Summary: The boys are not pleased when they are stuck spending a week-end with Eli Joe.
Note: Very, very special thank-you to Marnie, who came up with the story idea and provided awesome feedback!
Additional Note: This was written before Supernatural moved to Wednesday night :-D
Everyone knew about the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms part of their job. A few even knew about the recently tacked on "and Explosives." But, many people didn't realize that arson fires fell under the ATF's purview. Buck knew Chris hated fires - after what had happened to Sarah and Adam, who could blame him? And he had to admit that it stuck in his craw, too, because the fires that involved ATF nearly always turned out to have been deliberately set. This one was at the Denver city yards, and involved thousands of tires and other city-owned equipment. It was probably the result of a prank, but it would smolder and smoke for days, spewing noxious fumes into Denver's already-thin air. Buck hoped they could find something that would lead them to the whoever had started the blaze. He'd probably be slapped with a fine and let go, but, at least he wouldn't be sitting back laughing and thinking he'd gotten away with it.
They weren't expecting it when Fire Chief Dinsmore stopped them at the barricade. Normally, their jackets that boldly proclaimed they were ATF got them into pretty much any place at a crime scene.
"I can't let you in yet," Dinsmore explained. There was a tense edge to his voice that Chris and Buck both sensed meant trouble.
"What's going on?" Chris asked, concerned.
“We were doing clean up when the heat caused some stacked recycling bins to collapse… Two firefighters were trapped . . . Molten plastic . . . it was like trapping them in concrete. The stuff hardened almost immediately. We're trying to cut through it now to get them out."
"Are they okay?" Buck shuddered. Plastic had a relatively low melting point, and cooled quickly, so hopefully the men weren't too badly injured . . . but still . . .
"We don't think they're burned too bad, but, their respirators were compromised, so they've inhaled some nasty stuff. We just don't know yet."
Another firefighter approached them and nodded briefly to the ATF agents. "Is one of you named Larabee?"
"That's me," Chris answered.
"One of the trapped men . . . he wants to talk to you. Said he heard your voice and you know him."
Chris vaguely knew a number of firefighters, but, wasn't close to any of them. He frowned at the request.
"His name is Eli Chavez. Said your kids go to school together."
Eli Chavez. Eli Joe's father. "Take me to him," Chris said.
As they edged their way through the bizarre scene, Chris was relieved to see things were not as bad as they could have been. The river of molten plastic that had trapped the two firefighters was only a fraction of an inch deep in most places. The work to free the men was going quickly. He recognized Chavez immediately despite the oxygen mask covering his face. He had the same thick, dark hair and olive skin as his son, and the family resemblance was unmistakable.
Chavez extended a gloved hand as Chris bent down to eye level with him.
"I need you to do me a favor, man," he said. His words were strained, his voice a raspy wheeze. It was obvious he was having trouble breathing.
"What do you need?" Chris asked.
He removed the mask to speak. "I got no one to look after my boy . . ." he began. "Toby here," he nodded at the other trapped firefighter, "he's my back-up plan." He tried to inhale, but his airway was clearly compromised. "So, that's no.... good."
"Hey, you're gonna be fine," Chris tried to reassure him.
"Yeah . . . yeah . . . I know . . . but for tonight . . . He goes to a sitter after school, and I pick him up when I get off my shift . . ." He tried again to gulp a breath of air, but was immediately seized by a fit of coughing.
The paramedic with him gently but firmly replaced the oxygen mask, cautioning, "Take it easy, Eli."
Chavez nodded, then glanced up at Chris. "Can you look after my boy for a couple of days?" he coughed. "I know he's a handful . . . but . . ."
Chris's mind raced through a list of excuses as to why that could not happen, the first and foremost being that Vin and JD hated Eli Joe. He couldn't count the number of dinner conversations that had revolved around the boys' righteous indignation at the other boy's bullying or just plain bad behavior. But, just as quickly as those thoughts came, they were replaced by thoughts of what he'd want if he were in Eli Chavez's place. Sure, he had Buck and the "uncles" to fall back on, but that was only because he was lucky.
"Don't worry about it," he assured the fallen firefighter. "I'll pick him up from school and we'll take it from there."
"My sister . . . Diana..." Chavez wheezed. "She lives in Albuquerque . . .. She can come up and stay with him, but, it will take her awhile to get here . . ."
"Don't worry," Chris repeated. "Buck and I will take care of Eli Joe. Everything will be fine."
Chavez nodded and then closed his eyes.
"How bad is it?" Chris asked the EMT when they were out of earshot.
The EMT shook his head. "PVC fumes are poisonous. It depends on the exposure. We'll know more when we get them to a hospital."
"I take it we can be pretty sure he won't be released tonight?" Chris asked. He figured Chavez knew this, which was why he'd asked him to take care of Eli Joe.
"No way," the paramedic shook his head. "It's going to be three or four days at least . . . there might be burns to deal with, too."
"Understood," Chris said, more calmly than he felt. This was going to be a hard situation to deal with all the way around. He realized that he and Buck would have to be the ones to break the news to Eli Joe, and then there was Eli Joe himself. The child was belligerent and stubborn even when he was on his best behavior.
He found Buck with the PD's lab technician, gathering samples that would later be analyzed to determine an ignition source for the blaze, information that was crucial to determining whether or not they were dealing with a crime scene.
"Looks like we're having company for tonight," Chris said.
Buck frowned. It wasn't unusual for the guys to get together over the weekend, but, Friday nights were usually spent with just the four of them, eating tacos or pizza and maybe renting a movie. They normally didn't have company.
Chris explained the situation, and Buck whistled softly. "Should be interesting," he said, then added, "Want me to be the one to tell them?"
"All three of them?" Chris replied hopefully. He had no problem leaving Buck to deal with the situation.
Buck clapped him on the shoulder. "I'll take care of it. Think you can spare me here? It might be better to tell Eli Joe sooner rather than wait."
Chris agreed. The investigation looked pretty straightforward. There were signs that a blind man could find pointing to the fire being a stupid prank that got out of control. "Go ahead. It shouldn't take us long to tie things up here. I'll meet you at the school in a couple of hours."
+ + + + + +
Buck's unexpected arrival at the boys' school - without Chris - immediately drew worried looks from both the teachers and Vin. JD ran to his arms the minute he spotted him, but Vin approached slowly, a look of fear and suspicion in his wary blue eyes. He lifted JD for a brief hug, and then set him back down. Addressing both boys, he said, "I have to have a little talk with Miss Roquette and Mr. Beidler."
"Where's Chris?" Vin asked bluntly. It only then occurred to Buck how him arriving early at the school, alone, might raise questions.
"He's fine . . . I just had to come early because I need to talk to the teachers about something . . ..private," he winked, trying to sound cheerful.
"Are you gonna ask Miss Roquette for a date?" JD asked innocently.
Buck felt himself flush. That idea had occurred to him, more than once, but he'd never voiced it in front of either boy. JD's perceptiveness caught him off guard, and he hoped Jill Roquette hadn't overheard.
"Where is Chris? What happened?" Vin asked. "You smell like smoke."
Buck sighed. "Vin, Chris is fine. I promise."
Jake Beidler walked up about that time. "Everything okay?" he asked, frowning.
"Can I talk to you a second?" Buck asked. "It's not about the boys," he added quickly.
They retreated to a small office off of the main classroom. Being a Montessori school, everything was pretty much open to view, and the office was separated from the classroom area by a glass wall. Naturally, every little face in the room turned to watch their conversation, even though they couldn't hear it. When Mr. Beidler came out and called for Eli Joe to come in, the whole class turned to stare at the dark-haired youngster.
Eli Joe was busy shredding Kleenex that he was dipping in water to form soggy balls. The ceiling above him was splattered with them.
Buck sighed inwardly as the little boy looked right at them and casually catapulted another dripping blob at the ceiling with a plastic ruler.
"You're gonna get arrested," someone teased.
"Shut up!" Eli Joe snapped. "I don't care."
He dropped the box of Kleenex on the floor and kicked it across the room before heading toward the office, completely unrepentant, and with his head held high. He kind of reminded Buck of Chris, to be honest.
Jake Beidler closed the door as soon as Eli Joe was in the room.
"Am I in trouble?" the boy asked, without sounding the least bit concerned about the possibility.
"No, Eli . . ."
"Eli - JOE," he corrected adamantly.
"I'm sorry . . . Eli Joe . . . Buck here needs to talk to you, okay?"
Buck quickly found himself being stared at by a pair of large brown eyes. He was wondering where to begin when Eli Joe said bluntly, "Is my dad dead?"
The question startled Buck. "NO! No . . . of course not . . ."
"You stink like a fire," he more or less repeated Vin's earlier observation.
Buck squatted down so he was eye-level with the boy. "Yes, son, there was a fire. Your dad was hurt . . . but he'll be okay . . ." Buck hoped that was true.
"He's not coming to pick me up?" There was the slightest hint of apprehension in the voice, but not a trace any place else on Eli Joe's face.
"No . . . he has to stay in the hospital for now. You'll be coming to stay with us for the week-end, maybe a few days after that."
"I don't want to!" Buck couldn't tell if it was anger or panic or just plain stubbornness he heard in the small voice. "I want to go home! I can stay by myself!"
"No, you can't," Jacob Beidler said firmly.
"I have a key." He showed them a house key with a Colorado Rockies logo on it that he wore on a chain around his neck. "I know how to cook my own food. I don't need to go home with you." He said the last word like it left a bad taste in his mouth.
