The Forgotten Day by LaraMee

Main characters: Little Vin, but everyone's there

Author's Note: Written to celebrate the Little Britches – AU listgroup's 8th anniversary. And, yeah, it's a little over the top in the smarm department, but I couldn't help myself.

Vin woke with a feeling of excitement washing over him. Today was the day! Today, he would be eight years old. He could barely believe it, he felt like he'd been seven forever.

The last two weeks had been particularly busy, leaving him and JD to stay with Mrs. Potter more than usual. Then, last weekend, they had spent the entire weekend with Auntie Raine and Auddie, who was still too small to play with. He and JD had started having more arguments than usual, and had spent a lot of time on time out.

And, in all that time, with all the craziness going on, nobody had mentioned his birthday. Nobody had remarked that he would soon be eight. But he was sure it would all change today. Today they would be together and celebrate. He wasn't even very worried about gifts; a life of deprivation had left him with few expectations of material things. But, since coming to live with Chris and Buck, he had come to rely on a feeling of family and belonging.

Slipping out of his bed, he hurried to the bathroom and, scant moments later, was back out, his hair damp and combed slick, wearing the new outfit that Aunt Raine had bought him when they had gone shopping. It was a red and white polo shirt and blue jean shorts. Pulling on a pair of socks, he decided to fore go shoes for the time being. He debated whether or not to wake JD, but decided to let the younger boy sleep. Right now, he was very much hoping for a little quality time with his father.

Padding down the hall toward his father's room, he found it empty. There was no sound coming from the bathroom, so he decided that his father must already be up and going. Padding next to the kitchen, he found Buck, but no Chris. “Is Dad out in the barn?”

“And good morning to you, too, junior,” Buck teased.

“Sorry, good morning. Is Dad out in the barn?”

“No, he had to go into town.”

“Oh.” Vin felt the excited feeling slipping away. “Did he have to go to the office?”

“Nope, just had a few errands to run. He left early,” Buck explained, knowing that Vin would be wondering why he hadn't been asked along. “I imagine he'll be back by the time we get JD up and going and have breakfast.”

The excited feeling disappeared, replaced by disappointment. By the time they got JD up and moving and finished breakfast, half the day would be over. He heaved a sigh, but said simply, “I'll go wake him up.”

“Thanks, Junior. I'll get breakfast started.”

Padding back down the hallway, Vin tried to keep from sinking farther into sadness. He began to wonder if maybe everyone had forgotten his birthday. Pushing that thought away, he marched into the bedroom he shared with JD. He found his surrogate brother still sleeping, his pajama clothed bottom sticking in the air. He giggled at the fleeting thought of smacking that bottom, but didn't, simply poking JD on the arm. “JD, time to wake up.”

“Go way,” the smaller boy grumbled, pulling the blankets up over his head.

“C'mon, JD, it's mornin'!” He pulled the blankets away, only to receive a foot in his tummy for his efforts. “Ow!”

“Go way!” JD grunted, crawling across the bed until he was against the wall.

“JD, WAKE UP!” Vin barked, rubbing the place where he'd been hit.

“Hey, what's going on?” Buck called down the hallway.

“JD kicked me!” Normally Vin wouldn't tattle like that, but at the moment he was feeling more than a little spiteful.

Buck was at the door quickly. “JD, did you kick Vin?”

“No!” was the grouchy response.

“Did too!”



“Okay, both of you settle down. JD you've got ten minutes to be up, dressed, and in the kitchen for breakfast. Understand?”

JD groaned loudly, but climbed out of bed and stomped toward the bathroom. Vin, still rubbing the place on his tummy, turned to say something to Buck. Just then, a piercing sound filled the house. With a startled curse, Buck sprinted back down the hall, Vin on his heels. There was smoke billowing out of the kitchen, which had triggered the smoke alarm.

“Vin, don't come in here 'til I tell you it's okay, and don't let JD come in here, either.” Buck instructed as he entered the smoke-filled kitchen.

Vin stood near the door, chewing on his bottom lip, concerned for the man's safety. When he heard JD running hard in his direction, he turned and spread his arms wide. “Stop, JD!”

Stumbling to a stop the smaller boy said, “What's going on?”

“Somethin's burnin' in the kitchen, Buck's checkin' it out.”

“DA!” the smaller boy called out, fearfully.

“I'm fine, Little Bit,” came the reply, accompanied by coughing. “Just burned the breakfast.”

“Oh no!” JD exclaimed. “What're we gonna eat now?”

