By Joy K
|"I wanna talk first."
"No. It's my paper."
"Ooo look. It maked my words on the screen. What are them little squiggly red and green lines for?"
"Uncle Ezra says the computer underlines words it don't know. Or maybe they're spelled wrong. He says he'll help us with that part later."
"What's the red line mean? What's the green line mean? Why does it use red and green? Why does it underline the words. How come it doesn't circle them? My teacher always circles letters that needs to be fixed. How does it know what you are saying?
"What? Look. It maked my name. Make it write your's,
Vin. Look it maked Vin!"
"Now Buck and I will be out in the barn," said Chris. "You can watch a video and when we're done with the horses, it will be time for a bath and then bed."
Chris smiled at the twin groans at the word 'bath'.
"We ain't dirty, Chris," said Vin.
"Yeah. We had a baff yesterday," added JD.
"Video. Baths. Bed," Chris reconfirmed. "Play nice," he added as he walked down the hall and went out the back door.
"I don't wanna take a bath," Vin grumbled as he walked over to the video shelf in the den.
JD sat in the middle of the floor playing with Torkus and his GI Joe. The tortoise they had acquired on their road trip to New Mexico with Uncle Ezra was a very compliant pet. He didn't mind playing GI Joes with JD. He made a wonderful tank for Joe.
"I jest HAD a bath," Vin mumbled. He jammed the video back into its spot. He didn't want to watch that dumb tape either. After putting back his third selection, he took the well-worn "Shrek" tape over to the TV, hoping the long movie could at least delay bath time.
Vin tried to put the tape into the slot on the VCR, which promptly spit it back out.
"Hey!" Vin complained. He tried to put the video in again, with the same results. Vin pushed the Eject button, but no tape popped out. He put the tape in, blowing out a frustrated breath as it popped back out. Vin frowned, and stuck his fingers into the VCR, lifting the plastic door and peering inside. Nope. There was no tape in it. Vin tried again, this time holding his hand behind the tape to try to keep it from spitting back out.
"Grrrrrrr!" Vin growled as the tape popped back out, while JD obliviously played with Torkus the tank. Vin shook the tape and banged it with his other hand a couple of times and put it back into the reluctant machine.
It spit the tape out again.
"Dang it!" Vin yelled at the machine. He took the tape and shoved it in as hard as he could.
Vin leapt backwards as there was a huge flash of light and a loud boom. He fell over the top of JD and Torkus as the room went dark.
JD let out a scream. "What was that?"
Vin scrambled to his knees, his heart pounding in his chest. "I don't know."
"Maybe it was a meteor like in Arm'geddon and a whole bunch are comin'."
"That was jist a movie. It weren't real," whispered Vin.
"But it was a 'splosion, Vin." JD could hear Vin breathing hard. Sensing Vin's fear, JD responded in kind. "Turn the lights back on!" he cried.
He heard Vin get up and stumble around in the darkness, then a thud as flesh hit the wall.
"Ow!" complained Vin, rubbing his forehead. He put his hands out in front of him to find the offending wall.
"It's dark, Vin. Turn them on," JD pleaded.
Vin slid his hand across the wall and found the doorway. Then he slid his hand up the wall until he found the light switch. He flipped the switch up and down, but nothing happened.
Vin got a funny feeling in his stomach, like he wanted to be sick. This was all his fault
And now JD was scared too.
"I c-c-c-can't!" Vin stuttered in fear. "They don't work!"
"Buck!" JD screamed.
"Shh!" warned Vin fearfully. He didn't want Buck and Chris to know that it was all his fault.
JD sniffled in the darkness. "Where's my fwashlight?"
Vin stumbled across the room, bumping into JD and grabbing his hand in the darkness. "Come on."
"Wait! Where's Torkus? We can't leave Torkus!" JD knelt down and felt around the floor. He found his GI Joe sitting atop the blissfully unaware tortoise 'tank'.
Vin led JD out of the room to find a place to hide. He just knew that Chris and Buck wouldn't want him anymore. They wouldn't want to keep a naughty little boy who broke the VCR, made a 'splosion' and broke all the lights.
"I was real scared, Vin."
"Me too. It was real dark and I felt 'sponsible."
"But you wasn't."
"But I didn't know that then."
"Buck said it was Cosmo timing. You know like the girls' mag'zine Buck has sometimes."
"Comic, JD. Not Cosmo."
"Gentlemen? The word is 'cosmic'. Are you going to finish the story so I can edit it for you?"
"Oh. Sorry, Uncle Ezra."
"That's quite all right. Do go on with the story, Master Tanner."
