AU: Little Britches ATF – Little Ambassadors Series
Disclaimer: Not ours, never were, never will be
Notes: This is the final part of the story of their year in the UK. Betaed by Sue and Nancy
Part 1: Farewell
Vin sat in the corner of the school hall, staring dejectedly out of the window. He looked over his shoulder, the rest of the children, including JD, were watching a movie. It was their lunch break, but since it was raining they had to stay inside. They’d had to stay inside a lot. Ever since they came back to school after the half term break it had rained. Maybe not all day every day, but it felt like that. People kept telling them that English summers weren’t always like this, really they weren’t. Vin knew this to be true; he remembered their first summer in England. They had gone to Devon for a holiday; they stayed in a castle and played on the beach. He sighed as he remembered their adventure riding on Dartmoor and the wonders of the Eden Project. Vin wished the rain would stop, he hated being inside all the time. It rained in Denver, sometimes it rained a lot, days and days. Vin remembered, not long after he found JD, it had rained so hard for so long they hadn’t been able to find anything to eat and JD had cried because he was so hungry. Vin had wanted to cry too, he remembered how much his belly had ached. Denver rain was different from English rain. He couldn’t say how or why, it was just, different.
He leaned forward and rested his forehead on the glass. He wanted to go home. He missed his uncles and aunty Rain, he missed Mrs Potter and Miz Nettie; most of all he missed Peso. He was scared his beloved, eccentric, cantankerous horse would forget him. He missed the mountains and the snow, real snow, deep, crisp snow, which lay on the ground for weeks. He missed Baby Ruths and Milk Duds. He had missed Butterfingers, until they found Daim bars, which were different, but just as good; and Hershey Kisses, but he had to secretly admit he actually preferred Galaxy Counters. He missed Lucky Charms too; every breakfast cereal they liked in America they could get in Britain, except Lucky Charms. They weren’t meant to have them at all, Uncle Nathan said they were really, really unhealthy, but Uncle Josiah had them in his cupboard and whenever they went to stay with him they got them. Of course they had to cross their hearts and swear not to tell their fathers or Uncle Nathan.
Thinking about all the things he missed, made him think about what he was leaving. It made his stomach go all squirrely when he thought about saying goodbye to Ieuan. Ieuan was their friend, their carer; he made them feel safe even when their fathers had been injured. Ieuan’s presence, his soft calm voice made Vin believe him when he told them it was all going to be alright. Vin didn’t automatically trust adults, even ones he loved. He knew grownups often didn’t tell the kids the truth, especially when bad stuff happened, but he trusted Ieuan. It wasn’t just Ieuan; they would have to say goodbye to his dog, Bear as well. Mr and Mrs Green had been the first people to make friends with them when they arrived; he was going to miss them and their dog Hamish. He was going to miss watching rugby with Ieuan, and learning new words in Welsh. He was going to miss standing in Mrs Green’s kitchen helping to make cakes and cookies. He was going to miss Mr Green’s deep gravelled voice telling them stories about the army.
Behind him the children laughed, he glanced over his shoulder. They were watching Madagascar; the penguins had just arrived on the beach. Madagascar was one of JD’s favourite movies; he’d seen it multiple times. Vin could pick out his brother’s voice as he laughed along with their class mates. He knew JD was also worried about leaving, but he was easily distracted, so long as no active preparations for leaving were going on around him, JD seemed to put it to the back of his mind; Vin wished he could. All he knew was, he wanted to go home and but he didn’t want to leave and he just didn’t know how to reconcile the two.
There were still things to look forward to at school. The extra public holiday had moved the half term holiday back by one week, which meant the second half of the term was only four weeks long. In the first week, on one of the rare dry days, the whole school took part in country wide school Olympic day. They all came to school dressed to represent different countries and competed in a variety of sports events. They were meant to pick their country by pulling slips of paper from a hat, but Mrs Smith had kept back two USA slips and given them to the boys, which delighted them. Mrs Green had cut out two sets of USA letters in red felt and sewed them on to a couple of cheap white tee shirts, worn with their regular blue sports shorts and red football socks they both looked the part.
They had been rehearsing, in their drama and music lessons, for the school end of year play since before Easter, now they were rehearsing all together when they would normally have been in other lessons. They were putting on a production of the musical 'Oliver!' The main parts were all played by the older children, with the younger children taking the background parts. Both boys were in the workhouse scene, Vin was also a paper boy in ‘Who Will Buy’, while JD had a cameo part in Fagin’s Den.
