By Joy K
|Are they watching?
Nope. They're outside.
Are you going to tell about the swimming pool?
Yeah. I think that's the best part about this week. I don't want to tell about Peso.
Stop laughing, JD!
But it was funny, like when we surfed in the yard.
Vin, Uncle Ezra says the computer will learn our words. How come it doesn't know how to spell when you sigh? It's supposed to learn it, ain't it? It learned some of our other words. How come it didn't learn to sigh or giggle? I bet it can't type the sound the water made when -
We got to get done before Uncle Ezra comes.
Oh yeah. You'd better tell the story then. Can I write my part of the story this week? Can I? Please, can I?
"Vin? JD? Where are you?" called Buck as he walked into the yard from the back porch. The boys had been playing in the yard no more than five minutes ago. He was glad to be home from the conference, especially with the boys' experimentation with the "fancy water" and the trip to the emergency room in the middle of the night. Buck sighed. Five minutes was more than enough time for Vin and JD to find trouble.
Hearing the two boys laughing, he followed the sound towards the corral.
"Cut it out, Peso!" Vin's admonition was accompanied by JD's giggles and a splash of water.
Buck frowned, trying to piece together the evidence as he approached the barn. He silently peered around the corner of the building, curious to see just what the boys were doing that involved Peso, laughter and water. What he saw brought a smile to his face.
Quietly he slipped into the barn and picked up the handset of the two-way radio in the tack room that doubled as a small office. They had installed the radios in the house, the barn and at Nettie Wells' place after an accident had left Chris injured with only the boys available to help him. The boys had managed to get Chris to the house, but the harrowing drive had ended with the truck crashing into a tree behind the barn, and trips to the hospital for all three.
Buck keyed the microphone.
"Chris?" called Buck, speaking softly so the boys would not hear him.
A moment later Chris spoke.
"Nothing. But you have to come out here and see what the boys are up to this time," Buck answered.
"10-4." Chris rolled his eyes. It must be something good, if Buck called him to come see.
Peso snorted in the water, bringing squeals of laughter from both boys.
"Look, Vin! Peso's blowing bubbles."
"Move, Peso," said Vin, pushing his horse's nose away from the water trough. "There ain't 'nuff room for you. We's trying to swim."
Peso snorted and stomped impatiently, while the other horses wandered toward the trough seeking water on the hot afternoon.
Vin slipped back into the water pretending he was swimming, unaware that Chris and Buck were watching from the window in the tack room / office in the barn.
"Do we holler at them?" Buck asked with a chuckle, knowing that any child left alone with water was a potentially hazardous situation. "I'm sure they've got a great story," he added, hoping Chris would go easy on them.
Chris smiled at the two boys splashing in the old bathtub that now served as a watering trough for the horses. "Nah, I did the same thing when I was a kid."
"Look at me, Vin! I'm swimming!" called JD.
"Swim JD!" cried Vin, "There's a shark coming!"
Both boys thrashed in the tub pretending that the shark was closing in on them.
Buck and Chris exchanged sly glances. Two ATF agents had just become sharks. They crept out of the barn door, slinking silently around the corner as the boys played boisterously.
"Faster, JD!" yelled Vin as he thrashed harder in the water.
"I'm trying!" JD called back, sounding desperate. "Vin, the shark's gonna get me!"
"RAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!" yelled Buck as he grabbed JD.
Vin looked behind him, startled by the roar and JD's shriek, his heart pounding frantically in his chest. The fear dissipated quickly as he saw JD giggling in Buck's arms, and Chris reaching for him with both hands and an evil grin.
Chris snatched him out of the water and Vin laughed as the "shark" tickled him and took a pretend bite out of his tummy.
Both boys were now laughing too hard to try to escape the shark attacks. Curious horses edged closer, while Peso just got plain nosy. Butting Chris with his nose, Peso let them know he wanted to be a part of things. Or maybe he just wanted a carrot.
"Get outta here, you old mule!" said Chris.