Out in the barn, two men had a totally different reaction. After hearing the explosion and the lights going out, Chris and Buck were in full ATF mode. Neither man was armed, but both cautiously scanned the yard in the darkness, looking for anything out of place.
Hearts pounding, they moved in well-practiced synchronization toward the house. It seemed unlikely that someone would be seeking retribution against either man, but it had also seemed unlikely when Sarah and Adam had been killed.
As if he knew what Chris was thinking, Buck rested a hand on his friend's shoulder, just long enough to let Chris know his support, and then they separated to skirt around the house.
Several minutes later, both men stood next to the electrical transformer at the far side of the house. It smelled hot and no longer made the familiar humming noise.
"Well ol' Pard," said Buck. "It appears we have been attacked by a transformer."
Chris chuckled in relief. They had overreacted. It was a simple matter of the electrical transformer blowing, not some terrorist plot. Not some form of revenge trying to get to them through the boys.
"Ah hell. They've got to be scared to death," agreed Buck, knowing that both of the boys had a fear of the dark and not even their nightlight would be working.
They cautiously made their way to the house through the dark yard. Funny how no light at all made it seem even darker.
"Vin? JD?" called Chris as they entered the house. No one answered.
Buck fumbled through the kitchen drawer to find a flashlight. He flicked on the beam and proceeded down the hall into the den.
He shined the light around the room, but there was no sign of Vin or JD.
"Check behind the couch," suggested Chris. "Vin? JD?" he called again.
"Nope. Not back there. Coat closet?" He suggested. Moving to the closet, he opened the door and looked inside. Nothing but coats and boots. He grabbed another flashlight off the shelf and handed it to Chris.
Next stop, the boys' room. They searched under the beds, in the closet, under the frumpily made up comforters on the beds. Nothing. Chris and Buck continued to call out for the boys, but apparently they were too frightened to answer.
"I'll search mine, you check yours," said Chris walking down the hallway to his bedroom.
Again closets and beds were checked as well as the bathrooms and the guest room with no luck.
Chris and Buck met in the hall, both getting tenser as time passed. Without a doubt, the boys were somewhere in the house, but they were also frightened and needing reassurance.
"I'll take the living room," said Buck.
"I've got the kitchen," Chris replied.
Buck checked behind the couch, the closet, even inside the cabinets without luck.
Chris came up empty as well. Unless the boys had gone outside, that left only the Laundry room off the kitchen. Chris held up his hand, halting Buck as they stepped into the small room.
Buck paused and heard what had stopped Chris. Someone was crying, obviously trying to conceal the sound. The other voice was chanting softly. It took a moment before he could make out the words.
"Please don't find us please don't find us please don't find us "
Wasting no more time, Chris stepped forward and lifted the lid to the tiny laundry hamper. He frowned when he saw only towels. This had to be where the boys were hiding. He removed the towels to reveal two little boys huddled together around a tiny flashlight, clinging tightly to a GI Joe and a very content Torkus.
Vin's chant became louder as the towels were lifted and the flashlights shown into the small area.
"Please don't find us please don't find us please don't find us "
JD wailed in fear. He couldn't see who had discovered their hiding place with the beam of the flashlight shining in his face.
"It's okay," said Chris in a soft voice. "You're okay."
Recognizing Chris' voice, JD sobbed, "Buck!" and clamored to his feet, stepping on Vin in the process. Tiny little arms clinging tightly to a GI Joe and a tortoise reached high for his rescuer.
Buck lifted JD into his arms, holding him close and reassuring him. "It's all right, Little Bit. It's all right."
"There was a 'splosion!" said JD fearfully. "Like in Arm'geddon."
Buck winced. He knew he shouldn't have let the boys watch that movie. "Yes. It wasn't really an explosion," said Buck calmly. "It was the transformer. That's why the lights are out."
Chris looked at the boy still huddled in the laundry hamper holding the tiny penlight that Ezra had given to JD to calm him one dark night. Vin hadn't looked up. He wasn't reaching for reassurance although he had to recognize that Chris was there.
"Vin?" he said softly. "Let's get you out of there."
When the seven year old didn't move, Chris reached into the hamper and cautiously lifted him out. He held Vin close to his chest, surprised when Vin didn't return the hug. The boy held his body stiffly, almost like he did when the boys had first come to live at the ranch.
"Are you all right?" Chris asked.
The only response he received was Vin's tense, short breaths.
Chris grimaced in the darkness, knowing something bigger than fear of the dark was going on. He hoped Vin didn't think the "Trolls" had come after him. It was the most likely possibility with Vin's stiff reaction and the pleading to not be found.
