By Angie

Little Britches ATF Universe

Buck Wilmington tried not to cringe when the toddler in the chair next to him sneezed, slinging disgusting strings of green phlegm. He turned his attention to where the boys were sitting on the other side of him, both of them squeezed into one chair, reading from the Highlights magazine JD had plucked from the shelf across the room. They were reading an article about sled dogs and they were excited to see that the picture resembled one of the dogs at home.

The nurse came to the door and Buck looked up expectantly, only to have his hopes dashed when she called another name. It was a Friday morning and the waiting room was packed! Some kind of nasty bug was apparently making the rounds at the daycares because the room was crawling with sick babies and toddlers. Buck seriously considered rescheduling the appointments for another day until he remembered how hard he and Chris had worked to convince the boys that the visit was necessary.

“But I’m not sick!” JD protested. “Why do I have to go?” the diminutive brunet argued.

“It’s to make sure you don’t get sick,” Buck replied. “ And the doctor needs to check and make sure you are growing right and he’ll check your ears,” he offered, hoping to entice the boy into not throwing a fit. JD was normally very good about routine medical check ups until the kids at school started telling him that the doctor was going to give him a shot and it was gonna hurt and then he had gotten scared.

“You said I don’t need a shot, right Da?” JD pressed, turning to look up at Buck, who was trying to gently comb the tangles from the dark, wet hair.

“You aren’t going to get a shot, it’s just a check up,” Buck repeated, firmly turning the little head back around so he could finish combing it before the snarls dried in.

In the other room, Chris had Vin in his lap, trying to calm the older boy’s fears.

“But we ALWAYS see Dr. Two Eagles,” Vin protested. “Why does we have to see a lady doctor?”

Chris sighed. The boys’ regular doctor was on vacation and they hadn’t known that when they scheduled the appointment a month ago. They had only found out when the nurse called to confirm earlier that day.

“Because your doctor is on vacation and Dr. Anderson is taking all of his patients,” Chris explained.

“But Dad, she’s a lady!” Vin complained.

“Yes, there are lots of lady doctors,” Chris agreed, “and I’m sure Dr. Two Eagles wouldn’t have left her in charge if she wasn’t someone he trusted.”

“But what if she wants to look at our boy stuff?” Vin asked, his voice dropping to a whisper at the last two words.

“Buck will be in the room with you and it’s okay because she’s a doctor and because one of us is with you,” Chris replied.

“But she’s a lady!” Vin protested again.

Chris had never had to deal with this kind of situation with Adam and he didn’t know what to say to allay his son’s sudden discomfort at having a female doctor. He wondered if little girls went through a similar problem.

“I wish you could be there with me,” Vin said, settling gingerly against his dad’s chest, ever mindful of the blue Velcro brace on his leg.

It had been a stupid, rookie mistake that left Chris writhing on the ground, clutching at his wrenched knee after slipping in a puddle of blood at a crime scene. He had meant to kick the gun away from the lifeless hand and lost his balance. The arthroscopic surgery had been a week ago and he still couldn’t be on his feet for any length of time.

“I wish I could too, son,” Chris said, pressing a kiss to the damp, slightly curly hair.

“Tanner and Dunne,” the nurse called, looking around the room expectantly.

“That’s us! Come on boys,” Buck said. The nurse, Petra, smiled warmly at the worried expressions on their faces and gestured them toward the height and weight station to their left.

“Take off your shoes and step up on the scale,” Petra said, looking at the fair-haired child. She had made note of the colored stickers on the file and knew that the boys needed to be handled with extra patience. “Wow! Look at that! You’ve gained three whole pounds since your last visit! That’s great!” she enthused. “Let’s see how much taller you are.”

Vin gifted her with a tremulous smile and stepped off of the scale to stand on the footprints on the tiled floor. He scooted his until his heels touched the wall and stood up very straight so she could get the right height.

“Look straight ahead,” she said as she slid the marker down to the top of his head. Like most kids, he wanted to look up and see what she was doing. “Okay, step out and take a look,” she said, “you were this tall last time. You’ve grown an inch and a half!”

“Yes!” Vin whispered, pumping his arm in victory. It seemed like the girls in his class were all getting taller and he was worried about it until his dad told him that he would soon catch up and probably pass most of them.

JD toed off his shoes and jumped up on the scale, causing Buck to cringe when it rattled noisily. He reached out to catch hold of his son, who was reaching up for the sliding parts just above his head.

