By Joy K
The evening passed fairly quietly with Vin still feeling worn out from the trauma and the medication.
JD tried his best to be helpful even though it was no fun playing without Vin. At least Buck was home so he had someone to play with.
He didn't even tease Vin when it was time to eat dinner and the older boy had to figure out how to eat left handed, since his right arm was sore and the movement was restricted. He started to giggle when Vin's macaroni and cheese fell off of his fork, but Buck gave him a stern look.
"Hey Vin," said JD. "It's 'kay. I do that all the time." JD purposely dumped macaroni and cheese off of his fork onto the table. "See?"
"J. D.," sighed Buck in exasperation.
"I clean it up, Buck," said JD, climbing down from his chair and walking to the sink. He stood on his tiptoes and reached as far as he could, his fingertips just catching the edge of the dish cloth.
He pulled it off the counter and walked back to the table and in his childlike way, he cleaned up not only his spill, but Vin's as well. Neither Buck nor Chris commented on the streaks of cheese left on the table. JD had tried and that was what mattered.
"We learned at school," explained JD. "I like to wash tables at school."
Vin yawned and put his fork down. The macaroni and cheese was good, but it was just too much work and his left hand was tired from the extra effort.
Buck and Chris exchanged glances making an unspoken agreement that finger foods would be the main course for the next few days.
Buck reached across the table and took the big serving spoon from the bowl of macaroni and cheese. He put the spoon on Vin's plate with a wink.
"Sorry Junior. We didn't think about how hard it is to chase macaroni around your plate," Buck said reassuringly. "Why don't you give the spoon a try?"
He was hungry, but he was too big to be fed like a little baby. If he was going to eat, he'd do it himself. Vin glanced sideways at Chris for his approval.
"Just don't try to stuff the whole spoon in your mouth," Chris teased.
Vin smiled and picked up the spoon. With the exception of cheese mustache and smears at the corners of his mouth, he did much better with the larger spoon and finally finished his dinner.
He still didn't feel like playing, but Vin managed to stay awake on the couch while JD watched a video.
Too soon for JD's liking, it was time for bed. Chris helped Vin into his pajamas and they decided it would be best for Vin to sleep on the couch for the night. They would consider switching the boys' sleeping arrangements so JD was on the top bunk for a while, or perhaps they would just "un-bunk" the beds and have them both sleep closer to the floor, but that could wait until tomorrow.
Vin didn't mind the couch. His room seemed too far away anyhow.
Some time in the middle of the night, Chris wondered if he would regret that decision.
The call was quiet, but loud enough to wake Chris. He opened his eyes and saw Vin standing in the doorway of his room.
"Hey Cowboy. Are you all right?"
Vin shrugged. He was too groggy to express what he wanted.
"C'mere." Chris held up his blankets in invitation.
Vin quickly crossed the room and climbed into the bed, snuggling up to his dad using Chris' shoulder for a pillow. He shifted around a few times trying to relieve the ache in his arm.
Chris rubbed circles on his back, soothing the tense muscles.
With a big sigh, Vin settled and slowly drifted back to sleep.
If only he'd stayed that peaceful.
Chris woke abruptly in pain. He grabbed the flailing arm before the cast could connect with his head a second time. He rubbed his cheek with his other hand, hoping that he didn't end up with a black eye.
"Shh, Cowboy," he soothed.
Vin mumbled and jerked in the midst of whatever nightmare had gripped him.
"I've got you," said Chris. He gently stroked the side of Vin's face. "You're safe now."
Vin stopped thrashing, almost like he was listening to the voice. Slowly he settled back into an even rhythm of breathing.
Chris drifted back to sleep, hoping for the best.
All too soon, Chris woke for a third time that night. This time something sharp was poking him in the thigh. Working his weary eyes open, he could see that their dark haired moppet had joined them.
JD's elbow was grinding into his leg as the five year old draped over him on top of the blankets in an effort to be close to his 'brother.'
"Tomorrow I wear my official ATF body armor to bed," Chris grumbled with a sigh. As he shifted JD, he heard a soft chuckle from his doorway.
