Face to Face

By Chris G

JD sighed as he stepped up onto the lower rail of the stall and rested his arms across the top rail.

"You were the one who traded chores with Vin, JD. Don't you think you should at least help with it?" Buck questioned as he stuck the rake into the hay bale and spread it around the floor of the stall.

JD poked absently at a splinter in the wood.

Buck leaned on the handle of the rake as he looked at the sad little boy. "If you help, JD, we'll get done quicker and then we can head out to McDonald's."

"What about the snow?"

"It's not sticking to the roads, Little Bit. We won't have any trouble in my truck," Buck explained

JD sighed.

"I thought you wanted to go to McDonald's."

"Won't be any fun if Vin ain't goin'. There won't be no one to play with." JD thumped his chin on his folded arms as he pouted.

"There's always a bunch of kids playing there."

"Vin won't be there," JD insisted. He sighed again and added softly, "Ain't the same."

"Well, what if we go to the arcade? Then you and I can play together?"

JD perked up. "The arcade? On a school night?"

"Just for a little while, but yeah, why not on a school night?"

JD bounced slightly on his perch.

"We have to finish your chore first. Why don't you go fill the bucket with grain and have it ready?"

"Okay," JD agreed as he eagerly bobbed his head. He hopped down to the dirt floor and skipped to the back of the barn where the barrel of grain was kept.

Vin hated snow. Well, that wasn't entirely true. He liked sledding, and building forts and snowmen, and having snowball fights with JD, Buck and Chris but he hated snow when it got in the way of things he wanted to do. He stared out the window at the thickening white layer covering the front yard of the house.

The snow had started falling fairly heavily on their drive home from school and while Vin was doing his afternoon chore, getting his math homework done, grabbing a quick supper, and changing into his "major meeting" clothes, it had accumulated quite a bit.

"It's almost the end of April," Vin huffed to himself. "Ain't supposed to be snowin' no more."

As he reached into the grain barrel for the scoop so he could get the grain for the last stall they had to clean out, JD heard an unfamiliar scratching noise coming from the stall behind him. He listened for several moments as his eyes tried to find what was making the noise. Thinking he spotted something, he stepped cautiously over to the stall and peered inside. There, he saw a small, dirty ball of fluff cowering in the corner. Remembering what he'd been taught about strange animals, he called out, "Hey Buck, what's this?"

Buck poked his head out over the stall gate and looked at the boy. "What's what, Little Bit?" When the boy didn't reply but kept staring into the far stall, Buck rested the rake handle against the wall and walked over to JD. "What's what?" he repeated.

JD looked up at the man and pointed towards the back wall of the stall. "What's that?"

Buck leaned over and took a step forward as he focused in on the back of the stall. "Stay out here, JD," he instructed as he continued to move into the small area. "Hey there, critter. What are you doing back there?" he asked in a soothing voice. The creature skittered a little against the wall, moving further into the corner. "Don't be afraid." When Buck was halfway to the back wall, he squatted down and smiled at the animal. He could now see that it was a small dog and it was terrified. "Shhh, don't be scared," Buck continued to soothe but the animal continued to cower.

Buck slowly raised himself up and backed out of the stall. "Don't go in there, JD," he told the boy as he moved off towards the tack room. The men kept the tack room neat so what he was searching for was easy to find. Buck picked up the small container and peeled back the lid, smiling when he saw the contents. Several times in the past few months, the family had taken trips that required they bring at least one meal along for the dogs. The container still had a layer of kibble on the bottom. Buck took a sniff then wondered to himself why. He wouldn't know what dog food smelled like if it was bad. He put the lid down on a shelf and took the container back into the barn.

"It's still there, Buck," JD informed him from his post outside the stall.

"That's good, JD," Buck replied as he inched his way slowly back into the stall. The small dog was still pressed against the back wall. Buck gently lowered the container to the floor and pushed it slowly towards the animal. When he got it as close as he thought he could without causing the dog to bolt, he leaned back and watched.

"What is it, Buck?" JD stage-whispered.

"It's a little dog, JD. It's pretty scared." The dog had sniffed the air, catching a whiff of the kibble but had made no moves for it yet.

"Is it losted?"

"Must be. Don't reckon I've ever seen this one around here."

"We gotta take it home," JD informed him.

"If we can find out where 'home' is, we will, Little Bit."

The two continued to watch the terrified dog for a while longer. Buck told JD to finish filling the grain trough for the remaining horse and while the boy was doing that, the little animal inched toward the container of food and began munching.

