All right gentlemen what do you wish to discuss this week.
We saw babies get born, Uncle Ezra. It's yucky.
Is not, JD. That's just the way it happens.
Is too. The babies came out of the momma's bottoms. That's yucky.
Is not. Uncle Josiah said that's the way Heaven Father designed it.
Uncle Ezra, Did you know the babies could stand and walk right after they are born?
No, Mr. Dunne, I hadn't thought on it much.
They can, and run too. Da says that's so when they's wild they can run away from pre-did-tors. Do you know what a pre-did -tor is Uncle Ezra?
I believe your Da was referring to animals that are carnivores.
Animals that eat other animals.
Oh, okay, that's icky, Uncle Ezra. Anyway, we watched a good video. It's the Black Stallion.
Did you recognize the story, gentlemen?
Yeah. It's the story in the book Uncle Josiah gave Vin for Christmas, but it was different too.
Well, yes. Film often changes the book, mostly for time restrictions.
They have to change the movie, JD, because it can only be so long. So they have to leave things out that were in the book.
Well, Peso is just like the Black, Uncle Ezra.
Yep, him and me are best pals just like Alex and the Black.
I'm sure it seems that way, Vin.
Me, too. Me, too. Me and Milagro are best pals, too.
Of course you are, Master Dunne.
Amid the rush to get ready to leave for work and school Chris sat Vin and JD down to talk. He waited until they sat quietly watching him and Buck.
"I just want to remind you about today. Remember it's an early release day?"
Both boys nodded.
"And Mrs. Potter is gone."
"And there's no after school program right? And we checked the daycare at work. But it was full today."
"So what are you going to do?"
Vin looked down at his hands. In a quiet voice he said. "We're going with Michael and Richard to their house."
JD jumped in, "Their dad works with you and we're going to their house 'cause Richard's mom 'vited us."
Buck rubbed JD's head. "That's right, Little Bit. Mrs. Torres invited you, so you and Vin need to be really good and mind her."
JD looked up adoringly at the tall man, "We will Da."
"Okay then, do you have your permission slips for Mrs. Roquette, so Mrs. Torres can take you home?"
"Yep." JD patted the side pocket of his back pack.
"Vin?" the tall man asked.
Vin looked up at him. "Yes sir."
"Well, alright." Buck smiled at the boys. "Come on Little Bit let's check on the pups before we leave."
During the whole conversation Chris had watched Vin closely as he put his "empty face" on.
"Vin? What's up?"
"Nothing," the little boy answered.
"Come on, Cowboy, talk to me."
"You said you weren't going to be in the office," Vin said quietly.
Chris frowned, "That's right."
The seven year old looked up at Chris, his eyes bright with fear. "That means you all are going to be out where the bad guys are."
"Yeah, we are," Chris nodded. "It's a case we've been working on with Team 4."
Vin chewed on his lower lip and finally said, "You'll be really, really, careful, an' call me when it's over. I get scared when you go out of the office, you know."
"You know I'll be careful and I will call as soon as I can. Vin, you know this is part of my job. You should try not to worry or be scared. We are very, very careful."
"I know it's part of your job. But I still get scared and worry about you. That's what families do isn't it worry about each other?" Vin looked down at his feet.
"Son, you know I've got a lot of things I have to do and sometimes I'm going to be out of the office. And yes, families worry about each other but there's different kinds of worrying."
"There is?" the boy asked surprised.
"Sure there are. I worry about you and JD, too. When you're at school. If you're okay, if your lessons are going well. If you're getting along with 'Stinky Freddy'."
"Dad!" Vin smiled back at his father.
"See, Buck worries about JD too and you. But it's your job to go to school and we have our jobs. I don't want you to be upset about it."
"It'll be fine Cowboy. We've done this a long time. I want you to try not to worry. You'll have fun at the Torres' and they have lots of animals and they even have a new baby."
"Really?" the boy asked.
"Yep, a little baby girl. She's only three months old."
"Wow, that is little."
"Yeah it is. Now let's go or you'll be late for school. It will be fine," Chris added wishing he could say 'I promise'. The only problem was he couldn't promise and be truthful. And he'd always been truthful with Vin.
