The Lost Boys VII:
A Spring to Remember

by Angie

Seventh story in The Lost Boys series.

The seasons changed suddenly that year. Warm winds from the southwest thawed the frozen ground, bringing new life to the fields. Flowers bloomed in a profusion of color. For the boys, it was a time of discovery. School was beginning again. Vin begged to be allowed to remain at the farm, not to have to be seen in the wheelchair, but Mr. Travis was firm with him. Education was a requirement of living there, not something to be taken lightly. Every morning, Josiah would lift him into the wagon with the others while Nathan put the chair in. The first few days, the children stared but then they lost interest, leaving the lonely child by himself. Buck and Chris took it upon themselves to help Vin in and out of the building, instead of leaving him inside as he begged them to do. By sticking together, they made sure that no one hurt Vin.

As soon as the weather permitted, Josiah got permission to ride out to visit his sister. Over the long winter months, he had written faithfully to her, receiving letters back from the nuns that assured him that someone had read them to Hannah. His sister was no worse, but she was no better either. He hoped that she would at least allow him to sit with her, not becoming upset as she had before. Mr. Travis had given him permission to seek work on the neighboring farms so he could earn money to pay for her care. He would still work at the farm, doing as much as he could, but he would not allow Orin to pay for Hannah’s care. She was his sister, his responsibility.

One afternoon, Vin sat in his chair on the back porch, staring longingly at the corral where the horses milled around. He desperately wanted to be able to ride but each day that went by without him being able to walk dimmed his hope. Mrs. Travis and Nathan continued to do the exercises with him but it seemed to be futile. Scamp bounded up to him, a stick in his teeth, to put his paws on Vin’s knees. Taking the stick, he threw it as hard as he could. Watching the little mutt race across the yard to fetch it only made him feel worse. When Scamp dropped the stick in his lap again, he drew back angrily, intending to throw the stick over the fence into the garden where he wouldn’t be able to get it. Before he hurled the stick he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Chanu, the Indian farmhand Mr. Travis had hired, was coming over the ridge leading a string of horses. He threw the stick, landing several yards short of his target, as he continued to stare at the straggly-looking animals. One of them, a mare, was heavy with foal, moving slowly and ponderously. Remembering the foal that had died last fall, he hoped that this one would survive. He could just see a fuzzy, spindly legged colt in his mind’s eye.

Chanu slowed as he approached the house. He could see the desire in the face of the little boy with the long hair. The other boys had told him about Vin’s injury and the surgery that was supposed to make him whole. It seemed as if the white doctor had only made things worse for the child, leaving him in a chair. When he reached the porch, he stopped, sliding gracefully from the horse’s back as he threw the rein across the rail. “How are you doing today, Vin?” he called to the boy.

“Okay,” Vin answered softly. “Are those your horses?”

“Yes, Mr. Travis said I could keep them here while I break them. Would you like to touch them?” Chanu asked. Seeing the eager nod, he mounted the steps, picking Vin up from his chair. He carried the boy to his mount, Fleetfoot, and put him on the horse. Vin’s eyes widened at being astride of the animal, his hands automatically going to grab the long mane. Chanu noticed the way the boy gripped the horse with his legs and nodded approvingly.

“Chanu, is that one going to have a foal?” Vin asked, his eyes riveted on the mare.

“Yes, she is past time to have it. I think she is waiting for the grass to be good so she can make good milk for the baby. Would you like to touch her?” Seeing the bright blue eyes alight with joy, he lifted Vin from the gelding and carried him to the mare. He stood Vin at her side, carefully supporting him as the boy ran his hands over the bulging side, pausing where he felt movement. The mare stood patiently, sensing that the small boy meant no harm as he leaned to press his ear to her side.

