by LaraMee

Matt sat in one of the child-sized chairs in the boys' room for some time after he and Buck had gotten them into bed. Partially he was waiting to see if they had sufficiently worn off the sugar buzz and partially - if he was being honest with himself - to avoid both his wife and son. The boys had drifted off to sleep relatively easily, and he had finally abandoned his hiding place around midnight. Claire was already in bed, her posture rigid even asleep. If she was truly asleep. Despite his doubts, he changed into his pajamas and slipped into bed beside her.

Friday the two travelers relaxed most of the day, jet lag finally catching up with them. Claire was napping when the boys returned home from school, but Matt was up, watching for his grandsons. As he had promised, the elder Larabee took the boys for a special activity. While he and Gloria wrestled the car seats into the back of the rental car, the boys decided on where they wanted to go.

Since it was mid-afternoon and would be dark soon, they settled on going to the nearby entertainment center. The large building hosted not only a pizza parlor, but a video store and an activity room filled with a variety of video games as well as a small, nine hole miniature golf course. They each had a slice of pizza as an afternoon snack then Matt indulged the boys in playing several of the games and a round of golf. Just before dinner time, they perused the selection of children's videos, both boys squealing excitedly to find a copy of Shrek II in.

Arriving home just behind Chris and Buck, the boys rushed inside to greet their fathers. They all settled in at the table to a dinner of chicken and rice, steamed vegetables and croissants.

Claire was once again a near-silent participant in the evening's festivities. The fathers coaxed the boys into an early bath with the promise of watching both Shrek movies back to back. Buck cleaned up dinner while Chris and his father supervised bath time.

Hearing someone entering the kitchen, Wilmington looked to see Chris' mother standing in the doorway. Smiling with genuine affection, the big brunet said, "hi there. We haven't had much time to talk, have we?"

Shaking her head, the woman said, "No, it's been pretty busy."

"Yeah, well, that seems to describe most evenings around here. Wait 'til tomorrow, the weekends are really crazy."

Cocking her head, Claire said, "I never thought I'd see such contentment on your face, Buck."

Shrugging, Wilmington said, "Yeah, well if anyone had told me two years ago that I'd be happy doin' anything but seein' how many dates I could get in a week, I'd have told them they were nuts. But… "


His voice softening, the big man said, "But havin' those boys in my life… well, there's nothin' like it."

"Not the eternal bachelor after all, huh?" Claire teased, an authentic smile lighting her face.

"Might be a bachelor, but I'm a confirmed family man, now." Turning from where he had been rinsing the dishes off, he leaned against the sink. With a wink he said, "'Course there's no better chick magnet than havin' a cute little boy with you. Better 'n a dog, even."

Laughing now, Claire said, "Well, maybe you haven't changed as much as I thought."

Just then there was the slap of tiny, bare feet coming toward the kitchen, accompanied by a soft whimper. Buck turned to find his soon to be officially adopted son trotting into the room, one little fist rubbing at his eye. JD was dressed in nothing but a pair of underpants.


"Whaaaat?" Buck mimicked, earning himself a one-eyed glare.

"I gots soap in my eye!"

Picking the child up, the big man said, "here, let me see," as he coaxed the little hand away from the child's face. Wiping gently at the reddened eye, he said, "It doesn't look too bad. I don't think we'll have to take you to the hospital or anything."

"Daaaaaa," JD responded with an irritated expression. "You don't gots to go to the hop-sipal 'cause you gots soap in your eye."

"You don't?"

"Noooooo." The little brunet turned toward Claire. "Do you?"

Smiling, the older woman picked up a cloth napkin and approached the two brunets. Gently she patted at the child's irritated eye. "No, sweetie, people don't have to go to the hospital because they have soap in their eye."

With an 'I told you so' look on his face, the five-year-old said, "See, Da?"

"I see." Standing the boy back on his feet, Buck swatted him lightly on the bottom and said, "Okay then, you get back in there and finish your bath, or I'm gonna start watching the movies without you."

