Stripes and Fried Stars...

By Joy K

I am tired. We did lots of things on the fourth of July. Uncle Josiah says it is Independence Day (Uncle Ezra spelled Independence for me. It has a lot of E's in it). Uncle 'Siah says Independence Day is the day our country became our country. There's fireworks and it's like a big birthday party that everyone goes to.

We went to the park and me and JD played games and I won a paddleball. JD gots a ball and jacks. Then we watched a parade. And then I thought JD was going to dream with angels.

It was real scary when JD screamed and cryed. The pairuhmedics taked him to the hopsital. I cryed. Chris said it was okay. He wanted to cry too. It was scary. I think Buck did cry.

I got Chris in trouble with the doctor. When JD was crying, he needed me. I tried to find him and the doctor got mad at Chris and made him take me to the room where all the peoples was waiting.

When the doctor said JD could go home, he gave JD and me suckers. They were good.

We got to go back to the park to see the fireworks. I falled asleep but Chris waked me up. They were really bright and big and really really loud. I could feel them rumble in my chest when they went BOOM!!!!!!!

My hand is getting tired of writing. The fourth of July was fun then scary then fun again, but I am real tired. We stayed up real late. Most people thinks the fireworks is the best part. I think the best part is that JD is okay. He's my best friend. He's my little brother, even if the Judge or no one else says so.


"Do I getta tell? Huh, Vin? Huh?"

"Well yeah. It's kinda your story."

"You was there too. You can tell about the games and the parade and all the peoples and the far-works."

"Yeah, the fireworks was really cool. They was big and filled up the whole sky!"

"Hey, do we gots any more of those sparkly things?"


"Yeah. They's fun."

"I dunno."

"I'll ask Buck. You can start the story, but don't tell my part, 'K?"



Two pair of eyes grew larger as they took in the crowds and the carnival atmosphere at the park.

"Wow! Looks at all the people, Buck!" JD exclaimed.

Vin held a little tighter to Chris' strong hand. The bright colors, games and noise were exciting, but the large number of people made the seven year old slightly uncomfortable.

Chris looked down at Vin, trying to get a read on how intimidated the boy was by the mass of people. He was pleased to see Vin smiling broadly at the excitement despite the tight grip on his hand.

"Can we play a game?" asked Vin, looking up to meet Chris' gaze.

Chris nodded, pleased that Vin had actually asked on his own, instead of JD. "What would you like to try first?"

"I want to throw the rings on the bowling things," said JD.

Vin turned to look at the game JD was indicating. You were supposed to take three large rings and try to throw them over the head of a bowling pin to win a prize. He scanned back to the first booth that had caught his eye. The balloon game looked like fun. You could throw darts at the balloons and try to pop them. There was so much to choose from. He looked at JD's suggested game and then the balloons again.

"Could we do the balloon game?" he asked hesitantly. Despite reassurances from Buck and Chris, Vin still harbored a niggling concern about being too much trouble.

"But I want…"

"We'll do both," said Chris, cutting off JD's protest before it could turn into an argument. It was rare that Vin expressed an opinion contrary to JD's, usually giving in to the younger child's wishes. Vin was slowly learning that wanting to do something different than JD was not a problem, and that Chris would give him a clear yes or no if he asked.

It was an interesting dynamic between the boys. Vin appeared to cow to JD's wishes, yet in issues of survival, JD followed Vin's demands without question. Now that they were settling into the family and feeling more comfortable, the survival issues were nearly non-existent and Vin and JD were beginning to struggle with the normal self-centeredness of just being kids.

While Chris wasn't encouraging selfishness, he was encouraging Vin to voice his own desires. It wasn't good for JD to have his way all of the time, even if it was often because of Vin's unwillingness to express a preference. JD wasn't whiny or demanding, the five year old was simply more vocal than his counterpart. And there were times when Vin really didn't care which book they read, what video they watched or what game they played.

But he really wanted to play the balloon game.

"We can do yours first, JD," said Vin, contradicting his own desire.

JD, clinging to Buck's hand for balance, tilted his head back to look up at Chris. He really wanted to do the ring game, but Chris was frowning at Vin as if he didn't like what Vin had just said.

And Vin didn't sound like he was happy about doing the ring game first.

