Vin rolled over with a frustrated sigh, wondering if he was ever going to be
able to get back to sleep.
At some point earlier, he'd managed to fall asleep, only to be awakened by a frightening dream. In the dream he'd been all alone, pinned between a rock and a cliff, with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and the man-eating lions of Tsavo were advancing on him, closing in from both sides. He'd woken up in a cold sweat only to realize the ferocious and terrifying growls weren't man-eating lions at all. It was only JD, who was still snoring loudly in the bunk below him. It didn't seem fair that JD was able to sleep when Vin couldn't.
Their brand new alarm clock said, 1:47 . . . with the little red, glowy dot that meant it was AM. Buck had told them AM meant it was Morning and PM meant it was night. Vin had figured that the M in AM must stand for Morning, but when he'd asked Buck what PM stood for Buck had seemed a little confused, for a minute. He'd frowned and brushed his fingers over his mustache, which usually meant he was thinkin' real hard. Then his face had lit up and he'd said, "PM stands for Past Morning - ya use it for everything past morning: afternoon, evening and nighttime. Like right now, it's 8:30 PM, and that means it's time to quit jawin'. So, hop up on that bunk, Junior, and get to sleep." Which meant Buck didn't want to have to answer any more questions.
Okay, so now it was 1:50 AM, and he wasn't feeling the least bit tired. He knew he should try to go back to sleep though, because tomorrow was the first day of school. Maybe, he thought, if he went through his school supply checklist again it would help him get back to sleep. That's how he'd gotten to sleep the first time. It was almost like countin' sheep.
He easily envisioned his brand new Dallas Cowboys backpack that he'd set near the door, right by his new pair of sneakers and close to JD's new Denver Broncos backpack and JD's new sneakers.
It had been a tough decision picking out backpacks. In the end, he'd chosen the Dallas one, because he reckoned the Cowboys were always gonna be his team, whether they were winning or not. Besides, if he had a bad day at school, or got to feeling lonely, he figured all he'd have to do would be look at his bag, see the word 'Cowboys' and it would remind him of Chris, and then he’d know that everything would be okay. 'Course, that was his own little secret.
He knew for sure he had two wide-ruled spiral notebooks, and one package of loose-leaf paper. JD had chosen one green and one blue spiral notebook, but Vin's were both black. He had a pencil case with ten #2 pencils, an eraser, scissors and a bottle of school glue . . . oh, and his very favorite thing, a new box of markers with wide tips at one end and skinny tips at the other. And they smelled good! The purple smelled like grapes, the red smelled like cherries, the orange smelled like oranges and so on. He could hardly wait to use them.
He knew that he and JD were both missing one . . . well, actually two things from their lists. They were each supposed to bring two boxes of Kleenex, but they'd somehow forgot about them at the store. When they got home and Vin had remembered the Kleenex, he'd wanted to drive back to Denver to buy some. Chris had mumbled something about the price of gas, and then promised to make sure the teacher knew it was all his fault that they didn't have their Kleenex and he'd make sure they had it by the second day of school. Hopefully, that would be okay with the teacher.
JD had got a new lunchbox with Shrek on it. Vin thought JD's lunchbox was pretty cool, but he had picked out a plain blue one, since he was going to be in second grade this year, and that meant he wasn't a little kid anymore.
It had been hard to decide whether or not he should make his sandwich up that night and put it in the fridge or wait and make it in the morning. Vin knew from experience that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich kept overnight in the fridge would be stiff and kinda soggy by lunchtime, and since Chris had assured him that he'd have enough time to make it in the morning, he'd decided to hold off until then. But now, he wasn't so sure that was a good idea. What if he waited 'til morning and while he was making it, ended up spilling grape jelly all over his new t-shirt? That would give Eli Shmeelie and Stinky Freddy the perfect opportunity to make fun of him and call him names, and then the whole, entire school year would be ruined on the very first day.
Climbing down from his bunk bed, he quietly tiptoed out of the room, down the hall and into the kitchen. He would make his sandwich up tonight, since he wasn't able to go to sleep, anyway. Being as quiet as he could, he pulled the step stool over to reach the cupboard with the peanut butter. Having a stiff, soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch was definitely much better than having a big purple blob on the front of his new t-shirt.
"What are you doing?"
"Uhh . . . well, I kinda figgered it might be best to make my sandwich tonight, instead of waiting 'til tomorrow."
It was amazing, even though Vin was turned toward the counter, away from Chris, he was sure he could feel The Glare on his back.
"It's after 2 o'clock in the morning, Cowboy."
"I know, but I got to thinkin' that it'd probably be better to have everything ready to go in the morning, that way we won't forget nothing and we won't be late for school."
That sounded reasonable enough, he thought, and it was the truth, so he shouldn't get in too much trouble. Chris was big on telling the truth.
It never ceased to amaze him that Chris knew everything. He glanced sideways and was beyond relieved to see Chris open the fridge and get the jelly out.
"Well, I was sleepin' until JD's snorin' woke me up."
"Ah, I see."
Wow, this was turning out better than he coulda hoped. Chris didn't sound at all mad. In fact, he opened the drawer, pulled out two butter knives and handed one to Vin.
"I tried to get back to sleep," Vin explained, while he spread peanut butter on one slice of bread and Chris put jelly on another slice, "but I started thinking about things and my brain just wouldn't be quiet."
"I know how that can be," Chris said, and pulled out a plastic sandwich bag, holding it open for Vin to slide his sandwich inside and zip it up. When the sandwich had been placed in the fridge, Chris looked down at him with a smile and said, "You think you can go back to sleep now?"
Vin nodded, and let Chris lead him back to his bedroom. He couldn't think of anything else that needed to be done, but he still wasn't sure he could get back to sleep, especially since JD seemed to be snoring even louder than before.
"Whoa," Chris said, wincing and shaking his head in the doorway of their room, "who would have thought such a little guy could make so much noise?"
"He sounds an awful lot like a lion," Vin told him, thinking back to his dream.
"He's almost as loud as Buck," Chris chuckled. "What a pair they make."
Vin nodded in agreement. Now that Chris had mentioned it, he could hear Buck's loud snoring, too. Nope, no way was he getting any sleep, tonight. Unless . . .? He glanced hopefully up at Chris, automatically engaging his most powerful weapon: The Big Eyes.
Chris hesitated only a moment, then he smiled and said, "Okay, pard, I reckon the only way either one of us will get back to sleep tonight, is if you bunk in with me."
Vin had been sure he'd be awake all night long, but once he was tucked in safe and cozy beside Chris, he couldn't help but relax. And now, the gentle, soothing motion of Chris' hand on his back was finally making him feel sleepy, after all. As he felt himself drifting away toward the land of slumber and peaceful dreams, the very last thing he heard was a comforting, familiar whisper close to his ear, "Goodnight, Cowboy."