"No way!" JD offered up a shocked expression then trotted from the room.

Returning to the dishes, Wilmington wasn't even aware of the contented sigh he breathed. He missed the expression on Claire's face, too. She was aware of it.

"He's a very sweet child. He seems very bright, too."

"Oh lord, he is that. He and Vin both… those boys surprise the socks right off me at least a dozen times a day."

"Vin? He… well, he doesn't seem to be as… as vocal as JD."

Missing the more subtle point, Buck said, "He's a quiet one, all right. Sometimes he'll be so still that you don't even realize he's in the room."

"I suppose that was one draw in… choosing him… for Chris."

Frowning, the mustached man turned toward her. "Not sure 'choosing' came into it, and Vin wasn't exactly in a talking mood when we first found the boys. As for a 'draw'… well, Chris and Vin have about the strongest bond I've ever seen. From day one - "

"He had that sort of bond with his son," Claire argued as she cut him off.

"Well sure he did." Buck said matter-of-factly, not missing her emphasis on the word 'son'. "Never meant to suggest he didn't. But he and that boy… well, Vin has given him back the spark that's been missing for so long."

"I see."

Leaning against the counter, Buck folded his arms across his chest. "Not sure you do, Claire."

The conversation was interrupted by the sound of the other four members of the family group returning from bath time. Wilmington gave the woman a look that said they weren't finished with the exchange then went to meet the others in the den.

The family settled in before the large screen television. The boys sprawled out on the floor, using their pups as pillows. The adults settled in as well, joining the children in watching the animated videos. During the course of the evening they shared several bowls of popcorn, even the dogs crunching on a few kernels that dropped to the floor. Throughout the evening, Claire remained quiet, watching the rest of them as an observer rather than a member of the family.

Amazingly the two boys made it through both videos, although JD got very quiet a few times. As Donkey complained that he would have to get a job during the end credits, Chris announced that it was bedtime. Despite the groans of complaint that there was supposed to be something special at the end, he held firm and headed the two children toward their bedroom with Matt's help.

Buck turned off the DVD and began picking up the debris left behind, gathering everything into one of the large popcorn bowls. He looked up and smiled at Chris' mother when he caught her watching him with an amused expression on her face. "Yeah, I've become real domestic, too."

"So I see," Claire responded.

Setting the bowl on the coffee table, Buck sat on couch at the end opposite the woman. "We didn't really get a chance to finish our conversation earlier."

"Didn't we?" She pretended to study the muted television.

In a more serious tone, the big man replied, "No, we didn't. Look, Claire, I know it really isn't my place, but I'm gonna butt in here, anyway. Chris has been a nervous wreck since he found out you were coming out here. He recognizes now what he was like… back then. He's come to terms with the fact that nothing's gonna bring Sarah and Adam back. That's not to say he's happy about it; he misses 'em every day. But, with Vin and JD in his life now… well, it's given him something to live for again. Someone to live for."

"But why him? Why this child? He's obviously got a lot of… problems. A child like that takes a lot of work. Much more than Chris can devote to him, I'm sure. Children with problems need a lot of stability, which a… a…"

"Which a drunk can't offer?" He saw Claire blush, and tears filled her eyes before she ducked her head. Sliding onto the couch, he turned to face her. Gently, he said, "Claire, open your eyes… please. Your son is not the man he was. He's managed to set that aside, to make peace with his grief. He threw away the liquor when Vin came into his life. He might have a beer once in a while, but that's all."

"But, still… a child like Vin… he seems so… so fragile."

Realization lit the big man's face. With an understanding smile, he said, "Claire, that boy's survived things that would put most adults in the ground. He is the essence of 'survivor'. Look at me, please?" When she raised her gaze, he concluded, "Just because we lost Adam… that don't mean we're gonna lose Vin. You can't shield your heart forever, darlin'. Don't be afraid of lovin' another grandchild."

