A "Little Britches" ATF story
Disclaimers: Not mine never will be, sob. Mog invented the ATF universe, Barbretta Hayden wrote "Dreaming of Angels" which for me is the foundation of the ATF LB, and Ringo and Elvis belong to LaraMee, she loaned them to me. I think that covers everything, I hope.
Warnings: Lots of smarm, lots of angish, lots of comfort and just a little bit of hurt at the end. Sorry I just cant hurt the kids big time.
Authors notes: Thanks so much to LaraMee who read this and told me about the holes in the story. And a whole lot of thanks to Mady Bay who agreed to beta for me even though she doesnt like LB and it has to be a lot of work to beta for me.
l. Aytchie is my great-grandmothers name its pronounced long A-chee. If anyone knows where this name comes from Id love to hear from you.
2. The title, and the little adventure at the end comes from something my boys pulled when they were 5 & 7. They answered me the same way JD did.
3. I try to give reasons with little Vin for the way grownup Vin acts or sees things. The hardest has been the Indian Connection. This is my idea of how it might be. Now for those of you who think all Native Americans are dark with black hair my friend Leslies granddaughter is half. Her mom is dark. Her dad is a tall, thin, freckled redhead. She has big blue eyes and blond hair.
Feedback: You bet, I love it.
Nettie Wells thumped her pencil against the desk, her agitation reflected by the speed with which the pencil moved. She stared at the small mountain of paperwork in front of her. Every piece had been checked, verified, and double checked.
Sighing, she picked up the phone. She couldnt put it off any longer. Dialing the number, she waited. "Agent Larabee, please. Nettie Wells calling," again she waited.
"Nettie, whats wrong?" came the strong male voice.
Ever to the point. Nettie sighed again. "Chris, I was hoping you were where you could come over to my office."
"As soon as you can. Please, Chris, its nothing bad, I hope . Theres just some things have come up in Vins background."
Chris looked at his watch. He and Buck had planned to take off for the afternoon. It was an early release day and he was almost ready to leave. "I can be there in oh, thirty minutes. That okay?"
"Yes, thats fine. Ill see you then."
Chris slowly hung up the phone, glaring at it. What the hell was that??? He could hear the tension in Netties voice. Clearing his desk, he called out, "Buck?"
"Yeah?" Buck strolled into the office, his hands full of files.
"That was Nettie Wells on the phone. I need to go over to her office before I head home. Will you explain to Vin Ill be a little late?"
"Sure, whats up?"
Chris shook his head, and said, "Dont know. Nettie just asked me to come over, as in right now."
"Ill watch the boys. Call me when you know whats going on?"
"I will." Chris gathered his things and threw them in a briefcase. Included were some files he planned on going over sometime during the weekend.
The drive to Netties seemed to take forever. Chris turned the radio up, trying not to let his imagination run away. It hadnt been that long since theyd signed the final papers of adoption. But Chris was perceptive enough to know final didnt always mean final.
By the time he walked into the common area of Child Services he was a black thundercloud. Trying to be civil, he looked around for Nettie. The usual case workers glanced up and then away, Not a good sign. There, in the lounge area sat an elderly man. Thick, white hair worn a little long, western cut shirt, jeans, the out standing feature was the large turquoise bolo and watch band the man wore. Before this information could register consciously, Chris spotted Nettie and moved toward her.
Nettie stood her ground against the Larabee glare. It slid right off her as she returned her own version of the glare. "Please, Chris, come in."
Larabee walked past her into the private office and she closed the door. Walking past the sitting ATF agent, she sat down behind her desk. Clearing her throat, she looked Chris in the eye. "I want you to hear me out before you interrupt. I know youre going to have a lot of questions but if youll let me finish without interruption, maybe I can answer most of them."
Chris nodded, gritting his teeth. This was going to be very bad. His stomach dropped as Nettie talked.
"About a week ago, a man came to the office and asked for Vin Tanners case worker. He presented me with documentation supporting his claim that he was Vins great-grandfather. Ive used the rest of this time checking out the validity of his claims."
"He is Vins great-grandfather. Martha Tanners grandfather, he in fact raised Martha.
Now before you say anything, he had no idea where his granddaughter was. He hadnt heard from her in years and then he got a brief letter and a photo and then nothing again."
"It was then he began searching and forming a paper trail that led to me. Chris, Ive checked everything. Theres no doubt about any of this. But Mr. Miller is elderly; Im not sure exactly how old, but he assures me hes too old to raise another child. He willingly signed a statement giving you guardianship. Especially after I told him how happy Vin is with you."
Chris felt frozen. He said through stiff lips, "What does he want?"
Nettie looked down at her hands. This was the hard part. How she was going to explain to this very private man that he must share his new son with a stranger, she wasnt sure. "Mr. Miller wants only to be a part of Vins life, a somewhat distant grandparent. Chris, Mr. Miller is Native American and he wants Vin to know and understand that part of his heritage. He wants Vin to know about his mother and grandmother. They arent happy stories but they are a part of who Vin is."