"Okay. I'll try not to worry." Vin hopped down and, giving his dad a quick hug, headed for the door. He'd decided, the way children often do, that if Chris wasn't worried he wouldn't be either.
Chris followed his boy outside. He was always surprised by the child's quicksilver changes. But it was sometimes disconcerting how Vin caught all the little things. 'Out of the office' had just slipped by JD but to Vin it meant they'd be in danger, and he worried. He, Buck and the uncles all worked hard to reassure both boys that they would be fine, but still the seven year old worried about losing his new family. Maybe someday that fear would go away.
Vin sat reading a book. He frowned at some of the words but he loved the pictures. Snow Pony's was one of his favorite books. He loved the beautiful pictures. He glanced up when Michael Torres came over.
"My momma says you an' JD are coming to our house after school."
"Yep." Vin waited. He and Michael had not played together much but he liked the blond. They were in the same reading class and often read together.
"That's great. I got a dog."
"Me too," Vin said.
"We got puppies. Their eyes opened yesterday. We can play with them a little now," he added.
"Really?" The prospect of puppies made going over to the Torres' sound like a lot more fun.
"Yeah, But they's babies and Silver is real pro-tec-tive of them. She's a real good momma."
"Oh, do you think she'll let me an' JD hold them?" Vin asked hopefully.
Michael tilted his head. "Maybe. Momma says Silver is a real good judge a' character." Michael frowned, "I think that means she can tell if you're a nice person or not. We got baby chicks an' baby goats too."
"Wow, how many do you have?"
Michael shook his head. "I don't know; a bunch. Momma and Daddy like having lots of animals around 'specially little ones. Daddy says he grew up with lots of animals and us having them makes him forget the bad things in his job."
"I know, my Dad likes having the horses around."
Mrs. Roquette's voice interrupted. "Vin, Michael, aren't you suppose to be quiet reading now?"
Both boys ducked their heads. "Yes ma'am," They said in unison. Then glancing up they smiled at each other.
The morning passed quickly and after lunch it was time to go. Vin and JD stood quietly beside Mr. Biedler, not sure what to do. They looked around, hoping that one of the vehicles that were lined up was their dad's after all, but they didn't see the big black ram.
A lady was walking toward them from the parking row. She had on faded jeans and a flannel shirt like Buck wore on the weekends. She also had two of the longest amber braids the boys had ever seen.
"Hi guys, Mr. Biedler," she said when she stood in front of the boys and their teacher. The lady smiled down at the two little boys.
"Mrs. Torres. Mr. Larabee and Mr. Wilmington called and sent notes with the boys stating that they're going home with you."
"Yes they are and where did my two cowboys go?" she said, looking around.
"Richard ran back for a book he forgot," JD said jumping in before Mr. Biedler has a chance to say anything.
"An' Michael went looking for Matt," Vin added.
"They should be back soon," Mr. Bielder added.
Beth Torres looked down at the two little boys. She knew a little about their
background and she could tell they were both apprehensive about coming with her.
Squatting down she looked at Vin and then JD. "I bet you're Vin," she said pointing at the little blond. Then turning to the little dark haired boy, "and you have to be JD. Richard and Michael told us about you when we found out you were coming over. They said how much fun you guys are here at school."
"Really?" Vin asked shyly.
"Oh yes, they said you always seem to have lots of adventures. They're very excited about you coming to spend the afternoon with us. They love having company." Beth glanced up spying her three boys coming toward them. "Well, come on. We can get you strapped in to the car seats. It'll take awhile with all of you."
She turned and led the way to an old, beat up, blue van. It looked almost as big as a school bus to JD.
Beth opened the side door. "Kind 'a keep the noise down. Rachael fell asleep on our way into town and if we're lucky she'll sleep all the way home."
The little boys peeped around the woman and saw a baby strapped into a car seat. Beside the baby slept a little girl. She had red hair like her mother.
Richard ran up, "Hey, Momma."
"Hay's for horses' kiddo. Climb in now. You and JD and Vin can ride in the way back." Beth smiled at her son.
"Okay Momma." Richard climbed in and headed for the back seat, "Come on JD, Vin," he called.
