eyes showing the sadness he felt at being left behind.
Buck kept his back turned to the boy so he wouldn’t have to see what he knew would show on the boy’s face. “He’ll be back in awhile, then y’all have the whole day together,” the big man said, starting the washer.
“Yeah,” Vin mumbled, as he left the room.
Vin wandered through the house looking for something to occupy his time until Chris returned. He found Ezra out in the back of the house drawing in the sand. It had been, and still was, at times hard to convince the child he was allowed to get dirty. Seeing Ezra, Vin walked over to his cousin and sat down next to him. “Whatcha doin’?” the seven-year-old asked, as he watched Ezra draw squiggly lines in the dirt.
Ezra looked up from his musings and looked around. “Drawing the house,” he admitted quietly.
Vin smiled at the younger kid. Ezra always referred to the new house as ‘the’ house or ‘Buck’s’ house. Vin knew how the kid felt. If one admitted something aloud, then it became true, so if Ezra called the house, ‘theirs’ then it could be so and Ezra was too afraid to hope for that possibility yet. Vin knew all about hoping for possibilities. When Vin had lived in that foster home, he had often hoped for someone to find him, for someone to take him home, for someone to love him. Saying what he wished for out loud only made the situation he was in that much worse, because he knew what a real home with somebody to love him was like. Vin sat and watched as Ezra tried to draw the house with a fence around it, or at least Vin thought it was a fence, it was hard to decipher a five-year-old’s drawing, especially drawn in the dirt.
“Ezra, your home doesn’t have a fence,” he informed the boy with the tone of one who was older and more experienced.
“All homes have a fence. I see them when Mr. Buck takes me into town,” Ezra announced, never ceasing his drawings.
Vin shrugged. Who was he to argue with the kid?
The two sat there for a long time until they heard the distinctive yell of their Uncle Josiah coming from the front yard.
Vin stood up and raced around to the front. “Uncle Josiah!” he called as he leapt into the massive arms awaiting him.
Ezra followed behind, stopping short of where the big man stood. Josiah put Vin down and opened his arms. Ezra obligingly walked into them and waited patiently while the ‘uncle’ hugged him.
Josiah smiled at the small step that had been taken. It had only been recently that Ezra even offered to let himself be touched by anyone other than Buck. Josiah made his hug shorter than Vin’s, but still meaningful, then released his arms and let Ezra step back. With a large grin on his face, he joked, “I thought this place was deserted. I was beginning to wonder if I had the wrong day.”
“You have the right day, Uncle Josiah,” Vin laughed at his uncle’s teasing. “Me and Ezra were in the back, and Uncle Buck is doing laundry and cleaning his part of the house, and Dad went into town,” he said informatively, “without me.”
The sad countenance made Josiah grab the boy back into a hug. “Well, I bet he had his reasons,” he offered in condolence.
“That’s what Uncle Buck said,” Vin replied, clearly still unhappy with the platitude.
“Hmm,” Josiah hemmed. “Shall we go inside and relieve Buck of his duties?” Josiah asked, taking each child’s hand in one of his and walking towards the porch.
Ezra looked up at Josiah very seriously and said, “If he doesn’t do the laundry, we won’t have any clothes to wear next week and Mr. Larabee might not be happy if Mr. Buck doesn’t get his jobs done.”
“Well, then, maybe we can help him along instead,” the uncle offered.
It always made him sad to know that Ezra worried over every little thing in his life. Vin had been that way, but not to such the extent, or for the length of time. Of course, Chris and Vin were completely different story than Buck and Ezra. While Vin had been afraid of Chris initially, he had quickly internalized that Chris was a ‘safe’ person to make mistakes around. The profiler, the counselor and Chris had figured it had a lot to do with the child’s loving birth mother. Ezra’s mother didn’t seem so attentive and caring. Josiah exaggerated his struggle to get through the door without letting go of his nephews, making Vin giggle and managing to make Ezra smile.
“Hey, Buck,” Josiah called, as he excessively swaggered back and forth from the load on each of his arms.
“Hey,” Buck called back as he continued dusting the living room.
When he moved into Chris’ home with Ezra, he had made it clear he would not help with the bills and groceries, but he would also put in his share of housecleaning.
“Need help?” Josiah asked, relinquishing his hold on the boys.
“Well, after I get this room vacuumed, I’ll be done,” Buck said, in his way of informing the friend what needed to be done without outright asking him to do it.
Josiah nodded and turned to Vin, “Where might I find thy royal carpet cleaner wand?” he asked in a medieval voice.
Vin laughed and showed his uncle where the vacuum cleaner was kept. He loved it when his uncles got silly.
Buck turned to the two boys and picking up Josiah’s monologue, asked, “Did thee children clean thee bedroom?”
Vin and Ezra both nodded assurance.
“Then, it will pass the royal master’s inspection when he arrives back from his duties?” Buck asked with a raised eyebrow.
Neither boy nodded, but looked seriously at one another, trying to debate whether their room would pass an inspection by Chris.
“Might I advise thee two to go make sure,” Buck said in a royal authoritative voice.
Both boys took off to the bedroom to double check that everything was put away. Vin was about to leave the room, when Buck called out a reminder. “And nothing better be hidden under thy royal beds or thy will be in royal trouble.”
Vin looked over to the all-too serious Ezra and broke into a grin. “He’s kidding,” the boy laughed.
“No, I’m not,” Buck yelled back, the laughter in his voice easing the comment.
Vin looked at Ezra and laughing, said softly, “Oops.” He made his way over to his bed and got down on his knees and looked under the bed. There he found some legos, remnants of the past week of playing, and put them away, grateful for Buck’s warning. Ezra followed suit, but found nothing under his bed. Vin wasn’t surprised; the kid was a neat freak.
The two boys were about to leave the room when they heard a honking from outside and Buck hollering, “Vin, Chris is back!”
Vin lit out for the front and slammed the screen door back,
banging it against the outside wall. He continued running down the steps
and out to the pickup. Seeing his Uncle Nathan and Uncle JD getting out of
their own vehicles, he gave them a rushed wave. Sliding up to Chris, Vin was
puzzled why his dad would be towing the small horse trailer. They only used the
old, beat up trailer to haul hay or stuff in, and they didn’t need hay. Nor
could Vin couldn’t recall his uncles asking his dad to haul anything for them
“What’s in the trailer?” Vin asked breathlessly, anticipation dancing his blue eyes.
