"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe
Two little boys pulled themselves from the grip of sleep as they remembered today they would see the Rodeo. By the time Buck opened the bedroom door to wake the boys, they were dressed in their cowboy outfits, ready for breakfast. Buck grimaced when Vin skirted around him, just out of reach as they headed for the breakfast table. Vin was smiling and chattering with JD, but it seemed his subconscious still held on to the hurt of the day before. Buck and Chris still didn't know what had upset Vin, but they hoped he would tell them with time.
The boys were thrilled to see the horse trailer hooked to the truck. It was a total surprise that Chris and Buck were going to do something in the rodeo, and even more of a surprise when they found out that they would be able to participate as well. Vin was disappointed when only Chris and Buck's horses were loaded in the trailer, but they assured him that there would be several events he could participate in, and perhaps he could be involved in the riding events next time, when he had more experience on horses.
Vin accepted the explanation and petted Peso goodbye, smiling at the thought that there might be a next time. Chris had told him the rodeo was only once a year, and then he said next time. Maybe Chris really did plan to keep him. Vin happily climbed into his child safety seat in the back of the truck. At seven years old, he was old enough to not ride in a safety seat, but he didn't yet meet the height or weight requirements. He didn't mind too much. The seat made him tall enough to see out of the windows, and Chris and Buck wouldn't let anyone tease him about it.
Vin and JD played in the back seat, but the hour-long drive to the rodeo grounds seemed to take forever as their excitement began to build.
The boys stuck close to Chris and Buck when they reached the rodeo grounds. It was unknown territory and their insecurities loomed larger when they did something outside of the norm. JD and Vin planted themselves on a fence rail and clung to it as they watched the men unload the horses from the trailer, which was parked next to twenty other trailers. Then the boys hitched a ride to the arena on Chris and Buck's horses. Within a few hours the grounds would be buzzing with wanna-be cowboys and fans.
The boys busied themselves exploring the stock pens behind the arena. Chris and Buck weren't worried about the boys, as they rarely strayed far and neither boy was willing to let Chris or Buck out of sight.
"Chris," warned Buck. Chris glanced up from his work and looked at the boys. They were next to the pen where the bulls were kept. Vin grabbed the fence rail and peered in at the bulls, with JD at his side.
Chris didn't get the chance to finish his warning. A bull charged the fence and both boys backpedaled away a few steps, landing on their backsides as the bull rammed the fence with its head.
Chris and Buck helped the boys to their feet and dusted them off.
"You all right?" asked Chris.
Vin nodded, his eyes wide.
"You don't want to be messing around by the bulls," Chris advised unnecessarily.
Vin nodded in agreement. He didn't want to mess around by the bulls. They were mean.
"We just wanted to say, 'Hi'," said JD.
Buck grinned. "Well, Little Bit, the bulls have a pretty rough way to say hello." Buck picked up JD's red backpack, which contained a change of clothes, some snacks and miscellaneous treasures to keep him occupied until the rodeo events started. "Why don't you two come over here and hang on this fence while we get the calves ready?"
"'kay, Buck," chirped JD happily. They were at the rodeo and there was no place better for a little boy who dreamed of being a cowboy.
Vin and JD watched Buck and Chris from outside the rectangular corral. It was fun watching them move the cows around for a little while, but soon it became boring and the calves in the adjoining corral were much more interesting. The calves' corral shared a common fence with the corral Chris and Buck were working in, and had a gate at each end of the shared fence.
Buck and Chris were intent on their job of separating the cows and calves. They knew their jobs well, and had a good rapport with the other rodeo hands, but the laughter from the cowboys sitting on the corral fence was beginning to annoy them.
Chris turned his horse towards the gate where Buck was standing. "How many do we have?" he asked.
Buck looked into the adjoining pen and counted the calves again. "Eight?" he questioned his own count. "That can't be right!"