Petra quickly switched charts and adjusted the slider on the scale to get the younger boy’s weight. “And you’ve gained a little over a pound!” she exclaimed. “That’s great! Now, let’s see how much taller you are.”

The little brunet jumped off of the scale and landed on the footprints, scooting his stocking-clad feet back until they touched the wall. He then stretched up as tall as he could.

“Keep your feet on the floor,” Petra prompted. She slid the bar down and made note of the number just as JD ducked and spun around to look at the number. “That’s good. Now, let’s go to room three and take your temperature,” she urged.

“How much did I grow?” JD asked.

“About a quarter of an inch,” she replied.

“Is that a lot?”

“It’s just right for you,” she said, catching the panicked look in Buck’s eye. She knew that competitive little boys could argue about anything and one of them growing more than the other would just be fodder for the fire. “Grab your shoes,” she reminded them.

Once in the examination room, the boys were seated side by side on the table. She took Vin’s temperature first, showing both of them the instrument that she would put in their ear before gently brushing the hair from the side of the boy’s face. It only took a second and she made note of the reading on the chart before discarding the protective tip and replacing it with a new one for JD.

After Nurse Petra left the room, JD slid off of the table and began to explore the room. He poked through the milk carton of books and magazines before proclaiming that he had seen all of them before. He noticed the brightly colored line in the tile and began to walk on it like a balance beam. Once the novelty wore off, he headed for the small, round rolling stool that the doctor would use.

“JD, that’s for the doctor, leave it alone,” Buck said.

Vin stayed on the table, his skinny legs swinging, while he looked at the assorted charts on the walls. He had seen some of them before. The school nurse had the food pyramid on the wall in her office and there was one in the cafeteria. He tried not to look too closely at the girl-shaped one that showed the muscles, it made his stomach feel weird.

Buck reached out and ran his hand up and down Vin’s back, knowing that the boy was anxious about being here without Chris. He had also heard about the problem concerning having a lady doctor. Fortunately, JD didn’t seem worried at all. ‘Yet,’ his inner voice warned.

Twenty-five minutes later, Buck decided that he would rather go undercover with Ezra than to have to bring two anxious, bored little boys to the doctor by himself. He was also regretting turning down Nathan’s offer to come with him. He wondered what Chris was doing at home and wished that he could be there.

“When is the doctor coming?” JD asked for the umpteenth time. “Maybe they forgot that we’re here. You want me to go to the desk and remind them?”

“No. They know we’re here,” Buck replied as patiently as he could. In the next room, he could hear a baby screaming over the reassuring tones of the doctor to the harried mother.

“Buck, I have to go to the bathroom,” Vin said quietly.

“Let me check with the nurse,” Buck said, getting up and going to the door. He didn’t see anyone in the hallway, the only person he saw was at the checkout desk but that was some fifteen feet away and he was concerned about leaving the boys in the room unattended. Several seconds later, he spotted Nurse Petra coming out of another room. “Excuse me, Vin needs to use the restroom,” he said to her before she could duck into another room.

“It’s right across the hall there,” she said.

“And do you know how much longer it’s going to be?” he asked, hoping that he didn’t sound as whiney as he thought he did.

“I’m sorry, we’re swamped. She should be with you in a few minutes.”

Buck was left with a dilemma, take both boys into the restroom or let Vin go by himself? Finally, he decided to let Vin decide.

“The restroom is across the hall. Can you go by yourself or do you want me and JD to come with you?” Buck asked.

“I can go by myself,” Vin answered, sliding off of the table.

Vin peered up and down the hall as if it was a busy street before darting across to the restroom. He held the door open until he found the light switch, then he closed the door and Buck was relieved to hear the click of the lock. He stood in the doorway, trying to watch both JD and the restroom at the same time.

JD pressed up next to his Da’s long legs and looked down the hall. He saw the nurse putting filled syringes on a tray and he got scared. Pushing against his Da, he squeezed out into the hall and held up both arms. “Pick me up,” he begged.

Glancing down at JD, Buck patted his son on the head. “I thought you were getting too big for me to pick you up,” he chided.

“But Da, I’m scared,” JD announced as his eyes filled with tears.

Buck quickly scooped up the little brunet, who promptly began to wail against his shoulder. Vin came out of the bathroom and, seeing JD bawling, began to chew on his lip. Buck motioned him into the room and sat back down on the bench. Vin immediately crowded into his other arm while staring in trepidation at the door.