Evie came out to check on Vin, stopping to watch as Chanu let him get his fill of petting the horse. She could see that he had grown taller in the past few months, his pants a couple of inches shorter than they should be. When Vin tipped his head up to speak to Chanu, he lost his balance, grasping for support as his hip flared with pain. As she was preparing to run down to get him, Chanu swept Vin into his arms and carried him back to the gelding. Evie’s mouth hung open when the boy was settled on the bare back of the horse, sitting up tall as he held on to the mane. Smiling, she moved to the railing. “Now there is a sight I’d like to see more often,” she said.

“Look, I’m ready to ride!” Vin called to her, happiness shining in his face.

Eventually, Chanu returned Vin to his chair so he could move the horses into the corral. He put the mare in the birthing stall, staying with her until she seemed at ease there. Hearing the other boys coming, he went out to warn them to stay away from the mare.

Over supper that evening, Vin made an announcement, “I rode a horse today.” Orin nearly choked on his okra as he tried to picture the boy riding. Evie continued to eat calmly, her head down so that he could only barely see the smile on her face.

“You what?” he asked, after a gulp of tea to unclog his throat.

“I rode on Chanu’s horse today!” Vin answered.

“Evie? Is that true?” Orin asked.

“He sat on the horse right here at the porch. Chanu was right there the entire time,” she explained.

“I see. You understand that you aren’t to try to get on a horse unless an adult is there to help you, right Vin?”

“Yes, Sir,” Vin answered, his excitement slightly diminished.

“Can I ride a horse too?” JD asked. Orin slowly drew a deep breath, blowing it out before he spoke. He had to find a way to answer that wouldn’t upset the youngest boy.

“Perhaps I could take JD with me when I check the fences,” Nathan offered.

Knowing the old gelding the boys used was as tame as an old dog, Orin nodded, “Just in the empty fields and don’t go too far from the house.” Immediately, Chris and Buck were clamoring to be allowed to go too. “You’ll have to take turns,” Orin said.

That night, as they were sliding into bed, Orin asked his wife, “Should I tell Chanu not to put Vin up on the horses any more?”

“Heavens no! You should have seen his face. I don’t think he’s been that happy in a long time. It was good for him, gives him something to work toward,” she told him as she braided her hair for the night. “Besides, Chanu would never let anything happen to him.”

A couple of weeks passed and still the mare did not drop the foal. Vin begged the others to wheel him down to the barn so he could watch her. Chanu didn’t mind, as long as he was quiet. He sensed the rapport developing between the boy and the mare.

When the mare finally went into labor, Nathan offered to help; Chanu gladly accepted knowing that the young man had an interest in healing. Chanu also asked if Vin could come to the barn for the arrival of the foal. Evie agreed only if he was warmly bundled against the chill of the evening air. Vin was thrilled, he would have crawled down there if he could have. Nathan arranged a few bales of hay, covering them with a thick quilt, to make a place for Vin to sit where he would be comfortable.

Vin had fallen asleep by the time the foal was born. He wakened with a start when Chanu touched his shoulder. “Shh, come and see the little stallion,” Chanu said, gathering him up blanket and all. Nathan stood in the corner of the stall, watching the mare as she licked and nudged the trembling foal. Chanu knelt on the hay, settling Vin at his side where he could see the little horse up close. “You must help me decide on a name for him,” Chanu told Vin when the foal tried to nurse on Vin’s outstretched fingers, “He already likes you.”

It took Vin a couple of days to come up with a name, he wanted it to be perfect for the little black stallion with the white spot on his forehead. He was alone in the barn when a mid-afternoon thunderstorm struck. At first, he was worried that the lightening would frighten the little horse but he was soon giggling when the foal gave a hop and a jump with an especially loud roll of thunder. The next morning he told Chanu that he wanted to call the foal Storm.

With all of the other boys occupied with their chores, Buck and Vin were bored. After seeking permission from Evie, Buck pushed Vin’s wheelchair out across the hard-packed ground. Chanu had been teaching Vin to read animal tracks, partly to keep him occupied and partly because he had a natural knack for it. Vin delighted in showing the other boys what he had learned. He pointed to a small set of tracks, left from after the last rain had softened the dirt. Buck knelt, studying the tiny marks, trying to imagine what kind of animal could have made it.

