by Joy K

Buck chuckled to himself. Lunch was finished and everything was put away before he told the boys they could go outside to play. Vin and JD had dashed out the door with no delay. Ezra, on the other hand had gone back to their room and changed his clothes.

He emerged wearing what he had deemed his 'practical' clothes. The clothing he had been wearing was perfectly fine for playing in, but Ezra had donned the overalls, hiking boots and flannel shirt that Chris had purchased for him on their first trip to town. Ezra hated the clothes but apparently considered them a better alternative than taking a chance on getting his play clothes wet or muddy.

Buck held the door open as the boy thump thump thumped out the back door in his stiff boots.

"Have fun!" he called as Sam came running to meet Ezra.

Buck did the dreaded cleaning while the boys were outside. He started a load of laundry. It was amazing how many clothes little boys could go through. He picked up a few stray items and got out the vacuum cleaner.

He had just put the vacuum away when JD's high-pitched scream and Vin's yell brought him running out of the house.


His heart raced as he saw Vin and Ezra under the apple tree. JD was lying on the ground at their feet.

"What happened?" he asked as he slid to his knees next to JD. The five-year-old was sobbing hysterically.

"He fell," said Vin.

"I'm sorry," said Ezra.

Buck looked up when he heard the fear in Ezra's voice. He didn't have time to deal with Ezra's fears and deal with a medical emergency at the same time. "Ezra, I need your help here," he said hoping that keeping the oldest boy involved in the situation would be enough.

"Ow, Buck! Ow, Buck! It hurts," cried JD.

"What hurts, Little Bit?"

"My arm," JD complained holding his left arm tight to his tummy with his right.

"Let me take a look," Buck soothed. He did a quick check of JD's arm. It didn't look broken, but it easily could be. "Okay. Ezra, go get me a bag of frozen peas from the freezer and a towel. Vin, go call Miss Nettie and see if she's home and tell her what happened. We'll need a ride into town. If she's not home, call Tiny. His number is on the list by the kitchen phone."

Both boys raced away to do their assignments.

"It's Ezra's fault," JD whined. "It hurts, Buck."

"I know it hurts, JD. How is this Ezra's fault?" Buck answered.

"He maked me fall out of the tree," JD said, sniffling.

"He pushed you?"

"Noooo," JD started sobbing. "He was too high and it was slippery and I falled."

Buck grimaced. "I think I remember telling you not to climb the tree."

"But, Ezra climbs it."

Buck wiped JD's tears off his cheeks. "Ezra is almost nine. When you're almost nine, you can climb it, too. Right now your body isn't as big or as strong as Ezra's."

"I's sorry, Buck," JD cried.

Buck carefully sat beside JD and pulled him onto his lap. "It was an accident, Little Bit. You didn't fall on purpose."

"Here's the peas," said Ezra breathlessly as he ran back to Buck.

"Good job, Ezra. Wrap the towel around them and put it on JD's arm," Buck instructed. "Gently."

JD still hissed when the towel touched his arm.

"I'm sorry," Ezra said.

"It'll be all right, Ezra," Buck soothed.

The screen door slammed as Vin hurried outside. "Miz Nettie's on her way. She'll be here in fifteen minutes," he said as he ran over to Buck. "She told me to bring this," he added, holding out a blanket.

"Thanks, Vin. Good thinking," said Buck as he wrapped the blanket around JD.

"Is his arm broke?" asked Vin.

"I don't know. We'll have to go to the clinic to find out," Buck answered honestly. He blinked away the moisture in his own eyes, as JD's crying got louder.

"It's 'kay, JD," said Vin. "I broke my arm once. It hurts for a bit, but then it's fine."

Buck smiled, proud of Vin's efforts to reassure his 'little brother.' He glanced at Ezra and caught him wiping away a tear. "Ezra, can you tuck that blanket a little more around his legs."

Ezra rapidly complied, but stepped back just as quickly. It was obvious that he still expected some form of reprimand.

"Can you go call Chris?" Buck asked him. Ezra looked apprehensive.

"I can call him," Vin volunteered.

"Okay. Just tell him what happened and that Nettie's taking us to the clinic," Buck instructed. "Ezra, can you grab a couple of snacks from your snack boxes for everybody, and pick out a couple of quiet toys for each of you and put them in a backpack?"

Ezra nodded.

"I don't know how long we'll be at the clinic, and it doesn't hurt to be prepared. Grab your light jackets, then leave a note for Josiah and Nathan telling them where we are in case we miss them in town."

