Chris blinked open his eyes as a thin ray of sunlight teased him from the comforting oblivion of sleep. Today was Labor Day, a day he could rest and not think of work. Originally they were going to have a large picnic at their house today with their friends and family, but when they discovered some of the guys had plans they had changed it to Saturday. Unfortunately not everyone had been able to make it Saturday either, but still, given the choice, he'd rather his whole team - minus Ezra - could make it than miss out on spending time with them.
So, they were left with a day where they had absolutely nothing planned and nowhere to be. Stretching and rolling over, he glanced at the clock and almost groaned. His body was so used to getting up at this time he was even doing it on holidays. With a sigh, he sat up and prepared to face the day. Maybe he'd make something special for the boys' breakfast today; he should have plenty of time this morning.
Going through his morning ablutions, Chris slipped on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, ready to do some chores before breakfast.
Though he could feel his body craving the call of coffee, he decided to check on the boys. Stopping by their door, he glanced in and found two neatly made beds. Well, he admitted to himself, they were neatly made for boys of 5 and 7. They certainly never would have passed inspection in the military, but at least the covers had been pulled up.
Wandering down the hall to the den, he glanced in and was puzzled by the lack of noise from the television. Normally the boys would be in here watching cartoons as they did on Saturdays.
Thinking maybe they had somehow ended up in Buck's room, he quietly opened the door and peeked in, smiling at the sight of his friend sleeping, but still there were no boys.
Truly puzzled now, Chris made his way toward the kitchen. As he stopped in, the smell of coffee assaulted him. Taking a deep breath, he released it with a contented sigh and headed over to get a mug. Pouring the dark liquid into his cup, he took a sip and promptly choked. It was the absolute strongest coffee he had ever tasted.
Pouring about half the cup out, he diluted it with water and took another sip. He felt a shiver run down his spine at the taste of the still strong brew. With a certain amount of fear and trepidation, he slid out the compartment that held the filter and grounds. His eyes widened and his jaw opened to release a low groan as he saw that the grounds, even wet, almost filled the entire filter. Instead of the normal four scoops he and Buck put in, there must have been almost a full cup or two of coffee grounds.
With a shudder, he tossed out the used grounds, replaced the compartment and reached for the coffeepot, thinking to dilute it. Just as he was about to pour, a wicked smile crept across his face. Replacing the pot, he carefully reached into the cupboard and placed Buck's favorite mug next to it, more than willing to share this experience with his friend. He also made a mental note to let the boys know that the coffee maker was also off-limits when it came to cooking.
Glancing out the kitchen window, he caught movement coming back toward the house. Stepping onto the porch, he waited as his two boys caught sight of him. Normally they knew to ask before going outside, but since this was a holiday and they had obviously stayed in the yard, he'd let it slide. "Morning, boys," he called, taking a sip of the potent brew and suppressing a wince.
Vin brightened immediately, his huge smile growing even larger as he saw his dad drinking the coffee he had made. Speeding up slightly, Vin hurried toward his father, JD trotting to keep up. "Dad!" he called, waving. As he reached the porch, he stopped in front of Chris and asked anxiously, "Do you like the coffee I made?"
Chris smiled down at the excited, anxious eyes that stared up at him. Suddenly it didn't matter that the coffee was strong enough to use as paint peeler or that even at half strength he was sure it was eating a hole through his stomach lining. It had been made with love by his son. "It's great, Cowboy," he assured. He would talk to Vin later about not touching the coffee maker. Looking from Vin to JD, Chris' brow furrowed. "Where have you two been?" he asked.
"We've been getting things ready," JD explained excitedly, bouncing from foot to foot as his hands motioned toward the barn. "Me and Vin wanted to take you on a ride for Labored Day."
Chris felt some concern grow. He knew the boys were good with the horses, but they knew they weren't supposed to go near them without an adult nearby.
"We gots the bridals ready and the blankets. We tried to get the saddles but they were too heavy and then we found the saddlebags, but I don't know what they were doing behind the oats, but that's OK Vin reached back and gotted it and then we "
Chris laughed out loud. It seems the boys had plans of their own for this holiday. "Sounds great, JD," he interrupted. "Why don't you two come and help me with some of the chores and we'll let Buck sleep a little later?"