Nettie cleared her throat. "Chris, I asked you to come over so you could look at the paperwork and to meet Mr. Miller." Nettie stood, "Im going to leave you here to look over the papers and when youre ready, come out and Ill introduce you to Mr. Miller."
Chris had been looking at the stack of papers but his eyes flew up to Nettie at the last statement. "Hes here?"
"Yes, but he understands your need to absorb everything Ive just told you. Hes willing to wait as long as you need."
Through clinched teeth he said, "And if I decide that hes never to meet Vin? Can I do that Nettie?"
"I dont know, Chris. Were on shaky legal ground here. Before we start what ifing, why dont you start reading."
Chris heard the door close behind him as he stared down at the photo on top. His finger traced the familiar five year old face. The longish light baby curls surrounded the blue eyes were even bigger then. It was Vin; there was no doubt about it. His eyes moved up to the face of the young woman that held the boy. She was thin, too thin, with large expressive eyes. Her hair was short and feathered around her face. Her eyes were so sad, even though she was smiling. Her arms were wrapped protectively around the young boy in her lap.
On the back of the photo was written:
Grandpa heres me and my son Vin Tanner. As soon as I can were coming home if youll have us. Love ya Granpa M.
Chris closed his eyes in sadness that she never did get better or home. He looked at the next photo. It was another young woman, this one holding a young girl. The young woman was dark with long, dark hair and bangs covering her forehead, almost into her eyes. It was her eyes that held Chris attention. They were full of laughter and mischief. In spite of himself, Chris found himself grinning back at the wild child with the carefree grin in the picture.
The little girl had long, light brown hair and grinned the happy grin of a loved child. Chris turned the photo over. In careful script was written, "Aytchie and Martha after they came home".
The next thing was a photo copy of an accident report. Chris skimmed the details, shaking his head at the findings. Aytchie Miller 24, and Joe Goway 25 both killed when the pickup rolled on county road 249. Both had blood alcohol levels three times the legal limit.
Next were the guardianship papers for Martha Miller-Tanner to her grand parents, Jess and Beth Miller. Sighing, Chris turned back to the first picture and stared not only at the very young Vin but also at his very young mother. His heart clenched at the thought of having to face this new battle for Vin. But the logical side of his mind knew this could have always happened, that someone could show up and claim Vin.
God, what will I do if I lose Vin? Chris shook his head, he wasnt going to think that way. Then he looked at the last page. Scanning through all the legalisms, it stated that Jess Miller recognized the adoption of his great-grandson, Vin Tanner by Christopher Larabee as valid and he had no intention of challenging it. He only asked for grandparent rights. It was signed and notarized.
Chris snorted, Well thats good only as long as both parties agree. Stop putting it off, Larabee, you gotta meet the man sometime.
Chris stood, closed the folder, and turning, he opened the door. He spotted Nettie sitting with the elderly man hed noticed before. Straightening his shoulders, he walked over to where they were. Holding out his hand he said, "Chris Larabee."
The man stood, and taking Chris hand, he nodded once. "Youre Vins dad. Jess Miller."
Chris acknowledged his relationship, "Youre Vins great-grandfather."
Nettie Wells stopped holding her breath.
+ + + + + + +
Eight year old Vin Tanner laid on the floor, his head using Ringo for a pillow. It was an early release day and he and JD were watching Dumbo, waiting for their fathers to come home.
Dumbos mama was reaching though the bars and she was singing a lullaby to little Dumbo. Vins eyes got heavier as the song lulled him to sleep.Vin was sitting beside his mama. She was holding a old picture. "You remember, Vin, its very important that you remember. Your great-grandpa will come and find you. When Mamma was a little girl, she lived with him and Granpa took good care of her. Hell take care of you, too."
"But Mama I dont want to go with him. I want to stay with you."
"I know, Baby. But if something happens to me, if I have to go away, Granpa will find you." Setting the photo aside, she gathered Vin into her lap, and laying her cheek on the top of his head, she begin rocking and humming. Kissing the top of his head, she whispered, "I love you, Vin."
In his sleep, Vin snuggled deeper into Ringos warm fur. He didnt want to wake up but JDs insistent yell jerked him back. "Das home, Das home." JD dashed out, and stopped only long enough at the porch for the engine of the truck to turn off. Then he and Elvis raced to the truck, Elvis jumping and barking.
"Da, youre home! Youre home!"
Bucks face lit up at the sight of his six year old adopted son. "Hey, Little Bit. Down, Elvis." He reached down picking up the still small JD and hugged him tight. Then he reached down again giving Elvis a scratch.
"Hey Da, are you off for the weekend? Can we go somewhere special? Wheres Chris?"
