Many thanks to Mary McCool and Jenny Glines for their outstanding beta work.
Notes: The wall is the first one I’ve done myself!
Feedback always appreciated:
Buck whistled softly to himself as he moved deftly around the kitchen while he prepared breakfast. He glanced out the window and saw Chris disappear into the barn. ‘Just as well,’ thought Buck to himself, Chris was in a foul mood because it was almost 7:00 a.m. and Vin wasn’t home yet.PART 2
It was the first Saturday of April, “Spring Clean-up & Fence Mending Day” in the Larabee/Wilmington household. The boys had been reminded weeks earlier that they were expected to be here, all day, no excuses. Chris had been more than a little displeased when Vin had telephoned at the end of his shift at the grocery store last night to tell them he was going to visit Becky before coming home.
Then this morning Vin’s bed hadn’t been slept in and the little blue Stratus the boys used as a commuter car wasn’t in the driveway. Chris was fit to chew nails.
It wasn’t the first time Vin had stayed overnight at Becky’s. Buck wasn’t worried. He trusted both of them, especially Becky. She was a level headed girl who planned on becoming a veterinarian, with the grades to back her aspirations. She was one of nine children and her father was the minister at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. But staying over at a girl’s house, even if her parents were home, just didn’t sit right with Chris.
Buck was more concerned about how much sleep Vin would get. They would likely have watched a movie until the wee hours of the morning before going to bed and then Vin would have to be up by 6:00 a.m. to get here in time for breakfast. School, Becky, sports and a part time job; in Buck’s opinion Vin was doing too much and it was going to catch up with him sooner or later.
Buck stepped out into the hall and bellowed up the stairs, “Let’s go, JD, breakfast is nearly ready.” Buck received a muffled “Kay” as a reply, he smiled to himself. He didn’t have to see JD to know the boy just buried his head under his pillow.
The phone rang and Buck made a Herculean leap across the kitchen to pick it up before Chris heard it in the barn. If it was Vin Buck wanted to head off any confrontations until Vin was home and he was around to referee.
Buck’s parental instincts immediately hit the red zone. After ten years he’d learned to read the boys’ tones of voice, this one told him that Vin was scared.
“I’m here, son, what is it?”
“Dad, I’ve been in a car accident.”
For a split second Buck fought to stay calm and focused. If Vin himself was phoning, it was likely that he was okay.
“Are you hurt?”
“I…,” Buck could hear a big gulp of breath on the other end as Vin tried to calm himself down, “I don’t think so.”
“Any one else hurt?”
“No, but the Stratus is pretty smashed up.”
“Forget the Stratus, you’re what’s important,” Buck said quickly. “Where are you?”
“On the bypass, the rock cut at Sand Dam Road. Dad… no one stopped.” Buck could tell tears were imminent.
“It’ll be okay, son,” Buck reassured him. “Have you phoned 911?”
“Do that, we’re coming right now.”
“Okay.” Buck could hear the tears now.
“Vin, we’re coming right now,” repeated Buck to reassure the boy that he wasn’t going to be alone for long. “Okay?”
“Yeah.” He sounded a little better.
“We love you son,” said Buck before hanging up the phone.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Buck made a quick trip upstairs to let JD know he and Chris had to run a quick errand and that JD could reach him on his cell phone. Buck received another muffled reply and suspected JD would sleep until noon if left undisturbed. He decided to wait to give him the news until he knew exactly how bad things were. As it was, an upset Chris was going to be enough of handful to deal with without an upset JD as well.
Grabbing his coat, Buck jumped in his truck and drove the hundred feet to the barn and honked the horn. Chris appeared in the doorway.
“What?” he asked irritably.
“Vin called. He’s been in a traffic accident,” Buck replied through the open passenger window.
He watched as the color suddenly drained out of Chris’s face.
“Get in,” ordered Buck.
Chris responded automatically to the command and Buck breathed a silent sigh of relief. He’d been afraid Chris would insist on driving and that wouldn’t have been a good decision just now.
The drive to the Sand Dam Road turn off usually took thirty minutes. Buck made it in twenty-three.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Buck slowed as they approached the flashing lights. Colorado State Troopers milled around as they went about their business. The size of accident scene began to create serious doubts in Buck’s mind after he’d just finished telling Chris that Vin had sounded frightened, but otherwise okay, during their phone conversation.
Buck glanced sideways at his friend. Chris was stone faced with dread. This had happened once before and the man’s whole life had been ripped away from him.
Buck slowed even further as traffic was reduced to a single lane. They were recognized by the Trooper directing traffic and waved off to the side of the road. A second Trooper indicated that they should park and Buck pulled in behind a Colorado State Patrol vehicle. Off to their right, a few hundred yards from the road, sat the remains of the car Vin had been driving. Both men looked on in silent horror at the sight.
The blue Stratus had served as transportation for the boys after the school bus schedule became impractical when they became involved in before and after school activities. It now sat at the base of the rock cut and was hardly recognizable as the vehicle they owned.
Buck sat now with his mouth open staring at the wreck. ‘Vin survived that,’ he thought with dismay. “My God,” said Chris in a choked whisper beside him.
The rear fenders were gone. Both of them were demolished and now lay in hundreds of small pieces spread out along some fifty yards of the roadside. The rear wheels, looking grotesquely naked without the fenders, were bent inwards toward one another. The trunk lid hung limp; accentuating the fact that the frame of the car was so badly bent that it now “V-ed” in the middle. From where they sat in Buck’s truck they could look through the now windowless rear window to see how the headrests of both the driver’s and passenger’s seats, like the wheels, pointed inwards toward one another.
Buck dragged his eyes away from the sight. As horrifyingly mesmerizing as it was, he was more anxious than ever to find Vin, “C’mon, let’s go find our boy.”
When there was no reaction from the man in the right hand seat Buck spoke to him again “Chris?”
If a lesser man had been sitting beside him, Buck would have said he was paralyzed with fear. “Chris?” he repeated and the blonde man turned to look at him. “C’mon… let’s go find Vin.”
“Yeah,” replied Chris, his voice strained, as he moved to open his door.
They hadn’t taken six steps when they noticed an EMS vehicle approaching them from the opposite direction. It slowed and stopped. Nathan got out of the passenger side and walked around the vehicle. He waited a moment for a break in traffic and then crossed the road to meet them. Buck couldn’t help but feel somewhat relieved. Nathan was riding, not in the back administering emergency care.
“Hey,” greeted Nathan briefly as he joined them.
“You pulling a shift with the EMS?” asked Buck.
“Yeah, I logged another twelve hours last night toward my thirty for the month. Between work and the boys I figure I better keep my certification current.”
“You got the call for Vin?”
Nathan nodded, “Anonymous caller reported the accident. We got here just after Vin called you.”
“How is he?” Chris finally spoke; his voice was tight with concern.
“He’s okay, all things considered. The seat belt and airbags did their jobs. He’s got some bruised ribs on his left side. I figure he was whipped around inside the car pretty good and banged up against the armrest of the door.”
Nathan’s eyes widened in surprise as he looked from one father to another, “You haven’t spoken to Vin yet?”
Buck shook his head, “We just got here.”
“I’ll let Vin you about it.”
There was something guarded about Nathan’s expression that sent Buck’s parental instincts on high alert again.
“Where is Vin now?” asked Chris.
“He’s in the CSP Command unit a couple hundred yards up that way giving his statement.”
“Who’s in charge?”
“Stoneman,” replied Nathan a little glumly.
Buck groan inwardly. He’d never met the man personally but Stoneman’s reputation preceded him. Chris had met him and was of the opinion the reputation was well deserved.
Sergeant Charlie Stoneman was as tough, physically and professionally, as his name. He stood 6’3” a solid 240 pounds and had a jaw as wide as the Hoover Dam. He had a talent for intimidating perps simply by standing over them and staring down at them; what’s more if Charlie had ever given anyone a break it would have been big news among local law-enforcement.
“In the meantime, I don’t think you need to go to Emerg unless he complains of headache, drowsiness, vomiting...”
“…the usual stuff,” supplied Buck cutting Nathan off from reciting the list they all knew well.
“Yeah,” replied Nathan, “and one more thing, his spine got rattled around pretty good. That causes the nerves to hyper stimulate and the tissues to become inflamed. In 24 hours or so he’s going to experience extreme soreness. It’s normal and natural and should last for a day or so while his body works out the trauma. The only remedy is rest. He can take acetaminophen if the pain gets really bad but if you’re at all concerned take him to Emerg or give me a call and I’ll come take a look at him.”
“Thanks, Nate.” said Chris sounding considerably less tense. “When are you off shift?” catching the EMT failing to stifle a yawn.
“Now; I’m glad to help - especially when it’s the boys.”
“Later,” said Buck in reply to Nathan’s parting wave as he returned to the EMS van.
The two fathers then made their way along the shoulder of the road past a number of familiar silver colored CSP vehicles sporting the familiar blue and black sail shaped decals on the front fenders. Bits of fender, the back pack Vin used for school books, a carjack, spare tire, emergency flares, a blanket, a half full container of windshield cleaner were scattered far and wide around the site. Buck wondered in quiet dread; what could have happened to have spread this stuff all over the place?
