The next day both boys seemed drained of their usual high energy. Dropping them off at school, Chris gave Jim Bieldler a quick rundown of the night before. His appreciation of the school's teaching staff grew when the man promised to keep an eye on both boys and let him know of any problems they had during the day.
As soon as he got to work he called Dr. Lowery and let him know what was happening. While the therapist was booked, he promised to make time to see Vin on Thursday and would see both boys the following week.
Both Chris and Buck found it difficult to focus on the job that day, which thankfully consisted of planning meanings and paperwork. By three they were both watching the clock. At four their three teammates handed them their coats and pushed them out of the office.
That night they had a 'family meeting' after dinner. With Chris taking the lead, they discussed how things had changed for all four of them since coming together as a family. Slowly the conversation turned to Vin's struggles to accept the changes he was being asked to make. Together the four of them came up with ways he could be JD's 'boss' while reassuring both boys that the adults in their lives would be there to watch over them. They even came up with ways that JD could be the 'boss' at times, letting the youngest member of the household feel some sense of being in charge as well.
They also made plans for the boys to have time apart that weekend. Buck and JD would spend Friday evening and Saturday morning in town, while Vin and Chris would go Saturday afternoon until Sunday morning. Ezra had graciously offered his guest room for their use, and the boys other two uncles had promised to do the same at other times.
After the meeting Chris and Vin cleaned up the boys' room, while Buck and JD played with JD's train set.
Bedtime was routine, although a little quieter than normal. Chris read to the children and then he and Buck tucked them in. The two men, themselves feeling drained, retired a short time later.
Wednesday seemed almost normal for the family. The boys made it through school without serious problems and the men made it through work without driving their co-workers to distraction. Just before they closed up the office to go home, Josiah asked if he could come out for the evening. When Chris and Buck looked at him curiously he simply said that he had something he wanted to share with the boys.
The children were excited to see their "Unca 'Siah" enter the den with their foster fathers, carrying two pizza boxes and a big envelope. The five of them made short work of the pizzas and then their guest asked if they could go into the den. He answered their questioning looks with "I've got something I'd like to share with you."
"What's that, Unca 'Siah?" JD asked as he poked at the envelope with one pudgy little finger.
"Well, I decided to try something new the other night and I wanted to know if maybe you'd help me out with it."
"Jist JD?" Vin asked softly.
"No, all of you actually," the older man's gaze took in not only the boys but the other two men. "See, I wrote a story but I don't know if it's any good. Would you all be willing to listen to it?"
Chris caught the older man's eye, his gaze questioning. He saw the unmistakable promise of 'trust me' in the blue depths. With a smile he said, "sure, we can do that, can't we guys?"
"Sure," Buck agreed. He wasn't certain as to what was going on, but trusted Sanchez.
While Josiah settled on couch with the two boys on either side of him, the two men sat in the recliners. All four looked expectantly at the older man. Opening the envelope he pulled out a thin stack of papers stapled together.
"Okay, this is my story. I call it The Empty Kingdom."
"What's a keengum?" JD asked.
"A Kingdom is like a country, like we live in the country called America."
"JD, yer s'posed t' listen," Vin scolded.
"No, that's okay," Josiah said gently. "Part of figuring things out is having people ask you questions about it. So how about we make a rule that if you don't understand something, or just want to say something about it, you do. Is that okay?"
Getting agreement from the others, Sanchez began to read:
Once upon a time there was a King. He was a brave and noble man who loved the people who lived in his Kingdom very much.
"Unca 'Siah, what's no-ball mean?" JD asked.
"Noble. It means he was a good man and always tried to do the right thing," Sanchez replied.
"Oh," The child replied.
The king loved to be around the people of his Kingdom. He loved to play games with them and to entertain them with stories and poems. He loved to ride his big black horse all around the Kingdom, visiting with all the people.
"A black horse," Vin said, "like Peso 'n' Pony."
"Yeah," JD agreed with a grin.
One day, some very mean trolls came and tried to hurt the people. Being a brave and noble man, the King chased the trolls away and kept the people of his Kingdom safe from harm. The people were very grateful to him and praised him for being a brave and noble man.