"'K, Dad," Vin easily agreed, reaching up for his Chris' hand.
JD turned and looked at the
doorway, obviously wishing Buck was up too. With a shrug, he reached out
and took Chris' other hand. The three of them set off for the barn and the
It was a while later when three slightly dusty, slightly smudged figures exited the barn and headed back toward the house. As they reached the porch, instead of heading in, Chris sat on the step. Pausing in their walk, the two boys looked questioningly from Chris to each other. Shrugging, they settled down on either side of the blond, looking out on the day.
After a few moments, Chris reached forward and removed his work boots and socks. He then settled back and waited, smiling slightly as he saw the look pass between the two boys. They weren't sure what was going on, but that was ok.
With another shrug, JD and Vin followed his example. Vin had little problem removing his work boots, but JD somehow managed to fall over backward while pulling his off. A quick move on Chris' part kept him from whacking his head against the porch. With a gentle chuckle, Chris helped JD ease his boots off and set them aside.
Sitting quietly for several moments, he eventually stood and walked over to the grass where he just stood looking around the yard. Before long his two little shadows followed and looked up at him expectantly. Smiling back at the two boys, he reached out a hand, touched Vin's shoulder and announced, "Tag! You're it!" before he took off running.
Looking back over his shoulder he could see the momentary shock on his son's face and the bafflement on JD's before both boys started running in opposite directions; Vin ran after Chris while JD ran from Vin, knowing the other boy was faster.
Chris managed to avoid Vin, leading him all over the yard until they crossed JD's path. Vin, seeing easier pray, reached out and tagged JD before taking off.
Less focused than Vin, JD would run after whichever of the others was closest to him. The other two slowed down to allow him to catch up. Eventually, Chris and Vin were stopped at an equal distance from the boy, all three panting as they tried to catch their breath.
Chris watched to see after whom JD would chase. He saw JD look from him to Vin. He was watching JD closely enough that he missed the smile that broke out on Vin's face and the slight head tilt indicating Chris. Not knowing about the subtle communication happening so near to him, Chris was puzzled by the blink that doubled as JD's idea of a wink. He didn't have long to think about it because a moment later, JD took off after him. Seeing the boy head his way, Chris raced off.
What he didn't expect was the small blond form coming at him from another direction. Glancing over his shoulder to check on JD, he missed Vin approaching from the side. It wasn't until young Tanner latched onto his leg that Chris began to suspect something was up. As he turned to remove Vin, JD caught up and latched onto the other leg, causing Chris to lose his balance and fall to the ground. The two boys then 'attacked' the man looking for a ticklish spot while Chris protested the treatment and tickled back.
As the mass of arms and legs began to tire, a voice from the porch called, "What's going on here?"
"Da!" JD screamed, his flagging energy suddenly restored. Extracting himself and stepping firmly on Chris' stomach while doing so, he ran to his father. "Da! We gotted Chris! We gotted Chris!"
Buck laughed as he wrapped his arms around his little whirlwind. "Well, so you did," he praised, mussing the boy's hair. Looking over at the other half of their small family, he asked, "Reckon we should offer them a hand?"
JD turned and looked at the two figures struggling to stand. "C'mon guys!" he called. "Da's going to make pancakes and sausages and stuff for breakfast!"
"Oh he is, is he?" Buck asked, mock-glaring at the little waif who had just volunteered him. He was rewarded with a giggle.
Waiting for Chris and Vin to reach the house, Buck observed softly to his friend, "Showin' your age a bit getting up off the ground."
Larabee glared at him. "You try standing after having JD step on your stomach. And you just remember, you're not that far behind me," he reminded. "Besides, I did all the outside chores while you were playing Rip Van Winkle."
"Rip Van Winkle?" JD queried, his brow furrowed.
"You mean Sleeping Beauty," Buck corrected, trying to look indignant.
Chris laughed and pointed at the unshaved face. "Nope, definitely Rip Van Winkle," he returned with a smile. Clapping a hand on Buck's shoulder, he used that contact point for leverage as he bent down and lifted his boots. "Reckon I'm going to grab a shower while you fix breakfast."
Buck smiled, secretly relieved that he had a day off of the outside chores. "Reckon that's fair," he rejoined.
