Little Britches
Under the Stars

by Kathy M

ATF Universe

Main Characters: Vin and Chris, also Buck and JD

The unorthodox little family of seven year old Vin Tanner, five year old JD Dunne and their foster fathers Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington, had only been together for a few months but it hadn’t taken that long for them to discover that they all enjoyed camping. They had gone a couple of times by themselves, once with the uncles and were now enjoying another short camping trip. JD called it ‘camping all weekend’ even though, due to regular ranch and other weekend chores, they hadn’t left until mid-morning Saturday and would be back by mid-afternoon Sunday.

After setting up camp they hiked up to a meadow, ate at a picnic site, then the boys played and explored while the dads relaxed. After hiking back down they enjoyed a refreshing swim in the small nearby lake. Since both boys had an impromptu late afternoon nap, having fallen asleep during their quiet time before dinner, they had been allowed to stay up later than usual. After roasting marshmallows the boys had washed up and changed into their pyjamas, wearing their jackets over top.

The boys wanted a campfire story and knowing not to tell anything even remotely scary, having made that mistake once before, Buck told a tale about a little bear that woke up too early from his winter hibernation and left his family cave alone. The little bear didn’t know what all the cold white stuff was and went off exploring and fell down a hill. Rolling to the bottom he slid right onto a frozen pond where all sorts of other woodland creatures were romping and playing. Not knowing that it was unusual for otters, beavers and rabbits to play with bears they all had a wonderful time until the little bear got tired and found his way home and snuggled up with his family until spring. The boys loved the story even though JD was certain he’d seen the movie version.

Buck taught them a new camp song which they all loved, and even Chris was convinced to join in as the boys sang the verse over and over.

“Black socks, black socks,
They never get dirty,
The longer you wear them the blacker they get
Some day I think I should wash them
But something keeps telling me don’t do it yet
Not yet, not yet, not yet, not yet, black socks.”

Chris inwardly shook his head in wonder at his old friend, even after all these years he never ceased to amaze him with the variety of things that he knew. Finally they wound down with a quiet rendition of Kum-ba-ya that Josiah had taught them on their group camping trip.

By this time JD was sprawled on Buck’s lap with his head on the big man’s shoulder. When the little boy started to yawn and rub his eyes Buck realized they’d best get him to bed before he became overtired and cranky.

“Come on Littl’un, time to visit a tree, then get you into your sleeping bag.”

“What about Vin?” he asked.

Buck glanced at Chris who looked down at Vin who was sitting on a blanket on the ground in front of him, leaning back on his foster father’s legs. Vin looked up and Chris saw the look of pleading in the depths of those deep blue eyes and shook his head at Buck. “We’ll be along in a few minutes.”

“Why does Vin get to stay up later?”

“They’re just going to have a few minutes of quiet time together, then he’ll come to bed.

“They always have quiet times,” commented the smaller child. “Quiet is boring, boring, boring, right Buck?”

“Well, I’ll lie with you for a few minutes and our quiet time won’t be boring because it’ll be our snuggly cuddly time, right my little cuddle muffin.”

“Buuucckk ! I told ya’ afore, I’se not a muffin!”

The louder duo’s voices got quieter as they moved further away from the campfire but sounds carry far in the quiet of the countryside and even through the tent the quieter pair could still hear the conversation.

“Hey Buck, you should buy black socks for me and Vin, then Mrs. Potter won’t have to wash them all the time.”

“Settle down JD, best get asleep soon. We need to get up early to catch worms before fishing.”

“Buck, I gots a great idea. We could dig the worms now.”

“No, JD, they’ll be fresher in the morning.”

“But Buck, we’re awake now. Can’t we please?”

“Now JD, I already said No. You sure do like to push the envelope, don’t you?”

“What do you mean? There’s no envelopes here, and it wouldn’t be very hard to push one anyways. They’s just like paper!”

“It’s just an expression. It means to push the boundary or extend your limits.” At JD’s confused look he continued. “Like going to the very edge of where you’re allowed to go to.”

“Well why didn’t you just say that? Why do grown-ups always say things that mean something else? Why don’t they just say what they mean? Push the envelope, hey that sounds like one of them TV game shows. That would be a good name for one of them action type ones wouldn’t it?”

“It sure would. Hush now, time to be quiet. Goodnight John-boy.”

“Why do people say that to me when they know I’m JD?”


“I know, I know, it’s another grown up thing. Harrumph! Ok, good-night Buck-man.”

Vin had started to giggle softly at their conversation and even Chris couldn’t stop a large grin from crossing his countenance. Finally silence reigned in the little wooded area and Vin plopped down on his back and let out a contented sigh.

“Peaceful out here isn’t it?” asked Chris quietly.

“Yeah, I love watching the stars come out,” was his soft reply as he gazed wistfully skywards.

“You do it often do you?” teased Chris knowing this was their first time.

“Used to whenever I could; would even sleep outside all night sometimes,” admitted the quiet boy.