"Eight? How can there be eight? You counted ten last time," said Chris as he looked suspiciously at the laughing cowboys. He cut another calf out of the herd and guided it toward Buck with his horse. Buck opened the gate and shooed the calf into the adjoining pen with the other calves.
Buck took another quick count. It was still eight! The cowboys' chuckles were now full blown guffaws of laughter.
Jack rode up next to the gate and grinned. "Having a little trouble there, boys?" he asked.
Chris just shook his head. Between the cowboys' laughter and Jack's knowing grin, something was up and likely he and Buck were the brunt of some joke.
"If I were you, I think I'd check on my miniature cowboys," advised Jack with a wink as he nudged his horse and continued on his way.
Chris groaned inwardly as he swung his horse around and looked. Vin and JD were no longer hanging on the fence watching. He urged his horse forward toward the opposite end of the rectangular corral where all the cowboy's were focused. Buck walked down the fence line as well, wondering what they had in store for them.
Both men saw the gate at the far end mysteriously open and watched as two calves trotted in, bawling for their mothers. As they got closer, they could hear the conversation.
"Open the door, JD."
"Okay," said JD. "Come on, little cow."
Chris, still on his horse, was close enough to see Vin over the top of the fence as the boy herded a calf toward the gate from the adjoining pen where he and Buck had been moving the calves. The gate swung open and the calf trotted in.
"It's okay," said JD. "Find your mama!"
The laughter of the cowboys rang in their ears as Chris dismounted and he and Buck approached the gate.
"Whatcha doing, boys?" Asked Buck, leaning on the top rail.
Vin froze as if he had been caught doing something wrong. JD, on the other hand was proud of his accomplishment. "We's helping them find their mamas."
"Oh, is that right?" said Buck, cringing at the laughter from the men on the fence behind them. True, it was funny, but he was certain the boys weren't doing this as a joke.
"Yep. They was crying. You can hear 'em saying, 'Ma!'" said JD seriously. "They need their mamas."
Buck pushed open the gate and the two men joined the boys in the calf pen. Buck scooped up JD and sat him on top of the fence, holding him in place so he wouldn't fall.
"Did we do something bad?" asked Vin, trying to read Chris' face.
Chris softened his expression, knowing that Vin was fearful of disappointing him. "Not really, Cowboy. C'mere."
Vin walked over to Chris, who in turn lifted him to sit next to JD.
"Wanting to get the calves back with their mamas was a good thing," Buck explained, "But right now they are supposed to be separated from their mamas. It will just be for a few hours."
"But they're crying," said JD. A calf bawled at that very moment. "See? He said, 'Ma'."
Buck smiled sadly. How was he supposed to explain this to a little boy who cried for his own mother?
"JD," said Chris. "Do you hear the calves saying anything else?"
JD shook his head. "Nope. They only say 'Ma'."
"That's right," said Chris, "because that's the only sound they make." He looked at Vin, knowing that Vin wanted an explanation too. "They use that one sound to communicate everything. Maybe one of them is calling for his mother."
"Or maybe," added Buck, "Maybe he's saying 'hello' to you." Buck grinned, "Or maybe he's saying 'My back itches'." Buck scratched JD's back for emphasis.
JD giggled. "How do you know which one he's sayin'?"
"Only the cows and calves know that, JD," said Buck. "But, they aren't hurtin' and they will only be away from their mamas long enough to play some games today. So we need to leave them in this pen, okay?"
"How come those guys are laughin'?" asked Vin.
Chris answered cautiously. "Well, they think it's funny that Buck and I kept taking the calves out of the pen, and you and JD kept letting them back in."
"Sorry," whispered Vin. He didn't like the idea that something he had done made people laugh at Chris.
"Why?" asked Chris with a chuckle, "I think it's funny too. Poor Buck thought he forgot how to count!" Chris held up his fingers as if he was counting. "He kept adding, but didn't know you two were subtracting. You should have seen the look on his face."
Buck made a funny face and Chris laughed.