"Someone having trouble sleeping?" whispered Buck.
"Yeah. Me," said Chris. "Kid's got the pointiest elbow."
Buck grinned and entered the room. "Wondered where they wandered off to. Want me to take him?"
"What do you think?" whispered Chris.
"I thought you wanted to be a human pretzel pile like Ez did when he stayed over that time."
Chris grinned at that thought. Ezra had been wounded and spent some time recovering at the ranch. He was like a magnet to two worried little boys and he and Buck had found the boys sleeping in Uncle Ezra's room. Chris and Buck were going to take the boys, but Ezra had insisted they remain, and had ended up stiff and sore from his awkward position.
"I think I'll pass," said Chris.
Buck scooped up JD and surpressed a chuckle at the limp rag doll of a child in his arms. JD did nothing halfway. When he moved, it was full speed, and when he slept, nothing could wake him.
"Want me to come back for that one?" Buck asked.
"Nah," said Chris. "I'll take care of him."
"See you in the morning," whispered Buck as he exited the room. He took JD back to the boys' room and tucked him in. When he passed by Chris' room on the way back to his, he grinned. Chris was snoring and Vin was still tucked close beside him. Perhaps Vin wasn't the only one who needed to be close tonight.
There was a short debate over school the next morning, but Vin was well enough to attempt at least part of the day. Chris knew that the boys' school would be very accommodating to Vin's injury and it would be much easier for him to function in his new school setting than it would be in a traditional school.
Vin was the center of attention in class. All the kids wanted to know all about the cast and the trip to the hospital. With some subtle direction by the teacher Vin was actually giving an oral report to his classmates without realizing it. Mrs. Rouquette smiled as the shy boy displayed his x-ray and animatedly told of his adventure.
It seemed the theme of the day became hospital as the children played. Some drew their own "x-rays". Some pretended to be a doctor or nurse with a patient. Some looked up information in the encyclopedias and others searched the internet with yahooligans to see what they could find.
A group of children were even using the golden beads to tally up the hospital bill. The beads were divided into units, which were single beads; tens - with ten beads attached together; hundreds - a square of ten rows of ten beads, and thousands, which were cubes containing ten of the hundreds squares. The children decided how much each part of the hospital visit cost, and then used the beads to figure out the total.
For most of the morning, Vin enjoyed the attention but near lunch he was getting tired and wanted to work by himself. He wanted to finish his last essay so that Uncle Ezra could finish putting the book together and he could give it to Buck and Chris.
After struggling one handed with the uncooperative zipper on his new red backpack, Vin finally got his paper out and placed it on the table. He tried to pick up his pencil with his casted arm, but it was too awkward. He picked it up with his left hand and put it in his right hand. With a grimace he dropped the pencil. It hurt to grip it.
Vin stared at the pencil for a few moments with dueling emotions. On the one hand, he was secretly glad that he couldn't write. Writing was hard and he always made some of his letters wrong. Even though Mrs. Rouquette never said his writing was bad, he didn't like having to ask her for words all the time. It would be a relief that he couldn't write for awhile. But on the other hand, if he couldn't write, he couldn't finish his book.
"How are you doing, Vin?" asked Mrs. Rouquette as she sat down on the small chair next to his.
"It hurts to write," said Vin. "But I need to finish."
"There's no hurry. You can finish when your arm feels better."
She smiled reassuringly at Vin's questioning look. He had spent enough time in a traditional school that he expected deadlines and critique. At his young age he had already experienced the stigma of being "behind" and had received failing marks on papers. Even without anyone saying the words to his face, and even though it was not the truth, Vin understood too well the implication that he was too dumb to learn.
With the change to his new school last spring, he was responding well to the positive atmosphere and learning quickly but he still struggled with the freedom of his new class setting. He was already used to sitting at a desk and listening to a lecture or lesson. Here, he learned at his own pace and self initialized what he wanted to learn with some guidance by his teachers. Vin was gaining confidence in making his own decisions on what he wanted to work on, but at times he was still hesitant. She watched with pride as daily his natural leadership tendencies became more evident and his language skills improved. She didn't want a broken arm to be a set back. It needed to be an opportunity to discover new things.