"How will you get home?" Jake Beidler asked, as if he was taking the kid seriously. "You can't drive."
"Yes, I can," Eli Joe smirked, folding his arms across his chest. "My dad taught me."
Beidler was unmoved. "You don't have a car."
Eli Joe hesitated a moment, and then, seeing that he had no way out of the situation, he swung a kick at a nearby trash can. "This blows!"
"I know, Eli Joe," Jake Beidler said softly. "But, it's what your dad wants, and I think right now he doesn't need to worry about you being home alone. Buck will take you to your house so you can get some of your things, okay?" He tried to put a reassuring hand on the boy's shoulder, but Eli Joe shrugged him off.
This was going to be a real picnic, Buck was thinking, when Eli Joe looked up at him again.
"What happened?" he asked, his voice more subdued. "To my dad, I mean?"
Buck told him as much as he knew.
"Is he burned-ed up?" There was definite fear in his voice that time, but his facial expression remained calm.
"Maybe a little . . .but we're hoping it's not too bad."
Eli Joe nodded, and then repeated, "This blows."
+ + + + + + +
Buck decided to have a brief conversation with Vin and JD to let them know what was going on.
Vin had pretty much perfected his version of the Larabee Glare, but up until then, Buck had never seen JD use it.
"I don't like him," JD said. "He can't sleep in my room and he can't play with my toys."
"He can't touch my stuff, neither," Vin said.
Buck sighed. "Look, we'll worry about that when we get to the house, okay? I'm going to take Eli Joe home to get some of his things. Uncle Josiah will give Chris a ride here, and I'll pick you all up later."
"I don't wanna ride home with him," JD huffed.
Buck's patience had worn thin. "I don't care. And you better not be ugly about it, you hear me?"
JD's response was to pout. Vin glared even harder.
Both boys gave him the stink-eye as he left with Eli Joe.
Buck expected some resistance from the boy, but, Eli Joe calmly climbed into the back seat and buckled himself into the larger of the two car seats - Vin's seat. Buck wondered how they were going to work that out when the five of them were in the car. Maybe he'd let that be Chris's problem.
He used his GPS to find the Chavez house. It was a small, neat stucco home with a xeriscaped front yard. Buck pulled into the carport and Eli Joe let himself out of the car and opened the side door with his key.
The house was surprisingly neat and clean, even though the pantry was crammed with food they only let the boys have on occasion. Buck realized it was fortunate they had Mrs. Potter to cook for them.
He followed Eli Joe down the hallway. There was a closed door with colorful cut-out letters that said "Eli's Room." Across from it was another door with the same letters that said "Joey's Room." The door had been secured with a small padlock. Thinking that odd, Buck fingered the lock casually.
Eli Joe was on him in an instant. "You can't go in there!"
Buck removed his hand from the lock. "Is Joey your brother?" he asked.
"My SISTER," Eli Joe replied as if Buck were an idiot. "And not any more." Buck was curious, but he knew he wasn't going to get any further explanation. He thought there was a girl at the school named 'Joey,' too, and he wondered when it had become a girl's name.
Eli Joe turned away and pulled a chair up to the hall closet. He stood on it to reach a small suitcase on the top shelf. Buck thought about helping him, but he knew he'd be rebuffed.
Eli Joe took the suitcase and put it down on his bed, and then just stood there staring at it.
Finally, he looked up at Buck. "What should I put in it?" he asked.
"Well . . .. Your PJs, for one. Toothbrush. Hairbrush. Some clothes . . . don't forget socks and underwear. . . Want me to help you pack?"
"Well, okay then . . . just make sure you have enough for three or four days."
The process went quickly. Eli Joe's clothes were neatly organized, his drawers labeled with what went inside each one.
His packing finished, he pulled back the covers on his bed to reveal that the conspicuous lump beneath them was a stuffed animal. Buck cringed when he saw it was a Hello Kitty with a pink and purple ribbon around its neck. Vin and JD would never let that one slide, and even Buck himself had to concentrate on keeping a straight face. Everything he'd ever seen to do with Hello Kitty had been for girls.
Eli Joe reverently placed the toy on top of his clothes and zipped up the suitcase.
Then he went to the kitchen and began to put microwave bowls of ravioli and mac-and-cheese into his backpack.
Buck cleared his throat. "You don't need that, son," he said calmly. "We have plenty of food."
Eli Joe looked at him uncertainly. He didn't take any more food off the shelf, but, he did leave what was in the back pack.
"Ready to go?" Buck asked cheerfully.
Eli Joe just pushed past him and headed for the door.
+ + + + + + +
They returned to the school and Eli Joe surprised Buck by announcing he had to pick up his homework assignments. Buck had assumed that Eli Joe was the type of kid who was perfectly happy to just blow off school entirely.
"It surprises most people that he's actually one of our better students," Jake Beidler explained.
It sure surprised the hell out of Buck, that was for sure. Maybe the Montessori environment was the right match for him. He knew it had been for Vin, whom the public school had placed in kindergarten with kids who were two years younger than he was. It was where he belonged, academically, but it hadn't done much for his self-esteem. This school wasn't cheap - he was sure Eli Joe's dad probably had to pinch some pennies to afford the tuition. Apparently, it was worth it, though.
Chris showed up while the boys were gathering their things. Buck didn't mention the issue of the car seat. He'd done all the other dirty work, and was happy to let Chris figure that one out.
Much to his chagrin, Chris simply reached into the back of the SUV, tore loose a couple of Velcro tabs and a child's booster seat with a five-point harness magically appeared in the center of the seat.
Buck had completely forgotten the car had a built-in child seat, and the boys had apparently never noticed it.
"Oh, wow! That's cool!" Vin said.
"I want to sit in it!" JD announced.
"I saw it first!" Vin noted.
Chris cut the argument short. "It's Eli Joe's seat. You boys have your own."
Eli Joe smugly pushed past them and climbed into the car.
"No fair!" JD whined.
"What did I tell you earlier?" Buck reminded him.
As before, JD's response was to pout.
Eli Joe looked only vaguely intimidated at being sandwiched in between Vin and JD. For some reason, Buck had always thought of him as physically larger than other kids his age, but, he was the same size as Vin, even though he was a year older. He simply wasn't afraid to bully kids bigger than he was, Buck surmised, and again was reminded of Chris.
Once everyone was in the car, Buck cheerfully asked the usual Friday question. "Tacos or pizza tonight, boys? What will it be?"
"Tacos!" / "Peet-sa" Vin and JD yelled at the same time.
"How about you, Eli Joe?"
The little boy looked surprised to have been asked, but only for a moment. He glared at Buck. "My dad and me make enchiladas on Friday night, and then we watch Supernatural."
Buck was sorry he'd asked. He didn't have a clue how to make enchiladas, and didn't know if Vin or JD even liked them. And, they never let the boys watch Supernatural because it gave JD nightmares.
There was an uncertain pause in the conversation before Chris said, "I have an idea . . ." and pulled out his cell phone.
Seconds later, he was talking to Inez at the Saloon, who reassured him that yes, she knew how to make enchiladas, and would be happy to do so. When they pulled up to her establishment a few minutes later, she had a disposable roasting pan covered with foil ready and waiting.
"Just pop them in the oven at about 350 for 20 minutes or so," she told Chris, after he had explained the reason for the odd request. "They are just cheese enchiladas. That's what a lot of people eat on Fridays."
Chris looked puzzled, until Inez smiled and explained that a lot of Hispanics were also Roman Catholics and still kept the tradition of no meat on Fridays. She handed him two large cardboard cartons, also. "Can't have enchiladas without rice and frijoles," she laughed.
The food smelled wonderful, but when he climbed into the car with it, JD wrinkled his nose and said. "What's that smell? It smells like Taco Bell."
"Little Bit, you like Taco Bell," Buck reminded him.
"But I want PEET-SAH!" JD whined.
"Well, we're trying something new tonight," Chris said, in the voice that let JD know he wasn't going to argue.
Vin huffed and folded his arms across his chest. Eli Joe's expression was unreadable. He had apparently also mastered what Vin referred to as the "empty face."
Buck had Chris pull into the last Circle K before they hit the road to the ranch. He went in and purchased a variety of ice cream treats that he hoped would pacify the boys should dinner prove to be a disaster. He knew that was probably Bad Parenting, but, for tonight, keeping the peace was foremost in his mind. He chose the Circle K because they also sold small, disposable beer coolers. It was a fairly long ride to the ranch and ice cream didn't make the trip well in a regular grocery bag.
While Chris carried dinner into the house, Buck got the boys out of the car. Vin and JD immediately ran to the barn as they always did to feed and water their horses. Buck was taking Eli Joe's suitcase out of the back when he noticed the boy staring at the corral.
As if he sensed Buck's eyes on him, Eli Joe turned and looked up at Buck. "You got horses," he stated, giving no hint of how he felt about that one way or the other.
"Sure do," Buck grinned. "Would you like to take a look?"
Eli Joe nodded hesitantly.
Buck led him to the barn and guided him to Beavis's stall. The big horse was happily munching the scoop of oats Vin had just given him. Eli Joe reached out to touch him, but, pulled his hand back at the last minute.
"You can go ahead and pet him," Buck assured him.
Eli Joe put out his hand again, tentatively, but Vin announced, "Don't touch Peso. He's MY horse and he BITES!" and Eli Joe quickly withdrew his hand and put both hands in his pocket.