Chris cocked his eyebrow at his son and asked in parental tone, “Did you get your chores done?”
Vin vigorously nodded. “Yep. Even cleaned under the bed,” he said, barely containing his need to see what Chris had in the trailer.
This time both eyebrows went up as Chris looked at his son in surprise. “Oh, really?” then looking at his son more suspiciously, he asked, “Why?”
Shrugging, Vin said, “Cause Uncle Buck said to.”
“Oh, well, if that’s all it takes, Uncle Buck can tell you that every Saturday from now on,” Chris replied humorously.
Vin rolled his eyes, but couldn’t keep the merriment from showing. He had the coolest, funniest dad on earth. The child never saw the set, determined, relentless law enforcer side of his dad. At work, Chris was Agent-In Charge, but when he left work, he became dad and he worked at keeping it that way.
“Dad,” Vin whined. “What’s in the trailer?” he asked again, knowing by now it had to be good, or Chris wouldn’t be doing the stalling routine with him.
By this time Buck, having grabbed the small camcorder, had caught Ezra’s hand. They walked outside, followed by Josiah, and joined Chris and Vin, along with the others.
Leading the small troop of men and boys, Chris headed to the back of the trailer. Unlocking it and lifting up the latch, he nodded towards Vin and said encouragingly, “Go on, open it up.”
Vin raced forward, while Ezra stepped in closer in curiosity. Opening the one door, Vin shoved it back and let the sunlight flood the trailer. “DAD!!!!” Vin screamed at the top of his lungs, as he began jumping up and down in joy. Doing a happy dance all about while Chris leaned in and unhooked the tiedowns and rolled the bike out, there was no doubt about the boy’s happiness.
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Vin kept yelling as Chris knocked the kickstand down on the blue dirt bike.
Once the motorcycle was rolled out onto solid ground, Vin raced to climb on only to be immediately stopped by Chris. “Whoa there!” he commanded, gaining Vin’s attention in a heartbeat.
“There’s some rules we are going to go over before you put one leg over this bike,” the blond said sternly.
Vin stilled himself and nodded. “Okay,” he said waiting to hear the rules.
“First, if you EVER climb onto this motorcycle, with the exception of this first time, without all your gear on, or without one us adults present, I will put the bike away and you will be grounded until you are thirty! Got it?” Chris asked straightforwardly, his face in a dead serious tone.
Vin’s jaw dropped. “Thirty?! That’s really old, Dad!” he exclaimed in near shock.
Chris ignored the numerous snickers surrounding him. “Watch it,” Chris said sternly, and then let a smile creep out.
“Sorry,” Vin said apologetically.
Chris looked at his son with complete seriousness. “I mean it, Vin. NO exceptions!”
Vin sobered up and nodded his head. “Yes, sir,” he said, equally serious.
“Rule Two: This is OUR bike,” Chris began. “If you want to ride, you have to help work on it. That means if the others are going to go somewhere and the bike needs work, I’m not working on it alone,” Chris said, knowing full well that the rule would be flexible, and probably broken. After all while Vin may have very good intentions, but he was only seven and his attention wasn’t going to hold on very long, especially if there was fun going on around him.
Again, Vin nodded his head in agreement. “Yes, sir.” This was what he wanted, spending time with his dad. He could hardly wait to get started.
“Third rule: This is for you. You get tired of racing, we quit,” he said, and then rephrased it. “I mean, you got to give it a chance, because you’re not going to win right off the bat and I don’t expect you to. It takes a lot of practice, but after you have tried and given it your best and find you don’t like it, then we quit and that’s that, deal?” he said.
Vin stuck out his small hand. “Deal,” he said in the most grownup fashion.
Chris shook the small hand and then instructed, “All right, get in there and bring that box out.”
Vin climbed into the trailer and found the box too big and heavy to carry, so he bent over and pushed it out.
Inside was nearly everything needed to get a new rider started. By looking at the stuff, Buck could tell none of it was new, but still in good shape. “Where did you get all this stuff?” he asked in a hushed whisper as Vin started pulling the items from the box like it was Christmas morning.
“Ebay,” Chris whispered back. “You wouldn’t believe the things you can find there,” he said in an almost awed voice.
Chris had been dumbstruck at the beginning when he’d first gone looking for the list of items the other man had given him. Never having browsed that specific website, the blond was overwhelmed at the numerous items he found on the selling site that just pertained to motorcycle things. He had even found motorcycles, but had taken the man’s advice and had bought a used one through a dealership. That way, he knew exactly what he was getting and he got to know the dealer.
Vin began putting on the body gear over his t-shirt. JD was in there, just as excited, helping the youth get it on properly and snug. The youngster then slipped the too big jersey on, followed by the gloves, knee and shin pads, elbow guards and goggles. Looking around, he said informatively, “I don’t see a helmet, Dad.”
“Yeah, I know. I wanted to get it new. We’re going to have to go back into town later today and pick you out one, but I think you can ride it just once here in the yard without it,” Chris said with authority.
Vin’s face lit back up. “I’ll be really careful,” he said seriously, nodding his head in time with his words.
Chris took the time to show Vin where the gas, clutch, and brake were, explaining what the clutch did. Then he instructed Vin to get on. Vin was so excited it was hard for the adults not to be excited with him. Even Ezra seemed to be caught up in the moment, as his eyes sparkled and he watched every moment with intensity. He tried to ignore the small feeling in the pit of stomach that wished he and Buck had a special thing to do together. But being as old as he was, five, he knew better. He wasn’t Buck’s son and therefore there was no reason for them to have a special bond.
Chris climbed on behind Vin, making the little boy have to scoot up a little on the seat. The father showed Vin how to give it gas at the same time as he cranked the engine up. Once the motor was going, the blond instructed Vin on how to let out on the clutch and ease the gas up. The dirt bike started off smoothly. As the duo rode around the yard for a while, Chris continually gave pointers, knowing Vin would only catch onto most of it. The important part to Chris, though, was teaching his son about the dangers of hitting the brakes too hard. To emphasize this, he tapped suddenly on the brake and lurched the duo together. Since Chris knew what he was going to do, he had already wrapped one hand around Vin’s waist and told the youngster to hold on. When they lurched to a sudden stop, Vin fell forward, but caught himself and was glad his dad was holding on to him.
“You understand, now?” Chris asked as the bike sat idling. “You can throw yourself off by hitting the brake too hard and get seriously hurt.”
“Yes, sir,” Vin replied.