By the time school was over, the rain had stopped. The two boys came out looking for their beloved carer as usual. Ieuan waved when he spotted them, causing the two boys to break into a run, greeting him with their usual enthusiasm.
“We got letters,” JD announced, holding up his single sheet letter for inspection.
Ieuan dutifully took it and read it as they walked back to the car. It was a request for costumes.
That evening, while the boys watched TV, their fathers also read the letters.
Chris sighed and drew his hand over his face. “Damn it, we’re trying to get rid of stuff not get more.”
It had proved harder than they had thought to get the boys to part with things they couldn’t use in the States. They weren’t going to need their school uniform, so their fathers intended to donate it to the school’s second hand uniform shop, but the boys had other ideas. After some tough negotiations, in which Vin showed he was every bit a stubborn as his father, a compromise was reached. The boys could each keep one white sports shirt and one blue sweatshirt – with the school logo on it. They would keep their rugby shirts, because as Vin pointed out, they were very warm and comfortable and they could wear them at the ranch. Buck had already pointed out that the heavy, warm and waterproof wax jackets would also be very useful around the ranch. The boys also got to keep one pair of grey trousers and their school shoes. JD still had plenty of growing room in his and Vin had only had a new pair in April.
“What are we going to do with them?” Chris had asked.
“We can wear them when we need to look sharp, like when we go to church or to Uncle Ezra’s fancy rest'rant,” Vin reasoned.
“Yeah,” JD chimed in earnestly.
Buck had looked at Chris as much as to say, ‘get out of that one’.
After reading the letter Buck could all but see the vein on Chris's temple start to throb. Thankfully Ieuan had not been idle.
“They’re going to wear their school trousers for the workhouse scene, but they need a grey top. I was thinking that Vin’s all but grown out of his winter pyjamas. One of the tops is grey, I could put some buttons on, to make it look like a ‘granddad’ top?” he suggested.
Chris had to take a moment to visualise the PJs in question, it was true that the top was now too short for Vin.
“Okay, good plan.”
“He’s going to wear the same trousers for his other scene, for which he needs a coloured shirt and braces. He can wear his red and white check shirt and Jane says she thinks she has some braces her son used to wear when he was young that should fit.”
“Braces?” Chris asked, trying to figure out how braces fitted in to the costume for a paper boy and where the hell you got them from.
“Yeah, braces,” Ieuan responded, not understanding the confusion on Chris's face.
Buck however had detected the problem. “Ieuan, what do you mean by braces?”
“You know, long straps, they go over your shoulders, keep your trousers up?”
“Oh, right, thank God.” Chris sighed in relief.
“Why what do you call them?” their Welsh friend asked.
“Suspenders,” Buck told him.
Ieuan looked at him. A smirk spread across his face, then a giggle slipped out.
“What's so funny?” Chris asked.
“You own any suspenders?”
“Yeah, again, why?”
“All I can say is, it’s a good thing you never told anyone at the 'Met' that.”
“Okay, I’m gonna ask, what are suspenders in Britain?” Buck asked.
“Little frilly straps that women keep their stockings up with,” Ieuan told him, between smirks.
There was a moment's silence and then all three men burst out laughing, not stopping until they spotted Vin, standing in the kitchen doorway.
“What are you all laughing about?” he asked.
“Nothing really,” Chris told him, but the stubborn set of Vin’s jaw and the mini glare told Larabee his son wasn’t going to let it drop. “Um, apparently suspenders are called braces here.”
Vin rolled his eyes. “Is that all, what’s so funny about that, everyone knows that.”
“Yeah Chris,” Buck chimed in, “everyone knows that.”
A not so mini glare was fired at Buck, before Chris turned back to Vin. “Do you need anything?”
Vin shrugged, he’d only come to see what all the noise was about, but sensing that the adults wanted him out of the way and were in a reasonably good mood – given all the laughter, he decided to push his luck.
“Can me and JD have a cookie? ” he asked.
“Sure.” Chris pulled out a couple of Penguins and tossed them to his son.
“Thanks!” He’d have been happy with a shortbread finger. As Vin headed back to JD and the TV, it occurred to him, not for the first time, that he would never understand adults.
Ieuan went on to explain that Jane also had a box of dressing up clothes her grandchildren used and she thought she could come up with a pickpocket costume for JD from it.
“You are a life saver mate!” Buck exclaimed.
“The only thing I haven’t located is a grey top for JD.”
“Don’t sweat it, if I have to, I’ll buy one. How much can a little grey shirt be, right?”