"Milagro is mine," JD said. "an' you can't touch her, neither."
Buck sighed, truly shocked at the boys' animosity. He and Chris were going to have to have a talk and set some ground rules.
He loved his boys dearly, and from everything he'd heard, Eli Joe had done more than his share to earn their hard feelings, but, now was not the time and place.
He made a move to put his hand on Eli Joe's shoulder, but then remembered the little boy's earlier reaction, and just touched him lightly. "Well, Beavis is a very friendly horse. We can take him out for a ride tomorrow, if you like"
Vin and JD both turned to him, their eyes little brown and blue pinpoints of resentment. But Beavis gently butted his head against Eli Joe's chest and Buck swore he saw the hint of a smile on the boy's face.
Dinner was almost ready by the time they trooped back to the house, showed Eli Joe around, and got washed up.
Inez had suggested chopping up some tomatoes, onions, lettuce and peppers to top off the enchiladas. They didn't have any peppers, but the other stuff was neatly chopped on a plate in the center of the table. Eli Joe helped himself - he apparently approved of Inez's efforts.
"What is that?" Vin made a face at the enchiladas.
Buck dumped a spatula full on his plate without responding.
"Do we gotta eat it?" JD whined.
Buck did the same for him.
"It's enchiladas, and yes, you have to at least try it," Chris said.
"We gotta say grace," Eli Joe stated sternly.
Chris and Buck looked at each other. It wasn't something they did with the boys on a regular basis - usually only when Josiah was around.
Vin and JD, to their credit, both folded their hands and bowed their heads.
"Would you like to do the honors?" Buck asked Eli Joe.
Without hesitating, Eli Joe bowed his head and prayed, "Thank you for this food, God, but there are lots of starving people so you should give them food, too. Amen."
"Amen," said Vin.
"Yeah, Amen," JD echoed.
Vin picked up his fork and poked at the enchilada. JD was bolder and took a mouthful.
"Ooooooh . . . this is GOOD!" he said.
Vin glared at his traitorous brother before taking his own bite.
Buck and Chris could tell that Vin was struggling to look like he hated it. His eyes told a different story, though. So did the second and third helping he ended up eating.
"Can we have this again?" JD said when they were done. "Do you think Inez can tell Miz Potter how to make it?"
"Anybody can make enchiladas," Eli Joe scoffed. "May I be excused?"
"Sure," Chris said. Without being told, Eli Joe gathered up his dishes, scraped them into the trash, and put them in the dishwasher.
Vin and JD looked at each other sheepishly, then excused themselves and also took care of their dishes.
Chris and Buck exchanged baffled glances and shrugged.
+ + + + + + +
Eli Joe had found his way to the den and had turned on the TV. Vin and JD took out their Legos and started to quietly play with them. Apparently, war was not going to break out any time soon., so Chris and Buck had a few moments alone.
"Stopped by the hospital before I came to the school," Chris said. "Eli Chavez isn't doing good. He's listed as critical and is in the ICU."
"Burns?" Buck shuddered.
"No, surprisingly he only had some first degree burns on his legs. They'll hurt like hell, but, should heal okay. It's mostly smoke inhalation. They were having trouble maintaining an airway . . . It was touch and go for awhile, apparently."
Buck shook his head. "I don't think he needs to know any of this," he nodded in Eli Joe's direction.
Chris agreed, but said, "I'll call Allen Dinsmore first thing in the morning for an update. We'll take it from there."
They usually let the boys stay up until 10:00 on Friday nights, so saying they had to go to bed would not work with either of them. Eli Joe had put the TV on Channel 2 and was holding the remote. He was apparently bound and determined to watch Supernatural.
"Why don't you boys go get your PJs on and then we'll have some ice cream," Buck suggested.
Eli Joe saw right through the ruse, Buck could tell, but, surprisingly, he gave them no argument. He headed off to the guest room - but took the remote with him.
+ + + + + + +
Vin and JD got into their PJs and were walking by the room where Eli Joe was going to sleep when they spotted the open suitcase on the bed. Eli Joe had gone into the bathroom to change, so, they had to go look at his stuff.
It looked like mostly just clothes, but poking out from beneath the shirt Eli Joe had worn that day was the ear of a stuffed animal.
Vin pulled out the Hello Kitty and stared at it for a moment, dumbfounded. Boys didn't play with Hello Kitty. Didn't Eli Joe know that? He was almost embarrassed for him.
He was about to start laughing when Eli Joe came out of the bathroom and saw the Hello Kitty in his hands. He gave Vin That Look that meant he was really mad.
JD was scared of Eli Joe when he was mad and he backed away.
Eli Joe didn't scare Vin, though. Eli Joe grabbed for the Hello Kitty and Vin neatly sidestepped out of his way.
Then, to JD's utter horror, Vin tossed the toy to him. "Keep-away!" Vin called out.
JD knew 'Keep-away' was a game where you kept throwing something while the person who wanted it tried to grab it. He supposed it was funny to the people throwing things, but, some of the bigger kids at school - including Eli Joe - did that to him sometimes because he was little, and he didn't like it one bit. Still, he was thinking he should throw the Hello Kitty back to Vin before Eli Joe came at him.
But, to his surprise, Eli Joe ignored him completely, and headed straight for Vin and punched him hard on the side of the face.
It wasn't what Vin had expected to happen, so he wasn't ready for it and he fell down on his butt. He looked like he wanted to cry, but, he didn't.
When Eli Joe turned to JD, JD quickly handed him the Hello Kitty.
Vin had gone from being startled to being mad, and he got up off the floor. JD thought he was going to hit Eli Joe back, but he never got a chance. Eli Joe turned around and punched his face again.
"Leave it alone!" Eli Joe shouted. "You can't touch it!"
JD, confused and frightened, couldn't stop the words that tumbled out of his mouth. "How come you got a Hello Kitty?" he asked, and immediately flinched, afraid Eli Joe was going to hit him, too.
"I'm taking care of it," Eli Joe said softly, as he placed it back in his suit case.
"For who?" JD just couldn't stop himself from talking sometimes.
Vin wiped a tear out of his eye. He wasn't going to cry, not in front of Eli Joe. Besides, now he wanted to know, "Who's Joey?"
"My baby sister," Eli Joe said softly, gently stroking the Kitty's oversized head.
"I didn't know you had a sister," Vin said. He wasn't sure why, but now he was sorry he'd messed with Eli Joe's toy.
"I don't. She died," Eli Joe said.
"Oh," Vin replied softly.
"I have to take care of it for her."
"Until when?" JD asked innocently.
"Until FOR-E-VER!" Eli Joe shot back, and slammed the lid on his suitcase.
"What happened to her?" Vin asked cautiously, afraid Eli Joe might hit him again.
"She ran in the street, and a car runned her over," Eli Joe took a gasping breath. "Then my mama went to Heaven to take care of her."
"Your mama is dreaming of angels?" JD said.
"What?" Eli Joe frowned.
"My mama is dreaming of angels," JD said. "So is Vin's."
"Your mamas are dead," Eli Joe said bluntly.
JD blinked back tears, but then said softly, "I know."
Buck walked in on the subdued scene. "You boys ready for bed?" he asked, frowning.
JD nodded, uncharacteristically calm and silent. Vin turned and nodded and Buck noticed the large bruise on his face, next to his right eye.
He held the boys chin to examine the injury. "What did you do to your eye?" he asked.
Vin shrugged. "Nothin'"
"That doesn't look like 'nothin'," Buck said.
Vin put his fingers on the bruise as if he was just noticing it. JD wasn't at all sure what to do, so he decided to follow his brother's lead.
"I musta bumped my head somewhere," Vin shrugged again, and then said cheerfully, "We get to watch Supernatural, tonight, right?"
+ + + + + + +
Luckily, the Supernatural episode wasn't especially scary, and JD quickly untucked his head from Buck's shoulder where he had been hiding it to enjoy his ice cream.
The bruise on Vin's face had darkened and grown larger. Chris and Buck weren't stupid - the knew the boys had been fighting. What puzzled them was Vin and JD's reluctance to say what had really happened to Vin's eye.
Nathan called just as the show was ending and Chris took it in the kitchen. Nathan knew the EMTs assigned to Eli Chavez's engine company and had asked them to keep him posted. The news could have been better - Chavez was still in ICU, although his condition had stabilized. They also told Nathan they were having trouble contacting Chavez's sister in Albuquerque. The kept getting a "no signal" when attempting to call her cell phone. They'd asked the APD to see if they could locate her, but, on a Friday night, that couldn't be a priority.
When Chris returned, Eli Joe looked up expectantly and asked, "Was that my dad?"
Chris shook his head. He wouldn't lie to the boy, because he'd see right through it. "That was my friend Nathan. He just checked on your dad, and he's resting." That much was probably true. With Chavez's type of injury, he'd probably been intubated, and that meant sedation.
"Can I call him?"
"No, son, I'm sorry."
Eli Joe accepted that answer calmly, to Chris's surprise.
"You boys need to get to bed now," Buck said, standing up with a sleeping JD in his arms.
"Are we really going riding tomorrow?" Vin asked hopefully.
Buck and Chris had planned to spend the weekend replacing some roof shingles lost in the last wind storm, but maybe that could wait.
"Only if you get up bright and early," Buck grinned.
Vin headed for his room without argument. Surprisingly, so did Eli Joe.
As Buck was tucking JD into bed, Chris came in to say goodnight to Vin.