“You can do it by hitting the gas too hard, also,” Chris warned.
“Okay.” Vin nodded in understanding, anxious to try it himself.
“Alright, you ready to give it a go?” Chris asked, killing the machine.
“Yes, sir,” Vin nodded in enthusiasm.
“Okay, remember a little gas when you crank,” Chris reminded.
Vin only nodded, as he stood up and jumped down on the starter. The engine roared to life and Vin was in seventh heaven.
“Okay, give it a little gas, now,” Chris called out, holding onto to the seat, ready to help Vin out if necessary.
Vin overshot the gas and the dirt bike took off, leaving its grownup passenger sitting in the dirt. The seven-year-old immediately felt his father’s absence and looked back. With fear at seeing his dad in the dirt, Vin reflexively took his hands off the throttle, letting go of the gas, which stalled the engine. Josiah, realizing in an instant that Vin was alone with the bike, took off running after him. Relief flooded him when he heard the motor shut off, and then, just as quickly, panicked again when all the scenarios of what could happen next ran through his mind.
When the motor stopped and the bike jerked, Vin’s attention was brought back to focus sharply and he grabbed the handlebars, and dropped his feet down, to try to keep it balanced. Josiah reached the back of the bike just as it was titling over. Between Vin and the big man, they kept the bike upright. Once Vin knew the bike was saved, he jumped off and took off running.
Buck, who had been taping the entire process, and JD had startled when they witnessed Chris lose his seat and land in the dirt, but quickly recovered once Chris muttered an ‘ow’. They did what any friend would do: they began laughing. Nathan stood over Chris with a scowl on his face. “Apparently, I worried about the wrong one,” he said sarcastically. Sticking out his hand, he pulled Chris to his feet.
Buck slapped his friend on the back.“ I think we need a rule about holding on,” he said with a laugh. “Lucky for you, I got it alllll on tape,” he laughed, slapping Chris on the back.
“Buck, kiss….” Chris left the statement hanging, seeing Ezra staring wide-eyed at him and hearing his son call out for him. He had been horrified for Vin’s sake when he fell off and was deeply relieved when he had seen Josiah run and catch the bike.
Running back to his dad, Vin pulled up short and asked with fear and worry. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, pard, I am just fine,” Chris said reassuringly, as he gave Vin a quick hug. “How about we try that again?”
Seeing Vin’s hesitant look, Chris added, “Once you fall off a horse you got to get right back on, son.”
Vin thought over the advice for a second and then walked off towards the bike with his dad right behind him. This time, Chris put his hands over Vin’s on the handle grips. After a few laps around the yard, Vin began to get a feel for how the bike handled and began having more confidence in himself. Chris finally released his grip on the youngster’s hands and placed them lightly on the narrow waist. The father and son spent their time taking pleasure in the moments they were sharing.
Nathan and Buck, having stood and watched the duo ride awhile, left and began getting lunch ready. JD headed off to the barn, wanting to spend some time riding his horse. The young stallion could quickly become lively when not handled often. The energetic pony gave the youthful agent quite a workout just getting him out of the barn.
Josiah started around to the back of the house to help Buck and Nathan when he glanced out the corner of his eye and saw as Ezra backed up onto the porch to watch the father/son ride with interest. The big profiler changed his course of direction and walked up to the steps and sat down next to the little boy. Watching Ezra for a moment, he said gently, “I bet Chris or Buck would give you a ride if you wanted one.”
Ezra shook his head. “Mr. Larabee bought it for Vin,” he said in way of explanation.
“I know, but I bet Vin would share it,” Josiah said, leaning over and giving Ezra the smallest of nudges.
Ezra sat there with an indescribable expression on his face. “Vin has to share enough,” he finally whispered.
Josiah sat there studying the five-year-old. At times the kid had the thinking of an old man. “Vin shares because he wants to, Ezra,” he said in soft tone.
Ezra tore his eyes off the riding pair and looked at Josiah with a sad look. After a few long moments, whatever Ezra was thinking of saying was held back, as he turned his attention back to the riders. He knew the truth. Vin shared because Mr. Larabee told or asked him to. It was wrong to ask Vin to give up the thing that he had worked so hard to get. He didn’t know why adults didn’t see that. Watching Vin laugh as he goosed the gas and Chris jerked, Ezra wondered what it would be like to have someone love him as deeply as the tall blond loved his son. Sighing deeply, Ezra felt happy for his roommate, but sadness also filled him.
Josiah didn’t know what to say to the child. Tenderly, Josiah wrapped one big arm around the small kid and scooted closer to Ezra. Words couldn’t convey what his actions could. Josiah waited until the riding pair passed by them, then gave a casual wave. Vin was too busy watching where he was going, but Chris looked over and smiled back, noting the forlorn look on Ezra’s face. Leaning into Vin’s ear, he asked, “You mind if Ezra got one little ride, before we put this bike to its real use?”
Vin looked up at his dad very quickly, and sighed, before turning back to the path he was slowly creating in the yard and shook his head. Slowly he eased the bike back to the front of the porch and killed the engine. By standing on his tiptoes, he could balance the bike. That and Chris had put his legs down from their cramped position.
“Hey, Ezra! You want a ride?” Vin asked.
Ezra’s eyes grew wide for a moment and then the deflated look was back. “No, thank you,” he replied.
Vin felt momentarily gladness at the boy’s refusal, then shame for denying the young cousin of one ride. He had been in Ezra’s shoes, and it wasn’t a fun place to be. “You sure? Chris or Buck would be happy to give you a spin. Wouldn’t you, Dad?” Vin stated with more assurance, looking back up at his dad at the last part.
“You bet. Come here, squirt,” Chris directed with a smile and outstretched arms.
Ezra slowly got off the porch and walked towards Chris. “I don’t have any equipment, though,” he said, clearly remembering Chris’ rules.
Chris shrugged. “That’s okay. You aren’t going to be racing or riding without me or Buck anyway,” Chris explained.
Helping Vin off, Chris reached for Ezra and lifted him up onto the bike, feeling the tenseness in the small body. Vin took off his goggles and handed them to his dad. Chris placed the plastic eye protectors over the petite face and tightened up the straps as far as they would go. Meanwhile, Josiah reached for the camcorder that Buck had left lying on the porch and turned it on. Chris scooted Ezra back up against him as snug as possible and instructed him to put his hands on top of the blond’s knees, then with a soft touch, cranked the engine up. Not putting on too much gas, Chris turned the front wheel and let out on the gas a little. He kept it in low gear as he made a few laps around the circle, until he felt Ezra’s body relaxing and then put it into the next gear, letting it go a little faster. As Chris rode the shallow path that was forming in the front yard, he made a mental note to himself that he would have to find an area out back and grade out a track so the front yard wouldn’t be ruined.