"How many pictures did you take?" Vin asked, looking at the digital camera.
Chris shot Buck another glare. Buck just grinned in return and gently took the camera from Vin. "Enough," he answered, knowing he would have to do the dishes too if he planned on surviving Larabee's wrath. "Why don't we all go in and I'll start some breakfast," he suggested. "And that way I can get a cup of coffee," he mumbled, turning toward the door, missing the evil grin that slowly crept on to Larabee's face.
As they walked into the kitchen, Chris called, "Wash up before breakfast." He watched as the two boys ran down the hall and listened as the sounds of washing began. Turning his attention to his oldest friend, he struggled to suppress the grin that threatened to bloom as he watched Buck pour a cup of Vin's coffee. Knowing Buck's habit of starting with a large gulp of the black liquid, Chris leaned back against the counter, crossed his arms and waited for the show to begin.
Buck couldn't wait for his first taste of coffee; he just didn't seem to function properly without it. Lifting the mug to his lips, he took a big swallow and promptly started choking, coughing and sputtering. Tears streamed down his face as he tried to catch his breath. Somehow he managed to place the mug upright on the counter as he slowly got himself under control. With a last throat clearing, he wiped the tears away and glared at his oldest friend. "That was..." he began before Chris interrupted hastily.
"Made by Vin," Chris finished tilting his head to indicate the small format the doorway to the kitchen.
Buck closed his mouth and blinked at Chris for a minute, while he wiped any trace of anger from his face and did his best to replace it with anything else. Turning to face the perpetrator of this crime against coffee, Buck took one look at the blue eyes filled with love, trust and the need for approval and couldn't stop his face softening into a loving smile. Walking over, he kneeled in front of Vin, placed a hand on Vin's shoulder and said, "That was the best 'get me going in the morning' coffee I've ever had." He was rewarded with a beaming smile and a huge hug.
"Hey! What about me?" JD demanded.
"Come here, you," Buck said, opening his arm to include JD. Finishing the hug, he stood and ruffled both boys' hair before turning toward the counter where he would be making up the batter with his two 'assistant chefs'.
"I'll leave you to your morning
work," Chris said, stripping his t-shirt off as he headed for the
After finishing the batter and getting the table set, Buck dismissed his two assistant chefs to watch cartoons and quickly diluted Vin's potent brew, figuring a one-part-coffee to three-parts-water ratio was just about right. He was just putting the third set of pancakes on to cook when Chris reentered the room. "Could have warned me," he said quietly as Chris headed over to his coffee cup and the pot.
Chris poured himself a cup of coffee and rested his hip against the counter. "Could have," he agreed taking a sip of the coffee and releasing a sigh as it was drinkable. "But where would be the fun in that?" Having earned a glare from the mustached man, Chris laughed out loud. "Besides," he added standing and heading toward the doorway, "coffee made by your children for you is an experience no parent should live without."
Buck chuckled and shook his head. "It sure is one this parent won't forget," he admitted. Then turning to face Larabee, he asked, "Exactly how much coffee did he use?"
Chris made a face. "The filter was filled almost to the top with wet grounds."
Buck shuddered and turned back to his pancakes. "Sure was an eye-opener," he commented.
"Yep," Chris agreed, heading off to find the boys.
Walking down the hall, he followed the sound of the television. Settling onto the couch, he watched a few minutes of the action on the screen before giving up and asking, "Which cartoon is this one?"
"Dexter's Laboratory," JD informed.
"Oh," Chris replied. That meant very little to him, but he figured it couldn't be worse than some of the others the boys watched. He shuddered as he thought of 'Dragon Ball Z' and 'Yuh-Gi-O'. A smile graced Chris' face as he watched his son shuffle backward across the floor and end up in front of him, leaning against his legs and all without tearing his eyes away from the screen.
"Breakfast!" came Buck's call a few minutes later. The two boys popped up and cheered, racing from the room and leaving Chris to deal with the television. He eventually found the remote inside one of JD's toys. Shaking his head, he hit the power button and placed the remote on top of the television before heading out to the kitchen himself.