"Peso ain't a mule!" Vin protested, but his words were cut short when the tickling set off his giggles again.
After a few minutes of play the boys were begging for mercy, worn out from the efforts of giggling and trying to escape relentless tickling fingers. Buck set JD on his feet and took hold of his hand.
"So what were you two doing, Little Bit?" he asked.
"We was swimmin'," said JD as if taking a dunk in the horse trough was the most natural thing in the world.
"Swimmin', huh?" confirmed Buck.
"Yeah." JD tipped his head back and looked into his tall papa's eyes. "We was hot and we didn't get to swim at the hotel."
"I see," said Buck. That was true. After their little experience with the mini-bar, neither boy had felt up to swimming yesterday.
Chris grinned as they walked out of the corral and closed the gate. Vin didn't seem to want to get down. In fact he was hugging Chris tightly. Chris pondered the response, wondering if maybe he had scared Vin worse than he thought - until he heard the muffled giggles as Vin buried his face against Chris' shoulder. The seven year old squeezed tighter and Chris felt the wetness of Vin's clothes seeping into his own. The boy was getting him wet on purpose.
"Hey," Chris grumbled teasingly as Vin laughed. He didn't mind getting a little wet if it meant Vin's sense of humor was peeking out.
The boys were in bed when Chris and Buck sat down to talk in the kitchen.
"I think we need to take Charlie up on his offer," said Chris.
Charlie, an ATF team leader who was closing in on retirement had offered Chris an old pool his kids had long since outgrown.
"Yeah," agreed Buck. "I didn't realize how much the boys wanted to go swimming. At least with Charlie's old pool, the boys won't be bathing in horse slobber."
Chris cringed. He didn't want to think about the germs in that horse trough.
"We'll have to have rules," he said. "Need to get them water wings."
Buck nodded in agreement. "No one in the pool without an adult. No one in the pool without water wings." The small inflatable plastic devices were worn around a child's upper arms to help him or her stay afloat in the water.
"Uh, Buck. I think that ought to be, 'No kids in the pool without water wings'," Chris added.
Buck laughed. "Yup. Otherwise, one of us will end up wearing them." He rubbed his thumb across his lip. "Do you think it will hold up? Charlie said the pool's pretty old."
Chris shrugged. "Think of it as a cheap starter pool. He doesn't want anything for it, just to see it go to a good home and get used. It'll give us the chance to see how they do with it. When it wears out, we can make a good decision about whether to invest the big bucks."
"That's true." Buck smiled. "I can't wait to see the look on their faces."
The exclamations matched the expressions of sheer astonishment as two boys looked at the new pool in the backyard. Well it was new to them. The pool was round, about twelve feet across, with walls three feet high. It had a short ladder with a slide.
"Is it ours?" asked JD.
"Yes, but there are very important rules," said Buck. "You never ever swim without an adult. I mean never," he emphasized. "There won't be any 'I forgots'. You swim in there one time without an adult and the pool is gone. Do you understand?"
Vin and JD nodded solemnly. They understood there would be no breaking this rule.
"And," added Chris, "You will never get in the pool without water wings until we say you're old enough."
Again the boys nodded.
They went on outlining more rules such as no diving, not drinking the water, no peeing in the pool, and no dogs. Elvis and Ringo, their pups, could be cooled down with the garden hose if they were too hot.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" asked Buck. "Get your swimming shorts on." They hadn't actually bought swimming trunks for the boys yet, but they had a designated pair of shorts for swimming.
"YAY!" cheered JD, running to the house with Buck close behind.
Josiah, Nathan and Ezra smiled at the excitement. Josiah and Nathan had spent the morning helping Chris and Buck set up the pool, while Ezra had taken the boys to a movie and lunch. He had quickly volunteered to be the one to distract the boys, thus avoiding the use of a shovel. The three men were already in their swimming trunks, waiting the pleasure of cooling off in the little pool.
Vin dipped one hand in the water and swished it tentatively.
"Come on, Cowboy," Chris encouraged.
Vin sighed and turned away from the pool. He smiled politely at Chris and then walked slowly towards the house.