"Whoa! Little Bit, slow down. Yes, Im home for the weekend and Im not sure what were doing this weekend and Chris had a meeting so hell be a little late."
Buck glanced up to see Vin and Ringo waiting on the porch. The four steps up made Vin almost as tall as Buck and they looked eye to eye. "Chris will be home soon. He had an unexpected meeting. But hopefully it wont take long."
Buck and JD went into the house. JD went back to his video and Buck into the kitchen to get a beer. His cell phone rang while he had his head in the fridge.
"Buck, its me, dont say anything. Are you with the boys?"
"No, JDs watching a video and Vins out on the porch waiting for you. Im in the kitchen. Are you on your way home? What happened at Netties?"
"Yeah, Im heading that way. Buck, Vins great-grandfather has shown up."
Ahhhh SHIT!! "And that means??" Buck whispered, leaning his head on his arm.
Chris sighed, "Im not sure, he says he doesnt want to take Vin away from me, that he only wants grandparent rights whatever the hell that means. He wanted to come out this afternoon to meet Vin. But I said I needed to prepare him. Dont say anything, maybe I can figure out what Im gonna say before I get there. I should be there in forty-five minutes."
"Okay, Stud, whatever you want." Buck closed his cell AHHHH SHIT!!!
+ + + + + + +
Vin sat quietly on the top step of the porch. Ringo, sensing his mood, sat quietly beside him. Vin would reach out every now and then and scratch Ringo behind the ears, never taking his eyes off the long road up to the house.
He didnt know why but he had a sick feeling in his tummy. Vins stomach was all tied up in knots; Chris was upset about something, but what?
Vin sat up straight, seeing the dust of a vehicle coming. By the time the black ram stopped in front of the house, Vin was standing, his fingers curled tightly in Ringos thick fur. Vin watched with wide eyes as Chris got out of the Ram and walked toward him. Vin could feel the worry rolling off Chris, something was really wrong.
"Hey, Cowboy, what you doing?"
"Waiting for you? Something wrong?"
"No, not wrong. Lets go for a walk."
"Okay." Vin walked down off the porch and they headed toward the barn. They sat in the shade and watched the horses play in the pasture.
Vin kept watching Chris out of the corner of his eye. "Whats the matter? Is it work?"
"No, works fine. Vin, Miss Nettie called me today and thats why I was late. I needed to go see her for a while."
"Did I do something wrong? Am I in trouble?"
"No, you didnt do anything wrong and youre not in trouble. Vin, do you remember your momma saying anything about her family?"
Vin stiffened, and said, "No."
"She never said anything about her parents or maybe her grandparents?"
Vin slumped. "She said we was going to live with her Granpa, only she got sicker and we never did." He just couldnt lie to Chris, no matter what.
"Did she tell you anything about her Granpa?"
Vin chewed his inner lip. "No, why?"
"Your mommas Granpa showed up at Miss Netties office."
"NO!" Vin jumped up and faced Chris. "NO, you said I was your son now and that it was forever. He cant make me go with him. I wont."
Chris reached out and held Vin by the shoulders, partly to comfort him but more importantly to keep him from running. "Calm down, youre not going anywhere. Your Granpa doesnt want to take you away from me. He just wants to get to know you. He just wants you to get to know him."
Vin pursed his mouth, and looking down at the ground he said, "Dont want to, dont need to know him. I got you and Buck and JD and the rest of the guys. Dont need anyone else."
"But Vin, he needs you. He raised your mama and he seems to have loved her very much. Youre her little boy and hed like to know you. He said you need to know about him, about your real family."
Vin looked up this time, "NO youre my real family, dont need no other."
Chris reached up with one hand and brushed a wisp of hair off Vins face. "Its gonna happen, Cowboy. Hes coming out tomorrow to meet you."
Vin didnt say anything but in a gesture of giving up he sat down beside Chris, leaning against him, and watched Peso graze lazily, swatting flies with his long tail.
After a while Chris asked, "Vin? Why wouldnt you tell Dr. Will about the time after your mama died?"
Vin picked one piece of straw after another from the bale they were sitting on. Finally, in a low voice he said. "Lacy said never tell grownups anything you dont have to. That grownups dont really care, they just want to use what you say to get you in trouble."
"I see. Do you believe that of me?"
"Nooo, not any more."
"What do you remember about the shelter?"
Vin shook his head, "Not much. It was nice there and no one hurt us. They took care of Mama when she got sick. They made me feel safe, until Mama went away." Vin looked away, his eyes shiny with unshed tears. "They took all my stuff and put it in my backpack and told me to wait in the hall. They told me someone was gonna come and get me, that I couldnt stay there anymore."
Chris frowned, glancing down at Vin. "Who told you that Vin?"