If the car had rolled the contents would have been everywhere but the roof of the car appeared to be intact for the most part. Had Vin been forced off the road? But if that were the case why was everything from inside the car spread all over the place? Why had the car left the road at all?
It occurred to Buck that Vin might have been drinking. He hadn’t been an angel at Vin’s age; he knew teenagers drank. Both he and Chris had presided over their share of teenage drinking and driving accident scenes during their service with the Denver PD. They had seen the tragedies that teenage drinking and driving could lead to and had counseled the boys accordingly.
They realized Vin and JD couldn’t avoid the inevitable situations where they would be pressured to drink. Vin, through his prowess in sports, had gained a huge degree of respect from his peers and along with his being a high performance athlete, Buck was fairly sure Vin could and would steer clear of alcohol without too much trouble from his friends. Buck had always figured it more likely that JD would be the one to cave under pressure from his peers to drink. One, because he was two years younger than most of his classmates and two, no matter how you cut it being smart just wasn’t very cool in high school. That’s why he and Chris had made it clear, if either of them found themselves in a situation with alcohol, they could call either father, no lectures and no questions asked.
They reached the command SUV and found Vin sitting in the back seat on the passenger side. A Trooper was sitting beside him typing on a PC. Vin glanced up and gave them a grateful look when he realized they were there outside the car.
Chris immediately tried to open the door of the SUV and found it locked. Chris yanked impatiently at the door handle again. From the near primal expression of frustration on Chris’s face Buck figured Chris was set to tear the door off its hinges to get to his son.
A split second before the situation blew up out of control the door swung open. Vin barely had a chance to step out of the vehicle before his father swept him up into a giant bear hug. Vin moaned and Chris let him go suddenly. “My side,” said the boy with tears welling up into his eyes. To Buck they looked more like tears of relief rather than tears of pain. Chris said not a word and hugged the boy again more gently, cradling his head against his shoulder. Chris was facing away from him but Buck could still hear the ragged sob of relief from his friend.
Buck reached over and squeezed Vin’s shoulder gently. Vin looked up past his father’s shoulder and gave his other parent a shaky smile. Buck replied with a nod and a confident smile of his own.
“Mr. Larabee! Your attention here, sir!”
Buck turned. The order had come from an approaching giant sized Trooper sporting Sergeant’s strips on his shoulder. If he’d had any doubt as to who it was the name plate on the man’s chest read “Stoneman”.
It was then that Buck noticed the smell of alcohol. Suddenly he realized the source of the odor and his head snapped back to look at Vin. The boy reeked of it.
‘Oh, shit!’ thought Buck, a drinking and driving charge at 17. How could he? He knew better, he was smarter than this. Why hadn’t he called? From the look of disappointment on Chris’s face the same thoughts were running through his mind as well.
“Get back in the vehicle young man and finish giving Trooper Landry your statement,” the Sergeant said to Vin before turning his attention to the Trooper taking Vin’s statement. “Trooper Landry I want to speak to you later concerning procedure when taking witness statements.” The big man then made eye contact with Chris. “Come with me, sir,” he instructed before turning and walking up the road away from them.
Buck could sense Chris’s indecision. Chris’s protective instincts were on overload, the blonde man was used to being in charge but the fact was that the Colorado State Patrol had jurisdiction. In this situation Stoneman was calling the shots and he and Chris were only parents.
“I’m okay, Dad,” said Vin as he sat back down inside the vehicle. The boy’s down turned face said otherwise but his words helped clear up Chris’s indecision. Chris followed with Buck a step behind him as they trailed after Stoneman. They passed Vin’s gym bag sitting on the hood of the CSP vehicle. It was unzipped and lay wide open. The smell of liquor wafted up from it.
A few yards further up the road Stoneman stopped. “What do you think happened here?” he asked gruffly, pointing to a set of heavy indentations in the dirt shoulder of the road. They were standing on the opposite side of the road from the direction Vin would have been traveling.
Buck stood back, watching as Chris walked up and stood beside the deep impressions in the dirt, then he looked across and up and around the curve of the road Vin had come down. Then Chris turned around. His eyes traveled to the face of the rock cut where the debris field lay and then along the debris field to where the remains of the car now lay. There were no tire marks on the road only the deep indentations in the dirt shoulder and two half circles of torn up grass at the base of the rock cut.
“He fell asleep,” concluded Chris tersely.
“I would agree,” replied Stoneman. “Your son told me that he had the cruise control on and woke up when the car hit a bump. I suspect that’s when the front wheels dropped off the road onto the shoulder. It appears that, as the road turned, the vehicle did not and continued in a straight line traveling across the oncoming traffic lane. There are no skid marks to indicate that any attempt was made to keep the vehicle in its proper lane until it hit the uneven, softer surface of the shoulder. Heavy braking and the sudden turning of the steering wheel would cause the deep indentations we see here. He’s a very lucky that no one was traveling from the other direction.”
Chris said nothing but his face seemed to harden at the Sergeant’s description of the accident.
Buck was tempted to comment that traffic was likely to be nearly non-existent on this road at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning but he’d hadn’t been invited by the Sergeant to join the conversation and he’d figured it was best to keep his mouth shut.
Stoneman continued, “Your son said he hit the brakes and attempted to turn right to get back to the correct side of the road. Since the vehicle had been on cruise control it had enough momentum that it kept moving forward as it swung around. The result being the passenger side rear fender impacted the rock cut as indicated by the disturbed grass and the location of the debris field.” Stoneman raised his arm to point along the rock cut. “Your son said that at that point the air bag deployed and he though he couldn’t see anything it felt like the vehicle reverse direction and hit the wall with the rear fender on the driver’s side before coming to a stop… again that would be consistent with the marks in the grass that we see here.”
Chris squinted up at the Trooper, “How fast was he going?”
“Your boy says he had the cruise set right at the speed limit.”
“…and that would create enough momentum for the car to rebound off the rock and swing around to hit it a second time?” asked Buck. In his disbelief he forgot about keeping quiet.
“According to our forensic traffic analyst; yes.”
Chris shook his head and swore. “He almost killed himself because he’d been drinking,” Chris said acidly.
Chris looked up at the Sergeant, “What?”
“No, sir. He has not been drinking.”
Buck blinked in confusion, Chris looked stunned.
“That was my first thought as well, sir. I could smell it on him and I accused him of it but he denied it. I can tell you, sir, that made me angry. I don’t like to be lied to. I was at my most persuasive when I accused him of it again but he remained firm, and claimed he was sober and that he had fallen asleep because he hadn’t slept much last night. I don’t have to tell you, sir, a lot of people try to lie to me about drinking and driving and I didn’t believe him. He submitted to a field sobriety test and blew zero point zero.”
Relieved Buck asked “Why does he smell of booze then?”
“He said that after he got out of the car he was cold and took that sweatshirt he’s wearing out of his gym bag and put it on. His gym bag smelled of liquor and I found the broken remnants of one of those small ounce and a half shots in his gym bag. I suspect the bottle broke in the accident. Upon investigation of the gym bag and in light of the breathalyzer results I find his statement to be plausible.”
Buck couldn’t decipher the expression on Chris’ face as his friend looked past Charlie Stoneman toward the Command vehicle. Vin had finished making his statement and was standing beside it now waiting patiently; his gym bag slung over his shoulder, his school backpack leaning against his leg. Vin caught his father staring at him and seemed to flinch before looking away.
Chris swung his attention back to the big man in front of him. “What are the charges, Sergeant?”
“I’ve been giving that some thought. I admit I was pretty belligerent with him when I thought he was lying to me. As I said I don’t like to be lied to, but he remained firm and respectful in his assertions. I can’t say the same for myself. He proved himself an honest young man and since no one else was hurt I think ‘Failing to remain in his lane’ is a sufficient charge.”
The relief on Chris’s face was immediately evident. It would mean points but none of the ramifications a DUI charge at 17 would carry. Chris put out his hand. “I appreciate your consideration, Sergeant.”
“Your boy has quite a set of stones on him, Larabee,” said Stoneman as they shook hands.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
There was no chance to question Vin about the events of the morning on the way home. Exhausted, he fell asleep right away and slept all the way home wrapped in his father’s coat, his head on his father’s shoulder. Buck glanced over a couple of times to see Chris looking down at his son. Every so often he would wipe his eyes with the back of his hand.
Buck understood. The déjà vu of the accident; the fear that Vin had been seriously hurt upon seeing the wreak of the car; and then to discover Vin had not been drinking and driving as they had feared; it was a lot to deal with before 9:00 a.m. In the end all their worst fears in this situation were unfounded and the only thing lost was a seven year old car.
There was still a discussion concerning responsibility to be had but all in all Buck felt they had been very lucky today.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Arriving home they found a confused JD. Still dressed in his t-shirt and p.j. bottoms and sporting a serious case of bed head hair. He was standing in the middle of the kitchen surveying the cold half-cooked breakfast that had been abandoned earlier. All indications of sleepiness instantly disappeared when he saw his brother’s downcast face. His eyes darted from Vin’s to each of his fathers’ somber expressions. Buck could see it in JD’s eyes, JD instinctively rallied to the defense of his protector from so long ago. If Vin had done something wrong there was a good reason as far as JD was concerned.