She paled, but her expression grew cold. As she stood, she said in a hard voice, "I don't know what you're talking about." With that, she stormed from the room.

Saturday was really, really, really fun, wasn't it Vin?

Yeah, we got to do a whole lot of fun things.

I liked the museum best.

Yeah, it was fun. But I liked playing at Mickey D's.

???? You always like playing at Mickey D's.

Well? It's fun!


How come you look sad, Vin?

I was thinking about Sunday. I got scared when I woke up and you and Buck and Dad were all gone.

Saturday dawned cold and clear. The family had a breakfast of Buck's special pancakes, sausage links, scrambled eggs and peaches. Then they climbed into both the Ram and the rental car and drove into Denver. The morning was spent in the Children's Museum, where it wasn't always clear as to who the children were and who the adults were. As she had since her arrival, Claire stayed on the sidelines, watching as her husband, her son, and Buck romped and played with the two orphans.

From time to time, Vin would catch the older woman watching him. He would see her frowning, and draw closer to his father. She always had a strange look on her face, and it made him feel funny. He didn't know why Mrs. Larabee didn't like him; he had never done anything to her as far as he knew. But sometimes he got the feeling that she didn't like him being around.

Chris would catch the silent exchange, drawing his son into his lap, or wrapping an arm around the little boy. He would lock eyes with his mother, sending her a silent warning. She was not going to ruin things for them.

They left the museum and had a late lunch at McDonalds, the boys eating most of their Happy Meals before dashing off to play in the playground. After that they all went to see Shark's Tale. Although the movie had been out for a few weeks, things had been so hectic that they hadn't gotten to see it yet.

After a light dinner in town, they headed home. In the Ram, Chris and Buck were serenaded by the boys' rendition of some of the songs in the movie. This was followed by a duet of soft snores as the children surrendered to long hours of play and dropped off to sleep.

At home, the two fathers wrestled the ragdoll limp bodies into pajamas and tucked the boys into bed. They left the bedroom just as Claire and Matt were heading into the guest room. The boys weren't the only ones that were worn out by the active day. Saying goodnight to their visitors, the two men went to bed down the horses for the night.

Claire lay on her back, staring into the darkness with only the sound of her husband sleeping beside her for company. Despite the fact that she had spent several hours here in the guest room, she had scarcely slept at all since they'd arrived. What little sleep she did get was filled with dreams. No, they were more like memories; reliving the past. The smiling faces and laughter of her beloved daughter-in-law and grandson were replaced by funeral dirges and caskets. She watched her son stagger and stumble through the house, listened to his angry voice shouting at God, and smelled the sickness that had come after most drunken bouts.

Why hadn't she stayed home? She had to admit that her son was right about one thing. Matt would have come home; he wouldn't have abandoned her. Would he?

They had scarcely spoken since they'd come here. He spent as much time as possible with the little orphans, doting on them as if they truly were his grandchildren. And he and Chris acted as if nothing had ever happened between them; as if her husband's crooked nose wasn't the result of their son's drunken stupidity. She had even mentioned it during one of their rare moments alone, but all he had said was 'it's in the past, Claire, I've let it go.'

He didn't explain just how he had managed that; to let it all go.

A small sound caught the woman's attention, and she glanced out the slightly open bedroom door. The silhouette of a tiny body crossed the opening, heading down the hall. A minute later the same silhouette passed again, going in the opposite direction down the hall. She heard a soft sniffle, a sure indication that the child was in distress. She lay there for a moment, trying to force herself to ignore her mother's instinct. It was a losing battle, though, and she found herself donning robe and slippers and padding from the room after the troubled child.

Chris looked up from the newspaper at the sound of little feet outside the room. Seeing Vin in the open doorway, he smiled and said softly, "Hey, Cowboy."