Settling into his seat, he was surprised to find the boys quiet and wiggling in their seats. Glancing over at Buck, he was met with a shrug of Wilmington's shoulders. After a few minutes of silence and some rather interesting looks being exchanged by the boys, Chris set down his fork and asked, "OK. What are you two up to?" He was met by two faces trying to look innocent but looking much more like deer caught in headlights. Thinking over this morning, he asked, "Does this have something to do with the horses?"
Buck's brow furrowed as he asked, "Horses?"
Releasing a sigh, JD looked at Vin and said, "You tell."
Vin took a deep breath and hoped Buck and Chris wouldn't be mad. "JD and I thought it would be a lot of fun if we went for a ride today. You know and end of Summer fun day of riding with a picnic and everything."
"That's a great idea!" Buck enthused, trying to belay the nervous look in Vin's eyes.
"That does sound like a lot of fun, Cowboy," Chris assured. "And I already told you I wasn't upset about you guys going into the barn. You followed all the rules."
JD couldn't hold back any longer. "Yeah, but we wants to go just us," he blurted, staring into Buck's eyes, begging for understanding.
"Just you and Vin?" Buck asked, confused.
JD shook his head vigorously, but it was Vin who answered. "No," he explained. "Me and Chris go riding together and you and JD go riding together, but separate." He turned to Chris hoping he'd explained it so that they would understand.
"So, you want just you and me to go riding by ourselves while Buck and JD ride someplace else by themselves?" Chris asked to clarify.
Relief flooded Vin's face as he realized his dad had understood. That relief was short-lived, though as worry about how their plan would be received flooded them.
Blue eyes met green across the table as the men silently questioned each other. Years of friendship and working together paid off as they came to a silent agreement. "That sounds great!" Buck enthused, meeting JD's eyes and smiling broadly at the boy's smile.
"I think so too," Chris agreed. "Then we can meet back here for dinner," he suggested.
"We can grill hotdogs and I think I still have some of that corn from Saturday that we can grill," Buck supplied.
"Then maybe on another day we can swap partners," Vin offered silently, wanting to make sure that no one felt left out.
"Sounds good to me," Buck grinned in response to the statement.
Chris reached out and ruffled Vin's hair. "Great idea, Cowboy," he offered.
"Yea!" JD said, jumping out of his chair and enacting some sort of convulsive dance.
Laughing at the antics, Buck caught JD and asked, "What was that Little Bit?"
"My touched down dance," he said as if it was obvious. "All the guys on the football teams got them. Weren't you watching?"
Buck laughed and saw that
Chris was chuckling as well. During football season it was a given that a
game would be on at some point, he and Chris had just never realized what
effect it would have on the boys. "That's quite some dance," Buck enthused.
"But I think you should finish eating your breakfast before we do anything
Heading out to the barn, the family made their way inside. Glancing over at the boys' preparation, Chris was puzzled. "There are only two sets of tack laid out. Mine and Buck's. Where are your things for Peso and Milagro?" he asked, turning to see two nervous looking boys staring at their shoes and shifting from foot to foot.
Buck reached over and slapped Chris on the shoulder. He sighed and shook his head. Sometimes Larabee could be a little dense. "Ride double," he mouthed.
Chris' brow furrowed as he deciphered what Buck was mouthing. "Oh!" he exclaimed as Buck's message finally registered. Walking toward the boys, he crouched down in front of them and asked, "You guys don't mind riding double, do you?" Two small faces looked up hopefully. "I mean, I know you are great riders and all, but it could take quite a while to get four horses ready and we'll be able to go sooner if we only have to prepare two of them." Seeing two smiles bloom, Chris bit back a smile and looked at the bridal in his hand. "Of course, if you don't want to ride with a couple of old guys like Buck and I... oof!" he finished as Vin launched himself at Chris, knocking him backward onto his seat.
JD slammed into Buck, who fortunately had just enough time to prepare for the attack. Laughing, Buck hugged his little bundle of energy. "Reckon that's a yes on riding double, Pard," he informed Chris.
Larabee grinned back at Buck. "Reckon so," he agreed as Vin released him. Standing he moved to finish saddling Pony.
Buck let JD go and shooed him back to where Vin was standing.
The two mounted and headed out toward a nicely wooded area Buck enjoyed. It was a little clearing by a stream quite a ways from the house. He knew there would be fish still in the stream and rocks and woods for his son to explore. Feeling JD squirm in the saddle, Buck looked down into the small face peering up at him. "What is it Little Bit?"