He turned to Vin as Ezra hurried toward the house. "After you call Chris, put the dogs in the run, grab my cell phone off my dresser, and my keys. When you and Ezra are done in the house, lock it up, okay?"

Vin nodded and ran off toward the house.

"How are you doing, Little Bit?" Buck asked. JD had calmed somewhat, but the question evoked more tears.

"Nettie will be here in just a few minutes and then we'll head to town to fix you up," Buck soothed.

"It's cold," JD said complaining of the impromptu ice pack.

"Yep, but it's helping your arm," Buck replied, rocking JD slightly.

"Okay." The little boy blew out a big sigh.


"Okay. Bye. We'll see you there," said Vin ending his phone call to Chris. He placed the phone on the charger and stood for a moment watching Ezra pull snacks out of each of their snack boxes and put them in a backpack.

Vin bit his lip. He was supposed to do something else, but he couldn't remember what it was. Buck gave him a whole bunch of things to do and all he could think of was to call Chris. He couldn't remember any of the other things.

"What am I supposed to do?" he asked quietly, slightly ashamed at not being able to remember.

Ezra stopped what he was doing and looked at Vin. He could barely remember what he was supposed to do. How was he supposed to remember what Mr. Wilmington told Vin? He zipped up the backpack not voicing his frustration. He remembered JD's mother telling the teacher one time that she should tell Vin only one thing at a time. Vin was smart, but when you gave him a whole bunch of things to do he got confused. And when he got confused, he got frustrated and upset and thought he was stupid. Ezra sucked in a shuddering breath at the feeling it gave him remembering Aunt Rachel hugging Vin and telling him how smart he was. He looked at the two dogs, which were standing next to them, and half smiled as Dobie was almost prancing left foot to right foot over and over in anticipation of Vin playing with him.

"The dogs," said Ezra suddenly. "We can't leave them out when we go. Put them in the dog run."

"Okay," said Vin, relief evident in his voice. "Come on, Dobie. Come, Sam."

Watching him lead the two dogs out the door, Ezra tried to remember what else he was supposed to do. "Jackets," he said to himself. "Jackets and a note." He grabbed the note pad next to the phone and carefully printed:

Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Jackson, we took JD to town. He hurt his arm. Ezra P. Standish.

Pinning the note to the bulletin board, he hurried to the closet to get jackets.

"Dobie didn't want to go in," said Vin, meeting Ezra at the bedroom door.

"He's in, though?"


"We need to get a jacket for Mr. Wilmington," said Ezra.

Both boys ran to Buck's bedroom. Ezra set the boys' jackets on the bed and opened the closet to get Buck's.

"He'll need his wallet," said Vin, picking it up off the dresser.

"Good thinking," Ezra said, closing the closet and picking up the other coats. "His phone," he suggested.

"Yeah," Vin agreed. "And the keys!" he added quickly. "I'm supposed to lock the door when we're done." He smiled at being able to remember one of the things he was supposed to do.

"Okay. Let's go. I'm sure Mrs. Wells will be here any minute," said Ezra leading the way back to the kitchen to grab the backpack.

"It's too bad Buck doesn't have a back seat in his truck so we could just go with him," Vin said.

Ezra nodded and waited as Vin locked the door. "There's Mrs. Wells," he said as her Explorer came up the long driveway. They quickly climbed into the vehicle and were soon on their way to the Four Corners Clinic.


Nettie watched the two older boys as they waited while the doctor worked on JD. Vin had a coloring book, but he wasn't doing much coloring; and Ezra was trying to read a book, but he hadn't turned many pages.

Ezra put his book in the backpack and that's when he noticed his boots. There was mud stuck in the grooves of the sole. Without thought Ezra started doing what any little boy would do. He started picking the mud out of the grooves. Of course, Ezra being Ezra couldn't actually touch the dirt, so he grabbed a magazine with a torn cover and used it to dig at the mess.

Nettie smiled wondering how long it would take Ezra to notice the mess he was making on the floor.

It wasn't long until the green eyes widened and Ezra let out a gasp. He looked around desperately for something to clean up the pieces of caked mud from the floor. Vin was oblivious to his distress as he colored with the black crayon.

Nettie saw the custodian scowling at the mess Ezra had made and she took pity on the boy. Grabbing another magazine she helped Ezra use the one he was holding as a 'dust pan' and swept the mess onto it with the other magazine.

"Just dump it in the trash," she told him softly, then glared at the custodian who was muttering something about kids and messes.

Ezra disposed of the magazine and the mud and returned to his chair. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Wells."

She patted his hand reassuringly. "How are you boys doing?" she asked quietly.

