Five more minutes, boys. Then I want that computer off, your bodies in bed and to hear you snoring.
Okay, Da. What are we going to tell this week, Vin? Can we tell about going to Doctor Will's office and Valentine's Day, and the card I gave Freddy? Or how about the wedding? Should we talk about that?
JD, you're going to use up all our time before we tell anything.
Okay. Can I go first?
Go ahead. But hurry. We only got five minutes.
After the emotionally draining week they had just come through, no one was surprised to find either of the boys being moodier than normal. Vin's insecurity was palpable which in turn made JD less secure. The dark haired boy depended on Vin's cues more than anyone realized.
Neither boy wanted to go to school Monday morning, but after a day back in their normal routine things seemed to be smoothing out a bit.
The boys played together enjoying the normalcy of childhood and creating their own make-believe world. And for the most part, things went well, at least until Vin fell into his old role of telling JD what to do, and JD protested. The games stuttered, sometimes coming to a halt when Vin was too tired emotionally to deal with change or compromise.
Tuesday afternoon both boys went to visit Doctor Will Lowery as scheduled from the previous week. Buck and Chris both took personal leave time to be present for the appointment and were now waiting in the observation room with Doctor Will watching their boys.
Buck shook his head at the difference between the boys' personalities, which seemed even more pronounced than usual. Vin played quietly with some matchbox cars in a corner, while JD flitted from activity to activity taking in the entire room.
"JD, yer s'posed to put things back before you get other stuff out," Vin instructed as he watched JD pull out the color books and crayons.
"Nuh-uh," said JD. "Doctor Will said I could play with anything I want."
"You can't make a mess "
"I'm jist playing!"
Vin was not aware that Doctor Will was watching him from the observation room with Buck and Chris.
Chris winced, seeing the frustration building in his son. He could see the tense posture and the rapid breathing.
"Just pick them up," whispered Buck, hoping that JD would pick up the toys and help prevent the coming explosion.
"It's all right," said Doctor Will, still focused on the boys.
Vin's fists were balled tightly. JD was supposed to do what he said. No Wait a minute
"I'm jist playing!"
JD's words penetrated through the frustration. Chris had said if it was a matter of JD's safety, then it was okay to tell JD what to do. But JD wouldn't get hurt by leaving the toys out. He'd just have to clean them up later. Slowly Vin's posture relaxed. JD might get in trouble, but it wasn't a kind of trouble that would hurt him and he'd be okay.
"You'll have to pick them up later," said Vin.
JD shrugged. He didn't care. It didn't matter as long as he could play now.
Vin went back to playing with the cars as JD abandoned the coloring books for some legos.
Both boys looked up as Doctor Will entered the room.
Vin looked at him guiltily. The room was a mess.
"It looks like you boys are having fun," said Doctor Will, relieving Vin's tension by not saying anything about the room.
"Yup! You have lots of fun toys," said JD.
Doctor Lowery encouraged the boys to continue playing as he gradually began to guide the conversation. Having worked with both boys frequently, it didn't surprise him that when they played that Vin appeared to be oblivious to JD, totally focused on his task, but when JD would volunteer something in answer to Doctor Will's questions Vin would tense or sneak a glance over at the two. He was never comfortable with JD volunteering too much information.
"What do you think about that, Vin?" asked Doctor Lowery, trying to draw Vin into conversation about JD's latest comment.
Vin shrugged. Another normal response for the quiet boy.
"Why don't we all sit at the table for a few minutes," Doctor Will suggested.
Vin put all his cars back into their proper places before moving to the table. JD dropped his toys where they fell and scrambled to the table.
Doctor Will spread some pictures on the table and let the boys go through them. He asked the boys to pick a picture that told a story about last week. He moved over to a chair across the room and told them to show him the pictures when they were ready.
Vin hesitated, but then in his methodical way, he thumbed through the pages. He had only gone through 4 papers before he chose his picture. He studied the picture for a few minutes before he took it to Doctor Will and showed it to him.
Chris smiled in the observation room. Vin didn't trust easily, but he trusted Doctor Lowery. While he didn't necessarily enjoy talking about things, he knew that Doctor Lowery would help him sort out the feel bad thoughts.
Vin showed Doctor Will a picture of Eeyore the donkey upside down.
