Future Little Britches
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“Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink,” Vin quoted to himself as he stood under the shower. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was one of the first poems he remembered memorizing simply because he had liked it. After the last two days he had begum to feel like a mariner.
Reaching up he switched on the massage option and groaned with pleasure and relief as the hot water pulsed into his tired and aching muscles. He was pretty sure that JD was doing the same.
“Vin!” Chris’s voice called out.
The nineteen year old swore under his breath. Chris did not sound happy. He had hoped to be out of the shower before his dad got home so that he could explain everything. No such luck. Not to mention that he would now also have to explain why he had broken one of the unwritten, but very clear, house rules. Respect of privacy was something that was the family version of Star Trek’s Prime Directive; you did not ever under any circumstances fail to do that. A sub-article of that rule was that bedrooms were off limits unless you were invited to enter.
“In here,” he called out, wincing.
“Is there a reason that you’re in my shower?” Chris asked, entering his room, on hearing his son’s voice coming from there.
“I really needed the massage option,” Vin told him, sighing at the end of his shower, and reaching around the curtain to grab a towel. If he was facing the lion in his den, he was at least not going to do it stark naked and dripping wet.
“Why? It doesn’t look like anything that I asked you to do got done,” Chris replied sharply.
Vin took a deep breath and let it out. Getting into it with Chris when he was sore and tired and Chris was also tired and just returned from a conference he had not wanted to go to on improving the image of law enforcement would not help anything.
“I did everything you asked, and then undid it. I’ll explain everything, but could you wait until after I’ve gotten some sleep?” Vin asked, yawning, and learning against the wall.
Chris looked at the teen; Vin did look like he was all in. While Vin was incredibly independent, he was good about following directions and doing the tasks that he was asked to.
“I think we can both do with a HALT,” Chris replied gently. He had not meant to snap at Vin; it was hardly his fault that a bureaucratic paper pusher who had never been in the field and was more concerned about public opinion and image than about actually getting criminals off the streets was telling him how to do his job.
Vin gave one of his slow smiles that told Chris he understood and the apology was accepted. They both wanted a do-over and would get it.
“I’d offer to get dinner going, but there’s a horse in the kitchen,” Chris grinned. Not to mention two on the porch and four in the garage. He was pretty sure that Buck’s gray had waved at them when they opened the door to find out why all the vehicles were outside.
Vin laughed and hung his head, “The lower pasture flooded and the boarders were in the home pasture, so we had to put our horses somewhere.”
“You mean all seven wouldn’t fit in the garage?”
“We tired, but it was a tight fit and they got to fussing with each other; we took the three worst offenders out. Peso and Pony get along so we put them on the porch and the only other place was the kitchen, so Maverick’s in there,” Vin explained, yawning again.
“Finish your shower, and get some sleep, then you can tell us all about it,” Chris instructed.
The Texan nodded and headed for the door, he would have liked the massage, but he could still finish his shower in his and JD’s bathroom, unless Buck was done with JD and JD had beat him to it.
“I’m not planning on taking a shower, so go ahead and use mine,” Chris smiled, understanding his son’s dilemma. “There’s also some of Nathan’s muscle salve on the middle shelf in the medicine cabinet.”
“Thanks, I’m aching in places I didn’t know existed,” Vin smiled, and got a shoulder squeeze from his dad as he passed back into the bathroom to finish.
“Oh, There’s a bruise on Pony’s left front cannon. I think I doctored it right, but you might want to check,” Vin told him, bracing for a possibly explosion. Taking someone else’s horse without permission was also a cardinal sin under this roof.
Chris nodded, “Peso okay?” Chris could not think of any other reason that Vin would have taken Pony otherwise.
Vin nodded. “He’s fine; we sort of had an emergency…”
“Anything I need to worry about?” Chris asked.
Vin shook his head. “It’s fine now.”
“Take your shower and get some sleep,” Chris instructed.
Vin turned and headed back to the shower.
Chris dropped his suitcase on the bed, and headed out to find Buck. The two men almost collided in the hall. There were sounds from Buck’s bathroom as well as Chris’s, so evidently JD was also getting an up graded shower.
“Learn anything, pard?” Buck asked.
“Just that Vin and I both needed a time out. He was moving like an arthritic geriatric patient so, whatever they did, they had a hard weekend and it had something to do with the pastures flooding and the horses needing to be put up here where it was dry.”
The large man nodded, “That was about what I got out of JD too,”
They both looked towards the kitchen, which now had a straw covered floor. The chestnut gelding tied in there stared back at them. Whatever the story was it, it was sure to be interesting at least.
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Chris looked up from checking Pony’s leg to see Ezra coming towards him carrying three pizza boxes.
“Delivering pizzas for beer money?” Chris grinned.
