by Angie

This popped into my head during a slow day at work.

Buck looked at the invitation and raised his eyebrows in question. JD was looking up with such eagerness in his eyes that he almost regretted asking the question. "Are you sure he meant this for you, son?"

Nodding, JD reached up and took the envelope that was behind the invitation card. "See Da, it even has my name on the outside."

Eli Joe Chavez had invited both boys to his birthday party at a small gym. With all the problems they'd had between Eli Joe and his friend Freddie, Buck was wary of the sudden capitulation. Chris came out of his bedroom with Vin on his heels, a similar look of eager hopefulness on the older child's face.

"Did JD get an invitation to … oh, he did," Chris said as he compared the one in his hand to the one in Buck's hand.

"Can we go Dad? Please?" Vin begged. "All the boys in class got one."

Sighing, both men resigned themselves to allowing the boys to go to the party. Vin and JD hopped up and down in delight at the news and began planning what gifts they would get. Chris took Vin's invitation and went to the phone to call and let Mr. Chavez know that the boys would be coming to the party.

They took the boys shopping the next afternoon. After spending 45 minutes in the toy department at Wal-mart, both men were ready to run screaming into traffic. There were just too many things to look at and play with. The boys carefully examined each toy and then discussed whether or not one of their classmates had said they were getting it for Eli Joe. To add to the confusion, two other boys showed up, also going to the party and looking for the perfect gift. The four boys roamed the aisles, discussing the pros and cons of each toy again. Finally, they settled on complimentary gifts. Since all the boys were into the new Battle Bots, they each got a different Bot to give to Eli Joe. One quick trip down the wrapping paper aisle and they were through the checkout line and back in the truck. Mrs. Potter would deliver the boys to the gym after school and wait for them to finish and then drop them off with their fathers for supper out.

All day long, the boys in the class were giddy with joy at the coming party. The girls, some of them anyway, were a little bitter at being excluded from the festivities. On the playground, they snubbed the boys and refused to play with them. Most of the boys were oblivious to it, as they were playing together and having fun. Since all of the boys had brought clothes to change into for the party, the teacher sent them to the restroom to change near the end of the day.

Mrs. Potter pulled up in front of the school and smiled. A whole row of excited, squirming boys stood along the curb, eagerly waiting for their ride. They were similarly dressed and more than one was clutching a brightly wrapped package in their hands. JD and Vin got into the back seat, checking to be sure she had brought their gifts.

At the gym, the boys were instructed to remove their shoes and put them in a bin along the wall. After what sounded like a herd of buffalo running across the floor, all the boys were once again seated on the mat. Several older teenagers came forward and the boys were divided into groups of four. There was some initial vying to be in the group with Eli Joe until the instructor explained that all the groups would be doing the same thing, just at different times. Vin's eyes widened a little at being placed in a different group than JD but he covered it quickly.

JD's group started out on the trampolines. Each boy was buckled into a safety belt with bungee cords that hung from the ceiling. They were allowed to jump and bounce on the big trampolines until the whistle sounded. JD jumped up and landed on his bottom, his teeth coming together and just missing the tip of his tongue. They quickly got out of the safety belts to move to the next activity.

Vin's group started out on the balance beams. One of the boys commented that balance beams were for girls and the group leader asked him if he could do it as well as a girl. The teenage girl strapped on a safety belt and got up on the beam. She demonstrated walking forward and backward, turning around and standing on one foot before dismounting and inviting the boy to show her how well he could repeat her actions. In pairs, they were buckled into safety belts and mounted the beams. Once on the four inch wide beam, the boy realized that it wasn't as easy as it looked. Vin nervously waited for his turn. The teen noticed that the boy seemed scared and she reassured him that she wouldn't let him fall. Once on the beam, Vin discovered that he didn't have any trouble walking the length of the beam forward or backward. He executed the turn easily and stood on one foot for as long as he could before walking to the end and jumping off. The other boys in his group patted his shoulders to praise him.

The rings looked awfully high as JD stood on the top of the foam block. His diminutive stature made it hard for him to do some things that his age mates could easily do. The group leader lowered the rings and tightened the tension on the bungee cords before telling JD to jump and swing out like the others had done. Taking a deep breath, he took hold of the rings and jumped. He swung out, remembering at the last minute that he was supposed to point his toes. When he bent his neck to see if his was pointing his toes, his hands slipped and he was suddenly falling.

"Vin!" JD yelled as he plummeted toward the floor. His little arms and legs swung around, seeking purchase to stop his fall. The leader gently lowered him with the bungee cords until his feet touched the mats.

The little Texan was on the balance beam again, trying to do one of the more difficult moves the girl had shown him when he heard the terrified yell. His head snapped up and his eyes scanned the huge room before he noticed JD floating in the air. He jumped off of the beam and shed the safety belt, never taking his eyes off of the dark haired child. He ran across the mats, reaching JD just as he was regaining his balance.

"Vin! Did ya see me? I was flyin'!"

"Are you alright?" Vin asked anxiously.

"Yeah, can I try it again? That was fun!"

