by Joy K

Vin's session was a bit more difficult than JD's had been. Lynn couldn't get him anywhere near the water table. She'd tried to engage him twice with the water and sand, but he ignored her the first time and flat out refused the second, saying he didn't like water.

Lynn watched as Vin played with some horses, but unlike JD, he didn't tell her what he was doing, he simply played.

"Those look like nice horses," she said.

Vin nodded.

"What are their names?"

"This one's Peso," he said holding up one of the horses. "This one's Milagro and this one is Chester."

"Are they your horses?" Lynn asked.

"Sorta," said Vin. "They live at the ranch now."

"They lived somewhere else before?"

"They did before the fl..." Vin stopped himself before he said flood. He didn't want to think about that.

"Before what?" asked Lynn.

"They did before," Vin said, making one of the horses walk across the floor. He wasn't going to say the word. He played silently for a few moments and then said, "We might get to keep them 'cause the people that owned 'em can't take care of them no more."

"Because of the flood?" asked Lynn.

"They just can't!" Vin said angrily. He picked up the horses and put them back on the shelf, refusing to play with them anymore. He stormed over to the table and flung himself into a chair. There were crayons and paper on the table. He ignored them and everything else for a few minutes, crossing his arms defensively.

After a few minutes of silence, Lynn joined him at the table. She took a piece of paper and started to draw a picture. Vin fumed for a couple of minutes before reaching for a paper of his own. He looked in the crayon box trying to find the black crayon. He dumped them on the table and pawed through them until he found the stub of a crayon. Why was the black always the one that got used up first?

Lynn pulled the black crayon out of her box and laid it on the table with Vin's crayons. He looked up at her. "Thank you," he said softly, taking the crayon and starting his picture.

The therapist worked on her own picture filling the entire page with bright colors. When she picked up the stubby black crayon, Vin stopped coloring to watch her. She colored over the top of the bright colors with the black crayon. "Sometimes," she said, "I feel all black inside." She scribbled across the page until it was completely black. "Do you ever feel that way?"

Vin nodded.

"I think we all do sometimes," she said.

"Even Chris?" Vin asked.

"Yes," Lynn replied, "Even Chris. Sometimes when I feel all black, I like to color."

Vin nodded resuming his coloring and filling in the outline of the sun he had drawn with the black crayon.

Lynn picked up a Popsicle stick. "What color is my picture?"

"It's all black," said Vin.

Lynn nodded but didn't answer him. She took the edge of the Popsicle stick and made an arc near the top of the paper pressing hard enough to cut through the black layer of crayon. It exposed a rainbow of bright colors contrasting with the black. She made several more strokes until it looked like a rainbow. Then she made a circle and scratched out the center, making a picture of the sun.

Vin watched in fascination as the picture took shape. The paper had looked all black, but there were bright colors peeking through. He watched as Lynn drew three small stick figures and two large stick figures under the rainbow.

"Wow," said Vin.

"Pretty amazing, isn't it?" asked Lynn.

"Yeah. It looked all black, but it's not," said Vin.

"That's right. Sometimes we feel all black, but there are still bright colors underneath. We just have to find them." She was quiet for a moment. "I made this for you. I was trying to draw your family, but I'm not sure I got everyone. Will you finish it for me?"

Vin nodded, anxious to try the Popsicle stick drawing. "You got me and JD and Ezra, and Chris and Buck, but we need Josiah and Nathan," said Vin as he started to etch two more stick people. "And Dobie."

"Dobie?" asked Lynn.

"He's my dog. And Sam. He's Chris's dog."

Lynn smiled at the blobs with legs and tails.

"And there's all the horses, but there isn't enough room."

"That's okay, Vin," said Lynn. "You can make another picture later."

Vin shook his head. "JD hid the black crayon."

Lynn leaned over and picked up something from the box beside her. "These are for you, Vin," she said handing him a box of 12 crayons.

Vin smiled shyly. He opened the box and looked inside. "They're all black!" he exclaimed.