"Hunger wins over fear, huh, little one?" Buck grinned at the dog as it devoured the small quantity of kibble. Once it was gone, the dog inched even closer to Buck. He remained still and let the animal approach at its own speed. He let the dog sniff him and spoke softly to it. Finally, reaching out slowly, he scratched the dog around the ears. That seemed to be all the dog needed and it stepped over to Buck and made a move to climb into his lap.

"Friendly little thing, aren't you?" Buck asked as he continued to scratch its head.

"Wow," JD marveled when he returned to the stall, thankfully keeping his voice low. "It's pretty."

"Yeah, pretty dirty. It's not wearing a collar, JD. I'm not sure how we'll find out who it belongs to."

"We can put up signs."

Buck nodded. "Yeah, we could. There aren't a lot of houses around here, though. I think this little one is probably a long way from home."

"We can put it in the paper that we found it. I seen those before."

"We'll do that, too. One thing we can do first is swing it by the vet's office and see if it has a microchip."

"A what?"

"A microchip. It's something that folks do to their animals so that if they get lost and lose their tags, we can still find out where it belongs. Elvis and Ringo both have them."

"They do?"

Buck grinned. "Yeah, they do. And if they ever lose their tags and get lost, the folks who find them can get them checked for the microchip and that tells them that they live here."

"Maybe we should get one a' those mikerchips for Peso since he likes to get lost."

Buck grinned wider. The horse in question had, in the past, been known to take a stroll away from home now and again but when they replaced the corral latch, that stopped being a problem. "We might just do that, JD," Buck agreed. Slowly, Buck pushed himself back to his feet. "Let's get ready to go and we can stop by the vet's office on the way, okay?"

"Yeah." JD liked the idea of finding out where the little dog belonged.

"What is it, Vin?" Chris asked as he dropped the top edge of the paper down to look at the boy standing silently in front of him.

"What if the snow keeps him from getting here?" Vin asked softly, fear evident in his voice.

"I don't think it will be a problem, Vin. It looks like a lot more snow than it really is. I wouldn't worry about it until we know for sure he can't make it." Chris had been watching Vin get more and more frantic as the snow piled up outside and wished he had the right words to make the boy relax.

"But what if he gets stuck on his way or what if the plane gets stuck?"

Chris sighed silently as he set his newspaper aside and turned back to Vin. He gently laid his hands on Vin's shoulders and rubbed comfortingly. "There's always the possibility that the weather will keep Major Carpenter from getting here today and if it does, we'll just have to reschedule for another time." Vin's expression fell at Chris' words and Chris pulled him forward to wrap his arms around him. "My truck did pretty well in the snow getting home, didn't it? If he gets to the airport but doesn't think he can make it here, maybe we can go meet him." Chris felt Vin straighten up and he released his hold.

Vin stared at Chris with hopeful eyes. "Really? We could go meet him if he can't get here?"

As much as Chris loved seeing the hope returning to Vin's face, he didn't want to promise something that he might not be able to follow through on. "We'll do our best, Vin. If the roads are passable, we'll try but if they're not," Chris paused as he made sure he had Vin's full attention, "we'll have to try again another time. Okay?"

Vin stayed still for a moment, then slowly began nodding his head, lowering his chin to his chest as he did. He crossed his arms over his stomach and pressed in. "I don't wanna do this again," he whispered plaintively.

Chris wrinkled his brow. "Do what?"


Chris smiled with realization. "Butterflies in your stomach turning into dinosaurs?"

Vin nodded sadly and inched forward. "What if he doesn't like me?" the quiet voice asked.

"Aww, Vin," Chris began as he pulled the small boy up onto his lap, shifting him a little as the added weight put uncomfortable pressure on his newly healed leg. "He'll like you. As long as you're you, he can't help but like you," Chris reassured him as he poked a tickling finger into Vin's side.

Vin giggled slightly and twisted away. Quickly returning to his somber mood, he turned his eyes to Chris'. "I don't know how to be like my born dad, and he liked him so maybe he won't like me."

Chris gently rubbed his hand up and down Vin's back. "Well, Buck and me aren't alike, are we?"

Vin shook his head.

"And you like both of us, right? And JD doesn't act like the other boys at school but you like them."

Vin half shrugged. "Well, some of 'em."

