The Christmas Shoes

by Joy K

A Little Britches ATF Story

I know it's been done before, but I had to do it my way. I've taken some liberties with the "canon" of the LB ATF world. Hankies will be needed.

As three more shoppers brushed past him, Chris wondered again why he volunteered for this duty. He was stuck at a mall in the middle of downtown keeping an eye out for shoplifters and troublemakers.

On Christmas Eve.

But that was why he had volunteered. He had no reason to celebrate Christmas anymore, and there were plenty of officers on the police force who should be home with their families. Sarah and Adam had died less than two months before Christmas last year and Chris had worked double shifts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in hopes of avoiding the pain of going through the holidays without his wife and son. It didn't work, but he had volunteered for the double shifts again. This year, however, Buck was determined not to allow him to drink himself into a stupor Christmas night. His long time friend and partner had invited him to dinner, and told him if he didn't show, he'd be bringing dinner to him.

Chris grimaced. Buck had been there for him during the ugliest moments of the past 14 months. He'd been there when Chris had cursed him and did everything he could to push Buck away. He'd been there even after Chris punched him in the mouth. Buck had slammed him against the wall and made him face what he'd just done to his best friend. Chris had shown little emotion at the moment, but he had promised Buck he'd never hit him again. And Buck had promised he'd never let him. Buck hadn't seen him when he broke down and cried alone that night.

Chris fingered the inscription on the watch he held. It was just one word, but he knew Buck would understand the sentiment. "Today." He could never completely express his gratitude, but Buck didn't want or need him to. He just wanted his friend to go on with life, and slowly Chris was doing just that. He was re-learning how to live today and not be overwhelmed by the loss of yesterday. Chris sighed. It wasn't easy, especially on days that were meant for family.

He moved toward the check out line to pay for Buck's gift. His lunch hour would be over soon, but he still had some time. He frowned as he spotted the little boy he'd observed in the shoe section. The boy couldn't have been more than five or six and there was no way he should have been here alone, but it was beginning to look like he was. The little guy was clutching a shoebox under one arm and what looked like a pint jar of coins under the other.

Chris winced when a man who apparently didn't even see him pushed the boy out of line. The little guy was determined, however. Chris watched him move to a different line and take his place at the end. The woman in front of him turned to say something to one of her friends, and unfortunately, her purse was at eye level to a little kid. Her bag caught the boy on the side of the face jostling him hard. Instinctively he grabbed for the injury and both the box of shoes and the jar of coins fell to the floor, the jar shattering and coins spilling everywhere. The kid dropped to his knees to get his coins while a grumpy cashier muttered, "Dumb kids" loud enough for the boy to hear.

"Wait! Wait!" said Chris urgently as the kid started to pick up the coins.

Big blue eyes filled with unshed tears looked up at him.

"Let me help," Chris said, getting down on the floor with the boy. "You don't want to cut yourself."

"I have to get my money," said the soft voice. "I gotta buy these shoes for Mama."

"It's all right," said Chris. "Just let me help pick out the glass." He carefully started picking through the coins, handing them to the boy when he thought they were safe. "Where is your mother?" he asked.

The boy sniffed, refusing to look up.


"She's at the hospital."

"The hospital?" asked Chris.

The boy looked up. "Please, Mister," he begged, "We gotta hurry. Mama says she's gonna dream with angels soon. She likes these shoes. She looks real purty in them. She tried them on and was gonna buy 'em but she buyed me underwears instead. She buyed me this coat at the thrift store," he added touching his sleeve. "But she don't buy underwears there."

Chris swallowed hard. The boy's words spoke volumes. They told of a loving mother. And a loved mother who was going to die soon. They told of a frugal woman doing her best to provide for her son.

He caught a glimpse of the price tag on the shoebox and knew that despite the few crumpled dollar bills among the pennies, the boy would not have enough to buy the shoes.

"Where'd you get all this money?" Chris asked.

"It's mine," the boy said defensively.

"I didn't say it wasn't," Chris soothed.