“Perish the thought; I encountered a poor lost soul up on the road trying to provide nourishment to you all but unable to find this locality. I assured him that I was familiar with the abode and would bring your dinner, such as it is,” Ezra smiled. “Might I inquire as why your horses are residing on the patio?”
“They were getting lonely,” Chris replied, opening the front door, and motioning Ezra to enter.
The two men headed in; thankfully the blond was prepared when Ezra stopped in his tracks and stared to find his horse standing in his boss’s kitchen nickering a greeting to him.
“What just happened here?” Ezra asked, turning to Chris.
“Well, hell, Ezra, he’s such a friendly and well mannered horse that we thought we’d have him in for dinner,” Buck responded.
“With all this rain I was concerned for him; I see that I worried needlessly.”
Still rumpled, the two teens joined the men.
The pizza boxes were opened and everyone helped themselves.
“You both still look like about ten miles of bad road,” Buck told them.
“Good, then I look about how I feel,” Vin retorted.
“Vin, if you’re…” JD began and suddenly ended.
All eyes were now on the older boy.
“Son,” Chris made it a statement as well as a question.
“I’m just sore,” Vin assured him, glaring at JD, who gave a defiant look in return.
“What happened? In detail,” Buck instructed.
“Not real sure where to start.”
“Just for us mental midgets, how about at the beginning?” Ezra suggested.
“I guess that would be on the day that all of you left for the conference. Vin came home after his classes, like he said that he would…” JD started
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JD tried not to whoop as he saw Vin’s jeep was in it’s usual spot. He had really hoped that Vin would be able to come right out instead of having to stay on campus until the evening. Da and Chris had been uneasy about leaving a sixteen year old alone for two day without Nettie or anyone from the team in town as an emergency contact. When Vin had said that he would stay at the house with JD and it was agreed that no one need come and stay with him.
Vin smiled at his brother from where he was watching the horses. He really missed living at home with his family. He was going to a local collage, but after he and Chris had talked about it he was living in the dorms and getting the ‘full college experience’. He still came home almost every weekend, though.
Chris has left a note asking that the team’s personal horses be moved down to the lower pasture so that the stabled boarders could be turned out in the smaller paddock since Buck had found some hemlock plants in the western pasture where they were normally sent. No one had had time to go over it to check for more of the poisonous plants, so for now they where not using it.
JD ran over and hugged his brother and was hugged in return. The two had rarely been separated in their young lives and not having JD around was proving almost as hard for Vin as not having Chris there.
“Think ya can help move the horses to the lower pasture?” Vin asked, grinning.
“Try and stop me,” JD dared him.
“How about we do that now, then we’ll have all weekend free; maybe get the pasture checked while they’re gone,” Vin suggested.
“That works. They left us pizza money and there are steaks in the fridge. Let’s do the pizza tonight so we won’t have to cook after moving the horses and tomorrow we can do the steaks and play weed inspector.”
Vin laughed at JD’s description of checking a pasture for poisonous weeds. “Sounds like a plan.”
They collected bridles, halters and lead ropes, and then went after the horses. Thankfully none of the horses were difficult, since he and JD were both riding bareback and leading two, and his case three, others. The biggest difficulty was that Pony picked now to get his revenge on Peso harassing him by giving him playful nips when the gelding couldn’t get back at him due to having a rider. Just as Vin was debating giving Pony over to JD, they were at the pasture gate. JD let his group loose, and then Vin released his, Pony first so that he would have a head start when Peso was freed.
JD looked at the clouds coming over the mountains, while Vin finished freeing his group.
“Those clouds sure don’t look good,” the younger teen commented.
Looking at where his brother was indicating, Vin licked his lips.
“Not good, but we should be okay,” Vin said hesitantly.
Collecting the gear, they headed back up to the house. The trip back would be little more than a nice hike over good ground, but they would be more than ready to eat when they got home.
Once back, Vin headed inside to order the pizza, while JD released the stabled horses in the paddock to enjoy the afternoon while he got the barn chores done.
With the order in, Vin joined him and the bothers made short work of the chores.
Homework and watching Bullit, they were both Steve McQueen fans, took up the evening.
His bedside clock read just after one when Vin woke to the sound of rain on the roof and a bolt of lightening cutting the sky. Rolling over onto his back, he brought his hands together and cradled the back of his head. He loved listening to thunderstorms, the unseasonably wet summer and now early fall had let him enjoys lots of them. He made a mental note to check on some of the rivers the next day; if they flooded then the lower pasture where horses were would flood.
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The boarders standing around in the pasture when Vin got home from school the next day looked wet and miserable standing huddled together under the shelter. He gave them a pat as he checked the feeder and made sure that it had hay.