In the end, it turned out fine. Dr. Anderson was a pleasant older woman who instantly put the boys at ease. She apologized profusely for keeping them waiting and promised them an extra dip in the treasure chest for their patience. She looked into Vin’s ears, then allowed JD to take a peek.

“It looks like a big hairy bug in there,” JD announced.

Naturally, Vin had to have a look in JD’s ear and he agreed that it looked a little like a hairy bug but the doctor assured them that there were no bugs in their ears and she went on to explain about the eardrum and the little hairs that naturally grew in the ear canal.

Two hours later, Buck led two excited little boys out of the doctor’s office and back to the truck. He still had other stops to make. On the way to the auto supply store, he listened to the boys comparing the ‘loot’ they had gotten from the doctor’s ‘treasure chest.’ It was a claw machine that took the tokens that the lady at the checkout desk gave them. Dr. Anderson had a supply in her pocket and she gave each of the boys an extra one. JD had two super balls and several little rings, along with a mesh bag of jacks. Vin had one super ball, a bag of jacks and a couple of wire puzzles. It was a veritable bounty to the boys and it kept them entertained for the time being.

Who would have thought it would be so difficult to find a water pump? The man at the desk swore that the computer showed they had one in stock but the teenager working in the back couldn’t find it. When the man went back, he couldn’t find it either so he offered to call around and see if he could find one at another location. Buck wandered away from the counter after the boys, who were looking at the assortment of car air fresheners that hung on a nearby endcap. By the time he got back to the counter, the man was deeply engaged in a discussion with another customer about the warranty on the alternator he had purchased but couldn’t find the receipt for. After the man stormed off, the clerk grabbed up the phone and made another phone call.

“Vin! Look at this one!” JD exclaimed. They were looking at an assortment of license plate frames. “This one would be good for Uncle Ezra. See, it says ‘My Other Car is a Jaguar.’”

“But he only has one car, JD,” Vin reminded the younger boy.

“But it’s a Jaguar!” JD protested.

“Oh, here’s one for Uncle Josiah. ‘God is my Co-Pilot,’” Vin read.

Buck leaned against the counter, reading as the clerk wrote down the address for the store that had the water pump he needed. The clerk gave whoever he was talking to Buck’s last name and asked him to hold it for him before ending the call.

“Thanks,” Buck said as he pocketed the piece of paper.

“Sorry it took so long,” the man replied.

When he turned around, Buck saw both boys looking at a particular license plate frame. JD looked up and saw him watching and called out, “Hey Da! What does this one mean? ‘My Juvenile Delinquent Beat up Your Honor Student’?”

“It’s not a good thing, Little Bit. You and Junior ready to go? We have to stop at another store,” Buck said as he took both of their hands and led them back to the truck.

Checking off the second item from his list, Buck checked the time. Before he could even say anything, JD called out, “I’m hungry, Da. Is we stopping for food soon?”

The McDonalds Playland was filled with energetic, sugar-buzzed, enthusiastic children and the noise level was only a few decibels shy of deafening. Buck stirred a fry through the puddle of ketchup on his burger wrapper. If he was at home, he could be having a nice Dagwood sandwich and an ice-cold beer. The boys had wolfed down their Happy Meals and were now chasing each other through the maze of tunnels that ran to the ceiling. He heard JD calling for him and looked around to see his son in one of the uppermost cubes, peering out of a clear bubble that extended from the side.

After an hour long detour at McDonalds, Buck was back on track with his list. He stopped at the dry cleaner to pick up the things that he had dropped off last week when he brought Chris in for his arthroscopic procedure. There was no one in the shop, so he figured it would be a quick in and out.

So much for thinking it would be a quick in and out. They had misplaced one of Chris’ suit jackets and had to go through all of the garments on that same rack. There was nothing for the boys to do and, to top it all off, no air conditioning in the building so it was like standing in a sauna. Vin finally asked if they could go out to the truck and get the jacks from the doctor’s office to play with. Buck looked to see that the employees were still looking through the plethora of hangers and took the boys out to the truck to get their toys.

Snapping his cell phone closed and sighing in heat-exhausted irritation, Buck looked down at the small hand tapping on his arm. He had called to let Chris know that they were running very, very late only to be told that Travis had called and needed him to come by the office to pick up some papers for Chris to fill out for his temporary disability benefits.

“Da, can we get a soda? We’re thirsty,” JD asked, looking up at him with big puppy dog eyes. Both he and Vin had been sitting on the floor in the corner playing quietly and were hot and sweaty.