The very next day he purchased, for the princely sum of ninety-nine pence plus £2 shipping, a used grey school shirt from e-bay. It was a little big for JD, but that didn’t matter, after all 19th century workhouses probably didn’t care much if their uniforms fitted properly.
The one thing that was too big to for them to fly home with and too precious to ship was JD’s picture of Sainte Chappelle. On the penultimate Friday of the school term, Buck came home from work early. He was there at the school gate to pick up both boys.
“Where’s Dad?” Vin asked worriedly.
“At work, don’t worry, nothing’s wrong.”
“Ieuan’s okay?” JD asked.
“Yes he’s fine, he picked me up at the station and right now he’s at home putting his feet up, since he’s been cooking all day.”
Eyes grew wide.
“What did he make?” JD asked.
“I do believe there is a batch of Welsh Rarebit, a trifle and a tray of Cornish pasties.” Buck ticked off the goodies on his fingers. “And…”
“What?” Vin asked when no more information was forthcoming.
“Yeah!” both boys shouted.
Once they were home and the dogs had been greeted, Buck poured out some milk and issued both boys a huge, sweet, sticky cookie. They were all but finished, the milk now too far down the glass to dunk cookies when Buck began.
“Little Bit, we need to talk.”
“’Bout what Da?” JD asked, looking up, his top lip covered in milk.
“About your picture.”
“We can’t take your picture on the plane, so…”
Before he could continue, tears welled in JD’s eyes and Vin was ready to leap to his defence.
“I don’t wanna leave it,” JD protested.
“It’s real special, Uncle Ezra bought it for him,” Vin protested.
“Whoa boys, hold up,” Buck protested. “No one is saying it has to be left. It’s too big for us to carry onto the plane and too precious to put with the luggage.” He took a deep breath, now that both boys were all attention. “A man is coming here; he’s going to take the picture away with him…”
“No!” JD protested.
“JD, just listen,” Buck soothed. “He works for a company that sends very special things to America all the time. They'll make a special box, just for your picture, with lots of padding. They'll pack the picture in it and then send it to America on a special airplane, which is used only to carry things, not people. It’ll be at the ranch waiting for you when we get home, okay?”
JD looked dubious.
“I’ll ask Mr Francis to text me as soon as it arrives,” Buck promised.
Just then a car pulled up outside. The man from the Fine Art Shipping Company was called Mr Newbold; he was immaculately dressed in a suit, with a white rose button hole.
“I believe we spoke on the phone?” he began as Buck let him in.
“We did, let me introduce JD, it’s his picture.”
Mr Newbold instantly knelt down and offered his hand to JD. “Delighted to meet you Sir, would you be able to show me the picture?”
JD looked up at his father, not sure what to do. Buck gave him a little smile and a nod of encouragement.
“Okay,” he agreed. “It’s in the bedroom.”
The four of them trooped up stairs, with JD in the lead. He showed the dapper Mr Newbold to the bedroom. JD stood in front of the dresser and gazed up at his picture. Finally he spoke.
“This is my picture; it’s a picture of Heaven – where momma is.”
Despite the fact that Buck had briefed him on the picture's significance to his son, Newbold was visibly affected by this simple statement. He took a second or two to compose himself.
“Indeed it is a fine image of Heaven.” He once more knelt beside JD. “Master Dunne, I promise that my company will take the utmost care of your picture, I will personally make sure it is securely packed and loaded onto the aircraft. Our agent in Denver is called Mrs Abby and she will personally collect it and drive it to your friend at the ranch.”
“Mr Francis,” Vin clarified.
The two men lifted the picture down, and placed it in the special padded bag Newbold had brought with him. He then showed them how the side panels inflated, to keep the picture secure while he took it back to their workshop to be fitted for its custom made flight box.
JD and Vin watched the whole process intently. Just before the bag was zipped up, JD reached out and stroked the glass.
The last week of school was a whirlwind. On the Saturday they had sports day. All the children, except the very youngest, competed in sports events, both for individual glory and to earn points for their school house. There were three houses, Griffin, Unicorn and Dragon, each with its own designated colour. Vin and JD were in Dragon house, which was red.
Chris, Buck, Ieuan, Jane and Eric, plus all four dogs came to watch them. The sports events took place between eleven and two, with a break for a picnic lunch. Parents, friends and pets were all welcome. Ieuan and Jane had put together a wonderful spread and just for once the sun shone.
