By Joy K
Buck was torn as he walked back into the living room and looked out the window. JD was clinging to him, clearly disturbed by the events of the day, by the Peso incident, concern for Vin and especially his uncertainty of Chris' response. Little arms wrapped around his neck cinched a little tighter and Buck returned the hug. Another scared little boy sat huddled in his room and a man in turmoil paced outside by the corral. He could comfort the two little guys somewhat, but it would take Chris for the boys to know everything was okay.
He smiled when Chris turned and headed for the house with purpose in his step. It looked like Chris was initiating the solution without any prompting.
Chris walked into the house, grimacing at the insecurity JD was displaying. He gently laid his hand on JD's back, regretting the flinch he felt.
"JD, it's all right," he said softly.
"Vin closed the gate," said JD without lifting his head from Buck's shoulder.
Chris half smiled at the dogged defense of his friend.
"He did!" JD insisted, pulling his head up.
"It's okay JD," Chris repeated.
"Are you going to make Peso go away?" asked JD.
"No," Chris replied.
JD gulped. "Are you going to make Vin go away?"
Chris wanted to curse and yell and shake the boy until he understood that sending them away was never an option, but he calmly replied, "No JD. I will never do that. I'm not going to do anything at all. I think Peso's day out scared all of us enough to make us remember to make sure the gate is latched."
He rubbed JD's back comfortingly as Buck held him in silence.
"Vin cried," JD informed.
"I know," said Chris.
"Lots," added JD.
"I'm going to go talk to him, if you and I are square."
JD nodded and Chris roughed his hair. Buck smiled his approval.
"Mind if I come in?"
Vin looked up.
"Ya won't fit," he answered softly, taking in the gentleness in Chris' eyes. He could tell Chris wasn't upset anymore, but he was still serious.
"How about if you come out then?" suggested Chris. He knew exactly where to look for Vin. The small cramped space between the bed and the dresser was his safe place. He would never forget the first time he had found Vin hiding there curled up tightly and rocking, and he prayed there would be a day when Vin no longer felt the need to seek safety by trying to make himself invisible.
Vin pushed Ringo gently off of his lap and the pup happily trotted out of the room to find his companion, Elvis. Vin willingly came out of the small space allowing Chris to wrap his arms around him and pull him onto his lap as he settled on the lower bunk bed. For a moment man and boy were silent, both relishing the closeness.
"I'm really sorry," said Vin quietly. "I really thought I closed the gate."
"I know," Chris replied.
"Peso could'a died," Vin whispered. "I was irre - irre - I wasn't 'sponsible enough. Peso deserves someone 'sponsible enough to take care of him right and make sure he don't get hurt." Vin unconsciously twisted his fingers into Chris' shirtsleeve. "An' I guess maybe-" Vin gulped in a hitching breath - "Maybe someone more 'sponsible should take care of Ringo too."
Chris closed his eyes and rested his chin on the top of Vin's head. This was not what he wanted, but at least it was clear Vin understood the seriousness of the situation, and he obviously would be double-checking the gate from now on.
"Ringo and Peso already have someone responsible to take care of them," said Chris, "unless maybe you don't want them anymore."
"No!" Vin gasped in horror at the suggestion. "Of course I want them. I just thought..."
'You just thought I'd be horrible to you and take them away,' thought Chris sadly. He hoped that someday those thoughts would be far away from Vin's mind.
"Vin, I was a little upset outside and I probably made you think this was all your fault, that you aren't responsible enough, but that's not true. You are very thoughtful and responsible." Chris felt the stiffness in Vin beginning to relax. "It's just that sometimes I forget you are seven. I expect you to do more than I should."
"But I can do it," Vin protested.
"I know, Cowboy. I'm not saying you aren't capable. I'm just saying there is a balance. I'm responsible for what happened too." Chris paused, snuggling Vin with his chin. "I should have replaced that old gate a long time ago. The latch is pretty loose and could slide open even if you think it's closed." He rose up and used one hand to smooth the hair he had mussed. "I'm saying we should go eat supper, play in the pool and chalk this up to experience. Both of us know we'll be double checking the latch on the gate from now on, right?"
Chris kissed him on top of the head.
"Let's go eat."
I thought Chris was real mad, but he wasn't. I think it kind of scared him too when Peso was playing on the highway. But he's big so he can't cry when he gets scared, so he growls.
Yeah, and he's too big to get in your special place.
I don't think grownups need a special place. Maybe they do. Do you think that's why Chris goes to the seminary sometimes? You know, when he goes to sit by Mrs. Chris and Adam.
I don't think that's the right word Vin. I think it has a T in it like cement.
Nope, Vin. That's not it either. See the computer underlined it in red.
Oh well. Uncle Ezra will fix it. I just meant maybe Chris goes there to feel better sometimes.
I was scared too. I thought they was going to make Peso go away just like they said with the swimming pool.
And then I thought Chris was making you go away.
Chris won't do that. Never ever ever.
But how come they'll make the pool go away if we're bad, but not Peso or us?