Taking that as an invitation, the little blond moved into the room. His movements were stiff, a sure indication that his back was bothering him. Moving to stand in front of his dad, he whispered, "couldn't sleep."

Leaning forward and carefully lifting the child into his arms, the tall blond said, "Back hurting?"

With a nod, a yawn, and a sigh, the little blond muttered, "I overdone it."

"I thought you might have. We had a really big day, today."


He had learned over the past months to be prepared for times like this. Beside him on the end table sat a bottle of Children's Tylenol, a tube of Ben-gay, and some handi-wipes. He gave the child the chewable tablets, carefully pulled off his long-sleeved t-shirt, and then helped him get comfortable. With Vin sitting sideways on his lap, leaning against his arm, he began to rub some of the cream into the tight muscles of the little back. They sat quietly for several minutes, Vin slowly relaxing under the gentle massage.

"Dad?" Vin said in a sleepy voice.

"Yes, son?"

"Why don't… why don't your mama like me?"

Heaving a sigh at the child's straightforward question, Larabee hesitated. He was happy that Vin had come to realize that he could ask him anything. He just wished that he had an answer for this question. "I don't think she dislikes you, Cowboy."

"She sure don't act like she likes me. She's been lookin' at me like… like she's havin' feel bad thoughts. Maybe she don't want me to be your son."

"Vin, you know that, even if that was true, it's not going to keep me from adopting you. And it could never keep you from being my son."

"I know but… well, I don't want her to be sad 'cause of me. I don't want her to not wanna be your mama."

Fighting back tears, the man said, "I think she stopped wanting to be my mama a long time ago."

"Why?" The little boy gently patted the strong arm that held him, his way of comforting his father.

"Because, I wasn't a very good son for a while."

"After Mrs. Chris an' Adam went to sleep with the angels?"

"Yeah," Chris whispered painfully. "I wasn't very nice to her or my Dad back then."

"But you was real sad then. It's hard to be nice when you're real sad."

Smiling, the man said, "Yeah, you're right, it is hard to be nice when you're sad. But I did some mean things."

"Sometimes I do mean things… but you don't never stop bein' my Dad."

"You'd better believe I don't, and I won't, either." Chris finished his massage and wiped the medicated cream off his hand. Helping the boy into his shirt, he said, "Better?"

Nodding, Vin smiled sleepily at his father, "Thanks, Dad."

"You're welcome, Son. Now, enough talk, you need to go to sleep." He brushed a kiss on top of the little head, then snuggled the child close. They sat quietly for several minutes, until Vin dropped off. Making certain the child was deep in slumber he rose and carried him toward the door. As he passed the threshold he was startled to find his mother standing just outside. He could see her well enough in the soft glow of lamplight to see the stricken look on her face. With a nod, he moved past her and carried Vin toward his bedroom.

Carefully laying the seven-year-old on the top bunk, he brushed the tousled curls from the tiny face then covered the little boy. Tucking Cat in next to him, he smoothed the covers and stood watching the child of his heart for a few minutes. Finally surrendering to his own need for rest, he slipped quietly from the room. As he stepped out into the hall, he caught sight of his mother just closing the door to the guest room.

Chris stood in the hall for a moment, staring at that closed door. Finally, heaving a heavy sigh, he shook his head and walked away to close the house up for the night.

Behind the closed door, Claire wiped the tears from her eyes and shuffled toward the bed. Pulling off her robe and toeing off her slippers, she climbed back into bed. Staring into the darkness once more, she heard the soft little voice, the words delivered in a Texas accent…

"I know but… well, I don't want her to be sad 'cause of me. I don't want her to not wanna be your mama."

Claire curled up on her side, pressing her face into the pillow as the tears began to flow in earnest.

Vin yawned and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Staring around him, he quickly realized two things. For one, the sun was very bright coming in the bedroom window, which meant that it had been up for a while. For another, it was really quiet. Usually, by the time it was this bright, everyone was up, doing things around the house.

