It was dark.
Heart pounding, seven-year-old Vin Tanner tried to figure out where he was. It wasn't their hiding place in the warehouse. The blanket was too soft.
And it didn't stink.
Taking a deep breath, he whimpered softly as his aching side reminded him that he was still recovering from the bullet wound from the trolls.
Nope. This room didn't smell funny and there was nobody coming in and waking him up.
JD! Where was JD? Vin sat up quickly, gasping at the pain in his side.
"JD?" he hissed.
The dim glow of a nightlight shed enough light that he could see JD was not with him. His eyes fell to the stuffed animal beside his pillow.
He was at Mr. Chris' house. That's right.
And JD was with Mr. Buck. He wasn't in the hospital anymore and he wasn't in the warehouse. He wasn't even in that house where all the mamas stayed to be safe.
Tears flooded his eyes and his insides felt all funny. He felt all empty and yet like something was squishing him. Unconsciously he pulled the stuffed cat a little closer as he lay down and snuggled into the pillow. He'd try to go back to sleep and not think about Mama.
Chris watched the small boy lying on the bed. He felt a twinge of guilt at his relief that he didn't have to go into the room to calm Vin. Second thoughts weighed heavily on the blond. In the daylight hours he had no question at all that the seven-year-old needed a home and he could provide it for him, but in the darkness of night, the doubts, the uncertainties, and the memories snuck in.
He'd thought he could handle it. He thought he had tucked Sarah and Adam's memories away and would be able to handle raising another child, but the lonely little boy spending his second night in the guestroom was proving him wrong.
Vin was the opposite of Adam in so many ways, but he was still a little boy looking for Chris Larabee's approval.
** "Watch me, Daddy!" **
Chris closed his eyes and watched his son do a semblance of a somersault and fall over giggling.
** "That was great Kiddo!" **
He swallowed hard, remembering the feeling of his son throwing full weight against his legs and hugging as tight as he could.
Vin caught his attention as he sat up with a gasp, looking quickly around the room.
This boy sought security from Larabee on a far different level.
Adam needed to know his daddy loved him and he was safe.
Vin? Well, Vin needed to know someone loved him and he was safe.
Maybe their needs weren't so different after all. Vin's needs were simply more basic. First he needed to know someone COULD be trusted.
Vin settled back onto his pillow and tucked the stuffed cat under his chin. He closed his eyes and seemed to calm.
Larabee shook his head. What was he thinking? Why did he take on this responsibility? What if he screwed up?
Chris snorted softly as he stepped away from the door. Not "if" he screwed up, but "when" he screwed up, because he certainly would.
What if he couldn't give Vin what he needed?
** What if your memories of Sarah and Adam get out of their box and you can't contain them? **
"Get out of my head, Buck," Chris whispered as his old friend's words struck to the heart of his real fear.
** What if you can't contain their memories and you start feeling again? **
Chris walked quietly down the hallway, subconsciously trying to get away from Buck's words.
He stopped by the closed door.
It was always closed.
** Just like your heart. **
"Shut up, Buck," Chris mumbled as he turned the doorknob and opened the door to his memories.
The air was stale, the room dark, but the moonlight through the window cast a glow across the vacant child-size bed. The tan comforter decorated with drawings of horses and cowboys still covered the bed. A stuffed pony still sat on the windowsill. A child's cowboy hat hung on the bedpost.
Chris' fists involuntarily clenched as he held his tears at bay. He let his gaze drift across the room, past the play table and the mound of toys in the toy box, past the bookshelf filled with Sarah's books from her own childhood, to the old wooden rocker.
He could see her in the rocker, gently rocking Adam as they read a book together, or as she soothed away a bad dream or a fever.
Finding himself beside the old chair, he stretched out his fingers and caressed the old quilt. It was Sarah's grandmother's. He closed his eyes and sniffed back the tears. There had been many nights where he came in this small room and draped the old quilt over mother and child when Sarah would not give up their precious burden.
They didn't deserve to die. They should never have been in the car that day
Wrenching himself from the anger, the guilt, the pain, Chris bolted from the room leaving the door open in his haste. He found his way to the dining room and stopped at the liquor cabinet. Despite the urge to blind himself to the memories with the haze of alcohol, he didn't open the cabinet. It had never succeeded in the past, and he knew it wouldn't now. The memories would still be there, they'd simply be pushed aside for a few hours while he dealt with a hangover.
A thump against the wall of the guest room reminded him of the best reason to leave the cabinet closed. A scared, lonely seven-year-old needed him to be a stable influence. A rock to hold onto while the world settled into place.
"Okay, okay. I get it," Chris mumbled to himself. He turned off the light and hearing no more sounds from the guestroom, he made his way to his bedroom and settled in for the night.
Vin sat up and pushed his blankets away, not fully awake. "Mama?" he called softly a second time.
He didn't remember this room, but he and his Mama had been staying in lots of different places.
He placed a barefoot on the hardwood floor and picked it up quickly. The floor was cold. "Mama?" he called a little louder.
His desire to find his Mama overrode the chill of the room. The pajama-clad boy grabbed his stuffed cat and walked drowsily into the hallway.