When Chris laughed, Vin knew it was really okay and he grinned as Chris pulled his hat over his eyes. Vin pushed his hat up so he could see.
"Tell ya what," said Buck, "You boys come on down to the other gate, and I'll let you swing on it as we open and close it. How's that sound?"
"Oh boy!" said JD. "Come on, Vin!" Buck and Chris lifted the boys off of the fence and let them walk to the other gate, on the calf pen side of the fence. Both boys climbed up on the gate and hung on, waiting for their ride.
Chris turned to the string of cowboys still sitting on the fence. He picked out his heckler as Troy tipped his hat.
"Nice crew," Troy said with a genuine smile.
Chris smiled back and tipped his hat as he mounted his horse and went back to work. It was a good thing they had a couple of hours yet before the grounds opened to the public.
Vin and JD tired quickly of swinging on the gate. They went and found their backpacks, sat in the shade by the pigpen and played with the toys they brought to occupy their time. Every few minutes Chris or Buck would come over and check on them, pleased to find the boys playing happily with their toys, but it wasn't too long before even the toys were no longer interesting.
Vin watched as two older boys stood at the edge of the pigpen making jokes and laughing. Slowly and casually Vin inched his way over to where the boys were standing.
"Hey runt," teased one of the older boys.
"My name is Vin," he said defensively, puffing out his chest slightly.
"What do ya want, runt?" said the other boy.
"I thought maybe we could play," suggested Vin. He knew it was lame. These boys wouldn't want to play with him and JD, but they were having fun and Vin didn't want to miss out.
He was right. Both boys laughed at the idea of playing with him.
"Whatcha doin'?" asked JD. He had left his toys and come over to see what the boys were doing.
"See that pig?" said one of the boys.
Vin and JD nodded. JD piped up, "He's for the pig catch race."
"Yeah, well, whoever catches him gets to keep him and eat him for dinner!" said the oldest boy cruelly.
"No they don't!" shouted JD, horrified by the thought. The piglet squealed and moved away from the boys.
"Yes, they do. You'll see!" The boys laughed as they walked away to amuse themselves elsewhere.
"Vin, we can't let somebody eat him!" said JD with tears in his eyes. Both boys remembered watching the movie "Babe." They had seen it ten times or so in the past two weeks. They couldn't let that happen to this little piggy.
"I know," said Vin softly, "We'll figure out something." Vin considered the trouble with the calves, but this was different. The calves got to go back to their mamas. This little pig was going to be eaten. They had to do something. It didn't occur to either of the boys to ask the adults for help. Fending for themselves was still second nature.
"I got an idea," said Vin. He hurried back to their backpacks. His backpack was a lot bigger than JD's. When Buck and Chris had taken the boys to buy backpacks, Vin had insisted that he didn't want a new one. Chris had been letting the boy use his old backpack from his teen years. To Chris it was old and worn out, but to Vin it was a treasure simply because it belonged to Chris. Vin promised to take good care of the backpack and Chris had relented with a smile.
Vin took everything out of the special backpack and stuffed his toys and spare clothes into JD's backpack, which was now ready to burst.
"Whatcha doin', Vin?" asked JD.
"We gotta save him," said Vin seriously as he squished JD's backpack and tugged at the zipper in an attempt to get all the extra things inside.
JD nodded in agreement and followed Vin as he climbed over the short fence and into the pen.
The "catch the pig" race, as JD called it, was not scheduled to take place for three hours, but once the boys stepped inside the pen, their own race was on. Both boys landed in the dirt several times in their attempts to catch the little pig. They chased it around the pen numerous times, before finally boxing it in and capturing the squealing creature. Ten minutes later two very dusty boys sat outside the pigpen fence with a piggy tucked safely in Vin's backpack. No one would eat this piggy.
"What on earth have you two been up to?" asked Buck, grinning at the dirty boys. "C'mere," he called to JD.
JD stood and moved toward Buck inadvertently bumping the backpack. The pig squealed. Vin immediately squealed, trying his best to imitate the pig. JD quickly joined in, afraid that if adults, even Buck, found the pig, it would be put back in the pen and end up someone's dinner.