Chris paused, frowning. He had assumed Vin would be a lot more excited than this. Neither boy was afraid of the water, so what was causing the reluctance?
Sighing as well, Chris walked to the house to put on his swimming trunks. Maybe Vin would relax once they were in the pool.
Chris finally gave up trying to get Vin to tell him why he didn't want to get into the pool. Vin didn't seem upset or frightened. He was just reluctant to get in. Buck and JD were splashing wildly, and Josiah and Nathan were trying to keep from drowning in the waves created by Buck and JD. Chris climbed into the pool, hoping that Vin would follow.
The seven year old watched the antics in the pool and then walked over and sat on the end of uncle Ezra's chaise lounge.
"Aren't you going to join the others?" asked Ezra, setting his drink with a little umbrella down on the ground next to his chair.
"You aren't," replied Vin.
"I was just relaxing for a moment," said Ezra.
"Me too," Vin added too quickly.
"Hmm. I think someone isn't being entirely truthful." Ezra raised an eyebrow in question.
Ezra slid forward on the chair, straddling the seat, joining Vin at the foot of the chair.
"Don't you want to swim?" he asked.
"Then what is it?" Ezra encouraged.
Vin leaned back against Ezra. He was quiet for a few moments, gathering his thoughts.
"There's too many rules," he said quietly.
Ezra waited before interceding, knowing that Vin wasn't finished.
"What if I mess up?" He turned his head and looked up at Ezra. "I don't want to lose the pool."
"Ah, I see," replied Ezra. So what could he say now? Josiah was the psychology specialist. Ezra could identify with the insecurity however.
"Vin, do you understand why there are so many rules?" he asked.
Vin nodded. "So we don't get hurt. But what if I make a mistake?"
Ezra wrapped his arms around Vin and squeezed reassuringly. "Then you will tell Chris and Buck and they will forgive you. The point of these rules isn't for when you accidentally make a mistake, Vin. They are for the times when you know what you are doing is against the rules and you do it anyway."
Ezra glanced up and saw Chris watching and listening to the conversation from the pool. Chris nodded to him to continue.
"So if you accidentally swallow some water, and I guarantee with all the splashing, you will, you won't lose the pool. But if you drink the water because you're too lazy to get out of the pool to get a drink..."
"I think I get it," said Vin.
"Good. Do you want to get in, now?" Ezra asked.
"Only if you come in too." Vin flashed a sly grin at Ezra.
Ezra chuckled. He had no desire to get into the pool with a bunch of roughhousing friends, but for a certain blue eyed seven year old, he could be convinced to do just about anything.
"Lead on, Master Tanner."
A few minutes later Vin was gleefully leading the charge in dunking Uncle Ezra. Poor Ezra didn't stand a chance. It seemed everyone relished the idea of 'drowning' him.
The yard rang with laughter and splashing. Two dogs barked in competition with the activities and one horse whinnied, making his presence known from the corral.
"Hi, Peso!" Vin yelled and waved before falling foward, arms and legs wide, performing a belly flop that succeeded in his attempt to splash Chris.
The next few days, two boys anxiously awaited the arrival of their dads so they could spend the warm evenings playing in the pool. Somehow two sets of water wings had evolved into beach balls, inner tubes, air mattresses, and a menagerie of floating toys that just had to be a part of swimming in the pool.
Buck found himself being the designated 'inflator'. Trying to inflate a pair of water wings while attached to an excited boy's arm proved to be quite a challenge.
"JD, stand still a minute."
"But Da, I wanna swim!"
"If you don't hold still, I'll never get these things inflated," said Buck. "And you know the rules - no water wings, no swimming."
"I hold still, Buck, see?" JD pretended he was a statue while Vin patiently waited his turn.
Buck finished blowing up JD's wings and started on Vin's, briefly wondering where Chris was during the 'inflation' stage of pool play.
As soon as Buck finished with Vin's water wings, JD returned with his little plastic inner tube.
