Vin could barely contain his excitement as he jumped into the backseat of Mrs. Potter's car. He strapped into his booster seat and patted the pocket of his backpack as he held it in his lap. It held the paper that proclaimed the good news. He couldn't wait to tell Chris when he got home from work. He had finally done it! No more teasing from the big kids.
He swung his feet happily in time with the music on the radio as they drove. Everyone was going to be surprised. They would all congratulate him. Maybe they'd even have a party.
It was a great day!
Mrs. Potter glanced in the rearview mirror as JD continued his rapid-fire monologue about all the things that happened at school. Her gaze drifted to Vin and she smiled at the happiness written all over his face. He wasn't the least bit upset that JD was telling everything about the day and he couldn't get a word in edgewise. She wondered what put the smile on his face but she was content knowing that something good had happened and she knew that no one would hear the news before Chris Larabee.
The afternoon passed far too slowly for the excited boy. He did his homework and his chores and played with JD to pass the time, but six o'clock took forever to arrive.
Since it was raining out, both boys waited for their dads to enter the house before running to them and greeting them with the normal hugs.
"How was your day, Dad?" Vin asked.
"It was all right. How was yours? Chris returned.
"Great!" said Vin emphatically.
Chris smiled at the enthusiastic response. "Well, how about you let me put away my papers and change my clothes and then you can tell me all about it?"
"Okay," Vin agreed eagerly, taking Chris's overcoat as he slid it off.
Chris paused for a second, watching Vin run to the closet and jump for the hanger to hang up the coat. He was getting taller, but not quite tall enough to reach the hangers without being creative. With a smile and a shake of the head he headed for his room to ditch the tie that seemed to be choking him all day today.
He put the briefcase on his dresser, hating that he'd have to do some paperwork tonight. He had a headache from all the schmoozing he'd done with the higher ups today. It was a colossal waste of time, but Orin Travis hadn't seen it that way. He'd demanded that Chris not only be present, but that he play nice. Chris draped his suit jacket over the back of the chair and dropped the much-hated tie on the seat. He'd made it through the meetings without ticking anyone off, or at least he thought he had, but it meant falling behind on the preparation for a new case. And that meant homework.
Chris sighed as he sat on the bed and took off his shoes. He hated homework as much as Vin. He lay back on his bed taking a few minutes to unwind from the ATF world before he became Chris Larabee, dad and rancher. The files could wait until the boys were in bed, even if it made for a late night.
He dozed until Buck's roar and JD's squeal and laughter pierced the fog. Checking his watch, he cursed. It was 6:45. He hadn't meant to fall asleep. Vin obviously had a good day and was waiting to tell him about it. Chris rubbed his face, got up and changed into jeans and a tee-shirt and then stepped out of his room.
At the end of the hall Vin was sitting on the floor playing catch with Ringo. He'd bounce a ball and let the pup try to catch it. Then he'd signal for the Malamute to drop the ball and they'd start over again. Both seemed to be enjoying the game.
"Hey, Cowboy," Chris said as he approached. "Sorry I took so long."
"It's okay," Vin said with a smile. "Ringo wanted to play catch."
"So I see." Chris was pleased to see the pup responding so well to Vin's hand signals. "You were going to tell me about your day."
Vin beamed and jumped up from the floor. "I gotta show you something!" He rushed to the great room to retrieve his paper, with the pup on his heels. Chris followed at a grown up pace despite his urge to run and find out what had Vin so excited.
"I did it, Dad," Vin said proudly handing Chris the paper.
Chris panicked when he couldn't immediately see why Vin was so excited. The paper was from the school nurse showing his current height and weight. What was he supposed to see that his son had accomplished? He'd grown a few inches and added a couple of pounds to his lean frame since the beginning of the school year, which was a very good thing, but what was Vin so thrilled about? Nothing on the paper was unusual.
He must have had a "deer-caught-in-the-headlights" look, because Buck snatched the paper away from him saying, "Finally, I get to find out what Vin's so wound up about."
Buck must have seen the same thing he did, because all he did was look confused and tease that all those chicken and dumplings must be sticking since Vin had added three whole pounds in the past 3 months.