??? I don't know, JD. Maybe Uncle Ezra can tell us. He knows lots of stuff about what happens when you're bad.
I bet he never had a horse as bad as Peso.
Peso ain't bad!
Yes, he is.
No, he's not!
??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ???
Nothing! We're being good! Look Vin. Why'd it make all those marks?
I don't know. Maybe it couldn't hear buck hollering from the other room. Anyway, then after all that happened, Peso got in more trouble because everyone kept on calling the house...
"That was Mrs. Cooper. Seems Peso visited her place on his little stroll," said Buck.
Chris winced. Mrs. Cooper was in her eighties and seemed to thrive on calling him "Sonny Boy" while complaining about whatever was on her mind that day.
"Said she saw a horse in her front yard with a pair of boxers on its head."
"What?" Chris couldn't help laughing. He could just see Peso prancing around the yard with underwear on his head.
"She chased him out of her flowerbed with a broom. Said he ate her flowers so now all she has in the front flower bed are stalks."
"Aw hell, we're in trouble now. First Gloria, and now this," said Chris. Their housekeeper had been rather vocal about the clean laundry that had been hanging on the clothesline, which was found scattered around the yard - obviously some of the laundry had gone further than the yard.
"Yep," Buck agreed. "I told her we'd pay to replace the flowers."
"I wonder what else was assaulted on Peso's day out?" grumbled Chris.
The phone ringing interrupted his words. Buck sighed before answering.
"Hello? Oh hi, Mrs. Wells."
Buck twisted the phone cord in his hand as he listened.
"So Mr. Peterson called you... uh-huh... ate your roses? I'm sorry, Ma'am, we'll pay to have them replaced... plain white Boxers, eh? Those belong to Chris."
Buck ducked the couch pillow Chris threw at him.
"Yes Ma'am. The horse is fine and the boys are okay... Yes, they were a little upset, but they're fine now... Yes, I'm sure he'd appreciate that. Thank you. I apologize again. Bye now."
Buck hung up the phone and turned to look at Chris with an evil grin. "Miz Nettie will bring your boxers back the next time she goes out."
Chris stopped himself from saying something rude, seeing two little boys emerge from the hallway.
"All finished?" he asked.
Vin and JD nodded.
"Yep," said JD. "Our room is ALL clean.
Buck rolled his eyes at Chris, knowing what "all clean" really meant. Everything was stuffed under the beds or in the closets.
"All right then," said Chris, giving the boys the benefit of the doubt. "One short video, and I mean short, and then bed."
"Awwww," the boys groaned.
Vin walked to the video shelf and selected a Roadrunner cartoon, while JD settled on Buck's lap.
"Do you has to go to work tomorrow?" he asked.
"I'm afraid so," said Buck.
"But it's Saturday!" JD whined.
"I know Little Bit. I don't like it either," Buck assured. "But it's just for the morning. We'll be home after lunch, and Ezra and Nate and Josiah are coming out."
"Yay!" JD bounced on Buck's lap.
Chris had settled in the recliner and watched Vin put in the video and press play. Vin looked around uncertainly for a moment, as if he were trying to decide where to sit. His eyes caught Chris' gaze and the insecurity was still obvious to Chris. Chris nodded to him. Vin smiled and trotted over to Chris' chair and climbed in with him, content in his father's arms.
Saturday afternoon brought the rest of the team to "swim" with the boys again. It was such a hot day, Mrs. Potter had allowed the boys to change into their swimming shorts early while Buck and Chris finished up some work at the office. The boys were disappointed that Chris and Buck had to work, but they waited in the backyard, obediently staying out of the pool.
When the team arrived home, Chris did a quick check on the horses, making sure they had enough water. He joined the others as they walked around the corner of the house to the back yard. They could barely contain their laughter when they observed the little scene.
Vin and JD were sitting in the lounge chairs in bright Hawaiian shirts, each with a glass of root beer with a little umbrella in it. A Jimmy Buffett song was blaring loudly through the yard from Buck's portable CD player.
Everyone looked at Buck.
"What? So they have good taste," said Buck.
Nathan shook his head. "You are such a Parrot head, Buck."
Buck laughed. "I'm a card carryin' member and proud of it."
"Da!" called JD, jumping up from his chair and running to Buck, with Elvis the golden retriever pup yapping at his heels. "You're home!"
"Yep," Buck said with a laugh as he caught the torpedo known as JD.
"Can we swim now?"
"In a bit, Little Bit," Buck teased, roughing JD's hair.
"Hi Uncle Nathan. Hi Uncle 'Siah. Hi Uncle Ezra!" said JD exuberantly.
The men gave their greetings to both boys, as Vin came to stand next to Chris.
"Buck," said JD, "Why did Uncle Nathan call you a parrot? You don't got no feathers."
Smiles spread across faces. This should be interesting.
"Not parrot, JD," corrected Vin. "Uncle Nathan called him a Parrot head."
"Well, what's a Parrot head?" asked JD.
"Uh, uh," stammered Buck. How could you explain a Parrot head to a five year old? It was much more than being a Jimmy Buffett fan, it was -
"Duh, JD," said Vin, saving Buck from answering. "It's the top of a bird!"