"Mama said pennies are mine. Every time we got change she gived me the pennies. The dollars are my birthday dollars. One every year."

Chris counted five one-dollar bills. The kid was far too young to be here on his own. "Did someone bring you here?" he asked.

A look of guilt briefly crossed the boy's face. "No, Sir," he said softly. "I sneaked out when she wasn't lookin'."

"When who wasn't looking?" Chris asked.

"The lady from the house for Mama's people hit."

The statement was so matter of fact that Chris wasn't certain the boy understood what it meant. His mother was living in a shelter for battered women.

"What's your name?" Chris asked.

"Not supposed to say," said the boy.

"I'm a police officer. You can tell me."

The boy shook his head. "I's not supposed to say my name while we stay at the house."

"They must call you something," Chris said.

"Mama calls me Honey. Everybody at the house calls me Harold," he added scrunching up his tiny nose in disgust. Obviously Harold was a terrible name in his mind.

"Well, I can't call you Honey, and you don't seem like a Harold to me, so how 'bout..." Chris paused, thinking for a moment. "How about if I call you Partner and you call me Chris?"

The boy nodded with a shy grin.

"There," said Chris. "I think we got them all. Let's get these shoes paid for and get you back to your mother." He took the lid off the box of shoes and inverted it, nodding for the boy to let the coins fall into the box lid.

"How about if I carry this lid, Partner," said Chris, "and you carry the shoes?"

The boy nodded and picked up the shoes. Chris used his foot to brush as much of the glass to the side as he could and they reclaimed their place in line.

"Mama's gonna look so great," the boy said with a smile.

"I'm sure even without the shoes, she's beautiful," said Chris.

"How'd you know? Do you know Mama?" the boy asked.

"No, but if she's your Mama, she's got to be very special."

The boy smiled.


"Hey, Partner," said Chris as they moved forward, "How about if we pay for our items together. It'll get us out of here sooner."

"Okay," said the boy as he put the shoes on the counter.

"The shoes and this watch, said Chris, placing the watch with the shoes and the box lid of pennies and bills next to it.

The boy started taking coins out of the box. "One, two, three, four..."

The clerk scowled.

"Five, six, seben, eight, nine, ten..."

"This is going to take forever," the clerk grumbled. "There are other customers."

"'leben, twelve-teen, fourteen, seben-teen..."

"Stop," said the clerk.

The boy looked up, startled.

Chris glared at the clerk. "Hey, Partner. Why don't we let this nice young man help count?"

"I can do it," the boy insisted.

"I know you can," said Chris, "But it's his job. He gets paid to help customers."

The child missed the emphasis, but the clerk clearly understood the cop's message and began to rapidly count the pennies.

Chris laid enough cash on the counter to cover both the shoes and the watch, but he didn't stop the clerk from counting.

The little boy was watching intently making sure all the pennies were counted. Finally the clerk finished, added Chris's money to the count and made change. He started to hand it to Chris, but Chris nodded toward the boy. "Oh... uh... here's your change, Sir," the clerk said to the boy.

Chris grinned slightly as the boy's eyes widened in surprise. One of the dollars had a one on it, and one had a five. And there were some silvers coins and one penny.

"Let's put that in your pocket," said Chris.

The boy nodded and quickly stuffed the money into his small pocket.

Chris nodded to the clerk, then handed the bag with the shoes to the little boy. The boy winced when he took the handles of the plastic bag.

"Are you all right?" Chris instinctively reached out and took the bag back and looked at the boy's hands. "Got a little cut," he said.

"I gotta go. I want Mama to look beautiful if she meets Jesus tonight."

Chris sucked in a breath sharply. "Listen," he said, "I have a first aid kit in my squad car. Let me fix you up and I'll give you a ride back to the hospital."

The boy nodded knowing that the car would be quicker than walking.

"Can you carry this in your other hand?"

The boy nodded and took the bag and carried it, walking side-by-side with the policeman who had helped him.

As they walked Chris called on his radio to have his partner meet them at the car, saying that he had a quick side trip they needed to make.