"What are you doing?" asked Buck as JD wrapped around his leg.
"I's a pig," answered JD, peering up at Buck under the brim of his cowboy hat.
Buck bit back his retort that JD looked like he'd been wrestling with a pig. Boys were boys and that meant dirt. "Well, c'mon, boys. We're going to meet Chris over in the stands and get our registrations finished before everything starts."
"What are stands, Buck?" asked JD as he picked up his backpack.
Buck grinned, knowing his answer would make no sense to the five year old. "Well, Little Bit, the stands are wear you sit."
"Then how come they don't call them 'sits'?" asked JD.
Vin rolled his eyes and carefully picked up his backpack.
"I don't know," said Buck with a chuckle. "Maybe you should ask Chris that question."
Buck helped JD put on his back pack and watched Vin, who refused help, struggle with his pack. Vin squirmed and shifted and finally settled the pack in place, but Buck wondered if Vin was already worn out. Both boys were still recovering from the effects of their months living on the streets. They tired easily and needed a lot of rest. Vin looked like his pack weighed a million pounds. Buck took JD by one hand and Vin latched onto JD's other hand as they headed toward the stands. The rodeo would start soon and the grounds were filling with people.
As they walked along Vin squirmed in response to the pig's wiggling. He had no idea that little pig's feet could dig so harshly into his back.
"Ow!" Vin protested as a foot scraped him.
Buck looked down to see what was going on, assuming something was happening between the boys. JD had an innocent smile on his face as he let out another piggy squeal. Vin scowled and scrunched his shoulders.
"Vin, is your back bothering you?" asked Buck.
"NO!" said Vin quickly. "I'm fine!" Vin licked his lips nervously. "I just...uh...kicked a rock," he stammered.
Buck held back his sigh. Vin was obviously lying, but he assumed it was because the seven year old didn't want to draw attention to himself. Buck and Chris had been working hard to assure the boys that being sick or hurt or even making mistakes would not jeopardize their new family, but Vin and JD were slow to come believe that fact. Whatever the cause, Vin was hurting and Buck determined he would make sure that Vin didn't wear the backpack the rest of the day as it seemed to be irritating his back.
The threesome pressed through the growing crowd, walking past the stock pens and around the arena, finally arriving at their front row seats. Vin promptly slipped off his backpack and slid it into the shade under their bleacher seats, shrugging his shoulders to ease the ache.
It looked as if the rodeo would be a sell out today with two thousand wanna be cowboys and fans. Chris smiled as he looked down at Vin seated on the bench beside him. With the increasing crowds, Vin had nudged closer to Chris and now was practically tucked under his arm as he filled out registration forms. On the other side of Vin, JD was 'helping' Buck with his forms.
"What's this one, Buck?" asked JD as he pointed at an event on the sheet.
"That's the Mini Scramble," answered Buck. "You have to pull a ribbon off a goat and run to a circle."
"Can me and Vin do that one?" asked JD with a smile.
"Well, Little Bit, you can do this one, but Vin's too old," said Buck.
"Vin's only seven!" protested JD.
"Yes, but ages four, five and six are in the Mini group. Seven year olds are Pee-Wee's," explained Buck.
"I'm not a pee-wee!" complained Vin indignantly. First Buck had said he was not a real cowboy, and now he had called him a Pee-wee!
"It's the name of your age group," said Chris quietly. He could see Vin's defensiveness over the simple statement. "Buck isn't saying you're a pee-wee."
"That's right, Junior," added Buck as he finished filling in JD's name and statistics.
"I'm not a pee-wee," grumbled Vin quietly.
"How about the Stick Horse Race, JD?" asked Buck. "Do you want to try that one?"
"Yeah!" said JD, bouncing on the bench. "I can ride fast!"
Buck grinned and put a checkmark next to Stick Horse racing.