"Tell me about the picture, Vin," said Doctor Will.
"Everything was all upside down and mixed up," said Vin quietly.
"Was?" prodded the doctor.
Vin nodded. "See the sunshine? It's not dark anymore."
Chris and Buck smiled in the observation room. It was definitely progress. Vin didn't say it wasn't upside down or mixed up anymore, but that there was light.
"How do you suppose Eeyore ended up this way?" asked the therapist.
Vin chewed on his lip for a moment.
"There was a really bad wind and it blowed him upside down."
"That must have been scary."
"What do you suppose Eeyore can do when he's upside down?" asked Doctor Will.
"He can't eat," volunteered JD from the table as he looked at pictures. "If he spills, it would go up his nose."
Vin snorted and grinned.
Doctor Will smiled, too. "That's true, JD. What do you think, Vin? Can he see upside down?"
Vin nodded. "But things look funny. He gets a headache."
"So he doesn't want to stay upside down?"
"How can he get right side up?" asked Doctor Will.
"He could just fall over," said Vin. "But he doesn't want to do that."
"Because he doesn't. See? See, his hooves are holding him up?"
Buck squeezed Chris' shoulder in reassurance as they watched Vin struggle to express himself. It was amazing how much a simple picture could draw out of him. Clearly he felt upside down, but he didn't want to give up.
"Maybe the wind could blow really hard again and he'd just flip over," said JD as he gathered up the pictures he chose.
"NO!" said Vin firmly.
"Why not?" asked Doctor Will.
"It just can't!" said Vin angrily. He didn't want all the turmoil of the past weeks to continue. He didn't like feeling all mixed up and angry and scared.
"Okay," Doctor Will soothed, "So what else can he do? Hmm. It's sunny outside. You know, it almost looks to me like he's standing on his head."
Vin looked at the picture again. "Hey, yeah! It does."
"Do you ever stand on your head?" asked the doctor.
"Only when Buck holds me upside down," said Vin with a grin.
In the observation room, Chris elbowed Buck and Buck shushed him.
"So how do you get down when you're standing on your head?"
"Somersault! He can do a somersault," said Vin. "He can just roll right over and get up."
"That's a great idea, Vin," said Doctor Lowery with a smile. He could see the hope in Vin's eyes. Vin was definitely seeing that he could get through this struggle.
"I gots mine!" said JD running over to the doctor with a pile of pictures.
"Good, JD," said Doctor Will. "Vin, do you have anything else to add to your story?"
Vin chewed on his lip as he looked at the picture. He was still thinking about Eeyore doing a somersault. He shook his head indicating he couldn't think of anything else.
"Do you want to color your picture?"
Vin nodded and moved back to the little table as JD climbed up on Doctor Will's lap. He sat down and started coloring, still thinking about somersaults.
"Well, show me your pictures, JD," said Doctor Will.
"This one is me and Buck." JD offered a picture. "See? Tigger's holding Piglet. We's dancing and laughing."
"You look very happy," commented the doctor.
"Yeah," said JD. "Buck loves me lots and lots."
JD shuffled the papers to show the next picture.
"This one is Vin," said JD, holding up a picture of Eeyore.
"See? He's real sad."
"How does Piglet feel when Eeyore is sad?"
JD took a deep breath. "It makes me sad when Vin is sad, cuz I want him to be happy and play with me and Elvis and Ringo and Buck and Chris, when they has time to play with us and I want him to go outsides with me and play in the snow, and I want him to help me with Milagro. Milagro's my new horse. Did you know I have a horse now? We 'dopted him. He was real sick because somebody was real mean to him, but he's all better now. We used the swear jar money and had a bake sale and buyed a vest for Zeus. He's a police dog. And then Buck and Unca 'Ziah bringed Milagro home. Did you know Milagro means miracle?"
Buck and Chris exchanged grins in the observation room. JD sure didn't need much prodding to talk.
"It sounds like Milagro is very special," said Doctor Lowery.
"Yep," JD agreed. "Oh, this one is Chris," he said showing a picture of Winnie the Pooh in the rain.
"He was sad a long time before me and Vin came to his house," JD added. "Did you know that Mrs. Chris and their little boy are dreaming with angels like my Mama?"
Doctor will nodded.
"Okay. And this one is when I tell Chris that Vin is sad."