"Them ladies at the shelter. After..after my Mama d died. They said someone was coming. I thought they meant Mamas Granpa. I was sitting on the bench waiting, I I thought Then I saw him. He was there and he was shouting. I was so scared that they would make me go with him so I ran. There was no way I was going with him. Sos they wouldnt notice, I went slowly at first, like I was going to the bathroom, only I snuck out and then I ran. I ran and ran til I couldnt run no more."
"Who Vin? Who came?"
"Mamas boyfriend. I hate him. He hurt Mama and he hurt me. Whyd she let him hurt her, Dad?"
"I dont know Vin. Its very hard for even grownups to understand. Vin is is this man your father?"
"Nah, Mama said my real father died right after I was born. It always made her cry to talk about him, so we didnt."
"You ran, then what?"
"It was dark and cold and I was hungry but I didnt know where I was. I hid behind a dumpster and tried to be as small as I could. Then I cried I must have slept some I was so tired. Then Lacy found me."
"Yeah she was a big girl. She shared her hamburger with me."Fourteen year old Lacy looked down at the frightened little boy. He was crouched down between a dumpster and a brick wall. Common sense told her to walk away but those big scared blue eyes caught her heart.
"Hey Kid!" she called softly. The frightened boy pushed away, trying to melt into the wall.
"Easy kid, I wont hurt you. Hungry?"
The small head bobbed up and down. Lacy slid down beside him, handing him half of her still warm burger. It was all shed found outside the local fast food place and it looked fairly clean. It wasnt enough for her and here she was sharing it with this kid. Sighing, she watched him eat. Maybe they could find more later.
"Wheres your folks, Kid?"
"M names Vin. My mama died."
"Im sorry, Vin, wheres the grownups that take care of you?"
"Aint no one. The ladies at the shelter was goin to give me to him."
"I wont go with him. I wont, he wont hurt me no more."
"Easy Kid, I wont make you go anywhere."
Lacy watched Vin eat his share, shivering slightly in the early evening coolness. "You can come with me if youd like. Only you gotta do what I say when I say it and no questions. Okay?"
"Okay, let's go, maybe we can find Maggie. Shell go with us to a shelter. Well call her grandma and youll be my little brother."
"Why? cause it means Maggie will get in for the night and get plenty to eat if she has kids with her. We get a warm safe place to sleep. Maggies cool and shell keep her mouth shut."
"Lacy took care of you?"
Vin nodded, "un-huh, she taught me how to find something to eat and how to stay out of the grownups way. She taught me to stay away from the big boys and bad grownups. She built our house in the warehouse. She fixed it real warm so we wouldnt freeze on the nights we couldnt get in the shelter. She took real good care of me, Dad, until she went out and never came back."
Chris swallowed and waited.
"Then I was alone for a long time. It was our second winter, I dont remember much after Lacy never came back. Maggie was gone, too, and if Id tried to go to a shelter by myself theyd grabbed me. I got as much covers as I could. I kept all of Lacys rules. Id go out and get food, as much as I could carry and then hide again. I slept a lot, I do remember being cold and hungry all the time. But it got warm again and then I found JD and then you found me."
Chris hugged Vin, "Thats some story, kiddo." In his minds eye he saw the starving, cold little boy, huddled under piles of rags and castoffs, some how managing to stay alive.
+ + + + + + +
Buck had gone to bed hoping to read a little before he fell asleep. They boys were hopefully tucked in bed sound asleep. Supper had been a strained event with even JD answering question in monosyllables. The tired man heard a sound, and lowering his book, he saw JD and Elvis standing in the doorway.
"Hey, Little Bit, arent you supposed to be asleep?"
"Vins having bad dreams, he keeps rolling around and talking, only I cant understand what hes saying. Can we sleep with you tonight?"
"Sure, Little Bit, come on up." Buck reached out and pulled the blankets down so JD could scoot under the covers. When Elvis tried to get under too, he said, "No Elvis, down."
"Ahh, Da, Elvis gets cold."
"Nope, he doesnt get between my sheets. He can get at the foot of the bed."
JD grinned, and Elvis with a wag of his tail, jumped back up and after turning several times, plopped down with his head across Bucks ankle and a protective paw touching JDs foot.
"Da? Whys Vin having bad dreams again? He quit having them for a long time," JD asked as he snuggled up next to his fathe,r his eyes already at half mast.
"Well, something happened today and Vins a might upset about it."
"What?" Big yawn.
Buck hesitated, wondering just how much to tell the little boy. "Now I dont want you to worry about it, okay? A man was at Miss Netties office and hes Vins Great-Granpa."
"Oh, is he going to live here with us?"
"No, Little Bit."
JD snuggled closer and yawned, "Oh, okay."
Buck waited for the next question and was grateful that JD fell asleep before he could think of what to ask next.
+ + + + + + +
It was cold and dark but still the exhausted little boy trudged behind Lacy. He was so cold he felt like an icicle but was afraid to say anything.