Buck Wilmington was waiting at the car when the twosome arrived.

"Partner," Chris said, "This is Buck. He works with me. He's going to drive us to the hospital."

Buck raised his eyebrows, then stepped forward with a big smile offering his hand to shake.

"Hang on a second, Buck," Chris said, "He's got a cut there and needs a bandage."

"Can I help?" asked Buck. "I'm really good with band-aids."

Chris smiled. "He is, Partner."

The boy nodded his ascent, and Buck got out the first aid kid and tended to the tiny cut.

"Well, it's not too bad, but it definitely deserves a band-aid. We don't have any of those fancy ones with the cartoons," Buck added, "But you look grown up enough to me to have a grown up band-aid."

He held up the band-aid and the boy nodded proudly. He was grown up.

Even in the few minutes it took to care for the cut on his finger, it was obvious the boy's mind was elsewhere. He frequently turned his head to look down the street at the hospital building.

"There we go," said Buck as he finished.

"Let's get back to the hospital," said Chris. "You want to ride up front?"

"Can I?" asked the boy.

Chris nodded. Despite the looming prospect of losing his mother, the boy was excited about getting to ride in a police car.

It took less than three minutes to drive to the hospital and park. Both men saw the tears that filled the boy's eyes again as he looked at the entrance to the building.

"I don't have wrappers."

Chris closed his eyes and swallowed the lump in his throat wishing he could protect the boy from the loss he was about to go through. "We'll stop in the gift shop and see if they can wrap the box." He reached over and took the boy's hand and walked him into the building. Buck stayed by the car for a moment, calling in their location to dispatch before he followed them into the building.

The woman in the gift shop was gracious enough to wrap the shoes. She smiled sadly as the boy left, but nodded her thanks to Chris for the five-dollar tip.

The trio made their way to the fifth floor following the boy's lead. Chris and Buck stopped at the door of the room as Partner went in.


As fragile as she was, her love for her son shone through her bright smile. She opened her arms to him and he scrambled up on the bed and settled at her side. Though they couldn't hear the words, they watched as she delighted over the gift from her son. When the boy showed her the five-dollar bill he had received in change, she looked up at the door. Chris nodded to her as she mouthed thank you.

Chris and Buck both found themselves fighting tears as they left the mother and son to their private time.

"You're going to check on him?" Buck asked unnecessarily as they walked to the car.

Chris nodded. And he did check on the boy, but when he stopped by the hospital the next day the boy was gone and the nurse told him that the woman had passed away. She assured him that someone was taking care of the boy and that he didn't need to worry. As the days passed, thoughts of the boy and his mother shifted to the back of his mind and eventually were forgotten.

"It's about time you woke up," said Buck nudging the foot of the recliner.

Chris yawned and stretched before lowering the footrest.

"What time is it?"

"A little after eight. You must have slept there all night," said Buck.

Chris froze as the words to the song playing softly on the radio sunk in:

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight

His eyes watered remembering a little boy two years ago. And then it clicked. It was Vin! That little boy he had helped two years ago was Vin. It had to be.

"Buck, I have to go check on something," he said hurriedly.

"Uh-uh, Stud," said Buck. "It's tree day, remember? We promised the boys we'd go get the tree today."

"Yeah," agreed Chris. "And we will. I just need to run into town for a couple of hours. I'll be back by noon at the latest. We'll go right after lunch."

"Chris," Buck said grabbing him by the shoulder as he brushed past. "What is it?"

Chris stopped and looked at him. "That song. Does it remind you of anyone?"

Buck thought for a moment as he tuned in the words. He shrugged. "Not really."

"Christmas eve, two years ago," Chris reminded him. "At the hospital. I helped a kid buy..."

"Shoes for his mom," Buck finished. "I remember."

"Buck," said Chris, "It was Vin."

Buck looked him in the eyes. "It could have been anyone."

"It was him," said Chris. "I have to go check."

"What good will that do?" said Buck, but he was talking to air. Chris rushed to his bedroom to shower and get ready for the day.