"That's right. I figure you have plenty of bright colors at home, but it always seems like the black wears out first. This way you can color as much black as you want, maybe even make some more pictures like this one."

Vin nodded eagerly. He liked the idea of making the magic pictures.

She handed him a small packet of Popsicle sticks. "You might have some popsicles at home, but just in case you don't, these are for you."

"Thank you," said Vin. "Here, this is for you." He handed Lynn the picture he had drawn.

"Thank you, Vin," she said. "Do you think you could make another picture for me this week and bring it next time you come?"

Vin nodded. "What do you want me to make?"

"Anything you'd like to draw," she said with a smile, putting her crayons back in their box.

Vin picked up on the signal and put away the crayons he had used. He carefully put his new box of crayons and his Popsicle sticks in his jacket pocket. He picked up the picture Lynn had made for him. He couldn't wait to show Chris how the bright colors hid under the dark crayon.


There was no walking hand in hand when it was Ezra's turn to come to the playroom. He stood, brushed the wrinkles from his shirt and followed Lynn as business-like as possible with his crutches.

Entering the room and closing the door behind them, Lynn said, "Remember, you can play with anything you'd like."

"Thank you, Dr. Ashby," said Ezra.

"It's Lynn, remember?" she prompted.

"Yes, Ma'am," Ezra replied, still avoiding the use of her first name. "What would you like for me to do?"

"Play with whatever you'd like to play," said Lynn recognizing his discomfort. From the information she had heard about Ezra and from her own personal observations, she knew that the eight-year-old was a little chameleon, constantly changing to fit whatever situation he was in. He seemed to have an ability to read most adults and discern what behavior they expected, and that was what he would give them. In play therapy he was at a loss. There was no set expectation of how he was to act.

She watched as Ezra hobbled over to the toy shelves and perused the toys. He took extra time looking at each toy until he seemed to reach some sort of internal time limit. Perhaps he thought she might be growing impatient.

"Don't you have any books?" Ezra asked.

"Not in this room," Lynn answered.

Ezra frowned. When Mother told him to go play he was expected to go sit down and read quietly, or practice with his cards.

"Do you have any cards?" he asked hopefully.

"No," said Lynn, "But I'll make sure we have some for the next time you come in."

Ezra moved to a chair and sat down.

Seeing that Ezra was going to need some help initiating play, Lynn directed him to the sand and water table.

"Why don't we play over here?" she asked.

Ezra stood and walked over to the table with his crutches. When he saw the sand, a look of disgust was clear on his face.

"Um, I don't really want to," he hedged. "I don't want to get all dirty."

Lynn watched him balancing on his crutches, brushing dirt off his hands, and he hadn't even touched anything yet.

"Do you like to color?" she asked.

Ezra shrugged. "I used to."

"You used to?"

Ezra moved over to the table with the papers and crayons and sat down. "Aunt Rachel gave me my very own coloring book."

For most children, a coloring book of their own wouldn't mean much, but Lynn sensed it was a very big deal to Ezra.

He looked at her for approval as he reached for a piece of paper. She nodded to him.

"It was all mine. Not Vin's. Not JD's. Just mine."

"That sounds very special," Lynn said.

Ezra nodded as he picked up the red crayon. "What do you want me to draw, Dr. Ashby?"

"It's Lynn," she said gently. "Draw whatever you want."

Ezra sighed. It was obviously hard for him to decide what he wanted to make. It was much easier when he was told what to do.

She watched as he drew a stick person in the middle of the picture. "My book had pictures of animals in it."

"The one your Aunt Rachel gave you?" asked Lynn.

Ezra nodded. He was busily drawing a group of stick people on the left side of the paper. "I don't have it anymore. I was really careful with it but it got..." his voice trailed off. He wasn't comfortable talking about what happened.

"I'm sure you took very special care of it," said Lynn. "What happened to it?"

Ezra heaved a big sigh. "It got lost in the flood." He picked up the gold crayon and drew another figure on the right side of the paper.