Vin had run around the corner of the house and called out to his uncles to come see Ezra ride. Buck jogged around to the front and stood at the corner and watched as Chris and Ezra rode. Ezra, with his jeans and t-shirt on, the wind blowing his hair back and the wide smile plastered on his face made him look like a regular little boy, instead of the troubled one that Buck knew lay behind the façade. A tiny inkling of jealousy hit Buck that it was Chris giving Ezra the ride and not him, but he would not ask to trade places, after all this was Chris and Vin’s bike.
For the next couple of hours, all five men and both boys took turns riding the new toy. It was quite the spectacle to see the giant profiler and big forensic tighten up their bodies to ride the small child’s bike. It was mid-afternoon when Chris called a halt to the games and announced that he and Vin needed to get going so they could pick out a helmet. Josiah offered to stay around and help Buck clean up the dishes, while JD gave Ezra a ride on his now calmer horse. JD had to admit, where most kids would be afraid of the height, if not the spirit, of the horse, Ezra seemed most at peace around all the horses.
Plodding along slowly, JD asked his nephew, “So, what do you think of Vin’s bike?”
“It’s very nice and it made Vin quite happy,” Ezra said, looking out at the scenery before him.
“You think you’ll want to race when you get older?” JD asked in a nonchalant tone.
“No. That’s Vin thing,” Ezra explained.
Bending over to see Ezra’s face, JD said, “Well, that doesn’t mean it can’t be your thing if that’s what you want, Ezra.”
“No thank you,” Ezra said, shaking his head subtly, making his light hair wave in the slight breeze.
Not to be deterred, JD leaned back into place and said, “Well, you can always change your mind.”
Ezra simply took in the words and chose not to respond. He liked Vin, admired him and wanted to be like him, but he didn’t want to take over Vin’s life. People hated it when he got in their way.
Vin was overwhelmed by the number of choices he had in choosing a helmet. There were so many different models and makes, not to mention the colors. Just when he thought he had decided on one, he would see a better one. Chris was getting weary. It had been fun, at first, watching Vin go from one helmet to the next, but now it was just getting tiresome. Looking over at the manager, he gave a silent plea for help.
The manager had seen the scenario played out a thousand times during his ownership of the shop. This was his cue to step in and narrow down the decisions. Coming out from behind the counter, he began asking questions of Vin, such as what type of bike he had, what type of races he wanted to be eventually entering, and so forth. For the most part, Vin hadn’t known the answers. He just knew he wanted to race. The owner suggested that they pick one type of racing to begin with and practice until the next ‘season’ of racing began, explaining that the current one was almost over. Seeing the disappointment come across the young man’s face, the owner was quick to point out the advantages of waiting, starting with the fact that, by that time, Vin wouldn’t be a novice rider and would be a little more seasoned. As Vin thought that over, he listened as the man explained the upside of that; for starters, Vin wouldn’t wipe out on his first race, something that occurred with most new riders with little experience. Vin didn’t like the thought of embarrassing himself with such a novice act.
After Vin agreed it would be best to do a lot of practicing, the two got down to business of finding a helmet. Fifteen minutes later, Chris walked out with relief and Vin had a blue helmet, with a face shield, and white lightning streaks.
Buck had just tucked Ezra into bed and was walking into the living room, having left the bedroom door open halfway, when Chris and Vin came through the house. Chris had treated Vin to a matinee of ‘The Incredibles’ and supper at Burger King before coming home. Vin couldn’t wait to show his Uncle Buck his new helmet.
Ezra, lying in bed, could hear Vin’s excited voice. He heard Mr. Buck gushing over the blue helmet, commenting on the white lightning streaks and saying that Vin would be the best looking rider on the field. Ezra, realizing that being like Vin was near impossible for him, turned over and put a hand over his exposed ear. He only wished that he could make Mr. Buck as happy as Vin seemingly did. Nothing the older boy did was wrong in Buck’s eyes. Even when Mr. Larabee hadn’t wanted Vin to race, Mr. Buck had helped and coached Vin on how to win the blond man over. Ezra heaved a weary sigh. He knew he should be happy that Mr. Buck had brought him here. Guilt flooded him for not feeling more thankful. Ezra was happy that he wasn’t living in that children’s home anymore, but being around the other duo living in the house, he began realizing what a real father/son relationship could be like, and he wished he could have that with Mr. Buck.
Ezra got up the next morning and quietly dressed, running through plans on how he could be more like Vin. Going into the kitchen, he found Buck in his outside work clothes. Ezra let a smile cross his face, knowing that he would be helping Mr. Buck fix their new house just like Vin was going to be working with Mr. Larabee fixing the dirt bike when it needed it. He and Mr. Buck were going to do their ‘thing’, ‘Maybe like a real father and son would,’ the small child dreamed.
“Good morning, Mr. Buck,” he greeted, smiling the best sweet smile he knew how, thinking on how perfect is was going to be. He would just do whatever he thought Vin would do. Maude had taught him to morph into any character he needed to be. He could pretend to be Vin and help Buck work on their house.
“Hey, Ezra,” Buck greeted, pouring coffee into a thermos coffee cup. Looking up at Ezra for a moment then back to the task at hand, he said, “I’m going to go up and work on the house for an hour or so. Since you haven’t had breakfast, why don’t you stay here and eat and then, when you’re done, you can go out and watch Vin and Chris work on the bike. I bet they’ll even let you help out,” he instructed, turning back to the counter and tightened the lid on his cup. The big-hearted man missed the crestfallen expression and round, shocked big green eyes.
In truth, Buck was going to be working with some of the electrical lines and he didn’t want Ezra anywhere near. He just didn’t have the heart to tell Ezra that, knowing the kid would take it as a trust issue.
Ezra’s heart hurt, feeling it pick up speed, as he swallowed down the disappointment. Mr. Buck had been taking him with him to the house every time. Today, suddenly, the man didn’t want him. His plans fell apart even before he got the chance to put them to work. The five-year-old knew there was no way he could argue differently. If the man didn’t want him, he didn’t want him. Nothing could be done about it. Ezra knew he should be used to that feeling, but the rejection hurt coming from this man whom he was beginning to rely on.