"Fine," Vin and Ezra answered simultaneously.

"Well, I'm not," Nettie said. "I'm feeling bad because it's all my fault JD is hurt."

"No!" Vin protested. "It's not your fault. You weren't even there."

"Exactly," said Nettie. "If I had been there, perhaps I could have kept JD from falling."

"It's not your fault," said Ezra. "You can't stop an accident from happening."

Nettie looked Ezra in the eye hoping the boy would heed his own words. "Neither can you," she said and then turned to Vin, "or you."

She motioned for the boys to come and sit close to her. "The only one who could have kept JD from falling is JD. He knew he wasn't supposed to climb the tree."

"But he wanted to be with me," said Ezra. "If I hadn't been in the tree…"

Nettie put an arm around Ezra's shoulder. "You were not forbidden to climb the tree, were you?"

"No, Ma'am," Ezra replied. "Mr. Larabee just said to be very careful."

"And you don't need to feel badly about doing something he gave you permission to do," Nettie said. "JD made his own decision."

"But he's little," said Vin. "I should'a been watching him instead of Peso."

"You can't watch JD every second, Vin," said Nettie. "It's admirable that you want to protect him, but JD has to learn to take care of himself, too. He decided to climb the tree and now he's learning why Chris and Buck told him not to." Nettie brushed her hand over Vin's. "What was Peso doing?"

Vin grinned slightly. "He was bucking and kickin' and running all over the pasture."

The trio were silent for a few minutes before Nettie said, "It's not your fault."

"Yes, Ma'am," both boys replied.

"And it's not yours either," said Vin, still concerned that Nettie thought it was her fault.

Ezra smiled slightly. He realized that Nettie didn't really think it was her fault and was saying that just to make him think.

Nettie was pretty smart.

"Hi, guys," said Chris as he entered the waiting area. "Any word, yet?"

"Not yet," Nettie replied.

Chris sat down next to Vin. "So he fell out of the tree, huh?"

Vin nodded.

"I've fallen out of a few trees of my own," said Chris.

Vin hesitantly answered, "Me, too."

Ezra swung his feet back and forth a few times before confessing, "Me, too."

"Me, too."

Everyone looked at Nettie and started laughing.

"It's true," she said, laughing along with them. "But I didn't break my arm. I broke my brother's arm."

Chris grinned as Vin looked at Nettie in disbelief. "How'd you do that?"

"I fell on him."

"That must have hurt," said Ezra.

"More so for him than me," Nettie said with a chuckle. "I didn't even have a bruise and poor Gerald had to run around all summer with a cast. It was a hot summer, too."

"Here we are," said Buck as he rejoined the group, carrying JD on his hip.

"You got a cast!" said Vin hurrying over to inspect JD's arm.

JD nodded. "It's broken a little."

Chris raised his eyebrows in question.

"What he means," said Buck, "is that he has a hairline fracture. A few weeks in the cast and he'll be good as new."

"And I'm never ever ever ever ever ever gonna climb the tree again," said JD emphatically. "Until I'm eight."

Everyone laughed. "Well, see about that, Little Bit," said Buck. "I think for now we should grab a pizza and head for home. How's that sound?"

Chris nodded his consent. "The truck's out front."

"Are you coming, too, Miz Nettie?" asked Vin.

"No, Sweetie," she replied. "I'm going to pick up some groceries and go home. I'll see you boys tomorrow."

She kissed JD, touched Vin's hair, and stopped short of hugging Ezra. He opened his arms and gave her a tentative hug.

"Thank you, Mrs. Wells."

"Yes, thank you," said Buck.

"Thank you, Miz Nettie," said JD.

"Enough," she said with a laugh. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Chris handed Buck his keys and followed Nettie to walk her to her car.

"All right, boys," said Buck. "Let's go home."


"I've got to get a different vehicle," said Buck. They had just finished settling the boys into bed and were taking the opportunity to debrief and unwind.

"No," said Chris, understanding Buck's thinking. "I should have left my truck with the boys' booster seats. I didn't even think about it when I left. I should have realized I was leaving you without a vehicle that the boys could ride in."

"I don't know what I would have done if Nettie wasn't home."

"You would have called an ambulance and called someone else to come watch the boys," said Chris.

"I hate to give up my truck, but it just isn't kid friendly," said Buck.

Chris was silent for a few moments before responding. "I don't think you should have to give up your truck, Buck. You've already given up your privacy by moving out of your place into the main house. You're sacrificing your time and energy watching the boys and cooking. I know how much you love them, but legally and financially they are my responsibility."