"A lot of things were lost in the flood," she said and then waited patiently for a response, but Ezra remained silent. He wasn't going to talk about the other things that were lost. At least, not yet.

"The little boy in your picture looks very sad," she said.

Ezra nodded.

"Why is he sad?" Lynn asked.

Ezra shrugged. "He doesn't know what to do."

"About what?"

"Are we done, yet?" asked Ezra. "I don't want to color anymore."

Lynn didn't want to push him any harder. He had already volunteered more than she expected. "Would you mind if I kept your picture?"

"Not at all, Dr. Ashby," said the eight-year-old. "You can keep it."

"I'll put it in my office," she said noting the details of the picture. The group on the left was 4 big people and 2 little people and a dog, each reaching towards the little boy in the middle of the picture. On the right was a single person drawn in gold and silver, likely Ezra's mother. She was also reaching for him, but her leg had a ball and chain attached to it. The little boy in the middle wore a frown. His hand rested on top of a dog's head. The little boy didn't know what to do.

"Ezra, can you do something for me this week?"

"Yes, Dr. Ashby?"

"It's Lynn," she insisted. She would continue to remind him until he felt safe using her first name. "I'd like for you to draw a picture of something that happens this week and bring it with you next time you come."

"Anything that happens?" he asked.

"Yes," she clarified, "anything that happens this week."

"Okay...Dr. Lynn."

Lynn smiled at him. It was progress. "Shall we?" she said, standing.

Ezra stood, brushed the wrinkles from his shirtsleeves, and hobbled toward the door.

The therapist followed. She'd progressed to "Dr. Lynn." She'd settle for that for today.


Lynn had warned Chris that things would likely get worse before they got better as she worked with the boys in facing the trauma. As she helped them explore their feelings it would bring all their fears to the surface. While he hoped it wasn't true, Lynn's words proved right. The boys had probably the roughest night since they came to the ranch.

JD was angrier than he had been in the last few days. He picked at Ezra all evening finally bringing the older boy to the point of exasperation. Ezra snapped back at JD and both boys were reprimanded and made to apologize.

When bedtime came all spats were called off as the boys didn't even bother with climbing into their own beds first before finding their way to JD's bed. All three climbed into JD's bed with no explanation to the adults.

Buck and Chris didn't object. It would be a long time before the boys felt secure and safe enough to sleep alone.

Three times during the night Buck and Chris rushed to the room at the sound of Vin's screams. The fourth time, near four-thirty a.m., it was JD. Ezra was sitting up, leaning against the headboard of the bed, sound asleep, in the exact position they'd left him after the previous nightmare. It had been one too many times for him. Vin, too, was asleep, too tired to wake up one more time. JD sat in the middle of the bed crying.

"Are you okay, Little Bit?" asked Buck softly.

JD shook his head. "No."

"Did you have a bad dream?" Buck asked.

JD nodded.

"Need a hug?"

JD crawled over Ezra's legs, jarring his injured knee, but the older boy didn't wake.

Buck scooped the boy up, balancing on his good foot. Chris placed a hand on his back, steadying him as Buck hugged the boy.

"You wanna come sleep with me?" Buck asked.

"Nuh-uh," said JD. "They'll be scared if I'm gone."

The little guy was probably right. They could easily picture Vin and Ezra panicking if JD was missing from the bedroom.

"Okay," said Buck, "How about if we just rest on Ezra's bed?"

JD thought for a moment and then nodded. That would work. He'd still be in the room if Vin and Ezra needed him.

Buck beamed at Chris over the top of JD's head. It was a step. JD was willing to accept comfort from him.

"I'll get your pillow," said Chris as Buck settled on the rollaway bed with JD. He couldn't help but smile, too as he walked down the hall to Buck's room. He hoped that some day soon Vin and Ezra would be able to show the same trust.


Sometime overnight Friday the rain finally stopped. Saturday morning found Vin standing as a sentry at the window watching for the flood to come. It didn't matter that Josiah had talked to him about the fact that it didn't flood every time it rained. It didn't matter that Chris had told him the same thing, the traumatized boy only believed what happened the last time it rained and that had been horrific.