JD wanted everyone to be happy. If everyone was happy, everything was okay in his world.

"I wanna do the balloons too, Vin," said JD, hoping that it would make everyone smile again.

Vin grinned and pulled on Chris' hand in an attempt to move closer to the game.

Chris winked at JD and followed Vin's lead.

JD smiled, pleased that Chris was happy again. He tugged on Buck's hand.

"Com' on, Buck."

Buck laughed, giving JD's hand a squeeze of approval as they followed Chris and Vin to the balloon dart game.


The boys quickly found that it was a lot harder to win a prize than they anticipated, but they were having fun throwing the darts at the balloons.

JD squealed in delighted laughter when the game operator jumped out of the way as one of JD's darts went wide of the target area.

Buck discreetly turned JD's body slightly, helping him have a better shot at the board.

Instead of waiting for the other boy to complete his 5 throws, JD and Vin were alternating turns. Vin's tongue stuck out of the corner of his mouth as he concentrated on his throw. He threw the dart and hit a red balloon, jumping in delight at the popping sound.

"Yay! Vin!" JD clapped for his friend, then got ready to take his next throw. This time his dart dropped harmlessly in front of the board. His shoulders drooped in disappointment.

"You can do it, Little Bit," Buck encouraged. "You'll get it next time."

Vin took his turn, making a good attempt. This time the dart hit just below a balloon that danced out of the way in the light breeze.

Vin shrugged off his slight disappointment. "Come on, JD! You can do it!"

JD frowned in concentration. He stuck out his tongue, aping Vin's stance, and threw the dart hard. He hit the board. Unfortunately, he hit a spot where the balloon had already been popped.

"Awww!" he moaned, scuffing the dirt with his toe.

"It's 'kay, JD," said Vin. "You hit the board. Ain't yer fault the balloon was already gone."

JD raised his head, slowly breaking into a grin at Vin.

"Yeah! If the balloon was there, I would'a hit it for sure."

Buck and Chris just shook their heads and smiled. Kids sure had a funny way of seeing things.

Both boys completed their remaining two throws, and much to his delight, JD hit a balloon on his last try.

Both boys received small trinkets as prizes. JD received a ball and jacks, and Vin received a paddleball. They were almost too entranced with their new treasures to participate in the ring toss, but soon Chris and Buck were holding the toys while Vin and JD made their attempts at throwing the rings on the bowling pins.

Twin groans were heard when they finished the game and Buck announced there wasn't time for another game.

"Hey now," said Buck, "If we keep playing, we'll miss out on the parade."

"Parade?" asked JD excitedly.

"Yep," answered Buck.

"Let's go!" said Vin eagerly, bouncing in anticipation.

Chris smiled. It was nice to see Vin enjoying being a kid.

The thought was short-lived as they began to make their way through the crowd. Vin gripped Chris' hand in a death grip, his small hand expressing the fear that his voice wouldn't. Chris wished that crowds weren't so disturbing to Vin, but he wasn't exactly fond of them either.

Both boys were getting jostled around as they tried to make their way to wait for the parade. Vin grabbed his eye after some lady's handbag clobbered him. JD fell down after bouncing off a tall, gangly teenager with purple hair.

"I've got an idea," said Buck as he helped JD up and gave him a hug. "How would you like a ride?"

"Yeah," sniffed JD.

With Chris' assistance, JD was placed on Buck's shoulders and he smiled broadly as Buck stood and he towered above the people.

Chris squatted in front of Vin. "Climb on, Pard," he encouraged.

Vin's face lit up. He didn't need to be asked twice. Vin clambered onto Chris' back and the blond pulled him up, settling him carefully on his shoulders.

Vin giggled as Chris stood. This was a much better view than belt buckles and handbags.

"Giddy-yap!" said JD.

Buck gamely 'trotted' a few yards before the crowds forced him to slow to a walk.

Chris was close on his heels, smiling, holding Vin's legs tightly when he felt Vin let go with his hands, feeling secure enough to enjoy the ride.

Finally arriving in a spot where they would be awaiting the parade, the family sat down in the grass and settled in.

"I wish Uncle Ezra was here," said Vin quietly.