"What happens when Piglet tell Pooh that Eeyore is sad?"
"Chris goes and hugs him and tells him it's okay. Just like Buck does for me. And sometimes Chris tells me it's okay too and sometimes Buck tells Vin."
JD turned his attention back to his pictures. "I like this one bestest."
"What is it?" asked Doctor Will.
JD showed him a picture of Eeyore being hugged by Piglet, Pooh and Tigger.
"See? We's all hugging and Vin's smiling. Buck loves me and Vin, and Chris loves me and Vin, and I loves Buck and Chris and Vin, and Vin loves Buck and Chris and me. And we all loves Unca Ezra and Unca Siah and Unca Nathan and Aunt Rain, but they're not in the picture."
"I see. Those are wonderful pictures, JD. Would you like to take them home to color?"
JD nodded eagerly. "Is it time to go home now? We get to go to McDonalds and have Happy Meals on the way home. And we get to play with the toys."
Doctor Will smiled. "It's just about time. I'll go find Buck and Chris. You wait for us here."
"Okay! Hey, Vin. It's time to go to 'donalds."
Chris watched JD and Vin play in Play Land, while he and Buck finished their own meals. He turned to share a relaxed look with Buck. "Vin seems okay." The words were half statement, half request for reassurance.
"Yeah," Buck agreed, his expression doing the reassurance. He looked back down at the pile of pictures JD has insisted on bringing in. Picking up the one of Tigger holding Piglet, he looked confused. "Hey Chris, when did Piglet get a big tail?"
Chris took the picture giving it a closer look. Adam had loved Winnie the Pooh so he was more familiar with the characters than Buck. "That isn't Piglet, it's Roo."
"Kind of messes up JD's whole explanation doesn't it?" Buck took the picture back to look at it. "Think Doctor Lowery knew?"
"I'm sure he did," Chris smiled. "But why ruin a good thing with details?"
The two men laughed companionably.
JD came running out of Play Land, and raced to the table in his stocking feet. His hair, damp with sweat, was plastered to his forehead from the effort of playing. He slid to a stop with a big grin, snatched one of Buck's French fries and ate it. He grabbed his cup and gulped down some soda, smacking his lips loudly when he finished. He let out a burp and giggled.
"'Scuse me," he added with a grin.
"Having fun?" asked Buck with a smile and a shake of his head.
"Where's Vin?" asked Chris, looking at the play area trying to see his son.
"He's hiding under the balls," said JD, snatching another French fry.
"What's he doing hiding under the balls?" asked Buck.
"Waiting to s'prise me," JD giggled impishly.
"So what are you doing out here?" Buck continued, grinning.
"S'prising him," said JD with a snort.
Chris and Buck laughed with him.
Moments later a blond head popped up from under the sea of balls, searching for his victim. When he finally spotted JD sitting with Buck and Chris, he rolled his eyes and laughed. Vin climbed out of the pool of balls and ran back to the table to join his family.
"I gotcha, Vin!" declared JD.
Vin grinned and scooted up on the bench next to Chris. "Yeah, you did," he replied. He peeked at Chris before snaking his hand across the table to snatch a French fry.
"Hey!" Chris growled playfully.
Vin and JD giggled, then Vin stuffed the whole fry into his mouth so Chris couldn't get it back. Chris ruffled his damp hair while Vin chewed and swallowed.
"Hey!" he complained back at Chris for messing up his hair.
Chris laughed and took the last sip of his soda.
"Well, I think we should head on home," he said.
"Aww!" both boys groaned at the same time.
"Jist five more minutes?" pleaded JD.
"Nope," said Buck. "You had just five more minutes two 'five minutes' ago. Besides, I think Peso and Milagro and Elvis and Ringo might be getting hungry."
"And it's Torkus day," said JD, referring to their twice weekly assignment to check on their hibernating tortoise for signs of waking.
"That's right," said Buck. "Time to check up on Torkus, so we'd better get moving. Go get your shoes."
The two boys raced to reclaim their shoes and try to get them on and tied before their dads could collect the garbage and get to the garbage can.
Chris and Buck moved extra slowly, picking up one wrapper or napkin at a time to give the boys a chance to win.
When the boys jumped up from putting on their shoes, the two men raced them to the garbage cans by the main doors, creating a ruckus in the restaurant.