"It's flat," he said sadly. "Can you make more air in it?"
Unable to resist that sad puppy look, Buck started to blow up the tube. He was huffing and puffing when Chris walked up.
"Looking a little red in the face there, Pard," Chris teased.
"Well, you're getting more like Ezra every day," retorted Buck. "Always seem to be missing when there's menial labor to be done."
Chris shrugged. "Next time you can do the dishes if you want."
Buck lost his grip on the valve of the inner tube and all his hard work leaked out.
"Aw Buck," groaned JD.
Buck made a face at Chris when the blond laughed at him.
"Chris, will you help me?" asked Vin, holding a plastic raft.
"Hah!" said Buck. "Now we'll see who's red in the face."
"Sure Vin," said Chris grinning smugly at Buck. "Bring it over here. We'll use the air compressor."
Buck groaned inwardly. Why didn't he think of that?
And we got to swim every day, didn't we Vin?
Yeah. And everyone got us stuff to play with in the water.
I like my beach ball and my raft and my inner tube and...
They'll get the idea JD.
It was funny when you got Uncle Ezra all wet.
Yeah, especially when he swallowed the water and spit it on Uncle Nathan.
Well, he didn't mean to, Vin.
I know, but the look on Uncle Nathan's face was so funny.
You better tell the next part.
Okay. Let's see. It was Friday and we was playing and having fun...
"No, Peso!" said Vin, "You have to stay in the corral." Vin pushed his horse's nose away from the corral gate as he closed and latched it. Peso leaned his long neck over the old gate expectantly.
Vin grinned and offered him a carrot.
"Chris says ya gotta stop leaning on the gate or yer gonna break it," he said as he scratched the horse's nose. "It's real old."
"Come on, Vin. Let's play!" JD called from the yard.
"Comin'," Vin replied, giving Peso one last pat before he ran to play with JD.
The boys played the morning away as deputies in an old west town in Colorado, hunting down the bad guys and saving the good guys.
Soon, the storekeeper called them from the kitchen telling them it was time for lunch, and the deputies hurried in for their beans and bacon, which was really hotdogs and macaroni and cheese.
The mean old storekeeper made them take naps after lunch, and the deputies quickly dozed off after a hard morning of play.
The fan in their room provided some relief from the heat, but by the time their naps were over, both boys were sticky with sweat and anxious for their dads to come home so they could play in the pool. Swimming shorts were donned, so they could be ready as soon as they walked in the door.
Both boys groaned when Mrs. Potter made them wear tee shirts and globbed them with sunscreen, but they raced outside and spent the remainder of the afternoon playing in the shade beside the house. Occasional trips inside were mandated for the necessities, such as popsicles, sodas, snacks, and to ask Mrs. Potter what time it was and how much longer until they could play in the pool.
Chris growled under his breath at the slowing traffic. It was Friday afternoon and it seemed like the whole city was headed for the hills.
His hand seemed to move of it's own volition, honking on the horn.
"That won't help, ya know," said Buck with a grin.
"I know," Chris snarled, "But it makes me feel better."
"Wonder what's causing the back up?"
"It's always heavier on Friday afternoon," Chris responded.
"Yeah, but not like this, and not this far out of town. Must be an accident." Buck reached over and tuned the radio to a station with news. "Hope no one's hurt."
Chris nodded, the thought of an accident tempering his frustration some. Someone else was having a much harder day than he. Chris edged the truck forward slowly whenever the traffic decided to move. It was a full ten minutes before the traffic report came on.
Unfortunately, it gave no information on the backup. Ten minutes later the jam cleared out and they were on their way home again. The traffic thinned out the further they drove from the city.
Less than a mile before the exit, what traffic remained, came to a complete stop.
'Great!' thought Chris. 'All I want to do is get home, have something to eat, hug a kid and cool off in the pool.'
"What's the hold up?" called Buck to a bystander as he rolled down the window.
"There's a horse loose on the highway," the man in a black suit replied.
"What @#$%^&* idiot can't keep his horse penned up?" growled Chris.