“Vin?” JD asked cautiously.
“I crashed the Stratus,” said Vin quietly.
“What?” replied JD his eyes big with disbelief.
“Everything’s alright, JD,” said Buck soothingly. “Vin’s okay and that’s what’s most important.”
“We’ll have to have a talk,” said Chris evenly, “but it can wait until Vin gets some sleep.”
The order was understood and Vin, Chris’s coat still draped around his shoulders, headed up stairs to his room with his father close behind.
JD turned suddenly to Buck after they disappeared up the stairs. “He crashed the Stratus?”
“Yeah, it’s a write-off,” replied his father solemnly.
“A write-off,” JD repeated in awe. A moment later that awe changed to worry. “Are you sure Vin’s okay?”
“I’m sure; Nathan was the >EMT who answered the call. Vin’s bruised some ribs and he’ll be pretty sore tomorrow but otherwise he should be fine.”
“How did it happen?”
“The investigation at the scene concluded Vin fell asleep.”
“Fell asleep? While driving? Why?”
“Don’t know. We haven’t had a chance to talk to Vin about it yet.”
Buck watched as JD pushed both hands through his hair before wrapping his arms around himself in a hug. Even after ten years Vin upset or in trouble could rock JD’s sense of security. “I don’t get it. Vin is super reliable. You know? How could he fall asleep while driving? Vin doesn’t screw up like that.”
“Hey there,” Buck reached over and put a comforting arm around his younger son’s shoulders drawing the boy into a hug “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. We’ll wait and talk to Vin after he’s had some sleep. Okay?”
Buck could feel his son nod his against his chest.
“Okay then,” replied Buck letting go. “Look, I got a little job to do. The Stratus has to be cleaned out and towed away and the site cleaned up. Do you want to come or stay here?”
“I kind of want to see the Stratus,” replied JD little hesitantly.
Buck smiled, the seriousness of the situation aside, what young man didn’t want to see a smashed up car? “Okay, then, you get dressed and I’ll make a couple of breakfast burgers to go.”
Buck in fact made three breakfast burgers, taking one and a fresh mug of coffee up to Chris. He opened the door a crack and as expected, found Chris keeping a close watch on the boy while he slept.
“You okay, pard?” Buck asked in a low whisper.
“Yeah, I just want to stay close to him for a while.”
“I’d be doing the same thing.” Buck said quietly setting the food down on Vin’s dresser and holding the mug of coffee out to Chris until he took it. “JD and I are going to go take care of the car. We’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Sounds good. Hey, Buck?” whispered Chris looking up.
“Thanks for picking up the ball this morning.”
“No problem, you’ve done the same for me more’n once.”
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
They pulled off the road beside the wreck to wait for the clean-up crew. They sat for a full five minutes without saying a word. Buck watched JD out of the corner of his eye; it was obvious by his silence that the sight of the wreck frightened him.
Buck had hoped it would.
He felt it was better that JD learn the lesson this way than through personal experience. He was well aware how cavalier and cocksure teenage young men could be when it came to cars and their own perceptions of personal indestructibility. Thinking back to some of things he’d gotten into as a kid he’d wondered how he’d survived his childhood. In turn, considering some of his experiences as a parent he wondered how his mother had managed to survive his childhood. JD was a way easier kid to raise than he’d been. He often wondered if his mom was sitting up in heaven enjoying some of his more challenging days raising his son.
When no answer came he reached over and shook JD’s shoulder gently.
“What did the State Police say happened?” JD asked in a quiet voice.
“C’mon, I’ll show you.”
They got out of the truck and Buck led the way up the road to the tire indentations. Pointing to the rock cut wall and the debris field he walked JD through what Sergeant Stoneman had explained to him and Chris earlier. Afterwards JD turned to look at him with tearful eyes. “Vin almost ended up with our mothers and the angels, didn’t he?”
“He was very lucky,” agreed Buck a little taken aback by the childhood reference to their deceased mothers.
“Instead of working on cleaning up the yard today or standing here we might have been waiting in emergency wondering if Vin was going to live; or worse, sitting in a funeral home…” the words ended here as JD wiped at his eyes with the sleeve of his jacket.
“Yeah, we might have been,” agreed Buck solemnly, “and I’m thankful we’re not.” Buck put an arm around the kid’s shoulders as they walked back to the truck. Once they were seated inside with the doors were shut and they had some relative privacy Buck turned to his son. “JD, you know I’m not a big believer in religion but I do believe in God and Vin being spared any serious injury or worse was a gift from God today.”
JD looked decidedly troubled as he returned his father’s gaze. “But why would God let it happen at all? Vin could have been killed, Chris is really upset,” JD dropped his eyes to his feet, “and I got to admit just looking at the car scares the crap out of me. Why did it have to happen at all?”
“Life gives us challenges to overcome; it’s what makes us stronger and helps us deal with the bigger challenges that come along as we get older,” Buck explained.
JD looked up at his father. “Dad, how could falling off our bikes or crazy gluing our fingers together prepare us for something like this?”
Buck smiled to himself remembering what the emergency nurse said to him after the crazy glue incident. ‘When your children are small, your problems are small.’
“This is way more serious than that,” continued JD. “Like when Uncle Ezra got shot and Uncle Josiah got beaten up real bad and Uncle Nathan was held hostage by that guy strung out on drugs?”
Buck frowned at his son, “How do you know about those things? I thought we’d managed to keep them from you two. Come to think of it, you and Vin weren’t even with us when Nathan was taken hostage.”
JD looked a little unsure as he answered. “I googled your names…the news reports are all online.”
Buck sat back in surprise. He stared out of the front window of the truck for a moment. For all his and Chris’s efforts to protect the boys from the more dangerous side of their jobs, it had never occurred to him to restrict their names from a search on the home computer. Why would it?
Buck puffed out his cheeks as he blew out a long sigh. “How long have you known?”
“A couple of years.”
Buck shook his head in disbelief. There was nothing he could do about it now. He and Chris would have to talk about this later but in the meantime, “Look for the time being, no more googling…and if you have any questions about those ah…news reports, you ask, okay?”
“Okay,” replied JD looking a little worried. “You’re not mad about it, are you?”
“No, I’m not mad,” he said giving his son a reassuring smile. “and to answer your question, before Chris and I bought the Stratus, we thought long and hard about the decision, knowing full well that with the added freedom of a vehicle of your own to share came more risk. We figured the both of you were responsible enough and could handle it, and I still believe that. We know we can’t keep you boys home forever and we figured it was better to give you freedom and responsibility a bit at a time.”
JD looked back him.
“Good enough answer?” asked Buck.
Pursed his lips thoughtfully and nodded.
“Okay then,” Buck reached into the back of the cab and grabbing the camera and the “Go Green” shopping bags. “C’mon, let’s see what’s left that we can save.”
While Buck took pictures for their insurance agent, they wandered around the car first noting, as guys do, what was still intact and what was damaged. Marveling at how looking at it from the front the car appeared fine except for the popped out windshield; all four tires were still inflated; but none of the doors would open; and despite the coolness of the early morning, Vin had had all the windows down, the front ones could still be cranked up a bit while the back ones could not.
They emptied the glove compartment; and rescued a school binder that had somehow ended up in the trunk; the music CD’s from the centre console; and a water bottle from within the vehicle. Outside they gathered up the windshield washer fluid, blanket and roadside flares and tossed them into the back of the truck.
Buck had called the clean-up service from home and it arrived just as Buck tossed the jack and the spare tire into the trunk of the wreck. They watched as the car was winched onto the flatbed. Then they helped the clean-up crew gather up the debris, using rakes and shovels for the small stuff, they deposited it all into the bins on either side of the flat bed.
“You know, I was really looking forward to finally driving it somewhere other than the driveway after my birthday this summer,” said JD a little wistfully as they stood and watched as the remains of little blue Stratus disappeared from view.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
The breakfast burger lay untouched where Buck had left it. The coffee mug, now empty, sat beneath Chris’s chair.
He’d hardly moved since Buck and JD had left. He was remembering…the sirens, the flames, the burning shell of the truck, Buck’s smoked streaked face; then the whiteness of the hospital, the noises of the machines that worked to keep Adam alive, Sarah’s funeral, hundreds of people dressed in black, the audible river of murmured condolences, the still little body in the big white hospital bed after the machines fell silent. Chris closed his eyes as if the action would block the memories of that nightmare from his mind’s eye That nightmare had not been forgotten but had faded into more distant regions of Chris’ mind over the past decade. This morning’s events had brought it back in vivid detail; it hurt like the sudden tearing opening of a partially healed wound.
Chris was shaken out of his thoughts by the sound of his son sighing. He opened his eyes as the boy started to turn over onto his left side. Vin let out a moan of pain. Chris was on his knees beside him in a single movement. The boy turned back the other way and resumed his steady breathing without waking. Chris watched from his knees as Vin slept. He watched the rise and fall of his chest, the quaking of his eyelashes on his cheek.
