I get back from my ride just in time to peak through the door and see the disturbing image of Vin getting sick all over my carpet again. And that disturbing image leads to another . . . Vin lying crumpled in the corner, sick and gasping for air. Or how about the image of Vin lying unmoving on the wet, dirty floor of a rundown tavern?

I want nothing more than to run away again, back to the barn and my horse and the open field. But I can’t turn away as I watch the scene play out before me. Vin is mumbling "I’m sorry," over and over, and I don’t think any of us really know why. Nathan’s trying to coax him through it, while Ezra runs for a washcloth, and then Josiah stumbles out of the bedroom. He takes one look at Vin, and apparently without thinking at all, he reaches down and scoops him up and carries him to the bedroom.

Vin’s like a rag doll in his arms; limp and now silent, and I can’t believe how much it aches inside that he doesn’t even try to protest. Come on, Vin, fight back. Remind us that you’re a grown man and that you don’t need us fussing over you.

Then again, why should he? We don’t listen anyway. Buck’s right, we haven’t listened to him since this whole thing started.

I don’t know how I got into the house and down the hall, but somehow, I’m right behind Josiah. I pull down the covers on the bed so he can set Vin down. It’s amazing how gentle a big man like Josiah can be. He’s easily the strongest of us all – the strongest man I know, but he cradles Vin and lays him down like he’s as fragile as spun glass.

And right now, I suppose he is. Vin hardly moves; he just curls onto his good side and closes his eyes. He’s got on those old baggy sweats, the same ones he’s worn since he was hurt. They’re comfortable for him, I suppose, and probably the only pants that won’t slide off him right now.

I reach down and pull the blanket up over him since I know he’ll get cold, and I notice he’s wearing one of my old Rolling Stones t-shirts. Funny, I didn’t realize it earlier.

It’s not important, really – I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just that my mind wanders back to that day when I gave it to him. He’d come over to help me paint my kitchen, and I told him to grab an old shirt of mine. He was like a little kid when he found that one in my drawer. I’d introduced him to the wonders of classic rock months before, and he was practically giddy at the treasures he found in my dresser.

He never would paint in that shirt.

It must be obvious that I’m zoning out, because I feel Josiah’s hand on my shoulder. "Why don’t you get some rest, Chris? We’ll take care of him."

Yeah. I know they will . . . and a whole lot better than I ever did.

It’s only then that I realize Nathan and Ezra have joined us in the room.

"He’ll be alright," Nathan says. "Probably just too much activity and excitement . . . you know, just comin’ home and all."

Josiah, Ezra, and I all nod in time with Nathan. And I can’t help thinking how ridiculous it must look. Four grown men standing around a bed, nodding our heads while we stare at Vin like he’s the eighth wonder of the world.

He would just hate it.

No wonder he wanted to go with Buck.

We all head out to the living room, keeping the door open a crack. I didn’t realize until just this minute how tired I am and how much my head hurts. Nathan must have, though, because before I even have a chance to think on it – he’s there with two pain pills in his open palm.

I take them and sit down and stare at the empty fireplace again . . . and wish it all away.

I must have dozed off, because it’s dark when I wake up. I hear the others talking in the kitchen, and I take my chance to go sit a spell with Vin in private.

I open the door and peak inside. The soft glow of a night light illuminates the room. Nathan must have brought that - the man thinks of everything. I can see that Vin’s in the same position he was when we left earlier. I decide that’s probably a good thing – means he’s resting, I suppose. Just to be sure, I lean in closer and pull the covers up a little higher over his shoulder. He’s like a mole sometimes. I’ve come in here to get him up and found him completely buried under the covers. Strange, for a man who hates being closed in so much. I guess we all have our odd habits.

I head for the old recliner I have sitting in the corner of the room and collapse with a groan. Lord, I am getting old. Vin’s right. He delights in reminding me of that on a regular basis. I wish he’d remind me now. I wish he’d just be him and I’d just be me and we’d just be us again. Now where did that come from? Sounds like something he would say.

The question is - how do we get back to being who we were before this happened? Is it even possible?

