Two Hearts

by Estee

Story moved to Blackraptor in October 2009

Vin stood just outside the doorway to Chris’ room, unsure of whether or not his presence would be welcome. Chris sat on his bed with his shoulders slumped holding a shoebox in his hands. Vin watched as he carefully lifted the lid and set it beside him, and then for long moments Chris did nothing but stare into the box.

He felt sort of like an intruder, standing there silently, lurking in the doorway. He thought maybe he should leave, but he wasn’t sure. One part of him was worried about Chris, and another part was curious about what was kept in the box.

Finally, he heard a long exhale and then Chris rolled his tense shoulders and reverently pulled an object from the box.Vin had to stand on his tip toes and crane his neck in order to see that it was a heart cut from red construction paper with a white, heart-shaped paper doily glued to the center. When Chris opened the heart and held it up, Vin could see well enough to make out the words To Daddy scrawled out in a child’s handwriting. It was a Valentine’s Day card, and it looked almost exactly like the one he’d made at school yesterday -- the one he was holding in his hand – the one he’d been planning to give to Chris, until now.

Taking a step back, he tried to ignore the sound of Chris’ hitching breath, and focus instead on the noises coming from Buck’s room down the hall. JD was chattering a mile a minute, while Buck managed to get in an occasional comment; the squeak-squeaking of Buck’s bed told him that JD was bouncing around on it excitedly.

While Vin had been a little hesitant to present his card to Chris, JD had barely been able to wait to give Buck his card. It was a red construction paper heart, folded in half to look like a mouse. It had pink whiskers, ears made of half-hearts and a long tail made of pink yarn.Vin wondered why his class couldn’t have made something cool like JD’s class had? Why couldn’t he have made something unique, something different -- something that didn’t look so much like the one that was making Chris so sad?

Vin slowly backed away from Chris’ doorway, and hurried back to his own bedroom. He climbed up onto his bunk and looked once more at his card before sliding it under his pillow. He’d taken his time to make sure the letters had been nice and neat, and worked extra hard on the picture, hoping to make as good of a likeness of him and Chris as he ever had. Even though he thought Valentine’s Day was kind of a girly holiday, he had to admit he’d enjoyed making the card for Chris.But, now . . ..

Pulling the card out from under his pillow, he gave it one last look. It was a dumb card, a dumb holiday, for girls and little kids. He was a big boy, much too big to give a dumb Valentine’s card to Chris anyway. They’d baked and frosted heart cookies with Mrs. Potter yesterday afternoon. That would be good enough for Chris.

With that resolved he crumpled the card and tossed it into the wastebasket as he hurried out of the room. Pausing at the back door to step into his sneakers, he then headed outside for the sanctuary of the barn.

~ ~ * * ~ ~

Chris was snapped out of his reverie by a tap on his doorframe, followed by Buck’s always too-cheerful greeting. “Mornin’ pard.”

“Mornin’ Buck.” Chris turned toward his friend, forcing himself to smile, to put away the past for now and get started with the present day.The sight of JD trying to squirm out of Buck’s arms brought a real smile to his face.“Mornin’ JD.”

“Mornin’ Chris!”

“I thought I heard the back door?” Buck said, setting the dark-haired boy on his feet.

JD hopped right up onto Chris’ bed. “Where’s Vin?”

“I don’t know, squirt,” Chris answered, placing his treasured memento protectively back into the shoebox and reaching for the lid.

“Did ya like it?” JD asked before Chris was able to replace the lid. The boy’s face scrunched in a frown as he got a better look at the card in the box. “That ain’t Vin’s card.”

“No, my s . . . Adam made this one.”

“Looks almost ‘xactly like the one Vin made,” JD informed. “Only Vin’s just says D-A-D. Did ya see the one I made for Buck?” He turned back toward the now empty doorway and scowled. “Hey! Where’d Buck go?”