"In the meanwhile, I have an idea," said Mrs. Rouquette. She laid a set of fat bodied colored markers and some drawing paper on the table. "See what you can do with these."
With a smile, she left the table to let Vin experiment.
Vin toyed with the markers for a few minutes, just rolling them back and forth across the table while he worked up his courage to try writing with them. He picked up a purple marker, removed the cap and placed the pen in his right hand. Tentatively, he made a mark on the page. Vin found that he could hold the wide markers without much trouble since he didn't have to pinch so tightly. He started drawing big arcs and angles and soon was doodling an abstract design that only his mind understood. But he was drawing, and he was succeeding.
Vin smiled as he started another paper.
At 6:30 p.m., Chris and Buck arrived home with Josiah, Nathan and Ezra close behind. It seemed all the "uncles" wanted to make sure their nephew was all right.
Vin was feeling better and enjoyed all the attention from his uncles. Everyone admired the cast and took time to sign it with a marker.
JD stood to the side, watching all the activity with a frown. It wasn't fair that Vin was getting all the attention. He got all the attention at school and now he was getting all the attention at home too. It had to be because of his arm and the cast. JD decided he needed one too even though Buck told him he couldn't break his arm just to get a cast. Since he couldn't break his arm, he'd have to pretend.
He slipped out of the den and went to the closet to get the supplies he needed. He trotted down the hall to the bedroom and laid the materials out on the table.
JD scowled seriously at the paper and tape, contemplating how he would make his own cast. Finally he decided if he put the tape on the bottom of the edges of the paper, he could roll the paper on his arm and make it stick. It took a little creative maneuvering, but eventually he got the paper taped around his arm.
"It's not hard like Vin's," JD mumbled to himself. "I need more tape."
Several minutes later he reentered the den with his homemade cast.
"JD?" said Chris, noticing him first.
"I gots a cast too," JD announced.
The men tried to hide their laughter at the glob of masking tape surrounding JD's left arm. It looked like he had used a couple rolls of masking tape.
Vin was not so tactful. "That ain't a cast, JD," he laughed.
JD frowned and pouted a little.
"C'mere, JD," said Josiah. "I'll sign your cast."
JD grinned and launched himself into Uncle Josiah's lap. Soon he was all giggles as everyone doodled on his cast, even Vin with his awkward scrawl.
After dinner the boys announced they were having a secret meeting in their room and that only people who knew the special password were allowed.
Chris and Buck watched as Josiah, Ezra and Nathan were admitted to the secret meeting, magically knowing the secret password. Somehow Chris knew that whatever he or Buck guessed , it would NOT be the secret password. The boys were clearly up to something, but at least with Josiah and Nathan involved, it should be relatively safe. Ezra? Well, you could never tell with him.
"No peeking, and no listening!" JD instructed before closing the door firmly.
"What are they up to now?" asked Buck.
Chris shrugged. "I'm going to take care of the horses. I'm sure we'll find out soon enough."
"No, Unca Nathan. It needs to go on this page," JD insisted as Nathan tried to put a photograph in a clear plastic sleeve.
"Right you are," said Nathan, realizing JD was correct. He and Josiah were adding photographs they had taken during the summer to the book while Ezra made certain the text was in the proper order.
Vin was busy trying to get the design he had drawn on the paper at school to slide into the clear plastic cover on the front of the notebook. His growl of frustration caught Josiah's attention.
Vin leaned back against his chair with a sigh. Having his wrist in a cast wasn't much fun anymore.
"Why don't you hold the book, Vin, and I'll try to get the paper in," suggested Josiah.
Vin nodded and held up the notebook, gripping it with his left hand and balancing it against his cast.
Josiah took the paper and began to maneuver it into the sleeve.
He laughed at his first failed attempt. "This is hard enough to do when you have two good hands."
Vin grinned and shifted the notebook so Josiah had better access.
"Where is this week's essay?" asked Ezra.
"I didn't get finished," said Vin.
"Yeah," added JD. "He was only part way done when he breaked his arm."