"I hope no one hit it," agreed Buck.
"The guy ought to be locked up for endangering an animal like that, let alone all the people he put in danger by his carelessness," Chris ground out loud enough for everyone around them to hear.
Chris continued his grumbling and ranting about the stupidity and inconsideration of the horse's owner as they waited.
"Hey, Mr. Larabee." Jeff Peterson, the fourteen-year-old son of a local farmer approached Chris' truck.
"Hello, Jeff. What's going on?" asked Chris.
"I think you'd better come help. My dad's been trying, but this lady keeps on screaming and scaring him."
"Your dad?" asked Buck.
"No. Scaring your horse," reported Jeff. "I mean the horse was doin' just fine, just grazing quietly beside the road, and this lady coming the other way, she screeches to a halt in the middle of the road in this big ol' fancy Mercedes SUV. Ain't from around here, I tell ya."
Buck chuckled at the grimace of impatience on Chris' face. Both men got out of the truck. Chris reached under the seat and grabbed a halter and lead rope while Jeff continued to chatter.
"I mean, then she screams out real loud, "Someone catch the horse!" Geez, he was doin' fine until then. She startled him and he ran right onto the highway. Good thing we was already stopped."
The three men walked up the shoulder of the highway as Jeff continued his story.
"My dad, he tells her to shut up, but she just keeps on yelling, and then her kids are screamin' in the car, and every time my dad gets close, she yells again and scares the poor horse. She just don't seem to understand she's the one scaring the horse."
The teen took a quick breath before continuing.
"Then, she's finally quiet for a minute and my dad gets real close, and the horse is like, 'I don't know you, don't like you and you ain't touching me!' So he squirts off again. So twenty minutes later, here we are in a traffic jam with ten people who don't know a thing about horses, and my poor dad trying to catch him. The horse is all worked up because his escape route home is cut off by a bunch'a suit-wearin' freaks."
Catching sight of the horse, Buck groaned. "Great. It couldn't have been any of the other horses. It had to be Peso."
Chris let out a string of curses that culminated in the threat to send the horse to the glue factory. There, playing tag with Ed Peterson in the middle of the highway was Peso. Whatever possessed the horse to wander four miles down a country road and decide to play on the highway was beyond him. Probably the old lure of greener grass.
Someone honked a horn and Peso shied, slipping and nearly falling on the pavement.
"Stop honking!" Chris slapped the hood of the car of the perpetrator.
Chris and Buck slowly approached the wary horse. Chris whistled and Peso turned toward the familiar sound. As they got closer, they could see the sweat and the trembling flanks. It took a lot to rattle Peso, but he was definitely frightened.
"Atta boy, you old mule," said Chris in a soothing voice. "Just wait there, knot head. You're a helluva lot of trouble."
Buck grinned. It didn't matter what the words were, it was the tone that calmed the horse.
"Catch him!" screamed the woman.
Chris glared at her in warning, then turned his attention back to the horse.
"That's it, Peso, just calm down," Chris said calmly as he got closer. He slowed his pace as Peso took a step away. "Easy now. You got a little guy who's going to be mighty upset if you don't come home."
"Mommy!" yelled one of the kids. "Is he going to catch the horse?"
Peso walked a few steps away.
"Come on boy," Chris soothed. He shot a look at Buck and Buck nodded. He would take care of Mrs. Annoying and her offspring.
Buck backed off slowly and moved back to the line of cars. "Excuse me Ma'am," he said, showing his ID. "You need to get back into your vehicle and please keep quiet." He stood between her and the scene. "Your yelling is spooking the horse. Get back in the vehicle," he demanded.
"Well, I never!" she huffed. "You try to help a poor helpless creature and this is the thanks you get."
Buck closed her door for her and walked around the first few cars, finally spotting what he needed.
"Excuse me Ma'am," he said, again showing his ID. "Do you happen to have any carrots or apples in your groceries there?" He indicated the back seat.
"No, I'm sorry," she replied.
"How about sweets?" Buck persisted.