“Hold on, give me a minute to take care of this,” Buck called out. The boys could hear him rattling things, dropping them, heard the water at the sink and, finally, the sound of the fire extinguisher. Next they heard the soft whir of the exhaust fan, and the backdoor opening. Then, the big brunet came to the door. “Let's give it a little time to air out, then we'll head to town for breakfast.”

The two little boys looked at one another and smiled. Vin felt a little of his excited feeling coming back, and he bounced from one foot to the other in excitement. They waited until Buck came out of the kitchen and declared it smoke-free. It didn't take much encouragement to get the two boys outside, where they were surprised to find Chris' Ram in the drive.

“How come Dad didn't take his truck?” Vin wanted to know.

“Well, since I'd have both you boys, he left it for me to drive and he took my truck.”

“How come if we weren't goin' anywhere?”

Shrugging, Buck responded with, “Just in case I guess.”

After the boys were both secured in their booster seats, Vin feeling a slight stab of frustration that he still had to use one, Buck climbed behind the wheel. He started the truck and, instantly, the cab was filled with the sounds of Country For Kids, which was the CD Vin had been talking about for the last few weeks. They had been listening to it at school during free period, and he had instantly fallen in love with the music. Quickly turning the music down, Buck asked, “Did you borrow that from school?”

Vin, a puzzled expression on his face, replied, “No, sir. Mr. B. said he couldn't loan it out to any of the kids 'cause it was bought with school money.”

“Huh. I guess maybe Chris borrowed it.”

Vin remembered then, seeing his father and Mr. B., one of the teachers, talking a couple days ago. He supposed that Chris wanted to listen to it, to make extra sure that it was good music for kids. He was always really careful about things like that, but usually trusted the teachers to only share good things with them. “Can we listen to it?”

Buck smiled, “Sure, don't see why not. Evidently Chris really liked it if he was listening to it that loud.”

They bounced along the lane that led to the main road, Vin and JD singing along with the songs. Even Buck was tapping his fingers along the steering wheel, in time with the music. A little while later, when the music ended, Vin expected Buck to take it out but, instead, the music started over again.


“Yeah, Little Bit?”

“Where we gonna eat?”

“Well, Uncle Nathan was telling me about this new place in town. I thought we'd go there.”

Vin sighed. If Uncle Nathan suggested it, that meant it would be all healthy stuff. Thoughts of a stack of pancakes smothered in whipped cream, strawberry syrup and sprinkles were replaced with healthy oatmeal and orange slices. And still, nobody had wished him a Happy Birthday.

A short time later, they were pulling into the parking lot of a restaurant Vin had never seen before. There was the building and, behind it, a tall, wooden fence that went way out beyond the restaurant and parking lot. He was surprised to see that both the restaurant and the fence were painted in bright, rainbow colors, and there were lots of balloons everywhere. It almost looked like... no... the restaurant people wouldn't know about his birthday.

As if reading Vin's mind, JD said, “Da, how comes they got all those balloons on the restaurant?”

“Lots of folks do that when they first open,” came the answer.

Vin sighed again. It had been fun to think for a minute that the balloons had been for him. He waited patiently in his seat, until Buck came around and lifted him out. He almost voiced a protest; eight-year-olds' could get out of a truck all on their own, he was sure of it. He stayed silent, though, and walked politely beside Buck, who had JD straddling one hip.

When they entered the restaurant, Vin saw that there were only a few people there, eating breakfast in a couple of the booths and one table. He supposed that was because it was a restaurant that Uncle Nathan liked and it was probably all healthy stuff, so not too many people would want to come here. He looked up at a young woman, dressed in a fancy jacket and pants, with a bow tie that had lights twinkling in it. Maybe the restaurant wasn't all bad.

“Welcome, just three of you?”

“Yes, ma'am,” Buck replied. “ Just me, JD and Vin, today.”

“Okay, well, we're having a lot of people coming in, in just a few minutes, so would it be okay if I went ahead and seated you in one of the side rooms?”

“Sounds perfect, thank you.” With Vin still beside him, Buck followed the young woman through the main room of the restaurant. They entered a small room off to one side, but found it already set up for a party.

“Oh, dear. I forgot that we're having a birthday party in here today. Lot's of things going on. If you'd like to just wait here, I'll check the other side rooms.” As she left, she smiled and winked at Buck.

Vin rolled his eyes. Buck got that reaction a lot from good looking ladies. Standing quite still, he looked around at the decorations. Somebody was going to have a really sweet party. There were balloons and streamers everywhere, and the decorations were filled with pictures of horses. Tears burned his eyes, but he refused to cry. Sniffing hard, he fought back the sad feelings by singing a little of one of the songs they had listened to in the truck.