Ever since the run in with the arms dealers in the warehouse, the boys had been afraid of the Trolls. Unable to explain the creatures that came out at night with odd protrusions over their eyes, the boys had dubbed the gunrunners with night vision goggles, Trolls. The trolls had wounded Vin, and had ATF Team Seven not been searching the wrong warehouse that fateful day, two little boys probably would have died on the streets.
"You're all right," he whispered to Vin.
"Chris, I'm going to call the power company. See if they can get us some juice." As Buck carried JD into the kitchen, he added, "What'cha say, we put Torkus back in his tank? It's his bed time."
"Not mine!" said JD.
Buck sighed. No. It definitely would not be bedtime for the boys tonight until he and Chris could get them calmed down and feeling secure.
Chris carried Vin to the den, using the flashlight to light his way. "Let's start a fire in the fireplace, Vin. That will warm us up a bit and give us some extra light."
Considering Vin's unresponsiveness, he hated to put him down, but getting the fire started would be a good step in calming the boys.
"I'm going to set you right here in my chair, while I start the fire. Okay?"
Well, it was a response. Chris sat him in the chair and gave him the big flashlight to hold, while he started the fire.
Vin waited in trepidation. No one had said anything about whose fault it was at least not yet. Dang, why did he get mad at the stupid tape and break the 'lectricity?
"Here ya go, Little Bit," said Buck as he entered the den, "Why don't you sit here with Vin for a minute."
He deposited JD in the recliner with Vin, and the five year old immediately cuddled tight to his friend. Vin gave JD his little penlight to hold.
"We turned off the appliances in the kitchen," Buck said as he unplugged the TV and VCR and then the computer. He tossed a bag of marshmallows on the hearth. "We brought the marshmallows."
Chris nodded his approval as the fire began to glow.
"Bu-uck?" JD mumbled around the thumb, which occupied his mouth.
"Yes?" Buck lit a candle on the coffee table.
"When's the lights coming back on?"
"When the power company fixes the transformer, buddy," said Buck. "It's going to be awhile, but we'll be fine. We've got candles and our very own campfire. We'll even bring our sleeping bags in here and we'll have a little camp out. How's that sound?"
"With hot dogs?" asked JD.
"Well, we don't have hot dogs, but we'll toast marshmallows and make some s'mores."
"Yum!" said JD.
Chris left the room to gather sleeping bags, pillows and pajamas for their impromptu camp out. Buck lit a few more candles, placing them strategically around the room.
Buck smiled. Only JD could make his name a two-syllable word.
"What made the 'former break?"
Vin tensed. He knew what made the transformer break. He did. It was all his fault. All because in a fit of anger, he had jammed Shrek into the VCR and broke everything.
"I don't know," answered Buck. "It was probably just old. Sometimes things just break."
"You okay there, Junior?" asked Buck.
"It's 'k, Vin. We's gonna camp out," JD assured. "And we don't have to take a baff. Right Buck?"
Vin sighed. This all had happened because he didn't want to take a bath.
Chris reappeared in the doorway lugging 4 sleeping bags and pillows, the boys' pajamas, 'cat' and a battery operated camp light. With Buck's assistance the floor was soon their campsite.
Buck and JD started roasting marshmallows, but Vin seemed reluctant to participate, still far too quiet for Chris' liking. Chris pulled Vin onto his lap as he sat on the floor, resting his back against the sofa. He wrapped his arms around the unresponsive boy, hoping that Vin would begin to relax and open up.
After fifteen minutes with no change, Chris decided it was time to press the issue. He spoke quietly so only Vin could hear him.
"Vin, are you worried about Trolls?"
Vin shook his head. "They're in jail," he whispered.
Chris frowned. If Vin wasn't worried about the gunrunners coming after them, why was he chanting, "Don't let them find us"? His stomach tightened as he began to speculate 'who' Vin didn't want to find him.
"Who were you afraid of?" Chris asked.
Vin shrugged, not committing to an answer, but hugging his stuffed cat a little tighter.
"You guys ready for s'mores?" called Buck.
Vin scooted off Chris' lap and hurried over to the fireplace to get his marshmallow, chocolate and graham cracker treat.
And to avoid telling Chris the truth.
It was nearly midnight when the lamp came on, signaling an end to the black out. JD was snuggled inside Buck's sleeping bag with him, snoring away. Vin was still wide-awake, the guilt making it impossible to sleep.
Vin sighed again.
"You all right?" Chris whispered. "Power's back on."
"It is? It ain't broke no more?" asked Vin.
Vin looked at the VCR. It was still dark. The clock was not illuminated. Maybe the lights were fixed, but the VCR was still broke.
"Is it gonna cost a lot?"
"The power?" asked Chris.
"Not a thing. It was the power company's equipment that went bad."