"Okay, Michael you sit by Mandy and it's Matt's turn to sit in the front." Beth looked at the littlest boys in back. "Can you fasten your seat belts guys?"
JD and Vin nodded as they settled into the car seats next to Richard.
Once all the boys were settled Beth laughed. "Well, it's a good thing we always have extra room and seats." She walked around to the driver's side and once she was settled she popped a "Wee Sing" tape into the player making sure the back speaker was on, she looked around. We're ready. Now you can sing with the tape, softly okay? It takes awhile getting home and this will give you something to do on the drive. Everyone ready?"
Beth waited for five nods and then, starting the tape, she began the forty-five minute drive.
The Torres boys sang quietly but enthusiastically and after the first song JD joyfully joined in. Vin sang softly to himself. He wasn't sure about being around all these people. There seemed like an awful lot of them. He kept peeping at the sleeping baby. When he wasn't watching the infant sleep he watched where they were going. He'd never seen such a small baby close up before.
A little later, the van turned off the highway and went down a dirt road. Up ahead Vin could see an old barn that was even bigger than theirs and the biggest house he'd ever seen. It was tall and had a wide porch all across the front. Beth parked the van in front of the house. Immediately three big dogs ran from around the side of the house. They were barking and wagging their tails as they approached the familiar vehicle.
Beth got out and opened the side door. "Everybody out. Michael, help Mandy. Go put your school bags up and there are snacks on the kitchen table. Richard show Vin and JD where to put their stuff and where the bathroom is. Don't be afraid of the dogs, boys, they're very friendly."
Once the boys and Mandy were out of the van Beth climbed in and unbuckled the baby. Slinging her purse/diaper bag over her shoulder Beth picked up the baby and followed the herd into the house.
Entering the living room she set down the large bag and, sitting down on the denim covered couch, she began unbundling the baby. As she worked she said. "You can show Vin and JD the puppies but ask Silver first. Then you have your chores. It's warm right now so you can leave your jackets here for a while. Richard, maybe JD would like to help you feed the chickens. Michael, maybe Vin would help you get wood. Then you need to water the goats and give them some feed."
All the boys nodded and headed for the kitchen. Michael looked at Vin and JD. "You can have some fruit if you want. Mom always has some on the table. If you get an apple you can give the core to the goats."
Richard and JD grabbed an apple and an orange but Vin waited until Michael took an apple before he took one too and followed the others.
"Me go, too," Mandy demanded.
"MOMMMMM," Richard whined.
"Take your sister to feed the chickens.'
"Yeah, I had to take you when you were little," Michael said.
"Shut up," Richard shot back.
"I heard that!" came Beth's voice from the living room.
"Sorry," Richard said grudgingly.
"Come on." Michael led the troop over toward the large wood stove. Behind it was a plastic kiddy pool. JD and Vin's eyes got bigger as they saw what was inside the pool. There was a large chocolate lab lying on her side. She raised her head sniffing when the boys came close.
"It's okay, Silver," Michael said, kneeling down beside the pool. The bottom was covered with old blankets and the blankets were covered with fat rollie pollie puppies.
"It's okay, you can hold one," Richard said as he reached in and picked up a squirming puppy. It was his favorite, with white on its front toes. "Here," He carefully handed the pup to JD. "Be careful and hold him easy." JD nodded his head as he reached out to take the soft puppy. His tiny fingers wouldn't reach around so he used both hands and hugged the pup close to him.
It's okay Silver, JD just wants to hold him," Richard said, patting the momma dog on the head. Silver watched the exchange and, with an anxious expression, stretched to sniff the little boy. She gave JD a good going over with her nose and satisfied, gave the puppy a lap. JD giggled as the wet tongue went over his hand as he held the puppy gently stroking it.
Then Silver turned to Vin. The seven year old sat still and held out his hand for her to sniff. The protective mother smelled and looked him in the eye. The little blond smiled, "Can I hold one of your babies?" he asked the dog.
She seemed to smile and gave Vin a lick on his hand. Turning around she climbed over the squirming puppies and, scooting them out of the way, she laid down.