A minute later, a group of people began to file into the room, carrying brightly colored gifts; he couldn't even see anything but feet, legs and gifts. Vin gulped hard, his voice breaking as he sang “hear my song as I ride along... I'm just a happy rollin' cowboy,” as he turned away from the festivities. This was just much, much too much! Just as anger began to push away the good thoughts, someone wrapped their arms around him. Without looking, he knew it was his father, the smell of his cologne as imprinted on his memory as the man's voice. “Dad?”

He found that they were turning around, facing the room. He gasped as he saw that the people who had come in were all familiar to him. All of his uncles, his aunt and Auddie, Miss Nettie and Casey, Inez, Mrs. Potter and her children, and several of the children and parents from school. Even his teachers were there. Just as he caught his breath, they all shouted...

“SURPRISE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, VIN!” Then they broke into song, singing the Happy Birthday song. He giggled, his entire body trembling as his emotions tumbled through him like Ringo and Elvis did when they were playing in the yard. Wriggling around, he looked in his father's face and saw his own happiness reflected there.

“Happy Birthday, Son,” Chris said softly.

Unable to put voice to his thoughts, Vin simply wrapped his little arms around his father's neck and squeezed. After a private moment together, Chris asked, “Are you ready to celebrate your birthday?”

“Yeah... yeah!”

Chris set Vin on his feet, and the little boy dashed across the room. He wasn't sure who he wanted to thank first, and ended up running around, giggles erupting every few seconds, as he called out to his friends and family. Megan, the girl who Vin had declared was his girlfriend earlier in the year, hugged him around the neck. Then his Uncle Nathan lifted him into the air and gave him a squeeze. Next he spoke to Mr. B. and then Ms. R. and then gasped with surprise as, from behind, he was tackled. Rolling over and over on the carpeted floor, he finally untangled himself and found that, to nobody's surprise, that it was JD who had tackled him. “Gees, JD!”


Buck scooped the smaller boy up, gently scolding, “Not inside, Little Bit.”

“Buck?” Vin called out over the chatter. When the big brunet turned to him, he said, “Did you know?”

With a chuckle, Buck replied, “Yeah, I knew. Now, go enjoy your party.”

Because it was still morning, everyone settled at the large table which was soon filled with bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, pancakes, waffles, and every topping imaginable. There were pitchers of milk and juice for the children and coffee and tea for the adults. His dad helped him fill his plate and, to his surprise, allowed him to cover his pancake with whipped cream, both chocolate and strawberry syrup, and colorful sprinkles. By the time he finished his breakfast, he was sticky from head to foot, but still beaming with happiness. Around them, the restaurant's waitstaff kept everything filled and ready until nobody could eat another bite.

Next came gifts. Vin was nearly overwhelmed as one gift after another was presented to him. His Aunt Raine helped him keep track of everything, making a note on each card as to what gift had accompanied it. By the time he had opened the last gift, he was certain they would need to get another toy box. He kept looking over at JD, worried that the smaller boy would feel slighted when he didn't get to open anything. But, to his relief, he saw that the child he called brother was clapping, oohing and ahhing as each gift was revealed.

“Okay, now, we're not finished yet,” Chris announced coming over to lift his son into his arms. “I'd imagine that not everyone has heard about this restaurant yet, but it's something new, and designed especially for things like birthday parties. If you'll follow me, I'll take everyone to the park area.”

Vin was lifted into the air, the smile on his face only growing broader as his father carried him through a colorful tunnel. As they walked, cheerful, carnival music could be heard, which grew steadily louder, but when they arrived in the park, to his shock, there were no other children around!

Turning to the people behind him, Chris said, “We've got the park to ourselves until one. Everything's paid for unless you buy something in the gift shop but, mostly, we just really want everyone to have a good time. Okay, folks, let's go try this place out!”

Chris and Buck, each one carrying their son, moved around the park as they decided just what they wanted to do first. When they reached the pony rides, though, fathers knew exactly what their sons would enjoy.

Settling the birthday boy on the back of a little paint pony, Chris said, “Hold on tight, Cowboy.”

Grinning, Vin nodded, waving at his father as the horse began walking on a well laid out little trail that went around the outside of the park, rather than simply in a circle.