Recent talks with Vin as to his choices for the future, and leaving home for college had brought home to Chris that Vin was nearly grown up and would be gone from the house for good in a few years. He had felt a degree of relief in that he had been able to do something for Vin that he hadn’t been able to for Adam, keep him safe until he grew up. The feeling of that accomplishment had been shattered this morning. The reality was that he had been just as helpless to prevent the events of this morning as he had been to protect his wife and son all those years ago.
He reached over and brushed an errant strand of hair back from the young face. The young face before him blurred with his tears as they began to flow.
Vin opened his eyes. He lay still as he tried to orient himself. Though he knew he was home in his own bed, his window, which faced west, was in full sun and he was confused for a moment as to why he was in bed at this time of day. Slowly the events of this morning sorted themselves out in his mind: the accident, the police, Uncle Nathan and then his fathers. Dad. Oh God, the look on Dad’s face as he looked in the window of the police car at him. It would haunt him forever. Never in his whole life; the times he or JD were really sick or hurt or in trouble, even the time Uncle Ezra gotten shot, his Dad hadn’t looked like that. Jaw clenched, his face grey and frozen, his eyes were cold without expression. He shivered at the memory.
He sighed deeply and rolled slowly onto his back. “Hey, bro,” he greeted his brother and received a wide smile in return.
“I thought you were awake.”
“How long have I been asleep?” he asked yawning.
“Long time, it’s nearly supper.”
“Where are Dad and Buck?”
“Are they mad?”
JD shrugged, “Dad’s pretty much his usual self. Chris has been pretty quiet since we got home. Actually he was the one sitting here until about a half hour ago.”
His Dad had been keeping watch on him all day; that was a sure sign he was pretty worried. Vin preferred not to dwell on it just now and directed the conversation in another direction. “Got home?”
“Yeah, I went with Dad to take care of the Stratus. We got back about three.”
“What’s happening with the car?”
“The clean up guy said something about offering it to the fire and rescue training centre to use for practicing with the jaws-of-life but one way or the other it’ll end up at the junk yard.”
“You mean ‘Steve’s auto recycling’?” corrected Vin with a smile.
“Yeah," replied JD grinning. “How do you feel?”
“Fine I think,” Vin pushed himself up to sit on the side of the bed, grimacing when he pulled on the bruised ribs.
His brother looked at him, his expression was doubtful. “Are you sure you’re okay?’
“Yeah, bruised some ribs is all.” He lifted his t-shirt to show JD the black and blue washboard pattern on his side.
“How’s it look?”
“Whoa,” replied his brother with raised eyebrows, “it looks painful - awesome but painful.”
“I’ve had worse playing football.”
“If you say so, bro.” From JD’s expression he clearly was not convinced.
“Do you think I’ve got time to shower before supper?” He moved stiffly to stand up and JD offered up his forearm.
“If you hurry,” replied JD, as Vin grabbed onto his forearm and pulled himself to his feet.
“Can you get me some water to drink? I’m feeling pretty dry.”
“Sure,” replied JD disappearing out of his bedroom door.
Vin grabbed his housecoat and made his way to the bathroom. He stripped off his t-shirt and took a look at the bruising in the bathroom mirror. No, he decided, he hadn’t ever gotten anything this bad playing football but he didn’t want JD to think it hurt too much and carry a story back to Buck. Other than that he wasn’t feeling too bad. Maybe Uncle Nathan was wrong and he wouldn’t get the post accident soreness his Uncle had described.
“C’min,” he relied to a knock at the door as he drew the shower curtain aside and turned on the water.
“Thanks J…,” the words died on his lips when he turned and discovered his father standing there.
“Here’s your drink,” said Chris as he sat a tumbler of blue liquid down on the counter.
“Ah, Thanks,” replied Vin. Something was wrong; he could feel it.
“Buck thought Gatorade might be better for you since you haven’t had anything to eat or drink all day,” explained his father. Dad was behaving funny. Usually he would have referred to Buck as “your mother” when Buck insisted on something like the Gatorade.
“How do you feel?” said Chris nodding toward the bruising on his side.
“Okay,” replied Vin. His Dad seemed so stiff, so distant. It was making him feel really ill at ease.
Chris nodded, “That’s good. I’ll let you shower, we’ll wait supper for you,” he said before leaving the room.
Vin felt relieved once Chris left. ‘He sure was acting strangely," thought Vin as he pushed his p.j. bottoms down. He found it difficult to bend over so he stepped on the cuffs and then the legs of the pants until he could step clear of the garment before getting into the shower.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Chris leaned back against the wall outside the bathroom door. He fought hard against the bile that rose in his throat as his stomach threatened to empty itself. He wiped at the sweat on his brow. The bruises looked awful yet they had been considered ‘minor’ today. ‘Oh Vin, how close I came to losing you today,’ he lamented silently to himself.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Vin pushed his food around his plate with his fork. He’d been hungry when he sat down but supper was awful. The food was good; it was the tension. His Dad was on edge and the vibes he was sending out were affecting everyone at the table. JD was yammering on nervously about the god damn Boston Bruins. Ever since he was little and discovered he was born in Boston JD decided he’d cheer for
Bostonteams, like Uncle Nathan cheered for the Detroitteams. The Patriots, the Celtics, the Red Sox, now it was hockey playoffs and sure the Bruins were favored to do well, but Vin wondered why he had to talk about every play and every check they laid on the opposing teams in agonizing detail?
Vin could see that Buck was trying hard to ease the tension by changing the subject from hockey to lighter conversation but Chris wasn’t co-operating. Vin couldn’t help but notice that Chris kept looking at him, ‘and did he ever look grim,’ thought Vin. He’d had to look “grim” up for an essay last month and ‘harsh and forbidding” sure described his Dad right now. It was making him feel like a criminal.
Vin watched Buck’s gaze skip back and forth from himself to Chris a couple of times. It appeared that Buck had made some sort of a decision as he pushed his plate aside.
“I think it’s time we talk about this morning and clear the air here.”
“I don’t think we all need to be present for this discussion,” said Chris throwing a glance at JD.
“I think we do,” replied Buck. “The accident has upset everyone in this household pretty badly and we all need to talk about it.” Buck paused a moment waiting for Chris to object.
When no objection came Buck turned his attention to Vin. “Vin, do you feel up to telling us what happened?”
“Yeah, I guess,” replied Vin placing his fork gently on his plate before pushing it aside. Vin looked at his father first but Chris looked really wound up tight. He couldn’t ever remember his Dad being so closed off before. He turned and looked at Buck; his other father’s expression was calm and welcoming. In the past both his fathers had always been open to your side of story, waiting until they had all the facts before deciding on a course of action.
Deciding he wouldn’t be too comfortable alternating his attention from one father to the other while telling his side of things, Vin opted to lean on the table and stare at his hands clasped in front of him.
“There isn’t much to tell.” Vin could feel Chris’ eyes drilling into him. He knew his Dad had to be disappointed in him but this didn’t feel like disappointment more like anger. “I knew I had to be home by but I was feeling awful tired. I tried to stay awake. I turned the radio up really loud and I rolled down all the windows. The air was freezing cold so I thought that would help keep me awake. I even tried slapping my own face. The next thing I knew I woke up and the rock cut was coming at me fast…”
Vin looked up; someone had made a strange noise. He thought it had come from JD or maybe Chris. JD’s eyes were big as he stared back at him, but it was Chris who pounced.
“Why didn’t you stop and call us on your cell phone?” asked Chris evenly.
“I don’t know, I guess I figured I had to get home, I really didn’t think I was gonna fall asleep,” replied Vin lamely.
“Why were you so tired to begin with,” asked Chris. Something else was creeping into his tone of voice.
“Ahhh,” he looked back down at his hands, “Becky and I watched a movie until this morning. I got a couple of hours of sleep on their couch before I left to come home.”
“A couple of hours?” an undercurrent of anger could be heard now in Chris’s tone of voice. “You expected to put in a full day of work on a couple of hours of sleep?”
“Wellll...” Vin jumped along with the dishes on the table when Chris’ fist came down.
“Why did you go see her at all when you knew we had a lot of work to do here today?”
“Chris, take it easy,” warned Buck calmly.
“Answer me, son,” demanded Chris.
“…between track and field practices and her badminton practices and work on the year book we hardly saw each other all week…”
“…and if you hadn’t smashed up the car, you could have seen her tonight!” retorted Chris harshly.
“Chris, back off,” ordered Buck sternly.
Chris sent a white hot glare across the table at Buck.
Chris’s attention was diverted by the plea from his younger son. JD’s distress at his father’s fit of temper was obvious.
“Dad, I’m sorry. I know I really screwed up.” Vin’s voice gave out on him; stopped by a throat constricted with tears. He wasn’t sure if he was crying because of the accident or because his father was so angry with him.
Chris looked at him then back to JD and then at him again. He rose suddenly from the kitchen table and strode over to the kitchen door, grabbing his coat off the hook before slamming the door behind him.