"No," said Vin. "Here." He pointed to the part that showed his height. "It says I'm four nine."
"You've grown four inches so far this year, Junior," said Buck. "That's great." It wasn't news to them. The play pants he was wearing right now confirmed a growth spurt exposing several inches of sock above his shoes. They needed to get him some longer pants.
Vin rolled his eyes. Grown-ups could be so dense sometimes. "It says four nine. That means the big kids can't tease me anymore."
Buck and Chris exchanged glances, still not getting it. He was forty-nine inches tall. They both failed to see any milestone.
"Four nine!" Vin emphasized. "Like on the signs. When I get to four nine I don't have to have the booster seat anymore and they can't tease me for being a baby."
Chris felt his heart drop. His son who was celebrating would soon be in tears.
Buck gave him a sympathetic look before scooping up JD. "Hey, Little Bit. Give me a hand putting dinner on the table."
Chris knelt down in front of Vin. "Somebody's giving you a hard time?"
"Yeah, but they can't no more because now I'm four nine."
"Vin," Chris said softly, "You remember on those signs that there are little marks by the numbers?"
Vin thought about it for a minute. "Yeah. It's got two little marks like this," he answered pointing to the two marks following the nine on his height.
"That's right. Those marks mean inches. But there is another mark, and it's in between the four and the nine."
Vin looked at the paper and got a sinking feeling. His paper didn't have a mark between the four and the nine.
"You are forty-nine inches tall," said Chris. "You've grown so much this year."
Chris winced inside. He hated to disappoint his son. "But, the mark between the four and the nine means foot. You have to be four feet nine inches tall before you can ride in the regular seatbelt."
He saw the shoulders sag and Vin's whole countenance dropped. "How many inches is four feet?" he asked softly.
Chris could have used it for a math learning opportunity, but Vin didn't need that right now. "Four feet is forty eight inches."
"So I have ta be," his breath hitched, "Forty eight and nine more?" Tears started to trickle down his elfin face.
"I'm afraid so, Cowboy," Chris said pulling his son into a hug.
"That's gonna be forever," Vin whispered.
Chris squeezed him a little tighter. "I know it feels like it, but you'll get there. You remember why we have the booster seats?"
Vin sniffled a little. "Because if we don't use 'em we could get hurt real bad if we had an accident. If we don't have one at all we could fly out'a the car. And if we used a big seat belt it could hurt us inside because they're made for grown ups."
"That's right," said Chris, "but the biggest reason is because we love you." He kissed his son on top of his head, wishing away the hurt.
After a few minutes Vin seemed to regroup, accepting what he couldn't change. After a few lingering sniffs, he pulled away from Chris.
"Tell me about the kids who are giving you a hard time," said Chris.
"They're just big kids," Vin answered reluctantly.
"I'll be talking to Mr. Biedler and Mrs. Roquette about this," said Chris.
"They aren't in our class," said Vin.
"All right," said Chris, "the Principal then. I'm sure she'll be disappointed to know that the older kids are bullying the younger ones. And I'm sure she'll be talking to some kids as well as parents."
Vin sighed, grateful, yet slightly embarrassed that his dad was stepping in to confront the problem.
"I bet some of the kids shouldn't be out of booster seats themselves," Chris added quietly.
"Everything okay in here?" Buck asked, sticking his head around the corner.
Chris nodded. "We're going to talk to the Principal about big kids picking on others."
"Sounds good," said Buck. "Hey, Junior? JD mentioned something about a grade you got on your spelling paper?"
"Oh yeah!" said Vin with a smile. "I was so 'cited about being tall that I forgot."
"Forgot what?" asked Chris.
"I got all my words right!"
"Yeah!" Chris cheered pumping a fist in the air. He grabbed Vin and swung him around in a circle in celebration of the accomplishment. He twirled one too many times, tripped and they both fell on the couch laughing.
Vin relished the feeling of Chris's arms holding him tight as they burst into another fit of giggles. Maybe being little was a good thing. If he was too big, Chris wouldn't be able to spin him and hold him.
Maybe four nine wasn't all that bad after all.