Grinning broadly, Vin reached and took the pup Michael was holding out to him. The little girl puppy had white on her chest. Holding it closely he ran a finger over her tiny silky ear and looked into its shinny brown eyes. "Hello baby," He whispered.
Mandy joined the little boys and started loving the puppies.
"Be easy Mandy, they're little," Michael warned.
The three year old looked at her big brother with distain. "I know," She said.
Soon JD's puppy started crying. "I didn't hurt him," He said quickly afraid he'd done something wrong.
"Nah, he's hungry. Here, gimme," Richard said, taking the puppy and laying it down by the mother. The little one started scooting closer until he found a teat and, latching on, began to suck. JD could see the edge of the pink tongue curled around the dark skin and he watched in fascination as the tiny paws kneaded the mother dog.
"Come on," Richard said pulling on JD's arm. "We gots bunches of baby chicks too." He led JD out the back door and toward the chicken pen.
"Okay," JD said, wanting to see the baby chicks but hating to leave the puppies.
Vin reluctantly put his puppy down and looked at Michael.
"Come on we need to get some wood in. I have to fill that box," Michael pointed at a large wooden box in the corner. "Then we can go play. I'll show you my goat, Tea Cup."
"Tea Cup?" asked Vin as he followed Michael outside.
"Yeah we named her that 'cause she was so tiny when she was born. Momma said she'd fit in a tea cup."
The two boys walked toward a large corral. Michael stopped long enough to turn the water on to start filling the trough, and then they went to the fence. Inside were seven big goats. Three of the goats had baby goats by them.
Michael leaned against the fence, pointing. "That's Snowflake and Sugar over there. They haven't had their babies yet. The brown and white one is Saddles, see her brown patch looks like a saddle. She has three babies this year. The all brown one is Charo she has two babies and the tan one is Fawn she has two, too. Tea Cup is the smaller one that's lying down over there. She's too young to have babies yet. That big white one over there is Lightin' he's the billy. The daddy to all the babies."
"That's a lot an' they got funny names," Vin said looking all around. Then glancing back at Michael, said, "I don't mean funny 'ha ha' I just mean funny different."
"Oh, yeah, Momma named most of them. She laughs and say's it's the hippie influence. But I don't know what that means. There are a lot of babies but we sell them, mostly, and we drink the milk. Come on we need to put hay in the pen. It's early but Momma said there's a storm coming and Momma always knows."
Vin followed the taller boy over to the hay stack and watching, then copying him. They would pull a square of alfalfa from the bale and toss it over the fence, spreading out the chunks so the goats could eat without pushing each other.
When Lighting came closer to the fence Michael gave him the left over apple core. "Lightin' is real special. My dad says he's the best billy ever. He don't get mean or nothing an' he even lets Richard ride him. But then you stink. Billy's always stink."
"Why?" Vin asked.
"'Cause they pee on themselves. Daddy says it makes them smell good to the nannies, but we don't like it."
"Oh. Yuck. That's stinky," he giggled.
Michael giggling, glanced at Vin and then bragged, " I know where babies come from."
Vin made a face. "I do to. Onc't I seen a people baby almost get bornd, until the police came and we hide."
"Why'd you hide?"
Vin shrugged. "Just did. It was a long time ago before Chris and Buck found us."
"Oh." Looking at the water trough Michael walked over and turned off the water. "Come on we'll help with the wood, then we can play in the tree house."
Vin turned away from the animals and followed. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything. Maybe Michael won't like me and JD 'cause we didn't have a regular family before. But Michael didn't seem to mind so maybe it was okay.
It took many trips for the four little boys to carry in enough wood for the night and the next morning. Matt had already brought in the bigger logs to burn and he was busily doing other chores so he could play, too.
They were almost finished when Matt ran into the house. "Mom! Mom come quick. Snowflake and Sugar are having their babies out at the far end of the pen and it's starting to blow."
Beth laid down the baby down in the crib and grabbed her jacket. "Okay boys I'm going to need your help. Michael, you're in charge of watching Mandy." The woman stopped just outside and glanced up at the gathering clouds. Pulling her coat tight against the wind she shook her head, as she said to herself, "Why do they always have to do this in a storm?"