"I tried to write at school today," Vin explained, "but my arm hurt."
"I see," said Ezra.
"I can do it, Vin," suggested JD.
"Okay," agreed Vin. JD hadn't had the chance to write very many of the essays for the book. Buck would like it if JD got to write too.
While the boys worked on the final essay, Ezra, Nathan and Josiah put the finishing touches on the notebook.
"JD!" Vin protested.
"Well he was!"
"I know that!"
"Gentlemen?" asked Ezra.
"I was just tellin' 'bout the fat guy that knocked Vin down at the game."
"Master Dunne, it is not polite to call someone fat," said Ezra.
"Even if he is?" asked JD.
"Even if he is," confirmed Ezra.
JD sighed. "Okay."
He turned back to his writing with Vin watching over his shoulder, sounding out words as JD wrote them.
"JD!" Vin complained again. "I think you should stop writing now."
"But he was!"
"I know, but I don't want to get in trouble for having it on my paper."
"O - KAY!" JD grumped.
He bent over the paper one more time and finished his writing.
"All done!" he declared.
"Wait!" Vin whispered something in JD's ear.
"Oh, okay," said JD as he scribbled a post script.
"Now, I'm done," he said, holding up the paper.
"Let's see what you have," said Ezra.
"Well," said Ezra, "that's quite a story. He slid the essay into its pocket and closed the notebook.
JD brought the box for the book to be wrapped in. Ezra placed the notebook inside and put the lid on it. Vin stuck the bow on top of the gift box.
"Are we ready?" Ezra asked.
"Yeah!" said Vin.
"Chris! Buck!" JD bellowed as they left the bedroom. "We gots a 'sprise for you!"
They was really surprised, Vin.
Buck looked like he was going to cry.
Chris too. I thought for a minute that I made him sad, but then I figured out it was that happy kind of tears.
Yeah. It would be a lot easier if crying was for sad and smiling was for happy.
I know! Chris kept brushing his hand across the cover like the book was real special to him.
And Buck squished me so hard I thought I was going to pop. It felt good.
Yeah. Everyone gave lots of hugs last night. Seemed like every time I turned around someone else was hugging on me.
Don't tell no one, JD, but I really liked it.
Me too. Hey Vin?
If we're done with the book, how come we're doing another story on the computer?
It can't see you when you go like this, Vin.
It can't see you shrug either, JD. I don't know why we're doing another story except I like talking to the computer.
Me too. It's fun.
Maybe we can do another book when my arm feels better. I bet everyone would help us again. Maybe even Buck and Chris could help this time.
Hey, yeah! That would be fun. I want to go play now.
Okay, Let's go. Bye Computer.
Two men had stayed up until the wee hours of Saturday morning pouring over the pages of their homemade book, cherishing every drawing, every misspelling in a scrawled essay, every photograph of the summer's events. They had laughed at times and been moved to near tears at others, recalling the events of their summer through the eyes of their two little boys.
Buck put the lunch casserole in the oven and set the timer. Throwing the oven mitts on the counter, he joined Chris sitting at the kitchen table with the book.
"What are you thinking, Pard?" Buck asked.
"I'm thinking how I never thought I'd ever be wishing the days were longer and time didn't move so fast." Chris rubbed his finger under a photograph of Vin and JD hanging upside down by their knees on the jungle gym. "How I doubted that our boys could ever be normal happy kids with all they've gone through."
"Well, I don't know about normal," joked Buck, "but they're happy, Chris. Despite the bumps along the way, they're happy."
Chris nodded, then winced as the back door slammed closed.
JD tromped into the kitchen with his arms crossed, lower lip sticking out, pouting.
"What's wrong Little Bit?" asked Buck.
"It's boring, boring, boring," declared JD.
"What's boring?" asked Buck. "I thought you and Vin were going to play in the meadow."
"We was, Da. But he's just sitting up there on a rock."
"Is his arm hurting?" asked Chris.
"Nope. He wanted to play the quiet game that we do at school. But I don't like the quiet game."