Chris and Buck were both home today, which was good because Vin wasn't the only one troubled by the rain stopping. JD had attached himself to Buck and was trailing the man everywhere he went when he wasn't begging to be held. Ezra appeared to be unfazed by anything until a newsbreak during the cartoon he was watching showed flooding in the eastern U.S. Even that he seemed to process, understanding it wasn't here, but when Chris touched him on the shoulder to get his attention, the boy jumped and let out an uncharacteristic squeak of fear.

Chris observed the boys while he quietly moved around the house collecting the items he needed. He wanted to spend some time with Vin addressing his fear, but Ezra needed the assurances just as much as Vin, and Buck had his hands full with JD. It was a problem he hadn't encountered when he and Sarah were raising Adam. He didn't have to divide his attention between two or three boys. So he tried to come up with an idea they all could be involved in.

After a few trips outside, with anxious eyes watching every exit and re-entrance to the house, Chris walked over to Vin. "Come on, guys," said Chris. "It's time for lunch." He gently steered Vin away from the window and guided him to the kitchen.

"Hey, Pard'," said Buck, looking at the empty table, "I think you forgot the food."

"Nope," said Chris. "We're having a picnic."

"Picnic!" JD chirped excitedly. He liked picnics. They were fun. He got to eat lots of food and play games.

Vin chewed on his lower lip. A picnic meant going outside.

"I don't believe I can maneuver well in the outdoors with my crutches," Ezra said.

Chris wasn't going to take no for an answer from any of them. "You'll maneuver just fine," he said as he unexpectedly picked up Ezra and settled him on his hip.

Vin helpfully picked up Ezra's crutches, which had clattered to the floor.

"Thanks, Vin," said Chris. "Hold on to your crutches, Ezra." The eight-year-old blinked, still surprised by being picked up. He held out his hands and Vin gave him the crutches. Chris reached down and took Vin by the hand. "The food's waiting," he said.

He glanced over his shoulder and saw Buck letting JD scramble up and ride piggyback. Limited by his own set of crutches, the dark haired man wasn't able to carry the five-year-old the way he wanted.

Chris could feel the tension in both boys as they walked out into the yard. He knew that every step they took away from the house was gigantic for the boys, so he had set up the picnic in the backyard, far enough to be out of the house, but close enough not to tax Buck or Ezra with their crutches.

He'd laid out the picnic blankets on top of a tarp since the grass was still damp. A basket filled with food sat in the middle of the blankets. A box with some toys was next to it.

Chris stopped at the edge of the first blanket and let go of Vin's hand, brushing his hand over the back of Vin's head. "This looks like a good spot," he said. "Ezra, I'm going to put you down."

Ezra nodded and tried to hold the crutches out of the way as Chris sat him on the blanket.

"Need some help there?" asked Chris as Buck hobbled up with JD hanging on his back. He reached over and pulled JD off and stood him on his feet while he helped Buck sit down on the blanket.

As soon as Buck was down, JD was scrambling onto his lap.

Chris moved over to the picnic basket. "Could you give me a hand, Vin?" he asked, knowing that the seven-year-old needed a distraction. Vin slowly joined him at the basket and distributed the sandwiches and drinks as Chris handed them to him.

The blond sat down on the blanket, leaving only the seven-year-old sentry standing. Vin took one more look around before sitting down next to Chris.

As they ate, Buck and Chris told stories of picnics they had attended in the past telling of the fun and mischief they had gotten into. It had taken several stories, each more outlandish than the last before the boys weren't continually scanning the horizon looking for the floodwaters to come. One of Buck's tales about Chris jumping off a rope swing and losing his shorts in the water got the boys giggling. When Chris started threatening Buck they giggled even more.

"Was you cold, Chris?" asked JD

"Yeah, Chris," teased Buck, "Were you cold?"

"Maybe I should tell them about the time you and Betty-"

"No!" Buck yelped, a bit surprised that Chris would bring that up in front of the boys, but then he saw the mischievous grin. "I think maybe we should play a game or something," he suggested quickly.