The rest of the boys ran, following Beth out to the goat pen. They could see the two white goats at the far end. One was standing and one was lying down. There were two little whitish lumps beside them.
Beth stopped long enough to grab some burlap sacks. "Grab a couple each, boys," She called.
As they reached the nannies, Sugar was having another one. It was almost out when Beth fell to her knees to help pull the kid free. She quickly cleaned its head and mouth and then wrapping it in a sack, started to rub it dry.
"Matt, get one baby and wrap it up. Michael you and Vin get the other one. I need you to carry them to the barn. The mommas will follow. Richard, you and JD carry the extra sacks. Mandy you carry one, too. I'll carry this little one."
Beth stood and wrapped the new baby in one of the sacks. She made sure the mamma saw she had it and began walking to the barn. "Come on Sugar, that's a good girl. Come on Snowflake. "
They made a strange parade walking to the barn. Beth in the lead carrying a baby followed by it's worried mother. Behind her came two little boys and one very small girl carrying an arm full of potato sacks. Then came Michael; Vin and Matt came last carrying the other two newborns. The two momma goats were bleating and following after the people who carried their babies.
They all trooped into the shed where there was straw on the ground and it was much warmer. Vin followed Michael and started doing what Matt was doing. They gently rubbed the baby until it was all fluffy, white and dry. Hearing a noise Vin looked over. The mamma goat was lying down again "Look!" he said.
Matt glanced over, "Yeah, Sugar always has two or three."
"Oh," The seven-year-old said as one little tiny pink hoof appeared. JD came over and squatted down close to Vin, watching. Right behind the first hoof a second one appeared. It wasn't long until, between the two small hoofs there appeared a pink nose. Then quickly a head, body, and hind legs came sliding out.
"Matt, get that one dry. Snowflake is having another one."
Beth looked around and sighed. She hoped Larabee and Wilmington were prepared for the aftermath of this impromptu lesson in 'how babies are born.'
Soon there were five little white goats standing beside the boys and momma goats. Their tiny noses pushing and exploring, looking for something.
"Okay now you guys know what to do. Milk the teat to make sure the plug is out and then help the baby grab 'hold of it and gets its little belly full. Vin if you and JD want to help you can or you can just watch. Matt and I will help hold the nannies still."
Every baby butted weakly and sucked until their little tummies were sticking out from being so full. Once the first baby was full, Michael said, "Here, let me show you." He helped the little goat lay down, folding its little legs under it, close to Snowflake's nose. "See, she can see it and know it's okay." Then he took the third baby and repeated the process of letting it suck.
It didn't take long before the five babies and two mommas were laid down. Matt brought in a pail of water and offered each nanny a drink before setting the bucket in the corner. Then he brought in some hay and placed it in the small trough.
"Okay guys, let's shut the door and let the new ones get some sleep. We'll come back out and check them after supper." Beth led the way back to the house.
The sky had darkened and the wind was still blowing but the clouds were going away.
As they entered the warm house Beth instructed the children. "You all wash your hands good before you do anything." She washed her hands in the kitchen and then went over and picked up the baby. "Hello sweetie, you hungry?" Carrying the baby over to the couch she sat down, and lifting the loose tale of the tee shirt, she had on under the flannel shirt she started to nurse. The baby sucked noisily.
As the kids re-entered the living room, Beth said. "It's about an hour before supper so why don't you guys go play. It looks like the storm is blowing away. After supper we'll watch a video.
Vin and Michael climbed a small hill behind the house and barn. They sat down on a large boulder facing the little valley the buildings were in. The storm had blown over as quickly as it had started, leaving long strings of clouds to catch the late afternoon sunlight.
"I like to come up here and just sit. But we can't stay long. Momma has a rule about being at the house when the sun goes behind the mountain."
"Oh," Vin said sitting cross legged and letting his eyes wander over the homestead. From where they were at he could see the white goats grazing in their pasture and the barn where the new babies were, the chicken pens and the hay barn where Richard and JD had gone. Further away it looked like horses standing nose to tail under a big shade tree. "You got horses?"
"Yeah, but Daddy pretty much has to be here for us to ride now. Momma has to watch about Rachel. But once school's out and the days are longer we ride every day, after Daddy comes home."