"What's the quiet game, Little Bit?" prodded Buck with a grin. He could pretty much guess that anything associated with the word "quiet" was not something JD would enjoy.
JD unfolded his arms and climbed up on Buck's lap. "You has to be real real quiet. So quiet that nobody can hears ya. It's kinda neat sometimes cuz you can hear the birds and the rain and everything. But I wanted to yell cuz the meadow is the only place we can yell real loud and nobody says nothin'."
Chris smiled. Two normal little boys, with very different personalities.
"Will you play with me Buck?" JD asked.
"Sure," said Buck with a grin.
"You wanna play too, Chris?" asked JD.
"In a bit, JD," said Chris as he stood. "I think I'm going to go up and play with Vin for a while."
JD rolled his eyes. "But Vin's playing boring! He's just sitting there listening to the wind. He says it makes a song, but all I heared is wooshhhh."
Chris chuckled as JD let out a squeal. Buck swung the boy upside down and tickled him in earnest. As it turned into a full blown tickle fest, Chris went out the back door and made his way up the hill to the meadow listening to laughter ringing through the house.
Vin liked being quiet. He liked yelling sometimes too, but he didn't do that very often.
He felt so good inside right now. He had Chris as his dad and he had JD and Buck and all his Uncles. He had Miz Nettie and Mrs. Potter and Peso and Torkus and Ringo and Elvis and Cat. Even thinking about Mrs. Rouquette and Mr. Beidler made him feel good inside, though some parts of school were hard. The hard parts didn't seem so bad because he was happy.
Vin listened to the wind blow. He watched the tall grass ripple one direction and then another. He stood up and swayed the same direction as the grass, feeling the wind blow on his face. He giggled as the breeze changed directions and he tried to keep up. A thistle seed blew past him and he gave chase, running and jumping through the grass in the open meadow. He caught the seed in his left hand, careful not to crush the white fluff that carried it on the breeze. He held it up high and let the wind lift it across the meadow on its journey to some far away place.
Vin pretended that he could fly too. He let the wind 'blow' him around the meadow, laughing and twirling happily.
He had no idea that his dad stood at the tree line bordering the open field watching him play. He spun in circles, arms raised in the air, giggling at the freedom. The cast made his dance a bit awkward, but it didn't dampen his spirit.
Eventually dizziness dropped him to his knees, still laughing. When the world stopped spinning around him, he spotted Chris watching him. Without hesitation, he stood up and held out his hand in invitation.
Chris walked to the middle of the field. He couldn't help but smile at the huge grin on Vin's face.
Vin grabbed his right hand firmly, and then carefully curled the fingers on his casted hand around Chris' left.
"C'mon," Vin encouraged. "I'm dancing with the wind."
Chris' eyes misted as he joined his son, turning in circles like a two child game of ring around the rosy, holding hands and moving as fast as they could, loving that Vin was so openly happy. He didn't take time to stop and question how it would look for a big, tough ATF agent hardened by life experience to dance with the wind, because at the moment he wasn't a big, tough ATF agent. He was a dad. A dad who's son finally felt secure enough to step out and play without a care in the world. A dad who's son had given him a new purpose and direction. A dad who now joined his son in celebrating life by dancing with the wind.
Vin's grip slipped with his casted arm, his fingers not strong enough to maintain the grasp. Chris instinctively picked Vin up and let the boy rest on his hip as he twirled him in his own dance.
"Wheeeeeeeee!" Vin squealed, raising both hands as Chris spun him faster and faster and faster.
Chris laughed heartily as he stumbled and they both fell into a breathless giggling heap.
There was no question that Vin and JD, like Chris and even Buck, would still have issues and bumps along the way as pieces of the past came to the forefront. But for now there was nothing better than the sound of laughter from fathers and sons rising from the ranch house and the meadow... dancing with the wind.
Author's note: The writers of "In The Good Ol' Summertime" hope that you've had as much fun reading this series as we have writing it. Vin needs a little time to recuperate, so while his arm is healing there will be a hiatus. Watch for more adventures starting near Halloween when it's time for the purple cast to come off.
In The Good Ol' Summertime (Index)