This was certainly not the answer Chris had expected, but he knew there was still so much he didn’t know about his foster son’s past and hoped this might be an opportunity to get the usually private lad to open up some more.

“With your mother?” Chris cautiously asked.

“Dunno, don’t think so, but I remember travelling with my grandpa and sometimes we’d sleep in the truck and one warm night he said we could sleep outside. We lay on our blankets in the back of the pick-up truck and watched the stars come out, and it was so awesome...”

Vin stopped then, glancing up at Chris and feeling suddenly sort of shy at having said so much. Chris could sense that there was more to this story so with a smile to encourage him he asked him what else he remembered.

“Grandpa said that stars are thousands and maybe even billions of years old; that the stars we see are the same ones that our ancestors watched hundreds of years ago; they’re the same ones he used to watch with my mama when she was a little girl. Isn’t that amazing, Chris? I like thinking how there’s nothing between me and all those stars. Do you think that’s where heaven is, past the stars?”

Chris smiled at the unusual amount of words from the usually quiet boy, but he had learned that although Vin might be shy around strangers or in a group, that one on one, or if he was particularly interested in a subject then Vin could get quite chatty, even animated.

“That’s what a lot of people think, so yes, maybe it is; you could ask Josiah sometime. But wherever it is, I know your mama is there and smiling down on you, like those stars.”

“Yeah, I know, and,” Vin glanced over at Chris, thinking of Mrs. Chris and Adam, but not sure if he should say their names out loud, “and, uh, you know….”

“Yeah, them too,” replied Chris wistfully, then trying to keep Vin talking asked, “so you liked sleeping all night under the stars?”

“Oh yes! That first night I dreamed about sleeping on the ground under the stars but it wasn’t where we were, it was somewhere near mountains, and it was like in the olden days and I wasn’t alone, but I couldn’t tell who I was with. It seemed so real,” explained Vin, “that in the morning when I told grandpa about it I asked him if maybe it was a vision, you know, not a dream but something that might come true. He said maybe it was a vision, or just a dream, or maybe it was like an ancient memory of long ago passed down from an ancestor of mine. He said it was special and important and so was I, and I should always remember that. I miss him so much sometimes,” he said his voice sounding so small and sad.

“Sounds like he was a wonderful man,” said Chris, leaning down and ruffling Vin’s hair. “No wonder you like watching the stars, so did you do that a lot?”

“We slept under the stars lots more times before I lost him, and then when I was on my own, sometimes on clear nights I would go up on the roof of that old warehouse where I lived and star gaze. I would watch for hours, and if it was a warm night sometimes I slept there all night. I always felt safe up there.”

Chris felt his heart ache and he got off the chair and lay on the blanket next to Vin who sighed and moved closer, laying his head on the blond man’s shoulder. Chris thanked his lucky stars or Josiah’s god or whoever had kept watch over this child of his until he could find him, this child that felt safe all alone on a roof. There was so much of Vin’s past he still didn’t know, but he never pried, just listened whenever Vin shared bits and pieces of it like he had tonight and was careful never to let the anger he felt with the situation come to the surface lest the child somehow feel it was directed at him. Vin had been quiet so long that Chris was surprised to hear him continue.

“After I found JD I couldn’t sleep up there no more. On warm clear nights we’d go up to the roof sometimes to lie there and watch the stars but you gotta watch little kids all the time you know,” he stated sagely, “so I couldn’t sleep up there no more.”

Just the thought of Vin and JD up on a roof horrified Chris but he kept those thoughts to himself, but then another thought had him quickly speaking out loud. “Just so you know, you’re not allowed on any roofs at home, or anywhere anymore.”

“Yeah, we know, both Buck and Mrs. Potter done told us.”

Certain he didn’t want to even ask how that had come up he just replied, “well that’s good then. So I bet you can see a lot more stars out here than downtown?”

“Oh yeah, this is so great, millions of stars, it’s like you can see forever. So can we sleep under the stars tonight, Chris?”

“This really is nice Vin, but I’d feel better if we slept in the tent. Never know what else is sharing these woods with us so I think it would be safer and it wouldn’t be fair to Buck and JD.”

“I guess,” sighed Vin. “Maybe sometime we could sleep under the stars at home one night.”

“Maybe on a real hot night we could sleep on the deck, but are you sure you’d want to stay on that hard surface with a perfectly good bed inside.”

“I’m more used to a hard floor than my soft bed,” he replied, “but I guess I could pull down my mattress and drag it outside for your old bones.”

“Who you calling old,” growled Chris as he lightly tickled the slender boy’s ribs just enough to make him squirm. “Come on, time for bed, and we’ll see about a star night sometime once we’re home.”


Finally a couple of weeks later, after a few very hot days, the little family planned a star night. In anticipation of staying up late the boys had readily agreed to a before dinner nap and both had actually slept for over an hour. After dinner they had played a board game then sat on the deck to watch the last rays of the setting sun together before Chris went to see to the horses and Buck supervised the boys getting washed up and into their pyjamas. Then they laid out their sleeping bags on top of camping mats on the large back deck. Buck and Chris had both changed into sweat pants and long sleeve thermal shirts and men and boys all crawled into their sleeping bags and lay on their backs to gaze at the night sky as the first stars popped out.