Not knowing how long this hole in the rain would last, Vin moved fast. He grabbed his rain gear and jotted a note for JD to let him know he was checking on the rivers and their natural dams. The lean Texan practically ran down to Peso. Thankfully the gelding was easy to catch since he usually met Vin at the gate.
Half an hour after getting home, the teen was heading up the trails. It was a good thing that Peso was familiar them and was part mountain goat since they were about half mud, now.
The first three told him all he had to know, the rivers were rising fast and the dams wouldn’t hold them long. Turing his horse, he headed for home. The horses had to be gotten out of the lower pasture.
JD was already in his rain gear and waiting when Vin got back to the ranch house.
“Five more minutes and I was gonna go after you.”
“We need to go get the horses,” Vin informed him.
“I’ll ready got my bridle and the gear ready,” JD beamed, and he tossed one back pack to Vin and picked up another himself.
Vin remounted and JD scrambled on behind him.
“Oh, here, figured you hadn’t eaten yet,” the younger teen handed his brother a sandwich.
“Thanks,” Vin mumbled between bites.
By the time they got to the pasture it was once more raining. The six horses in the pasture came to the fence expecting and receiving their treats. Halters were buckled with leads attached while the animals munched their apples.
“Hey, Vin, Aren’t those Nettie’s horses?” JD asked, pointing at barely visible shapes on the other side of the far fence that separated the two pastures.
Brushing long brown hair out of his face, the older teen swore long, loud, and imaginatively. If the swear jar was still operating he would have been paying for a year at least.
“Nettie and Casey are still visiting Nettie’s sister aren’t they?” Vin asked.
JD nodded, “Yeah they are. We can’t just leave them here.”
Vin took a deep breath. The home pasture was full with the boarders, the western pasture was potentially poisonous, and the paddock would be crowded with these horses. Where on earth would they put Nettie’s? Her barn and pasture gates would be locked and Chris had forgotten to leave his emergency key. Even more to the point, how was he going to get them out of there?
“Vin,” JD looked over at him from Dancer with big brown eyes.
“We’ll get them, JD, I just don’t know how, yet.”
JD nodded and bit his lip to keep quiet while Vin was thinking.
“First thing is to get these horses up to the paddock,” Vin instructed, moving Peso and the three horses he was leading off. JD followed, giving a look back at the Well’s horses.
A crash and bovine bellow had both boys spinning around to face the other way.
Well, for once Averill Jenkins was not going to be able to complain about the horses invading his cow pasture. Of course, one of his yearling heifers was now in their pasture.
“We’ll deal with her when we get back,” Vin called to JD over the storm and restless horses that were starting to fidget.
Once home the horses were put in the paddock.
“JD, saddle up Pony and Willow,” Vin instructed. If they had to go chasing Mr. Jenkins cow around, then they would need a horse that was experienced at that. Chris and Buck had both done calf roping and steer wrestling so chasing a cow would be something their horses would know how to do. Hopefully, their rookie riders wouldn’t screw up.
Dark hair bobbed as he nodded and took Peso from Vin.
Peso and Dancer were loosed in the paddock, and the other two caught and tacked up.
Vin returned from the shed with tools in the backpack he had been tossed early that afternoon.
Soaked to the bone from almost two hours of riding in the elements, the two headed back down to the lowland pastures.
JD gapped as they arrived in time to see Casey’s panicked sorrel try to jump the fence only to slip and get tangled under it.
Vin leapt off Pony and secured ropes to each end of the fence board. “Tie it to your saddle,” Vin ordered, mounting Pony and backing him up. Seeing the plan JD did the same. Nettie and their dads might be less than pleased but the board came off.
Vin rode up to the fence and retied the ropes the next board and they pulled it off. It was the only way that they could get those horses out.
With the fence down, they went in after the horses. The meadow now had standing water.
The two bays were caught easily and handed off to JD. The sorrel mare was having none of it.
Vin finally caught her and managed to get the terrified animal haltered. Mounted on Pony and leading her, the bedraggled group headed back to the Larabee pasture and home. Already nervous, the mare started at loud boom of thunder and bolted into Pony. The gelding was knocked off balance with nothing but slippery wet grass and mud under him. He went down on his knee and slammed Vin into the fence, knocking him off.
JD watched in horror, but was uncertain what to do since he had to keep hold of his two.
Vin winced, and got up, relieved to see that Pony had not gone all the way down and was standing quietly waiting for his rider just like Chris had taught him to do.
“JD, head back up to the house, I’ll follow once I’ve got her back,” Vin muttered.
“Where should I put them?”
“In the corral, it’s small, but it’ll work for three horses,” Vin answered, slowly walking up to where the mare and her lead line were. The last thing he needed as to scare her more.