All the children took part in the 100 meters sprint. JD made it into the semi-final but was then eliminated, piped into fourth place by a boy a year older and at least nine inches taller. Vin came third in his age group. Likewise everyone competed in the ball throwing competition. JD wasn’t very good at throwing balls, Vin came sixth. Not that either of them minded, so long as they were competing they were winning points for their house. Vin also took part in the long jump, the 400 meters sprint and the relay. He came fourth in the long jump, first in the 400 meters and Dragon also came first in the relay. JD competed in the relay in his age group; he was on the penultimate leg, and took the baton in 3rd place. Powering around the tight bend he handed over the baton in 2nd place, which was where the team eventually finished. He also competed in the 200 meters individual sprint; but only managed to come 5th out of 6.
The relays were the last event, after that the staff had to count up the scores and work out which team had won the overall competition. While they did this, there were family races to watch, first the young brothers' and sisters' race. With the little children racing over a 20 meter course and all being rewarded with a small sweet treat. Then the parents' race, two for the mums and two for the dads. Vin and JD practically dragged Buck, Chris and Ieuan to the start. Somehow the one parent who was a professional athlete ended up in the other race. He’d been reluctant to compete but of course his children insisted. Sportingly he agreed to start 30 meters behind the others; nonetheless he would still have won, had the other fathers not joined forces and run so close together across the tack that he couldn’t pass through them. It was all taken in good part. The three men from Waltham Park were in the next race, the very last race of the afternoon.
“On your marks!” the teacher at the start called.
The men stepped up to the white line on the grass.
They put one foot back and leaned down.
Bang! The starter pistol fired and they were off.
Being only a 100 meter race, it didn’t take long, but it was competitive, at least if you lived at Waltham Park. Ieuan got the best start with Chris beside him. At halfway Chris was in front. Then as the two of them were almost at the tape, Buck came past to win, with Ieuan second and Chris third.
“I am too old for this!” Chris complained as he tried to get his breath back.
“Oh shit!” Ieuan breathed, bent double beside him. “I haven’t done that for a while.”
“In school?” Chris panted out.
“Uni, I was a winger on the rugby team; man that hurts.”
Buck had taken longer to stop and now walked slowly back to meet them, breathing heavily.
“How did you do that?” Ieuan asked, as he finally stood up straight.
“It’s the legs,” Chris commented. “It might take him a while to get them going, but once they do... I’ve always said those legs of his are unnaturally long, they start someplace under his rib cage!”
“Hey! I am right here you know?” Buck protested. “’Sides long legs hasn’t done Usain Bolt any harm have they?”
The boys were now running up to them, each with a dog in tow, Jane and Eric, summarily encumbered with a canine, arrived a little later.
“Looks like a family one, two, three,” Miss Grant announced. “And the winner is Mr Wilmington, JD?”
“Yes Miss Grant?” JD walked over to his headmistress.
“Why don’t you give your Da his prize?”
She handed JD a medal, which a beaming JD, still with Elvis trotting happily beside him hung around his father’s neck. In return, Buck did ‘the Bolt’ celebration, to great cheers.
Finally everyone gathered in the school’s orchard for tea and cakes and the results. Once everyone was fed, the children sat on the grass in front of a table groaning with medals and one very big cup. The parents and other guests gathered around behind the children. One by one the winner of each race was called up to collect their medal. To Vin it seemed to take ages to get to his race, until finally…
“The winner of the intermediate 400 meters, for Dragon House is Vin Tanner.”
Vin leaped to his feet and picked his way past all the other children sitting on the grass to accept his medal from the mother of the head girl. Too nervous to say anything, he just shook her hand and smiled. Of course he had to go up again to get his relay medal. When all the medals were given out, the result of the house cup was announced.
“In third place, with 239 points, was… Unicorn house,” Miss Grant began. “In second place just 3 points ahead with 242 was… Griffin.”
The children of Dragon now knew they had won but were not allowed to celebrate until it was formally announced, and yet they couldn’t contain themselves, as hands were raised in celebration and barely controlled stage whispered cheers began.
“Winner of the house sports cup, with 243 points, is of course Dragon House!” The huge cup was then handed over to the house captain.
“Thank you for coming, we hope to see all of you on Wednesday night at the play and at our speech day and leavers service on Friday,” Miss Griffin announced.
Vin ran up to his father, to show off his medals.
“Those are pretty neat huh?” Chris commented, “Who needs the Olympics?”
“Look at you, championship winning athlete!” Buck greeted his son, as he ran up.
“Yeah, we won ‘cause of me,” JD announced.
Buck wasn’t sure this was actually true, but he wasn’t going to tell JD that. JD of course had worked it all out.
