Part 3 of the "Crossed Paths" series.
Even though there was only one day a year when she could actually affect what happened to him and be near him, she could always watch over him. Her Vin was never alone, even if he so often felt that way. The knowledge did little to ease her pain as she watched him endure the hurt both physical and emotional over the next several years.
One year she knew it was time. She knew the future would allow the pieces that had been put into motion to connect again. So, while he was at the latest, and last, foster home and the abuse had been intense, the time came for her to be with him again. When the time came she whispered across time, "Run like the wind," and he did.
He ran far and fast and ended up on the streets of Denver. Another year passed and she was with him through the cold, the fear, the hunger. She watched him learn how to protect himself, and she watched as he protected others. The year passed by and her time came again. It was time to join the two souls together again.
+ + + + + + +
The shelter was crowded with volunteers. Josiah was pleased he'd convinced the officers to help. He didn't know why, but somehow he'd been able to touch the hearts of some of the rookies at the police station and they had agreed to help him at the shelter. They had been around the streets talking to the people to invite them, making clear it will be plenty of food, and bed, bath for everybody who booked on time. And they had now a long line of people longing for a place that night and the next one. After that, he hoped he could keep some of the lost souls with him, he wanted to help them. He'd seen a lot of boys, very young boys; living on their own in the streets, and that concerned him so much.
"What's your name?" he asked one of the young officers.
"I'm Officer Christopher Larabee sir" said the young man.
"Try to get a name and a street where they usually are. Remind them that if they want to work, I need to be able to find them. Don't pressure them if they won't tell you. They've been hurt so many times, they hardly know how to trust anymore. Whether they tell you anything or not, they get clean clothes, a shower and a hot meal."
"Yes, sir" nodded the officer
"Oh, and you can call me Josiah, just that, no need to sir me here"
Chris smiled at the statement and nodded. Then he went straight to the line and start to separate the boys into another one. After that, he started to ask them the information Josiah needed to know. It wasn't an easy task, and he wasn't used to deal with teenagers, but he tried his best.
"Hey, boy! What's your name?" he asked the next in turn
"What do ya want ma' name for?" asked the scruffy boy, he appeared to be clean, something better than the others Chris had seen before in the line.
"Josiah wants to know your name and how to reach you in case he has a spare bed some nights. Also, sometimes he has work he can offer to one of you."
"I can work!" said the boy. "Name's Vin" he added all the time avoiding eye contact with Chris. He looked down at the floor as if it was very interesting. Chris knew it was from living in the streets. He'd seen it a lot already even though he was a new officer on the force. Living on the streets took away a person's dignity, their pride. Most wouldn't look you in the eyes because they no longer felt they were equal.
"He usually can find me in the corner of 2nd and Sullivan."
Chris wrote that on the paper, "You can take a bath. There are clean clothes there, and I can look for something that fits you." He looked closely at the boy. He could see the mental wrestling match as Vin appeared to be considering the offer but wasn't sure how to proceed.
"Look, there are some lockers, you can put your things there and I'll give you the key. When you're ready, just you give me the key back and that's all, what do you think?"
"I guess...I don't know you, mister not sure."
"It's your choice. The offer is open. A shower, some clean clothes, a hot meal, it's all there if you want." Chris let the offer hang in the air. He knew enough to know that pressure wasn't something this kid needed.
Finally Vin accepted the offer and after Chris gave him a key to one of the lockers headed along with supplies for a shower.
Josiah had been watching from the other side of the room and approached Chris after the boy left. "Tough kid, isn't he?"
"Yeah, you know him?"
"I've seen him once or twice. He's new don't think he's been in the streets more than two weeks. Did he give you the info?"
"Yes, one of the few smart enough to do that, why?"
"Because, if it he's as new to the streets as I think, there's still chance to get him out. Can you talk to him a little more? So far, you're the only one he's confided in."
"He said he could work, that he wanted to work. Are you going to put him in foster care?"
"No, in all likelihood he ran away from foster care. If he's betrayed by us, he'll just run away again and leave the city. At least here, I can keep an eye on him, especially if he's willing to work. Here, make sure he gets this."
Chris eyed the little bag Josiah had placed in his hand. "What's this?"
Josiah's eyes twinkled with amusement. "Now I know you know it's Halloween. While we aren't in the habit of supplying poor nutrition to these folk who barely have any nutrition available to them, I'm not about to let a youngster, regardless of how old I believe his soul is, go without a little something sweet."
A little while later Chris looked around the crowded room and noticed the young boy he'd spoken with earlier. He was sitting alone at a table, one arm protectively curled around his plate, the other hand gripping a fork, shoveling the food in hurriedly.
Chris came up behind him and laid his hand softly on the teenage's shoulder. He wasn't prepared for the boy to almost leap up from the table.
"Wow, easy, pard. Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you."
"S'okay, just don't like folk coming up behind me, s'all." Vin replied somehow managing to keep his mouth full of food and not spit it out.
"Anyway, I just wanted to give you this." With that, Chris reached out and put the tiny bag of candy on the table next to Vin's plate. He watched sadly as the young boy's eyes narrowed warily and suspicion filled his face.
"So, everyone should have a little candy on Halloween."
For a moment Chris thought Vin was going to refuse it. He watched as a myriad of emotions seemed to march across the teen's face. He shook his head sadly realizing this kid probably never had anyone to take him trick or treating. Probably never had a home made costume. Chris felt so small and a little ashamed at all the comforts he had had in his life.