I’m deep in thought, when the door creaks open again. Ezra tiptoes inside and he stands next to the bed. I don’t think he even realizes I’m here. I watch as he leans down and does exactly what I did – readjusts the covers. He sighs and he starts to head out, when suddenly he stops and turns back towards where I’m sitting.

Very softly and slowly, he walks towards me. He stops a few feet in front of me and he says in a whisper, "Can we manage it? Can we ever put it behind us?"

It’s so straightforward and simplistic for Ezra, that it stuns me for a moment.

"I don’t know," I say.

He shakes his head and he turns away, but then he turns back to me and whispers again, "I don’t want to be the man I used to be. I need . . . us."

The brutal honesty of his statement nearly takes my breath away, and before I can think of even a remotely appropriate response – he’s gone.

It’s an hour or so later when I awake from my light doze to hear Nathan come in the room. He reaches down and turns on the bedside lamp, then carefully sits on the edge of the bed at Vin’s side.

"Vin?" he says softly, gently shaking his shoulder. "Time to take your meds. I need y’ to wake up now."

I hear Vin moan a little, but if he says anything, it’s too soft for me to hear. After a minute, Nathan says, "Good. That’s good. You go on back to sleep now."

He turns off the light and starts to leave, but then seems to change his mind. I have a hunch where he’s heading next.

"You okay?" he asks as he approaches me.


He shakes his head and starts to turn away, but just like Ezra, he turns back. "I wish I knew how to fix this," he says with a soft, sad sigh.

"I know," I say, because I do know. I am all too painfully aware of exactly how he feels.

"I’d give anything to just . . . to just make it better."

"I know," I say again.

Nathan is such a good man . . . the very best of us all. All he ever wants is for everyone to be well and happy and good; for us to be okay and everything to be right. He just wants to fix it.

But some things can’t be fixed with a pill or a bandage. This time, he’s out of his league and he knows it. He turns away and walks back out the door, and I feel like I’ve let him down, too.

Josiah comes in next and some part of me irrationally hopes the big man will be the one. He’s the profiler, the psych major – if he can’t fix this, who can? Not only that, he’s in regular communication with a higher power. So what if sometimes that communication is less than . . . friendly? So what if he questions God as regularly as I question the bureaucracy that rules my job? Maybe he has the inside track after all. Maybe he knows how to get us back to being us.

I’m sure he knows I’m here, but he doesn’t even glance in my direction. Instead, he actually kneels down on the floor next to the bed so his face is level with Vin’s. I watch in a sort of awe as he reaches out his hand and gently strokes Vin’s hair. He continues to do this for maybe a minute or so, before suddenly bowing his head and heaving a huge sigh.

I know he’s praying. It’s obvious. And I feel guilty about that, too.

I haven’t prayed. Not since this happened. I tried a few times, but I couldn’t quite get it out. It felt wrong. Hypocritical.

That’s not new. God and I have had our differences since . . . since a few years ago. We weren’t always in total agreement even before then. But I guess I was starting to come around some, when the boys and I got together. Vin’s doesn’t say much on the subject, but I get the feeling he and God have the same kind of easy-going relationship that Vin has with everyone who is good and decent.

I just realize that I’ve implied God is good and decent, when Josiah gets back up and heads my way and he says, "God is good, Chris."

Now that’s just plain weird, and he must see the startled look on my face, because he quickly adds, "He gave Vin back to us . . . twice."

Well, even I can’t argue with that, although I suppose the doc with the long name and lousy bedside manner might.

I nod, since words seem to have escaped me tonight, and Josiah continues on, "I imagine it’s up to us to do the rest."

"And did God give you any clues on just what it is we need to do?" I ask him.

He shrugs. "No. But I reckon Vin’s given us a few."

Josiah can talk circles around a subject. He can take thirty minutes to get to a point that can be made in three.

But this time, he nails it in one sentence.


I don’t care.

I don’t care what they say or do.

I’m not gettin’ out of bed. I am not getting out of this bed. My back is damn near killin’ me, but I don’t care. My back gives me trouble anyway - on a good day. Least, I think it does. Been so long since I had a good day, I’m not all that sure.