Chris smiled and could see that Vin understood what he was saying. "Major Carpenter doesn't expect you to be like the man he knew. He knows you're a different person. He's coming here to share a little of what he knew of your father with you. And, I think, seeing you will maybe make him feel closer to a man who was a good friend of his that he misses."

Vin took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He leaned over until he was resting against Chris and placed a hand flat on Chris' chest. Chris closed his arms around him and they sat silently for several moments.

"Can we check the computer again?"

Chris nodded as he loosened his hold. "We sure can."

Vin squirmed his way off of Chris' lap and rounded the couch to the desk. Chris pushed himself off the couch, taking a few seconds to steady his still weak leg before he followed Vin.

The computer monitor showed the internet web page of the airline that their guest was flying in on. Chris clicked a few buttons and the page updated to the latest information. "Looks like he's scheduled to land in about half an hour." Chris looked at his watch briefly before turning to Vin. "Only twenty-five minutes late. If the snow was too bad, they wouldn't let him land."

"So he can still get here?" Vin asked hopefully.

"It depends on the road conditions between the airport and here. We'll keep our fingers crossed, okay?"

Vin crossed his fingers and held them up, smiling.

"That'll do it," Chris nodded, crossing his own and showing them. "Why don't you go try and work on your story for school for a little while."

Vin's eyes widened. He knew he wouldn't be able to concentrate on the story he was supposed to write but he knew he should at least try. He nodded his head in resignation and went in search of his backpack.

Buck put the animal carrier down on the floor of the mudroom and kicked off his "barn boots". Finding his preferred casual boots nearby, he slipped his feet into them. JD had followed Buck into the house and was now on his hands and knees poking a finger through the grate on the front of the carrier, trying to rub the dog's nose.

"I'm gonna go tell Chris that we're leaving," Buck told JD. He watched the boy for a moment, wondering if he should worry about the dog biting his fingers but hadn't witnessed any aggressive behavior from the animal. "Don't open the cage, JD. I'll be right back."

" 'kay."

Buck found Chris in the den working on the crossword puzzle from the newspaper. "Hey, Chris, JD and me are heading out. I thought I'd take JD to the arcade after we eat, give him a little special one-on-one time. First, though, we have to swing by the vet's office. We found a critter in the barn when we were working and I wanna see if she's chipped."

Chris looked up. "Critter?"

Buck nodded. "Yeah. Little dog. Scared but friendly. Climbed right up into my lap. No idea how she got here. Not sure what breed she is but she is definitely a she…"

"Which probably explains why she climbed into your lap," Chris interjected, managing to keep a straight face.

Buck froze for a second then a smile crept on his face. "Yessiree. My animal magnetism strikes again," he proudly announced.

"You check on the roads?" Chris asked, changing the subject from Buck and his hormones.

"Heard a report on the radio in the garage while we were digging out the carrier. So far, most of the roads are still in good shape. The only problems are on shaded roads where the moisture has frozen. Once we're on the main highway, we should be just fine. I'll call you from the road and let you know for sure."

"Okay. You be careful and turn around if there's any question of the conditions."

Buck nodded, inwardly appreciating his friend's concern. "We will. You and Vin have a good visit with Major Carpenter. Tell him we said 'hi'." He was pretty sure that Vin had at least mentioned the two of them to the major. One final wave and he left the room.

Buck slipped on his heavy coat, grabbed his gloves, made sure he had his wallet, keys and phone, picked up the dog carrier and then he and JD headed for his truck, their own evening's adventure about to start.

The phone rang and Chris answered it before the end of the second ring. Before he had the greeting out, Vin was standing nervously at his side. "Hello?"

"Mr. Larabee? Randy Carpenter."

"Major Carpenter, good to hear from you. I take it you've landed okay?"

"Yes. Sorry for the delay. Seems the snow has slowed things down all over the place, not just in Denver. I've just picked up my rental car and am about to head your way. I'm not sure how long it will take me."

"Normally, it should take about an hour but today, it's hard to say. I don't know how the roads are."

"The guy at the rental counter said that the roads are in pretty good shape so unless I take a wrong turn, I should be there in an hour or so. I have the directions you emailed me and it seems pretty straightforward."

"Okay, great. Vin is really excited," Chris said, looking into Vin's panicked eyes.

"Tell him I'm excited, too. See you both soon."

"Okay. Bye."


Chris clicked off the phone and put it back in its holder. "He's on his way. He's looking forward to meeting you."