Chris and Buck exchanged glances knowing that the statement was more than a boy missing his uncle. Doctor Lowery had told them that the boys would often seek reassurance that their world was secure and safe. For Vin that meant knowing his family was status quo.

"Yeah, and Uncle Nathan and Uncle 'Siah too," added JD.

JD wasn't as transparent as Vin with his need of reassurance, but he too sought to know that everything was 'normal'.

"Well, as much as we want them too, they can't be with us all the time, boys," said Buck. "Nathan and Rain had plans for the holiday, and Josiah went to visit his sister."

"Is Uncle Ezra okay?" asked Vin.

Buck looked to Chris to answer. The boys knew that Ezra had been on an assignment for the past week. The undercover agent was exhausted and simply needed to sleep. Ezra was willing to forego his much needed rest to spend the Fourth of July with the boys, but Chris had practically ordered him to get some rest. Knowing that Chris was right, Ezra had agreed more readily than he wanted to admit.

"Yes," replied Chris. "Ezra is just very tired. Just like you get when you have a couple of hard nights."

"Oh," said Vin. He knew exactly what Chris meant. When he had nightmares more than a couple nights in a row, he got very tired and cranky and wanted everyone just to leave him alone.

"Will he come see us tomorrow or Sunday after he sleeps?"

Chris smiled. He could almost "feel" Vin reaching out and testing to make sure that his world was stable.

"He said he'd be out Sunday to help you with your essay," assured Chris as he laid on the blanket, propped up on one elbow.

"Okay," said Vin. With his need to make sure his 'family' was safe satisfied, Vin turned his attention to playing with JD while they waited for the parade.

JD had been intently watching Vin and Chris, wanting to know as much as Vin that everything was okay with his family. When Vin turned his attention to playing, letting go of the concerns, JD knew it was safe for him to play as well. He offered Vin half of his new jacks.

Buck and Chris watched the boys as the jacks became cowboys and indians and the ball represented a huge boulder. Soon the scene included 'dinosaurs' when a beetle and ants were discovered where the 'cowboy and indian' jacks were positioned. A stick made a bridge, and a pinecone became a ranch house. Chris and Buck grinned at each other, enjoying the creative play.

Someone nearby had a boombox tuned in to patriotic music. The boys ocassionally hummed along with a tune they recognized. When the instrumental version of the Star-Spangled Banner began to play, Vin and JD, still occupied  with their toys, quietly sang along.

"Jose, can you see?" Vin crooned in his tuneless voice.

"By the dogs early light..." sang JD in a key all his own.

Chris and Buck smiled at the misinterpreted lyrics.

"What so prob'ly we mailed, by the twilight's glass cleaner..." Vin danced his pretend cowboy across the stick bridge.

"Who brought stripes and fried stars through the barrel of sprite..." JD grinned and looked at Vin. Sprite was a good thing. A barrel of sprite was even better.

"Oh the red parts we washed were the gallons of creamy."

Buck and Chris were trying not to laugh out loud. The boys were very serious about their singing even though they seemed a little tentative about the words.

"And the rocker's red hair, bonbons burping in air, grapefruit through the night..." they sang uncertainly, and then blasted out the line they knew well.


Buck put a hand over his mouth, covering his laughter.

"Jose, does that star-sprinkled banner yet weigh?"

Chris snorted.

"OR THE LAND OF THE FREE!" the boys sang loudly. "AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE!"

Chris and Buck clapped as the music faded. Finally, they had the words correct. At least they understood part of the song.

JD jumped up.

"PLAY BALL!" he shouted, concluding the song.

That did it. Buck and Chris both broke up laughing.

What?" said JD, putting his hands on his hips and frowning at his two dads. "That's the birthday song for our country."

"Yeah," added Vin. "Uncle 'Siah told us all about it and we learned the song a long time ago at school."

"And it's called the Star-Sprinkled Banner," added JD. "That means the flag and it has stars on it."

Buck and Chris nodded at JD's explanation.

"And we's supposed to stand and put our hands on our hearts, and -" JD gasped in horror. "Vin, we forgot!"

"It's all right JD," assured Chris. "When they start the program later on, they'll play the anthem."

"Okay," sighed JD. "But we has to stand and put our hand our heart, right?"

"That's right, Little Bit," said Buck.