And the day only got better. They drove bumper cars, rode the ferris wheel and Tilt-a-whirl, threw darts at balloons, played miniature golf, and simply ran from attraction to attraction. Vin even got up the courage to ask Megan to ride with him in the child sized go carts, and soon they were speeding around the course, giggling and shouting to the other children driving nearby. When they got out, Vin was surprised by a kiss on the cheek from the little girl, who dashed away toward her mother, giggling.

At one, they all said good-bye, the adults thanking Chris for an amazing morning, while the children once again wished Vin Happy Birthday. When the crowd dwindled down to the people they all considered part of their family, the blond had another announcement.

“Okay, Buck and I will pack up the gifts, and then we'll be heading out to the ranch. We'll see you all there in a while?” When he received nods and affirmations, he led the way back to the little side room. Entering it, they were all surprised to see that it was all cleaned up, the decorations now decorating large, colorful bags that held all of Vin's gifts.

“I'm not sure what you paid for all this, Stud,” Buck whispered to the other man, “But I'm sure it wasn't enough.”

“No kidding,” Chris shook his head, smiling at the staff's thoughtfulness.

As they carried the bags from the room, even Vin and JD carrying one between them, a young woman came to greet them. “I hope everything was to your liking, Mr. Larabee?”

“Miss Wagner, you and your staff went above and beyond. From the reactions of most of the other parents, I'd say word of mouth is going to have you booked months in advance soon!”

Smiling, Jessie Wagner replied, “I hope so. We're really trying to bring something different to the area for children.”

“Well, ma'am,” Buck joined in the discussion, “I believe you've done that and more.”

“Good. Now, who's the birthday boy?”

Vin grinned at her shyly. “I am.”

Leaning down, she held out a small package. “Well, as one of our first birthday boys, I wanted to give you a little something special to remember the day by.”

Juggling his end of the bag, Vin took the gift. “Thank you, ma'am.”

Patting him on the shoulder, she said, “You're very welcome, sweetheart.”


While Buck drove his truck home alone, JD and Vin rode in their booster seats in the backseat of Chris' Ram. From time to time Vin glanced through the back window, watching the bags fluttering in the wind beneath the netting Chris had anchored them with. The CD, which his Dad informed him was his to keep, was playing once more, although the volume was lower.


“Yeah, Cowboy?”

“That was the best, best, BEST surprise I ever got in my whole, entire life!”

Chris chuckled. “I'm glad you enjoyed it, but the day's not over yet.”

“What else are we gonna do?” JD asked.

“Well, let's just see what happens, okay?” Chris said mysteriously.

“Aw, but can't you tell us a little bit?”

“JD,” Vin sighed, “I like to be s'prised.”

The younger boy's bottom lip poked out briefly, but he said, “Okay.”

The ride home seemed to take much longer than usual but, eventually, they were pulling up to the garage. Buck was already there and just getting out of his truck. He stepped over and got JD out while Chris released Vin from his seat-belt. They all went to the back of the truck, and were soon carrying the gifts into the house.

“Would you like to put them in the great room for now?” Chris asked. “We can put them away later.”

Vin smiled and nodded, almost pulling JD off his feet as he sped up to get to the great room quicker.

Once the packages were settled, Chris suggested, “Why don't you two play for a bit while Buck and I take care of some things?”

Beaming from ear to ear, Vin said, “Okay!”

Before the two men left the room, Buck cautioned, “JD, remember, these are Vin's toys.” He doubted that he'd need to add anything more, as the boys were typically very good at playing together. There was only a problem when JD became overly excited.

“We'll play real good,” Vin assured both men.

Together the boys opened almost everything once again, although this time Vin noticed something. There were no gifts there from his dad, Buck and JD or any of the people he considered part of their family. He had no doubt that his dad had spent a great deal of money for the party, and he would feel very ungrateful to expect more. As for the others... could he dare to dream that there would be more packages to unwrap?

“Hey, Vin,” JD got the older boy's attention, his voice louder than necessary as usual.

“Yeah?” Vin looked over and saw JD holding up a little package. He frowned, then remembered the lady at the restaurant had given him a gift. Stepping over to where JD held the gift out, he happily accepted it and sat down to unwrap the gift. He frowned at first, finding a strange little book, with pages of many different colors. Then he sounded out the words on the cover. “ Day's.... Cou... pon... Book of Fun.”

“What is it?”

Shrugging, Vin began to leaf through the little book, but then stopped when he saw that each page had a picture of something they had seen in the play park, and the word “FREE” was printed at the top of each page, in big letters. “I think they're like tickets so that we can go to that play park and ride things for free!”