Realizing that his dad must have let him sleep in, the little boy climbed out of bed and headed for the bathroom. A few minutes later he re-emerged, his hair at least less tangled and his teeth brushed. Scuffing down the hall in stocking feet, he wondered where everyone was.

Shuffling into the great room, he saw that the only person in the room was Chris' mama. Suddenly feeling very shy, he said, "S'cuse me, ma'am. Where is ever'one?"

Looking up from the book she had been looking at, Claire said, "They've all gone over to the Cochrane's. There was an accident and part of Zaphram's pasture fence was torn up. They needed to get the fence repaired before the yearlings got out onto the highway." Seeing the hurt and confusion beginning to build in the little face, she continued. "Chris didn't want you to overdo it again today, so he let you sleep."

"Oh," was all he said but Vin was panic-stricken at the thought of being left alone with this woman. Shifting from one foot to another, he added, "Are they gonna be gone long?"

"I'm not certain, Vin. They only left about half an hour ago."

"Oh," he repeated. That meant that they would be gone for a long time. He considered asking if he could walk over to the Cochrane's, but knew he would probably get into trouble for that. Even though Mister and Missus Cochrane were their closest neighbors, they lived a long way away.

"Are you hungry?" Claire asked. She watched the little boy closely, seeing now just how nervous he was. "I'd be happy to fix you something if you'd like."

Chewing on his bottom lip, Vin considered her offer. Before he could say anything though, his tummy growled loudly. He couldn't say he wasn't hungry now. "That's okay, ma'am, I can just fix some cer'al."

"Oh, but that's the kind of breakfast you eat on a school day, when you're in a hurry. I'd be happy to fix you a nice, warm breakfast."

"Um, no, that's okay. You don't gotta." He started toward the door and, by the time he reached the hallway, he was all but running.

With a sigh, Claire put aside the book and rose from the couch. She was almost in tears once more at the thought of the little boy being so nervous. She was beginning to understand now, and realized that his actions were a response to discomfort if not outright fear. And those were emotions she had evoked.

Reaching the kitchen, Claire Larabee saw that, rather than finding something to eat, the little boy was standing at the back door, staring outside. Treading as softly as she could, she moved to the cabinets and began rummaging through them. Gently she said, "I'm going to fix myself something to eat now. It really wouldn't be a problem to fix enough for two. Do you like scrambled eggs?"

When she received no answer, Claire called, "Vin?" Then she sighed and dropped her head as she realized that she was alone in the room. She had certainly made a mess of things. She had denied this child a place in her son's life - in her life - for months without even knowing anything about him. Without knowing him. She realized how little she had listened to Matt when he had talked about their son fostering a child. She didn't even know where Vin and JD had come from… wasn't even certain of their last names. She remembered only that Chris and Buck had found the boys on their job… somewhere. JD had mentioned eating out of dumpsters and Chris had told her that Vin's mother had died in a shelter. That was the sum and total of what she knew about the child her son would legally adopt soon.

No that wasn't all.

"I don't want her to be sad 'cause 'a me."

Despite the fact that she terrified him; he didn't want to cause her pain.

"I don't want her to not wanna be your mama."

He didn't want to cause a rift in their already horribly damaged relationship. He was hardly more than a baby, and he recognized the value of parent-child relationship. Apparently he understood far better than she and Chris did.

Suddenly another voice echoed through her mind. One she knew only too well.

"I think she stopped wanting to be my mama a long time ago… I wasn't a very good son for a while."

Perhaps she was the only one that didn't understand. Perhaps she was the only one not letting the voices of the past drown out those of the present. With a wry smile, she heard a third voice, that of the daughter-in-law she couldn't seem to let go of.

"Claire, one thing I learned losing my mom when I was so young is that you can't let it keep you from living your own life."

And to think just how often she had accused Chris of disgracing his wife's memory.

"Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is to go on living."