"Can we go faster?" JD asked.
Buck smiled at his little whirlwind; everything had to be 'now' and 'faster'. Looking around, he decided a short run wouldn't hurt anything. "You got it," he agreed, his answer receiving a cheer. "Hang on tight," he said, wrapping his arm tighter around JD and feeling the small hands take a firm hold of his arm. Kicking the horse lightly, he smiled at that whoop of joy that escaped the small boy before letting loose with a whoop of his own.
Before long, Buck slowed his horse, unwilling to exhaust the mount. Walking the rest of the way, Wilmington took the opportunity to point out various animals and plants. This preemptive strike of information kept JD content. Buck was just telling JD an old story about oak trees when the boy sat up straight and pointed off to the right.
"Look Da! Pete!" JD screeched almost bouncing in the saddle as he waved.
Glancing in the direction JD had indicated, Buck was suddenly alert thinking JD had spotted a man walking their property. He scanned the area and blinked twice. Standing at the edge of the woods stood a turkey staring at them. Suddenly Buck remembered the shock of walking into the barn to discover that their Thanksgiving meal was alive. "Reckon so, Little Bit," he agreed. As they continued to move forward, he smiled and shook his head. He'd have to be sure to tell Chris their escapee was still on the loose.
"Do you think Pete likes livin' in the woods?" JD asked his father, confident that his Da knew everything.
Likes it better than being our Thanksgiving dinner, Buck thought to himself. "I'm sure he's happy, JD," Buck assured.
"Good," JD stated. "How much further?" he asked looking around.
Buck smiled at the typical question. "Just a little ways. We just need to go over that little rise and you'll see it."
"OK," JD replied.
Buck shook his head at the easy acceptance and wished it would always be so easy. He highly doubted that once JD was a teenager he'd be so easily placated. The thought of JD as a teen sent a shudder down Buck's spine and he quickly shoved the thought away. Today was about the here and now and enjoying time with his boy.
"Wow!" JD exclaimed as they crested the small rise.
Buck smiled. He and Adam had found this place one day while riding by themselves. He could still remember the worried parents as they offered instruction after instruction until Adam finally started complaining. The two of them had a lot of fun that day. Today was different, though. Today he wasn't here with his nephew; he was here with his son. That thought swelled Wilmington's heart and he hugged JD tightly.
"Hey! You're squooshin' me!" JD complained with a giggle.
Releasing the pressure slightly, he apologized. "Sorry kiddo. I was just lovin' ya."
Snuggling back, JD assured, "That's OK, Da. I like it when you squoosh me."
Buck laughed at his son's assurance.
Buck carried the saddlebags to where he'd laid the blanket under an old willow tree. He glanced over to where JD was crouched down by the tree root staring intently at something. Wandering over, Buck knelt down to see what was holding his son's attention. It only took him a minute to spot the snake lying coiled in the root of the tree. It was only a garter snake and no danger to the boy, but he needed to be sure that JD knew not to approach or touch creatures he didn't recognize.
Just as Buck was opening his mouth to speak, JD jumped in with, "Look at the garter snake, Da. He's all coiled up. They do that sometimes. I wonder why he's not in the sun. I heard on Animal Planet that snakes like the sun. Did you know their jaws unhinge so they can eat big things like mice and frogs. That sounds gross. I wouldn't want to eat a frog. Do you think we'll see any?"
Buck blinked for a few seconds while his brain finished processing the discourse. A smile broke out on his face as pride over his son's intelligence flickered. "Maybe, JD," he said, reaching out to ruffle the boy's hair. "Maybe."
The two then continued to explore the area finding a few more creatures, a bird's nest and some rather interesting insects under a rock.
The morning passed quickly and lunch tasted wonderful. The two settled down for an afternoon nap and within minutes they were both fast asleep.
Buck woke from his nap refreshed and relaxed. Stretching, he looked around the little area. He spotted JD standing in the creek. Getting up, he was glad to see the boy had taken off his boots and socks, though he had to suppress a laugh as the haphazard job JD had done rolling up the legs of his pants. The front part of the legs of the small jeans were neatly folded and well above the ankle, the back was just bunched up and hung into the water. Shaking his head Buck chuckled and was thankful that previous trips had taught him to bring a change of clothes for the boy. Wandering up to the bank, he asked, "What are you looking at, son?"