JD's mouth opened in a perfect little “o” and then he said, “Wow! That's super duper cool!”

They exchanged big grins and then Vin put the coupon book on the coffee table so that he wouldn't lose it. That taken care of, they returned to playing with the toys.

Soon there was the sound of cars approaching the house. The boys hurried toward the front porch, excited to see their aunt and uncles and the rest of their extended family pulling up. Waiting until Uncle Josiah's battered old Suburban, the last to arrive, was parked and the engine turned off, they bounded off the porch to greet their guests.

“Unka Ezra! Unka 'Siah! Unka Nathan! Aunt Raine! Auddie! Miz Nettie! Casey! Miz Inez! Mrs. Potter! David! Katie!” Vin couldn't help but squeal each name, needing to greet each person individually. He bounded up to the gathering group, and found himself swooped up by Ezra Standish.

“Hello, nephew! It's been a long time since I've seen you!” Ezra teased.

“But, Unca Ezra, we just seen you while ago, at the party place” JD said, confused. Then he smiled when the adults around chuckled. “Well, we did.”

“My apologies, JD, I was making a joke.”

Frowning now, the little brunet asked, “Are you sure?”

Josiah laughed heartily and slapped the smaller man on the back before he said, “I believe he's got you there, brother.”

Wincing as the large palm nearly sent him to the ground, Ezra managed to recover, saying, “I apologize, obviously I misspoke.” He put Vin back on the ground, the little boy smiling up at him.

“Okay, let's get this party started,” Buck called from the deck. The boys led the others around to where the two men were waiting. There were smiles and chuckles when they saw that the deck and part of the backyard had been decorated along the same lines as the the room in the restaurant had been. Seeing their response, Wilmington said, “Yeah, it's a theme.”

Vin was stunned, his little mouth opened and his eyes wide. What had begun as a sad day had turned into one of surprises. He looked at his father, their gazes locking. For a long moment they simply stayed like that and then, both smiled and Vin bounded up the stairs and into Chris' arms.

“So, are you surprised?”

Nodding vigorously, Vin finally managed to find his voice. “Two times, Dad, two s'prises!”

Chris grinned, understanding exactly what his son met. He had felt a twinge of guilt at the restaurant, seeing just how disappointed Vin was, but the joy in the child's face told him clearly that all of that had been put aside.

“Okay, so, we've got hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill... oh, and some chicken for anybody that wants to eat healthy.” Buck announced, everyone looking at once at Nathan.

Holding up his hands, the big man said, “Hey, it's a party, ditch the healthy stuff.”

“YEAH!” JD exclaimed, pumping a little fist into the air.

“Well, we do have a few healthy things, but besides the hamburgers and hot dogs, we've got baked beans, potato chips, macaroni salad and...” Chris paused as if trying to remember something. “Oh, yeah, and cake and ice cream for dessert!”

The party that followed was nearly as boisterous as the earlier one had been, even though there were only half as many people. They all settled around the large picnic table that was covered in cartoon cowboys and horses. The boys were seated at each end, their booster seats situated on kitchen chairs so that they were better able to reach their plates and cups, which were decorated to match the tablecloth.

After everyone had eaten their fill, Chris excused himself, went into the house, and returned a minute later with a cake, made in the shape of a cowboy boot. There were eight candles clustered in the center of the cake, with another candle posted at one end. As he lit the candles, he explained to Vin, “One candle for every year, and one candle to grow on.”

Once the candles were lit, the gathering once again sang Happy Birthday to the little boy and, with instructions to “make a wish”, Vin took a deep breath and blew the candles out. Buck brought out ice cream and everyone enjoyed dessert of chocolate cake and strawberry ice cream. When that was finished all of the adults, along with JD and Casey, made short work of cleaning everything up and carrying it all inside. Vin was given instructions that he wasn't to do anything but play with Auddie, who was busily pulling blades of grass from where she was lying on a blanket near the table.

Flopping down on his tummy, face to face with the little girl, Vin said, “Hi, Auddie.” She grinned and waggled a fist full of grass at him. He giggled and gently pulled at the grass, causing her to giggle and pull her hand away. As she did, she toppled over on her back and Vin got up on his hands and knees to make certain she was okay. She grinned and blew bubbles as she made baby sounds and he replied by pulling up her shirt and blowing on her tummy. This elicited squeals, and Auddie wriggled happily beneath her adopted big brother.

“Sounds like someone's havin' a good time,” Buck came to squat down beside the two children.

“I like it when she makes those noises,” Vin grinned.