She wasn't certain where she had heard that, but it was true. She had been afraid of letting go, of losing Sarah and Adam. If only she had been able to see, before now, that she had wrapped their memories around her in a cloak of anger. And that anger had stolen every year, month, and day from her since.

Turning back to the counter, she began making breakfast.

Vin heard her footsteps passing the room several times. They had even come into the room a couple of times. He didn't look up; didn't dare peek out of his hiding place. He just wanted her to go way and leave him alone. He wanted his dad, Buck and JD to come home. His empty stomach was now doing flip-flops and somersaults until he though he would throw up.

And then he heard her come back into the room.

Claire sat down on one of the child size chairs, setting the tray on the table beside her. Speaking softly to the frightened child, she said, "I know that I haven't been very nice since I came here, Vin, and I'm very sorry about that. I guess…" her voice trembled, "I guess I've just been sad for so long that I forgot how to be nice.

"I'm sorry, but I was listening to you last night when you were talking to Chris. I'm so sorry that I made you feel so badly, dear, I shouldn't have done that.

"Vin, you didn't do anything to deserve the way I've acted toward you. I should never have taken out all of my… my bad feelings… on you. I wouldn't blame you if you never wanted to be around me but I promise you, with all my heart, that I will never, ever do those things to you again."

The little blond frowned, trying to decide just what it was that Chris' mama was doing. A lot of old feelings started taking over. He had heard other mean people promise to be nice, only to have them do mean things to him. Those feelings made him want to run away, to hide where nobody could ever find him. Not even JD, and JD almost always knew where he went to hide.

But then again, this was Chris' mama. He couldn't believe that his dad could have a really mean mama.

"Vin?" Claire called, pulling him from his thoughts. "I brought you some breakfast, and brought some for myself, too. If you don't want to eat with me, I'll understand. I fixed your plate so that your food will stay warm. I'll wait a few minutes. If you don't come out, then I'll go back into the other room, and I won't bother you any more while I'm here, if that's what you want."

He continued to try to figure out what she was doing. Then he heard something that shocked him. Chris' mama was crying.

Slowly and carefully, Vin crept from his special hiding place, between the bunk beds and the dresser. He looked across the room and saw that she really was crying; it wasn't pretend. There were real tears in her eyes, and more running down her face. She had her hands in her lap and she was looking toward him with a really sad look on her face.

Suddenly he remembered seeing his mama looking at him like that, right before she went to be with the angels. He remembered how sad his mama had been when she looked like that. He felt like he wanted to cry and found himself hurrying across the room and standing in front f the crying woman. "Please don't cry, ma'am, I don't want you to be sad 'cause of me."

Claire managed a small smile and said softly, "I'm not sad because of you sweetheart I promise, I'm sad because I haven't been very nice."

Cocking his head, the little boy studied her for a minute. She looked so sad, and he didn't see anything in her face that told him that she might be telling a lie. Deciding that he would try trusting her, knowing that his dad would be there to protect him, he said, "Do you wanna be nice to me, now?"

Chris' mama was still crying, but she laughed and nodded her head, all at the same time. He'd never understand how grown ups could do that.

"Yes, dear, I wanna be nice to you now."

Nodding his head, he said with little boy simplicity, "Okay."

They had eaten breakfast together at the little table. Claire had seen quickly that Vin was still tentative and nervous about being around her, so she didn't stay any longer than it took to finish eating.

After Chris' mama took the dishes to the kitchen, Vin went to the bathroom and washed up and got dressed, then made his bed and cleaned up the bedroom. His back was still a little achy, but it felt a lot better. Still, he didn't think he wanted to go out and play right now. Besides, JD must have taken Ringo and Elvis with him, Torkus was asleep, and he wasn't allowed around Peso without a grown up with him.

Scuffing through the house, he decided to see if he could watch television in the great room. Stepping inside the room, he saw that Chris' mama was there, looking at a book. She had a sad look on her face, and kept touching the pages.