A moment later the big man reappeared in the doorway, looking puzzled. “Did Vin go outside already?”

Chris stood up, the shoebox in his hand. “He’s not in the house?”

“He comed here to give you your Balentine when I went to give Buck his Balentine.” JD bounced his way off of the bed, landing with a thud on the floor. “Hey, that’s Vin's!” He pointed to the wrinkled up red heart Buck was holding, trying to reshape. “What happened to it?”

“Looks like maybe Vin changed his mind for some reason,” Buck said, with a meaningful glance at the box. He handed the card over to Chris with a sympathetic smile then hoisted JD onto his shoulders. “How ‘bout we go make some waffles?”


Chris sat down on his bed again, feeling a sudden ache in his chest as he studied the slightly battered heart. Vin must have seen him looking at Adam’s and tried to get rid of his own – most likely in an effort to avoid causing Chris any discomfort or pain. Carefully he began smoothing over it with his hand, trying to work out the creases as best he could. Then he opened the shoebox and took out the one from Adam, holding them both out for inspection.

JD had been right; the two were almost identical. Both hearts were red, although one was slightly faded. Both were close to the same size; both had similar splotches of glitter adorning most every spare surface. Each one had a picture carefully drawn into the white lacey center, and each had the words I love you, neatly printed inside. The only real differences were that one was To Dad, and one was To Daddy, one was signed Vin and the other signed Adam.

The cards were very much alike, yet at the same time noticeably different -- just like the boys who had made them. To Chris, they were equally precious. Each boy had captured his heart the moment he’d laid eyes on them; and he loved them both unconditionally, with his entire being.

With a card in each hand, Chris set out to find the son of his heart, hoping he might also find the right words to make Vin believe that he’s truly loved and cherished. Unlike with Adam it would take more than a hug or a few simple words to help him overcome his uncertainties. And Chris knew that even if he were successful, there would still be times – like now – when the boy would need reassuring. Chris had known that from the start, and he was more than willing to do whatever it might take.

~ ~ * * ~ ~

Chris found Vin right where he'd expected to find him: inside the barn, leaning over Peso's stall. On the short trip across the yard he'd come up with what he felt was a suitable analogy to help him get his point across. All he could do was hope that it worked, because he hadn't had time to work out a backup plan, incase the first one flopped.

"Hey, cowboy," he called out as he entered the barn.

Vin glanced over his shoulder, smiling enough to show off those dimples that Buck always claimed were capable of melting polar icecaps. Chris had to agree.

Peso tossed his head and snorted insolently, not so much a greeting, Chris thought, more like a warning to keep away from his boy.

"Hello to you, too, big fella." Chris reached up and boldly patted the horse's jaw, pulling his hand away just in time to avoid being nipped. A corner of his mouth twitched up when he caught Vin grinning. "Think that's funny, do ya?"

Vin shook his head, still grinning and reached out, sliding his small hand over the surly beast's muzzle.  Peso nickered softly, nudging Vin to continue. Chris rolled his eyes, knowing from past experience that an empty threat of a short trip to the glue factory would have little impact on the ornery behavior.

When he noticed that Vin was staring down at the two hearts, he turned to face the boy and held up the previously discarded valentine.  "Buck found this in the wastebasket."

Vin nodded and appeared to turn his attention back to Peso.

"It says To Dad, and it's from you," he continued, scratching his head as if puzzled. "Just can't figure out how it ended up in the trash."

Vin sighed long-sufferingly.

"Unless . . . well, maybe I did something to make you change your mind about giving it to me?" Chris hated doing it, but he knew it would be the easiest way to get the boy to open up. "Whatever I did, Cowboy, I'm sorry."

"You didn't do anything."

Chris nodded thoughtfully. "Well, that's good to know."

"It's just that . . .."

Chris waited a minute before prompting the boy to continue. "It's just what?"

"Well, I saw ya . . . in your bedroom, lookin' at the other card," he gestured to Adam's, "and I thought . . .. I didn't want to make you more sad."