“Is it a fox?” Buck asked, his eyes large as he looked toward the nearby woods.

“Nope, but you’re close,” Vin teased, not wanting to dampen Buck’s enthusiasm.

“A bobcat?” Buck guessed.

“No, it was a raccoon,” Vin replied, leaning forward to point out the tell-tale signs. The boys got farther away from the house as they followed the tracks, trying to see if they could discover where the animal had its den. Buck spotted something and left the chair to get a closer look. Before Vin knew what had happened, he heard Buck yelp. “Buck? Where are you? Buck, answer me!” Vin yelled as he scanned the area for the other boy.

Buck was startled when the ground beneath his feet suddenly gave way. He felt himself falling and reached out for anything to catch himself. Roots and small rocks were dislodged by his flailing hands, joining him on his downward trek. Suddenly, the hole opened and he hit the ground with an audible ‘whump.’ It hurt to draw a breath as he looked around at the inky blackness broken only by the shaft of light from overhead.

“Buck! Buck can you hear me?” Vin yelled. He had put his feet on the ground and rose shakily to look for his friend. “Buck! Where are you?”

“Vin! Help!” Buck called out, each word bringing another shot of pain to his side. “Get help!”

“I’m not leaving you!” Vin yelled back, taking unsteady steps toward the last place he had seen Buck. When he spotted the hole, he sank to his knees and crawled forward.

“Stay back! You’ll fall in too! You gotta get help!” Buck called, cradling his aching ribs with his arm. He felt something wet and sticky on his shirt and his stomach began to roll. “You gotta go bring back help!”

Looking at the barn in the distance, Vin was gripped by fear. He had been practicing his walking when no one was looking but he could only manage to cross the width of their bedroom. The quarter mile from where he sat to where he could get help seemed insurmountable. A whisper of doubt told him that he couldn’t make it and he chewed on his lower lip.

“Vin? You still there?” Buck called.

“What if I drop a vine down the hole?” Vin offered.

“I can’t climb … I’m bleeding,” Buck replied.

The words made his heart clench. Vin looked around, desperately hoping to see someone looking for them. Finally, he began to push his uncooperative body to stand. His hand closed on an old, broken branch and he used it to balance as he stood, swaying. “I’m gonna go. You hold on, Buck,” Vin yelled. Without waiting for a response, he took a hesitant step, then another and another. He left the chair, so he could tell the others where to look for Buck. Each step hurt but he kept going. As he walked, he found that it hurt less if he didn’t lean so hard on the branch. Gradually, he lengthened his steps to a more natural stride. Using his arms to steady his upper body, he dropped the branch.

Standing at the kitchen sink, Evie glanced out toward the garden where Nathan had spent the past few days turning the soil in preparation for the garden. Josiah was off working for Mrs. Wells, having taken Nathan and Chris with him for the day. Ezra was in the sitting room, reading one of the books he’d borrowed from the school teacher. JD was taking a nap, sprawled out on one of the rag rugs with Scamp. As she started to turn from the window, something caught her eye. Her heart leapt into her throat as she watched the child coming across the yard. She ran across the room, flinging open the screen door, darting across the porch and down the steps.

“Vin!” she exclaimed, as she hurried to meet him. “My God, Vin!”

“Please, you gotta come, Buck’s fell down a hole! Come on,” Vin said, taking her hand and trying to drag her back the way he’d come

“What? Where is he? How far?” Evie asked as she took hold of his shoulders.

“By the woods, you gotta hurry, he’s bleeding!”

“We need help. What a day for all of the other boys to be gone! Let me run inside and get Ezra. He can run to get the others.” She ran back into the house, waking JD and sending Ezra to Nettie’s.