Vin took a deep breath and pressed his lips together. He wouldn't have been able to tell what emotion he was experiencing right at the moment, so many of them swirled in his head. Excitement, nervousness, fear, wonder, curiosity…

"It'll be about an hour yet."

"Should I get the veggies out now?"

"Maybe in a little bit, that way they'll stay fresher longer, okay?"

"Okay." Vin took a deep breath and headed towards the front window where he could see any cars coming up the driveway.

"Looks like we found the owners," the vet tech told Buck. "A family named Lynch. They live in one of the suburbs, about twenty miles from here." She bent down and scratched the dog's ear, "How did you get so far from home, Lila?"

"That her name, Lila?" JD asked. He was standing on tiptoes so he could reach over the top of the exam table and pet the dog. He hadn't stopped patting it since she had been taken out of the carrier.

"That's what the file says."

"So, what happens now? You call them and tell them we have their dog?"

"No," JD countered. "We have to take her home."

"Well, now, JD, it's part of the vet's job to see that Lila gets home. We were going to the arcade, remember?" Buck explained.

JD just shook his head in disagreement.

"It's against our rules for me to tell you where Lila lives, JD. We'll call Lila's family and they can come here and pick her up."

"No," JD whined. "We hafta take her home. We hafta make sure she gets there."

"They have rules against that, JD."

"NO! We was gonna put it in the paper and put up signs and make sure she got home. We gotta make sure she gets back to her family."

Buck looked down at the boy and took a deep breath. He didn't know why JD was so adamant about this. Finally, he looked back at the tech. "Any way you could call the family and ask if we can drop Lila off with them?"

The vet tech looked doubtful.

"Look," Buck began, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out his wallet. "I'm an ATF agent, here's my ID. We can meet them somewhere if they'd rather but…" Buck paused as he indicated JD with a tilt of his head, "…seems real important to my boy."

The tech scrutinized Buck's identification and took another look at JD's forlorn expression. Shrugging in resignation, she finally said, "I'll call the family and if they agree, it's okay by me." She gave one last pat to the dog before she left the examination room to go place the call.

Buck squatted down so he could talk to JD on his level. "You know, it'll take us about an hour to take Lila home. If we do that, we won't have time to go to the arcade."

"I know," JD answered, his hand still patting the dog.

"Any special reason we have to be the ones to make sure Lila gets home?"

" 'Cause we found her and she's losted and we have to take 'spons'bilty for who we find."

"Well, we did the responsible thing, JD. We brought her here so they could check for the microchip. We could have just shooed her away from the barn when we found her."

JD turned shocked eyes on Buck and looked like he was about to cry.

"Now, we wouldn't have done that, JD, we wouldn't have done that," Buck placated, "but there's folks out there who mighta. We have been responsible, JD."

Before JD could explain his feelings any further, the vet tech returned to the room. "Mrs. Lynch would like to speak to you," she said as she indicated the phone on the wall. "Line 2."

Buck stood up and picked up the receiver, pressing the button to connect to the correct line. "Hello…well, yes, Ma'am, you surely are welcome…no, Ma'am, no trouble…well, now, that ain't necess…no, really…yes, Ma'am, I know where that is…we can be there in about half an hour…well, my boy actually…thank you, Ma'am. See you there. Bye," Buck replaced the receiver and turned back to the exam table. "Looks like we're takin' Lila home, JD."

"Yay!" JD bounced, still maintaining contact with the dog, who seemed to pick up on JD's excitement and began wagging her tail. Buck put the animal carrier up on the table and got Lila back into it.

"Just put this visit on our tab, okay?" Buck told the technician.

"Oh, there's no charge for this. All we did is scan for the chip and contact the registry. If more people micro-chipped their pets, we'd have a lot more happy endings like this one."

JD bounced alongside Buck as the two left the vet's office. JD never took his hand off the top of the carrier.


"Yes, Vin?"

"What should I call him, 'mister' or 'major'?"

Chris looked up from his report. "Either one would be okay, Vin. Which would you rather call him?"

Vin pondered this for a moment. "Well, since I know him as a soldier and he knew my born dad as a soldier, I guess 'major'."

"Sounds good to me. He'll let you know if he wants you to call him something else but I think 'major' is a good way to start."

Vin nodded his head. "Okay." Turning, he slowly started out of the room, only to be stopped by the ringing phone. Concerned that it might be his visitor and there might be a problem, he turned back to Chris and waited anxiously while he answered it.