"Cool. I got a horse. His name is Peso. JD got one too. But Dad and Buck say they have to be home, too, when we ride."
The two boys sat in silence for awhile just watching things. Vin's thoughts turned to Chris once again. The seven year old glanced over at Michael. He wanted to ask if the other boy worried about his dad.
"Is your dad gone a lot?" the little blond asked.
Michael tilted his head. "Sometimes. But he's home most weekends. Momma says that Daddy has a real 'portant job and sometimes he just has to be gone."
"Do you worry? When he's gone I mean," Vin asked hesitantly.
Michael frowned. " 'Bout what?"
"Him getting hurt or somethin'. "
"Nah, one time he was gone a long time but Momma told us it was 'cause one of his men got hurt an' Daddy had to stay at the hospital and office for paperwork. But I can't 'member him ever being hurt."
"Do you worry?"
"Yeah, sometimes, but Dad promises to be real careful. But it's hard for JD. He's little and gets scared sometimes for Buck."
"Oh, really, I don't think Richard notices much."
They watched again as the animals began to slowly move toward the barn and feed troughs.
"We gotta go now. See the sun's about to go down."
"OK. This is a real nice place to come Michael. I like it a lot."
"Me too. Daddy says we all need our own quiet place where the others can't bug us, this is mine."
Vin nodded and they headed toward the house. "Race ya!" Michael hollered as he started running.
After passing their hands under the running water, Richard ran out side with JD following. They ran toward the hay barn when Richard stopped suddenly.
"Look! It's Tiger. You gotta be real quiet and we'll follow her and see where her kittens are."
JD looked and saw the orange and tan cat moving between the hay bales. "Okay."
Richard went forward slowly, almost tip toeing, until Tiger disappeared into a crack between two bales on the third row. "Come on," he whispered and the two small boys began climbing the criss-crossed stacks of hay. They stayed back and watched as Tiger came out and went away from them.
The boys crept closer. There in the hollowed out hay 'cave' were four tiny kittens.
"Oh," JD breathed. He wanted to touch them so bad and started to reach in to the cave.
"No! Can't touch them. Their eyes ain't opened yet. They's brand new."
"Oh, theys so tiny."
"Yeah littler than Silver's pups when they was born. But we can't play with them yet. Tiger is half wild and Momma says if we bother her babies she'd move them and we'd never be able to find them. Momma likes having barn cats. She says Tiger comes from a long line of good mousers and her kittens are always in demand. That means people want her kittens for their barns and stuff. Mamma says there's just some critters that aren't welcome."
The two youngsters watched the sleeping kittens for a few more minutes and then, growing tired of that, climbed down.
"We have a sand pile we can go play in."
The 'sand pile' turned out to be a sand and gravel mountain about five feet high. The material used for mixing cement. Richard ran to the top and yelled. "Watch!"
JD watched in astonishment as Richard suddenly collapsed and rolled down the hill to land at JD's feet.
"Are you okay?" the little brunette asked uncertainly.
"Sure, it's fun. It's like in the movies where the bad guys get shot. Momma says its just pretend and the guys get up and take a shower and go to another job the next day. But it's fun, you try it."
"Okay," JD ran to the top and Richard hollered, "Bang."
JD clutched his shirt, bent his knees and rolled down the hill. He was giggling so hard by the bottom he could hardly talk.
"That's fun." Jumping up both boys ran to the top and shouting, "OHHHH," and fell and rolled down the hill again.
By the time Vin and Michael ran by, they were breathless with exertion and laughter.
"Come on it's almost sun down," Michael called as they ran past.
Getting up a last time the two smaller boys ran behind. Before they went inside Richard stopped. "Come on JD we gots to empty our shoes." He sat down on the porch steps and pulled off one and then the other, turning them upside down and dumping out sand.
JD sat down beside him and took off his shoes too. After they were through there were two not-so-small mounds of sand on the step.
Richard laughed and, swiping at his socks he put his shoes back on. JD copied the motion and they all went inside.
We played until dark. Then we had supper. I kept looking for Da to come.
You know Mrs. Torres said they were going to be late.
I know but I still wanted Da.