"You gonna do that one, Vin?" asked JD, wanting his friend to play with him.
"Sorry, JD," said Chris, "That event is only for the Mini group. You have to be six or under."
JD stomped his foot on the bleacher. "Ain't there anything me and Vin can do?"
Buck scanned the list. All the Little Buckaroo events were divided by age groups, except for one. It was divided by height. Vin and JD would fall into the same category on that single event. "Look's like you could both do the Chicken Run."
"Yay!" shouted JD. "Make a mark by that one." JD made sure that Buck checked the box. "You too, Chris," said JD as he pointed to the box on Vin's registration form.
Chris smiled and checked the box. He perused the other events that fell into Vin's age bracket. Several of the events required a horse, so Vin wouldn't be able to enter those this time. "How about Tagging, Vin?" he asked. "You have to catch a sheep, tie a ribbon around its neck and let it go."
Vin shrugged. It sounded okay to him.
"Mutton Bustin'?" asked Chris.
"What's that?" asked Vin curiously.
Chris smiled. "It's like the bull riding, except you have to ride a sheep for six seconds."
Vin nodded. He'd try that. "What do you get to do?"
"Well, Buck and I are going to try the wild cow milking. And I think Buck is going to try the wild horse race?" Chris looked to Buck for confirmation. Buck nodded. Chris finished some information on the form. "Other than that, we'll be helping in the chutes with some of the events."
"You won't be with us?" asked Vin, with an edge of nervousness creeping into his voice.
"I'll be there for your events, but for the time Buck and I are working, Josiah and Ezra will be sitting with you."
"Will they do any of the games?" asked JD.
Buck laughed. "No, JD. Josiah could probably be talked into it, but Ezra wouldn't be caught dead in the arena."
Vin giggled. "Mr. Ezra should do the 'milk the cow' race."
Chris chuckled and tipped Vin's hat forward. "Now that would be funny." Chris put his pen in his pocket and stood up. "Well, we'd better get these registrations turned in." Buck finished the last note and handed JD's form to Chris as well.
Vin pushed his hat back into place with a smile. He was looking forward to being in the rodeo. As Chris walked away, Vin peered under the bench checking on his precious cargo in his backpack. Piggy was very quiet and still, hopefully having a good nap.
"Mr. Ezra! Mr. Josiah! Mr. Nathan!" shouted JD happily as the men approached their seats.
"Hello, Master Dunne. Master Tanner," greeted Ezra.
"Hi, boys," said Nathan, clipping on his rodeo staff ID badge indicating he was an official EMT for the event.
Josiah roughed JD's hair affectionately, and then shook hands with Vin. "Hello, JD. Hello, Vin," he greeted.
"Nice outfit, Nate," said Buck, indicating Nathan's plain white tee shirt and blue jeans. "Glad to see you dressed up for the occasion."
Nathan laughed at the good-natured teasing. "I have to put on scrubs in the medical tent anyway, just so folks will know that I'm qualified to treat them," said Nathan turning his ID badge towards Buck.
"How come you's not wearing rodeo clothes, Mr. Ezra?" asked JD.
"Yeah, Ezra. How come you're not wearing rodeo clothes?" Buck teased. "At least Josiah's got a western shirt."
Ezra smiled indulgently at Buck. In his estimation, his green Ralph Lauren polo shirt and tan slacks were perfect attire for any casual occasion. "These are my rodeo clothes, Mr. Wilmington," said Ezra.
"But they'll get dirty," said JD. "You's supposed to wear your play clothes."
Josiah chuckled. "It's all right JD. Ezra has to pay for his own clothes if he gets them dirty." He smiled as JD hugged his jeans clad legs.
"If you'll all excuse me, I need to report to the medical tent." Nathan accepted JD's hug as the youngster let go of Josiah and wrapped his arms around Nathan's legs. "You have fun now, and I'll see you at lunch time."
"Bye, Mr. Nathan!" said JD.