Lacy finally stopped, and leaning against a wall, looked down at Vin. She could see him shivering even in the dim light. "Why didnt you tell me you were cold?"
"Sure you are. Its too late to keep going. Well go back to where I stay. You gotta promise not to tell anyone where its at, okay?"
Vin looked up at the big girl "I promise."
They walked some more and then, by a big building, Lacy moved a piece of tin and uncovered a hole in the wall just big enough for her to squeeze through. Vin followed her. She led him across the empty warehouse floor toward a pile of old crates stacked in the corner.
Following Lacy through the tunnel, inside there was a room big enough for Lacy to stand in. In the middle was a box covered with old tarps and blanket rags. Lacy started taking off her shoes. "Take your shoes off, too, and well crawl inside. Theres covers and we will be plenty warm. You need to potty?"
Lacy looked around. "Okay, follow me." She led Vin to where the rest room had been. "This is kinda tricky. First you pull out the rag from the hole here and you go in the hole, then you put the rag back. Aint so bad in the cold but when it warms up you gotta keep the rag in the hole cause it really stinks."
Vin looked doubtfully at the sewer hole in the floor.
Lacy encouraged, "Its okay, kid, just squat over it. You want me to wait outside?"
"Okay, call when youre finished."
Vin quickly appeared at the door.
"Lets go to bed."
Vin followed Lacy inside the boxes again, and once inside the small one, they snuggled together and Lacy covered them up and Vin snuggled close for warmth.
As he warmed up, his mind wandered over the day, and just why he was in an empty warehouse with Lacy.
Lacy felt the tremors before she heard the sobs. "Hey, Vin, its okay, dont cry."
"I want my mama."
"I know Vin, but shes real busy right now."
Vin sniffed, "busy?"
"Yeah, mamas who die, well they start dreaming with the angels. The angels tell them all their secrets and when they are through, then the mamas get to come back and be guardian angels for kids."
"Sure kid, really. So I know you miss your momma and all but shes got a big important job to do now."
"I miss her."
"I know Vin." Lacy wrapped her arms protectively around the little boy and held him close. "I know."
+ + + + + + +
Chris walked quietly past Bucks room and was surprised that the door was open. He glanced in and saw Buck reading with a small lump beside him and a golden one at the foot of the bed. Frowning, he went to the boys room. The light from the hall gave him enough light to see inside.
Vin lay curled, up his blankets and sheet twisted all around him in a heap. Even with the coolness of the house, Vins hair was plastered to his head and he moaned and tossed.
Chris walked into the room and sat down on the edge of the bed. Reaching out, he gently rubbed Vins arm. "Easy, Cowboy, its okay."
Vin moaned again in his sleep and reaching out, grabbed Chris hand, and pulling it close to him under his cheek he sighed deeply and relaxed. Even asleep, he knew that if Chris was there, he was safe. Chris waited and then slowly pulled his hand away, only to start Vin moaning and tossing again. He reached down, and picking up the sleeping boy, cuddled him and eased himself down in the big rocker.
Vin rubbed his cheek on Chris tee shirt and twisted his fingers into the fabric. He was surrounded by the safe smell of Chris. He smiled slightly, and sighing, he fell into a deeper sleep.
Chris rested his cheek on the top of Vins head. Im here, Little Man, Im here and Im not going anywhere. We will work this out. But Chris couldnt bring himself to say "I promise" even in his thoughts.
+ + + + + + +
Buck fixed his usual Saturday morning breakfast and the boys feasted in front of the TV, watching the cartoon fest. Everything seemed normal until they heard the sound of a car coming up the drive.
Vin ran out onto the porch watching the car pull to a stop in front of the house. He watched as the old man got out of the car. Heart racing, Vin backed up a step. He started shaking his head NO- the eight year old locked eyes with Chris, his head still shaking, "NO!" and he ran.
Chris followed, shouting over his shoulder at the emerging Buck, "Buck, thats Jess, take care of him."
He turned the corner of the house just in time to see Vin and Ringo disappear around the side of the barn. Chris ran, slowing only when he got to the corner of the barn. Vin liked to climb the hay stack under the shed. He was undercover but still out in the open. It had become his special place to go to think. Chris had tried to make sure the stacks of bales was stable and safe for the young boy to climb, understanding that he needed a place to be alone.
He stopped beside the hay bale ladder and sat down catching his breath. Chris listened, hearing the catching a breath and feeling the panic pouring off Vin in waves. "Vin? We need to talk."
"Vin, no ones going to take you away."
"Yes, they are. I know who that man is; hes my mamas Granpa. She said hed come to get me."
Chris looked up; he didnt think he could coax Vin down so he began to climb. He found Vin huddled in the furthest corner, with Ringo pressed against him. Chris went slowly over to them and sat down beside Vin.