"Morning, Da!" JD shouted exuberantly as he ran into the room to hug Buck.

"Good morning, Little Bit," Buck replied squeezing the boy tightly.

"It's tree day," JD proclaimed.

"Yes, it is," said Buck. "And we're heading out right after lunch."

"After lunch?" said JD, "But that's forever!"

"I thought we was going this morning," said Vin as he came into the room.

"We were."

Vin rolled his eyes at the correction. "I thought we were going this morning."

"Well, we were, but your dad has an errand to run in town, so we'll go this afternoon," said Buck. "We've got chores to get done, and that will give us enough time to make some cookies."

"Oh, boy!" said JD.

Vin was a little less enthused, but he accepted Buck's explanation.

Chris knew it was a long shot, but he also knew he had to try. Vin had no mementos of his mother. Maybe, if he really was the boy he had helped, the hospital would have records and maybe he could find the shelter they had stayed in, and maybe...

Chris sighed. It was a huge long shot.

The three remaining members of his team looked up in surprise as he entered the office.

"Chris," said Josiah. "I thought you and Buck were taking the day off."

"We are. I just need to check on something," said Chris. He unlocked his office and went in.

Ezra shrugged at Josiah's unspoken question. The senior agent rose and went to Chris's office, knocking on the doorframe. "Chris, is everything all right?"

"Yes... No... I don't know." He looked up at Josiah. "I really need one of your miracles."

"I'm not much in the prayer department," said Ezra from the doorway, but my services are at your disposal."

"Mine, too," said Nathan.

Chris looked at his friends, knowing without a doubt they would do anything for the boys. "Sit down," he said.

He told them about the little boy he had helped two years ago and how he thought the boy was Vin.

"I don't even know what I'm trying to find," he said softly. "Vin has nothing from his past. No pictures, not even a toy. I guess I'm just hoping to find a little more about him and maybe... maybe a piece of his past."

"How can we help?" asked Nathan.

"Maybe we can find some information from the hospital records. Maybe find out which shelter his mother was in. Something. Anything."

Nathan flipped open his cell phone, pressed one and hit send.

"Hey, Babe, are you busy?"

The others looked on with interest as Nathan spoke to his wife, Raine.

"Yeah, uh, we're trying to find some information on a woman and her son. She was a patient there on Christmas Eve two years ago. We think she either died Christmas Eve, maybe early Christmas morning...I don't know. We aren't certain she was checked in under her name. The boy said they were living in a battered women's shelter..."

Raine connected him to an old friend in another department and she promised to call him back within an hour.

For the next two hours Chris, Nathan, Josiah and Ezra worked two-year-old leads in hopes of finding out if that little boy had been Vin Tanner. As lunchtime approached, Ezra stepped into Chris's office.

"Ezra?" Chris asked.

"I've been asked to make sure you are on the way home," he replied.

Chris cursed. He had lost track of time. "It's tree day. I can't miss it." He looked at Ezra, but didn't have to ask.

"I will continue the search with one caveat," Ezra said.

"What?" Chris asked as he stood to put on his coat.

"You must promise me that if the boy was indeed Vin, that you will not punish yourself or Vin with guilt."

"I would never - "

Ezra cut him off. "If you punish yourself, you punish that boy."

Chris's anger flared, but he kept silent. Ezra was right. Vin was very sensitive to his moods and would certainly pick up on his guilt. If the boy had been Vin, he would just have to do his best to keep his feelings to himself. Vin already had more than enough insecurity.

Chris nodded. "You're right. No guilt."

"Good. I have people to see at the hospital," said Ezra.

"Thanks," Chris said sincerely.

Both men left the office and headed toward their respective missions.

"Hi, Chris. You're home. You're late. We got lunch all ready so we can go get our tree right after. We made tomato soup and toasty cheese!"

Chris had to grin at JD's welcome.

"Hi, Chris," said Vin with a grin of his own.

Chris gave him a hug and declared, "We'd better eat while the toasted cheese is still hot."