“Yeah, those are pretty special. But for now, we've got another surprise for the birthday boy.”

With a shocked expression, the little boy asked, “Another one?”

With a smile, the big man nodded. “Yep, another one. Come on.” Slipping Auddie off the blanket and into his arms, Buck stood and held out a hand to the little boy. Vin took the offered hand and giggled as he felt himself lifted into the air and settled on Buck's hip, while the little girl was cuddled in his other arm. A year ago the little boy would have shied away from such intimate contact. Now, he wrapped his arms around Buck's neck, smiling as he was carried toward the barn.

“How come we're goin' to the barn?”

“'Cause that's where the surprise is,” Buck replied.

“But, ever'one is in the house, ain't they?”

“Aren't they, and, we'll see.”

Entering the barn, Vin was shocked to see that, indeed, everyone who had come to his party was now standing in the main area of the barn. All of them were smiling at him, and he smiled back. “How'd everybody get in here when you was all in the house?”

Coming to lift the little boy into his own arms, Chris said, “Magic.” Then, when he saw the look of disbelief, he explained, “We went out the front door and around while you were busy playing with Auddie.”

“You guys are full of s'prises!” Vin announced happily, eliciting laughter from the gathering. As his father placed him on the ground, he asked, “But how come we're out here?”

“We've got one more surprise for you, that's how come.” Chris grinned as he ruffled the thick, dark blond hair. “And since part of it couldn't come into the house, we decided to come out here.”

Vin stared around the barn, frowning as he tried to figure out what it was that they couldn't take into the house. Then he noticed balloons and streamers on Peso's stall. Peso was already his, how could he be a surprise?

As if to answer that question, Uncle Josiah opened the stall and went inside, returning, leading Peso out into the barn. Vin looked, seeing ribbon streamers running from several places on his horse's halter. Then he looked a second time, and realized that the halter, the reins and, he realized with a shock, the saddle and even the saddle blanket were all new!

Seeing realization dawn, Chris knelt beside his son and said, “We all went in together to get you your very own saddle and tack.” Lifting Vin once more into his arms, he walked to where Peso stood, calmly for the moment, and pointed something out to the little boy.

Vin gaped at what was stamped into the saddle. With a tone of awe, he read, “Vincent Michael Tanner... Cowboy!” With a squeal, he wrapped his arms around his father's neck.

“We have more,” Uncle Ezra announced. When the birthday boy turned in his direction, he held up a tiny, fringed leather jacket and a cowboy hat. Beside him, JD was holding up a pair of boots and, next to him was Casey Wells, holding a pair of chaps.

Vin could only stare, speechless, tears of happiness rolling down his face. It was so much, much more than he could ever even dream of. Looking from one person to another, he could see nothing but love in each face. While he couldn't put any of this into conscious thought, let alone words, he felt nothing but love, joy and contentment.


It was late, but he couldn't seem to get to sleep. Slipping out of bed, he went in search of comfort... went in search of his father. He found him on the back deck, staring into the darkness, feet up on the railing, a cigar in one hand and a glass of tea in the other. As he stepped out onto the deck, his father turned and saw him. With a smile, he dropped his legs to the deck, put the cigar out in the ashtray on the table beside him, and set his glass down.

“Couldn't sleep?” Shaking his head, Vin accepted the outstretched hand as invitation and climbed into his father's lap, settling in with a sigh as he felt strong arms wrap around him. They sat that way for a few minutes, simply enjoying the physical contact. Quietly, Chris asked, “Did you have a good day?”

Nodding, Vin replied, “I don't have words big enough to tell how good this day was. It's been the best day since we got 'dopted.”

Smiling, Chris said, “Wow, that's pretty big, all right. I'm sorry that you were feeling sad when you first came to the restaurant.”

Ducking his head, Vin admitted, “I thought nobody 'membered it was my birthday.”

Snuggling the little boy closer, Chris said, “I'd never forget something that important.”

“I know, but...”

He could fill in that silence only too well. Vin had spent his seventh birthday in a foster home, where he was seen as nothing but a government check and house slave. He couldn't even remember where he'd been for his sixth birthday and his mother had been too ill to celebrate his fifth. So, in many ways, this was Vin's first chance to celebrate his birthday as any child should be able to.


“Yeah, buddy.”

“Just... thank you.” The words were inadequate, but he hadn't been able to find anything that said it better.

Hugging his son and planting a kiss on top of the child's head, Chris could read everything that those two words were meant to convey. “You're welcome, Cowboy.”

The End

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April 18, 2012