"Hello?…hi, Buck," Chris said, shaking his head at Vin so the boy would know that it wasn't who he was afraid it was. Vin turned and resumed his walk back to his perch by the front window to watch for the major's car.

"He there yet?" Buck asked.

"Not yet. Vin's gettin' more antsy by the minute. So, what's up?"

"Found the owner of the dog and JD wants us to take her home so the arcade is out. Still should be home about the same time, though."

"Okay. How're the roads?"

"No problems that I can see. Just a lot of snow on the lawns."

"Good. You still watch it…no hot-dogging."


"Yeah you. See you later."


Chris switched off the phone and replaced it. He rifled through his briefcase a moment and brought out a second report to read over. Paperwork…it never seemed to end.

"We there yet, Buck? Lila's get scratchy." JD twisted in his car seat as much as he could to see into the animal carrier and could see the dog shifting around.

"Another five minutes or so, JD. I think Lila'll be fine."

Vin glanced away from the window to take a look at the living room. He had put the veggie plate in the center of the coffee table and made sure there were coasters nearby for whatever the major wanted to drink. Everything looked okay but Vin felt sure something wasn't right. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the piece of paper that contained the list he'd written. He opened it up and read down over the things he wanted to ask about his born father. He tried to think of anything he'd forgotten but nothing came to him. Carefully refolding the page, he tucked it back into his pocket.

Looking back out the window and still seeing no sign of a car, he sighed. Absently, he wondered if Major Carpenter would show up in his uniform or not and then something else suddenly occurred to him. Dashing back to the den, he had to know.


"He here?" Chris asked, ready to set aside his paperwork and get up.

"Not yet…just…should I salute him?" Vin asked him earnestly.

Chris thought about this. When he was in the military, he knew of some people who thought the salute was something that should only be shared between those in the military. He, personally, had been kind of flattered when someone not in the military saluted him, provided it wasn't done in the mocking way that Buck sometimes did. Usually, when a child saluted him, it was a gesture of respect from the heart and it moved him. He didn't know how Major Carpenter felt about such things but he felt he knew him well enough to know that he would know Vin meant it as a show of respect and honor.

"I think if you want to salute him, Vin, that he would like it, but you don't have to."

"Even if he's wearing his uniform?"

"Even then. Just do whatever you feel comfortable doing, okay?"

Vin seemed to relax a little as he replied, "Okay," only to stiffen up and have his eyes grow wide as the sound of the doorbell rang through the house. He sucked in a sharp breath as he started to tremble.

"It's okay, Vin. We'll both go let him in. I'll be right there with you and I'll stay as long as you want me to. If you don't feel comfortable with being alone with him, I won't leave, okay?" Chris consoled, placing his hands firmly on the shaking shoulders and squeezing.

Vin nodded and kept his eyes locked with Chris' as the man stood up and then the two started for the front door. Vin slipped his hand into Chris' and held on tight.

The porch lights were on, as was the ceiling light in the entrance hall so when the door was opened, both Vin and Chris could well see the tall man standing there with an expectant smile on his face. He had a coat draped over one arm, held a small satchel in his hand and was in his full dress uniform.

Chris reached out with his hand. "Major Carpenter, I'm Chris Larabee." The two men shook hands and Chris motioned the man inside.

"Good evening, Mr. Larabee," the major said as he stepped out of the way of the door so Chris could close it.

"Call me Chris, please." Chris took Major Carpenter's coat and hung it up on the hall coat rack. "And this…" he began as he turned towards Vin.

"…must be Vin Tanner," the major completed the thought as he shifted his eyes to the small figure standing several feet back.

Vin stared wide-eyed at the man standing there. He had seen military men before but he felt something different seeing the man before him. Without conscious effort, he felt himself pulling himself up straighter, pressing his shoulders back and raising his hand up to his forehead in a near perfect salute. "Pleased to meet you, Major, sir," a quiet voice said.

Major Carpenter smiled broadly for an instant, then assumed the precise military stance and snapped a salute of his own. "I'm very pleased to meet you, too. I'm honored to be invited into your home."

Vin smiled as he lowered his arm. His mind raced as he tried to think of the proper words to say but what came out was, "Wanna come in an' sit?"

The major glanced at Chris before responding. "Thank you, Vin. That would be nice."

Vin nodded his head and turned towards the living room, leading the way to the sofa. When he reached the coffee table, he turned back. "We got veggies to snack on. They's better for ya than cookies and such and with the dippin' stuff they's pretty good, too," Vin explained as he pointed to the platter lying there.