Big tears dripped down Vin’s cheeks, as he sat with his head bent trying not to bawl out loud. After all, he wasn’t a kid any more. A moment later he was conscious of JD by his side. He felt his brother wrap his arms around his shoulders. Vin was too tired and too upset to feel stupid at having his little brother hug him, besides it felt good. Then he felt Buck’s big hand on top of his head. He stood suddenly, his chair falling backwards, and both he and JD found themselves wrapped up together in a “Buck-hug”.
He sobbed for a couple of minutes, aware of JD’s hand gripping his shoulder tightly as he did.
“Hey there, let it go, you’ve had a pretty rough day.” Buck murmured soothingly. “Try to ignore Chris. It’s been a hard day for him too. It’s brought back some bad memories for him. He still loves you more’n you’ll ever know.”
Vin leaned into his father’s solid form as he felt the big forearm across his shoulders draw him snuggly into his chest. Vin was comforted by the familiar scent of the tall man’s aftershave. It was a reminder of the home he had with these men and JD.
It wasn’t until Buck mentioned it that Vin realized that his accident might have reminded Chris of what happened to Adam and Mrs. Chris. It explained his father’s temper but it made him feel even worse because now he was responsible for stirring up sad memories for Chris.
He heard JD sniff beside him and felt Buck’s head lift up from beside his ear.
“If you kiss me on the top of the head I’m gonna hurl,” warned JD indignantly from under their father’s other arm.
Vin couldn’t help but smile while Buck chuckled warmly. “Okay then. Let’s get supper cleaned up.”
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
They broke from their huddle. The boys moved to clear the table and load the dishwasher while Buck started on the pots and pans in the sink. He steered the conversation into safer territory. They chattered on about school, music and their friends, throwing in the odd light-hearted insult and the occasional flick of a tea-towel. Buck finished wiping the counters and figured Chris had had enough time to simmer down.
“Would you boys please finish up the dishes and make sure the dogs get fed. I’ll be right back.”
Buck picked up his jacket and ducked out the door. He could feel the boys watching him from the kitchen window as he made his way to the barn.
The tall man slipped into the barn and noticed right away that the half dozen hay bales that had been sitting neatly along the front wall were gone. He assumed that the hay that now lay loose and knee deep everywhere were them. Chris was improving. When Ezra got shot instead of throwing hay around, he threw a particularly obnoxious reporter over the hood of a car. Buck never did find out how Travis got Chris out of that one.
“Chris?” he called out.
“Here,” came a reply from the back of the barn.
Buck waded through the hay and found Chris in the empty stall. He was seated on the ground, leaning against the wall with his elbows on bent knees with his head in his hands. Buck didn’t wait for an invitation and sat down beside him.
“Helluva day,” said Buck briefly once he was settled on the ground.
“It sure has been,” replied Chris lifting his head up after a long moment of silence.
“Why did I do that?” asked Chris sounding frustrated. “My son almost died today and I treated him like he was some jackass perp. What the hell is the matter with me?”
“Nothing’s wrong with you, except maybe the fact that you’re a mere mortal like the rest of us,” said Buck soberly.
Chris snorted derisively. “I look at him and I’m so mad at him. How could he be so stupid? Why didn’t he call?”
“Well, maybe some of it is our fault,” said Buck thoughtfully. “We only ever specified drinking. We never said ‘if you felt you couldn’t drive for any reason’. Being a kid, he took us literally.”
“You’re probably right,” said Chris as he stared at the ground.
Buck waited, he had the feeling Chris was getting closer to the real reason they were sitting here.
“You know, I look at Vin and I see Adam.” Chris swallowed hard as tears glistened on his eye lashes. “He looked so still…so small in that hospital bed…after that…last time they tried to revive him,” the words came out in barely more than a whisper.
Buck nodded sympathetically and reached over to put a comforting hand on Chris’s shoulder.
“What am I going to do, Buck? I couldn’t live through that again.” The plea from a man usually so strong and indomitable was heart wrenching.
Buck squeezed his friend’s shoulder. “You’re going to do what you’re always telling me to do; you’re going to have faith. We’ve tried to instill good morals and qualities the boys’ll need to be responsible adults. I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far but like you said, we probably missed some things along the way. Vin made an error in judgment today and it had serious consequences.”
“He could have died.”
“But he didn’t…he was wearing his seat belt like he was supposed to and he’s going to be fine.”
Chris didn’t look satisfied. “I failed to protect him just like Adam...”
There it was, the real reason Chris was so distraught. “Different situation entirely,” said Buck cutting him off. “Adam, he never had a chance…” It was Buck’s turn to swallow hard at the memory of the bright six-year-old whose life was violently cut short.
Regrouping quickly Buck continued on. “You said it years ago; we’ve got to let them go bit by bit. They’re going to fall down once in a while but that’s how they learn to get up again. Vin made one bad decision that’s all; he’ll learn from it and hopefully go on to live a long and happy life.” Bucked turned to look at his friend, “Adam’s death was a very different situation from this.”
Buck waited; watching a single tear travel down Chris’s cheek before he sniffed loudly wiped it aside with the palm of his hand.
“You’re right,” said Chris nodding his head. “I let my fear of losing another son confuse things.”
“You’re a good father, Chris. I never had one but I know you’re a good father. I don’t know if I’d have survived all these years without your help.”
“I told you, you’re the mother around here,” said Chris with a smile.
Buck chuckled at that, “Well, one way or t’other we’ve managed to fumble through so far. I think we got two fine boys there.” Buck removed his hand from Chris shoulder and slapped the man’s knee “C’mon, dessert’s waiting.”
Both men pushed themselves off the wall behind them and climbed stiffly to their feet.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~>
Upon entering the house the men found their sons putting together four bowls of vanilla ice cream with sliced peaches and whipped cream topping. The boys had obviously been watching for their fathers’ return.
“Are you guys are ready for dessert?” asked JD cheerfully.
“I made decaf,” added Vin hopefully.
Buck had to smile. Vin didn’t drink coffee and as a result he always made it so strong it was nearly undrinkable. Josiah once commented after drinking Vin’s coffee that it made his marine training worthwhile.
“Okay, but no more talk about the Bruins play-off chances,” replied Chris grinning as he began to wash his hands at the sink.
“Who do you think will take the pennant this year?” asked Buck as he poured coffee while the boys set the bowls of ice cream on the table.
“The Red Sox!” piped up JD. “What!” he asked looking around in surprised innocence when the other three groaned.
They ate and talked companionably avoiding the hot-button topic high in everyone’s mind. After they finished their dessert Buck and Chris sat back with their coffees while the boys had seconds of peaches.
“Okay, let’s start again,” said Buck looking at his elder son, “Vin?”
Vin’s gaze settled on Chris questioningly.
“I’m sorry for how I behaved before, I promise it won’t happen again,” replied Chris, meeting his son’s eyes and answering the unasked question.
Vin took a deep breath and stared at his bowl as he began again. “I woke up just after six at Becky’s and figured I better get home. I knew we had a lot of work to do today and that you were depending on me to help. I was still feeling pretty sleepy and like I said I tried loud music, cold air, slapping my face. I wasn’t even aware that I fell asleep until the car hit a bump and I woke up. I was heading for the rock cut.” Vin paused and took another deep breath. The furrowed brow was an indicator that he was having trouble continuing. He licked his lips before carrying on determinedly. “I panicked. I hit the brakes and turned the steering wheel really hard. I think the brakes locked up because the car spun around and the back fender on the passenger side hit the rock cut. The crunching noise was awful, the air bag was suddenly in my face and the engine was screeching. The car felt like it bounced off the wall ‘cause I was whipped around the other way. The second crashing noise was worse than the first.” Vin looked up at Chris. “All of a sudden the car wasn’t moving anymore and everything was really quiet.”
There was a tightness around Chris’s mouth but he said nothing as he reached over and laid his hand gently on the boy’s arm.
Vin then looked across the table at JD. The hazel eyes were wide as his younger brother looked back at him
“It just wasn’t your time, son” said Buck gently.
“I was pretty lucky,” replied Vin after taking a big breath to calm himself.
“There must be more that you have to do on this earth,” said JD sagely.
Three faces cranked around suddenly to frown at him in confusion.
“Well, I don’t know what to say,” shrugged JD, with a hint of anger in his voice. “The fact is I’m kind of pissed at him.”
“Your brother could have been seriously hurt or worse,” Chris pointed out evenly.
“Don’t you think I know that? I saw the car!” JD’s voice rose to a shout.
“I didn’t do it on purpose!” Vin shouted back. “Do you think I like having the crap scared out of me!”
“That doesn’t mean it didn’t affect us too!” retorted JD loudly. “What you did was stupid!”
“I’m not perfect JD and I sure as hell am not smart. Just look at my report card!”
“School smart is only one kind of smart. You’ve always been smart about everything else. You’re people smart, sports smart, you’re…I don’t know…life smart! And this was stupid!”
“Okay boys, back to your corners,” ordered Buck gently.
The boys sat back in chairs and eyed each other angrily.