Buck opened his mouth to protest, but closed it saying nothing. They had started the process of having Buck declared a foster parent, but Chris was the one the state charged with responsibility for their care. "So what are you thinking?" Buck asked in frustration. "You shouldn't have to leave your truck home every day either."

"No, but I'm thinking maybe it's time for the ranch to buy a new vehicle. Maybe an SUV or something that could haul not only people, but pull the trailers, too," Chris suggested.

"Can we afford that?" Buck asked.

Chris nodded. "Not something brand new, but I'm sure we can find a good used vehicle to do the job. Grandpa's truck has seen better days."

Buck laughed. Grandpa's truck was a 1969 Chevy pickup held together with bailing wire. Ezra wouldn't go near the thing, declaring it a death trap. "Well, we'll have to watch out against flood damaged vehicles."

Chris nodded. "For now, the car seats stay wherever the boys are and if Nettie's not here, my truck stays here. Deal?"

"Deal," Buck said. "I just hope I don't have to ever use it for something like that again."

Chris laughed. "They're boys. You know we will."

"Yeah," said Buck, "Think I'm going to call it a night. I'm beat."

"Good night," Chris replied.

He stayed up for another hour watching the late news and reading the newspaper before he locked up and went to bed… hoping for a full night's sleep.


"That's dumb."

"It is not. Don't you see?" Ezra answered, his frustration growing by the minute. "If you just hang them up, we'll have room in the drawers for the toys and if the toys are put away we'll have enough space in our room."

Vin looked at Ezra as if he was sprouting horns. Hanging up your underwear and socks was the dumbest idea he'd ever heard.

"But they'll fall off the hangers," protested JD. "It's dumb."

"No, it's not," Ezra argued. Why couldn't they see that this was the perfect solution to their space problem? That maybe if there was enough space he could stay.

"It is, too," JD yelled, stuffing his socks back into his drawer with one hand.

Ezra grabbed the socks and pulled them back out. "We'll have more space," he said getting more desperate with each moment. "We have to hang them up."

"No!" said JD. "I'm not gonna." He ran out of the room. "Bu-uck!"

Ezra continued pulling the socks from the drawer and laying them out on JD's bed.

"What's wrong, Little Bit?" asked Buck as JD trotted into the living room where the two men were reading the newspaper.

"Ezra says we has to hang up our underwears and socks!" said JD with a stomp.

"What?" asked Buck curiously.

"He says we has to hang up our socks so he have more room."

Chris and Buck exchanged glances. Something was going on here and it was much more than laundry.

"Let's see what this is all about," Buck said as he put down the paper and stood. Both men followed JD. They entered the room to find Ezra standing at the closet door with an armful of socks and underwear.

"Ezra, you don't need to hang up your personals."

Buck had no idea the effect his words had on the eight-year-old. Ezra heard more than disapproval of what he was doing. To him it confirmed he was leaving. Again. He didn't need to hang up his clothes if he wasn't staying. Ezra fought back his tears unable to hide his crushing disappointment that they were sending him away. He had tried so hard, but he had failed. The fear and hurt overwhelmed him and he could no longer hold himself together.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I just can't do it," he cried. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do."

The sudden tears and apology surprised both men. Ezra was getting more upset by the moment, breaking into heavy sobs, literally shaking and gasping for air.

Vin and JD instinctively moved closer together, neither knowing what to do with their "brother's" behavior.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Ezra gasped between sobs.

Hearing the desperation, Buck moved forward and wrapped Ezra in a hug, holding him despite his initial resistance. Chris gently steered Vin and JD out of the room.

"What's wrong with Ezra?" JD asked as Chris led them into the living room and sat down on the couch. Each boy snuggled close to him needing reassurance.

"I'm not sure," said Chris. "We'll give them a few minutes to talk it out."

"Is it 'cause we don't hang up our socks?" Vin asked.

"You don't need to hang up your socks," Chris replied.

"Ezra says if we hang up our socks we can put our toys in the drawers," said JD. "And then we'll have lots of room to play."

Slowly the pieces were falling into place for Chris: the sudden change from Ezra stubbornly leaving his bed out all day to keeping it closed up until the last second before bed; Ezra playing in the room until Vin and JD joined him and then either sitting on JD's bed or leaving the room; the obsession with cleaning, with storing as many things as possible under JD's bed or in the closet. Something was pushing Ezra to try and make as much space as possible in their room. Maybe Buck was right. Maybe it wasn't only time for a permanent bed for Ezra; maybe it was time for his own room.