"Why, thank you, Vin. That's very nice of you." Major Carpenter leaned over and grabbed a baby carrot, passing it lightly through the dip before taking a bite out of it.

"Can I get you something to drink?" Chris offered. "Soda, water, beer…?"

The major sighed as he straightened up. "A beer sounds wonderful but I better go with the water, thanks."

"Vin, why don't you get Major Carpenter a glass of water? Get it from the pitcher in the refrigerator."

Vin actually seemed relieved as he agreed with a silent bob of his head and rushed off into the kitchen. Chris had mentally debated getting the drink himself rather than sending Vin but he wanted a moment alone with the major. "I wanted to thank you for taking the time to make this visit. Vin's been excited all week. He wants so much to make a good impression on you so he's more than a little nervous."

Carpenter shook his head. "I wish he wouldn't worry about that. He's already made a good impression on me in his emails. I'm worried about making a good impression on him."

Chris motioned for the man to take a seat on the sofa. "You've already got that covered then, too. I just wanted to warn you that because he's nervous, he'll most likely either babble or clam up on you. Just stay relaxed with him and he'll calm down and relax with you."

The major settled on one end of the sofa, setting his satchel at his feet. "Thanks for the information. I don't have a lot of experience dealing with kids."

Chris took a seat in one of the chairs. "I was going to hang around for a few minutes, if it's okay. I figured it would help Vin relax. I'll head out once he's calmed down some and give you two some time alone."

Carpenter nodded. "Sounds like a good plan." He turned his attention to the other side of the room when he saw Vin enter. The boy was walking slowly with a large glass held firmly in both hands. Vin eyed the level of the water and slowed his pace even further when it looked like it might splash over the rim. He sighed when he reached his destination and held out his arms towards his visitor with a shy smile.

"Thank you very much, Vin." He relieved Vin of the glass and took a healthy swallow before he set it on the table.

"You're welcome, sir." Vin stood awkwardly by the table, not sure what to do next.

"Would you do something for me, Vin?"

"Yes, sir," Vin replied hopefully, wanting to do something, anything to make the man in front of him like him.

"Would you call me Randy?"

Vin's eyes got wide. He was allowed to call very few adults by their first names. Just Chris and Buck. Even his father's friends he called "uncle". Vin looked over towards Chris, getting his father's permission with a nod of the man's head then looked back at the major. "Okay…Randy…sir."

Major Carpenter smiled at Vin's response, both that he used his first name, and that he threw in the respectful title. It would take time but he felt confident that by the end of the evening, he would be just plain 'Randy' to the little boy in front of him. "Would you come sit by me so we can talk a little?"

Vin hesitated a moment. "Okay," he finally whispered, taking his time moving around the coffee table and perching uneasily on the edge of the far sofa cushion.

"So...I was a little surprised to see snow when I got here. I would have thought it would be over with for the year for you." Randy was trying an innocuous subject, hoping the boy would open up.

Vin nodded but didn't look up. "Yeah. We don't usually still have snow by now," he answered softly. He stole a sideways glance at the major and then quickly snapped his eyes back to the front, digging his fingertips into the cushion beneath him.

"Vin?" Chris broke the silence, "why don't you tell Randy about your horse?" He thought the familiar topic might draw Vin out a little.

Vin turned his hopeful eyes first on Chris, then on Randy. "You like horses?"

Randy smiled big and nodded. "I do, as a matter of fact."

Vin twisted in his seat so that he faced Randy. "I got a horse, well, he was Chris' horse already when I came here but Chris says he's my horse on account a' he can be mean sometimes only not with me. Chris says I gots a natch'ral way with animals."

"Just like your father."

Vin looked surprised for a long moment before a small smile crept on his face. "Really?"

Randy nodded. "Really." He didn't want to say too much, rather was hoping Vin would lead the conversation.

"We got pictures. Wanna see him?"

"I'd like that."

"I'll get it, Vin," Chris said as he stood up and headed out of the room. He knew exactly which picture Vin would choose to show off his horse and he could also see that the ice was broken and it was time to leave the two alone. He pulled the framed photo of the animal off the den wall and took it out to the living room, handing it to Vin. "I'll be in the den if you need me, okay?"

Vin took the picture and shifted around until he was kneeling on the sofa on the cushion next to Randy. "Okay, thanks...this is him," he said as he turned the frame around for the man to see.

Chris paused at the doorway to the den and watched a moment. He smiled, knowing that the visit would be a success.