"We winned!" JD squealed as the boys reached the garbage can first.
Vin smiled broadly and Buck and Chris bemoaned losing. He pushed open the flap on the garbage can so Chris and Buck could deposit the trash.
Buck whooped and scooped up JD, hanging him upside down over his shoulder.
Chris raised his eyebrows in question. Vin gave a nod, and Chris scooped him up as well as the foursome made their way out of the restaurant, laughing.
Wednesday evening Chris and Buck assigned the boys to prepare their Valentine's cards. Friday the boys would have a Valentine's Day party at school and the children were to bring valentines for each of their classmates. Buck and Chris didn't want the boys waiting until the last moment, so they had assigned them to complete the cards before dinner.
Vin sat at the dining room table with a box of valentines in front of him, staring off into space.
JD sat across the table sorting out the cartoon character valentines one by one deciding which card would be for which classmate. Valentine's Day was exciting to him. They'd have a party at school and get candy and cookies and cards from everyone. He'd already made a special card for Joey at school last week.
The only thing he didn't like about Valentine's Day was that he had to give a card to everyone. He didn't want to give a card to Freddy Chaney, especially since Freddy had made them get lost and get in trouble at the Museum on the school field trip. JD still thought Freddy was mean and smelly, because Freddy still said not nice things about Joey. He didn't deserve a card, but Mrs. Roquette said they were supposed to give everyone a card.
With all of his cards spread on the table, JD started giggling. He knew exactly which card he'd choose for Freddy.
"Vin, look!" He picked up the card and waved it at Vin who was showing very little interest.
"Vin, look!" he repeated.
Vin finally looked at the card that JD held up. "What?"
"I'm giving this one to Freddy," JD said with a snicker.
Vin smirked. JD was giving Freddy a card with a picture of Pepe LePue, the cartoon skunk. A stinker for a stinker.
JD took the card and wrote his name on the back, put it in an envelope and wrote Freddy on the front of the envelope. Then he placed a checkmark on the page by Freddy's name.
"Which one do you want, Vin?" JD asked.
"You don't got to give me one," Vin answered testily. He didn't want anything to do with Valentine's Day. It was supposed to be a fun day but Miz Lottie the cafeteria lady was getting married on Valentine's Day. And she was never ever coming back.
"Yah huh. Mr. B and Mrs. R said we's supposed to give one to ever'body in our class. And you're in our class."
Vin sighed. He didn't really care which card he got. "Which one do you want?" he asked.
"I want Taz!" declared JD.
"Okay, you give me Taz and I'll give you Taz."
"Yeah! Then we'll both have Taz." JD grinned and wrote his name on the back of the card with the picture of the Tasmanian Devil. He placed it in an envelope and wrote Vin's name on the envelope.
Vin wrote his name on his card and put it in an envelope for JD. He made an X on his list next to JD's name. He looked out the window wishing he could go outside and ride Peso. It seemed like forever since they'd been able to go riding.
Valentine's Day was dumb. Snow was dumb. Being stuck inside again was dumb. He got up and walked over to the window, resting a hip on the ledge as he looked out.
He didn't even notice when JD announced he was finished and Buck told him he could go play. He didn't notice Chris come up behind him, until Chris rested his hand on his shoulder.
Vin jerked in surprise. He looked up at his Dad and then looked guiltily at the unfinished cards on the table.
Chris smiled sympathetically at the look of guilt. Vin obviously had something on his mind and it wasn't completing his valentines.
"You all right?" he asked.
Vin took in a big breath and blew it out slowly. He couldn't tell Chris what was really bothering him. Chris would think it was silly. And he never wanted Chris to think he was silly. But he could tell him part.
"Did you ever just want to go run and run and run and run? Or maybe ride Pony as far as he could go?"
Chris nodded as Vin's eyes teared up. "A lot of times. Can you tell me what's on your mind?"
Vin eyed the cards on the table. "How come we gots to do Valentine's Day?"
"We already talked about this, Cowboy."
"I know, but I still don't want to do it. Why can't I just stay home?"
Chris rubbed the back of Vin's neck. He wished he knew what the real issue was.
"Because we can't skip class just because we don't want to do something, right?"
Vin nodded. He knew that.