"Bye," echoed Vin as Nathan walked away and Josiah and Ezra settled on the bleacher seats.
"Okay, JD, it's time for your first event," said Buck. "Let's get ready!"
JD stood in the arena, looking back at Buck and waving, rather than paying attention to the instructions. Not that the instructions were complicated: catch a goat, pull the ribbon off its tail and run to a circle in the middle of the arena.
The whistle blew, the bucking chute gates were opened and two dozen goats were released into the arena, kicking up clouds of dust from the loose packed soil. Laughing with delight, JD raced after a goat with a couple of dozen 'Mini's'. JD jumped at a nearby goat, sprawling in the dirt when the goat darted away. He jumped up and grabbed for another one. The arena was complete chaos. The crowds were vigorously cheering the four to six year olds in their efforts.
After missing the second goat, JD looked back to the stands for guidance. He could see Vin jumping up and down on the bench cheering. Buck and Josiah were waving at him, and Ezra was trying to keep Vin from falling off the bench. Nathan had gone wherever the medical tent was, and now Chris was by the gates, ready to round up goats when the game was over.
JD saw Vin pointing at something and turned to see where his friend was directing his attention. Not far away, up against the fence, a goat had tired of running and had lain down. JD ran quickly to the goat, slowing to a walk just before he reached it.
"Nice goaty goaty," he said soothingly. The goat bleated but stayed still. JD reached down and pulled on the end of the ribbon around the goat's tail. The ribbon came free and JD raced to the middle of the arena. He stepped into the roundup circle and jumped up and down, waving his ribbon. It didn't matter that there was already a dozen kids in the circle, or that he had captured his ribbon from a goat, which wasn't even running. He had played the game and he was a cowboy.
After receiving his ribbon and coupon for the snack bar, JD ran to the edge of the arena, and Buck lifted him over the fence.
"I winned!" exclaimed JD happily. "See?" He thrust the coupon at Buck.
"You sure did, Little Bit," Buck chuckled. He took the coupon and tucked it in his pocket.
"I winned, 'Siah. I winned, Ezra!" JD hopped up the bleachers and plunked down next to Ezra and Josiah.
"You are quite the cowboy, Mr. Dunne," said Ezra with a chuckle.
"Ladies and gentlemen, all contestants for Tagging, Pee-Wee Division, please come to the arena."
"That's you, Junior," said Buck when the announcement finished. Buck reached for Vin, intending to lift him off the bench and over the fence, but Vin sidestepped and latched onto Ezra.
"Will you help me?" he asked.
"Certainly, Master Tanner." Ezra stood up, lifted Vin, and held him over the railing. Vin grabbed the top rail of the fence and climbed down into the arena.
Neither of them saw Buck's frown of concern. He didn't think Vin was acting intentionally, but subconsciously he was avoiding Buck. And conscious reaction or not, it hurt the softhearted man. Buck shook his head trying to figure out what he had done to make Vin steer away from him.
"Yay, Vin!" JD cheered as Vin trotted towards the middle of the arena for his first event.
Vin waved at Chris as he herded the final few goats out of the arena and closed the gate. Chris tipped his hat to Vin with a grin.
Vin looked at the boys around him and suddenly felt very small. His age bracket was seven to ten year olds. He was small for his age, but some of the boys seemed to be very big for their ages.
"Excuse me, son," said an official, "but this event is for the seven to ten year olds. The Mini event is over."
Vin looked up, surprised that the man was talking to him. "I'm seven!" he protested.
"Oh?" said the official skeptically. "What's your name?"
"Vin Tanner," said Vin with an offended scowl.
"Okay, I've got you," said the official as he checked his list. "You just be careful with all these big boys."
Chris looked up from locking the gate, catching a glimpse of Vin across the arena. Vin had his hands planted on his hips, his body rigid. Something had obviously upset him. At that moment the officials called for the release, and he had to free the sheep for the Tagging race. Sheep ran, boys scattered, but for a few moments, Vin just stood angrily in the middle of the arena.