"Yeah!" said JD running for the kitchen with Vin close on his heels.

Buck cocked his head slightly, observing his best friend. "What did you find out?"

"Nothing, yet," Chris answered. "The boys are working on it."

"You know it doesn't change anything?"

Chris nodded. "Except maybe help Vin find some pieces of his past."

"If it was him."

"It was."

"Are you comin', Da?"

"Be right there, Little Bit." Buck nodded his head toward the kitchen. "We have a tree to get."

Chris nodded in agreement. He would do his best to set aside his concern and focus on the here and now with two little boys celebrating their first Christmas at the ranch. Two little boys who needed the security of a family.

"We usually only keep things for a year," Dorothy Wallin said as she led Ezra to the storage room, "But with staffing cuts we've fallen behind. There used to be four people in my department. Now there's only me. Handling the unclaimed property is only a small part of my responsibilities and I just can't keep up."

"I'm sorry the job conditions are difficult for you," Ezra soothed, "but I'm grateful that there is a possibility of finding some personal effects."

"What's the name again?" asked Dorothy.

"Karen Hanover." Ezra shook his head. It had taken a few hours to find the name of a woman who had died Christmas Eve or Christmas Day two years ago - and make sure it was the right person. Josiah and Nathan were busy trying to convince the YWCA to check into the Women's shelters and see if there might be any information about Karen Hanover / Katie Tanner and her son.

"Here it is," said Dorothy. "There isn't much." She looked at the file inside the top of the box. "She was buried in the city cemetery and it was paid for by the benevolence fund." She pushed the file box toward Ezra.

Looking inside, Ezra swallowed hard. They were here. The shoes. He was surprised they hadn't buried her in them. The box also contained a ragged baby quilt and a silver locket in a plastic bag with a ladies wallet. He removed the wallet from the bag and carefully looked inside. "Yes," he said softly as he found the photos inside. There was a picture of Katie and Vin when he was perhaps five years old. It removed all doubt. Vin was definitely the boy Chris had helped two years ago at Christmas. The second photo was a young man in uniform with Vin's mother. A third picture revealed the couple again, this time holding a baby wrapped in a colorful quilt. The same one in the box. Continuing through the wallet he found six dollars - a five and a one, a driver's license and a social security card. That was it. He took a moment to look in the locket and found a picture of a man and a woman, on one side and a baby on the other - and a tiny lock of hair. The couple wasn't Katie and the soldier. More than likely it was Katie's parents.

Carefully he placed everything back in the box and put the lid on both the box and his emotions. "What paperwork do I need to fill out to claim the items?"

Chris and Buck weren't sure what the boys would enjoy more: a trip up into the high pastures to find a tree, or a ride a few miles down the road to a neighbor's tree farm. They opted for the tree farm, knowing that the boys would enjoy the "petting zoo," the hot chocolate, and the wagon ride to find their tree.

Chris managed to forget about the little boy two years ago as he watched the sheer delight of two little boys today. Okay, three, if you counted Buck. He had a knack despite the struggles of his own childhood, to reach out and live life with gusto. If that meant rolling in the snow with two little boys, that's what Buck would do. And he'd love every moment of it.

Chris had never had that same gusto. Oh, he was wild and crazy in his younger days but it was never about fun, it was about rebellion. Sarah had tamed that rebellious streak somewhat, and Adam's birth had calmed it even more. When they died, the wildness returned, but not in the same way. He no longer cared if he lived or died and his recklessness should have cost him his life, but luck had kept him here. With the arrival of two little boys who needed to be loved, and the continuing support of his oldest friend, his recklessness had turned around. In those first few weeks, he had become more cautious because he didn't want Vin to be without a family again, but in the last few months even that had changed. Chris wanted to live because he wanted to live. He wanted to spend every waking moment with his family, enjoying every new discovery, struggling through every trial, comforting every hurt.


He looked down at the little blond seated next to him in the wagon.

"Yes, Cowboy?" he asked.

"This is fun!"