"It's okay," Buck soothed trying to get the Ezra calmed down enough that he could talk.

The eight-year-old took several shuddering breaths trying to control himself.

"Can you tell me what's wrong?" Buck asked gently.

"I'm sorry," said Ezra, his breath catching on the last word.

"What for?" The dark haired man sat down on JD's bed, pulling Ezra up beside him.

"I don't know what else to do," Ezra said desperately. "I tried. What did I do wrong?"

"Kiddo, you're leaving me a few steps behind here," Buck said with a soft smile. "What are you talking about?"

Ezra looked at him through tear-reddened eyes and wiped stray moisture from his cheek. "I don't want to go."

Buck frowned slightly. "Go where, Ezra?" he asked suspecting that he already knew the answer.

"I want to stay." Ezra shuddered as he fought back more tears. "I just don't know what I did wrong."

"You aren't going anywhere," Buck said firmly, "And you didn't do anything wrong. What makes you think you're going somewhere?"

Ezra dropped his head to avoid Buck's gaze. "I didn't mean to," he said softly, "but I heard you say there isn't enough room and I need to be away from Vin and JD."

"Oh," Buck said, trying to think of what exactly Ezra had overheard.

"I'm not bad to Vin and JD," the eight-year-old added. "And I tried to do everything right, but I don't know what I didn't do. You have to tell me. I'll do it."

"Everything all right?" Chris asked from the doorway. "Josiah's with Vin and JD so I thought I'd come and see how you're doing."

"Come on in and have a seat," said Buck. "Ezra's under the impression that we're sending him away because there isn't enough room."

"That's not going to happen," Chris said crossing the room and sitting on the opposite side of Ezra from Buck.

"I tried…"

"Ezra," Buck said, "You didn't do anything wrong and you're not going anywhere. I think you misunderstood what Chris and I were talking about."

"We can give Mrs. Wells her rollaway bed back. I can sleep on the floor," Ezra said desperate to stay with his brothers.

"No," said Chris. "Absolutely not. No boy of mine is going to sleep on the floor."

Ezra's eyes widened in surprise at the words -- words he hadn't even realized that he hoped to hear. Chris said he was his boy.

"The conversation you overheard was about getting you a new bed," Buck said.

"I have a bed," Ezra answered.

"You have a borrowed bed," Chris countered. "And you've had a borrowed bed for too long. We should have gotten you your own bed a long time ago."

"It's okay," said Ezra. "I like the rollaway. We don't have enough room for another bed."

"Well, that's something we've been talking about, too," said Chris. "We've been noticing that you need some time away from Vin and JD and thought maybe that it's time for your own room."

Ezra unconsciously shook his head. "I like Vin and JD."

Buck grinned. "There's a big difference between liking somebody and spending every moment of your day with them."

Ezra swallowed hard. It was confusing. They said they weren't going to send him away. They wanted to get him a new bed. They wanted him to have his own room.

Chris watched the emotions flitting across Ezra's face. The confusion was obvious, but he could see the fear in Ezra's eyes.

"Do you want to have your own room?" Chris asked.

Ezra shook his head again, unaware of the movement. "If that's what you want," he answered quietly, contradicting his body language.

"That's not what I asked," said Chris. "I want to know what you want."

Ezra looked up at him. He felt that same strange compulsion to tell Chris the truth that he felt every time Chris asked if he was feeling all right. But what would happen if he told the truth? Chris already said he was staying, and if that were really true, then maybe the worst that would happen would be that they separate him from Vin and JD at night, but he could still see them during the day.

Ezra took a deep breath and rapidly blurted out, "I want to stay with Vin and JD," hoping that it would be okay if he just said it quick enough.

Chris looked at Buck and the other man nodded back to him. Josiah had suggested that while Ezra was old enough for his own room, and though he may need some time away from Vin and JD, that his fear of abandonment might outweigh any other need for the eight-year-old. He was still desperately holding on to his brothers.

"Okay," said Chris. "But understand this," he added, "some time down the road you're going to want your own room. Choosing to stay with Vin and JD now doesn't mean you can't have your own room later. Okay?"

Ezra nodded, relieved that he could stay with Vin and JD. "But if we get a real bed, there won't be enough room in our room."

Chris nodded. "We've been talking about that as well, but we wanted to find out how you felt about things before making a decision. We'd like Vin and JD to help us make the decision, too. Is that all right with you?"

"Yes," Ezra agreed readily.

"Then why don't we join them in the living room and talk about our options?" asked Chris.