JD turned his big brown eyes up toward his father. "Fishes," he said quietly. "They're just swimming around. If you stand real still they'll swim right up to your feet and tickle you."
"Will they?" he asked, sitting on a rock to pull off his boots. With those and his socks discarded, he carefully rolled up the legs of his pants since, unlike JD, he didn't have a spare pair with him. Wading out into the water, he rested one hand on JD's back and stood still beside the brunette, following the brown eyes as they stared at the clear water. Before long a fish swam toward them, its curiosity prompting it to explore these new obstacles in its world. Buck smiled and wondered if Chris or Vin would ever believe him if he told them how quiet and still JD was being. His thoughts were scattered a moment later when a splash of water was sent in his direction followed by a familiar giggle. "Why you!" he called, laughing as he chased after JD. Easily catching him.
The two tussled a while before doing more "exploring", JD keeping up a constant commentary and series of question. Eventually, though, Buck realized they needed to leave if they were going to meet back at the house at the agreed upon time. Telling JD to be careful while he cleaned up, Buck didn't notice JD's odd half-crouched run.
Picking up the saddlebags and JD's wet jeans, he had just gotten them settled on the horse when his attention was drawn by the sound of scampering feet. Turning he saw JD running toward him a huge bullfrog held in both hands.
"Da! Da!" he called. "Look what I got! Can I keep him? I'm going to name him Hopper 'cause he hops lots and lots. He can be friends with Torkus and eeewww!"
Buck stifled his laugh as a stream of liquid released from the frog. His laughter fled, however, when a disgusted JD threw the frog away from him and straight at his father. Buck made a face and cried out briefly as the frog, not quite done with its business, landed with a splat on the front of his shirt. Before he could react or even catch the frog, it had fallen to the ground and hopped off.
"Ew!" JD said pointing to Buck's shirt. "Look what he did to your shirt."
Buck looked down at his shirt and sighed.
"I don't wanna ride with you if you're gonna have that on your shirt," the boy informed his father.
"And I don't want to ride all the way back with it on my shirt," Buck agreed. Stripping off the offending object, he brought it over to the stream and let the running water rinse off the stain. Using the damp cloth to wipe down his chest and any remaining frog residue, he wrung the shirt out and added it to JD's jeans.
"You made a funny face when Hopper landed on you Da," JD informed his father.
"I just bet I did," Buck
responded, not nearly as amused as JD. "Let's mount up before the mosquitoes
get out and eat me alive," he suggested. JD nodded his agreement and soon
the two were headed home.
Chris looked at the boy watching him as he finished their preparations and smiled. He knew exactly why only Pony was being saddled. Over the time they had been together the two had done enough exploring that they had several 'special places'. One in particular had a difficult trail upward to it. While Vin was a good horseman for a seven-year-old, Chris felt better having the boy ride double with him up that trail. "You ready to go?" he asked.
"Yeah," Vin said softly, smiling as he realized his dad knew exactly where he wanted to go.
"Front or back," Chris asked checking to make sure the saddle was tight. Expecting to hear back, he turned when his question was met with silence. Spotting Vin biting his bottom lip, Chris felt a bit of surprise at the indecision. Vin had always been very independent. "You know what," he offered, covering for Vin who he figured wanted to ride up front but didn't want to sound 'like a baby'. "I think it would be easier for me to control Pony if you were in front. That is if you don't mind?"
Vin released his lip from its prison between his teeth and smiled up at Chris. Riding in front was what he wanted, but he didn't want to seem like a baby for asking. He knew Chris would wonder what was bothering him, why he was seeking so much contact, but Vin didn't really know why; he just knew he wanted to be close to Chris today.
"Let's mount up," Chris said. "We're burning daylight."
With a giggle, Vin stepped forward and prepared to mount the horse.
Minutes later they were on their way, heading toward the high hills. Vin relaxed back against Chris' strong chest and relished in the safe feeling his father's arms created. Happy thoughts and feelings filled him as they headed toward his favorite special spot. He could only wish everyday could be so nice.
"How you doing, Cowboy?" Chris asked after a few minutes of riding silently.