He heard JD go just as he knelt down and got hold of the rope, slowly drawing her in.
Vin sighed with relief when he saw her start to settle. As much as he wanted to be done with this, he gave her a minute longer, and then mounted and Pony and led her after JD and the others.
“You okay?” JD asked, when he saw Vin ride up.
“I’m fine, just battered and bruised. You take her. I’ve got to go get that cow now,” Vin sighed. He wished he could have taken her and the mare, but without knowing if she had been around cows he had not wanted to risk sending her into a panic, again.
JD nodded, and took the horse. “I’ve still got Willow tacked; just give me a minute.”
Vin nodded tiredly. A second person might be good if she gave them trouble.
Thankfully she just wanted out of the water and was happy enough to be caught and led back to the barn.
The horses thought the mooing creature was a bit odd, but ignored her as she was put in a spare stall for the night.
Both boys tended the horses and dragged themselves into bed.
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Vin sat bolt upright at JD yell of complete and total frustration.
During the night the storm had taken down one of their trees. Said tree had taken out one of the corral fences.
Both boy swore liberally and dove into clothes. Hopefully the horses had not gone far.
“I don’t see them anywhere,” JD groaned. Casey was going to be really upset about her horse if it was lost.
“Help me get the trailer hitched up. I think I know where they went,” Vin said, pulling on a shirt.
With the trailer in tow, they headed to Nettie’s. Sure enough three horses were standing in front of the pasture waiting for some kind soul to let them in their home.
Chris’s emergency grain bucket enticed all three to load easily.
“I vote we get Egg McMuffin’s and coffee,” JD suggested, yawning.
“Sounds good,” Vin said, leaning his head back.
One drive through and hot breakfast later, they were home.
They were now, back to the question of what to do with the horses. Neither the pasture nor the paddock had room. Not to mention the inadvisability of mixing herds that had not met.
Well, there were seven horses he knew well enough to know how they would act.
“We’ll put our horses in the barn aisle,” Vin decided.
“I don’t think that would be good. Patch, one of the boarders, has a bug of some kind and is being isolated in the barn. I don’t know if it’s contagious and if so how it’s spread,” JD winced, wishing that he knew more about what was wrong with the paint gelding.
Pulling out his cell phone, Vin dialed his dad. Sighing he put it back. Apparently the storm was messing up reception. There was no signal.
“We need to get a bed laid in the garage,” he closed his eyes just imagining what Buck and his dad would say when they got home.
JD stared at him.
“We know that the team’s horses will be okay in the garage, so that’s where they’re going. These three will be in the paddock.”
The younger teen nodded, got out of the truck, and headed for the straw bedding.
Vin carefully backed Buck’s classic truck out.
The two teens got the straw door and led the seven horses into the building. It was tight, but if everyone was friendly it would work.
Nettie’s three were put in the paddock and the boys headed for the house and more than a mere three hours sleep.
The unmistakable sound of agitation rang from the garage. Checking on the animals they were not surprised to find that Peso was picking on Moses, Pony was making a play for Willow who was clearly not interested. And Maverick was telling everyone off.
“I guess we can put them on the porch or something?” JD suggested.
“Pony and Peso can go there,” Vin agreed.
Once more, straw was laid out, and the horses led up a makeshift ramp on to the porch.
The garage was still too crowded.
“I can not believe I’m saying this, but, the kitchen is the only thing I can think of,” Vin moaned.
“I’m out of ideas,” JD concurred.
The dark haired boy spread straw. Again. While Vin got Maverick and led him inside.
Vin was hot, tired and sore. All he wanted was a hot shower and few hours sleep before he had to explain all this.
Praying that their dads would not come home early, the boys headed for their dad’s bathrooms and the hot water massages.
+ + + + + + +
The three men stared at them. JD was already sound asleep again, curled up in his chair and, now that he had finished the story, Vin looked like was a hair’s breadth from joining him.
“You have had an interesting time of it, I must say,” Ezra smiled at the teens that had stolen his heart so many years ago.
“Sorry about the fence,” Vin yawned.
“All the animals are safe, that’s the important thing.” Chris assured him.
Vin just nodded, his eyelids drooping.
Getting up, Chris tossed an afghan over his now sleeping son. Seeing him like this he looked far more the boy then a young man in his freshman year at college.
Buck did the same, getting a blanket and covering JD.
Ezra had quietly stepped into the kitchen to call the others and put in a supply order for fencing materials.
Reaching down, Chris brushed the hair from Vin’s face. His son had really stepped up the plate that weekend. Vin made a contented noise and leaned into the gesture. He smiled down at his boy, it would likely be late tonight or tomorrow before he was up and functional. Well, for lunch tomorrow he and JD were getting the biggest steaks they had ever seen. They’d more than earned them.
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