Chris was here all night. I tried hard t’ lay still; tried t’ just sleep and not make any sound at all. After all, he needs his rest as much as I do. But thank goodness Nathan brought them pills when he did because I was about t’ start groanin’ again, and I sure didn’t want Chris hearin’ that.

I heard everything, of course. I wish I couldn’t hear so well sometimes. They say the hearing is the last t’ go, and I’m tellin’ y’ – with my ears, I’ll be hearin’ a good three days after I’m dead.

That’s one reason I’m not leavin’ this bed . . . not ‘til Buck comes for me. I don’t want t’ hear any more than I have to.

And I don’t want to go lay on that couch for them to watch me out of the corners of their eyes, either. Feels like I’m on display.

So I ain’t gonna do it. Ain’t gettin’ out of this bed.

I just don’t care anymore.

I can’t wish it away or talk it away or pray it away, so it’s best if I don’t care.

Chris keeps comin’ in and checkin’ on me. "You ready to get up, Vin?" he asks. And I say, "No."

And then he frowns, but he doesn’t push. I hate the look in his eyes. I think he’s given up, too. He’d push, otherwise.

Nathan’s tried, too. "You’ll feel better if you get up, Vin," he says.

"Maybe later," I say back. But not now . . . and not later. Ain’t gettin’ up.

Josiah and Ezra pop in together – the old one-two punch, I guess. They use flowery, fancy words t’ try and make me think I’m missin’ somethin’, but I know better.

I know they care about me. I know they want it t’ go away as much as I do. But I don’t know how t’ make it happen. I’m out of ideas.

And I’m just too wore out t’ think on it anymore. It’s best if I just don’t care.

It’s best if I just stay in bed.


"What the hell did you do to him?" Buck hollers at us.

And all four of us stand stupidly silent.

"He’s hibernatin’ in there under all them blankets and he looks worse than he did when he left the hospital. This your idea of takin’ care of him?"

"Now Buck," Nathan starts in.

But he doesn’t get far before Buck admits, "I left him here so you all could get your heads out of your butts and work this out! And now he won’t even get out of bed?"

I wanted to push. I wanted to yank those damn covers off his head and carry his scrawny ass out of that room and I wanted to say that none of us were leaving until we got this all figured out.

Hey, wait a minute – Buck left him here?

I figured as much.

This time Josiah speaks up, "We’re not sure what happened, Buck. He got sick a few hours after we brought him here and I took him to the bed, and he hasn’t gotten up since. He just won’t do it. And you know how stubborn Vin can be."

Buck’s not buying it, I can tell. "Hell, yes, I know how stubborn he can be – which is why it’s so damn scary that’s he’s given up!"

I feel my stomach lurch at his words. It sounds so much more . . . real to have it said out loud. I was thinking it; we were all thinking it. But Buck said it and somehow that makes it all the more true.

Vin’s given up. Could that be my fault, too? Where does it end?

It’s Ezra’s turn. "Gentlemen, we’re not doing our wounded partner any favors by arguing over this, and need I remind you that it is a distinct possibility that he can hear every word that is said. Perhaps we need to stop laying blame and start formulating a plan."

Buck is still hopping mad, even though I think he’s not sure himself exactly why. I guess we’ve all hit our limit of frustration.

"Yeah. We need a plan alright. And here it is. Josiah, you go get yourself rip-roaring drunk for three days and get this the hell out of your system. Ezra, take a trip t’ Vegas and gamble away a fortune. Nate – I suggest you spend a few nights in the back of an ambulance and remember how damn lucky we are that Vin is still with us. And Chris, you . . ."

He stops then and the silence is suffocating. We all know what he was going to say. It’s what he always says and it’s what I always do when life gets messy and I need to get away. I grab a sleeping bag and a bottle and . . . Vin, and we take off on our horses for a day or two.

Buck looks down and he sighs, and then his voice gets quiet again. "We’ll be back here on Thursday for Thanksgiving dinner."

He looks each one of us in the eye then, saving me for last. His message is clear. Get our acts together by then . . . or else.