"Oh." Vin was quiet for a moment. "Can breaking something something like a VCR or a radio make the power thing blow up?"
"The transformer? No. It wouldn't have anything to do with it."
"Oh," Vin sighed.
Chris pursed his lips at the sound of relief in Vin's voice. His heart sunk as Vin's voice confirmed his suspicion. Vin had been pleading that he and Buck would not find the boys. It hurt deeply to realize that Vin was frightened of him. From Vin's question, he surmised that the seven year old had done something to the VCR, and apparently the cosmic timing coincided with the transformer incident. He wanted to wrap his arms around the guilt-ridden boy and tell him it was all right, but Vin needed to be able to tell him the truth about what happened.
Vin opened his mouth as if he was going to speak, then closed it and laid his head on his pillow, turning away from Chris.
The world looked bright and new in the cheer of the morning light. As the boys got dressed, Chris spoke briefly with Buck, filling him in on his suspicions.
Buck nodded. "How could he be that frightened of us? I thought we were making headway."
"I don't know. He's so hard to read," said Chris. "My guess would be that he broke something and thinks we'll punish him "
Chris let the words die off, but Buck understood the suggestion. They didn't know the details of Vin's young life, but the likelihood of some form of abuse was a high possibility. And hurting a child or a woman was absolutely unspeakable in Buck's way of thinking.
"So what do we do?" asked Buck.
"We wait him out." Chris hoped he was right. Up to this point Vin's desire to please Chris had kept him honest.
As the morning progressed, Chris and Buck kept an extra eye on Vin, noticing that he frequently looked at the VCR. They also saw the sheer panic on his face when JD announced he wanted to watch a video.
"NO!" Vin almost shouted. "I don't want to watch a video."
If he hadn't been so sad for Vin, Chris might have smiled at the desperate words. But what happened next was unexpected.
"But I want "
"You don't want to watch one either," Vin insisted firmly.
Chris and Buck exchanged glances as JD looked pleadingly at Vin.
"You don't want to watch one," Vin repeated unwavering.
JD sighed. "Never mind. I don't want to watch a video."
Buck shook his head slightly. They had always seen Vin acquiescing to JD's desires. This was the first time they had a real glimpse of how Vin got JD to do as he was told helping them to survive on the streets. Another small dynamic of their interdependent lives was revealed.
Buck walked over to the wall by the TV and VCR and plugged them both in restoring the power to both machines, nodding to Chris.
"I have to go to the bathroom," said Vin trying to make an excuse to leave the room. He stood up, but Chris' voice stopped him.
Vin turned around to face his foster father and everything came spilling out.
"I didn't mean to. I was mad 'cause we had to take a bath and I put the tape in but the machine kept spitting it out and then I got real mad and I jammed it in real hard and I broke it and there was a 'splosion and the lights went out " The tumble of words broke off in a sob.
Chris walked over to him and put his arms around Vin. The seven year old tensed at the touch, but when nothing but a hug happened, Vin began to relax and gradually he hugged back.
"I'm glad you told me," said Chris. "What do you think we should do about it?"
JD couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Before Vin could answer, JD walked over to the TV and pushed the power button. The VCR light was already on, so he pressed "play" and smiled as Shrek appeared on the screen.
Vin's head spun toward the TV, hearing the familiar music.
Chris couldn't help but chuckle. "You didn't break it Vin. It just stopped working when the transformer blew."
Vin looked bewildered, then he turned back to Chris and hugged him tightly in great relief.
"But you still mistreated it, didn't you?" Chris asked.
Chris pulled back from Vin's hug and knelt in front of the seven year old. "No VCR for you without supervision for a week."
Vin nodded. That was more than fair. He didn't care what punishment he got. He was just relieved that he didn't break everything.
Vin looked up.
"It's time for your bath."
"Aw, Chris!" Vin moaned, stealing one more hug before trudging off to the bathroom.
"Wait for me, Vin!" JD shouted as he ran after his friend.
Chris and Buck shook their heads and smiled. Life was never dull in the Larabee - Wilmington - Tanner - Dunne household.
"Well done, gentleman."
"Did the computer write down everything?"
"And you'll make it look right?"
"Yes. And well include your paper and Master Dunne's illustration as well."
"Don't yell, JD!"
"Yes you were."
"Ha, ha, ha. Look Vin, it doesn't know how to spell it when Uncle Ezra sighs neither. Here's my picture Uncle Ezra."
"Do you think Chris and Buck will like the book?"
"Without a doubt. Are we finished for tonight?"
"JD ??? You don't gotta tell the computer goodbye."
"But I want to."
??? "Okay. Bye Computer."
Next: One Little Word...
In The Good Ol' Summertime (Index)