Ezra slid off the bed and stood up and wiped his eyes. Buck squeezed his shoulder before leading the trio back to the living room.

"Guys, we have something we want to talk to you about," Chris said as they joined Josiah and the boys. Ezra walked over to the couch and sat down between Vin and JD. Josiah moved to the recliner so Buck could sit with the boys. Chris sat on the coffee table in front of the couch, wanting to be close to the boys for this discussion.

"Do we have ta hang up our socks?" asked JD.

Chris smiled. "No. Your socks can stay in the dresser."

"Okay," said JD as Buck ruffled his hair fondly.

"We need you guys to help us make some decisions," Chris continued. "I'd like you to listen to some options and then we all get a chance to give our opinions. All right?"

The boys nodded, a little uneasy that Chris was having them help decide something.

"We all know the bedroom is too small to have all your beds in and to play in."

"I keep running into Ezra's bed," said JD.

Ezra lowered his head and picked at the seam of his pants. Chris reached out and touched his knee, drawing his attention and giving him a reassuring nod.

"We're going to be doing something about that," he said. "We're going to give the rollaway bed back to Miss Nettie, and get Ezra a real bed."

"But where…"

"Hang on, Little Bit," Buck interrupted. "Let Chris tell you the ideas, then you can talk. Okay?"

"Okay," JD said with a slight sigh as he leaned against Buck.

"Even without three beds in the room, there's not really enough room for all of you to play, so we've been trying to come up with some alternatives. Now, hear me out before you say anything."

The boys nodded.

"Okay, one option would be for me to trade rooms with the three of you since my room is bigger."

JD started to say something but caught himself and covered his mouth with his hand.

Chris smiled and continued. "Another option would be to have your bedroom just for sleeping and dressing and make the office into a play room."

Chris looked at Vin and Ezra. Both were frowning as they contemplated the suggestions.

"Or, we could take out the wall between the office and your bedroom and make it one big room."

Seeing that JD was about to burst, he nodded toward him. "What do you think, JD?"

"I think we should have your room because then we'd have our own bathroom and then we wouldn't have to clean it up when somebody was coming over."

Chris fought to contain his laughter. He would have thought exactly the same thing as a kid. He hated cleaning up.

"So I think that's the bestest choice."

"No!" Vin and Ezra both answered at the same time.

"Why not? It's…"

"Hold on, JD," said Chris, "Let Ezra talk next, then Vin, and then you can have another turn."

JD huffed softly but didn't say anything.

"Ezra?" Chris asked. "You don't like that option?"

Ezra shook his head, but didn't voice his reason. It was a fairly easy guess, though, that he didn't want Chris to be put out. He didn't want to give any reason for Chris to get tired of him.

"What about you, Vin?"

Vin ducked his head slightly, not meeting Chris's eyes. "I don't think we should have your room."

"Why not?" Chris urged gently.

Vin hesitated before speaking. "Because it was your special place with Mrs. Chris… and we already took Adam's room."

Chris swallowed hard at the unexpected words. Buck looked at him with a sad smile knowing he had been blindsided by Vin's consideration. Ezra watched closely to see what kind of reaction Chris would have to Vin mentioning Mrs. Larabee and Adam. Chris reached out and took Vin's hand, pulling him gently from the couch and onto his lap.

"Thank you, Vin. I appreciate your concern and thoughtfulness." He hugged Vin and fought back the tears that threatened. "But I want you to know you didn't take anything. I gave you that room because it was my son's room and you are my sons now. All of you."

"Me, too?" asked JD.

Chris smiled. "You, too. Ezra, too. So I think we've ruled out trading rooms?"

All three boys nodded.

"Even though you have to clean the bathroom?" he asked.

JD nodded and giggled.

Sam, Larabee's Labrador wandered into the room in search of his boy. Spotting Ezra, he walked over and wedged himself between Ezra's knees and the coffee table. Without conscious thought Ezra began to stroke the dog's head.

"Okay, what about the office? Use it as a play room, or tear down the wall and make it one big room with your bedroom?"

"Big room!" JD voted eagerly.

"No," Ezra disagreed again. He looked at Chris and spoke hesitantly. "It requires you giving up your office."

"It's not a problem, Ezra," Chris said, trying to assure him. "We could move the desk and computer into this room, put it in the corner over there. Then we all could have access to the computer, within reason of course. And I need to go through the file boxes and get rid of some stuff anyway. What I need to keep I can store in my bedroom closet or in the garage."

Ezra frowned, still not happy with the thought of Chris giving up his office. He scratched Sam behind his ear. Even in his few short years he had experienced the angry displeasure of someone making a sacrifice and then later changing his mind. He didn't want to give Chris any reason to send him away.