It takes awhile to get Vin up and out to Buck’s car, mostly because Buck insists he’s walking there. Nathan finally has to go out back – he just can’t stand to watch, I guess.

I can relate to that.

Vin is pale and breathless and so weak that he can hardly put one foot in front of the other. If Josiah and Buck weren’t on each side of him, there’s no doubt he would’ve gone down more than once. But Buck sticks to it, and I can’t tell if Vin is glad or mad . . . or worst of all, indifferent.

He never looks at us. Not once does he look up and meet our eyes. I’m not sure if it’s because it takes all he has to concentrate on walking, or if there’s more to it. I do know that as much as I’m dreading seeing what’s hidden in those soul-deep, blue eyes – I feel this incredible urge to meet them . . . this driving need to just look at Vin for one moment like I used to be able to look at him.

So once he’s in the car, I elbow Josiah aside, and I reach in to help him with the seat belt. He has to look at me then, and at first, he’s puzzled by what I’m doing. I have no idea what I’m doing myself, so it’s not hard to understand his confusion. I press the buckle into place and then, for just a brief moment, I raise my eyes to his.

I can feel myself tearing up, and I can see that he is fighting not to do the same. "I’ll see you in a few days," I manage to mumble.

He nods and says, "Yeah," and I can tell it’s hard for him to even say that much.

What a screwed up mess we are.

And I’ve got three days to figure out how to fix it.


"Now this is the way it’s gonna be, Vin. You tell us when you need us and you tell us when you don’t. JD and I just want t’ help you – but we ain’t mind readers. You got t’ let us know when too much is too much. Y’ got that?"

I nod and look over at JD, who hasn’t managed to look at me yet.

"JD," Buck says, "get yourself over here and speak your peace."

JD’s eyes get even rounder than they normally are, and I kinda want t’ shoot Buck for makin’ it so uncomfortable for the kid – but then, I kinda want t’ thank him, too.

"I’m . . . uh, sorry, Vin. I’m sorry for all that’s happened," JD stammers.

I feel like sayin’ it’s not his fault, but I’ve learned that that don’t work, so I say, "Thanks, Kid," instead.

JD meets my eyes, and I can tell that we both just want the same thing. We both just want us t’ be us and the team t’ be whole again. And I can see that’s he’s willin’ to start with him and me.

He sits down in the chair across from the couch I’m layin’ on, and he says, "So . . . you wanna hear what Buck did last night?"

Buck walks by and bats him on the head, but he’s laughin’ as he heads towards the kitchen.

It seems like an hour later when Buck comes back out t’ tell us dinner is ready. JD’s been talkin’ a blue streak the whole time, and I got to admit I’m gettin’ a little tired, even though I haven’t moved at all.

"He talk your leg off, Vin? Wear you out?" Buck asks with a twinkle in his eye that makes my heart swell. Buck is always Buck, no matter what, and I can’t think of anything finer at the moment.

I shrug. "It’s okay. I’m okay."

"Vin? We talked about this. Can’t read your mind . . . you’ve got t’ tell us when too much is too much."

I laugh a little, and even though it kinda hurts my chest, it’s worth it. "Alright then," I say as I look straight at JD, "maybe it’s a little too much."

I’m so relieved when JD laughs and without thinkin’, he slaps my leg. It’s been so long since any of the guys touched me like I wouldn’t break.

JD smiles at me as he helps me up off the couch . . . this big, real smile - and for the first time in a long time, my smile is real, too.

If only it could be that easy with the rest of ‘em. If only me and Chris could figure it out, I just know the others would fall in line.

Maybe he’ll call. Or maybe he’ll come over, even though Buck told him not to. Hell, Chris never listened to Buck before, why start now? He seemed t’ be listenin’ when I left, though. I never saw Buck take over like that.

I was busy tryin’ t’ keep on my feet and make it the hundred miles t’ the damn car, but I could still tell there was enough tension t’ choke a horse. And I could tell Buck was callin’ the shots.

Maybe it’s best this way, though. Seems like Buck is the only one of us that knows what the hell he’s doin’. He got me and JD back on track.