Chris smiled and ruffed up Vin's hair. He was right. It was fun.

Hours later after decorating the "most perfectous tree in the whole world," the boys had been tucked into bed. Buck was snoozing on the sofa while "It's a Wonderful Life" played in the background.

Chris chuckled to himself and checked his e-mail. There was a message from Ezra confirming his belief that the boy he had helped two years ago was indeed Vin. It mentioned the box and contents, and that Josiah and Nathan had convinced someone to talk to them about Vin and his mom, and while there were no mementos at the shelter, there were people who remembered Katie and spoke highly of her. Some were writing notes about Vin's mother to be given to him at Chris's discretion.

He sent back a thank you, and made arrangements to discreetly pick up the box from Ezra.

"What's up?" said Buck with a yawn and a stretch.

"It was Vin," said Chris. "Ezra's got a box of his mother's personal effects."

"So what now?" asked Buck.

Chris shook his head slightly. "I don't know. I'm afraid to give them to him. I'm afraid I'll upset him."

"It could," Buck agreed. "Why don't you give Dr. Will a call and see what he suggests?"

Chris held up a notepad with Dr. Will's phone number on it. "I was planning to."

"Good. Now go to bed. There's nothing you can do tonight."

Chris shut off the computer knowing there wouldn't be much sleep tonight. All he could think of was how much hurt he could have saved Vin from if he had taken him in sooner.

Chris called the boys' therapist, Dr. Will Lowery, and talked with him at length about the situation and the discovery of the box with personal items. The doctor counseled him to wait until Vin brought up the subject, which could be months or even years down the road. He encouraged Chris that as Vin's father, he would know when Vin was ready for the information. He also reminded Chris that he had no reason to feel guilty. He had helped the boy during a very desperate time, and he had no way to know that Vin would end up on the streets.

Chris did his best to believe Dr. Will... and Ezra... and Buck... and Josiah... and Nathan, that he shouldn't feel guilty, but he still felt badly. It seemed he was successful in hiding his feelings from Vin. The boy had only asked him once if he'd done something wrong and Chris had immediately assured him he had done nothing and that he was just feeling a bit sad.

Over the next few days he watched Vin even more closely than he normally did. The boy would play excitedly with JD at times, and then there were times when he'd go be by himself. During those times he was quiet and somber and normally would keep to himself until JD sought him out to play. As Christmas approached, the somber silences occurred more and more frequently.

"Are you going to talk to him?" asked Buck.

"What? He's fine," Chris replied.

"Right," Buck scoffed.

"What are you saying?" asked Chris.

"You're trying so hard not to feel guilty that you're avoiding him. He needs you Chris," said Buck. He needs to talk to you." Buck paused. He could see Chris was considering his words. "JD and I are going outside for a while." Moving toward the boys' bedroom, he paused. "Talk to him."

Chris nodded and got up and walked into the den where Vin was watching a cartoon on TV. Chris sat on the couch a few feet from Vin. The boy didn't seem to notice.

"You're awfully quiet today," Chris said.

Vin looked at him. "I'll go play with JD."

"No," said Chris, shaking his head. "Not unless you want to. It seems like something's on your mind. Do you want to talk about it?"

The big blue eyes filled with tears. Chris opened his arms in invitation, waiting... hoping that Vin would accept. The boy moved closer and when he reached toward Chris, the blond pulled him onto his lap. "What's wrong, Son?" he asked as he rubbed his back.

"I'm sorry," said Vin.

"You've got nothing to be sorry for," Chris soothed.

"I don't mean to be sad."

Chris waited. He knew Vin well enough that he knew the boy had to pull together his thoughts before he spoke them.

"I like Christmas," he said softly. "But all the Christmas things make me think of Mama."

The last word was so hushed that Chris could barely hear it.

"You miss her," he said.

Vin nodded.

"That's perfectly normal, Vin. I miss Sarah and Adam," said Chris. "And I miss them more at Christmastime."

Vin shifted slightly lowering his chin. "But I can't 'member her anymore."