After pulling the blankets up over his adopted son, Chris turned the boy's head to look at his black eye. "You gonna tell me how you got that shiner, son?" he asked.
Vin seemed to think it over, and then replied, "Is it okay if I don't?"
Chris decided not to force the issue. "Does it hurt? Do you want some ice for it?"
Vin shook his head.
Chris patted him gently and then turned to leave.
"Do you know what happened to Eli Joe's mama?"
Chris, in fact, did know, but, he wasn't going to elaborate.
"She died," he answered simply.
"But how? What happened to her?"
Nathan knew from his EMT friends that Elyse Chavez had committed suicide. It happened four months after she had accidentally backed her car over her 2-year-old daughter. Eli Joe hadn't been told the complete story of his sister's death, but, he'd been the one who had found his mother unresponsive, lying on her daughter's bed. He was 5 years old at the time, the same age as JD. Chris didn't think Vin needed to know any of this, especially not at bed time.
He didn't want to lie to Vin, so he avoided the question entirely.
"You get some sleep," he said, and then turned out the ceiling light and shut the door.
+ + + + + + +
Twenty plus years in law enforcement had given Chris Larabee a sixth sense for when something wasn't quite right. He had awoken from a sound sleep and glanced at the bedside clock. It was 5:15 am. He crawled out of bed and went to check on the boys. Vin and JD were still fast asleep, but, the bed in the guest room was empty.
"Shit," he muttered to himself.
Panic began to set in after he searched the house and Eli Joe was nowhere to be found. He hastily pulled on a pair of jeans and his boots, and slipped on his work jacket. Even though it would be warm later in the day, at that hour of the morning, the temperature was barely above freezing. He hoped to hell Eli Joe hadn't run off, although he wouldn't say he could blame the little boy if he had. Vin and JD had done just about all they could to make him feel as unwelcome as possible.
He looked down the road leading away from the ranch, but didn't see anything. Then, he noticed the barn door was ajar. He was ashamed to realize that his first concern was for the horses, and not for Eli Joe. He didn't know if the boy's obvious dislike of Vin and JD would extend to harming their animals.
But, he was relieved to discover the horses safe, and Eli Joe huddled on a bale of hay near Beavis's stall. He was still wearing his pajamas, so he had to be cold.
Chris cleared his throat so he wouldn't startle him.
Eli Joe looked up briefly, but said nothing. Chris noticed that he was clutching a stuffed animal close to his chest, and then realized the little boy was crying softly.
"Eli Joe?" he said gently. "What's going on?" He sat down next to him, but didn't touch him. "Everything okay?" he asked.
Eli Joe buried his face in the stuffed animals fur. "I don't want my daddy to die," he sobbed softly.
Chris didn't know what to do . . . he didn't want to lie and tell him his dad would be okay, because at that point, he didn't know that for sure, so he took a different approach. "It's pretty scary, isn't it?"
Eli Joe looked up at him. "I called his cell phone. I called and called and called it, but he doesn't answer. He always answers."
At least he could respond to that truthfully. "Well, son, people have to turn their cell phones off in a hospital. You aren't allowed to use them."
"That's STUPID!" Eli Joe kicked at the hay bale, briefly startling Beavis, who quickly forgave him. "How are you supposed to call people?"
Chris sighed. "Well, you aren't. You are supposed to let them rest so they can get better."
Eli Joe looked him in the eye - something most people didn't do. "If he dies, everyone will be gone," he said and then shivered.
Chris slipped off his jacket and placed it around the boy's shoulders.
"I don't want to forget them," he sniffed.
"Forget them?" Chris asked.
Eli Joe nodded. "When my baby sister died, my dad told me I should just try to forget her, so I wouldn't be sad."
Chris held his tongue, wondering what the hell Eli Chavez had been thinking. Then he remembered what it had been like after Sarah and Adam died. He could not imagine having to deal with a child's grief as well as his own, and realized that Eli Chavez had probably meant well. "You didn't, though" he stated calmly.
"No!" he said angrily. "And I made her name part of mine, so they would have to say it and say it and not forget her, either!"
"Your name isn't Eli Joe?"
The boy shook his head. "My middle name is Gordon, like my dad. But, I make everyone say 'Eli Joe' so they never forget Joey."
Chris wasn't a trained therapist, and he had no idea how to correctly respond to that, so, he went with gut instinct. "Well, I think that's a good idea."
Eli Joe looked surprised. "You do?"
"I do," Chris affirmed.
He heard a faint rustling sound outside the barn door. It sounded suspiciously like a pair of small feet trying to tread quietly. He assumed it was Vin, since JD would have crashed into something before he even got to the barn.
"You can come on in, Vin," he said softly. But, the next sound he heard was running footsteps headed away from the barn.
+ + + + + + +
Vin had awakened thinking he had dreamed that Eli Joe was at their house, but, then he looked in the guest room and sure enough, Eli Joe's stuff was there. After going through the rest of the house, he discovered that neither Chris nor Eli Joe were there. He stepped outside and saw the barn door had been opened. The ground was icy cold on his bare feet and halfway to the barn, he began to think maybe he shouldn't be outside in his pajamas.
When he peeked inside and saw Chris sitting next to Eli Joe the way he sat with him sometimes, he got all mixed up inside. It didn't make him mad, exactly, but, he still didn't think Chris should be sitting with Eli Joe like that. He was Chris's son, not Eli Joe.
He stood there shivering, listening to what they were saying. What if Eli Joe's dad died? Where would he go? Thinking about that made him mixed up, too. He didn't like Eli Joe, that was for sure. But he didn't want him to have to go live in a warehouse like him and JD. He hoped Chris didn't want to adopt him, too, though. That would suck.
No sooner did he have that thought than he heard Chris tell him to come inside the barn. He thought he was being quiet. How did Chris even know he was there?
He didn't know what to think. He didn't want to go into the barn and face Eli Joe, and he felt like he was going to cry if he kept standing there, so, he turned and ran back to the house.
The same instincts that had awakened Chris had roused Buck, also. He was almost bowled over by Vin as the little boy darted through the back door.
"Whoa, there, cowboy!" he said, avoiding a collision at the last moment. "What are you doing outside so early? Where is Chris?"
"He's in the barn, with Eli Joe," Vin said.
Buck could hear the hurt in Vin's voice.
"What are they doing out there?"
"Just talkin'," Vin said softly. This time, he noted a hint of jealousy.
Not to be left out, JD shambled into the kitchen rubbing his eyes. "How come everyone is up already?" he blinked. The men and boys had an understanding - Vin and JD could get up any time they wanted on Saturday morning, but they weren't to wake the dads before 7:30.
"Well, I don't rightly know, Little Bit . . ." Buck said. He was about to go out to the barn to find out when Chris came through the door with Eli Joe, who was draped in Chris's work jacket.
The little boy calmly removed the jacket and hung it on a post in the mud room, then wiped furiously at his eyes. Without a word to Vin or JD, he marched past them, head held high despite the Hello Kitty tucked under his arm, and headed down the hall.
"Where's he going?" Vin asked, peevishly.
"I think he was crying," JD observed, his little brow furrowing. "Did something happen to his da?"
Buck looked at Chris for an answer to that.
"No," Chris shook his head. "But he's afraid it might . . .." He gave Vin a stern look. "Just like you would be afraid if something bad happened to me or to Buck."
Vin cast his eyes downward.
Buck knelt down to eye level with the two boys and put a hand on each one's shoulder. "Look, I know you boys don't like Eli Joe . . . but right now, I think he could probably use a friend. It's not easy to be scared and alone in a strange place."
He looked pointedly at Vin, who had been in at least one foster home. He knew Vin got the message when he looked down at his bare feet.
Buck gave them a moment and then asked, "Do you know what a truce is?"
Both boys shook their heads.
"Well, that's when people who normally fight with each other decide to stop fighting for just a little while . . ."
"Like an armistice?" JD asked.
Buck raised an eyebrow. He had no idea how JD knew that word. Obviously, they were getting their money's worth out of the school.
"Yeah, like an armistice," he replied.
"What's an armasiss?" Vin asked, now annoyed because JD knew a word he didn't.
"Well, it's what I just said. You decide to stop fighting, even if it's just for a little while."
Vin didn't care for the sound of that. Buck was telling him to be nice to Eli Joe. He didn't know if he could do that, although he did know for sure he didn't want to.
But then he thought about what Eli Joe had told Chris in the barn, and what he'd said about the Hello Kitty.
It suddenly occurred to him that even if Eli Joe was an orc, he was also a little boy, just like him and JD. And he had people he loved, and had lost them just like they had. He loved his dad, and his dad probably loved him, even if Vin couldn't understand why.
JD was looking at him, waiting to see how he'd respond. He was wishing JD would think for himself sometimes when the younger boy said, "Okay, we'll have a truce."
Vin squinted at his brother, now annoyed that JD had included him by saying 'we.'
"Vin?" Chris said. "How about it?"
Vin could see he was outnumbered. But, when he thought about it, he didn't really want to be mean to Eli Joe . . . at least, not until his dad was okay. "Okay," Vin sighed. "Truce."
Eli Joe returned, having washed the tears and barn dirt from his face and hands. He parked himself in front of the TV and turned it on, looking for cartoons. However, that early in the morning, all that was on was infomercials.
He settled on one for some kind of magic juice extractor. It so happened that was one of Vin and JD's favorites. They never seemed to tire of watching the spokesperson drop whole fruits and veggies into the machine to disappear and come out liquefied in a rainbow of unappetizing colors.