He sighed softly and then said, "We can't take down the wall."

"Why not?" said JD. "We'd have lots of room and we could play lots and lots."

"It costs money, JD," Ezra answered.


Buck hugged JD as the energy seemed to deflate right out of him.

"Money's not an issue," said Chris.

"If we take down the wall you'll have one less room in your house," Ezra countered. "Then what will you do when someone comes to spend the night?"

Chris looked Ezra in the eye. "It's your house, too, Ezra. This will always be your home."

"My mother…"

"This will always be your home," Chris emphasized. He knew that some day Maude would come back and try to claim her boy. When she did, she would have a fight on her hands. He had no intention of letting Ezra go back into that life. But he couldn't tell Ezra that right now. The eight-year-old had enough to handle without worrying about being pulled between his mother and Chris. The time for that discussion would come later, much later. For now Ezra simply needed security. He needed to know he wasn't going to be tossed aside at a whim or for personal convenience.

"What if…" Vin started, but then fell silent.

"Go ahead," Chris encouraged.

"Would it cost very much if we made a door between the rooms. You know, instead of taking the whole wall down?"

Chris smiled. "It wouldn't cost much," he answered.

"Then if someone needs ta use the room when they visit, they can," Vin added. "We could put all our toys away and they could borrow Miss Nettie's bed."

"What do you think, guys?" Chris asked.

"We could pretend it's a secret passin' way," said JD.

"Passageway," Buck corrected. "I like it, too."


The boy gave a reluctant nod, massaging Sam's neck.

"I like it, too," Chris said. "So we'll start working on it this weekend. Think about what kind of a bed you'd like, Ezra."

"He should get a top bunk," said JD. "And then I could get a top bunk, too, and we'd have room to play under 'em."

"You can't have all top bunks," said Vin. "What would hold them up?"

"We could hang them from the ceiling!" JD countered.

Buck grinned at JD's creativity.

"Then how would you get up to them? You have to have something to climb?" said Vin. "Besides, if somebody gets sick, you gotta have a bottom bunk so Chris or Buck can reach."

Chris smiled, too. What a contrast - JD's creativity and Vin's practicality. And then there was Ezra, still worried that he was too much bother.

"May I make a suggestion?" asked Josiah. He had been listening to the conversation and turning over some ideas in his mind.

"Sure," said Chris.

"JD's idea has some merits. If we make the third bed a loft bed, you could move the dressers under it. I think I could build something that would match the bunks."

"You can make a bed?" asked JD.

"I can do quite a bit of carpentry," Josiah answered. He picked up the note pad and pencil by the phone and moved over to the couch, sitting next to Ezra. He laid the pad on the table and sketched out a rough drawing of the bunk beds. Vin slid off Chris's lap and looked closely at what Josiah was drawing.

"Here's the bunk beds," said Josiah. "And on this wall, I could build a loft bed and we could move the dressers over."

"But if you moved the beds closer together, you'd have even more room," Vin suggested. He held out his hand and Josiah handed him the pencil. Vin drew a crude line drawing of the top of the bunk bed showing the head of the loft bed butting up against the side of the foot of the bed. "Like this. And they could go in the corner. And we can put the ladders on the ends like this." He sketched a couple of lines at the end of each bed. "And then underneath maybe we could put a dresser and maybe a chair so Ezra has a place to read."

Ezra perked up a little and leaned over Sam to see the drawings.

"And maybe if it doesn't cost too much, we could make drawers to go under JD's bunk."

"What do you think, boys?" Chris couldn't conceal his pride at Vin's ingenuity.

"I want a top bunk," said JD, waving his cast around.

Ezra grimaced. He didn't think that Chris or Buck would agree to JD having a top bunk after his experience with falling out of the apple tree. Still, it wouldn't hurt to ask.

"If it's okay with Mr. Larabee," Ezra said checking both Buck and Chris's reactions, "I don't mind sleeping on the lower bed." He rubbed the top of Sam's head and smiled slightly as the dog leaned into his touch. "I like being closer to the floor." He didn't tell them that he liked to have Sam sleep close to him at night. The old Labrador was a good source of security.

Chris watched Ezra's expression and his interaction with the dog. He could tell Ezra was worried about JD's wrist. But boys were boys and accidents happened. He recognized that it was risky for Ezra to make the suggestion. Maybe he really did want the lower bunk even if it was just so Sam could be close. The boy's eyes were hopeful that he would agree. "Are you sure, Ezra? It's up to you."