“Boys, see that bright star there, that’s the North Star, and there’s the Big Dipper,” said Buck pointing out the well known constellation.

“Already knowed that Buck,” stated JD. “Vin done showed me lots of stars, right Vin?”

“Don’t really know that many,” was Vin’s quiet reply, feeling sort of embarrassed by the attention.

“There must be millions of stars, nobody can know them all,” reassured Chris. “I know that one’s called Orion, the Hunter, you see those three stars, that’s called Orion’s belt.”

“Nuh uh,” JD shook his head, long black bangs flopping back and forth. “Vin knows the Indian name. Vin, tell us that star story what you telled me afore.”

Vin looked up at Chris through his long lashes, not quite sure if adults would find it as interesting as JD had.

“Go ahead Vin,” prompted Chris.

“I’d love to hear it,” added Buck.”

“A very very long time ago the Tewa Indian peoples, they’s from New Mexico, were having trouble with another tribe. Their enemies kept attacking their village but the Tewa wanted to live in peace so their hero, Long Sash, said he’d lead them to a new land and they all trusted and believed him so they followed him on the endless trail. See there’s the endless trail across the sky, but we call it the Milky Way,” explained Vin. “But the journey was so long and the people got so tired and cranky that they started to argue among themselves, and some people didn’t know if they should keep going, so Long Sash said they had to decide whether to keep following him on the long journey or if they wanted to stop. Long Sash was tired too and he started to wonder himself if he was doing the right thing so he asked for a sign. See there, those two bright stars, that’s the sign, it’s called the place of decision, but some people call them the twins.”

“The constellation Gemini,” added Chris, having taken an astronomy class when he was in Naval College.

“Yeah, I guess,” continued Vin. “So when they decided to continue on their journey he left his headdress there as a sign to remind people that even when you’re not sure you still need to carry on. See there it is,” he said pointing.

“That star cluster is known as Pleiades, and it’s in the constellation Taurus, the Bull,” clarified Chris.

“They rested there for awhile and then when they started on their journey again everyone was nice and kind and helping each other again. Two young guys even helped an old lady by carrying her stuff too, and those three stars there,” Vin pointed, then paused, looking at Chris.

“That’s called Leo, the Lion.”

“Yeah, there, that’s called the place of helpfulness. Finally their long tiring journey ended and they reached their new home, but they have the stars in the sky to remind them of their leader and their long journey together.” [1]

“Wow, Junior, that’s some legend,” affirmed Buck “Thanks for sharing that story with us, I really enjoyed it.”

“Yeah, I forgots some parts of it,” admitted JD.

“That was great, Vin,” added Chris. “I’m so impressed at you remembering all that.”

“It’s easier to remember interesting stuff like that,” smiled Vin snuggling closer to Chris.

“Let’s lie quietly now and see if we can see any shooting stars,” suggested Chris, and it didn’t take more than a few minutes of quiet before JD fell asleep. Buck waited another ten minutes to make sure that he was sound asleep then got up and picked up JD, sleeping bag and all and headed inside.

Both Buck and Chris had been concerned about letting JD sleep outside all night, worried that the littlest one might get confused if he woke up outside or go wandering, something they didn’t worry about when they were zipped up tight in their tent so they had explained to him that after he fell asleep Buck would go inside with him and let him camp out, in his sleeping bag on the floor of Buck’s room.

Chris glanced over and saw that Vin was still awake, just gazing contentedly at the stars. They lay quietly just watching the night sky for quite awhile then Vin finally said, “this is just like my dream.”

“Like that one you told me about, when you were sleeping under the stars with your grandfather?” asked Chris.

“Yeah, I had the dream lots of times, sometimes it seemed like I was a kid, and sometimes I was a grown-up, sometimes just lying under the stars but sometimes we were on horses. Sometimes it seemed like it was in the olden days, like a western movie. We were like cowboys but we weren’t really cowboys,” he frowned at the confusing memory. “But I was never alone, there was always someone, I never really saw him, but he was there, it was like I could always feel him. When I told Grandpa about my dream the first time he told me to hold onto my dream, that it would always be something of my very own, to keep close and look at when I needed it. I didn’t know what he meant, but after he was gone, when I was all by myself, any night that my memory dream vision came, then those times it felt like I wasn’t alone.”

The unexpected revelation tore at Larabee’s very soul and he reached over to the child of his heart. “You’ll never be alone again,” he said as he gathered him closer, sleeping bag and all, and kissed him on the top of his head.

Vin wrapped his little arms over the larger ones, then snuggled his head under Larabee’s chin.

“So, are you going to wish upon a star?” inquired Chris.

"Nah, I couldn't ask for anything more; already got my wish when my dream came true."

The End


[1] Here’s a link to the Tewa legend of the Orion constellation