Lying in the dark, damp hole, Buck tried not to cry. Working up his nerve, he stuck his hand into his shirt and felt for the source of the blood sticking to his side. When his fingers encountered only tender skin, he was relieved. It was only mud that he had landed in. A low rumble of thunder, muffled by the depth of the hole, had him looking around fearfully. Taking stock of his body, he discovered that he had a couple of deep scrapes on his arms and face. He had landed on an uneven surface, hence the achy ribs. Slewing around in the tacky mud, he maneuvered until he was directly under the shaft of light and he waited.

With JD on her heels and Scamp running around and barking like mad, Evie ran after Vin, who had turned and was trying to go back to where he left Buck. With her long skirts gathered in her hands, she hurried to catch up with him. “Vin! Wait!” she called. The fair-haired boy paused only a moment before resuming his trek.

JD, still half asleep, perked up suddenly, scrubbing his eyes with balled up hands. He could hardly believe what he was seeing. “Vin, you’re walking!” he exclaimed as he came abreast of the other boy. Vin turned his head to acknowledge JD … and tripped over the excited puppy.

Evie heard the angry cry when Vin fell and she pulled up hard. Scrambling back to his side, she sank to her knees, “Are you all right?”

Vin pushed her hands away, “You gotta go help Buck!”

She was worried as the boy struggled to his feet, “You need to slow down before you hurt yourself!”

Angry, anguished blue eyes burned into hers, “I’m fine! You gotta help Buck!”

Looking toward the small stand of trees, Evie Travis was torn, “How will I find him?”

JD pulled Vin’s arm across his shoulder to support the taller boy as he finally managed to stand. “I left my chair near the hole. Be careful, he said he was afraid it would fall in on him,” Vin told her as he pointed. Reluctantly, Evie turned and began to jog toward the trees.

A painful stitch in his side made Ezra want to stop and rest but he didn’t dare. Digging a little deeper into his reserve of energy, he put on a burst of speed as he crested the hill that led to the Wells’ place. In the field beyond the house, he could see the others. Josiah was driving the plow while Chris and Nathan picked up rocks and tossed them to the fence line. Ezra tried to slow himself but ended up plowing into the broad boards that made up the barrier at the road.

Out of the corner of his eye, Josiah saw Ezra coming over the hill. Taking hold of the reins that lay over his shoulder, he gently pulled the old horse to a stop. He tugged at the gloves Mrs. Wells had insisted that he use, even though they were too big and had belonged to her late husband. When Ezra crashed into the fence and seemed to hang there for a moment, he felt the hair on the back of his neck start to rise.

Chris dropped the medium sized rock at the fence post and paused to mop the sweat from his face. Seeing Josiah staring toward the road, he moved to see what he was watching, as his view was blocked by the massive draft animal. His heart flip-flopped at seeing Ezra climbing the weathered fence, wondering what would cause him to be there so unexpectedly.

Nathan saw Josiah and Chris crossing the field and stood up to see what they were doing. He’d been digging new holes for a couple of the fence posts that had rotted and broken off. His shoulders and arms were tingling from the exertion. Seeing Ezra stumble and fall in the loose dirt furrows, he started to jog across the field.

“Jo-Jos-Josiah, you … you gotta come … h-h-home,” Ezra panted.

Taking hold of the smaller boy, Josiah waited for him to catch a breath, “What’s wrong?”

“It’s Buck. He fell down a hole or something. Mrs. Travis sent me to get all of you,” Ezra explained.

Josiah wasted no time, he turned to Nathan and began giving directions, “Unhitch Old Clarence from the plow and turn him into the corral. Give him some hay and make sure there’s water in the trough. Chris, you’re with me. Go get our horse ready. Ezra, you catch your breath and come back with Nathan.”

“Wait! Ezra, did Mrs. Travis say Buck was hurt?” Nathan asked.

“She didn’t know. Vin walked back from where Buck was and-”

“Vin walked?” Chris interrupted.