"Listen to me, Vin, your grandpa isnt here to take you away. Hes been looking for you for a long time and when he found youd been adopted, he, well, he said he tried to find out everything he could about us to make sure you were happy."
Vin turned his head away. "Mama said hed come and take care of us."
"He didnt know where you were, Vin. He tried."
"He didnt come, Lacy took care of me, and then I took care of myself and then I took care of JD."
"Things change, Vin. Your mama didnt know about me or JD or Buck did she?"
"See, things change, youre my son now and you always will be."
Vin eyed the man beside him. He wanted desperately to believe him, but things had a nasty way of not working out the way he wanted them to.
Chris smiled down at the anxious boy, and putting his arm around him, he drew him closer. For the first time in months he felt Vin stiffen at his touch. Oh God, this is really going to screw everything up. We were doing so well, too. Cant anything ever be easy? Chris kept his arm around Vin, holding him close, he was in no hurry, Buck would take care of their guest, Vin needed time and for him to be here. "It really is okay, Vin," Chris said, hoping it was.
+ + + + + + +
Buck watched the retreating figure of Chris and turned to the man walking toward him. The man was quite elderly, yet he moved with a familiar grace. His hair was white and his face lined with age. Buck went down the steps holding, out his hand. "Buck Wilmington."
The old man took Bucks hand in a firm handshake. "Jess Miller. Im afraid Ive caused problems already."
Buck glanced over his shoulder in the direction Vin and Chris had gone. "Nah, theyll work it out. Wont you come in?"
He led the way inside, and leading Jess to the living room, he said, "Little Bit, turn off the TV now."
" K, Da." JD jumped up and turned the TV off, and then seeing a stranger in the room, he went over to Buck, half hiding behind Bucks legs.
"JD, this is Mr. Miller."
Jess sat down, "Hello JD." There was an uncomfortable silence. Buck cleared his throat. "Can I offer you a drink? Tea? Water? Coffee?"
"Water would be fine."
Buck got up and headed toward the kitchen. Glancing out the window, he saw no sign of Chris.
"Here you go." He handed the glass to Jess.
"Thanks." Jess turned his attention to JD. "Are you and Vin friends?"
"I guess thats your dog."
"Whats his name?"
Buck stared at the uncharacteristically quiet JD. "Chris told me a little last night."
"I think I understand the apprehension youre feeling. But please try to understand, I only want to get to know my great-grandson. I repeat, I have no intention of taking him away from here."
JDs eyes flicked between the adults. Taking him JD gasped, "NO! You cant take Vin. He belongs here with us."
Jess looked at the frightened little boy. "Its okay, JD. Im not taking Vin anywhere. I only want to get to know him. You were with Vin werent you, before you lived here?"
"Yeah, Vin took care of me."
"Did Vin ever say anything about his Granpa?"
"Unhuh, Vin said we had to hide from grownups. He said they only wanted to hurt you, that they never really helped kids. We stayed hidden when there were grownups."
"Mr. Miller, Vins never said anything about having any kin, except for his mom. Not in all the time hes been with us."
"No, I dont imagine he would. Im not even sure he knew about me. He was born after his mother left home and the only contact we had was a brief letter and a picture she sent of herself and Vin. She said she was coming home but she never did. It wasnt until I saw the newspaper article about the ATF agents finding two boys that I knew what had happened to my granddaughter. It was an old article and it took me another several months to find where the article came from and track Vin down. I wish Id been able to find him sooner." Jess looked down at his hands. Most of my family has passed on, Mr. Wilmington and while I feel Im too old to raise Vin, I would like to be in his life. Id like for him to know where he came from and who his people are."
Buck looking for something positive to say. "Im sure itll be okay. Vin is just a little hard to get to know at first. Hes real skittish around folks he dont know."
Jess looked up as the screen door screeched open. There, standing in front of him was Vin. His heart jumped at how much Vin looked like his mother at that age. Sensing the tension emanating from Vin, Jess sat very still, not reaching out to him as he wanted to.
The boy was all blues and tans and surrounded by black, with the large malamute standing between them. Jess understood that it was just Larabee standing behind the boy but the black felt encompassing and protecting to him. Ringo didn't bark or growl but he felt the tension and watched this stranger. The man wasn't going to hurt his boy, not if he had anything to say about it.
Vin just glared at Jess defiantly, until he felt Chris thumb in his back pushing him forward. "Hello."
Jess glanced up and Larabee and knew there was no way the man was going to leave them alone. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Buck scoop up JD and leave quietly.
"Do you know who I am, Vin?"
"Yer mama's Gran'pa."
Yes, I am and that makes me your great Gran'pa."
Vin didn't say anything, just continued to glare at Jess.
Jess picked up the shoe box he'd sat down beside him when he'd come inside. "Would you like to see some pictures of your mama and your grandmama?"
Vin eyed the box and then looking up, nodded.