“We only won by one point, if I comed last we wouldn’t have won.” JD fixed Buck with an earnest gaze. “That’s why it’s real ‘portant to always try your best.”
Buck had to revise his assessment; JD might well have won the cup for his house by doing his best and not coming last. “I’ll remember that JD thanks.” Buck gave his son an extra big hug.
Wednesday was the day of the school play. At breakfast JD seemed either not to have remembered, or not to be bothered, as he was happily squeezing honey onto his Weetabix. Vin on the other hand had been pushing Coco Pops around his bowl for fifteen minutes.
“Vin?” Ieuan began.
“Are you going to eat that?”
Vin finally looked up, sighing. “My belly hurts; I don’t think I can go to school today.”
Ieuan schooled his face in to a look of sympathy. “I’m sorry to hear that, but I think it’s too early to make that decision. Why don’t I take this away?” He picked what was now a bowl of chocolate milk with soggy cereal floating in it. “And get you some nice, plain toast.”
Vin sighed dramatically.
“Can I have toast?” JD chimed in.
“Firstly, I think there was a word missing there,” Ieuan began.
“Sorry, please can I have some toast.”
“That’s better, and secondly, you still have a bowl of Weetabix to eat, we’ll get to toast when you’ve eaten that – okay?”
“Okay.” JD went back to his cereal and reading the back of the Coco Pops box.
Ieuan put a slice of plain buttered toast, cut into quarters, down in front of Vin, giving him a gentle pat on the shoulder. “It’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
Knowing he wasn’t going to get out of school today, Vin picked up his toast and tried to will the butterflies in his stomach to go back to sleep, at least until he’d had some breakfast.
The school hall wasn’t big enough to mount a production involving more than one class, so for the end of year production, the school rented the church hall. Once everyone had arrived at school, the cast, each holding a bag containing their costume, formed up in pairs and in a long line, walked to the village hall. To minimise the cost, the school only rented the hall for one day, so everything they needed to do had to fit into that one day. Some staff arrived early to put up the set, and then the children arrived for the technical rehearsal. The tech rehearsal was long, it was the first time they had stood on the stage, the first time they had worked with scenery and lights. They had to stop and start and redo things. Finally they broke for lunch, sandwiches, eaten outside in the small garden behind the hall, which backed onto the churchyard.
By now Vin was feeling better. The stage was quite small, and with all the children on it, he spent most of the time behind someone. It had been scary enough performing in the Christmas play, but that had just been in school, on a small stage and he only had to stand still and say a few lines, not… Vin shuddered. He didn’t even want to think about it until he had to do it. Nonetheless it was easier to be up on stage when you could hide. JD didn’t hide, he liked being on stage, Vin just didn’t get that, though he did kind of envy his brother’s confidence. In the afternoon they held the dress rehearsal. The kindergarten class and the more mobile residents of the local senior citizens care home made up their audience.
JD was still enjoying himself, although he was getting tired, while Vin did his best not think about the audience. Finally the dress rehearsal was over. Buck picked them up from the hall. Today had been their last day at work. Not a lot of actual work had been done, mostly they had been visiting the various departments they had worked with to say goodbye, they were then treated to a celebration farewell lunch at the pub. By the time it was over they had to leave for the train station, so as to be sure they weren’t late for the boys’ play. No one wanted a repeat of the drama that accompanied their attendance at the boys’ Christmas show. All the way home JD was giving his father a blow by blow account of their day and the show.
“JD!” Vin exclaimed.
“You’re telling him the whole story, you’re spoiling the surprise.”
“Oh, yeah, sorry Da,” JD apologised
“Don’t worry, I’ll enjoy it and I won’t tell Chris a thing.” Buck didn’t bother to mention he’d seen the film and was fairly sure Chris had read the book.
“Hi Dad!” Vin greeted enthusiastically as he ran in to the kitchen.
“Hi!” Chris greeted. “Everything okay?” Ieuan had texted him that morning to say how anxious Vin had been.
Now that the rehearsals were over, Vin was feeling more confident; he could hide at the back most of the time, he knew all the words, he knew where he was going to stand and he knew were his costume was and that he definitely had time to change costumes, so long as he didn’t think about the other thing, it was okay.
“Yup, we had to work real hard but it was fun.”
“Well I’m looking forward to it. Now come and sit down, there’s juice and cookies on the table.”
Both boys scrambled up on their customary chairs and then, just as they were reaching for a glass of juice, they stopped and stared. In the place of their customary glasses, were two, very big bright silver mugs.