“Yes, sir,” Ezra said, fighting back the heavy heartedness that had crept over him.
Walking up to Ezra, Buck gave him a quick hug, and then ruffled the dark hair. “Good boy. I’ll be back later,” Buck said, heading out the door. “Have fun!” he shouted over his shoulder. Ezra shuddered at the words. Maude had used similar phrases every time she had left him behind.
Ezra looked at the glass of milk and bowl of cereal waiting for him on the table. No longer hungry, he picked them up and carried them to the sink. Going back to the table, he pushed a chair over to the sink and climbed up on the seat. He first poured out his milk, and then dumped his cereal. In order not to leave any traces of what he’d done, he turned on the water, grabbed the rinse hose and then leaned over the counter and turned on the garbage disposal. When all evidence was gone, he turned off the disposal and water and put the chair back where it belonged.
Wandering outside, he found Vin and Chris hunkered down on opposite sides of the bike, looking at something. Ezra leaned against the porch railing and watched the two and wondered what it must feel like to be Vin at that moment. The seven-year-old was clearly the luckiest boy in the world in Ezra’s eyes.
The movement caught Chris’ eye and he smiled to see the five-year-old. “Hey, Ezra, come on over here,” he coaxed, missing the flickering scowl that crossed his son’s face. Ezra paused for a moment, hating the feeling he was an intruder.
Quickly catching the blond man’s concerned look, Ezra began moving forward slowly. Mr. Larabee wasn’t the kind of man one said ‘no’ to, Ezra’s instincts told him. Ezra walked over to stand beside the blond man, who wrapped one arm around his waist and began explaining, “Learning all the intricacies of a bike is hard work. Right now, we’re figuring out why the oil pan is dripping.”
“Yeah, it’s hard stuff. Probably too complicated for you to understand,” Vin said, his tone, while even, got its message across.
Chris looked sharply at his son, as Ezra stiffened under his hand. Even if Ezra hadn’t understood the jibe, which Chris was pretty sure he had, the blond understood it perfectly. “Vin,” he said in a low tone, his own message sent loud and clear. Chris felt the small boy cringe, letting the blond know that Ezra had understood the rebuke.
“Sorry,” Vin muttered unhappily.
“I’ll be right back. I think we need a smaller wrench,” Chris said, standing up, and after giving both boys a speculative look, headed for his shop. He hoped given a reprieve of his presence that, whatever was up between the two boys, they could hash it on their own.
Vin’s shoulders sagged. This was supposed to his and his dad’s project, for them alone. Vin knew he shouldn’t be mad at the kid, but sometimes it felt like he couldn’t turn around without Ezra being right there, underfoot. He would be so glad when the new house was finished, and Buck and Ezra moved out and it was just he and his dad again.
Vin stood up, walked around the bike and purposely chose to need to be right where Ezra was. “Excuse me, Ezra,” Vin said sharply, “I need there.”
Ezra straightened and walked away, understanding the silent message quite well. He had heard it all his life. You are in the way and not wanted. Walking over to the steps, he sat down on the bottom step, resting his chin in his hands. Glancing away from the sight in front of him, he noticed the pasteboard box from yesterday sitting next to the bottom railing. Sitting prettily on top of it was the new motorcycle helmet. Not able to resist such a temptation, and without thought, Ezra bent over and picked it up. The bright blue caught the sunlight and sparkled like a rare jewel. It was beautiful to Ezra.
“Hey!” Vin yelled, stalking over to the younger boy.
Startled, Ezra, jerked into a standing position at the same time dropping the helmet. He watched in horror as it bounced off the bottom step and rolled into the dirt. Snatching the gear off the ground, Vin began inspecting it suspiciously for any microscopic damage, as he wiped off the dirt. Holding the helmet firmly in his hands, Vin felt his hold on his anger slip a little. “This isn’t a toy, Ezra, and it’s not yours,” he scolded heatedly.
“I’m sorry,” Ezra whispered, heartbrokenly. He just couldn’t get the ‘good kid’ routine down. Now he knew for sure he would never be like Vin.
“This is mine and Dad’s project,” Vin stated harshly, sweeping his hand towards the bike. “You and Buck find your own!” he said, steaming. “And no more touching my stuff!” Vin commanded, glaring at Ezra.
Ezra slid off the steps and hurried off behind the house. He didn’t cry. Crying was for sissies and babies. He was neither. Crying children were also an agitation to grownups, besides giving them power over him. Of course his mother would always have power over him. He had promised himself, after Maude had left him the last time, that no one would ever hold that kind of power over him. That had changed after moving in with Mr. Buck. Ezra had begun giving more of that power to Mr. Buck without the man actually knowing it.
Plopping down in the dirt next to the drawing that had been left from the day before, he began furiously scrubbing it away. He hated his life. He hated the way he was. He wanted to be perfect like Vin. But, now he knew that was impossible and, on top of that, Vin hated him. A horrible thought struck him as he imagined Vin demanding Chris to make Buck and him move out all because of his bad behavior. Sitting there in the dirt, as horrible thoughts flew through his mind, Ezra was lost at how he was supposed to make everything all right again. A single thought popped into his mind. Maybe he could run away. That way Mr. Buck wouldn’t need a new house. Vin would have his room back and Mr. Larabee wouldn’t have to share his house with either of them. Vin would be happier, Ezra knew that for a fact.
Chris came out of the shop a short time later. “Where’s Ezra?” he asked, squatting down next to his son.
Vin shrugged, keeping face down to keep the guilt he felt from showing. “I think he went out back to play,” he said quietly, pushing down the horrible feeling he now had because of the way he had treated his cousin. ‘Chris bought this for me,’ he kept rationalizing to himself. Ezra had Uncle Buck and the new house. It wasn’t his fault Uncle Buck didn’t want Ezra around all the time. Heck, even the kid’s mother left him on his own. Vin bit his bottom lip trying to keep it from quivering.
“Okay,” Chris acknowledged. Taking a fleeting look at his son, his instincts telling him something wasn’t right.
At that moment Nathan pulled up. Getting out of the vehicle, the tall forensic agent waved and called a hello.
“Hey,” Chris called back, not stopping from trying to loosen a nut.
Nathan walked up to the duo and ruffled Vin’s hair. “Hey, Vin,” he greeted with a smile.