"I'm sure," he said giving Sam a hug.

Dobie, Vin's Labrador bounded into the room looking for excitement having just awakened from his nap somewhere. He barked once and ran straight for Vin, knocking him into Josiah. Vin laughed and petted his dog. "I think Dobie wants to go outside."

The dog wiggled in response to the word "outside." Sam started wagging his tail, too.

"Looks like they both want to go out," said Chris. "Why don't you boys take them for a run. We'll work out the rest of the details and start work on the rooms Saturday."

He smiled as three boys and two dogs raced outside.


Colorful curse words filled the dust filled air.


"Shut up, Buck," Chris growled. "They aren't in hearing range. Who's brilliant idea was it to put in pocket doors?"

Buck laughed. "I think that was actually Vin's idea. He said we'd have more wall space if there wasn't a door swinging in or out."

Josiah's hearty laugh sounded in the hallway ushering three little boys into the room.

"We're all done carrying the boards outside," JD reported, promptly stepping into Chris's way as he tried to nail the doorframe. "Can I do that?" he asked, pointing at the nail gun.

"NO!" all the adults chorused at once.

"But I like how the air goes poof when you do that," JD explained.

"No power tools," Chris said.

Vin moved closer and mimicked Buck, silently helping to hold the doorframe in place for Chris.

Ezra stood away from the mess brushing the dust off his pants.

Josiah smiled and patted Ezra's shoulder creating another puff of drywall dust.

"Why don't you boys go help Miss Nettie with dinner?" he suggested. Three little boys, anxious to be of help, hurried to the kitchen.

Chris looked at Josiah. "I'll make sure Nettie knows it was your suggestion," he said with a grin.

Josiah shrugged. "At least they're not underfoot in here."

"Ya'all want to hurry up?" said Nathan from the other side of the new doorway between the office and the boys' room. "This is getting heavy."

Chris chuckled and returned to his nailing.


It had taken until early evening to get the new doors installed, the loft bed up and the mess cleaned up, but the job was completed.

Dinner was done. Nettie had gone home and Josiah and Nathan had gone out to the bunkhouse for the night. Three little boys sat in the living room yawning, trying to stay awake for the end of the DVD they had chosen to watch. Even Buck and Chris were dozing off and on.

Vin looked around the room as the movie concluded. Everyone was asleep but him. He shut off the movie and walked over to Chris's recliner and touched his shoulder.

"Hmm?" Chris mumbled as he woke.

"The movie's done," Vin said. "It's time for bed."

Chris rubbed his eye. "Sorry about that. I must have dozed off." He looked around the room and grinned. "Looks like everyone else did, too."

Vin nodded and smiled.

"Okay, you go get yourself ready for bed and I'll round these guys up," said Chris.

Vin walked down the hall to the bathroom to brush his teeth and use the facilities.

Chris walked over to Buck and shook him. "Wake up, Sleepyhead."

"Huh?" said Buck groggily.

"It's time for bed," said Chris.

"You woke me up just to tell me it's bedtime?" Buck complained.

"We've got some little ones to get to bed," Chris said.

Buck looked at JD, sprawled awkwardly across his lap, his casted arm resting on a pillow. Ezra was leaning against the arm of the couch, soundly asleep.

Buck smiled. "We ought to remodel more often."

Chris chuckled. "I can think of easier ways to wear them out." He gently shook Ezra's shoulder to wake him as Buck struggled to stand and balance JD at the same time.

Eventually they got all three boys in bed and went to their rooms enjoying the silence.


Chris took a deep breath and let he out slowly. He stretched and then rolled over onto his side enjoying momentarily the fact that he could sleep in a little later on Sundays.

As he lay there listening to the silence, he suddenly realized no one else was in his bed and no one had awakened him during the night. Everyone had stayed in his own bed, or at least he hoped they had. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he grabbed a pair of sweat pants off the chair and slipped into them. He rubbed his face as he walked down the hall toward the boys' room.

Peeking in the door, he could see JD lying on his back waving one hand in the air. He was talking quietly and looked over at Vin's bunk. Chris could hear Vin's soft drawl answering. There was no response from the lower bunk. Ezra was still sound asleep, his arm dangling over the side of the bed, his hand resting on Sam's back.

They had made it through one night with each in his own bed. He hoped it was the beginning of a new trend. No doubt there would be more nights with bad dreams and the need for comfort, but maybe - just maybe, a few insecurities had been rolled away along with the rollaway bed.

The End

Next: A Better Way
North Pass Ranch Index