“Vin, we know you’re the one who got hurt, JD’s spouting off because it scared him. It scared all of us,” explained Buck.
“JD, you have every right to be upset but everybody makes mistakes. It’s been a hard day for everyone but we’re all here safe and sound and we have to be thankful for that,” lectured Chris.
JD huffed for a second before reluctantly apologizing to his brother. “Sorry, Vin. I didn’t mean to… You’re my older brother, I look up to you, you know? You’ve always known the right thing to do but this was pretty stupid and that’s not you. I really am glad you’re okay.” The apology had started out sounding angry and had finished up sounding sincere as JD cooled off.
“I’m sorry JD, sorry Dad, Buck, I didn’t mean to...,” the kid looked pretty down.
“We know that, son.” The words of comfort came from Chris.
“Alright, let’s back things up a bit here,” instructed Buck. “What’s the real issue here?” he asked looking from one boy to the other and back again.
“Making good decisions,” replied Vin.
“I’d agree with that. What should you have done?” asked Buck
“Pulled off, phoned home to let you guys know what I was doing and taken a nap.”
“Why did you always stay over at her house anyway?” asked JD irritably, obviously still feeling mildly annoyed with his brother.
Vin sighed a little impatiently before answering. “I just want to spend some time alone with her. Her younger sisters stayed up with us until midnight. Caleb came in about one from the gas station and sat and talked awhile. I couldn’t very well tell him to get lost ‘cause I wanted to neck with his sister. So we only got a couple of hours alone together.”
“Why can’t she stay here?”
Vin nailed his brother with a ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ glare, “I’m pretty sure Reverend Gallagher wouldn’t go for that.”
“Have you asked?” countered JD.
Buck cut in here, “Let’s get back on track. This discussion is about good decisions and responsible driving habits not Vin and Becky’s relationship.”
“I don’t see why Becky can’t…”
“…it’s none of your business, JD,” said Buck firmly cutting JD off.
JD looked for a moment like he was going to object
Not taking his eyes off his younger son Buck asked, “Have either of you learned anything today?”
“That driving can be dangerous and should never be taken for granted,” replied both boys almost in unison.
“I’m glad to hear you remember the lecture. Are there any questions?” Buck was hoping there wouldn’t be any. He was tired; the emotional day was beginning to catch up with him.
JD raised a tentative hand.
“What is it?” asked Chris. Though Chris was looking worn out from the day as well, Buck was glad he was taking the question.
“Are Vin and I going to get another car to drive?” asked JD a little tentatively.
Buck caught a fleeting hopeful expression on Vin’s face. Like JD said the older boy was life smart and would never have dared ask the question. He knew JD was asking it because in three months time he would be 16 and finally able drive somewhere other than their driveway.
“I’m not prepared to answer that tonight," said Chris frankly.
JD nodded at the answer.
“Are there any other questions?” Chris looked from one boy to the next. They both shook their heads, ‘no’. “You’re both excused.”
The men sat quietly as the boys deposited their dishes in the dishwasher.
“Let’s go catch the sports scores,” suggested Vin as they left the room.
Bostonwas playing Torontotonight. They sure could use the two points for a better playoff spot.”
Buck leaned over to set his coffee mug on the table and move JD’s chair so he could put his feet up. He sat back a bit, crossed his arms and closed his eyes, relieved that not only was this day was almost over but that it had a happy ending as well.
The tall man let his mind wonder while he enjoyed the quiet.
“You did good today,” said Chris beside him.
“Huh?” responded Buck not moving from his restful position.
“You did a good job of holding everything together for the four of us today,” repeated Chris.
“Thanks, I had a good teacher,” replied Buck absently.
“Thanks,” said Chris.
“Before you go breaking your arm patting yourself on the back, I was thinking of Ma.”
“Oh.” Buck could detect a hint of disappointment in Chris’s voice.
Buck smiled, “I had a little mishap with a car myself once upon a time. It’s a good thing that juvie records are expunged.”
“You’ll have to tell me about it sometime.”
“Maybe,” said Buck. At that he dropped his feet to the floor and straightened up. He needed to change the subject he wasn’t willing to revisit the mistakes of his youth just now. “There is still the matter of the liquor shot. Since it turns out that it wasn’t a factor in the accident I figured I’d leave that for you to take up with Vin privately.”
“Probably best,” replied Chris nodding.
“I thought so.” Buck sighed tiredly, “What are we going to do about transportation for the boys?”
Chris sighed audibly. “It sure has been convenient having Vin drive them to and from school and his job.”
“Yeah,” agreed Buck, “but can we afford another car right now? We’re going to have two in college in two years time and with the recession the college funds aren’t as healthy as we’d hoped.”
“I’ll rework the budget and see what I can come up with. Meanwhile I guess we go back to sharing drop off and pick up duties when the school bus schedule doesn’t suit the boys’ school activities.” Chris smiled, “You know it wasn’t all that bad before the Stratus. I sort of missed spending that time with them.”
“I know what you mean,” said Buck with a smile.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Vin awoke early the next morning. He lay still listening to the morning birds. He could hear one of his Dads letting the dogs out for their morning pee. He felt pretty good and wondered if maybe Nathan was mistaken about post-accident soreness. He could hear water running in the kitchen for the first pot of coffee of the day. He turned his head to check his bedside clock for the time.
“Ohhh!” he couldn’t help but groan out loud as the muscles in his neck protested against the movement. He shut his eyes and panted against the pain. ‘I guess Uncle Nathan wasn’t wrong,’ he thought ruefully to himself.
The first twinge seemed to be fading. He slowly and carefully reached across his body to grab the edge of his mattress. His joints and muscles both screamed at him for doing so but he persisted. His football and long distance running training had taught him to work through the pain and that’s just what he’d have to do here.
Gripping the edge of mattress he tried to pull him over on his side. “Oh! Oh! Ohhh…” He’d forgotten about the bruised ribs. He let himself roll onto his back again.
Suddenly his father was beside him, looking down at him with a worried expression. “Vin?”
“Hey, Dad,” he tried to sound like nothing was wrong; hoping his father hadn’t heard his moans and groans. He should have known better.
“You feeling a little sore this morning?” asked Chris as he sat down on the bed beside him. The worried expression had faded but his father’s concern was still obvious by his furrowed eyebrows.
“Yeah, Uncle Nathan sure called it,” he replied.
“Need a hand?” Vin wasn’t sure but for a second he thought he saw the hint of smile on his father’s face. Vin debated as to how to answer for half a second then the pressing need to pee was the deciding factor.
“Yeah, I gotta go bad.”
Chris smiled but said nothing as he held out an arm for Vin to grab. He felt his Dad’s other arm slide under his back supporting him as he was lifted up into a sitting position. Taking it slowly Vin was eventually up. He leaned on his Dad as he shuffled to the bathroom. Despite how absolutely humiliating it was to be helped out of bed to the bathroom to pee, it was worth it just to see his Dad smile, not just with his mouth but his eyes too.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Breakfast was a slow and painful affair, but it felt good to have some food in his stomach. It was decided, though a day late, that “Spring Clean Up & Fence Mending Day” was going forward today. Vin was going to be settled on the couch in the family room. It would be easier to check up on him there rather than upstairs in his room. Vin was happy with that, walking was hard enough but walking down the stairs had been especially bad.
Vin was surprised at how much he slept. He thought it would be a chance to catch some grapefruit league baseball. Instead he found that he drifted in and out of sleep the rest of the morning and all afternoon.
Uncle Nathan and his girlfriend Rain visited late in the afternoon just as Buck was starting to make supper.
Vin decided Dad or Buck must have been worried and called him even though Rain claimed they were in the neighborhood and thought they might as well drop by and say hi. Uncle Nathan, even though he was really smooth and subtle about it, gave him a quick examination and asked him a few questions as to how he was feeling, while discussing the Rockies’ chances this season.
After supper Uncles Ezra and Josiah appeared. Vin didn’t remember it but they claimed the six of them had planned on taking in the Nuggets basketball game together this evening. Vin seemed to think the game was close but the only thing he could remember for sure was his Dad saying ‘Good night, son,’ as he tucked the covers up under his chin.
The next morning Vin was awakened by his brother’s radio. He pulled his pillow up on top of his head; JD sure played it loud. It wouldn’t be so bad if JD didn’t like rap music so much. ‘Rap crap’ Vin called it but then JD referred to his Country music as ‘people whining about their lives’.
Vin could hear the slap as JD hit the snooze button. He eased himself up to sit on the side of his bed. There was the odd twinge and the bruised ribs pulled a bit but otherwise he felt not too bad. He headed for the shower.
It seemed like just five minutes later JD was pounding on the bathroom door and yelling.
“WHAT?” yelled Vin over the sound of the shower.
“HURRY UP! I GOT TO GET TO SCHOOL!” came the reply.
“GO EAT BREAKFAST,” suggested Vin as he turned off the shower and stepped out of the tub.
“I AL…,” JD cut off suddenly as Vin swung the bathroom door open. “Are you going to school today?” asked JD looking startled.
“I’m feeling okay,” replied Vin confidently, “so yeah I thought I’d go. Dad’s not likely going to let me go to practice if I don’t go to class first.”