Chris put his fingers under Vin's chin and lifted it slightly, letting Vin see the tears on his face. "What do you remember?" he asked.

"She singed to me when I was scared or sad. Or sometimes just because she wanted to."

"That's a very nice memory," said Chris. "What else?"

"We picked flowers and put them on somebody's door. Then we rang the doorbell and ran away and hid."

Chris smiled. "Why'd you do that?"

"Mama liked to make people feel happy," said Vin, "But we had to s'prise them."

"It sounds to me like you remember your mother pretty well," said Chris.

Vin looked at him and nodded. "I just can't 'member her face. I want to remember." Tears streaked down the elfin face.

"Vin, a few days ago I found some things that could help you remember." Chris hoped he was doing the right thing. Dr. Will had said it could be months or years before the time was right, but Vin was always a bit older than his physical years. "Would you like to see them?"

Vin nodded anxiously.

"They're in my room," Chris said as he gently slid Vin off his lap and took him by the hand, walking him to his bedroom.

"Hop up," he said, nodding to the bed. He opened his closet and took the box off the shelf. He took it over to the bed and sat it down next to Vin and sat on the opposite side of the box. He lifted the lid and set it aside, watching Vin as he looked inside.

The little boy's mouth dropped open. "Mama's shoes!" he whispered in awe. He reverently picked up the shoes and held them tightly to his chest. He began to weep, giant sobs wracking his body.

Chris shoved the box aside and lifted the boy onto his lap, hugging him tightly as he cried. "I'm so sorry, Vin," he said.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe Vin wasn't ready, but it was too late. He simply held the boy tightly until the sobs subsided. Finally Vin looked up at him, and edged his arms free and showed Chris the shoes.

"I bought these for Mama the day she went to dream with angels."

"I know," Chris answered softly.

"How did you know?" asked Vin.

"You remember me saying I used to be a police officer?" he asked.

Vin nodded.

"Who helped you buy the shoes?" Chris asked.

Vin's eyes widened as long buried memories surfaced. "A policeman. That was you?"

Chris nodded. "I'm so sorry, Vin. I came back to check on you but you were already gone. They told me someone was taking care of you. I wish I had..."

Vin shook his head and gently put his tiny hand over Chris's mouth. "Don't be sad," he said. "Mama looked so pretty. She was so happy."

Chris turned his face away from Vin's hand. "I should have taken you in then. You wouldn't have had to live on the streets. You wouldn't have been shot."

"What about JD?" asked Vin with wisdom beyond his years. "Who would have taked care of him? If I came to live with you, I wouldn't have found JD."

Chris looked at the son of his heart and smiled with great pride.

"Don't be sad, Dad. You got me now, and we got JD and Buck, too."

"Yes, we do," Chris said hugging Vin tightly. "I'm sorry about your mother."

Vin wiped away a tear. "It's okay. She's happy and doesn't hurt any more."

Chris nodded. "Do you want to see what else is in the box, or should we wait until another day."

"I want to see," said Vin.

Keeping Vin on his lap, he pulled the box up next to them. He pulled the blanket out of the box.

"My blanket!" Vin exclaimed. He shifted the shoes under one arm and grabbed the blanket, inhaling the aroma. He rubbed it on his cheek. "Mama gave me this when I was born."

"It's very special."

Vin nodded. "What else?"

Chris chuckled at the childish impatience and picked up the plastic bag with the wallet and the locket. Vin pushed the shoes and the blanket to the bed and reached for the bag. "That's Mama's locket!" He anxiously pulled it out of the bag and very carefully opened it. "That's Mama's mama and daddy, and this is her hair."

"You'll have to keep it in a very safe place," said Chris.

Vin nodded seriously and put it in Chris's hand as he reached into the bag for the wallet. Opening it, he first saw the money. "It's my money from the shoes! I gave it to Mama that night."

Chris smiled, knowing exactly where that money had come from.

"Here's Mama's driving card," said Vin holding up the driver's license. "Isn't she pretty?"