“We don’t have time for this! Chris go get our horse hitched up while Nathan and I tend to Mrs. Wells’ horse. We need to go!” Josiah said, turning toward the gate. Chris had their horse hitched to the small wagon in record time while they took care of Old Clarence. Ezra went to the pump and filled the water trough, catching a few swallows for himself in the process. As soon as Chris dropped the tailgate, he was running to climb in. Josiah gave the long reins a shake and all of them swayed as the gelding took off.

The low rumble of thunder frightened Evie as she raced to the wheelchair. “Buck! Buck, can you hear me?” she shouted.

In the darkness of the hole, Buck’s head jerked up. He thought he heard someone calling his name but he wasn’t sure. When the voice called again, he shouted back, “I’m here! I’m in the hole! I’m here! Get me out!”

Evie heard the boy calling and took a hesitant step toward the sound. She saw the dark opening in the ground and walked closer. “Buck? I’m right here. You just sit tight, we’ll have you out of there in no time. Are you all right?”

Hearing the familiar voice, Buck fought back tears. He stood up slowly, guarding his sore ribs as he looked up through the hole. All he could see was the darkening sky. “I’m all right. My side hurts some,” he called.

JD struggled as he took more and more of Vin’s weight on his shoulder. The older boy was sweating profusely from the exertion and was tiring. Finally, they reached the wheelchair and Vin collapsed into it, gasping for breath as his aching muscles twitched. He stared toward where Mrs. Travis was on her knees near the hole. Scamp bounded around them, sniffing and barking as he got close to the hole. JD called to the dog, scolding him for being so noisy.

“We gotta stop at the house so I can pick up a few things,” Nathan said as the wagon rolled up the driveway. “Chris, we might need some rope. Josiah, grab a ladder. Ezra, get a canteen and fill it with clean water.” As soon as the wagon stopped, they all leapt out and ran to gather everything. As soon as they had everything back in the wagon, they were off. Josiah heard Scamp’s frantic barking and figured that the dog had followed the others to Buck.

Another ominous roll of thunder echoed around the buildings just before the heavens opened up and it began to pour down a cold, drenching rain. Nathan shoved the blankets up under the bench seat, hoping to keep them at least reasonably dry. A bolt of lightening lit up the sky, causing the horse to toss his head anxiously. Josiah tightened his grip on the reins, praying that the animal didn’t panic and try to run away with them. He spotted Vin’s wheelchair and steered toward it.

Evie looked around in fright at the loud explosion of sound that followed the bright flash in the sky. She was relieved to see the boys arriving in the wagon. “Buck! We’re going to get you out of there! You just hang on,” she called.

Josiah leapt down and ran to get hold of the horse’s head to calm him while the others jumped out with the supplies. Chris ran to Vin and JD, eager to make sure that they were okay. Ezra ran to Evie, dropping to his knees at her side while looking toward the hole.

Rain and little clods of dirt tumbled down on him, forcing Buck to back away from the shaft of light. His feet slipped on the tacky ground and he fell again, gasping at the pain that blossomed in his ankle. As he was pushing up from the ground, he felt water trickling across his hands.

Nathan took the ladder and laid it carefully over the hole. Testing each movement, he crawled out until he could see into the opening. “Buck? Can you hear me?” he called.

“Nathan! Get me out of here!” Buck yelled, his fear rising with the water in the hole.

“I’m going to drop a rope down to you!”

“I can’t climb, my side hurts!”

“You don’t have to climb, just tie it around you and we’ll pull you up!” Nathan explained as he fed the rope into the hole. He hated that the hole was at the bottom of a small rise and that water was pouring into the opening, washing more dirt and debris in on top of Buck.

Chris pushed the wheelchair closer to where Evie and Ezra were kneeling. He’d had JD get the canteen so Vin could get a drink and pulled off his shirt to wrap around the trembling body. Scamp kept darting close to the hole, so JD caught him and was holding the dog by the scruff of his neck, soothing the growling that the animal was making.