Chris and Buck watched both boys at the mention of trolls. JD's eyes grew rounder and Vin seemed to tense, but then he spoke up in a quiet voice.
"He must 'a been brave if he chased th' trolls away."
"Very brave," Sanchez agreed. He reached out and ruffled the thick blond hair.
"Vin's brave like that," JD said, his voice filled with pride as he smiled at his friend. "He keeped me safe when them bad trolls comed to where we used to live."
"Why, you're right, JD." Josiah said, as if the thought had never occurred to him. Turning to the older boy he said, "I guess that makes you like the King, huh?"
Vin giggled shyly and ducked his head.
But the King couldn't help but be worried. Even though the trolls were gone and the people were safe, he was afraid for them. First he taught the people to be safe in case the trolls came back. He was still worried that something would happen to the people. So he started making rules and telling them what to do more and more. He also asked his soldiers to help watch over the others.
"Hey! He is like Vin!" JD cried out. "Vin teached me how to be safe 'fore Chris an' Da comed along.
"He sure did, Little Bit," Buck said with a grin as the precocious child made the connection between the story and their lives.
Now the King wasn't doing all of this because he was mean. He was doing it because he wanted to keep the people safe. But the people didn't see it that way. They were very frustrated because they didn't think the King was much fun any more. He didn't play games with them, or tell them stories and poems. All he did was make rules and tell them what to do.
"He didn't have much fun," Vin observed sadly. Then he slid from the couch and moved over to stand beside Chris' chair.
Larabee could see the growing discomfort in the little face. Without a word he reached out and Vin climbed into his lap. Wrapping his arms around the tiny body he looked toward Josiah.
His deep voice catching the seven-year-old's attention, Sanchez said, "Vin? I'd really like to know if there's something you don't like about my story."
After a moment's hesitation, the little boy said, "ain't th' story, Unca 'Siah. I was jist thinkin'."
When the little blond didn't offer anything more in explanation the storyteller continued his tale.
The King was still worried. Sometimes he had nightmares that the trolls had come back and that they hurt his people. He couldn't even let himself trust the soldiers to do their job. He came to believe that he was the only one who could keep the people safe. So all he did, day and night, was ride around his Kingdom. He made certain that all of the people followed his rules all of the time and if they didn't he got angry.
"Why didn't he trust the soldiers, Unca' 'Siah?" JD asked. "Couldn't they do a good job?"
"Well," the silver-haired agent said thoughtfully, "some people just worry that if they don't do something themselves that it won't be done right."
"Oh. Did he holler when he got angry?"
"Well, I'm not certain. Do you think he hollered?"
Heaving a deep sigh, Vin entered the conversation. "Maybe, but I bet he didn't mean it."
The people became tired of having to follow the King's rules all the time. They thought that some of the rules were silly and didn't want to follow them. But the King got angry any time they didn't follow all of the rules and he yelled at the people. When they tried to do things any other way, he would yell and be very angry and force them to follow his rules again.
"He shouldn't yell at 'em 'cause they didn't mind him," JD said softly. He moved closer to his uncle, leaning against him.
Sanchez put an arm around the tiny boy and continued his story.
Pretty soon the people were sad and the King was always angry.
When some of the people couldn't stand it any longer they packed up and moved out of the Kingdom. Even though they loved their home, and still loved their King, they couldn't take all those rules.
"But they shouldn't a left!" Vin protested.
"Why not, Pard?" Chris asked.
"Cause he was jist tryin' to be 'sponsible!"
"He was just doing his job?" Chris repeated the words his son had cried out in protest.
Vin's head snapped up and he stared into the blonde's face. "Yeah," he said softly.
Larabee leaned down and kissed the little boy's forehead. "Yes, he was being responsible."
After a while the King noticed that some of the people had moved away. That made him sad, and he worried that the people would get hurt or even attacked by trolls if they left the Kingdom. He started making more and more rules. He even made a rule that said that the people couldn't leave his Kingdom.
That made the people angry and the rest of them left the Kingdom.
"Unca 'Siah," JD said softly. "If you get angry with someone, do you gots to leave 'em?"
"No, you don't have to leave someone because you get angry with them. Do you know what compromise means?" When the five-year-old shook his head, he explained. "It means that you talk about why you're angry with the other person. Then you figure out how to change things so that both of you are happy."