“What’s all the yelling…?” The question died on Chris’ lips as he crested the landing at the top of stairs. “Are you going to school?” he asked clearly surprised to find his son already up and showered.
JD took this opportunity to slip into the bathroom to shower leaving Vin to sort things out with Chris.
“Yeah, and I thought if I still felt good enough I’d take in a light track practice… if that’s okay,” he added cautiously, noting his father’s eyes narrow slightly at the mention of track.
“You’re feeling good enough for track practice?” asked Chris a little doubtfully.
“I think so,” said Vin trying to sound convincing despite standing in the hall wearing only a towel wrapped around his waist.
He watched his father frown slightly as he glanced down at the purple and blue bruised ribs. Vin caught the sound of a quick sigh. “Alright but I want you to ride in early with Buck and JD. JD’s got a Math competition meeting this morning and I’d feel better if you didn’t go on the bus.
“Okay,” agreed Vin. He really didn’t want to go in early but he had the feeling that if he kicked up any sort of fuss his father would insist he stay home; and he really wanted to go to track and field practice today. The coach was going to make first and second string relay team selections this week and even though he was a junior, he felt he had a shot at a position on the first string team.
Chris looked at his watch. “I have to meet with the D.A. this morning. I should be done by . If you feel you can’t make it through the rest of the day, call Buck before or me if it’s after . Okay?”
“For any reason, you got that?”
“I got it, Dad,” replied the boy failing to squelch the sarcasm. What was the big deal here?
“Don’t take that tone with me,” responded his father evenly.
“Sorry, Dad,” replied Vin a little remorsefully.
“You’ve had one hell of an experience and I am not sure you’ve really had a chance to deal with it. I gotta run.” He gave Vin quick hug and was gone.
‘What was it with parents?’ grumbled Vin to himself as he returned to his room to dress. ‘Everything is such a big deal as far as they were concerned.’
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Vin yawned again and fought the urge to nod off. Miss Kelly wouldn’t take it any better than Mr. Price did if he fell asleep in her class too.
He couldn’t figure out what was going on. The day had started pretty good. A few of the kids had heard about the crash and by the whole school seemed to be talking about it. People’s reactions sure were funny, most of the guys seemed to think it was cool in some way and many of them wanted to see pictures. It was then that he found out that according to JD, Buck had taken pictures of the car. He’d have to catch up with JD on that one. It seemed like most of the girls thought he was some sort of hero or something. Becky was some pissed that he hadn’t called her to tell her. That was a major relationship mistake there. At first he thought her anger was totally unreasonable but after he thought about it he realized that if it had happened to her he’d want to find out from her, not someone else.
It was now and in the worst way he wanted to just put his head on the desk and go to sleep. His side had begun to throb as well. He had to face up to the fact he wasn’t going to make it to practice. He’d be lucky to make it to lunch hour. Then he would go to the office, sign out and phone Chris.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Vin had not really slept but rather dozed from the time his father picked him. Then as they turned off the highway onto the country road toward home he began to feel perkier. He didn’t understand it. He crossed his arms and snorted gently as he turned to look out of the passenger window.
“Feeling better?” asked his Dad.
Vin pursed his lips and looked down, “Yeah,” he replied sullenly.
Vin scratched his head and ran his hand through his thick locks in a frustrated gesture before answering. “Dad, I swear I’m not faking. I was so tired earlier I could hardly keep my eyes open. Now I feel fine.”
Chris smiled as he drove, “I didn’t think you were faking, son. I understand what’s going on. The bouts of sleepiness are a common side effect of a trauma. They’re a coping mechanism to help deal with the physical and psychological effects of your accident.”
“How long is this going to go on?”
“It usually lasts a week or so but everybody is different.”
“A week! I have to get back to the track this week, Dad. The coach is deciding on the relay teams this week. I was hoping to make first string.”
Chris shrugged not to sympathetically, “I can’t change this for you, son. Your body and mind are going to take as long as they take to recover from the accident.”
“Shit!” he swore as he settled suddenly into a pout.
That earned Vin a disapproving glance from his father.
They drove on in silence for a few minutes while Vin brooded over his rotten luck.
Chris eventually broke the silence. “I have a question I want an answer to.”
Vin looked over at his Dad and waited for the question.
“Where did the liquor come from?”
“…The liquor that got all over the shirt in your gym bag.”
“Oh yeah, that liquor,” replied Vin, he’d forgotten about that.
“That liquor,” repeated Chris firmly.
“After football practice one day, Kyle Richardson suddenly started handing these liquor shots out to everyone in the locker room. Some of us said no thanks but he tossed it in our stuff anyway.”
“Nobody said anything?”
“Well, Caleb Gallagher told him where he could stuff it, literally. You could see Kyle wasn’t sure what to do. As back up QB, if he ever had to play he’d need Caleb to protect his blind side.”
“What happened in the end?”
“Coach Graham came in and we all stashed the bottles out of sight as quick as we could. I forgot it was in my gym bag until… well until Saturday.”
“This wasn’t a regular thing then.”
“NO, no way.”
“When was this?”
“End of November I think, yeah because Kyle made a dumb joke about having a drink on him over the Thanksgiving weekend.”
“Thanks for telling me the truth.”
Vin watched his father. He could tell he was trying to decide what to do about this incident. “What are you going to do, Dad?” he asked after a few minutes.
“Don’t know yet,” replied Chris honestly.
“You couldn’t just forget it?” Vin asked hopefully. “It was five months ago after all.”
Chris sent him a sideways look. “Vin, what agency do I work for?”
“Oh, yeah,” Vin replied glumly.
“I’ll tell you what though when I decide what I’m going to do. I promise I’ll do my best to keep you out of it.”
“Thanks,” replied Vin weakly. ‘Holy shit, this day just gets better and better,’ Vin thought glumly to himself.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
“Ah, Jeez,” lamented Buck later that night after Chris told him where the liquor had come from. “It’s not like we’re regular parents who could just call it a teenage prank and leave it at that. A minor somehow got hold of at least 30 ounce and half shots of liquor.”
“I know,” responded Chris. “Do you have any ideas as to how I can follow this up and keep Vin’s name out of it?”
Buck stroked his mustache for several minutes while he considered various strategies. “What did you say that boy’s name was again?” asked Buck shooting Chris a slit-eyed sideways look.
“Richardson, Kyle Richardson.”
Buck snapped his fingers three times and then shook his finger at Chris. “That theft, it was relatively minor, four cases of single shots disappeared between a supplier and a vendor for ahh, what was it? “Buck looked down and then up again snapping his fingers once as he unearthed the memory. “It was a benefit of some kind. Mayor’s initiative of some kind or other. The district manager reported it. His name was Richardson, Bill? No, ahh, Blaine Richardson! What do you bet they’re related?”
“I don’t remember it off hand,” replied Chris. “Who caught the investigation?”
“The new guy on Ryan Kelly’s team, Tom Rumball.”
“Can you follow-up with Ryan? Let’s keep it quiet for now until we find out if Kyle is related to this Blaine Richardson.”
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
“Where’s you brother?” Buck asked JD a week later. Supper was going on the table as soon as Chris got home and Chris was expected any minute. In the meantime, despite being called twice Vin had failed to appear so far.
“In his room, I guess,” replied JD with a shrug.
“Can you set up the garlic bread, please,” asked Buck indicating the ingredients on the counter beside him, before turning back to the meatballs and pasta sauce on the stove.
“Not my turn to help with supper,” replied JD, popping a carrot stick in mouth.
Buck turned back around and nailed the boy with a disapproving parental stare.
“…but seeing as I’m not too busy just now,” replied the teen, reluctantly picking up a knife to slice the bread.
“Thank you,” replied Buck returning to the pots on the stove. “Anything new at school?”
“No, not really,” replied his younger son with another shrug. “Kyle Richardson is off the track team. Actually he’s out of everything except school I guess. Word is his father grounded him big-time; no sports, no dances, he can’t even have a friend over. Nobody seems to know why and Kyle isn’t talking.”
Buck’s continued to stir the spaghetti sauce. His eyes never leaving the stove top. He knew why.
Blaine Richardson had employed his son Kyle to help deliver and pick-up the liquor for the Mayor’s function. The boy, stupidly, had thought the cases would never be missed and had stashed them in his grandmother’s garage. Tom Rumball had worked Juvenile Crime with Denver PD before joining the ATF. The rookie agent had a positive feeling about
Richardsonsenior and had managed the case well. Blaine Richardson had put two and two together immediately after Tom relayed an ‘anonymous tip’ to him. Richardsonhad noticed his son was spending more time than usual at his grandmother’s house. The theft by his son would most certainly have meant Blaine Richardson’s job so Rumball had left the ball in Richardson’s court to deal with his son and had closed the case. It sounded like Kyle’s father had made it clear to him as to the consequences for their family if the story of the theft was ever made public.
“It’s too bad,” said JD continuing with his news. “Vin says he’s a pretty good javelin thrower and he would have likely placed at Divisionals this year.”
Buck heard the familiar truck and looked out the kitchen window to see the Ram pull in; time to eat.