"And your classmates will still make you cards even if you aren't there."
Vin sighed again. He didn't care if he got any cards at all.
"I'll make a deal with you. You finish those cards," Chris nodded towards the table, "and then you and I, we'll go do something. Okay?"
While Chris didn't believe in bribing the boys, he did understand the closed-in feeling that Vin was experiencing right now and he had a temporary fix in mind.
Vin nodded and moved back to the table. He picked out one card special, signed it and made an envelope for Joey. The rest of the cards he just turned face down and started scrawling his name. He painstakingly wrote names on all the envelopes and stuffed them one by one, his only grin coming when he saw the one he was putting into Freddy Chaney's envelope. It was Pepe LePue, just like JD's.
Vin checked the last name off the list and looked up at Chris.
"Good job," said Chris. "Now, go get your heavy coat, scarf and gloves and your snow hat. Scoot."
Vin didn't know the plan, but if it was out of the house, he was game. They weren't snowbound, but with snow still on the ground, it was too difficult to go run in the pasture and too dangerous for the horses.
Chris stuck his head into the den where Buck and JD were playing the board game "Chutes and Ladders."
Buck looked up.
"I'm taking Vin for a drive. We'll be gone a couple of hours. We'll bring home pizza for dinner."
"YAY!" shouted JD. "Pizza!"
Buck laughed. "See ya when you get back."
He watched Chris go, knowing that either Chris or Vin, maybe both, needed some space.
Vin asked no questions as he buckled his seatbelt. He didn't care where they were going as long as they were going.
Chris drove down the road and made his way to the highway. Once on the highway, he turned away from town and set the cruise control. The further they went, they less traffic they encountered.
About 15 minutes into the drive Chris spoke.
"Got your hat and scarf on?"
He glanced over at Vin as the boy nodded.
"Good." He reached over and turned the heater on full blast and then opened the truck windows. The air was brisk, but the heat in the truck helped offset the cold.
He glanced at Vin again. The boy leaned his head back against the seat, closed his eyes, and smiled.
Chris smiled, too. He knew the place Vin had just gone. He had gone there many times in his childhood when his dad took him on a drive. In his mind, maybe he was running free in a field with the wind blowing in his face. Or perhaps he was racing on Peso. It didn't matter as long as he was feeling the freedom of the wind rushing in his face.
He drove for another twenty minutes before pulling off the road at a viewpoint. Vin opened his eyes, and Chris saw the momentary disappointment replaced by a wide smile as Vin took in the golden rays of the setting sun. They both got out of the truck and walked over and stood at the railing watching the sun go down.
Chris smiled as he felt Vin's hand snake into his, and he gave it a squeeze.
"Are you gonna have a Valentine's party at your work?" asked JD as he moved his game piece on the game board.
Well, no, Little Bit," Buck answered as he took his turn. "Why?"
"I'se just wond'rin," said JD with an impish grin.
"You were just wondering if you could get more candy?"
JD giggled. He took his turn at the game, and became more serious.
Buck grinned. It was the umpteenth question JD had asked since the game began.
"How come Vin don't want no Valentine's candy? Is it 'cause he's sad about Miz Lottie?"
JD nodded, moving his game piece up a ladder on the game board.
Buck was intrigued. They had long suspected that Miz Lottie was Vin's first childhood crush. Maybe this would shed some light on why Vin was so moody right now.
"Why would Vin be sad about Miz Lottie?"
"Because he likes her lots and she's gettin' married," said JD. "Your turn."
Buck sucked in a breath. Poor Vin. No wonder he was moping around. His first crush was getting married and Vin's broken heart was left behind. Every kid he ever knew had survived at least one crush, and Vin would, too. But it wouldn't be easy. Buck decided he'd clue in Chris after the boys went to bed and they could decide how to deal with the situation.
"Yep. JD told me while we were playing," confirmed Buck.
Chris swore softly, frustrated for Vin's pain and for trying to figure out how to help him through it. He wondered if there ever would be a day when they could take the boys' troubles at face value and not have to wonder what part of their hidden past was coming back to haunt them.
"I'll talk to him," volunteered Buck.
Chris looked at him long and hard. "Are you sure? Might be better coming from me."
"Love," said Buck, dragging out the word, "is my department." He waggled his eyebrows.