"She's beautiful," said Chris in agreement.

Vin's mouth dropped open in surprise again when he found the photos. Tears filled his eyes. "Mama! This is me and Mama! See!"

"Beautiful," said Chris.

"And this is me when I was a baby. See? Here's my blanket! And Daddy!" he grew solemn. Chris watched as Vin gently touched the picture of his father with his index finger. "I don't remember Daddy. He dreamed with angels when I was a baby. But Mama said I was just like him and to always 'member I was a Tanner."

"You make them proud Vin," said Chris.

"You think so?" asked Vin.

"I know so," said Chris. "You make me very proud, too."

Vin smiled and leaned against his father's chest, relishing the embrace as he looked at his Mama and Daddy.

"Da, what's Vin doin'?" asked JD.

"Looks like he's putting some things in his treasure box," said Buck, knowing that Chris and Vin must have had their talk. Vin looked like he was doing okay. He wasn't so sure about Chris. Leaving the two boys, he went to check on his best friend.

"How'd it go?" Buck asked.

Chris shook his head. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done... and the best."

"He recognized the things?"

Chris nodded, "And he realized I was the officer who helped him. He even told me not to feel bad about not taking him in sooner. He basically said he needed to be there to find JD."

Buck got a lump in his throat at the thought of what would have happened to JD if Vin had not been there.

"We're going to make copies of the pictures so he can carry around the copies and keep the originals safe."

"Good idea," said Buck.

"And he's putting everything in his treasure box right now until we get them copied."

"Yep," said Buck. "Saw him when JD and I came in."

Without consciously thinking about it, both men walked towards the boys' room. Without trying to, they could hear the conversation.

"You gots girl shoes," JD said, giggling. "What are you doing with girl shoes?"

"They ain't girl shoes," said Vin. "They're my Mama's shoes."

"Oh," said JD with a gasp of respect. "We have to have a special place for Mama Shoes. Hey, maybe you can get Unca' Josiah to make one of them picture boxes that you put special things in."

Buck beamed with pride. His Little Bit had gone from teasing his brother to proper respect of "Mama Shoes" and offered an excellent suggestion for honoring the memory.

"Hey, guys," he said softly, "Dinner's about ready."

"Da, did you see? Vin's got Mama Shoes," said JD as he leapt into Buck's arms.

I see, Little Bit," he said. "I'm so proud of you."

"Da, you're squishing me."

Chris smiled as the pair walked down the hall.

"Are you about ready to eat?" he asked.

Vin nodded. "Do you think Uncle 'Siah would make a picture box for Mama's shoes?"

"I'm sure he would, Vin," Chris said. He watched as Vin tenderly replaced the shoes in the shoebox and put it in the drawer next to his treasure box. Vin scrambled up the ladder to his bunk with his baby blanket. He quickly tucked it next to Cat and climbed back down, taking Chris's hand as they walked toward the kitchen.

Years later the picture box Josiah made still held a special place of honor in the home. It held not only the shoes, but also a copy of the picture of Vin and his mother, a five-dollar bill and a one-dollar bill, and a picture of Chris Larabee in his police uniform.

Christmas Shoes

It was almost Christmas time, there I stood in another line
Tryin' to buy that last gift or two, not really in the Christmas mood
Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing 'round like little boys do
And in his hands he held a pair of shoes

His clothes were worn and old, he was dirty from head to toe
And when it came his time to pay
I couldn't believe what I heard him say

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight

He counted pennies for what seemed like years
Then the cashier said, "Son, there's not enough here"
He searched his pockets frantically
Then he turned and he looked at me
He said Mama made Christmas good at our house
Though most years she just did without
Tell me Sir, what am I going to do,
Somehow I've got to buy her these Christmas shoes

So I laid the money down, I just had to help him out
I'll never forget the look on his face when he said
Mama's gonna look so great

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight

I knew I'd caught a glimpse of heaven's love
As he thanked me and ran out
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me just what Christmas is all about

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight

- Leonard Ahlstrom and Eddie Carswell

The End