"Comp'mize sounds like a good thing," Vin said. He spoke so softly that only his foster father could hear him.
Chris didn't comment, sensing that the child needed to continue processing things. Instead he simply hugged the little body closer.
So one morning the King woke up and found himself all alone. There was no one left to protect and no one left to make rules for. He was very lonely and sad.
He had forgotten how to do all of the things he used to do. He had no one to play with or tell stories and poems with. All he had was an empty castle that sat in the middle of an empty Kingdom. He was all alone and very sad.
"I feel sorry for the King," JD sad in a sad tone. "I wish "
"What do you wish, Little Bit," Buck encouraged.
"I wish that I could be there. I'd play with him."
"I think that would be a really nice thing."
After sitting alone for a while, he decided that he had to find a way to make his people come home. He saddled up his horse and rode out of his Kingdom, searching for his people. But they hid from him so that he couldn't make them come back.
"Where'd they hide?" The little brunet asked.
"Oh, lots of places, I'm sure," Josiah replied.
"They hided 'cause they didn't wanna go back with him," Vin said. "They must 'a hated him.
"No, I don't think so," Chris said. "I think they still loved him. They just didn't know how to tell him that they didn't like him bossing them around anymore."
"But he was jist doin' his job," Vin disagreed.
"Maybe they didn't think he was doing his job," Buck suggested. "Sounds to me like he thought he had to do everyone's job."
"But he was only tryin' to be 'sponsible." The seven-year-old curled up in his father's arms, his expression growing serious.
The three adults exchanged looks, Josiah pausing in his narrative to let the boys process the thoughts the story was bringing up.
Finally the King met up with a very wise man. The wise man asked him why he looked so sad and yet so angry. The King told him what had happened, and that he was trying to find his people.
The wise man was very wise indeed. He told the King that his people were all around him, but that they were hiding from him. That made the King angrier. He started yelling at the people, trying to make them come out of hiding. They wouldn't though. Then the King became sad. He asked the wise man what he could do to get the people to come back to his Kingdom.
"He shouldn't yell," Vin said.
"Why not?" Chris asked.
"Cause people don't like t' be yelled at."
"Yeah, if I was the King I'd talk real nice and say please come home," JD added.
"Do you think that would work?" Buck asked.
"Maybe," the smaller boy shrugged his shoulders. "I know that when Da yells I don't wanna listen, but if he talks normal it ain't so " He frowned as he tried to find the word.
"Scary," Vin finished for him.
"Scary?" Chris prompted.
Nodding, the seven-year-old said, "It's scary when growed ups yell."
The two foster fathers exchanged guilty looks. They didn't raise their voices to the children often, but evidently they had often enough.
"Maybe we should have a 'yell jar' to go along with the 'swear jar'," Buck suggested.
Nodding, Larabee said, "We're sorry if we ever scared you boys by yelling. We'll work on that, okay?"
The children nodded then Vin looked over at his little friend. "I'm sorry I yelled at you th' other day, JD."
"It's okay," little Dunne said. Then with a mischievous grin he said, "You ain't as scary as Da is."
The tension that had been growing in the room dissipated as everyone laughed.
"You need to stop worrying about the trolls."
"Who said that, Unca 'Siah?"
"The wise man."
"But what if they come back?"
"Can't your soldiers protect your Kingdom?"
"Yes, they are very good soldiers."
"Then you need to let them do their job."
The King thought about this for a while. Then he said, "But what should I do?"
The wise man looked around. He spotted a little girl that was one of the King's people. He motioned the child forward. Very slowly she came over and looked shyly up at the King and the wise man.
"Don't be afraid, child," the wise man said. "I need you to tell the King what it is that you like about him."
"Could her name be Josephine?"
"I think that would be a nice name," Sanchez said fondly.
In a timid voice the little girl said, "I I liked it when you played games with us. I liked it when you told us stories. One time you made up a poem about me and my mama. That made me very happy and my mama cried because she liked the poem so much."
"But don't you like it that I protected you from the trolls?"
"Yes but the trolls are gone, sir, and you have soldiers to protect us if they come back."
Frowning, the King said, "but what should I do?"