Chris smirked. "Still might be better coming from me."
Buck got serious. "I can handle it, Chris. Just gotta sympathize with him, let him know it's okay to hurt, and help him see there'll be other fish in the sea."
"Easier said than done," scoffed Chris.
"Need to try and get a handle on it quickly or we're going to have problems asking them about Nate and Rain."
"I'll talk to him tomorrow after work," said Buck.
"While * I'm * making dinner, I suppose," added Chris.
"We all make our sacrifices," Buck smirked. "Seems fair to me," he added with a laugh.
Chris shook his head wondering if Buck would still think so tomorrow.
Chris smiled at the often-heard question. "I'm making dinner. Do you want to help?" Chris was making dinner while Buck was having his 'talk' with Vin about love and Miz Lottie.
"Yeah!" said JD enthusiastically, bouncing and clapping.
Chris nodded to the low stool the boys often used to help in the kitchen. "Grab the stool and you can mix up the salad." Chris had no doubt that JD's "help" would slow down the dinner making process, as well as make a big mess of things, but he also remembered the pleasure of helping his dad and made it a point to make sure the boys had the same opportunity.
"'Kay. I'll do a good job," said JD.
Chris cringed at the squawk of the feet of the stool dragging on the floor. He watched JD climb up on the stool and reach for the large serving spoons for the salad. He put the spoons in the green salad and started tossing.
JD was being very careful. He wanted to make Chris proud of him. He didn't get to help too often because Vin usually helped, but Buck said Vin was busy with homework right now.
It wasn't as easy as it looked to try to mix up the lettuce and tomatoes and shredded carrots. The spoons were awkward and the bowl didn't seem big enough to hold it all. Despite being careful some of the salad landed on the counter.
Chris heard the gasp and glanced over. He wasn't worried about it. He knew that some of the salad would end up on the counter. What he wasn't prepared for was the look of horror on JD's face.
"It's okay," he assured quickly. "Everybody spills sometime."
He could see the lower lip trembling and the eyes starting to fill with tears.
"Here," he said, carefully dragging the stool with JD atop a few more inches to the left so JD could reach the sink. "Let's wash it off."
Chris turned on the water and picked up a lettuce leaf. He held it under the water and washed it.
JD still hesitated.
"It's okay," Chris assured again, kissing the dark-haired boy atop his head. "Just rinse it off."
JD picked up a lettuce leaf and washed it like Chris had done. "Like this?"
JD smiled slightly. He picked up the other pieces and rinsed them off and put them back in the salad. He turned off the water and looked at Chris, certain that Chris wouldn't want him to help any more.
"Will you get the bread out for me?"
The five-year-old's face lit up. He hopped down off the stool and ran to the bread drawer to get the bread.
"The brown kind or the fat kind?"
"The fat kind," said Chris, grinning at JD's description of thickly sliced French bread.
JD hurried back to Chris and slapped the loaf of French bread on the counter. "Do you want the yummy butter?" he asked.
Chris smiled. "What would you like?"
JD's eyes twinkled as he hurried to the refrigerator and found the spread that said 'g-a-r-l-i-c' on the tub.
"Will you butter it for me?" asked Chris.
"I'm not s'posed to use the knife," said JD.
"That's right," agreed Chris. He moved to the drawer and pulled out a small spreader. "Try it with this."
JD took the spreader and dipped it into the garlic spread.
"Do you want some paper towels?" asked Chris. "I always get it all over when I try to butter the bread."
JD nodded in relief. If even Chris was messy when he buttered the bread, it was okay if he got some on the counter.
He spread the garlic on five pieces of bread before he asked, "How many should I do?"
"Are you hungry?" asked Chris, knowing exactly what the answer would be. JD was always hungry, especially when they were having spaghetti and garlic bread.
"Then let's have two pieces for each of us," said Chris.
"So " JD paused as he worked out the math. "Eight!"
"Yep," said Chris.
Shortly, JD announced the bread was ready. Chris allowed him to place it on the baking sheet to toast it.
"Great work, JD," praised Chris. "Why don't you go wash up, and then tell Buck and Vin that it's time to eat?"
"Okay!" chirped JD happily. He had helped Chris and Chris liked what he had done. "Be right back."
Chris smiled and put the tray in the oven to toast the bread.