With the water in the hole now a few inches deep, Buck was eager to get out. His shaking hands fumbled on the muddy rope as he snugged the lasso under his arms. He gave the rope a sharp tug to let Nathan know he was ready. Nathan began to pull on the rope, slowly lifting Buck off of the ground. Chris left Vin’s side to take hold of the rope, providing an anchor in case Nathan’s hands slipped.

The torrential downpour soaked into the ground, loosening already tenuous bonds on the dirt and rocks. Unnoticed, the end of the ladder began to sink as the soil beneath it was washed away. It was only coincidence that Nathan looked up for a moment, rubbing his face against the soaked work shirt to clear the rain from his eyes. Horror washed over him as he realized that his weight was causing the side of the hole to crumble. Slowly, the huge chunk of mud and rocks slipped until it began to fall into the hole beneath it. “Chris, let go!” Nathan yelled as he realized that he would drag the other boy in when he fell.

Buck fell with a splash. He heard the panicked cry just as a wall of mud descended on him. All of a sudden, he was fighting for air, being crushed by the weight bearing down on him. Clawing at the dirt, he managed to make a hole and draw a breath, just before a wall of water poured over him. Terror, unlike anything he had ever felt, gripped him as he felt something else land on him. Flailing wildly, his hand closed on a muscled arm.

Nathan went head first into the hole with the huge chunk of mud and rocks. Floundering against the ladder, he groped for the smaller boy, fearful that he was pinned beneath the rubble. When a cold, muddy hand gripped his arm, he grabbed it and pulled.

Staring at the gaping maw, Evie screamed. Josiah ran over, grabbing Chris in time to keep him from stepping closer and possibly joining the others in the hole. He picked up the rope and began to take up the slack, praying that Buck wasn’t buried too deeply. Nothing either boy had ever experienced even came close to the stark terror they felt as they pulled on the wet, muddy rope.

Pulling on the clawing arm, Nathan managed to drag Buck’s head above the level of the water, which was quickly rising. When he saw that the slack on the rope was being taken up, he tried to help, pushing the mud and rocks away from Buck. He had to watch to make sure the rope didn’t tighten too much, or it might hurt the boy even further. Another flash of lightening lit the sky, followed by an explosive crash of thunder. In the brief moment of light, he saw how pale and frightened Buck was and wished there was something he could do to ease his fears. Finally, Buck’s legs came out of the hole, minus one of his boots. Nathan kept hold of him, making sure he didn’t get any more mud in his face as he was pulled toward the top of the hole.

Evie reached for the boy as soon as his head appeared above the lip of the sink hole but Ezra tugged on her arm, preventing her from getting any closer. Only when he had been dragged several feet from the edge did Ezra let go. Chris and Josiah fell at either side of Buck, quickly loosening the lasso so they could throw it in to Nathan.

As soon as Buck’s feet disappeared from sight, Nathan took hold of the ladder and wrenched it free of the mud. Propping it against the side of the hole, he tested it with his weight. The legs sank into the mud for over a foot before they stopped. Cautiously lifting his foot, he set it on a higher rung. The rope fell across his back and he grabbed it, threading his arms through the opening and pulling it snug against his chest. With Josiah and Chris pulling, he slowly ascended the ladder and crawled away from the hole to where Mrs. Travis was cradling Buck in her arms. Shedding the rope, he knelt in front of his guardian and took hold of the unconscious boy.

In spite of his need to see that Buck was alive, Josiah went to the wagon. The horse was agitated by the storm, prancing and swishing his tail. Pulling off his shirt, Josiah tied it over the animal’s face, the blindfold causing the horse to settle slightly. He ran to the wheelchair and scooped Vin up, setting him in the bed of the wagon near the bench. “JD, take Scamp and get in the wagon!” he shouted. Nathan stood with Buck cradled in his arms and started toward him. Chris and Ezra brought Mrs. Travis, who was now overcome with tears. Once all of them were loaded, Josiah pulled off the blindfold and leapt into the driver’s seat. The gelding needed little encouragement to head for the barn.