Then we ate and it was real good almost as good as Mrs. Potter's. But the milk tasted funny.
Did too. Didn't tastes like regular milk. And the stuff they put on the bread wouldn't spread good.
Well, it didn't!
JD, that was 'cause it was goats milk and it was real butter not margerine. Michael said they all take turns churning it. What does that mean Dad?
Oh, it's taking the cream from the milk and you,????, swish it around until it turns into butter.
Really, Chris? Can we do that?
I don't think so, JD. You have to have a cow or goat or something with milk.
You just do, JD. That's where butter comes from is the cream from milk.
Oh, well, then after supper we made beds on the floor and watched a movie and I fell asleep and then Da was there and we came home.
JD started sniffing as soon as they entered the house. "What's that?" he asked.
"What's what?" Richard said.
"That great smell."
Richard sniffed deeply, "Oh, that's just bread bakin'."
"Nu huh. You can't make bread at home," JD said.
"Yeah you can. Momma makes bread every week. It's lots better than store bought. Ain't you never had any homemade bread?"
"I don't think so. I think I'd remember that smell."
It wasn't long before Beth called, "Supper. Go wash."
"We just washed Mom," Matt called back.
"That was to clean the goat off. This is washing for supper and getting the germs off. Scoot."
"Yes Ma'am," came the chorus of voices.
Vin followed Michael into the kitchen his hands still damp. He wiped them on the seat of his pants as he looked up at the clock. It was 6:30. It's late. Why hasn't he called yet? I want him to come home.
Vin sat at the table next to Michael with Matt on his other side, then JD, Richard, Beth and Mandy next to her mother and Michael. It was a full table all around.
Once everyone was seated Beth said. "Mandy it's your turn to say the prayer." Beth took the little girl's hand and reached for Richard with her other. The two guests watched as each member of the family took a hand to hold. Michael reached for Vin's hand, looking at him before he actually touched him.
Vin reached out and took his hand and Matt's. JD willingly followed the rest of them. Mandy took a big breath and said, "Heavenly Father, we thank you for this food,,," One eye opened and she looked at her mother.
Beth leaned over and whispered, "We ask Thy blessing upon it."
"We ask Thy blessing upon it," Mandy repeated.
"Watch over Daddy and keep him safe," came the whisper again.
"Watch over Daddy and keep him safe."
"Thank You for Vin and JD coming to play."
"Thank You for Vin an' JD comin' to play."
"In the name of " Beth prompted.
"In, oh, bless their daddies too. In the name of Jesus amen."
Beth smiled at her daughter "Very good Mandy." Then, looking around the table at the boys, she said, "We've got beef and veggie stew and fresh hot bread and milk to drink so dig in boys. And don't be shy, there's lots."
The stew was already served in bowls and Beth started passing around the plate with slices of buttered bread on it. Once every one had started eating, Beth looked at her oldest. "How did you do on your history test, Matt?"
"Okay, I think. I knew all the answers as long as I spelled everything right."
"As long as you tried."
"Michael, your spelling test?"
"I got three wrong, I don't know why, I studied Mom, I really did. I thought I knew them all."
"It's okay Michael, I know you studied. It's just in the genes; none of us can spell very well."
Vin's eyes got wide at this. He thought he was the only one that couldn't spell right.
But Mrs. Torres said all of them can't spell either. He'd have to think about that.
"JD and Katie and I worked on the mural today, Momma. I got to paitn the horses,"
Richard said between mouthfuls of stew.
"Good for you. What did you paint JD?"
"I painted the mountain and lots of trees. Katie painted the houses. We're making our own town with houses for all of us," JD said in a rush, happy to be included in the conversation.
"Yeah, and 'cause Katie has the prettiest writing she gots to put our names on the houses," Richard added.
"Is this for all your class or just for you three?" Beth asked.
"Just us. We's divided into teams, me, JD and Katie are a team."
The phone rang. Beth got up and went to answer it. The others keep talking among themselves, but Vin watched as Beth turned her back to the boys. He glanced around the table and only Matt seemed to notice his mother. Their eyes met just for a second and Matt smiled at Vin. Then they watched as Beth hung up the phone and came back to the table.