"Go, Vin!" called Chris.
Vin started to move only to be knocked down by a bigger boy. He scrambled back to his feet and chased after a sheep. With surprising agility he grabbed hold of the animal, wrapping his arms around its neck. He wasn't big enough for his weight to stop the animal, so he kept running and pulled his ribbon around the neck. Tying it was a bit more difficult, but he did it and raised his hands in the air, following the rules.
The whistle sounded and an official made his way around the arena handing out awards. As soon as Vin received his ribbon and snack bar coupon, he ran to Chris to show him the prize. Chris gave him a hand up and settled Vin behind him on the horse.
"I did it!" said Vin excitedly, having forgotten the earlier slight by the official of being too small.
"Good job, Vin," said Chris. "Did you have fun?"
"Well, hang on. We've got sheep to round up."
Vin grinned as he bounced around the arena on the back of the horse. He might be small, but none of the other boys got to ride around the arena with Chris. When they reached the far side, Chris handed Vin over the fence to Josiah, and chuckled as Vin animatedly recounted the race. Maybe this would work out better than he thought. Vin and JD seemed to be having a lot of fun in their separate events.
Ezra frowned at the man sitting behind them. The cretin had climbed over someone else and had bumped Vin hard enough to nearly knock the boy off the bench. In the process the man had spilled his beverage on JD's seat and the soda pop began to run off the bench. Vin quickly grabbed his backpack from under the bench rescuing not only his special backpack, but piggy from a soda pop bath. Ezra and Josiah scrambled to clean up the sticky mess before it spread further. Ezra caught a glimpse of the backpack, wondering what odd treasures it contained when the contents shifted in a strange shape.
"Master Tanner, do you..."
"It's fine," interrupted Vin. "It didn't get sticky."
Ezra exchanged a glance with Josiah. Vin was protective of all his belongings, but this was more protective than usual.
"Let's watch JD," suggested Josiah. Vin nodded and sat on the bench, still clutching his backpack oddly.
JD's stick horserace was quite the event with nearly thirty 4, 5 and 6 year olds lined up in the arena. The whistle blew and the race began with the crowd cheering the youngsters on. JD was one of several children who tripped over another child's 'horse' and fell, but he jumped up quickly and finished his race. When he returned to the stands he showed off not only his prize coupon, but also his scraped hand, which seemed to be a bigger trophy to the boy than his coupon.
Ezra observed Vin carefully placing his backpack at JD's feet for protection while he went to participate in his next event. As Vin entered the arena, Chris returned to the stands to be in place for the wild cow-milking contest.
JD showed Buck his scrape and they mutually agreed it was Spiderman Band-Aid worthy. Buck picked up JD's backpack to retrieve the Band-Aids. He laughed as he fought to open the overstuffed bag.
"What all did you put in here, JD?" he asked with a chuckle.
JD's eyes widened. Would Buck figure out that piggy was hidden in Vin's backpack when he found all Vin's stuff in JD's pack?
"How did Cat get in here?" Buck asked, pulling Vin's stuffed cat from the bag. "Aren't these Vin's jeans?"
"Hi Jack," greeted Chris as Jack rode over to their side of the arena and stopped.
"Chris," Jack nodded. "How are the boys enjoying the rodeo?"
"They love it," answered Buck.
Jack nodded, but Chris noted that he wasn't very enthusiastic.
"Something up, Jack?" he asked.
Jack shook his head. "I really can't believe it."
"Believe what?" asked Buck.
"I can't believe someone would steal a pig."
JD's mouth dropped open and he quickly covered it with his hand. Fortunately Buck just thought JD was upset by the news.
Jack shook his head again. "Worst part is, it really puts me in a bad spot." He looked at Chris. "It was my granddaughter's pig. She's raising it to be a brood sow. Even named her."
Chris grimaced for Jack. Disappointing a child was sometimes inevitable, but to have someone steal a pig...