"JD, the dinosaur is moving!" Vin called. Both boys turned their attention back to the cowboy and indian jacks being attacked by the beetle dinosaur.


They occupied themselves until Buck announced the parade was coming. The boys stepped up to the edge of the street peering expectantly towards the oncoming police cars, which were clearing the road for the parade.

For the next thirty minutes Buck and Chris reveled in the delights of their boys. Vin and JD ooo'd and ahh'd at the large floral covered floats in awe of the designs, the colors and the mechanics. They cheered and clapped loudly each time an equestrian unit passed them, each commenting on which horses they liked best. When bands passed, they danced and hopped in time to the music while covering their ears at the volume. But their favorite was the antics of the clowns…

…And the fact that the clowns threw candy!

When the third group of clowns passed, like all the other children, Vin and JD scrambled for the scattered wrapped candies. A bigger boy snatched the candy that JD was reaching for.

JD scowled at the bigger boy. "That was mine!" He protested.

Seeing JD in trouble, Vin's protectiveness kicked into full gear.

"Hey!" Vin yelled, pushing the boy. "Give it back!"

Nobody messed with his JD.

The bigger boy didn't back down, pushing back, knocking Vin down and scampering off before Buck or Chris could do anything.

Quickly retrieving their boys, and comforting the injured pride, Chris and Buck moved back to their spot, but the crowd had shifted slightly when they had rescued the boys.

"I can't see!" said JD, trying to peer around the children in front of him.

"Hang on, Little Bit," said Buck as he swung JD high into the air and settled him on his shoulders.

JD laughed as he was lifted high, and then wrapped his arms around Buck's face, effectively blinding the tall agent.

"Hey!" Buck complained as JD laughed.

"Vin, look!" giggled JD.

Vin grinned at Buck's plight as Buck pried little fingers off of his eyes.

"Can you see all right, Cowboy?" asked Chris.

Vin nodded and subconsciously tucked himself a little closer to Chris. His foster father instinctively wrapped his arms around his son protectively… comfortingly.

The boys cheered for the next group of horses, easily going back to enjoying the day with the security of their fathers, the disappointment of lost candy forgotten.

"Look, Buck! It's a --" JD's words cut off as he screamed in pain and began struggling frantically on Buck's shoulders. His shriek turned into a panicked wail.

Buck grabbed for the flailing arms hoping to keep the thrashing boy from falling. Chris reacted quickly, reaching for JD and lifting him from Buck's shoulders, lowering him to the ground and kneeling beside him. Vin stood in his spot, staring at JD with his mouth open, stunned by the pained cries.

JD's cry was quickly becoming hysterical. Buck and Chris both frantically searched for injuries as JD clutched at his head in overwhelming distress. With the screaming and sobbing, he was having trouble breathing.

Buck was having trouble breathing too. His little boy was panic-stricken and in pain.

"JD… JD," he said shakily. "What's wrong? Tell me what's wrong."

JD just wailed louder, thrashing on the ground, gasping for breath. There was no way he could tell Buck what was wrong.

Chris quickly searched for any obvious injury, such as a bee sting, while Buck tried to comfort and calm JD.

It wasn't working. His cries were louder as he struggled to breathe.

If they could just get him calmed down…

The crowd around them had turned their attention away from the parade and had encircled the panicked child and the men trying to help him.

Vin stood rooted in his spot, crying silently.

Time seemed to stand still as two men tried frantically to help JD. In less than three minutes, the crowd parted and paramedics approached. Someone had called for help. With the big crowds, extra police and ambulance crews were on hand along the parade route and had arrived quickly.

Chris stepped back, letting the paramedics do their job. He turned, searching for his son and felt his heart lurch at the forlorn seven-year-old. Vin's eyes were wide with fear while unchecked tears streamed down his face. He took short breaths almost as if he were trying to breathe for JD. His eyes never left the frightening sight before him. Chris took Vin into his arms, kissing him softly on the head as Vin tucked his face under his father's chin and wept in fear.

Time blurred as JD continued to fight to breathe between the pain-filled sobs. The paramedics administered oxygen and soon had JD in the ambulance and ready to go to the hospital. Chris watched Buck climb into the ambulance before he carried Vin to the truck, to follow to the hospital.



In The Good Ol' Summertime (Index)