Buck poured the noodles in the boiling water and set the timer before sticking the tray of garlic bread JD had prepared under the broiler.
“JD, you’ll find the salad in the fridge,” said Buck, stirring the noodles just as Chris came through the door.
“How long until supper?” asked Chris hanging up his coat and setting his laptop on the floor.
“Nine minutes,” replied Buck, bending over to check on the garlic bread.
“Hi, Dad,” said JD greeting his father brightly.
“Hi, JD, how was your day?” replied Chris absently as he sifted through the day’s mail.
“Pretty good. The board wide Math competition is this Saturday. Are you going to be there?”
Chris looked up and smiled as he handed him the latest Sports Illustrated he found in the mail. “I haven’t missed one yet, I’m not about to start now.”
“Thanks, Miss Kelly wants to know numbers so there’ll be enough seating.”
“Up in his room still, I guess” replied JD with another shoulder shrug thumbing through the SI Magazine.
“What do you mean – ‘still’?” asked Chris.
“Dad already called him twice,” replied JD already lost in an article.
“Could you check on him, Chris?” Buck asked tea towel draped over his shoulder, oven mitts on his hands as he lifted the hot tray of toasted garlic bread out of the oven.
“Will do,” replied Chris taking the steps two at time to the upper floor.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
“Vin?” called Chris through the door after first knocking.
Chris put his hand on the doorknob, turning the knob carefully before opening the door a crack. “Vin?” he whispered, just in case the young man was asleep.
He could see his elder son seated on the side of his bed; his head in his hands.
Chris pushed the door open wide. “Son, are you feeling alright?” he asked gently.
There was something about the hunch of the shoulders that told Chris that his son wasn’t ill but that things were far from alright. Then he heard the sob.
Vin raised his head, his cheeks were wet with tears, “Dad,” he barely got the word out before his face crumpled into sobs.
In one swift movement Chris was seated by his side with an arm wrapped around his shoulders.
Instead being comforted the boy began to cry harder. Suspecting he knew why but still deeply concerned as to what was causing his son so much distress Chris reached around with his other arm. Turning the boy in his arms he gathered him tenderly up against his chest as the floodgate of tears opened up. He murmured words of love and comfort as he rocked his son back and forth.
It seemed like an eternity for Chris, his heart aching for his son, before the tears began to slow down.>
“I th th th thought…I thought I was going to die.” Vin hiccupped. “I didn’t re re re remember before… I saw the rock and I thought I was going to d d d die.”
“It’s okay, son, you’re safe now.” Chris’s words were soft as he tried to comfort his son.
After a while the tears stopped and the arms that had been curled up between them slipped out and around Chris to return the embrace.
They stayed that way for along time.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Chris looked down at the sleeping face. As he brushed an errant strand of long hair from his son’s face, he was reminded of just how much he loved this boy.
Buck had stuck his head in the room about ten minutes after Vin had fallen asleep. The concern followed by the question in his expression along with a thumbs-up sign silently asking Chris if everything was okay. Chris nodded. Buck nodded in reply and closed the door. Ten minutes after that Chris’s back was beginning to hurt. Vin wasn’t big but he was a solid 135 pounds and he was beginning to get heavy. Chris carefully eased them both down until they were lying on the bed, Chris on his back with Vin slumbering peacefully on top of his chest. It reminded Chris of how Vin used to sleep seated on his lap leaning up against his chest in the rocking chair when he was younger.
He craned his neck upward to get a look at Vin’s clock. It was after nine.
Years of stakeouts had trained him to ignore the call of nature when it was necessary but the call was getting the better of him now. He carefully slid out from under Vin and tucked the spare blanket from the foot of the bed around him before going to the bathroom.
On his way back to Vin’s room, he met Buck coming up the stairs with a mug of coffee.
“How’s it going?” asked Buck in a quiet voice.
“He’s still asleep. It finally came home to him just how close he came to dying in the accident,” replied Chris. Chris immediately regretted being so candid when JD appeared from behind Buck.
“Is Vin going to be alright?” The younger boy’s eyes were wide with concern.
“He’s going to be fine, son,” replied Chris.
“Come on back downstairs, JD, I’ll explain it to you,” said Buck turning to head back down. “You two need anything?” asked Buck over his shoulder.
“Not right now,” replied Chris as he turned to head back to Vin’s room.
Chris slipped quietly back into Vin’s room and sat himself down on Vin’s desk chair beside his bed. He sipped the coffee gratefully as he watched his son sleep. After draining his mug he set the cup down on Vin’s desk. It was then he noticed the camera. He picked it up and eyed it thoughtfully. It was odd to find the camera in Vin’s room. It was set on “view” mode. He turned it on and scrolled though the last few images. They were pictures of the battered Stratus, and the crash site. The rock wall that the car hit looked even higher than he remembered in comparison to the damaged car that sat at its base.
“I thought I was going to die,” said a whispered voice in the dark.
He looked up from the camera to see Vin staring at him. He moved over to sit beside his son on the bed and placed a comforting hand on his arm.
This was one of those moments when Chris’s parenting instincts told him, no words were necessary.
Vin rolled over onto his back and looked up at his father. “Some of the guys at school wanted to see the pictures; insurance companies always want pictures they said. I asked JD and he said Buck had taken some when they went back to clean up that day.”
“I was looking through them,” Vin paused for a moment and Chris could feel his son shiver under his hand. “I was looking through them and I remembered how it felt for the car to be spinning around out of control with no way to stop it. I’ve never been so scared in my life not even before we came to live with you and Buck.” Chris squeezed Vin’s shoulder gently. His heart ached and he wished with all his being that he could have spared Vin from this experience. “…and all of a suddenly I realized how close I came to dying. It was weird to think I wouldn’t have gone to school this past week; I wouldn’t have made first string; I wouldn’t have had JD tutor me in math; I wouldn’t…,” the young voice broke. Chris could hear the long breath that Vin drew before continuing with a tremor in his voice. “My place at the table would have been empty. Ringo would be looking for me to come home. I wouldn’t have been here for you and Dad and JD to hug me… instead you’d all be crying…” Vin broke into tears. “Dad, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry…”
Chris gathered his weeping son up into his arms as he blinked back his own tears. “Shhh, it’s okay now. I gotcha. You’re home, you’re safe,” he murmured.
This time it was only a few minutes before the tears subsided.
Vin pushed Chris away gently and wiped his eyes with the palms of his hands as he scrambled to sit up beside Chris on the side of the bed. “I was so worried about you and Buck being mad that I wrecked the car I didn’t think about what it would have meant if I’d have died.”
Chris smiled indulgently at his son. “It’s a pretty natural reaction to what happened.”
“I didn’t even really think what it would do to you, Dad,” said Vin solemnly before dropping his eyes to his lap. “Buck and JD would still have had each other but you, you already lost a son.”
Chris dropped his eyes to the floor as he moved his hand to rub Vin’s back. “I’ve won’t lie to you, son. I had some pretty rough moments there.”
“I’m so sor…”
“Hey, enough of that. You’d have a hard time convincing me that when you left Becky’s that morning it was your intention to crash the car. It-was-an-accident,” said Chris stressing each word individually. “We have to learn from it, and then put it behind us. Understand?” he asked gazing benevolently down at his son.
“Yes,” replied Vin nodding.
Chris waited; Vin seemed to have something else on his mind.
“Why did you adopt us?”
This was not a question Chris had expected right now. “What do you mean?”
“In taking JD and me on you opened yourself up to be hurt again, like you were with Adam and Mrs. Chris. Why did you adopt us?”
Chris turned away from the Vin and stared at the floor for a minute thinking about his answer. “You may not understand all of this but here goes, at first I told myself that you needed to live with us because the two of you were material witnesses and living with us was to keep you both safe. A while later I realized that was only an excuse I made up to justify my decision to myself and I thought the real reason was because you both needed a home.” Chris turned and smiled at his son, “It was our second Christmas together when I finally realized the real reason. I’d recovered enough from Sarah and Adam’s deaths to be given my own ATF team but my life was still missing something pretty big.” Chris looked down at his son, “Love…I’d tried dating but I soon realized that though I enjoy the company of a woman I wasn’t prepared for the work that a relationship with a woman demands. I had enjoyed being a father.” Chris sighed deeply, blinking in vain at the moisture that suddenly frosted his eye lashed. “I really, really missed being a dad. You and JD gave me the chance at that kind of love again."
Chris saw the tears in Vin’s eyes, “I love you, son,” he whispered.
“I love you too, Dad.”
Chris wrapped an arm around Vin’s shoulder’s and pulled him in tight as Vin ducked his head and wiped away the tears.
“Are you hungry?” asked Chris cheerfully letting his son go.
“Yeah,” replied Vin getting to his feet.
“Good!” replied Chris getting to his feet. “Buck made his special spaghetti and meatballs. Let’s go see if there’s any left.
“Dad,” asked Vin as they rose and headed out of his room for the kitchen.
“Did you ever crash a car?”
Chris smiled to himself, “That’s a question I’m not prepared to answer tonight.”
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