Still . . . maybe Chris will call.


I call several times a day. Silly, I know. Buck won’t let me talk to him, and from what the others have said, he won’t let them talk to him, either. None of the guys took Buck’s advice – Josiah didn’t get drunk and Ezra didn’t gamble away a fortune and Nathan hasn’t hitched a ride with the paramedics – but I get the feeling they’re all doing a whole lot of thinking. I guess that was what Buck really had in mind, any way . . . for us to do some thinking. Still – he could let us talk to Vin. I thought I was stubborn, but Buck has me beat.

It’s for the best, I suppose. I’ll see Vin tomorrow anyway. I’m mostly just calling Buck now to check on who’s bringing what for dinner.

I really detest Thanksgiving. Even when Sarah and Adam were alive, I thought it was a pretty worthless holiday . . . mostly an excuse for people to eat too much and watch football. I mean, if you’re thankful, really thankful, you should feel it every day.

But this year, it’s providing an excuse for us all to get together, and I can’t imagine there’s another family on earth that needs that more than we do right now.


That’s what we are. And that’s pretty much all I’ve thought about for the last three days.

It was actually Vin who said it first. It was his first birthday with us and we’d planned this surprise celebration dinner. We were going to act like we knew nothing about it – keep it low key because Vin gets embarrassed so easily – but the office secretaries pretty much blew that. They brought him his favorite jelly donut with a candle in the middle and sang to him. I’ll never forget his face. After that, the guys were pretty merciless all day. But that night, after everyone had left except me, he turned to me and he said that he couldn’t remember having a real birthday before . . . and that he’d never had a real family before. From that point on, I started looking at my team in a different light.

I’ve thought about that night a lot these last three days. Yeah, when I close my eyes, I still see Vin sick and pale, but I’m starting to remember there were a hell of a lot of good times, too. I’m starting to remember why he made my life better – why he made me better. And why the two of us, together with Buck and JD and Ezra and Josiah and Nathan, equal a whole lot more than just a team.

Vin was given a second chance at life by that surgeon with too many consonants in his name, and I was given a second chance to have a family.

And I’m not going to blow it. I still haven’t figured out how to fix this, but I’ve figured out that I have to. That’s generally ninety-nine percent of the battle for me. My friends will tell you that once I’ve made up my mind, there’s no turning back.

I’m not turning back and I’m not giving up and neither is Vin. And I’ll prove it . . . if Buck ever lets me near him.


"He’s fine, Chris. Just like he was when you called two hours ago."

I didn’t call two hours ago. It was at least three.

"I just called about dinner tomorrow. Am I supposed to be making the turkey?" I say, hoping I sound annoyed enough for him to believe that’s really why I’m calling.

"Nathan and Rain are making it. You’re on for the potatoes and that yucky green bean stuff that JD loves."

Oh, yeah. I guess I did know that. But I have to admit that I’m selfishly disappointed that Rain is coming. I shouldn’t be. We’re family, after all - it’s just this year . . .

"Rain won’t be there, though – she’s goin’ to her aunt’s," Buck adds, as if he read my mind.

"Oh, fine," I say, and then I just hang there on the phone, which is so totally uncharacteristic of me that it takes us both by surprise.

"Let me talk to him, Buck," I finally spit out, and I realize at just this second that I have to speak to him. I’ll drive over there if I have to, but I have to talk to him.

Buck must sense there’s something different going on, because he finally gives in. I hear him moving and then, "Vin? You up t’ talkin’ to Chris?"

Vin must nod or something, because the next thing I hear is his voice, soft and tentative, "Chris?"

And hopeful . . . there is so much hope in just the way he says my name.

How do I say it? What do I even want to tell him?

Dear God, please tell me what to say.

And then the words are out almost with out my thinking, "We’ll get through this, Vin."

I can hear him take a breath; I can hear him choke back what could almost be a sob, and then he says, "Yeah, we will."

I have to hang up now because I can’t . . . I just can’t talk right now.

But tomorrow, I will. Tomorrow, I’m determined to make Thanksgiving live up to its name.

And then it occurs to me – I prayed.