“Hi, Uncle Nathan,” Vin said without enthusiasm. It was bad enough that Ezra had gotten in the way, now he was sure that with the arrival of Nathan and the impending coming of his other uncles, he would be pushed aside as the grownups took over. He’d never get to work on the bike with just his dad.
Nathan stared down at Chris curiously. Chris looked up at his friend and, with a flicker of the eyes, told Nathan, he had no idea what was going on with the child.
“So, what are you doing here so early?” Chris asked, trying to make conversation.
Nathan took no offense to the probing question. “Figured there was lot to do today on the house, and you and Vin would want to stay here and work on the bike,” he explained.
Vin let out a soft sigh of relief. Maybe, just maybe, he and Chris would be left alone all day. The thought cheered him considerably.
Chris merely nodded and then said, “Buck’s already gone up to the house to work on some wiring and left Ezra here. He’s around back. Would you mind going and checking on him?” Chris asked.
“Sure,” Nathan said obligingly, knowing it was more of an order than a request. He didn’t miss the relieved look in his friend’s eyes. Something had happened and Nathan was betting it involved both his nephews
Vin briefly panicked, afraid that if Ezra told his uncle what he’d done, Chris would take away the bike. In a moment of self-preservation, Vin lied. “He’s in a foul mood,” he said. Getting a strange look from Chris, Vin hurried on. “Because Uncle Buck left him behind.”
Nathan nodded in understanding. “Well, I’ll do what I can to cheer him up. How’s that?” he suggested.
Vin shrugged. “You can try,” he said evasively.
After Nathan disappeared around the corner of the house, Chris gave his son a speculative look. “Something happen while I was in the shop that you’d like to share?” he asked in a parental tone.
Vin looked back to the ground. Shaking his head, he said, “No. Nothing happened.”
Chris gave his son a hard look and then turned back to the bike. He knew for sure something had occurred and hoped Nathan could get Ezra’s side, but wasn’t counting on it.
Nathan stepped around the corner to find Ezra wiping at the dirt and muttering. Nathan began whistling to let the child know someone was approaching. The man had learned from Vin that children like Vin and Ezra didn’t like having people walk up on them unannounced. The uncle took notice of the way the boy went rigid for a moment, scrubbed at his face hurriedly and then continued doing something in the dirt, which he couldn’t see.
Dropping down next to Ezra, Nathan moaned as his knees popped before he could arrange himself comfortably. He watched Ezra draw an indecipherable picture. “Hey, Ezra. What are you doing?” he asked, scrutinizing the depiction and taking sideway glances at his nephew. The crestfallen appearance was quite noticeable.
Ezra knew better than to ignore the man even though he wanted to. “Just drawing,” he answered plainly.
“Ohh? Whatcha drawing?” Nathan inquired, hoping to draw the little boy out.
“Nothing,” Ezra replied. Stopping his drawing, the child looked up at the man and studied him speculatively. He knew this man was smart. Mr. Buck and Mr. Larabee had said it several times. ‘Perhaps, he knows how to make me a good boy,’ he thought to himself.
“Mr. Jackson?” Ezra began, a tremor in his voice.
“Yes, Ezra,” Nathan answered, softening both his tone and posture.
“If you do something wrong without meaning to, how do you fix it?” the five-year-old asked, his face pensive and his watery eyes staring holes in the man.
Nathan swallowed hard. He felt a trap coming on. He learned a lot from Vin, and knew that when a child asked a question, he wasn’t always saying what he was thinking. “Well, it would help if you tell me what you think needs to be fixed,” Nathan stated casually.
Ezra contemplated the problem. If he told Uncle Nathan what he needed, the man might not help, but at the same time, Ezra figured Vin was telling Chris what an awful boy he was and Ezra wanted to fix it before Mr. Buck got home and found out they had to move. Or, at least, before Mr. Buck found out and decided that Ezra wasn’t worth the trouble of keeping.
“What if it was someone you knew needed fixing,” Ezra said quietly, the words whispered so low, Nathan had to strain to hear them.
Nathan was taken aback by the comment and really wished someone, anyone, was in this spot but him. Taking a deep breath, he hesitantly asked, “Why would such a person need to be fixed? Did he break something, like their leg or something of someone else’s?” He thought, perhaps Ezra had inadvertently broken something of Vin’s, therefore causing a riff between the two boys.
“Maybe they’re wrong on the inside. Mr. Buck or Mr. Larabee wouldn’t want somebody broken in their houses,” Ezra explained anxiously. Seeing an off expression on the man’s face, the five-year-old thought the big man hadn’t understood him. Trying to explain again, he said, “Mr. Larabee has Vin, and he’s perfect. Mr. Larabee doesn’t want a broken person in house. He might make Mr. Buck go live somewhere else and Mr. Buck wouldn’t want that thing with him anymore because it’s nothing but trouble. He might even send ‘it’ back to where he got ‘it’.” Ezra serious expression broke the scientist’s heart.
Nathan felt tears spring to his eyes. He hadn’t missed that Ezra had began referring to himself as an ‘it’. Without forethought, he scooped Ezra up into his lap and wrapped his arms around the child tightly. “YOU are A very good boy, Ezra. And Chris isn’t going to kick Buck or you out of the house. And Buck certainly isn’t going to take you back to that children’s home, ever. I can guarantee you that,” the big man said sternly.
“But, I touched Vin’s helmet and he got mad and then I dropped it and now he’s going to tell Mr. Larabee, and Mr. Larabee is going to be really mad because he bought all that stuff for Vin and I shouldn’t have touched it, but I just wanted to see it. I didn’t mean to,” Ezra rushed out. “I promise I’ll be good. Please, help me,” Ezra begged.
Nathan wanted nothing more than to strangle a certain nephew right at that moment. Vin, of all people, should have known what Ezra had been through and how rough it was on him. Taking a calming breath, he also realized that Vin was also a typical little boy and got territorial over his things, sometimes more so than others.
“It’ll be alright,” Nathan said assuredly. “I promise,” he added solemnly, keeping the boy wrapped in his arms.
Buck drove the back-way on his return to the ranch. Coming into the yard, he laughed as he met Josiah, driving in from the main road. After both vehicles stopped and they got out, greetings were exchanged. Going over to the duo on the ground, Buck asked, “Where’s Ezra?”
“Around back. Nathan is with him,” Chris said, staring at his friend and communicating with the twitching of the eyes that something had occurred between the two boys, then he shrugged to indicate he had yet learned what.