"Oh yeah. Can we swim NOW ?" asked JD. "It's LATER."
"All right," said Buck with a laugh.
Soon five men and two boys were splashing loudly in the pool. Two dogs barked happily in competition with the noise. None of them noticed when Peso strolled across the yard, curious about all the excitement. He munched a rose bush and nibbled on a tree branch as he approached.
"Hey!" said JD, stopping in the midst of splashing Buck. "Hi Peso!"
All heads turned towards the horse that was now standing next to the pool, stretching over the edge, reaching for his favorite little person and looking for a treat.
"No, Peso! No!" cried Vin, but it was too late. The wall of the pool buckled and gave way, sending the water, pool toys, men and boys rushing out in a mini-tidal wave.
Peso lowered his nose and snorted in the water, testing it out, then walked a few steps to the pile of people, nudging his little person.
"Aw, Peso!" Vin groaned, "Look what you did!"
Buck started to laugh from the middle of the tangle of arms and legs. He couldn't help it. He could just picture this scene on the Funniest Videos television show.
JD started cackling in his spontaneous, contagious laughter and soon everyone was laughing.
Vin leaned his forehead against Peso's nose. "Look what you did," he said sadly.
Chris took one look at boy and horse, and knew what his serious minded son would think. He unwound himself from the giggling mess in the middle of the yard and walked with Vin as he led Peso back to the corral.
The gate was wide open.
Chris shook his head, interrupting the explanation. He had a good idea now what was going on. "I came out after you, and I know I closed the gate. Let's try putting him in and watch him for a few minutes."
Vin nodded, not quite following Chris' intentions. He led Peso inside, then closed the gate and latched it. "I'll go get him a carrot."
"No, let's wait over here." Chris led Vin around the corner where they were out of sight of the gate, but where they could still see the gate.
The noisy fun was continuing in the yard and Peso still wanted a treat. A few minutes later he approached the gate, nudging it several times with his nose.
Vin watched in surprise as Peso began to nibble the gate latch. Moments later the gate released and swung open and Peso plodded towards the yard again.
"I'm sorry, Cowboy," said Chris.
"Fer what?" asked Vin.
Vin smiled. "I was sure I shut it, but what are we gonna do now? Peso knows how to open it."
Chris hugged Vin. "Well, I'm going to order a new gate with a horse proof latch, and you're going to go get your horse again."
"He broke the pool."
"He sure did, but I think we can fix it. I'm pretty sure it just needs some unbending, a few rivets and a new liner. We'll have to wait a couple weeks to order the parts though, since I think the new gate has first priority. We don't want Peso visiting any of our neighbors again."
Chris released Vin. "Go get him before he eats something else."
Vin laughed. "Least he's not wearing yer shorts this time."
"Hey!" Chris swatted at Vin as he trotted across the yard to get Peso.
"Where's Vin?" asked Buck as he entered the barn.
"Giving his horse a lecture," said Chris with a smile. He nodded to the window.
Vin stood next to the water trough shaking his finger at Peso.
"And no carrots for a week! Ya gotta learn to stay in the corral. Now don't get me into no more trouble!"
He petted Peso's nose and then scratched behind his ears as Peso leaned into the touch. Vin hugged his horse affectionately.
"I get into enough of it all by myself!"
Well gentlemen, that was quite an adventure.
Uh-huh. But I'm still mad at Peso.
JD, he didn't know he'd break the pool. He just wanted a treat.
But he broke my pool!
But Chris said we could fix it.
But I want it now.
Sorry Uncle Ezra. Vin says you're going to fix the steaks the computer makes.
JD, stop laughing.
But look at what it wrote. It says Uncle Ezra is going to fix us steaks!
JD, stop laughing.
But it's funny. How come it doesn't know the right steak?
Because I told you a billion times, you have to speak clearly, JD. The word is Miss Steak.
You have to admit, Vin. It is funny.
Yeah, Vin. Hello. My name is Miss Steak.
JD, it can't see you wiggling your hips like that. ???
See, now you're laughing too. Uncle Ezra, how come it keeps making the wrong word?
Well, when you said it, you left off the Miss. When Vin said it, he paused in between syllables and the computer thought it was two words. If you pronounce it clearly, the computer will know what you mean. Like this. Mistake.
Cool! Let me try. Steak. Miss Steak. Mistake. Mistake. Mistake. Mistake. Mistake. Mistake.
JD! Here's my essay, Uncle Ezra.
Thank you, Vin.
And here's mine. Vin says I can write me story too.
Next: Feeding Fishes...
Thank you especially to Nancy, Kim, Gina, Carrie, Marnie and all of the "Bad AoeLement" for cheering me on, flooding me with ideas and encouraging me when the story wouldn't cooperate!
Thanks to LaraMee for Ringo, Vin's Malamute puppy, and for Elvis, JD's Golden Retriever. They first appeared in her story, "Merry Christmas and Chicken Pox to You."
In The Good Ol' Summertime (Index)