“These are our going-away present presents from the guys at the 'Met',” Buck explained. “See? This one has my name on it.” He pointed to the engraving on the mug.
JD peered at it, and then traced the engraving of the Metropolitan Police coat of arms and words under it.
“Buck Wilmington, Metropolitan Police Officer 2011 – 2012,” he read. “Wow.”
“But we didn’t fill them all the way up,” Chris pointed out, since the pewter tankards were pint size.
JD peeked into his then looked up at his father with a question on his face.
“Yup, it’s your favourite, mango and orange,” Buck confirmed.
“Thanks Da.” With that JD went to pick up the tankard, only to discover that he needed two hands to lift it.
Vin reverently picked up his father’s going-away again gift. “Thanks Dad.”
Both boys drank and ate their caramel wafer bars. JD was already more than half way through his juice, when he suddenly froze. He put down his father’s tankard and looked at Vin, then lifted it again. He repeated this operation, then tried to turn the tankard over. If Buck hadn’t reacted so fast, he’d have poured the remnants of his juice on his own head.
“JD!” Vin exclaimed, “You’re so dumb sometimes.”
“Am not!” JD protested.
“Vincent you apologise to your brother,” Chris commanded.
Vin knew he was in trouble if Chris called him Vincent.
“Yes Sir. Sorry JD,” he conceded, nonetheless he was right, it was totally dumb to try and turn over a cup when it still had stuff in it.
While he was thinking this, JD was doing something else Vin considered dumb, gulping down the rest of his juice as fast as he could. They didn’t get mango and orange very often. He was trying to make his last as long as possible and anyway, if you gulp juice you get gas.
“I can see you,” JD announced from behind his father’s gift.
“What?” Vin asked.
“I can see you through the cup, can you see me?”
Vin looked over at JD, sure enough JD could see him, the tankard’s bottom was made of glass. Resisting the temptation to turn it over, Vin lifted his and looked up at the base. It too was made of glass. Forgetting all about getting gas, he gulped down the rest of his juice, watching JD emerge as the liquid went down.
“That’s so cool,” he admitted.
“Pretty neat huh?” Buck agreed.
The boys were dropped off at the church hall an hour before curtain up. Buck and Chris then retired to the pub for half an hour, where they were joined by Eric, Jane and Ieuan, not to mention many other parents. At the appointed time everyone trooped into the hall. Every child was in the first scene; the workhouse. Sitting in the third row, the boys' family had a great view. The scene was choreographed in such a way as to ensure that every child had a turn at the front of the stage. Vin looked every inch the starving workhouse waif; it was almost a little too close for comfort. JD was looking entirely too happy to be an oppressed workhouse child, but there was no doubt he was enjoying his time on the stage.
After this scene the boys weren’t seen again until little Oliver made it to Fagin’s den. The older children were playing the pickpockets, with one exception – JD. Buck knew he was in the scene but not sure what his special role was. After scanning the stage he spotted him at the back, then at the end of ‘Pick a Pocket or Two’ JD leapt on to Fagin’s back in an attempt to pick his pocket. Suitably chastised, the little waif lay down to sleep close to Fagin. When the ‘old man’, actually a boy of 12, saw him, he picked up the ‘sleeping’ JD and carried him over to where the rest of the gang, except for Oliver, were sleeping. JD had been chosen because of the smaller children, he had the most stage presence and was confident enough to not only be picked up and carried on stage, but to leap onto someone’s back and trust them not to drop him as they spun around.
Neither boy appeared again until almost the end of the play with Vin’s big scene, in ‘Who Will Buy’. He was one of the paper boys, there were only three and, not only was there nowhere to hide but – and Chris could hardly believe it – he danced, sort of, a few almost balletic leaps as he crossed the stage. At the very end all the children reprieved ‘Consider Yourself’ as they took their bows. There was an extra ripple of applause as JD came on to take his bow with the other pickpockets.
When it was all over there was huge buzz of excitement as proud parents were reunited with adrenalin hyped children outside the hall. Buck wasn’t sure he’d be able to ever get JD to sleep, as he appeared to be floating about three inches off the ground. In the car JD was still talking through all his scenes and Vin’s, while Vin just sat quietly, smiling to himself. Once they reached home and said their goodnights to the Greens and Ieuan, Buck carried a still talking JD into the kitchen. Vin stood quietly outside while Chris waited for the dogs to do whatever they needed to do outside before bed.
“Dad?” he began.
“Oliver was a lot like me wasn’t he?”
Chris turned and looked down at his son.
“You think so?”