Buck nodded in understanding and headed around to the back. Chris looked up at Josiah and said suggestively, “There’s coffee in the house.”
Josiah took the hint and, without delay, headed inside the kitchen.
Chris looked at his son skeptically. He had been puzzling out Vin’s sudden mood change and hit upon what he thought would be the answer. After Vin had come to live with Chris, it hadn’t taken long for the blond to figure out that when the boy felt his place in the home threatened, he would become very possessive of his belongings. More than once, Chris had done final bed check only to find that Vin had put all the things he prized most in the bed with him. It had been a long while since Vin had felt that threatened, now it appeared, for some reason, that Vin saw Ezra as a threat.
“You sure nothing happened?. Because I would hate to think that something did and you didn’t tell me the truth,” Chris stated, settling back on his backside to wait Vin out.
Vin hung in his head in shame. Looking back up at his dad, Vin saw neither anger, nor disappointment, in the eyes staring back at him.
“Ezra was in the way, just like he always is,” Vin stated with annoyance, hoping to add proof to his theory with his tone.
“You’re mad because Ezra was sitting here watching us?” Chris asked in confusion. It wasn’t like Vin to act in such a matter, but then again Ezra was the first kid Vin had competition with for attention from his uncles.
“He picked up my helmet,” Vin stated defensively, his face clouding up with exasperation and anger.
“And that bothers you because it’s yours and you think Ezra’s treading where he doesn’t belong?” Chris simplified the problem in a much calmer tone than he felt.
“It’s not a toy to be played with. It costs a lot of money,” Vin argued, hoping it sounded like a good reason for his outburst.
“No, no it’s not a toy, but maybe if you had thought to show him the helmet, yourself, and showed it off, you wouldn’t be so mad right now,” Chris said, going back to working on the bike.
Vin sat there for a minute in silence, brooding.
Without looking up, Chris said, “Our deal is to say our thoughts. I’m not a mind reader, you know.”
Vin sat a moment longer before saying in a soft pouting voice, “This was supposed to be our bike. Only we would work on it. Nobody else.”
Chris continued working, processing Vin’s words. “Ahh,” he finally said. Looking up at his son, Chris chose his words very carefully. “I did buy this bike for you because you showed me how much this really matters to you. And we will have many days, weeks, and,” he said tiredly, “probably years to work on it together.”
When it appeared the answer didn’t quite pacify Vin, Chris put down the wrench, looked at Vin and said, “I mean it. It is your bike and we will work on it together, but that doesn’t excuse bad behavior towards anyone. Not Ezra, and not your uncles.” Chris paused, “Uncle Buck and Ezra aren’t going to be here forever,Vin. We’ve discussed this before, but while they are here, we are going to make them feel welcomed.”
Still not getting a response, Chris went on. “You remember how it was when you first came here. Everything was different than the other place. You didn’t really know me or any of the others. You were afraid of making mistakes all the time and being sent back. You were scared,” Chris said honestly. It had become a rule that they could speak of the past with openness. “You remember how Uncle Buck and the others made you feel welcomed and loved?” Chris hinted hard. “Ezra is no different. You know that better than anyone. Buck and Ezra are just here for a short time, and then they’ll move and it’ll go back to just being you and me,” Vin’s father spoke as he took off the bolt he’d been struggling with. “He was just looking, Vin. Just looking. Not taking,” Chris finished quietly, letting Vin figure out what he had to do on his own.
Vin sat there feeling very guilty. His dad had been right. Ezra hadn’t done anything wrong. Ezra hadn’t asked for Buck to leave him behind, just like he probably had never asked to be left by his mother, and it wasn’t like he had broken anything, either. Even yesterday, it had been his dad’s suggestion to give Ezra the ride. The kid hadn’t asked. Ezra hadn’t asked anything of him, ever. Ezra had never asked him to play, never asked to go to town with him and Chris, never got on his side of the room. The more Vin thought about it the more he realized, Ezra tried to stay out of his way. The kid tried to be invisible, just like he, himself, had done when he’d first moved to Chris’ house. Vin’s guilt doubled. He wondered what Uncle Buck would have to say to him when he found out Vin had been so mean to his son. The thought didn’t appeal to the child at all. He feared the man might stop wanting to be his uncle altogether.
Swallowing hard and getting up off the ground, Vin said, “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Chris simply nodded and kept working.
Buck moved around the house and stopped suddenly. Seeing Ezra being held by Nathan sent alarms through him. Ezra hadn’t quite got to the stage where he willingly let the other members of the team hold him, light hugs, yes; hold, no. Gulping down his fear, he knew that if Ezra had been hurt very badly, Nathan wouldn’t be sitting there rocking him. Edging forward, Buck came to where the two sat and eased himself to the ground. He wanted so badly to yank Ezra out of Nathan’s arms and haul him into his own lap, but resisted. “Hey, guys. What are ya up to?” Buck asked in a neutral tone.
Nathan looked at Buck and tried to convey as much meaning in his eyes as possible as he said, “We were just discussing how to fix broken people and make them perfect, so they would never make mistakes. That way everyone would want that person around and never abandoned them.”
Nathan’s hard look told Buck all he needed. Somehow, something had happened to make Ezra think he needed to be perfect in order to be kept. Scratching his mustache thoughtfully, Buck said, “Well, if you figure it out let me know, ‘cause I haven’t figure out how to be perfect yet. How about you, Ezra?” Buck asked before switching his attention to the other man. “Any ideas, Nathan?”
Nathan shook his head. “Nope. Never have figured out how not to make a mistake. I’d like to know ‘cause the Good Lord knows I’ve made plenty of them,” Nathan said, loosening his grip on Ezra, giving the boy a chance to leave his lap if he wanted to.
“Me, too, Nathan,” Buck laughed. “Me, too,” Pausing, Buck spoke again. “If my momma had a nickel for every time I did something wrong, she would have been a rich woman, but bless her heart she loved me anyways.”
“Mine, too. Momma came unglued a couple of times over the things I did, but neither she nor daddy ever stopped loving me,” Nathan replied.
“I guess it just can’t be done,” the mustache reasoned. “The only thing we can do is do out best and admit when we do something wrong,” Buck said.