"Looks to me like you must have worked pretty hard to make this. Don't see how anything as special as this could ever make me sad." Chris gave him a puzzled look.

Frowning, Vin leaned back, holding onto the top rail with both hands. "You were sad."

"Well, that's true. I was a little sad, but not the way you're thinking. It's more like . . .." Here goes, he thought, taking a deep breath. "You know how you told me that when Mrs. Potter makes us cookies, it reminds you of your mom?"

Vin shrugged then nodded, looking at Chris warily.

"Well, does that make you wish that Mrs. Potter wouldn't make us cookies?"

"No, I like when she makes them. She lets me help just like Momma did."

"And, does that make you sad?"

"Sometimes, mostly it just makes me think about my momma."

"But, you still enjoy making things with Mrs. Potter, right?"


"Even though it makes you think about your mom?"

Vin shrugged again. "It makes me miss her, but I still like it."

"And, you like it when Buck tells you bedtime stories, right? Even though it reminds you of your mom sometimes?"

On one of the first nights the four of them had spent together, Buck had been in the middle of telling the boys an animated tale, and instead of being excited like JD, Vin had unexpectedly burst into tears. Later, he'd admitted to Chris that the way Buck had been changing his tone of voice and waving his hands had reminded him of the way his mom used to tell him stories. When Chris had suggested that maybe Buck could tone down his storytelling, Vin had been adamantly against the idea. To this day he loved to hear Buck tell stories, even if it did remind him of his mom -- maybe more so, because of that.

"Yeah," Vin answered quietly.

"I keep the valentine that Adam gave me, and I take it out because I want to remember him. Sure, it makes me miss him and it makes me sad that he's gone, but that doesn't mean I don't like to think about him. He was my son and I'll always love him. I'll always treasure every memory I have of him. Just like you'll always love your mom, and treasure your memories of her."

Vin looked up at him with woeful eyes, and Chris cleared his throat to continue, making sure that his next words were deliberate and simple enough for a seven-year-old to comprehend. "You're my son, too, Vin, in every way that matters.  I couldn't possibly love you more than I already do." Vin looked away shyly and Chris reached out to tilt the boy's face back toward him.  "There's bound to be things you do or say sometimes that will remind me of Adam, but that isn't a bad thing." He moved closer beside Vin, encircling the boy in his arms. "I don't ever want to miss out on anything with you, and I don't ever want you holding anything back from me -- especially not because you're worried about making me sad, or reminding me of Adam. Got that?"

He waited for Vin to meet his eyes then gave him an encouraging smile. Vin finally let go of the rail, wrapping his thin arms around Chris' neck, and holding on tightly.  Chris breathed a sigh of relief, feeling hopeful that they'd actually made progress.

After several minutes that Chris would cherish forever, Vin pulled back. Chris set the boy on the ground, keeping one hand on his shoulder and guiding him out of the barn. "What d'ya say we go have some waffles?"

Vin made a sour face and shook his head "Don't want no waffles."

"I thought you liked waffles."

"They're chocolate chip." Vin wrinkled his nose with disgust.

Chris raised an eyebrow. "I know you like chocolate chips."

"Yeah, but not in waffles!" Vin exclaimed with a shudder. "Ain't right puttin' chocolate chips in breakfast stuff."

Chris smirked. "Says the boy who begs for chocolate chip cookie cereal every time we get groceries."

"That's different."


Vin thought for a moment then merely shrugged. "I don’t know, it just is."

"Okay, well, if you don't like them, why did you agree on getting them?" Chris asked, already knowing what the answer would be.

"Cause JD likes 'em."

"Of course."

"Reckon I could just eat some of them heart cookies instead," Vin attempted to compromise, casting a furtive sideways glance at Chris.

Chris snorted, tousling the boy's shaggy curls. "Reckon again, cowboy."