Even in his half-sleep state he knew that he wasn't supposed to go into rooms when he wasn't invited, and never if the door was closed. He walked to the end of the hall calling softly for his mother, but she didn't answer. All of the doors were closed except one. Slowly he made his way back to that room.
"Mama?" he called softly. He hugged the cat tighter. He was scared. Why didn't Mama answer him?
He stepped into the room with uncertainty. It was easy to see that it was a little boy's room. Was it his room? He couldn't remember. He was so tired. His side hurt and his head ached and he just wanted Mama to make him feel better.
Seeing the old rocker, he shuffled over and climbed up into it. Mama used to rock him. He would wait here for her. She would come and they would rock and then he'd feel better.
Vin squeezed the cat tighter and shifted making the chair rock. It creaked as it moved and the little blond closed his eyes remembering the squeaky chair at one of the places they stayed. Somewhere inside he knew his Mama wasn't coming, but if he rocked and kept his eyes closed, he could pretend.
Shifting the toy cat to the chair beside him, he brushed his fingers over the quilt enjoying how soft it felt. Without thinking about it his hands pulled the blanket into the chair and he held it up to his nose and breathed deeply hoping it would smell like his Mama.
A small sob escaped.
"Mama," he whispered as the tears rolled unchecked down his cheeks.
Chris stood in the doorway watching the little boy tromp through his memories.
He didn't belong in here. This was Adam's room.
Buck had told the boy to steer clear of this room, but here he was ruffling through Adam and Sarah's things. He shouldn't be in here.
The simple cry seized Chris' heart as he watched the boy smell the quilt.
He closed his eyes and shook his head. How many times had he done the same thing? Smelled the quilt or Sarah's favorite sweater hoping for just a whiff, a simple reminder of her.
Tears welled in his eyes. His loss was enormous, but how much harder was it for a little boy who had no one?
All thoughts of his private shrine being desecrated were pushed aside. Memories weren't in the things. This room had been locked up far too long and the needs of a lost seven-year-old were much more important.
He walked slowly across the room and knelt quietly beside the rocker. Vin was skittish and he didn't want to scare him.
"Are you all right?"
His soft words still made the boy jump.
Vin rubbed a sleeve across his eyes in a vain attempt to hide his tears.
"I'm okay," he replied.
Chris was silent for a moment trying to figure out what to say to a seven-year-old who had faced far too much in his young life, a kid who was forced to make grown up choices, and who now was trying to pretend that he didn't miss his Mama.
"I didn't mean to come in here. I got mixed up," Vin said fearfully as he realized he was in Mr. Chris' house and in the room he wasn't supposed to enter.
"Shh," Chris soothed. "It's okay."
"Sorry," Vin whispered.
They were silent for a few moments before Chris spoke again.
"Did you have a bad dream?"
Vin shook his head slightly, not sure he should tell.
"I jist waked up and couldn't 'member where I was. So I tried " Vin's voice faded away with an emotional crack.
"You were looking for your mother?"
The little blond sniffed and bowed his head. He tried not to cry, but his head hurt and his side hurt and he was just too tired to stop the tears.
"Hey now " Chris said softly. He instinctively rose to his feet and scooped the seven-year-old into his arms sitting down in the rocker with him. "You're okay. I know it hurts, but you're okay."
Unconsciously he began to rock the child as he tried to soothe his pain.
"I'm not too good at this," he said quietly. "Sarah," his voice hitched, "Sarah was the one who was good at comforting Adam when he had a bad dream, or he was sick."
Chris pulled the stuffed cat out from under his thigh and tucked it in the boy's arms. "She'd rock him and sing to him."
Vin sniffed. "Mama singed to me." He snuggled into Chris' embrace. "We rocked in a chair, too."
After a few more creaks of the runners, Vin spoke again. "I'm sorry I came in your special place. I didn't mean to."
"It's all right, Vin. I should have opened up this room a long time ago." Chris took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Buck and the others had been right in their gentle urgings. A room closed off from the world was no tribute to his wife and son. The toys were meant to be played with. The books were meant to be read. The rocker was meant to rock.
"Did you know that Sarah's mother rocked her in this very chair when she was little?"
Vin shook his head.
"And Sarah's mother's mother rocked her in this chair, too."
"Her grandma?" Vin asked as he cocked his head to look at Chris' face.
Chris nodded. "Yep. And this chair has been quiet for too long. I forgot how much I like sitting in it." And the special times that I rocked with Adam.
Those times were too few and too far in between.
"I like the squeak," Vin said with a yawn.
"Me, too," he added as he rocked.
Buck stood at the door of Adam's room and smiled at the scene before him. Sunlight streamed through the window, highlighting Chris, slumped in the rocker, his neck crooked awkwardly. Held securely in his arms was a relaxed, content seven-year-old boy.
He looked down as JD trotted down the hall and tugged at his pant leg.
"Is they here, Mr. Buck?" JD asked. "Is they home?"
Buck grinned and scooped him up. "They sure are Little Bit," he whispered. "But let's let them sleep a little longer."
JD nodded as Buck squeezed him and let him down. "I go watch cartoons!" JD said as he raced down the hall.
Buck smiled and shook his head. He had his hands full with that little guy.
Taking one last look at his best friend before following his little whirlwind, he whispered, "Welcome home, Pard'. Welcome home."
March 28, 2005