JD sat down on the opposite end of the couch. "I like the part where he puts the big cabbage in," he told Eli Joe, who grunted and nodded approvingly.
Vin sat down on the floor in front of JD. "How come he never does a banana? He should do a banana. I bet it would look like a booger when it came out"
"We should get one of those and try it," JD suggested.
"Yeah," Eli Joe said softly. "That would be cool."
Chris and Buck thought about starting breakfast, but decided to wait a few minutes. It was a good call, because soon, all three boys had gone back to sleep.
+ + + + + + +
The boys had just finished breakfast when the phone rang. Buck picked it up while the other four people in the room held their breath. Vin and JD were sure the call was about Eli Joe's dad, because the Uncles never called on the weekend unless something was planned.
After a few 'Uh-huh's and 'I understand's, Buck said "Well, alright then!" with a cheerful smile and added, "I'll let him know!"
Eli Joe's big, dark eyes were looking at him expectantly. "That was Nathan," Buck told the group. Then he looked at Chris. "They ran some tests this morning, and it looks like most of the damage was to Eli's upper airway. He's responding to the steroids. There's no serious lung damage." He looked at Eli Joe, "Your dad's going to be okay."
"YES!" Vin said, before he could catch himself.
JD clapped his hands together. "Yay!"
Eli Joe actually smiled. "Can I go see him? When can I go home?"
"You can see him tomorrow. I'm not sure when he'll be discharged, though."
Eli Joe's smile faded slightly. Chris rescued the moment by asking "Who's ready to go riding?"
"Really?" Eli Joe said. "I thought you were just kidding."
"Well, Beavis is expecting a ride," Buck said. "We can't disappoint him."
Beavis was a huge horse - but he was also rock steady, what was referred to as 'bomb proof.' He would be a good ride for Eli Joe.
Buck saddled up Nathan's horse for himself. It was calm and gentle, like Beavis, and he figured if he rode between Eli Joe and JD, Beavis and Milagro would keep his pace. Chris and Vin could follow behind so the three mounts wouldn't see the ornery Peso and get ideas, and Chris could keep his focus on Vin. Vin was turning into an exceptional rider - both boys were - but even though he seemed to be the only person Peso really responded to, Chris was cautious about trusting the big gelding.
Eli Joe was unexpectedly strong and athletic - he was able to climb up into the saddle by himself, something neither Vin nor JD could do. JD didn't even notice - being a short little guy, he was used to not being able to reach. Vin, however, immediately put on a grumpy face as Chris lifted him onto Peso. Peso snorted derisively at Beavis. If Chris didn't know better, he would think that horse could read Vin's mind.
Buck showed Eli Joe how to nudge Beavis's flank to get him moving. When it worked, Eli Joe began to bounce up and down, slamming the stirrups against the horse's side. "I want to go fast!" he said.
Beavis calmly withstood the abuse. Truth be told, there wasn't much that could work Beavis into a gallop unless you knew the right signals.
"We're going to take it slow," Chris said, "and we aren't going anywhere until you sit still."
Eli Joe glared at him, and Chris glared right back. Eli Joe sat still.
Buck led Beavis and Milagro out of the coral. "We'll ride up to the lake," he announced.
"You got a lake?" Eli Joe asked.
"I falled in it once," JD said. "It has fish in it, too. Can we go to the fish house?"
The 'fish house' was a small wooden shed that someone ages ago had built near the lake. At one point, Chris had gotten the idea to leave their fishing gear there instead of hauling it back and forth.
"We don't have any bait," Buck noted.
"We can dig up worms," Eli Joe said, almost enthusiastically. "That's what my dad and I do."
Buck laughed. "Sounds like a plan."
+ + + + + + +
The ride up to the lake was relatively peaceful once Eli Joe realized that he could not get Beavis to move any faster.
The lake was really more of a pond - an odd depression near the crest of the mountain that had filled with water from melting snow, but had no stream to drain it off. Since the boys had come to live with them, Chris had stocked it with a few trout, most of which had quickly become wary of biting a hook.
All three boys were determined to fish, though, so they eagerly dug for worms while Chris and Buck started a fire to roast the hot dogs they had brought along for lunch. It was slow going since they didn't have shovels.
Vin and JD worked together, while Eli Joe was left to dig his own hole. Buck had hoped that they would interpret their "truce" to mean that they should try to include Eli Joe in their activities, but, apparently that was not going to come easily for them.
Their sons pretty much ignored the other boy until they noticed Eli Joe examining something he had dug out of the ground.
Vin frowned. "What is that?"
Eli Joe curled his hand around the object. "It's mine. I found it."
"I wanna see!" JD stood up and approached Eli Joe. Eli Joe hid the object behind his back.
"If you found it here it's ours, 'cause this is our property," Vin scolded.
Eli Joe laughed. "You're such a retard."
Chris figured it was time to intervene.
"No name-calling," he admonished Eli Joe. Then, to Vin, he said, "If he found it, it's his, so long as it's not something dangerous." The satisfied smirk that had erupted briefly on Vin's face vanished.
Chris walked over to Eli Joe. "What did you find, son? Let me see it." He held out his hand.
Eli Joe's response was to toss whatever it was into the lake.
Chris didn't take the bait. "Fine, now it's no one's." He returned to the fire. He'd be damned if he'd let Eli Joe push his buttons.
JD was not so easily distracted. He walked to the edge of the lake and got down on his hands and knees, squinting to see if he could find whatever Eli Joe had thrown.
No one knew that the bank was unstable, and when it gave way suddenly, JD was gone in an instant.
Chris and Buck had their backs to the water, and Vin was concentrating on his digging, so the first thing that made them realize something was amiss was Eli Joe shouting "Hey!"
They all turned just in time to see a large splash and then two small heads of dark hair bobbing in the water.
Eli Joe had grabbed JD from behind, around the neck, and the younger boy was clawing frantically at the surface.
"What the hell?!"
Chris was in the water in an instant. He snatched JD from Eli Joe's grasp and handed him up to Buck. Then, he grabbed Eli Joe by the arm and pushed him up roughly onto the bank.
JD was coughing and crying and shivering. The water was icy cold, but the mid-day temperature was a warm mid-80s, so hypothermia wasn't a concern. Both boys would warm up again quickly.
"What happened?" Buck demanded of Eli Joe.
"Did you push him?" Chris asked angrily.
Vin's fists were curled up - not a good sign.
Eli Joe said nothing in his own defense. It was JD who spoke up between sobs.
"I falled in . . .. AGAIN!" he wailed.
Eli Joe pushed his wet hair back from his forehead. "He should learn to swim if you have a lake," he admonished.
Chris and Buck looked at each other, sheepishly. For one thing, it suddenly dawned on them that Eli Joe had jumped in after JD - they had just jumped to the conclusion that he'd pushed him for no reason other than he was Eli Joe. Secondly, he was right about the swimming lessons. They had planned to enroll the boys in a swimming class after the first time JD had fallen into the lake, but, somehow, they had just never gotten around to it. While JD had never been in any real danger of drowning with Chris and Buck right there, that was still no excuse.
"Boy's got a point," Buck said.
Chris held out a hand to Eli Joe. "C'mon, let's get you dried off and we'll have some lunch."
Vin didn't know what to think. As far as he was concerned, it was Eli Joe's fault JD fell in the lake. Couldn't Buck and Chris see that? And he should have been the one to jump in after his brother, except he couldn't swim, either. On top of that, he really wanted to know what Eli Joe had thrown in the lake.
He walked over to where Eli Joe had been digging and knelt down beside the hole. A tiny plastic foot was just barely visible in the dirt, and after some clawing around, Vin uncovered a Spiderman action figure - minus the head.
He was going to rinse it off in the lake, but then thought better of it. He didn't want to end up in the water, too.
He wiped as much of the dirt off of it as he could with his shirt and then walked over to join the others at the fire.
"Look at this," he said, holding the headless doll out for everyone to see.
Chris took it from him, and for an instant, he looked sad. "Where did you find this?" Chris asked.
"In the hole Eli Joe dug," Vin said.
Chris smiled, but still looked sad. "When Adam was 4, we came up here for a picnic. He buried some of his toys for fun . . . When it was time to go, we couldn't find Spiderman. We looked all over, but, Adam couldn't remember where he'd buried him."
"Who's Adam?" Eli Joe asked.
Chris managed a smile. "He was my little boy . . .. Before Vin."
To his credit, Eli Joe seemed to know instinctively that something bad had happened to Adam. He didn't press Chris for more details. He simply nodded and said, "Oh."
"You shoudn't'a throwed his head in the water!" Vin said crossly. He was only guessing, but from the look on Eli Joe's face, he was right.
Everyone expected a belligerent retort from Eli Joe, but instead, he spoke softly and said, "I didn't know it belonged to someone."
There was an awkward silence while everyone absorbed the fact that Eli Joe was apparently sorry, even though he was not about to say it in so many words.
"Well," Buck said finally, "who's ready for lunch?"
They feasted on hot dogs and potato chips with marshmallows for desert. Buck had found a bag of giant marshmallows that were the size of tennis balls, and all three boys were delighted with them.
Much to the consternation of the adults, who took their time roasting their marshmallows to an even, golden perfection, Vin, JD and Eli Joe preferred the quicker method of actually setting the treats on fire. Vin and JD had previously assured them that there was nothing quite like the taste of a black coating of ash with a gooey sweet center. Apparently, Eli Joe agreed. However, the marshmallows were so big, it was hard to blow out the flames, so after much hilarity as one marshmallow after another was incinerated, Chris and Buck took over the roasting to avoid starting a forest fire.