Vin tipped his head back and smiled up at his father. "Happy," he replied.
Chris couldn't stop the smile on his own face and found he had to agree. "Me too." He then turned his attention back to the trail before them, content at the feel of his son nestled in his arms.
Before long, they were approaching their special spot when Chris stopped his horse. He felt Vin sit up straighter and gasp slightly at the sight. In their special spot stood a group of six deer, three does, a buck and two young deer whose spots were just now fading. The man and boy sat quietly on the horse watching the group as they grazed. Eventually Pony tired of standing still and let his discontent be known. The deer all turned toward the intruders. The buck stamped his foot in warning and Chris quickly took the hint.
Directing Pony along another path, they soon found themselves in a beautiful field near a stream. "Think this will do?" Chris asked his young charge.
Vin tipped his head back, disappointment tainting the contentment that still dwelt in the blue depths. "It's not our special spot," he observed softly.
Chris hugged Vin tightly against his chest and assured him, "Anywhere I am with you is a special spot. You're what makes it special."
Vin beamed at the words, filled with love until he thought he would burst. "Me too," he said, hugging his Dad's arm, the only part he could get his own arms around at the moment.
Spotting a likely place, Chris brought Pony to a stop and helped Vin down. He then dismounted himself and took care of the horse, their gear and the tack as Vin cleared an area under a tree, making sure there were no sticks or stones on the ground where they were going to put their blanket.
Once that was done, the duo headed toward the creek. Stripping off their boots and socks, they rolled up their pant legs. Chris found a rock with a flat top and sat on it, dangling his feet in the water. Vin, after initially wading a bit, made his way over to his father's side and followed suit.
The two spent their time sitting quietly watching nature around them and enjoying each other's company. Every now and then one of them would make an observation and a brief conversation would follow. Though they were really conversations about nothing important, both Chris and Vin enjoyed them.
Eventually Vin's stomach growled. His eyes grew wide and he started to blush a little as Chris stared at the offending organ with a raised eyebrow. A moment later Chris' own stomach growled and Vin started laughing. The sound of his son's laughter triggered Chris'.
"Guess it's time for lunch," Chris observed.
"Reckon so," Vin agreed, standing and waiting for his father to do the same. Once Chris was upright, Vin turned his 'big eyes' on his dad and asked, "Can... May I have a horse back ride to the blanket?" He was proud of himself. Unca Ezra had been teaching him proper things to say and the right way to ask for things you wanted. He sure missed Unca Ezra, but at least he could remember the lesson. He knew most people called them piggyback rides, but he liked horses a lot better than pigs; besides who would ride a pig?
Chris took one look at the 'big eyes' and really, truly hoped Vin never found out their effect. Reaching down, he ruffled Vin's hair and responded, "Sure thing, Cowboy. You just let me get off this rock and you can hop on." His answer was met with a beaming smile.
Vin was excited. This was a real treat. It wasn't often Chris gave him horseback rides and even less often that he would ask. Waiting until Chris was ready, he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around his dad's neck. When Chris reached back and hooked his arms under Vin's knees, the boy whooped and called, "Giddyap horse!"
With a laugh, Chris trotted around the field a little before heading back toward the blanket, his own laughter combining with that of his son.
Lunch was a simple affair and the father and son decided to lie on their backs watching clouds afterward.
Chris woke with a start some time later. He hadn't meant to fall asleep. The noise that had awakened him sounded again and he turned to look for Vin. A smile broke out on his face as he found Vin chasing around the open field after a butterfly. It was the sound of the boy's laughter that had penetrated Chris' sleep. A momentary shadow passed over the sunshine of his joy as he almost turned to point out the sight to Sarah. Shaking off the specter of sorrow, he focused his attention on the here and now and the boy who had stopped running and was closely studying the butterfly which had landed.
Standing, Chris made sure to take a mental picture and store it away for review later. Wondering how anyone could be as lucky as he was, he started walking toward Vin.
Seeing his father get up and start approaching him, Vin didn't follow when the butterfly flew off this time. Instead, he stood and turned toward his father, smiling, a twinkle of mischief in his eye. When Chris was still a little ways away, he called out, "Catch me!" and went running off, laughter trailing behind him.