Jess carefully and slowly opened the box and lovingly picked of the top picture. "This is your mama right after she came to live with me. He held out the picture. Vin took a couple of steps closer and reached out but Jess still had to lean forward to let the boy take it.
Vin looked down at a little girl laughing and swinging on a rope swing. He whispered, "That's my mama?"
"Yes, she loved to swing. She'd laugh and say 'high, Gran'pa, high'. We could never go high enough for her."
Jess pulled out another picture. This time the girl was around 12. Her left arm was in a cast but she was holding a soda bottle up and a horse was drinking from it. Jess spoke while Vin looked. "That's her horse, Dumpling. Dumpling loved grape soda."
Vin smiled, "I got a horse. His name is Peso."
Jess looked down at the next picture and sadness filled his eyes, "This is your mama and her mama."
Vin took the picture, and looking around, sat down on the floor in front of Jess spreading the pictures out, so he could look at them all at once. Jess handed Vin more pictures, watching as the boy feasted on them.
Chris watched in the background, as Vin slowly seemed to relax. He watched Jess trying to seem unconcerned, yet he watched every move protectively. Ringo sat beside him watching, also. Chris reached out and laid his hand on Ringo's head as if to reassure the dog it was okay.
Vin gathered the pictures up and handed them back to Jess, careful to stay out of arms reach.
"Would you show me your horse, Vin?"
Vin cocked his head to one side. "If Dad says it's okay." Vin turned his head to look at Chris.
Chris nodded, and said, "It's okay with me."
Vin smoothly got up and uncharacteristically reached for Chris' hand. Chris frowned but took the offered hand, and nodding to Jess, led the way to the barn. Chris felt Vin trembling through his hand and wished with all his heart he could make this easier for him. Wasn't that what a father did, make things easier for his kids? But there didn't seem to be anything he could do about anything this time, except watch.
They got to the fence of the pasture and watched for a moment. Chaucer, ever being Chaucer, started showing off head and tail high as he trotted around the pasture.
Peso flattened his ears when Chaucer went by and shook all over. The rest of the horses, being more even tempered, just ignored the other two. Then Peso saw Vin. Letting out a short 'whoff', he trotted over, hoping for a treat.
Vin climbed to the top rail, and leaning over, offered Peso a sugar cube. After gently taking it, Peso leaned into the boys hand as he chewed the sweet treat. His ears hung limply in the middle and his eyes half closed with pleasure.
Jess watched Vin interact with the horse, pleased that his great-grand son seemed to have the gift of being able to communicate with animals. He'd watched the half grown pup earlier and was surprised how protective even this young dog was toward Vin.
Jess stepped closer and reached out to Peso.
Chris cleared his throat "I wouldn't. Peso don't take to strangers. In fact Vin is the only person he's nice to."
Jess just smiled and said something so softly that Chris didn't catch it. But Peso did. His head came up and he turned toward the old man. Nodding his head up and down, Peso leaned toward Jess for a scratch. Jess reached behind his ears and started scratching. Chris was astonished. Peso had been known to bite strangers for no other reason than they were there and here he was acting like Jess was his best friend. I'll be damned.
Vin was watching, too. Peso liked this man, so did Ringo, kinda. He leaned into Chris, still afraid. Why? Why'd he have to come now? I belong with Chris an' Buck an' JD. I want you to go away and leave me alone. Jess quit scratching Peso and turned to Vin. "I'm not going away. I can't leave you alone but I won't take you away from Chris, either." Jess locked eyes with Vin, and smiled "It runs in the family you know, and sometimes to those we choose to love."
Chris stared at Jess. "Vin?"
Vin stared at Jess, too and then looked at Chris. "He heard me. In m head. Just like you do sometimes."
Chris stared back at Jess, shocked. "Not really. I can't read his mind or anyone else's. It's more feelings. But then, he was projecting at me very strongly. It's a gift some members of our family have. Like being good with animals or a marksman. From the look on your face I'd say that you and Vin have such a bond."
"Yeah, something like that." Where's Josiah when I need him?
Chris wandered away a few steps to check on Pony and to think.
Vin looked at Jess out of the corner of his eyes. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Are you an Indian?"
Jess tried not to smile. "Yes, I am. Im a Comanche."
"Oh" Vin thought for a few minutes. "Was my mama an Indian?"
"Yes, she was half Comanche."
"Oh," Vin thought some more. " Does that mean Im,, ahh, ."
"It means that you are one fourth Comanche."
"Yeah? Cool." Vin paused, "Did you know my real father?"
"Oh." Vin turned and faced Jess. He spoke very seriously. "Chris is my dad now. Hes a really good dad, he takes care of me and he dont let no one hurt me. Were a family, me an Chris an Buck an JD an Uncle Ezra, an Uncle Nathan an Uncle Jsiah. We had a .. a naming ceremony and then later the judge got us to sign papers. I wont go with you. If you make me, Ill run away and come back to Chris. I belong here." Vin stopped, his eyes wide. He never talked that much.