Afterwards, everyone was sticky with marshmallow goo, so Buck went to the lake to fetch some water in a plastic bucket. There, just inches from the bank, was the Spiderman head. It must have been pushed closer to the shore with all of JD's thrashing. He looked back at the fire. Incredibly, everyone seemed to be having a good time. He retrieved the Spiderman head and decided to give it to Chris later, so as to not dampen the mood of their little gathering.
On the way back, Eli Joe wanted to ride alongside Chris. Chris was okay with this, but, Vin wasn't. He kicked Peso's flanks and tore off at a gallop - something he was not supposed to do.
Eli Joe wanted to follow him, but Beavis continued at his steady pace despite being urged forward.
"Want me to go get him?" Buck said.
"No, let him go. He's just burning off some steam," Chris replied.
"He doesn't like me," Eli Joe commented.
Chris couldn't disagree with that.
"Well, I think maybe if you boys really tried, you could get along for a couple of days."
Eli Joe considered this a moment, then said, "No, I don't think so. I don't like him, either."
"But maybe a cease-fire is in order," Chris suggested.
Buck smiled when he realized Chris was giving Eli Joe the same talk he'd given Vin and JD earlier that morning.
Vin, having seen that no one was going to ride after him, had slowed down and was waiting up ahead. With a disgruntled expression, he resumed his spot at Chris's side.
+ + + + + + +
They had been out of cell phone range for most of the ride, but as they neared the corral, Buck's phone rang. They had located Eli Joe's aunt, who had been out of town camping with friends, but, she wasn't going to be able to get to Denver until Monday. That meant they'd have Eli Joe for the rest of the week-end.
Luckily, it seemed that all three boys had taken the suggestion of a truce to heart. Buck had thawed some steaks for dinner and the boys offered to help with the meal. Eli Joe insisted he knew how to make a salad, and although Buck doubted the wisdom of trusting the 8-year-old with a knife, Chris agreed to give him a chance. Larabee watched with some amusement as the youngster meticulously washed each vegetable and his hands. He would have done Nathan proud. The end result was less than stellar, with the cucumber not quite entirely peeled, the tomato slices slightly crushed and carrot pieces that ranged in size from "pea" to "golfball" but, Eli Joe was apparently quite proud of his culinary skills.
Vin baked potatoes in the microwave, carefully testing them with a fork every few minutes and removing them with oven mitts when they were done. JD removed most of the husk and silk from 6 ears of corn so that Buck could drop them in boiling water. While Buck supervised the boys, Chris manned the grill.
When it was time to eat, there were no glaring looks or snide comments. The boys didn't talk to each other, but they weren't sniping at each other, either. It was a start.
After they'd showered and gotten into the their pajamas, they gathered in the den to watch a movie.
Eli Joe, unfortunately, scoffed at the selection of age-appropriate movies that Vin and JD were allowed to watch and instead pulled Goodfellas off of the 'grown-up' shelf. Buck gently took it away from him.
"But I love that movie," Eli Joe insisted.
"Oh, do you now?" Buck played along. "What is it about?"
Buck didn't know what was scarier - the fact that Eli Joe could practically recite every scene in the movie, or that he apparently thought Ray Liotta's gangster character was a hero.
"We could watch The Lion King," JD suggested.
Both Vin and Eli Joe groaned, Vin because he had seen it at least 20 times - it was JD's favorite movie.
Nettie's niece Casey had left a movie called Spirited Away behind the last time she had come to visit. Buck pulled it off the shelf. "How about this one?" He knew Vin and JD hadn't watched it.
Eli Joe hadn't either, but immediately pointed at the girl on the cover. "It's a girl movie," he snorted.
"Yeah, a girl movie," JD repeated.
Vin didn't want to agree with either of them, but, he didn't see any other option. "Girl movie."
"Well, I like girls," Buck winked, and stuck the movie in the DVD player despite the protests.
The movie turned out to be Japanese anime with a good English translation. All three boys were quickly drawn into the quirky story of a young girl who wanders away from her parents and finds herself in a vacation resort for supernatural beings. And, so was Buck. It managed to hold everyone's interest even though it was more than 2 hours long.
The boys headed off to bed willingly when it was over, with JD insisting the movie hadn't scared him, despite the fact that parts of it had creeped Buck out big time.
Chris had seen to the stock and cleaned up after dinner and joined Buck just as he was putting the DVD away. "Good movie?" he joked.
Buck cleared his throat. "Well, yeah, the boys liked it, I think."
"I talked to Nathan. Eli Joe can see his dad for a few minutes tomorrow. I'll take him into town in the morning."
"Vin's not going to like that."
Chris sighed. "I know. We'll have to find something important for him to do." He made quote signs in the air when he said 'important.' "I'll try to be back by noon."
+ + + + + + +
"I want to go, too!" Vin said when Chris announced at breakfast that he was taking Eli Joe to see his dad.
"I'm sorry Vin, you can't," Chris replied, and then made sure to add, "They only let family members in the hospital to visit." That was not exactly the truth, but, the last thing Eli Chavez probably wanted was someone else's kid in his hospital room.
"I can stay in the waiting room," Vin suggested.
"No. Buck has something he needs you to do here." Chris looked at Buck who was momentarily panicked. He hadn't actually come up with an 'important' chore for Vin.
JD was unaffected by the situation. "Can I do something, too?" He was always eager not to be left out.
Vin sat sullenly, his arms folded. He didn't say good-bye when Chris and Eli Joe left.
The 'important' job Buck found for Vin and JD to do was to relocate the wood pile closer to the house. A cozy fire on a cold winter's night was a nice thing, so long as you didn't have to go out into the bitter cold to get the wood. Buck had been meaning to build a crib for the split logs, so now was as good a time as any.
Vin and JD used their wagon to haul the logs one at a time. Vin, however, soon got wise to the fact that this was not 'important' work, but simply hard work. He began to handle the logs more roughly than was necessary. Slamming them into the crib with all the force he could manage, considering that some were almost half his weight. He didn't say a word as he worked.
JD quickly grew tired of the chore. "I don't wanna do this anymore," he whined. "It's hard."
"Don't be such a wuss," Vin scolded him.
"This is borrrrrrrring," JD whined.
Buck had to agree, and he didn't want the boys to think they were being punished. "I think we got a good start on it," he said. "We don't have to do them all this weekend."
Vin dropped the log he was about to load into the wagon and walked away. He headed for the corral where Buck knew he would confide his problems in Peso, who would listen attentively. The big black loved the sound of Vin's voice.
JD wanted to get their miniature cars out, but the batteries in both were fading. He called Chris and told him to pick up some new ones. He then explained to JD that they would have to let Eli Joe take a turn driving the vehicles if he wanted to.
"What if he wrecks them?" JD asked, appalled.
"We won't let him do that."
JD signed heavily, but agreed. Vin ignored the entire conversation.
+ + + + + + +
Chris stopped at the reception desk to find the way to Eli Chavez’s room. Eli Joe stood close beside him, staring nervously at the surroundings. When they knew where they were going, he gently guided the little boy with a hand on his shoulder. He noted that Eli Joe did not shake him off like he thought he might.
When they got off the elevator, though, Eli Joe stopped in his tracks. He looked up at Chris with his big eyes.
"Something wrong?" Chris asked.
Eli Joe shook his head 'no' but then asked, "What's he gonna look like? Is he burned-ed up?"
Chris realized he probably should have prepared the child. Kneeling down to eye level, he decided honesty was the best approach. Eli Joe was a smart kid. He'd see right through any bullshit. "Well, he's probably going to have a lot of bandages. And they are probably giving him medicine so the burns don't hurt so much, so, he might be kind of sleepy. You'll have to talk quietly, because there are other sick people here."
Eli Joe nodded, but he still didn't move.
"It's okay to be scared," Chris assured him.
Eli Joe shot him a glare. "I'm not scared," he huffed, and then marched off in the direction of his dad's room.
When he reached the door, however, he stood there without entering, until his father spotted him and gave him a wide, reassuring smile. "Hey, buddy!" he said with a raspy voice.
Eli Joe ran to the bedside. "Papa, are you okay? Does it hurt? When can you come home?" he got out in one breath.
"It will be a few days before they let me outa here. Your tia Diana is coming to stay with you."
"Your voice sounds funny."
"It's from the smoke m'hijo. I'll be fine. Are you being good for Mr. Larabee?"
Eli Joe glanced sideways at Chris, and avoided the question. "They got horses. I got to ride one yesterday. His name is Beavis and he likes me. JD fell in the water and I pulled him out like you showed me."
Chavez glanced up at Chris who shrugged and said, "He did a good job of it, too."
Eli Joe chattered on, obviously happy to be with his dad. He almost seemed like a completely different child.
The visit was limited to 15 minutes, and when it was time to go, Chavez gave Eli Joe some change to get a Coke from the vending machine down the hall so he could talk to Chris.
"Hey, man," he told Chris, "thanks for looking out for him."
"No problem," Chris said. He could see the young firefighter was struggling to stay awake by that point.
Chavez laughed and coughed at the same time. "No one ever says that about my son." He smiled sadly. "All the shit that's happened in his life . . . I know he's screwed up. I do my best, but, sometimes, I'm afraid he can't be fixed."
Chris wasn't sure what to say to that, but he thought of Vin and JD and what they had been through. "Kids can surprise you sometimes," he said.