Picking up his son's unexpected challenge, Chris smiled and chased after the boy. He was impressed by Vin's ability to evade him, but years of chasing down those who wanted to escape had taught him a few tricks of his own. After allowing the chase to go on a few minutes, he made a quick move that took Vin by surprise. Descending upon the boy, Chris captured him and lifted him high into the air. Feeling Vin's hands grip his arms for extra support and stability, Chris looked up at the joy in his boy's face. Glancing down to make sure he could safely return Vin to the ground, he saw the exposed belly just about at head level with him.
Vin was looking down at the man and saw the mischievous smile appear on his father's face. Unsure about what would happen next, he was unprepared for the new experience.
As Chris met Vin's eyes, he knew he had to go through with it. Bringing Vin back toward him a little, he leaned his head forward until his mouth rested against Vin's belly. With a mighty blow, a rude noise that would have had both Mrs. Potter and Nettie Wells condemning him erupted.
Vin was stunned at first; Chris didn't do things like this. Then the feeling made him giggle and the loud noise that sounded a second and third time made him laugh out loud.
Relishing the simple pleasure, Chris lowered Vin to the ground. "We have time for one more adventure before we head home. Any idea what you want to do?"
Vin looked up at Chris and then around the little area. Quickly making his decision, he nodded, grabbed Chris' hand and dragged him back toward the blanket. "We're going to need our boots on," Vin informed him. As they were pulling on their boots, Vin explained his plans.
An hour later, two happy people
made their way back home, both content with the memories they had created
As two exhausted boys finished their dessert and moved to sit on their fathers' laps, the adults continued to talk and catch up with what was going on in each other's lives.
None of the group was paying much attention to Elvis and Ringo until the two dogs started barking. Still, they didn't really think anything of it until the barking continued. Finally annoyed at the sound and worried that the pups were about to get into trouble, Chris called out, "Elvis! Ringo! Here!" He knew that at that command the two dogs would come running to sit beside him. Just as he expected, the two dogs, just at the edge of his vision, turned toward him. What he hadn't expected was the glimpse of a black and white tail sticking straight up in the air aimed at the dogs.
Had the pups not been turning to obey the command one or possibly both of them would have taken the spray from the skunk right in the face. As it was, they both let out unhappy yips and came charging for the men and boys.
Hearing their friends yip in distress, JD and Vin came alive and sprang from their fathers' laps to aid their dogs before either man could stop them.
Meeting somewhere in between the dogs nearly bowled the boys over in their search for comfort. The boys, worried about the dogs didn't notice the potent odor at first. It didn't take long, though for a combined "Eeewww!" to rise from the mass of bodies.
"I'll take mine, you take yours," Buck said rising.
Chris nodded and soon the men had the dogs in their outdoor pen and their boys headed inside to take a bath. Letting Buck bring the boys in, Chris made his way to the Cochrans. "I'm so sorry about this," he said.
The couple laughed. "Happens in the country, son. Don't fret about it," Zaphram advised. "If I were you I'd go to the vet and pick up some of this special shampoo they have for removing skunk odor. Might take three or four baths, but it should remove the smell."
"Thanks, Zaphram. I'll pick some up after work tomorrow," Chris assured, shaking the man's hand and making sure they got back to their car alright. Waving goodbye, Chris sighed and headed into the house to help Buck deal with, what he was sure, were two very upset little boys. As he opened the door, he could already hear he was right.
Stepping into the bathroom where Buck was already running a bath, he interrupted the long string of questions with the explanation, "The dogs will be fine outside tonight. They didn't get any in their eyes. We'll take care of them tomorrow after work. You two are going to school regardless if you think you smell like skunk or not. And it's bedtime, so get in the bath."
With a last few questions, the two boys obediently got into the tub and began cleaning themselves using extra soap and even asking to have the bath water replaced before they repeated the process voluntarily.
Buck leaned over to Chris after running the bath water a second time and confided, "If I'd only known all it would take to get them to bathe like this was a little skunk, I might have tried it sooner."
Chris laughed a little and nodded his agreement. "Of course," he added, "you might want to follow their example. You're smelling a little ripe there yourself."
Buck's eyes widened in horror and he began sniffing his arms, hands and shirt before sending a glare after Larabee's laughing, retreating back.