Buck looked at the vending machine and sighed again. He dug into his pocket and came up with a couple of dollar bills. Only after he had fed both bills into the machine did he realize that it only had Diet Seven-Up in it and neither of the boys would drink Seven-Up, regular or diet. He pushed the coin return button and the machine spit out two quarters and a dime, then the ‘Exact Change Only’ button lit up. He started to call out to the woman at the counter until he noticed the sign above the machine that indicated that they were not responsible for the machines and listed the number for the vending company.

“I’m sorry, JD, but the pop machine is broken,” Buck said. Just then, the woman at the counter called out that she had found the missing jacket. “Come on, let’s pick up our stuff and we’ll go through a drive up and get you a drink,” he suggested.

It was nice and cool in the truck and the boys were thrilled with the small sodas Buck got for them at the Taco Bell drive up. Buck drove to the office, anticipating a quick trip up to get the paperwork and back to the truck to finish their list of things to do. When he pulled into the garage, he glanced in the mirror and groaned. Both of the boys were sound asleep.

“Oh hell,” he murmured under his breath. Depending on how long he had been asleep, JD would either wake right up and be fine or he would be so soundly asleep that he wouldn’t wake up at all. Then there was Vin. He knew that the older boy would be easy to waken but he would be confused and uncoordinated for several minutes. He never once considered locking the truck and leaving them inside, as he knew other parents had been known to do, because he knew how dangerous that was and because Chris would tear him a new one if he found out.

There was one hope, that Orin’s secretary would be able to bring the papers down to him. To that end, he pulled out his cell phone and flipped it open. He dialed the office and waited for someone to pick up. His hopes were dashed when Bonnie announced that she was swamped and couldn’t leave her office.

“Damn, damn, damn,” he whispered, resisting the urge to bang his head against the wheel. Then, in the rear-view mirror, he spotted a familiar face. Opening the door and stepping out, he called out to the other man. “Hey, Franklin, can you do me a favor? Can you stay here with my kids while I run up and get some papers from the office? They’re asleep and I don’t want to wake them up,” he explained.

“Sure, man, no problem,” Dan Franklin said as he came over to look in at the sleeping children. His wife was expecting their first child in a few months.

Buck noticed the cigarette dangling from the man’s fingers and added, “Just don’t get in the cab with that. The boys don’t like smoke.”

“Oh sure, I understand. Sandy’s been on me to quit ever since she got pregnant. I’ll stay out here with it.”

“I’ll be back in a flash. I just have to run up to Travis’ office and pick up some papers. They should sleep right through,” Buck said as he walked backwards toward the elevators.

After the elevator doors closed, Dan realized that the truck’s engine was running and the air conditioning was on so he gently closed the driver’s side door and leaned against the quarter panel to finish his cigarette. The air was hot and humid so he thought he would get in the truck and cool off for a minute. That was when he realized that the door was locked and he couldn’t get in.

Buck got out of the elevator and crossed the lobby to Orin’s office. He smiled at Bonnie, who was nodding her head as she listened to whatever the person on the phone was saying to her. She pushed a folder toward him and he picked it up. As he was turning to leave, she held up one finger, indicating that she needed to tell him something. Buck waited, not patiently, as she gave someone directions to her house. After several minutes, he began to get irritated, he was there on business and she was on the phone with a personal call. Finally, she hung up the phone.

“I’m sorry, Buck. Chris needs these signed by the doctor who performed the surgery. If you have a scanner at home, you can just scan them and e-mail them back to me. I need them by tomorrow morning to turn in with the payroll packet if he wants to get paid for his disability on this next check, otherwise he’ll have to wait another week,” she explained.

“Fine, thanks,” Buck said, closing the folder and turning for the doors. That was when he noticed the flashing lights above the elevators. Since 9/11, the federal buildings had installed a warning system to alert the occupants of an emergency. “What’s going on?” he asked as he turned back to the secretary.

“Something in the garage. There is an alarm sounding,” she answered.

Buck hit the stairs, running like his pants were on fire. As he was rounding the landing on the fourth floor, a door opened and two women started to step into the stairway but they stopped when he bellowed at them, “Out of the way!”

Upon reaching the garage level, Buck yanked the door open and darted out. He could already hear the car alarm blaring loudly. It took him less than a second to realize that it was coming from his own vehicle. Agent Franklin was standing beside the truck, looking terrified.