"I can't find them, JD," said Buck, still digging for the Band-Aids in the backpack.
"Perhaps they are in Master Tanner's pack," said Ezra, leaning over and unzipping Vin's backpack before JD could stop him.
"No!" wailed JD as the piglet raced for freedom.
"Grab it!" yelled Buck, as he and Ezra raced for the escaping pig, dodging the front row spectators as they gave chase.
"Run piggy!" yelled JD through his tears.
Buck tripped over a patron in the front row, falling to the dirt as Ezra dove for the pig.
Chris stood watching the spectacle unfold, his mouth open in surprise. Ezra had to be acting on pure instinct. The suave, sophisticated gentleman would never knowingly chase a pig.
Josiah tried to deal with JD's distress. The entire story tumbled out in a jumbled mess in between sobs, but Josiah had heard the gist of the saga. JD and Vin were trying to save the pig from being someone's dinner. He assured JD that the pig was not destined to be dinner.
"Got it!" called Ezra as he got up from the dusty ground, holding the terrified piglet to his chest to keep it from escaping.
Josiah quickly covered JD's ears as a very ungentlemanly stream of curses poured from the southerner. He held the pig away from him as if it was the most distasteful thing on earth.
Buck lay on the ground laughing hysterically.
Chris' mouth twitched up at the corners, leading to a full-blown smile.
At that moment Vin returned from his event. The seven year old stood in confusion trying to piece together the picture before him. Mr. Ezra was holding piggy! Oh no! How had the pig gotten out? Mr. Ezra said a bad word and that's when Vin saw that the southerner had a wet stain on his Ralph Lauren polo shirt. Buck was rolling in the dirt laughing. JD was bawling, and Mr. Josiah was hugging him. Chris was laughing.
Cowboy Jack reached over the fence and took the pig from Mr. Ezra.
"NO!" cried Vin, reaching for the pig.
"It's all right, Vin," said Chris, still laughing. He gently pulled Vin back from the rail.
Josiah shook his head at the antics. Vin and JD needed some reassurance right now and everyone was joking around. "Come here, Vin."
Vin hesitantly sidestepped towards Josiah, his eyes never leaving piggy.
"Don't worry, Vin. The pig will be fine. It belongs to Jack's granddaughter," explained Josiah. "After the rodeo she will take it home and eventually it will have baby pigs." Vin looked at him, searching his face for the truth. "That pig isn't going to be dinner," assured Josiah.
"That's right boys," agreed Jack. "Babe here is my granddaughter, Robin's pet."
"Babe?" asked JD. "Does she herd sheep like in the movie?"
Jack laughed. Thanks to his six-year-old granddaughter, he had seen the movie, "Babe" a few too many times. "No, but she likes to sleep and eat."
"We didn't stealed her," said JD.
"I know you didn't, son," said Jack. "Someone was pulling your leg and told you a lie. You were just trying to help." Jack smiled and winked at JD. "I've got to get her back for the race."
JD waved as Babe rode away with Mr. Jack.
"My shirt is ruined," complained Ezra.
Buck wiped away the tears from laughing so hard. "I'm sure you can by a shirt at one of the stands, Ez." He chuckled again. "I can't believe you caught a pig."
"I can't believe that the..."
"Ezra!" cautioned Josiah when he sensed the southerner was about to go into another streak of profanity.
Ezra looked at the two little boys. "Forgive me, gentlemen. My language was atrocious. Excuse me while I go find something to wear."
Chris just shook his head. He looked at the two little 'Robin Hoods' in Josiah's arms and chuckled. They sure kept life interesting. He saw Vin's wary expression and held out his hand to him. Vin trotted over and took his hand, the smile and the open hand was all he needed to assure Vin that he was not in trouble.
"Can we help, Mr. Ezra?" asked JD, hopping from one foot to the other.
After receiving a nod from Buck, Ezra agreed to allow the boys to help him procure a new shirt. Accompanied by Josiah, the foursome left to find the nearest souvenir stand.