I’m a prayin’ man myself. Oh, I don’t pray like most people, I reckon. I don’t sit and fold my hands and say, "Okay, I’m gonna pray now." It’s more like, when I’m drivin’ down the street and I see a rainbow peaking through the clouds and I say, "Lord, that surely is a nice sight! Thank you for puttin’ that there for me."

Probably sounds hokey, but that’s how it works for me. It’s the little things . . . like a nurse’s smile when I felt like I just couldn’t take it another minute. Or when JD slapped my leg like I was just me. Or when Chris put that straw in my mouth and I first caught on that root beer was on the other end.

Or when he called and he said, "We’ll get through this." Thank you, Lord.

I’ve never been one to put much store in Thanksgiving Day for just that reason. You should be thankful for them little things every day. But this time, it’s a reason for us to be together, and we need that. I need that – even though I’m scared t’ face ‘em all. Can’t believe I’m so nervous t’ spend time with my family.


That’s what we are, y’ know. I never had a real family before, and I suppose most folks wouldn’t see the seven of us as a real family. But we are. That’s pretty much all I could think on for the last few days. And I ain’t lettin’ it go without a fight. I’ve made up my mind and anyone who knows me at all will tell y’, that’s most of the battle right there. I ain’t turnin’ back.

The ride t’ Chris’s feels longer than usual. I keep my eyes on the landscape, but it’s barren and cold and gray, and it makes the time pass even slower. I can feel my stomach twistin’ up tighter and tighter, until finally, we’re there.

Buck helps me out of the car and we head for the house. I know I’m makin’ progress because I just need t’ lean on his arm as we head for the door. JD runs on ahead and he leaves the door wide open and Buck hollers somethin’ about his manners. I want t’ laugh, but even though I’m some better, I don’t think I’ve reached the point where I can laugh and breathe and walk at the same time. Seems like it’s been a long time since I could do somethin’ so simple.

It’s a long walk t’ Chris’s door, but I’m determined to get there in one trip. It helps when I look up and see him standin’ there in the doorway. He’s wearing black, of course, but at least he’s dressed down for the occasion. He has on black jeans and one of his old t-shirts, Led Zeppelin I’m guessin’, and it makes me smile. When I get closer, I can see that he’s smilin’, too, and then he reaches out and grabs hold of my arm in that way we have.

And I just about go down. God, the relief is just . . . overwhelming. I feel his arm reach around behind me as he grabs me by the waist and holds me up. Buck just grins and he heads inside.

I can hear the guys talkin’ and laughin’ inside, and for some reason, I freeze up. Chris grips me a little tighter and he says in my ear, "It’s just your family, Vin. You can do this."

I swallow and nod. Of course I can do this. I ain’t a coward.

But as he helps me into the room, all of the sudden there’s dead silence, and I’m not sure I can do anything at all.

Except give ‘em a stupid, little, half smile and say, "Hey."

They’re all talkin’ at once then and even though I have the best damn ears on the planet, I can’t make out a single word. The feelin’s are coming through loud and clear, though. They’re happy to see me. They want it to be over, too. Maybe we can get through it after all.

Chris keeps his arm around me as he leads me to the dinin’ room. I guess Buck must’ve brought me at the last minute because everything is on the table already. Chris helps me sit down, and I notice there’s a pillow at my back. That’s embarrassing, but the truth is that it’s hard for me t’ sit up – hurts my back when I lean back and hurts my ribs when I lean forward. So the pillow helps and since I’m determined we’re gettin’ past this, I just smile and say, "Thanks."

Josiah says grace and I guess the words must’ve come back to him because it’s the most awesome prayer I ever heard. He reminds us that sometimes we need t’ be thankful for the big things as well as the little ones – things like livin’ and breathin’ and bein’ together.

They start passin’ the food around then. I take a little bit of everything because I know the guys all did the cookin’ and I don’t want t’ hurt anyone’s feelings. Well, except for the yucky green bean stuff. The table’s so full of food, that I’m gettin’ a little wore out just doin’ the passin’ and I haven’t even taken a bite yet.