Nathan doled out the blankets, mostly to keep the driving rain off of them during the ride home. He could tell that Buck was breathing but he knew that the boy had gotten some of the water from the hole in his lungs and that it could be very bad. They were all cold and wet, shivering continuously. As soon as the wagon came to a stop, Chris let the tailgate down and began helping everyone down. Josiah took Buck until Nathan could get down and take him back. Chris and Josiah led the horse to the barn and unhitched him, rubbing him down with old blankets before putting him in a stall and racing back to the house. Ezra and JD were carrying in wood as fast as they could. When the wood bins were all full to overflowing, they rushed upstairs.

Laying the unconscious child on the bed, Nathan began peeling off the filthy, sodden clothes. Evie slipped out to change into dry clothes, returning with a bucket of lukewarm water and rags to wash away the dirt. The other boys grabbed dry clothes and slipped into the other bedroom to change. Finally, except for Nathan, they were all dressed in clean, dry clothes and gathered around the bed waiting for news. Buck was clean and tucked into bed with an extra blanket over him. Nathan had carefully checked the deep bruising along the boy’s ribs and announced that they weren’t broken, to his relief.

In his dream, Buck was trapped. He was back on the island, reliving the night the tree had fallen on Vin, only this time it wasn’t Vin under the massive palm, it was Buck. The cold rain pelted him, running in his nose and mouth, making him want to cough. Pinned as was, he struggled, trying to push the tree off of him so he could sit up and draw a proper breath. In reality, only the blanket restrained Buck as he tossed fretfully. His temperature was rising and he was breathing in quick, shallow breaths.

For the better part of two days, Buck battled against the infection that wanted to take hold of him. Nathan and Evie took shifts sitting with him, bathing his fevered body while coaxing broth and medicinal teas down his throat. They worked with him, making him sit up and encouraging him to cough up the thick phlegm. Finally, his fever broke and he rested peacefully.

When they moved Buck into the other bedroom, the boys were upset. Both Evie and Nathan explained that it was for the best, that Buck’s fevered delirium would keep them awake but it didn’t matter, they could hear him anyway and they couldn’t possibly sleep. The excitement over Vin walking was overshadowed by the fear that Buck might not make it. When he was finally resting, all of the boys took to their beds and slept.

Pulling the bedroom door closed, Evie found Orin staring pensively at her. “You’re exhausted,” he said, “Why don’t you get some sleep?” She leaned into his embrace, finding that she barely had the energy to remain upright. Orin swept her into his arms, carrying her to the bedroom where he settled her on their bed. Slipping off her shoes, he put a quilt over her sleeping form.

Orin opened the bedroom door and stared at two of his charges. Buck lay in the middle of the bed, propped up by several rolled blankets and pillows. Next to the bed, Nathan dozed on the fainting couch, which the boys had brought down from the attic. Tip toeing into the room, Orin spread a blanket over the sleeping teen, realizing that Nathan had done nothing but watch over Buck for the past two days. Slipping from the room, he went to the larger room where the boys normally slept. In an almost disappointing backward slide, the boys had pushed the mattresses to the floor and were cuddled together like puppies in a basket. He knew that Vin’s back and legs had been hurting, that the boys had been giving him back rubs and dosing him with the herbal medicine Nathan made. JD and Ezra were also deeply upset by the recent events and required constant reassurance that they weren’t losing a member of their unique little family. Josiah and Chris bracketed the younger boys, reaching out to touch them when they moved or whimpered.

In the unnatural silence of the large house, Orin considered what he had been feeling for the past two days. The very thought of losing Buck was like a knife in his gut. Wandering into his study, he fingered the sheaf of adoption paperwork he’d been assembling. “As soon as Buck is well again,” he promised himself, “I’ll file them.” Pouring a drink from the crystal decanter on the sideboard, he sighed at the warmth that burned down his throat.