Hearing the child come into the room, Claire quickly wiped a hand across her face and looked up with a smile. Uncertain of what to say, she settled on, "Hi."

"Hi. Is it okay if I watch TV for a li'l bit? I won't put it on loud or nothin'."

"Of course, dear. I was just looking at a… a book. The TV won't bother me at all."

Coming over to retrieve the remote from the coffee table, Vin recognized what it was she was looking at. Without thinking, he said, "That's Chris' membering book, with all the pictures of him, missus Chris and Adam."

Claire looked at him, a shocked expression on her face. "Why, yes it's the family photo album. How did you know?"

Leaning against the edge of the couch the little boy said, "One night I seen him lookin' at it. He had a real sad look on his face… kind 'a like how you looked while ago. He was cryin', an' didn't know I seen 'im. Th' next day I told Buck that I didn't like that book, and wished he'd throw it away or somethin'. He looked real sad and told me 'bout how it was the book Chris looked at when he wanted to 'member his fam'ly. Then another day Chris told me that Buck told him what I said. I figgered he'd be real mad and wouldn't want me 'round no more, but he said he just wanted to 'splain 'bout the book.

"He told me that he was sorry I'd seen 'im cryin'. I didn't know growed up men cried 'til I saw Chris cry, but he said sometimes they do. He said that lookin' at them pictures made him sad 'cause he couldn't hug his fam'ly no more. But he said that it made him happy to look at them pictures, too, 'cause he could 'member how much they all loved each other. He said that it was real 'portant for him to 'member 'bout the love part. He said it helped make him feel better 'bout things.

"Then he asked me if I wanted to see them pictures an' I said yes, an' he showed them to me."

Claire couldn't help but smile when the child stopped and took a deep breath. He hadn't spoken that many words in the three days they had been in the same house. "How do you feel about the book now?"

With a frown of concentration, the child said, "I like the book. I don't like it when dad gets sad, but I like it when he shows me the pictures and tells me stories 'bout what was happenin' when the picture was taked."

"Would you like to look at them with me? I bet I can tell you some stories that Chris hasn't told you."

Again pausing to consider her question, Vin finally nodded. "'Kay."

"… and then Adam grabbed Chris' leg and got mud alllllll over his brand new pants!"

Vin giggled as Claire finished telling another story about the pictures in the 'membering book. "What did he do then?"

"Well, he started to just take his pants off right there in the middle of the yard, but Sarah hollered at him. So he just laughed and jumped right in the middle of the mud with the rest of them."

Vin giggled harder and harder, leaning against the edge of the couch. He was sitting on the floor and Chris' mama was still sitting on the couch. The photo album was lying on the coffee table; they had looked at almost every picture in the book.

Claire smiled, enjoying the sound of the little boy's laughter. Then she heard another sound and looked up to see her son and husband in the doorway.

Chris had been relieved to hear his son's laughter when he entered the house. He had been worried all morning about how the seven-year-old would fare alone in the house with his mother. Then, as he approached the great room, he was shocked to see Vin sitting near his mother, the two of them talking and laughing. His jaw dropped and he stopped dead in his tracks. It was only when he felt a hand on his shoulder that he moved. Turning, he looked at his father, then back to his mother. He saw a variety of emotions crossing Claire's face and knew those same emotions were mirrored on his own.

Claire watched her son, studied his reaction to seeing her with Vin. She understood his shock; had half expected to see anger there. She knew they still had a long way to go in healing their relationship, but at least she saw some hope that they could.

"Why so surprised, son?" Matt whispered to his son. "How long did you think your mother could hold out against that boy?"

Chris chuckled and shook his head. "You're right. And if he used the Big Eyes on her, she's a goner." Backing out of the room before Vin saw him, he walked with his father back down the hall. The sound of happy laughter followed them.



Next up  - Thanks for Giving Us... by Laramee

Index - Puzzling Out Life's Little Lessons

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