I hate feelin’ so weak. I hate that my hands still shake when I’m tired, and I can feel them shakin’ now. And aw hell, here comes that fifty pound bowl of mashed potatoes. Chris got the bowl at some Mexican pottery store, and it must weigh ten pounds by itself. Add in twenty pounds of potatoes and then milk and butter and . . . there ain’t no way I can lift that damn bowl. I can just see it landin’ in my lap and then they’ll all jump up and . . .

Chris is watchin’ me from across the table. He looks at me, and he looks at that big bowl comin’ straight for me, and then he looks at Buck, who’s sittin’ next t’ me. And then Buck drops a spoonful of potatoes on my plate and hands that big bowl right on over to Josiah.

Just like that – without a word.

And then, when my back start’s t’ complainin’ and I know that if I take one more bite I’ll end up decorating Chris’s carpet again, he just looks at me. He gets up and he comes over and he holds out his hand t’ me, and he says, "Vin’s gonna rest a spell."

I wait for the guys to look away or sigh or flinch or somethin’, but they all keep stuffin’ their faces and mumble, "Okay." I can’t help thinkin’ if I’d known the way t’ fix this was through their stomachs, I’d have started cookin’ days ago.

He keeps a hold of my arm as he leads me t’ the bedroom, and I have t’ admit that this bed never felt so good. Chris pulls the blanket up over me and then he stands there for a minute, like he wants t’ say something.

"What?" I ask, hopin’ to speed this along since I just might fall asleep in his face.

He shrugs. "Nothing, really . . . I’m just glad you’re back. I was hoping maybe you’d stay."

He says it like it’s no big deal, but it is. We both know it.

"Yeah, okay," I say. But I’m wonderin’ if he’s really ready t’ move on or just caught up in the holiday spirit, so I ask him, "What happened? What changed?"

He shrugs again. "I guess I just got smart. I figured I either had to leave the guilt behind – or leave you behind. And leaving you behind just ain’t an option." He pauses then, and I keep my eyes on his as he adds, "But I might get stupid now and then, Vin. Sometimes, I’m gonna remember how bad it was and I might forget to put it behind me . . . and I might watch every move you make and worry over every sigh for awhile. I can’t promise it’s over, but I can promise we’ll get through it. I can promise we’ll be . . . us again."

It’s good enough for me. I nod and smile and I want to say more, but I can’t keep my eyes open.

It doesn’t matter. We have time . . . we’ll figure it out. We’ll get through it. Chris promised, and he’s never broken his word to me yet.


I knew he was afraid the mashed potatoes would do him in. I would have caught the S.O.S. in Vin’s eyes from a mile away. The amazing part was that Buck caught the message from me and passed it on to Josiah without batting an eyelash. Teamwork . . . family.

I pull the door to the room closed; though I can’t resist one last peek to be sure he’s alright. We’re on the right track. I know it. And I know he’s as determined as I am to keep us there. And I have a hunch that Ezra and Josiah and Nathan will fall in line. They just needed Vin and me to figure it out first.

The football game is heating up, by the sounds coming from my living room. I go sit in the rocker and I try to focus on it, but I can’t seem to find much interest in the score. Life has been too unpredictable of late to get excited over a game. Besides, I’m tired of games – we’ve been playing one for weeks now and I’m so glad it’s over.

The door bell rings, and I’m surprised to see Orin Travis at the door. I welcome him in - wondering why he’s here and praying it’s nothing serious. It would be our luck to have some obscure case break wide open on a holiday when we’ve just gotten our bearings back.

He gives us all the customary greetings and then he reaches over and flicks off the tv. I can see that Buck is about to have a coronary over missing the half time show, but he doesn’t say anything – Travis is the boss after all.

The man is clearly uncomfortable – I’d say squirming, if I didn’t know better. Orin Travis is cool through and through – unlike me who is only cool on the outside. But I’d say he’s downright flustered.

"Boys," he says, and we’re all thinking we’re in serious trouble here. "I need to discuss something with you. I’ve seen the . . . effects the events of the last few weeks have had on you . . . on the team, and perhaps I haven’t been as helpful as I can be."