Ezra slowly began creeping out of Nathan’s lap and before he could decide where to actually go, Buck picked him up and put the boy in his lap. Ezra sat there for a minute, trying to get the courage to do the right thing. He leaned wearily against Buck’s chest, feeling the warmth radiating from the older man. Listening to the thumping of the guardian’s heart, he realized Mr. Buck had not only come back, but had sat down in the dirt and had taken him into his lap. Ezra melted a little further into Mr. Buck’s arms trying to soak up the support he felt, both physically and otherwise. Thinking he should do a little damage control before Vin and Mr. Larabee told Mr. Buck about how much trouble he’d been, he figured he should just tell the whole thing.
Gathering up his nerve and taking a deep breath, Ezra said, “Vin and Mr. Larabee isn’t going to want me around anymore because I picked up Vin’s helmet and he yelled at me, so then I dropped it. But not on purpose and now Mr. Larabee is going to kick you out of the house.”
Buck had to sit for a moment and straighten out the statements in his mind. Looking at Nathan, the tall black man discreetly got up and walked off. He met Vin coming from the other direction. There was no need to say anything; the boy’s feelings were written all over his face. Nathan gave the boy an encouraging pat on the back and kept walking.
“Listen to me, Ezra,” Buck said softly, taking Ezra’s face in his hands and tilting it up to him. “Chris is a good man. He understands about little boys and their need to investigate new things. I know, without a doubt, that there is no way he is going to get mad over something as trivial as you dropping Vin’s helmet,” Buck avowed.
Seeing that Ezra didn’t believe him, Buck tried again. “Vin might have been upset, but there is nothing you could ever do to anger Chris enough that he’s going to make us leave,” Buck promised.
Buck was still trying to convince the young boy they were safe when Vin walked up. Seeing the sad look on Ezra’s face, just before the younger boy turned his head, out of fear, into Buck’s shirt. Vin, shuffling his feet back and forth, was afraid to look at his uncle. Kneeling down in the dirt, Vin said, “I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
“It’s okay,” Ezra said, his words muffled into the shirt.
Vin took a breath and shook his head. “No it’s not. I was being mean because… because… I was angry at Uncle Buck,” the seven-year-old stated quietly, “At everyone,” he added.
Ezra’s head shot up, his eyes wide and Buck’s mouth flew open. “Why?” Buck asked in bewilderment, voicing the same thought Ezra had.
Vin shrugged. “I wanted this to be just mine and Dad’s bike. I thought having it meant that everyone would…I don’t know,” he said, struggling for the right words, “disappear. That it would just be me and Dad, alone.” Vin sat, looking at his fingers as they traced patterns in the dirt.
Ezra understood. He wanted it to be like that with Mr. Buck. To have a place for just the two of them. “It’s okay,” Ezra said again, this time with meaning.
Vin looked wearily at his Uncle Buck and forced himself to ask the question he was afraid of knowing the answer to. “Are you going to stop being my uncle?” he asked fearfully.
Buck was taken aback again. It was hard to remember at times that Vin, who was often so sure of himself, still had emotional scars of his own. Reaching for Vin, the boy eagerly clambered to his uncle’s side and enjoyed the arm wrapping around him as relief flooded through him. “You could never do anything that could make me stop being your uncle. And I’m not so stupid as to think you boys will never have another fight. But next time, let’s talk it out as soon as it happens and not wait until everyone is miserable. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Vin said happily.
“Agreed,” Buck prompted Ezra.
“Yes, sir,” Ezra said, with less assuredness.
Changing the mood, Buck playfully tossed Ezra up and sat him on his feet and then climbed to his own feet. Taking Ezra’s hand in his, he began leading the kid to the front of the yard. “Come on, kiddo, we got to get Uncle Nathan and Uncle Josiah and go work on our house,” he said with a smile.
“What about Mr. Dunne?” Ezra gently asked.
“He’ll be out later. He’s taking Casey and Mrs. Nettie to lunch,” Buck explained.
Looking back at his nephew trailing slightly behind, Buck grabbed Vin’s hand and said, “And you and your old man have a bike to get running. I want to see some action out of you soon,” he said with a laugh, winking at the young kid.
“Dad’s not that old,” Vin teased back.
Soon the three grownups and one little boy were heading out to the other house, waving goodbye the two staying behind. Buck, having put Ezra in his lap to ‘help’ drive, in the old pickup and Josiah and Nathan in the profiler’s car. As they drove down the short winding path, Buck said to his son, “You know, ever since Vin’s been asking about taking up motocross biking and realizing how much time those two were going to be spending together got me to thinking. We need to find us a father and son thing to do.”
Ezra beamed from ear to ear.
Back at the ranch, Vin was as happy as he could remember being, sitting in the dirt with oil all over his hands and grease smeared on his face. Looking over at his dad, he smiled wide, his white teeth gleaming against his dirty face. “Isn’t this fun, Dad,” he said happily.
Chris looked up from the aggravation that was to be his destiny and smiled back. “Yeah, Vin, this is great.” He didn’t want to think quite yet of the races to come and the hours he would spend working on the bike. For right now, in this time, this was a great place to be.
By late afternoon, Buck called it a day. The four men cleaned up and put away the tools. Driving back to the ranch, they all heard the tractor going in back of the house. Walking around the house, across the yard and down a small ravine, they found Chris grating out a large area. Vin was sitting in his dad’s lap. Buck and the others sat down on the side of the slope and watched as the two smoothed out a track.
Chris finally decided the track was good enough and, with Vin’s assistance, drove the tractor back up to the house. Coming back, Chris was pushing the bike, while Vin carried his stuff. With Chris and Josiah helping, Vin was soon looking like a colorful creature from outer space. Once Vin had all his padding on, goggles, helmet and boots, Vin climbed onto his bike and, with a smile that outshone the sun, slammed onto the start crank and roared the engine to life. Chris leaned in and yelled over the roar, “Remember, not too much gas.”
Vin nodded and let up and the gas a little, hit the clutch, shifted the gears and started off. Lifting his feet, he began going around the new track. After a few rounds, Vin began relaxing and feeling more comfortable with the bike, adding more speed with each round. On the side, Chris stood ready for anything that might happen, while the others sat on the ground and cheered on their new racer. The tall blond felt tremendous pride in his son as he watched the way the boy handled the bike. Vin was a good boy and was going to grow up to be a man worth knowing.
Buck, sitting Ezra in his lap, wrapped his arms around his son and squeezed. Loving the way that Ezra cheered for Vin after the rough beginning they’d had that morning. Slowly, they would teach Ezra what family was all about. It wouldn’t hurt Vin to have a few reminders, himself.