“His mom died and he had to live in a scary place and he ran away and lived on his own and bad men were there and then a nice rich man found him and took him to live in a beautiful house and loved him.”
“I’m not rich,” Chris pointed out with a grin.
“Yeah you are, you have job and a house and it’s warm in the winter and there’s lots of food.” Vin looked up at him with a beguiling expression on his face.
Chris thought about it, maybe Vin was right. Compared to so many, he was rich, in so many ways.
“I guess you’re right. Let’s call these dogs back and go and see how far Buck has gotten in getting JD to sleep.”
“Not far,” Vin told him. He could hear JD through the open kitchen window, he was singing ‘Consider Yourself’ for what felt like the fortieth time.
As with the Christmas show, the school had professionally filmed the play and would sell the DVD to raise funds to cover the cost of production. The DVD wouldn’t be available until after the end of the term, so because the little American family would be back in the US by then, the headmistress had arranged for them to have a copy of the unedited raw footage.
There was only one full day of school left. It was a day that would be spent tidying, taking down artwork and displays so they could be taken home and making preparations for the school year to come and the end of year celebration on Friday. As the boys left school to be met for the very last time by Ieuan, they were weighed down by bags, artwork and gifts from their classmates. They were also unusually quiet.
“Alright boys?” he asked.
“Yeah,” JD responded coming to a halt as the weight of his many bags became too much.
Ieuan took as many bags from the boys as he could as the three of them walked to the car. Glancing in the rear view mirror at his charges, Ieuan just knew tomorrow was going to be a tough one, for all of them.
The last day of school was really a half day, and barely even that. Everyone arrived, not at school, but at the church, at nine. All the children were smartly dressed in their uniform, all the parents grandparents, friends and carers were equally smartly turned out. The children sat at the front of the nave, while their guests sat beside them and in the side aisle. Firstly Miss Grant made a speech recounting the past year. Their American guests were mentioned, as were their fathers.
“This year we welcomed two young men from across the Atlantic and are very sad that their year with us has come to an end. They have enriched the life of the school in many ways. Of course there are a number of mums who will be sad to see their fathers and young carer go as well.”
This elicited a small laugh and a blush of embarrassment from Ieuan who was well aware of the effect he had on some of the other parents, a grin of pride from Buck and a hint of exasperation from Chris, who – as far as Buck could tell - seemed to be endlessly oblivious to the effect he had on women.
Prizes were then handed out. Every child moving from kindergarten to the next class received a dictionary. In each of the other two classes there were prizes for achievement, progress and effort in each year group. Across the school there were also prizes for specific subjects. The very first prize given out was the achievement award for children in the 7 to 8 years age group. Even though he was still only 6, because he’d been moved up a year, JD was in this group.
“The under eight achievement prize goes to JD Dunne,” Miss Grant announced.
JD shot to his feet and all but ran to the front, causing a ripple of laughter from the parents.
The chairman of the school’s governing board shook his hand and gave him an envelope.
“Thank you very much,” JD told him all too audibly; causing more amusement.
The prize giving continued, eventually they reached the oldest children, who were moving on to their senior schools. The staff had contrived it so as every child would receive a prize of some kind. Vin hadn’t won any prizes. He’d hope he might have won the effort prize, because he had tried his best. He always tried his best. His father told him he didn’t mind what marks he got, so long as he had tried his best. The prize went to Jenny Walsh; Vin had to admit she was a hard worker, so he didn’t begrudge her the award.
Vin wasn’t to know it, but his father was silently suffering for his son. He hated to think Vin’s self-esteem had been knocked by his failure to win an award, especially as JD had won an award against children a year older than him. It wasn’t that Vin ever seemed to feel threatened by JD’s prodigious intellect, instead he seem to take pride in his brother’s achievements. Nonetheless he just knew Vin had to be disappointed by what he might perceive as failure.
“And finally,” Miss Grant began, “we come to the last award. This award is always the last prize given, it was the also the first prize given when the school opened. The trophy is this antique plate, which was donated by the mother of one of our first pupils.” She pointed to the beautiful plate depicting a phoenix on the table beside her. “This award is voted for by the staff and the senior pupils. It is given to the pupil who, in their time at the school has always been a good citizen, who is always helpful, polite, caring and responsible. This year the Phoenix School Award is given to Vin Tanner.”
The church erupted in applause; there were even a few cheers from the children. The only person who wasn’t looking happy was Vin. He was sitting there in stunned shock.
“You gotta go get the prize,” JD urged.
“What?” Vin asked.
“Go up there and get the prize.” A grinning JD gave him a gentle shove.