She sat down and smiled at Vin and Matt. "Everything's okay. That was your Dad," she said to Matt. Then to the rest she added, "They're fine. They're back at the office and doing paperwork. It's going to take a long time so they'll be very late. When you're finished, take your dishes to the sink. Then Matt, you and the other boys will get the sleeping bags down and we'll have a slumber party."
"You're sure my Dad is okay?" Vin asked.
"Yes Vin, Mr. Torres said your Dad and JD's Dad were very busy but that they would be out to get you as soon as they could." Beth looked into the searching blue eyes and sent all the reassurance she could to the small boy.
Mandy sighed, "That means Daddy won't be here to read."
"Nope, not tonight. But you can vote, I can read, or we can watch a couple of videos. Matt?"
Matt thought a second, "Videos."
"Michael?" Beth asked.
""It's Daddy's book, video," the little girl said looking around at her bothers.
Beth smiled as she said, "I think that's fair. Besides Vin and JD might not know the book we're reading. Okay, while I finish putting stuff away. you boys go get the sleeping bags and Mandy go get your jammies on. Then we'll put on the video."
It didn't take long before they had pillows and sleeping bags all over the floor. Shoes were stacked out of the way.
"Okay, since Vin and JD are company they get to pick the movie. Michael show them the video shelf," Beth said as she settled into the large rocker with the baby.
Vin tried very hard to stay awake during the second movie but he just couldn't. He was dreaming he and Peso were running as fast as Peso could go. It was such a free feeling.
Beth sat in the corner of the couch. She'd turned off the movie when the last pair of eyes closed and turned on the news. The sound was very low and she read, waiting for the sound of vehicles coming up the road.
When she heard them and the dogs jumped up to stand by the door she whispered. "Quiet. It's just Daddy."
Ken Torres opened the door and led the other two men into his house. He gave Beth a hug. "Hi Honey. You remember Chris and Buck?"
"Sure I do," She said to the nodding men. "They're over there fast asleep. They were good as gold."
Chris walked over to Vin and, kneeling down, he gently shook the little boy. "Come on, Cowboy, wake up. It's time to go home."
Vin came instantly awake. "Chris!" He jumped up and threw his arms around his father's neck. Then leaning back he looked the blond over. "You okay? You're awful late. Are we going home now? Did you get the bad guys?"
Chris grinned. "Yes, I'm fine. The paperwork took a little longer than we expected. We got the bad guys and I'm more than ready to go home. Get your stuff and we'll leave."
Buck knelt down beside JD. He shook the little boy gently. "Little Bit, wake up it's time to go home."
The little brunette swatted at the hand. "Go 'way, I'm 'sleep."
"JD, come on son, it's time to get up so we can go home."
One bleary hazel eye opened and blinked a couple of times. "Da? We goin' home now?"
Buck gathered the little boy into his arms and stood up. "Yep."
JD snuggled down and laid his head on Buck's shoulder, thumb in mouth. "Good," he said around the thumb and his eyes closed again.
"Hey, Little Bit can you tell Mrs. Torres thank you for letting you come over?"
One eye came open; the thumb moved a fraction, "Thank you."
Beth smiled, "You're welcome, JD, you come back any time."
Vin stood holding both backpack. He leaned into Chris as he looked up at Beth. "Thanks for having us. I had a lot of fun."
"You're welcome, Vin, you come back and play any time, okay?"
"You ready to go home kiddo?" Chris asked.
"Yeah, Dad, I'm ready."
Vin followed Buck out the door. Chris paused before he went outside. "Thanks again, Beth, for taking the boys."
Beth smiled at the tall blond. "It was a pleasure having them here. They are great kids."
Chris smiled, "Yeah, they are." Looking at Ken he said, "I'll see you Monday"
Ken held his hand out and shook with Chris. "Yeah, Monday."
The two ATF agents buckled their boys into the car seats. Just as Buck stepped back to shut the door on the ram JD opened one eye and said, "Da, we gots to see babies get borned."
Buck looked at Chris over the top of the truck cab in panic. Larabee just smiled and shrugged as he climbed in behind the wheel.
Everyday Heroes Index
Next: Membering Day