While Vin made his way back to the beams, JD was boosted back up on the foam block and took hold of the rings. This time, he remembered to point his toes and not to let go of the rings. Just like on the swings at school, he realized that he could propel himself higher by using his legs and he was soon swinging past the block and squealing in complete abandon while the group leader tried to coax him down.

The groups continued to rotate around the gym until each group had used each piece of equipment. When the final whistle blew, they returned to the big mat and sat down. Each boy received a small patch showing the gym logo and they were allowed to get their shoes. Sounding again like a herd of buffalo, they thundered across the floor to the bins. After putting on their shoes, they were directed to the party room for cake and punch. Eli Joe was given the seat of honor, a chair made out of gym mats, while the other kids sat in other chairs around the tables. Mrs. Potter and some of the other parents helped to hand out the cake and punch after a rousing rendition of 'Happy Birthday' was bellowed at the top of their lungs.

While the birthday boy was opening his gifts, one of the group leaders approached Gloria and asked her to step into the hall for a moment. She handed off a pair of envelopes with the boys' names on them.

"One of the coaches noticed your boys and wanted to extend an invitation for them to join the gym. Those certificates are good for ten free sessions. Coach Johnson feels that they would both be excellent additions to the team."

"Team?" Gloria asked.

"We have a team that competes with other junior competitors in the city and regionals, too. The older boy did very well on several of the apparatus and the younger boy did very well on the tumbling, we'd really like to have a chance to work with them," the girl said before smiling and excusing herself to talk to one of the other parents. Gloria tucked the envelopes into her purse and slipped back into the party room.

In one corner of the room, a small huddle of boys were staring in rapt fascination at something. When Mrs. Potter got close enough to see, she smiled. The boys had opened some of the Battle Bots and were battling them in a make shift arena in the corner. One of the toys touched another and plastic panels popped off, causing a couple of the boys to groan. She could only just make out JD's head because he was sitting on the floor and the other boys were leaning over him to see the toys. Vin was on his knees near the wall, his blue eyes tracking the Bot he had launched. When it touched the wall, it bounced back, crashing into two others and causing them to stop moving. In the end, it was a garishly colored Bot that was proclaimed the winner and the boys gathered the toys to return them to the bag with the other birthday gifts.

"That's the absolute best Battle Bot, Vin! Thanks!" Eli said as he smiled. The little Texan stared enviously after the toy as it went into the bag. "Maybe you and JD can come over on Saturday and we can play with them in my room. I have lots of room for them to battle."

The party broke up and the boys trouped out with their parents. JD and Vin waited until they were securely buckled into the seat before looking in the goodie bags they had gotten on the way out. The housekeeper rolled her eyes at the assortment of small pieces, jacks and super balls that she knew would find their way into the vacuum cleaner eventually. She allowed them each to have one piece of gum for the ride to their fathers' office.

The elevator bell announced the boys arrival. They both looked across the small elevator lobby before breaking into a run, eager to see their fathers and tell them about the gym. JD, spotting Buck as he stepped out of the kitchen, began to spout off information like a machine gun.

"Da, we went to the gym and we bounced on the tramp'lines and I flew and I fell off the balance beam and bumped my behind and did flips, you want me to show you and we had cake and punch and Eli Joe invited us to his house on Saturday, can we go, can we and it was lots of fun!"

Three other voices chorused from over Buck's shoulder, "Breathe, Little Bit, breathe!"

Vin waited until JD paused before he told Chris about the party.

"He said I got him the best Battle Bot," Vin said, pride shining brightly in his eyes. Chris squeezed his shoulder and smiled.

"Oh, one of the group leaders gave these to me," Gloria said as she handed off the envelopes. Curious eyes followed the paper from one hand to the next. Chris kept the one with Vin's name and handed off the other one.

"What is it, Da? What's it say?" JD clamored as he tried to see what was on the paper in Buck's hand.

"You've been invited to join the junior tumbling squad, Little Bit. It's for free gym sessions."

The letters, each different, stated that the boys had demonstrated above average ability and that the coach was interested in working with them. Chris reached down and cupped the back of Vin's head as he read that the boy had shown exceptional balance and coordination, as well as the patience to listen to the instructions he had been given.

"Can we, Dad?" Vin asked softly.

"Is it something you're interested in doing?" Chris countered.

"Yeah, it was fun doing some of that stuff."

"Then I'll call this Coach Johnson and talk to him about it."

That evening, over supper, Chris leaned over to see what Vin was drawing on the back of his paper placemat. A stick figure was standing on what had to be a balance beam in one corner, while another sketch showed a person hanging from what looked suspiciously like handcuffs. After a minute, he realized that they were rings. He was distracted for a moment by what JD was telling Buck.

"And they got this thing called a pom'l horse, 'cept it don't look much like a horse. They said we were too small to do the stuff on it. Can we get some of them jumpy cords and put 'em up in the barn? Me and Vin could have lots of fun with them."

"Oh, no," Chris said as he pinched the bridge of his nose, he could just imagine them trying to recreate the gym equipment at home. It was going to be a long year.

~The End