The Reluctant Artist

by Joy K

This is a variation of the Little Britches Universe, modern day with Vin, JD and Ezra as children. You can find the entire North Pass Ranch series here.

He chewed anxiously on his lower lip. It really wasn't that hard was it? He looked at JD and sighed. JD had jumped in wholeheartedly. But JD tended to do everything with all his energy. And here he sat with all the supplies in front of him. Taunting him.

He stole a glance at Vin. While JD had dived in palms first, Vin appeared to be more discerning. He seemed to have a definite plan in mind, the tip of his tongue peeking out between his lips as he concentrated, using a single finger to accomplish his goal.

Ezra flinched away involuntarily as JD's enthusiasm sprayed a little of the dreaded substance in his direction.

He could do this. Really he could.

He moved his hand toward the paper, but it stalled. What if he did it wrong? Frowning, he looked at JD. His younger 'brother' seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Vin, though more serious about his project seemed to be having fun as well.

Everyone said it was supposed to be fun. He was supposed to make whatever he wanted. But what if they didn't like it?

With another sigh he leaned back in his chair, making as much space as possible between him and his nemesis without actually leaving his seat.

+ + + NPR + + +

Chris's shoulders slumped as he stood watching the boys from the shadows of the hallway. Ezra had come so close. He had silently cheered when the eight year old reached for the paper. He wanted Ezra to enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood, and it broke his heart that the little boy couldn't seem to get past the need for everything to be just right. Ezra's mother had ingrained in him that appearances are everything, and Ezra tried to win her favor by being the perfect child. Being presented with opportunities to play, to get messy, to make mistakes, to do things without an ulterior motive confused Ezra. He found security inside the box - where things were orderly, and he knew what was expected. When presented with too many options, he tried to get out of the situation so he wouldn't make the wrong choice.

Even if there wasn't a wrong choice.

Chris knew that Ezra might opt out of this activity. He had assured the boy that the colors were not permanent, that they would not stain his hands. Chris had given him one of Buck's old shirts to wear over his clothing for protection, but it appeared that finger painting was pushing him too far.

Chris was about to offer Ezra a way out, to let him escape the unnecessary stress, when Vin scooted his chair over closer to Ezra. Hope crept out of the cellar. Maybe Vin could work some magic and help Ezra see that it wasn't so bad. Maybe he could see that it could be fun...

+ + + NPR + + +

"What're you gonna make?" Vin asked quietly.

Ezra shrugged.

"Well ya got red and yellow and blue," said Vin, "so you can make somethin' with those colors, or you can mix 'em up. If ya mix the red and the yellow you get orange," he said dabbing his fingers in the two colors and smearing them together on the edge of the paper.

Ezra watched Vin. He hadn't actually ever tried mixing colors with finger paint, but he knew what colors they would make.

"And if ya mix the yellow and blue you get green. And if you mix the red and the blue you get purple. So you got all kinds of colors. You try it."

Ezra chewed on his lower lip as he reached for the blue paint. He hesitantly dabbed his right index finger into the paint and stroked it onto the paper. He dipped his left index finger into the red paint and stroked it over the blue arch, making it turn into purple.

He unconsciously held his hands up in front of him, avoiding touching anything else.

"You gonna make a rainbow?" Vin asked.

"Yeah," Ezra said with relief. It wasn't what he planned to make, but if Vin suggested it, it should be okay. "I don't remember what order the colors should be."

"It don't matter," Vin said. "Just make it the way you want."

JD pulled his chair over on the other side of Ezra and scooted up so he could see. "You could make a great big sun over here," he said pointing to the top of the paper.

"Okay," Ezra agreed, relaxing as his 'brothers' showed him how to play.

In a few minutes he had completed his rainbow and his sun, following Vin and JD's suggestions. He'd even been bold enough to make a flower out of yellow thumb prints.

"Do you think Mr. Larabee will like it?" Ezra asked.

"Yep," Vin said with a nod. "He'll like it 'cause you made it."

+ + + NPR + + +

Chris heard his cue to make his presence known.

"How's it going, guys?" he asked, walking into the room with a wet towel. Seeing Ezra trying to keep his hands away from everything, he handed the towel to him so he could wipe off his hands.

"Look at my picture!" chirped JD. He scrambled back to his place and held up the picture for Chris.

"This is me and Vin and Ezra, and you and Buck," he said. "And that's Sam and that's Dobie, but I didn't have 'nuff room for everything else."

"It's a fine picture JD," Chris said, ruffing his hair.

"I'm gonna give it to Buck when he gets home," JD replied with a big smile. "Did you see Vin's picture?"

"It's the lake," Vin volunteered. "And the sun is shining and the grass is blowing in the wind."

"It's great," Chris said with a smile.

"And that's a deer," Vin said pointing to a crude stick figure animal in the background.

"Like the one we saw up there?" Chris asked.

Vin nodded. "Ezra made a rainbow," he said.

"Wow, very nice," said Chris, almost undone by the hopeful expression on Ezra's face. "You mixed all these colors?"

Ezra nodded.

"I think we should hang these on the refrigerator so all the guys can see them," Chris said.

The smiles on the boys' faces were priceless, and it humbled Chris to realize how little effort it took on his part to evoke those smiles. Simple words of praise gave the boys a sense of pride and accomplishment.

"Why don't you go get cleaned up for dinner," he said. "And I'll get started cleaning up. You can help me set the table."

"Okay!" JD said enthusiastically. He led the trio down the hall to their bathroom.

Chris put away the paints and carried the now dried pictures to the kitchen. He quickly determined they were too big to go side by side on the refrigerator. He'd have to put them above each other and that would communicate a preference to the boys. No. He'd have to hang them elsewhere. He carried them back into the dining room and carefully pinned them to the wall. He'd look into purchasing a bulletin board tomorrow.

"Oh, look!" exclaimed JD as he raced back into the room. "They's on the wall!"

All three boys beamed at the display of their art work.

"Wait 'til Buck gets home," said JD. He'd gonna be s'prised."

"Did I hear someone call my name?" Buck asked, closing the front door.

"Look, Buck, Look!" JD called, grabbing Buck's hand and pulling him toward the pictures.

"Wow!" said Buck, drawing the word out for emphasis. "We have some real artists in the family."

"Who's going to help me set the table?" asked Chris.

"Me!" said JD, waving his hand.

"Well, let's go," Chris said. "You guys coming?" he asked.

Vin nodded, but Ezra was still looking at the pictures.

Chris nodded his head toward the kitchen and Vin followed him and JD.

"You did a really nice job, Ezra," said Buck, squeezing his shoulder. "I'm going to go clean up for dinner."

Ezra nodded and sat down in the chair, still looking at the pictures. He had done a pretty good job, and both Chris and Buck seemed to like his picture.

He looked at his fingers for any trace of the finger paint. It hadn't been so bad. Sticking his hands in finger paint had felt rather gooey and squishy, but Chris was right, it did come off.

Ezra sighed, but this time it was a sigh of contentment. He had painted that picture. Chris liked it. Buck liked it. JD and Vin liked it. And most of all, he liked it.

Maybe finger painting wasn't so bad after all.

The End

Next in the NPR Collection: To Whom It May Concern

North Pass Ranch Index