"Yeah . . . your boys . . . they got a lot of baggage, too, don't they?"
"I guess all we can do is try our best." He closed his eyes and drifted off.
Eli Joe returned with his Coke, annoyed that the vending machine dispensed the small 8-oz cans instead of the usual 20-oz bottles. "What a rip-off," he protested as he ripped back the tab.
Chavez opened his eyes. "It tastes the same, champ. Be glad for what you have."
Eli Joe ran to the bed and whispered something in his father's ear. Chavez sleepily ruffled the boy's hair. "I love you too, buddy."
+ + + + + + +
It was Buck's turn to cook Sunday supper, so that meant they were having pot roast. It was the only thing Buck knew how to make. The only thing Chris knew how to make was chicken and dumplings, so when it was Chris's turn to cook, they had that. Unless Uncle Ezra came over, then they had something that Vin didn't even know what it was, but, it usually tasted real good.
They got hungry at regular lunch time, though, so Buck gave him and JD peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with milk. It was pretty good, but, Vin still wished Chris hadn't gone to the city with Eli Joe. Chris was his dad, not Eli Joe's.
When the big black SUV pulled into the driveway, and Eli Joe got out with a McNuggets box, Vin really got mad. He didn't even say 'hi' to Chris.
Chris had bought new batteries for the cars, but Vin didn't care. Buck had said that him and JD would have to share their cars with Eli Joe. Well, Eli Joe could just have his car. He didn't feel like playing with it.
He decided to take a walk around the corral and pasture so he didn't have to look at Eli Joe.
The path was narrow, but it was well worn and easy to follow. He knew the rule - he could go walking outside the fence, but only if he stayed on the path.
The corner of the pasture furthest from the house was what Chris and Buck called "No Man's Land.' It was full of funny-looking holes and little caves. Miss Nettie had said they got there because the wind blew on the rocks for eons and eons - whatever those were - and made the holes. They looked fun and really interesting, but, Buck and Chris and Miss Nettie had all said there were rattlesnakes that lived there, so they were never, ever to go into 'No Man's Land' without an adult.
Which was why it was really, really hard for Vin to stay on the path when he heard what almost sounded like a baby crying. He wondered if it was a sheep. Chris didn't have any sheep, and he didn't know anyone who did, but, that didn't mean it couldn't be one. He had almost decided to walk on when he heard the sounds again.
His hearing was almost as good as his eyesight, so he could tell exactly where the sound was coming from - a tiny cave-like pit about 50 feet off the path.
He looked around to make sure no one was watching. He knew he wasn't supposed to go off the path, but, what if whatever it was needed help?
Cautiously, he approached the edge of the hole. It was too small for him to crawl in, and he had to get down on his tummy to peer into it. It was very dark inside, which made the sounds kind of scary. What if it was a skinwalker? He'd heard Mr. Kojay and Josiah talking about those. A skinwalker or a hell demon like on Supernatural. His heart thumping, he slowly poked his head inside.
"Bbbbaaaaaawaaaaaaahhhhh" the sound echoed loudly, startling him.
He pulled back so fast he bumped his head, but before that could fully register, he saw it . . . Surrounded by pitch black were four blue eyes with pupils like a snake. Only if it was a snake, it was way bigger than he was. And what kind of thing had 4 eyes?
He rubbed the back of his sore head. He wanted to get a better look, but, he was afraid to put his face down there now.
"Bbbaaawaaaaaahaaaaaa," came the sound again.
He jumped, and at the same time realized that it could not be a sheep. The hole was way too small for a sheep to fit
The blue eyes looked up at him, the slitted pupils making them look truly scary.
Vin turned and ran back to the path. He didn't know what that thing in the hole was, but he knew he wanted to get away from it, the sooner the better!
He was almost back to the house when he saw JD and Eli Joe driving the battery cars up the path. He put his hands on his hips and glared at them both. JD knew he wasn't supposed to leave the yard with the cars. He had probably told Eli Joe that, but Eli Joe didn't care, and JD had just gone ahead and done what Eli Joe wanted.
But then he remembered The Thing in the Hole . . . He'd have to worry about JD disobeying later - especially since he had disobeyed by going into 'No Man's Land.' He'd have to think on that.
"You gotta come and see," he gasped, out of breath from running. "There's some kind of monster . . ."
"There's no such thing as monsters," Eli Joe scoffed.
JD looked at Vin - he wanted to believe Eli Joe, but if Vin said there was a monster . . .
"You gotta come and see it. It's . . . it's . . .. well, you just gotta see it," Vin said. Really, he wanted Eli Joe to be scared of it, too, a little. But, he also wanted someone else to see what he'd seen.
"You're full of it," Eli Joe said. But he climbed out of the little car, which was bogging down in the sand, anyway.
"What kind of monster?" JD asked nervously. He pretty much believed Vin.
"It's got FOUR eyes! And they're like snake eyes . . . you know, the black part is a line instead of a circle . . . And they're BLUE!"
The three boys were already headed back the direction Vin had come.
When they reached 'No Man's Land', JD hesitated. "We aren't supposed to go off the path."
Eli Joe was already off the path and about ten feet ahead of them. "I know," Vin said, "but, if we don't, we can't see the monster."
JD shook his head. "I don't wanna see a monster," he sniffed.
"Candy-ass-baby-butt!" Eli Joe called back.
JD stopped whining and followed.
Eli Joe found the hole easily - the terrible wailing sound was coming from it louder than ever. Cautiously, he peered into the blackness and quickly jumped back.
"Holy shit!" he exclaimed.
Vin guessed they didn't have a swear jar at Eli Joe's house. "I told you!" he replied.
"Now it's got SIX eyes!" Eli Joe exclaimed. "Two are yellow."
JD hung back. "I wanna go home."
Vin grabbed him by the arm and pulled him along.
"Babaaaaaawwaaaaahaaaaaaa," came the sound from the pit.
Eli Joe got down on his stomach the way Vin had. He slowly peered over the edge. "Maybe it's aliens," he said calmly.
"I don't wanna see aliens!" JD wailed.
"Hush, JD," Vin said, joining Eli Joe. Sure enough, now there were six eyes. They all blinked at once.
Eli Joe edged forward, but then he gained momentum and started to slide head first into the hole. He tried to grab for the edge before he slid in, but, it didn't matter because his shoulders got stuck, anyway. That's when he said the F-word.
He lay there with his head stuck in the hole.
"No!" JD gasped, certain that whatever was in there was going to bite off Eli Joe's head. That would be gross.
Vin realized they couldn't leave Eli Joe stuck there. For one thing, they'd have to tell an adult what happened to him if they did, and then they'd all be in trouble. "Grab one of his feet!" he told JD.
JD took Eli Joe's left foot and Vin took his right, and they pulled as hard as they could until he was far enough from the hole that he could stand up again.
"It's puppies!" Eli Joe said.
Vin and JD looked at each other. Then Vin said, "You're a dumb ass, Eli Joe. Puppies don't make that sound."
And as if to emphasize his comment, another plaintive, "Baaaawwwaaaaaaaaahhhaaaaaa!" came from the hole.
Eli Joe thought about that for a moment. "Well, they look like puppies. And you're a dumb ass."
He shoved Vin backwards for emphasis, but before Vin could retaliate, JD said, "We have to get them out."
Vin and Eli Joe both looked at him.
"They fell in and now they're stuck," JD said. "Whatever they are, we have to get them out, or they'll be dead."
They considered their options and all came to the same conclusion. Vin and Eli Joe were too big to fit into the hole, but maybe JD wasn't.
"We'll hold your feet and you reach in and grab them," Eli Joe said.
"Nuh-uh," JD shook his head vigorously.
"Don't be such a wuss. They didn't bite me and my hole head was in there."
To JD's utter dismay, Vin added, "Yeah, don't be a wuss. You're the one who said we have to get them out."
JD's lower lip trembled slightly as he looked up at the two bigger boys. "Okay."
JD lay on the ground with Eli Joe and Vin holding his legs. He hadn't looked in the hole yet, so he was scared when he scooted close to the edge. He closed his eyes and didn't open them until his head was all the way in.
Unlike Eli Joe, his shoulders fit through the hole. He was able to stretch his arms out into the darkness and felt small, furry things that did, in fact, feel like puppies.
Something grabbed onto his finger and began to suck on it. He giggled because it tickled. He felt around until he was sure he had a good grip on the critter. "Okay, got one!" he called. He held on tight as Vin and Eli Joe pulled him backwards.
When he was all the way out, he rolled over and sat up with a wiggling little . . . thing . . . in his lap. It was solid black and had big blue eyes, and it was really, really cute. Vin noticed that the funny slits in the eyes went side to side instead of up and down like a snake.
Eli Joe said what they were all thinking. "Okay . . .. What is that?"
Vin and JD were ranch kids now, but, they'd been city kids their whole lives up until the last few months. Vin didn't have a clue what it was.
"I think it's a goat," JD said.
Eli Joe and Vin looked at each other and shrugged. "I'm pretty sure goats are bigger than that," Vin said. But, truth be told, he had no idea.
"Let's get the other ones," Eli Joe said.
Twice more, they lowered JD into the hole, until they had three little animals sitting on the ground, their legs folded under them. They had stopped making that sound. Vin hoped it was because they weren't scared any more, but he wondered how long they had been down there with no food or water. He remembered how it felt to be really hungry - so hungry you could just barely get up.