"You said you could work, I know somebody who could use a hand. You know anything about horses and farm work?"
Chris looked at Vin again. Getting answers from him was like pulling teeth. Then he started to chuckle which caused Vin to stare at him with a mixture of anger and suspicion.
"What's so funny?"
"You are. How you managed to get all that candy in your mouth and not choke on it or drool it down your shirt. Why don't you slow down and save some. Now it's all gone."
Vin continued fighting with the amount of food in his mouth, and once he'd finished he could managed to say "Iffen you have something to eat, you better eat it, never know when's the next chance or who'll come that's bigger and take it from you."
Chris smile was replaced by a sad look; so much had been learned in so little time and very little of it had been kind.
"As I was saying... I have a friend, she has a farm, but she could use some help with the horses, and some work fixing things, what do you say?"
"I... I could talk to her, course, m'be she won't like somebody like me around" those last words were spoken so softly Chris almost missed them.
"Why do you say that?" Chris knew the answer, knew enough to know that most people who lived on the street had so little self-esteem. They had been broken. He wanted Vin to accept this offer. He knew that working would help the boy rediscover his worth.
"Don't matter none."
"Look, you don't have to say yes right now. You can think about it. I'll leave the information here, and some money to make the bus trip out there."
"You'd give me money to go there? How do you know I'd use it to make the trip?"
"I know you want to get out of the streets, I can feel it kid"
"Ain't no kid, been taking care of m'self since I was a little feller"
"Ok, sorry for that. Look, why don't we go get your bed assignment for the night."
Vin followed him and Chris could swear the boy's face reflected relief when he got his bed assignment and saw it was next to the window. He watched as Vin tried the window and seemed to relax a bit when it opened. "Just in case" he said.
"Time for me to go, Vin. I'll leave the envelope with what we discussed with Josiah. You can give him your answer. Good luck, Vin." With that, Chris reached out his hand and was pleasantly surprised when Vin took his hand in return.
As he headed out he stopped by Josiah's desk. After requesting and receiving some paper and a pen, he wrote out the information and folded some money into the note. Then he left it with Josiah.
The big man smiled up at him with understanding.
"Better call Nettie to let her know" Chris was shocked at Josiah's words.
"She's a legend around these parts. She'll take care of him."
"What makes you think he'll take me up on the offer?"
"You're the only one he's confided in. He'll take you up on the offer. His handshake with you already sealed the deal. Now it's just a matter of time."
+ + + + + + +
That night Vin had trouble getting to sleep. He was so used to sleeping on hard surfaces; the bed was too soft for him. The softness of the bed wasn't all. His mind was working hard. He was so used to being dismissed as dirty, unworthy, too suspicious. He wondered what this officer saw in him to offer him a chance. He wanted to take the chance but was afraid of being rejected. He figured it was easier to reject himself than to allow someone else to do if for him.
Just when he had convinced himself that they were right; he was too dirty, unworthy and suspicious other words filled his thoughts and with those other words came a different, softer voice than the harsh voices of recent weeks. Unbidden the words came: "You're a Tanner."
With those words in his head he fell into a deep and peaceful sleep. A sleep he hadn't had for a long time.
+ + + + + + +
She knew now, the road was safe, she could rest. They'll take care of him. She had done her work. She watched him the next morning, taking the bus, and walking the four blocks from the main road to the farm. All the way along he'd been practicing how to say hello to the lady, like she'd taught him so many years ago. To look straight into the eyes of the other person, don't look down, always say ma'am at the end, be respectful. Offer a hand, don't hesitate. Look straight in the eyes... she saw him practice to level his eyes. So much time had past since he'd done that. Today he will start a new life, he will be equal again. She could feel his nervousness, butterflies went around in his belly, and she could feel that too.
She saw him ringing the bell, the woman got out to the porch "Yes?"
Vin looked at her, with hesitation, and he leveled his eyes with hers and said "I'm Vin, ma'am. The officer told me you have work for me"
The woman looked at him, straight in the eyes. He never looked down despite his fears. "Of course! Come on in boy, you better eat first, then I'll show you your room and the rest of the farm, you can take your time today, to know the horses and what I need you to do, we'll do a list together"
"Yes, ma'am" answered Vin, he couldn't believe it, she had said come on and she'd accepted him, there wasn't a "no" this time..."
And she saw his son walking straight into the house, walking straight for the first time in so many years, and she was happy again.
+ + + + + + +
The phone rang "Yes?" answered Nettie
"Hey Nettie, how's he doing?" Chris had waited a while to call, although he had managed to get reports from Josiah and already knew the answer.
"He still has good days and bad days. He has more good ones than bad though. He's a hard worker, confident and patient when he works with the horses. He eats so much now but still looks thin. He's more confident, speaks in full sentences and looks you in the eye. He's honest, never took a cent for himself unless I tell him, and even then, it's hard to give him something he doesn't think belongs to him. And I started to work with him with school stuff too; he's so behind his age. He's got a reading problem, but we'll work it out" she said
"Thanks Nettie, thanks so much" it was so little to say, for so much she'd done
"No, Chris, thank you for the opportunity to make a difference. Are you coming some time?"
"I don't know, Nettie. I'm getting married next week. I'm so busy with that."
"Well, whenever you come this way, I have some money here that belongs to you. Vin told me it belongs to you, he's given it to me to hold for you."
Chris smiled at that, he'd been right.
Part 4: The Party at the Saloon