"Well, I have some powdered sugar donuts."
"That will do. Can I buy them from you?" Buck pulled out his wallet and gave her a five-dollar bill as she handed him the box of donuts. "Horse has a sweet tooth," he explained with a shrug.
She smiled sweetly at the handsome agent as he walked away.
Buck hurried forward, slowing as he neared the skittish horse. Chris was continuing his litany of soothing tones.
"Hey boy, look what I've got," Buck said softly.
Chris glanced at the box and smiled.
Buck took a donut and rolled it toward the horse. It made it about half the distance, but Peso had seen it, and his curiosity pulled him a couple steps closer.
Buck and Chris stood their ground and Peso took a couple more tentative steps, sniffing toward the donut. Soon he was close enough and his long tongue tested the object, before teeth and lips greedily picked up the donut.
Still Chris and Buck waited. Peso finished the donut and looked at Buck and the box in his hand. Slowly he walked over and nudged at the box. Chris slipped the halter over the horse's head and buckled it while Buck fed Peso another donut.
With Buck and the donuts in the lead, Peso slowly followed him off the highway. Buck led them a few yards up the road safely away from most of the traffic.
"How do you want to do this?" Buck asked Chris.
"I'll walk him back," said Chris. Peso was too skittish to ride yet, and it wasn't worth the effort to go and hook up the trailer and pick him up for such a short distance. The horse was uninjured, just a little nervous.
"It's a long walk, Pard," said Buck.
"I need the air," Chris growled. He handed Buck the keys to his truck and started walking Peso on the four-mile trek back to the ranch.
"Hope it's long enough for you to cool down," Buck mumbled as he headed for the truck. "And I really hope for Junior's sake that there's a hole in the fence somewhere."
It took awhile for the traffic to clear, and Buck passed Chris and Peso just a mile from the house. It would take them another four or five minutes to reach the barn. When Buck parked the truck, JD leapt off of the front porch and raced to him. "Buck! Buck! Peso's lost!" he cried.
He could hear Vin calling for Peso out in the pasture. He gathered JD into his arms. "It's okay, Little Bit. Chris and I found him."
"Where is he?" asked JD, wiping the tears from his cheeks with his sleeve.
"Chris is bringing him home." He looked into the pasture, seeing Vin run to the other side calling for his lost horse frantically. He could hear the fear in Vin's voice.
"Vin!" he called. "Come on in."
Vin looked towards him, and then began trudging slowly across the pasture, his shoulders slumped and his head hanging low. Like he was carrying the whole world.
When he reached Buck, he couldn't bring himself to look up.
"Vin?" said Buck. He gently raised Vin's chin, his heart clenching at the puffy eyes and tear streaked cheeks. "Peso's okay. Chris and I found him. Chris is bringing him home right now."
Vin's eyes brightened and unable to speak, he simply wrapped his arms around Buck's waist.
Buck patted him comfortingly while he sobbed his relief. When Vin quieted, Buck asked him what had happened and Vin relayed that he had found the corral gate open. He was certain that he had closed the gate, but Peso was gone and three of the other horses were munching grass in the yard. He had managed to get the other horses back in the corral, but he couldn't find Peso.
"Where'd ya find him?" asked JD.
Buck looked into Vin's eyes communicating the seriousness of the situation when he answered, "On the highway."
Vin felt like everything inside him was suddenly cold. Peso could have died on the highway. He could have been hit by a car. He could have caused an accident. Vin was sure he closed the gate, but somehow it was opened and Peso got out.
Peso could have died. The thought brought fresh tears cascading down Vin's cheeks.
"Peso!" called JD, spying Chris and the horse coming up the driveway.
Buck grabbed his hand, preventing him from running and spooking the horse.
Vin quelled his own desire to run to his horse. He watched Chris carefully, picking up easily on his mood. Chris was upset.
Chris silently led Peso into the corral, closing the gate behind him.
"Didn't see any breaks in the fence," he said tersely. "Did he get out through the gate?"