No one says anything – we’re all just looking at each other. But being the leader, I suppose it’s my place, so I finally speak up, "I’m not sure what you’re getting at, but we . . . the team . . . will work this out."

He looks doubtful. "Yes, I’ve been thinking that for some time now, but it doesn’t seem to be happening."

"It will," I say emphatically, and my men nod to back me up. I knew they’d fall in line.

"I wasn’t quite . . . truthful . . . about the shooting," he spits out suddenly, and it’s obvious that it’s been weighing heavily on his mind.

Still, the guys stay silent, me included.

"I can tell you some things . . . if you think it would help . . . if you want to know," he stammers.

"Want to know what?" Vin appears in the doorway, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. I resist the urge to rush over and hold onto him, but fortunately, Nathan doesn’t. He gently takes Vin’s arm and leads him to the couch and Vin just sits without taking his eyes off of Travis.

"Things about the shooting," Travis finally repeats. "If you really want to know . . ."

There’s dead silence for about five minutes.

"It’s Vin’s call," I finally say.

But Vin shakes his head. "No. We’re a team. We vote. And I don’t reckon I need t’ say how I feel about it."

"Alright then, what do you say, Buck?" Orin asks.

"Been sayin’ it all along - we’re a team. We take the hit as a team. Don’t matter who it was."


JD swallows and looks at Buck. "I’m with Buck. Besides, I still don’t believe it was any of you."

Nathan speaks up, "Ezra? Josiah? You two been havin’ nightmares over this. You reckon knowing who shot Vin will lay them to rest?"

"I reckon," Ezra says, "that having Vin amongst us once again will do far more for my sleeping habits than that bit of . . . useless information."

Josiah grins. "I don’t suppose knowing the name will change anything, Orin. I think we’ve made our peace with it, right Nate?"

Nathan nods and they all look to me.

My stomach is rolling and my heart is pounding. Do I want to hear it out loud? Do I really, truly, finally want to know?

I look at Vin, and I remember what he’s asked for all along.

"Let it be," I say. "Just let it go."

It’s the little things that make life worth living . . . that make a man thankful on a day like today.

Little things - like when a friend gives you a smile that’s honest and real.

Thank you, God.


I see Travis sittin’ out on the deck alone, so I take the opportunity t’ ask him somethin’ that’s been botherin’ me.

"Sir? Can I talk t’ you a minute?"

He turns t’ me and he says, "Of course, Vin – but let’s sit down."

I know he said that for my benefit, but I don’t mind him worryin’ over me. In fact, it kinda makes me feel warm inside.

We both sit and then I say t’ him, "When Griffin came after me, he said some things."

Travis pulls his brows together and he asks, "What kinds of things?"

"Well, he said that he knew who shot me. He sounded real sure, too. He said it was Chris. I was just wonderin’ if it was possible he could know. I mean, could there be a leak or somethin’?"

He frowns, but then he shakes his head. "No, Vin. There are only a handful of men who know about that report, and I’d trust every single one with my life. It was nothing more than a lucky guess."

It’s almost comical, you know, the way his face looks about ten seconds after he realizes what he’s said. Kinda like one of those situation comedies where the main character catches on a beat or so after everyone else.

I feel bad for him, in a way, so I say real quick, "It doesn’t matter, Sir. I meant it all along. It just doesn’t matter."

He nods, but I can see that he’s still mad at himself.

I knew it was Chris . . . knew it the second that bullet hit my back. I don’t know why or how, I only know it didn’t matter then and it sure don’t matter now.

Chris steps through the door at that moment and he says, "Is this a private party, or can anybody join?"

Travis is lookin’ at his shoes – guess he caught that habit from us – so I say, "Sure thing, Cowboy."

"Got something for you, Vin," Chris says as he hands me a root beer. The sun is settin’ just behind his shoulder and when he smiles at me . . . well, it’s one of those "thank you, Lord" moments.

I’ll tell him . . . if he asks. We’ll handle it because if we’ve learned anything these past weeks, it’s that we need each other. And as long as we don’t cross that breaking point – we can get through anything.


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