"But your foot is hurt," said JD. "You can't play a game."

"Sure I can," said Buck. "I just can't run around the yard."

Chris tossed him a ball from the box of toys.

"See? We can play catch," Buck said tossing the rubber ball to Vin.

Vin tossed the ball to Chris, who tossed it to Ezra. The eight-year-old flinched when the ball hit him. He picked it up and handed it to Buck.

"Me!" said JD. He wanted his turn. Buck handed him the ball and the boy flung it at Vin. The ball sailed passed the seven-year-old.

"Oops," said JD, scrambling off Buck's lap and running for the ball. Vin jumped up and chased with him, both giggling as they ran. Chris stood and followed the boys moving the game away from the blanket.

"So what would you like to play, Ezra?" asked Buck. He was pretty sure that Chris had also noticed the eight-year-old's discomfort with the ball and had intentionally moved the game away from him. Buck reached out with his crutch and maneuvered the cardboard box closer to them. "Let's see what else we've got here. Football? Nah. Frisbee. Nope." Buck set the items aside. "Chutes and Ladders?"

Ezra shook his head and peered inside the box with Buck.

Buck grinned, pleased that Ezra was participating and wanting to play. It was all too obvious that the boy had spent most of his time with adults and either wasn't allowed to play or simply didn't learn how. He was very much a little man rather than a little boy although occasionally he acted his age with Vin and JD.

"A deck of cards and a book," said Buck, pulling both items out of the box. Setting the book down between them, he said, "How about a game of Go Fish?"

"How about a game of poker?" Ezra countered, taking the cards from Buck's hands. "Five card stud, deuces wild."

Buck's mouth fell open. He snapped it shut, watching the boy shuffle the cards flawlessly despite his small hands. Ezra went through several maneuvers with the deck, a look of contentment on his face.

"I'd say you've done that before," said Buck.

Ezra's hands stilled. He clutched the deck of cards to his chest and nodded. "I've played cards as long as I can remember. I had my own deck, but I lost it."

Buck didn't have to ask how the cards were lost. They were obviously a victim of the flood. He wondered what lifestyle would make handling cards so natural to a child.

Ezra unconsciously caressed the deck running his fingers over the smooth back and then the edges. He closed his eyes tightly willing away the sudden overwhelming emotion of missing his mother.

Buck saw the emotions cross Ezra's face and decided a distraction was in order. "This is a good book. Have you ever read it?"

Ezra opened his eyes and slowly lowered the deck of cards to the picnic blanket. He picked up the book. "Treasure Island. Yes, it's a good story."

"I haven't heard it in a long time," said Buck. "Do you want to read it?"

"Aloud?" asked Ezra.

"Sure, if you want," said Buck. "That way we both can enjoy it."

"Okay," said Ezra. They both settled back and got comfortable as Ezra opened the book and began to read in his sweet southern drawl. His reading skills were exceptional for his age and he stumbled very little as he read through the first chapter. When he finished the chapter he looked over at Buck. The man was asleep. Ezra lay back and turned the page continuing to read silently. Before he'd finished two pages he joined Buck in slumber.

Chris looked over and shook his head wondering how Buck and Ezra could fall asleep amid the shrieks and squeals of JD and Vin. The boys were having a great time chasing and playing.

"You're it!" JD yelled as he crashed into Chris's leg. The blond steadied the boy to keep him from falling. "I'm it, huh? Then you'd better run!" JD squealed and ran away. Vin ran in the opposite direction, laughing heartily. Chris gave chase bringing more squeals from the boys. They ran right past Ezra and Buck, but neither even stirred.

After a few more minutes of running around, Chris collapsed on the blanket for a short break. Vin and JD dived on top of him giggling with mischief.

"Ugh!" Chris grunted as an elbow caught him in the stomach.

"Sorry," Vin gasped trying to catch his breath.