“What in the hell happened?” Buck shouted as he ran across the garage.

“I closed the door because the air was running and it locked. I tried to open the door and the alarm went off!” he replied.

Buck slapped at his pockets and realized that the panic button was in the ashtray, which was where Chris kept it so he wouldn’t lose it. As soon as he reached the truck, he saw that Vin and JD were both out of their seats, hunkered down in the floorboard in the back seat. Tears streaked down both of their little faces and Vin had the panic button clenched firmly in his hand. Buck tapped on the window and both boys immediately hurtled over the seat to open the driver’s side door. They tumbled into his arms, talking over each other to explain what had happened.

“The strange man was trying to get in the truck …” JD blubbered.

“He said to open the door …” Vin added.

“We didn’t know where you went …” JD continued.

“I saw his gun …” Vin said, looking over Buck’s shoulder and shuddering again.

“He said you told him to watch us …” JD said.

“But you and Dad told us to never go anywhere with a stranger, so I pushed the panicked button,” Vin finished.

The upset little family was surrounded by agents and several police officers, who responded to the silent alarm from the security guards. Buck turned an apologetic expression on Franklin, who was explaining what happened to the others. He sagged back against the seat, burying his face in first JD’s then in Vin’s shoulders to shush them and try to calm them down. He should have left them home and had one of the others come out to watch them and sit with Chris.

Most of an hour later, Buck had both of the boys back in their seats and was getting ready to head home when he realized that he had left the folder of papers on Bonnie’s desk. He contemplated taking the boys up to get them and decided instead to call her and have her e-mail them to him at home.

They stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up the few things they needed. Buck had debated on stopping but Chris needed his prescriptions and the pharmacy was in the store so he figured he might as well pick up the stuff on his list. He put JD in the cart and Vin in the basket so that he didn’t have to worry about them. He picked up toilet paper and dishwasher detergent because they had forgotten to put it on the list when Buck went to the store a few nights ago. He got more straws because the boys liked to use them in cans of pop and Nathan said it was safer than risking getting hold of a bee if it got into the can. He got a bag of sugar, since Chris used the last of it making freezer pops from Kool-Aid for the boys.

When he started thinking about supper, he went back to get a couple of boxes of macaroni and cheese. That got him to thinking about having sandwiches for lunch on Saturday so he went back to the dairy department for cheese, then over to the meat counter for cold cuts. JD asked if they could have chips with their sandwiches, so Buck detoured back across the store for chips. Vin reminded Buck that Ringo had gotten hold of the loaf of bread when he accidentally left it on the counter so Buck circled back around to get more.

They were in line at the register when Buck remembered that he hadn’t picked up the prescriptions. He looked over his shoulder at the long line and decided that he would go to the pharmacy after he checked out.

Buck was just about to begin loading his groceries onto the belt when the bagger dropped a gallon jug of milk. The jug split open and poured out all over the place. The checker grabbed a roll of paper towels and began to try to clean up the mess but it got to the belt and soon the whole thing was streaked with milk. The girl looked overwhelmed when the manager stormed over and growled at her to move to the next register. He tried to put her at ease by telling her that it wasn’t her fault and she flashed him a wan smile.

An older woman was in front of him at the pharmacy counter with a purse full of prescription bottles. The pharmacist was trying to explain to her that her insurance plan didn’t cover one of them but that there was a generic that was covered and he was trying to contact her doctor to authorize the switch. She was confused, and began to explain to him that she had to have those exact pills because the other ones made her drowsy. She kept arguing with him until he finally agreed to give her the medication she wanted. When he rang it up, she didn’t have enough money to pay and had to go to the ATM machine to get more. Buck looked up hopefully, thinking that he could get Chris’ pills and get out before the lady came back but the pharmacist said he had already started ringing her up and couldn’t take care of him until he had finished with the woman.

Chris looked concerned when Buck collapsed on the couch with a beer in each hand. “You know I can’t drink that with my meds,” he reminded.

“I know,” Buck replied, “These are for me.”

“Want to talk about it?” Chris asked.

Buck drew a slow, deep breath and ran the cold glass bottle across his forehead, “I wouldn’t know where to begin. I don’t know how other parents do it but I was never as happy to get back here as I was today.”

“Home, sweet home, huh?” Chris asked. When he didn’t get an answer, he looked over to see that Buck had fallen asleep.

The End

Next - Where the Heart Calls Home by Helen Adams