Seeing Buck's nod, Chris bit back his frustration. What was he supposed to do? He had hoped Vin was old enough for the responsibility of caring for the horse. Vin had been warned several times to make sure the latch was closed on the worn gate. Peso was good for him, but maybe it was too soon.
"Get his things," he clipped. "Rub him down."
Vin hurried to follow Chris' demand. He gathered the equipment and hurried back, slowing only as he approached the horse.
Peso sniffed at him and Chris continued to hold the lead rope. Under normal circumstances he didn't worry about Vin with Peso, the horse seemed to adore the boy and was very gentle around him, but these weren't normal circumstances. It wasn't every day that a horse played tag with cars on the highway.
Chris remained silent while Vin rubbed down Peso, trying to think of the appropriate response. Vin was a tough little guy in some ways, but Chris knew his approval was very important to the seven year old. Vin was settling in to the family, but Vin perceived any kind of discipline as a threat to the permanency of that family. Chris also knew that this situation could have turned into a tragedy and Vin needed to learn that actions had consequences. It was a delicate balance.
Vin was frightened by the silence. He knew Chris was upset. He was sure that he had closed the gate, but he was the last one out, so maybe he hadn't. And if he hadn't, well... he hoped the same rule as the pool didn't apply to Peso too. Mess up one time and it's gone.
"What happened?" Chris asked flatly.
"The gate was open." Vin's reply was so soft, Chris could barely hear it.
"Did you leave it open?"
Vin sucked in a breath, fighting back the tears that wanted to come. "I closed it," He said. He knew he had closed the gate. He always closed the gate, ever since the first couple of times it had happened.
"Then why was it open?" Chris pressed.
"I don't know," said Vin. "I closed it."
"Who was the last one out?" Chris looked at the sorrowful blue eyes.
"I closed it," Vin whispered, dropping his gaze.
Chris sighed. "Maybe I was wrong. I thought you were old enough to be responsible for Peso."
Vin's head shot up in panic. 'Chris is going to take away Peso! Spank me. Take away my food forever. Take away TV for a month, but don't take Peso!' Vin couldn't stop the tears, first from the fear of Peso being gone, and now from the fear of what could have happened and the thought of losing his horse.
"Do you realize what could have happened?" Chris swallowed hard at the silent tears of the child in front of him, the little body shuddering with the sobs he was fighting to control.
"I think maybe you should go to your room while we think about whether you're going to continue being responsible for Peso."
Not wanting to cry in front of Chris, Vin ran to the house, but his gasping sobs could be heard before he got inside.
JD watched Vin go, looking uncertainly from Chris to the house.
"But Vin did close the gate," he pleaded. "Vin always closes the gate."
"It's okay, Little Bit," Buck assured. "Chris..."
Chris didn't want to hear it. All he could think about was the horse laying dead on the highway and someone being injured or killed in an accident because he put too much responsibility on a seven year old. Vin may have been the one to leave the gate open, but he was the one ultimately responsible.
Chris led Peso into the barn and put him into his stall. He gave him some extra grain and fresh hay before returning to a very quiet house.
Vin sat in his safe place in his room, tucked in a tight curl in the small space between his dresser and the bed. He had cried himself out. He clung tightly to his stuffed cat fighting his insecurity. Chris' constant assurances that he could never do anything that would make Chris send him away seemed hollow now. He had never done anything this serious.
He figured he must have forgotten to latch the gate and his irresponsibility endangered Peso and everyone on the highway. Chris was right. He didn't deserve the responsibility. Peso deserved better than him.
Chris and Buck had said if they broke the rules with the pool, the pool was gone. And he had broken the rules with Peso...
The thought of Peso being with someone else brought renewed tears. He heard the clicking of toe nails on the hardwood floor and reached out his hand for Ringo. JD must have let the pup into the room. The little malamute wriggled his way into the tiny space between the bed and the dresser with Vin and licked his face. Little arms wrapped around his pup as the fear crept into his mind that Ringo might be taken away too.
In The Good Ol' Summertime (Index)