Hiding behind the wise man, the little girl said softly, "play games with us again. Tell us more stories and poems. That is what would make us happy."
"Would everyone come back to my Kingdom if I did?"
And that is exactly what happened. The King trusted his soldiers to protect the people. He spent his days visiting his people; playing games and telling them stories and poems.
Josiah laid the papers aside, looking around the room. His gaze settled on the thin little blond who sat curled up in the protective embrace of his father. "So, what do you all think about my story?"
"I liked it but it was kind 'a sad," JD said. "The King was sad an' th' peoples all leaved their homes. It was a good thing that that other guy and Josephine talked to the King. I hope they lived happ'ly ever after."
Giving the little boy a hug, Josiah said, "I do to, JD."
"How about you Vin?" Chris asked.
The boy shrugged, his gaze not focused on anything or anyone in the room.
"What do you think about the King?" The author asked.
"I liked him but he should 'a lighted up," JD said sagely.
"Lighted up?" Buck asked with a confused expression.
"Yeah, you know. Whenever Chris gets angry 'bout stuff and gets grouchy, you say he needs to lighted up."
With a chuckle, Buck dodged the blonde's glare as he said, "lighten up. And I think you're right Little Bit. He should have lightened up."
"Any idea what he could have done to lighten up?" Sanchez asked.
"He should 'a tried to do that thing comp comp "
"Compromise?" Chris suggested.
"Yeah!" Vin's frown lessened and he shifted around to sit up on Larabee's lap. Looking at the older man he said, "If he'd 'a talked to th' people, 'stead 'a hollerin' at 'em all th' time maybe they wouldn't a got so mad at 'im."
Josiah's face split in a wide grin. "You got it, Vin. That's just what I want people to say when they read my story."
It's just me, Vin. JD and Buck left while ago and Chris is fixing me and him dinner. I didn't know if I wanted to talk to you this week and Dad said that was okay. But I wanted to tell about the story that Uncle Josiah told us.
He told us a story about how this King guy got angry when folks didn't do what he said. He was just trying to be responsible but he made too many rules and he didn't listen to what any body else wanted to do. He made the people so mad that they all moved a way and he was all by himself and then he was sad.
Uncle Josiah told us a word and Dad's been helping me learn to say it. It's com pro mise. Compromise. I like that word, even though it's hard to say because it's so long. It means that you talk about stuff and figure out how things can work so nobody gets mad. Dad says that it takes a lot of work to com pro mise, but that it's worth it. He says that he, JD, Buck and I can practice it and that maybe we'll all get good at it.
????? Then after he said that, Buck said that Chris needs lots of practice and Chris threw the dishtowel at Buck. Oh, I forgot to say that we were cleaning up after dinner.
Anyway, about Uncle Josiah's story. He gave me and JD each a copy of it with spaces for us to make pictures. We're gonna make our pictures in the book on Sunday. Dad says we can put them in folders so the stories and our pictures will stay nice. He says he'll make copies of them, too, to put in our big book. But he says that he'd like us to have our books, too. Then sometimes we can read them together.
I liked the story, but it made me have sad feelings, too. I went to see Dr. Will and I told him about all the sad and mad feelings that have been making me feel bad. Then I told him about how Uncle Josiah's story made me have some of those feelings, too. He said that maybe I eye dent if eyed with the King. He said that means that maybe I did some things like the King. That made me remember that JD said the King was like me.
That made me scared and I started crying so much that Dr. Will asked Dad to come into the play room. Dad helped me talk about how scared I got when JD wouldn't listen to me because I didn't know how to not be his boss.
So Dr. Will said that we're going to talk some more about that. He said that he's going to help me find some other things to do so I won't feel like I have to tell JD what to do all the time.
I don't want to be like the King ???? I don't want everybody to go away ???? then I would be all alone ????
Vin? Hey buddy, what's wrong? Why are you crying?
Oh, you've been talking to the computer about the week.
It's okay Cowboy, come here.
Author's note: Sorry this one doesn't have a happy ending but rest assured, Vin is going to work on things with the help of Chris and the rest of the people who love him.
In the meantime, he and JD would like to share the illustrations they created for their copies of Uncle Josiah's story.
Next: Always Be Mine
Things We Learned (Index)