Jess looked down at the defiant little boy. He had to admire Vins spirit and courage. He was no silly child that didnt know what being on his own meant. He knew and still he was willing to risk being alone rather then leaving his home. He reached out to touch Vin but the boy pulled away. "Vin, Im not here to take you away from your family. I only want to get to know you. To help you understand a little about your momma and her family. Vin, its important to me that you understand about your heritage, about being Comanche. I want to teach you about that and perhaps help you understand about your Gifts, too. The world doesnt accept any of these things easily and I just want to help you be able to get along. You would like to know more about being an Indian wouldnt you?"
"Yeah, but I aint leaving Chris."
Jess smiled at the boy, he wanted to reach out and touch him but refrained, "I know, Vin, and Im not asking you to."
+ + + + + + +
JD watched as Buck sat out fixings for lunch on the large table. Setting out five plates and the silver, Buck glanced outside once again.
"What'cha doing Da? You set out five plates."
"Well, there are five of us here, Little Bit."
"Is that man staying?"
Buck sighed, and said, "Come here, son." He picked JD up and sat him on the counter. " That man' is Vin's Gran'pa and he's going to be around for a while 'cause he wants to get to know Vin. I want you to be nice to him and to be very patient with Vin. This ain't easy for him or for Chris."
"I don't want Vin to go away."
"JD, I've told you over and over that Vin isn't going anywhere. Please believe me, son, when I tell you this again for the hundredth time." Buck saw the fear in his son's big brown eyes. "JD, it WILL be alright. Vin's not going anywhere. Wouldn't you want to meet your gran'pa if you could?"
JD's face crumpled and he threw his arms around the big man. "NO, I have you and that's all I ever want."
Buck wrapped his arms around his small son. "Yep, and you're all I want, too, Little Bit. How bout we finish lunch and then call them in 'fore Peso eats them up. Okay?"
JD, not at all sure anything was 'okay', nodded.
"Well okay then, how bout we get them in here to eat?"
"Okay." Buck lifted JD down and he ran out the door shouting, "Lunch is ready!"
When they got to the house, Buck pulled Chris aside. "I thought Id remind you, the guys are coming out tomorrow for a game and steaks. You want me to call and cancel?"
Chris stared off at the distant mountain. "No. You might call them and give them a warning about Jess. But I think Jess needs to meet the rest of Vins family."
"Okay Stud, if thats what you want, Ill do it. Oh, I have a date tonight can you handle both boys?"
"Yeah, well be fine."
Later Buck was getting ready to go when JD came in. "Whatcha doing?"
"Its Saturday, Little Bit, I got a date, you know that."
"Dont go, Da."
Buck turned around to argue with JD and saw the desperate look in his eyes. Going over and sitting on the end of the bed, he pulled JD into his arms.
"Whats going on, JD? Youve never objected to me going out before."
"I just dont want you to go tonight."
"JD, talk to me."
JD looked up at his dad, and with tears in his eyes, he started talking. "Vins acting all weird. He dont want to play with me. He dont even want me in the our room when hes in there." JD leaned closer and whispered, "I think hes hiding somethin in there. I saw him put somethin in his back pack an when he saw me he yelled."
"What was it."
JD shrugged. " I dont know. Da? How bout you take me with you?"
"Uhh, I dont think so, dates are for grown ups."
"Is it cause you gonna have sex with your date?"
Buck almost choked. "Who told you that?"
"Vin, he said you go out with women to have sex, like Ms. Glorias tom cat did."
Buck closed his eyes for a minute. "Glorias tom cat?" he asked raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, we saw him with a girl cat in the barn one time an they was playing real funny an Vin said they was making babies an thats called sex."
"Oh, weeeelllll, Vin was probably right about the cats but ol Buck goes out with pretty ladies cause he likes to be with them. We go out to dinner and sometimes dancing. We just have a good time."
"Then I can come, too?"
"No, you cant. They dont allow kids where we go dancing. Its just for grown ups. Now why dont you go watch TV for a while and Ill come in and say goodbye when Im ready to go. Okay?"
"Okay, but when Im grown up and have kids Im gonna take them everywhere."
"No you wont," Buck said under his breath as JD ran out of the room. He looked up in time to see Chris laughing quietly but hysterically. "Shut up."
"Well, STUD, you handled that just right."
"Shut up, Chris. God, hes only six, whered he get this stuff?"
Chris tried to wipe the smile off his face. "From other kids. Think, Buck, how much did you know at six?"
"That was different. My mom .well, it was just different."
"Sure it was. Have fun dancing with the grownups."
"Get out of here." He could still hear the laughter from the retreating Chris. He shook his head as he finished dressing. Well at least hed given Chris something to laugh at, things had been entirely too tense around here all day.
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