Chris crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue in silliness. Vin started giggling, a pure, joyful sound that was contagious. JD joined in and soon Chris was laughing, too, as he lay back with an arm wrapped around each boy.

Unnoticed by the boys, Buck lifted his head and gave Chris a wink. Larabee had "done good." He lay back and smiled. For one afternoon three little boys had forgotten they were afraid of a flood.


Nettie stood under the tree in the backyard watching three children running around the yard laughing and yelling. It was her first official day at the ranch and the boys had welcomed her with open arms. They hadn't been quite so accepting of her five-year-old great niece, but any reluctance had passed when little Casey proved she was just one of the boys by playing in the dirt with JD.

She looked up at the porch where Josiah and Ezra were working on some project. She wasn't sure what they were working on, but she would not forget the smile that lit Ezra's face when Josiah came home early and announced "it" had come. When he held up the roll of tape, Ezra grinned widely and hobbled to his bedroom to get something.

JD squealed loudly drawing everyone's attention back to the yard. Casey had tackled him and they were rolling in the grass, laughing.

"He's getting away!" JD called. "Hurry." The two five-year-olds jumped up and chased after Vin as he ran across the yard.

Ezra smiled and then turned his attention back to the project. He and Josiah had the book that JD had torn and they were piecing the pages back together. They had laid all the pieces of pages out on the table and were sorting through them until they found all the pieces to a page. Ezra carefully held them in place while Josiah taped them with archival tape. They'd waited a few extra days to attempt the book repair because the bookstore had to order the tape. Ezra had wanted to use regular tape but Josiah assured him that the archival tape would be better as it wouldn't yellow with age or damage the pages.

It had taken a couple of hours, but they had finished the last page and now Ezra was taping it into the book. With a sigh of satisfaction he closed the book.

"It's a little lumpy," Josiah commented.

Ezra nodded pressing both hands down on the book in an attempt to flatten it. The large amount of tape required to piece it back together had thickened the book beyond its normal capacity. "It...It's okay," Ezra said, more in an attempt to assure himself than Josiah. "It's not the same as it was, but it's all together again."

Josiah nodded wondering if Ezra would realize the truth of his words. None of them would ever be the same again, but they were together, and one day they would be whole.

"Do you want to read it?" asked Ezra.

Josiah smiled and nodded. The boy certainly loved his books.

Ezra opened to the first page, flattening it as much as he could. Josiah closed his eyes as the boy started to read listening to the soothing southern drawl, thinking how special each of the boys were, and how grateful he was that he was a part of their lives.

Without doubt there would but times of turmoil, but he knew they would be forgotten in the times of joy. Together they would overcome the fallout, the aftermath of the flood. Unconventional, yes, but there was no doubt that Chris and Buck were meant to care for these boys and they were destined to be family.

He put his arm around Ezra's shoulder as the boy read. The eight-year-old looked at him, but didn't shrug off the embrace. He turned the page and continued to read.

Josiah smiled at the mini-miracle. Each day brought a new sign of acceptance from the boys. They just had to remember to hold on to those gifts when times were rough.

The rumble of a truck accompanied by a honking horn announced the arrival of Chris, Buck and Nathan. Vin and JD abandoned their game and raced to the driveway. Chris scooped up Vin and hugged him as Nathan picked up JD and held him out so the boy could hug Buck with out tangling with his crutches. Nettie and Casey joined hands and walked toward the house, joining the others as they reached the porch.

"It's not the same as it was, but it's all together again."

"Now it's complete," Josiah said softly.

Ezra looked at him and then around the porch where everyone was standing. He shrugged and turned the page not having a clue what Josiah was talking about. He just knew it felt safer when everyone was home.

Josiah chuckled and pulled Ezra closer. The boy grimaced at the act, but leaned against Josiah anyway, soaking in the embrace, and simply enjoying the feeling of being safe.

"Well, boys," said Nettie. "Don't just stand around. Supper's getting cold."

Everyone laughed and moved inside. It was good to be home.

The End

Next: Midnight Run

North Pass Ranch Index

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