Still in shock Vin got to his feet and walked hesitantly down the aisle toward Miss Grant. By the time he finally made it, he was feeling a little more confident, glancing to his left he could see his family, Chris was grinning at him and even gave him a wink.
Miss Grant held out her hand. “Congratulations Vin.” She shook his hand. “I’m afraid you can’t take the plate with you, it’s too delicate, but you do get these.” She handed him an envelope and a small box.
“Thank you,” he managed to whisper.
More applause accompanied his return to his seat. Once he was sitting down, he ignored the vicar, who was now speaking, and looked inside his envelope. Like JD he had a gift card from Amazon. In the small box was a dog tag-like pendant with a phoenix on it. He looked over at JD who grinned back at him. Then everyone around them stood up, so they abandoned their secret admiration of the pendant and stood. The whole congregation then sang ‘Jerusalem’, they then sat down and the vicar said a short prayer, after which they all said the Lord’s prayer.
“I now call the leavers to come and join me,” the vicar announced. The two boys pushed their prizes into pockets and followed the other children who were leaving. At the steps that led to the chancel the boys and girls spread out.
“Please hold hands,” the vicar told them.
He then blessed the children before taking the hand of the child at one end of the line and then slowly led the whole line out of the church past the choir and into the vestry.
Parents of the leavers, some of them still dabbing tears from their eyes, met their offspring in the churchyard. JD ran up to Buck with his envelope.
“Da I won a prize!” he announced.
“You sure did Little Bit and I am so proud of you.” With that father and son high fived each other.
A beaming Chris greeted Vin with his own high five. They were both looking at his dog tag, when they noticed the other children were gathering around each other. On closer inspection they were signing each other’s shirts.
“Mr Larabee!” Miss Grant called as she hurried over.
“Did you want a picture of Vin and the plate, before his shirt is totally covered?” she asked.
Chris was momentarily thrown, but quickly accepted the offer. Miss Grant collected the plate and brought it outside.
“Here Vin, take it,” she encouraged.
“Oh no ma’am, I might drop it,” Vin told her worriedly.
“No you won’t, I trust you.” She made him take the antique plate and stand in front of the old studded oak door, which made a perfect backdrop. Chris, Buck, Ieuan and the Greens all took pictures.
As a relieved Vin finally handed back the plate, JD looked on crestfallen, as he watched the other children. “I don’t have a pen,” he lamented.
“Fear not,” Ieuan announced, as he pulled two permanent marker pens from his jacket pocket.
Both men turned to look at him with expressions of questioning astonishment.
“What? Did I not mention the whole autographing shirts thing?” he asked in mock innocence.
“No!” they both chorused.
“Oh, sorry,” he told them, with a grin. With that and studiously ignoring their fathers, he handed each boy a pen. He then turned back to Chris and Buck. “Don’t kids in the US do this?”
“Yeah, but on tee-shirts,” Buck admitted.
“I guess we didn’t think they’d do it on a uniform,” Chris finished.
There was then a frenzy of shirt signing, hugging, tears and farewells as the children and parents said goodbye. The Greens came up and said goodbye, their farewells were yet to come. Ieuan, stayed as quite a number of children wanted him to sign their shirts as well. In all it took about an hour before, emotionally drained, all five of them said their last goodbyes and headed home.
They were about halfway home, when, from the back of the car there came a heart wrenching sob. Buck knew from the tone, it was JD, but since he was driving, there was little he could do. Chris twisted around to look into the back. JD, clutching his prize envelope was crying.
“Hey there Little Bit, what’s up?” Chris asked.
“Don’t know what to do,” JD sobbed.
This was an answer Chris didn’t have a response for. The truth was Buck was better at this kind of thing, especially if it involved JD. Luckily Vin was there to interpret.
“We want to go home but we don’t want to leave,” he explained with a heavy sigh.
“Ah, right.” Chris gave them a reassuring smile. “Well I tell you boys, we feel the same, right pal?”
“Sure do,” Buck confirmed.
“You don’t have to choose; you can hate leaving and look forward to going home at the same time. What we have to do is remember that this is not something we have a choice about, so we just have to stick together as a family and take it as it comes – okay?”
JD took a deep breath and backhanded his tears away. “Family,” he confirmed, with a hitch in his voice and another deep breath.
Part 2: A Sense of Déjà Vu
Part 1 Links
Tunnocks Caramel Wafer
Glass Bottom Tankard
Oliver! School production (with a difference)
Sports Day Dad’s race
12th Century church door