"We need to take them home," he said.
Each boy picked up an animal. All three of them were black, which was why they had been so hard to see down in the hole. JD wanted to carry the one with the yellow eyes, so they let him, since he'd been the one to pull them out.
"I'm going to name him 'Yellow Eyes'," JD announced.
“Oh, wow, that is SO original,” Eli Joe snorted and added, "And it's a her not a him."
JD ignored the rebuke, "Can we keep them, Vin?"
"One's mine," Eli Joe insisted.
They were awful cute, and Vin wanted to keep them, too, but he figured they might belong to someone. "Probably not," he replied to JD, ignoring Eli Joe.
The animals were tiny, but they began to get heavier and heavier the further they walked with them. By the time they reached the house, all three of them were happy to set the critters down. Vin left Eli Joe and JD to watch them while he went and got Chris. As soon as they put them down on the strip of lawn behind the house, they began to vigorously munch on the grass.
Chris and Buck both came to see what they had found. The three boys had pretty much agreed they would not mention the hole.
"Well, I'll be dam . . . er . . . darned," Buck said. He picked up one of the animals and looked it over carefully.
Chris picked one up, too. "That's the smallest goat I've ever seen," he said.
"I told you they were goats!" JD said triumphantly.
"They can't weigh more than 7 or 8 pounds . . .," Buck said. "Cute little cusses."
"Can we keep them?" JD pleaded.
Buck set the little animal down. "I'm sure they belong to someone," he said. "I'll call Farm Radio and have them announce that we have them."
"I'm taking this one home," Eli Joe announced.
"No, you aren't," Chris said, and didn't wait for an argument. "Take them to the barn and give them some feed and some water . . . not too much. They aren't very big. One scoop should do."
Eli Joe looked like he wanted to offer up some backtalk, but, he didn't.
+ + + + + + +
Once the little animals had been fed and watered, they revived and were running and hopping all over the barn. The boys spent the next hour or so playing with them, and even Chris and Buck had to admit they were fun to watch. They looked like they had springs in their feet, and were amazing jumpers. It was easy to see how they might have escaped.
Around 3:00 pm, they received a call in response to Buck's notice on the Farm Radio and 45 minutes later the owner showed up to claim them, having brought their frantic mother along. The nanny was not much bigger than the kids, who ran to greet her when they saw her and began to suckle greedily.
"Those are right small goats," Buck commented, in part because they were, but also to make conversation with the owner. She was a lovely woman who appeared to be in her mid-thirties, with curves in all the right places and long chestnut hair that fell in a soft, curled pony tail down her back. Unfortunately, she immediately whipped out her cell phone to call someone named 'Roger.'
After the call, she explained, "They're Nigerian Dwarf goats. These are from a champion bloodline - they're very valuable. I don't know how they got out of the pen . . .."
As she spoke, the one with the yellow eyes easily hopped onto the tailgate of her Toyota Tacoma. "I guess we'll have to make the fence higher," she laughed.
She pulled out her wallet and gave each boy a $10 bill. "I'm so glad you boys found them unharmed."
Chris and Buck were going to say that a reward wasn't necessary, but Eli Joe quickly pocketed his while eyeing them suspiciously.
"Thank you very much," he told the woman.
Vin and JD were embarrassed that they had forgotten their manners, especially since Eli Joe had remembered his.
"Thank you, ma'am," Vin said.
"Thank you," JD echoed. "Bye-bye, Yellow Eyes," he patted his favorite goat.
"This one's name is Taser," Eli Joe announced, patting 'his' goat. "He has a white spot on his butt so you can tell him from the other one."
Vin hadn't given his goat a name, so he had to think fast. "This one is . . . uh . . .. Goaty!"
Eli Joe burst out laughing. He fell back, holding his stomach. "God, you are so RETARDED!"
Coming from anyone else, that would have hurt Vin's feelings, but, since it was Eli Joe, he didn't even bother to care.
Fortunately, the goats' owner apparently had misunderstood the names. As she closed the back of the pick-up's camper shell, she said, "Okay, Eloise, Taser and Cody it is! Those are good names."
As she climbed into her truck, she smiled at Buck and said, "My brother Roger and I just bought the old Dennison place," she referred to a property that touched corners with the ranch. "Next time you're over that way, stop by. We have miniature horses, too. Your boys would love them."
It miffed Vin that she had included Eli Joe when she said "your boys" but, he did think miniature horses were pretty cool, so he hoped Chris or Buck would take them there sometime.
Buck perked up considerably when she said 'brother' instead of 'husband.' "We'll be sure to do that, ma'am," he said politely.
+ + + + + + +
Despite some verbal sniping - Eli Joe would never be noted for his tact - the boys played together for the next hour or so. It did not escape Chris's notice that they referred to how they had 'saved' the young goats rather than 'found' them more than once. He suspected that there might be more to the story of how they came to have them than they were letting on.
When Buck almost had dinner ready, they called them all in and it was immediately obvious they would have to remove their clothes in the mud room. Despite how cute they were, the little goats did have a distinctive 'fragrance' that no one wanted spreading through the house.
When they were down to their briefs, Eli Joe noticed the scar on Vin's side. "What happened there?" he pointed at it.
"Got shot," Vin said.
"You did not!"
"Yah-huh, he did," JD said. "He almost died!"
For whatever reason, Eli Joe did believe JD. "Who shot you?"
Vin shrugged. "I dunno. I don't remember."
"It was TROLLS!" JD said.
"There ain't no such thing as trolls."
"Oh yeah, how do you know?" Vin said.
"Boys . . .." Buck cautioned.
Eli Joe took the hint. "I have a scar, too, but it's under my hair, right here," he said, running his fingers across the back of his scalp.
"Let me see," JD responded, and then reached up to peer closely into the other boy's hair. The scar went clear around the back of Eli Joe's head.
"Whoa," JD was impressed. "That must have been a big ouchie."
"My whole skull popped out," Eli Joe said. "I bet that was cool."
"What happened?" Vin wanted to know.
Eli Joe shrugged. "I fell on a table an' it was glass an' it broke. I was just a baby. My dad chopped the table up and put it in the fire place. I think he was mad at it."
JD didn't have any cool scars, so he showed off the scrapes on his tummy that he got rescuing the goats.
Buck turned squatted down to examine the minor scratches. "How did you get these?" he asked suspiciously.
Glares from both Vin and Eli Joe let JD know he'd already said too much. He didn't want to lie to Buck, so, he didn't, exactly. "From trying to pick up the goats?"
Buck stared at him, and JD knew they'd be talking about it later.
After baths and supper, the boys did their weekend homework and then watched Spirited Away again, emphasizing that they were only doing so because there was nothing all three of them wanted to see, anyway.
Eli Joe packed his suitcase because he would be going home from school with his aunt the following day. Chavez's fellow firefighters were taking care of meeting her at the airport and seeing she got settled on her arrival, so all they had to worry about was making sure Eli Joe had a lunch and getting him to school. It had been an interesting weekend for everyone, with Buck and Chris making a note to ask Vin and JD the real story behind the goats when Eli Joe was not around. The boy, Chris thought with some amusement, was as intimidating as an adult. He also wondered what Vin was going to say to his classmates and teachers about his black eye.
Before he sat down to breakfast the next morning, Eli Joe placed the microwave dinners he'd put in his backpack in the pantry. Buck couldn't even guess at his reason for that, but, he decided it was best to pretend he hadn't seen him. For all of his many faults, Eli Joe did seem to have his own personal code of honor, and he stuck to it.
The tension level in the car as they drove into town had definitely dropped a few notches from what it had been on Friday. The boys even discussed an upcoming field trip to the Denver Post Office that Thursday. "My dad was supposed to go," Eli Joe said. "I guess now he can't."
"Maybe your auntie will come," JD said. "You should ask her."
"Yeah, maybe she will. She's pretty cool." Then, he added, "But, if she doesn't, I don't care."
When they arrived at the drop off, there was a bright red Jeep Wrangler parked ahead of them. Being small boys who loved cars, the three of them immediately found that unusual. They knew whose parents drove what kind of car.
Buck watched as a chunky, but not unattractive, blond woman emerged from the vehicle with a boy who looked about 8 or 9. Chris and Buck didn't recognize the woman or the child.
"New kid," Eli Joe said, in a way that caused Chris to wonder what wheels were turning in his head.
All three boys were curious, so Vin and JD said their good-byes as the three of them undid their seatbelts and left to check out the newcomer.
The new kid was standing by himself at the jungle gym. School wouldn't actually start for another half hour, but kids whose parents had to go to work were already there.
Vin followed as Eli Joe walked up to the boy. JD, of course, followed Vin.
"Who are you?" Eli Joe demanded.
Vin wanted to know that, too, but he would have asked nicer.
"Who are you?" the kid asked in return.
"I asked first," Eli Joe said in his mean voice.
Vin hated when Eli Joe talked to other kids that way, but, the new kid didn't seem at all scared.
"Justin Yates. And my mom is a Federal Marshall, so you better not mess with me."
Eli Joe looked unimpressed. "That's nothing, their dads" - he motioned to Vin and JD - "are Federal Agents. That's better than a Marshall."
Vin had no idea if that was true, but he was kind of surprised Eli Joe would say that. Of course, then Eli Joe added. "And my dad is a firefighter, so he's even better, 'cause he's a hero."
Justin leaned on the jungle gym. "So? You're not a firefighter. You're just a dumb kid."
JD cringed, because he knew Eli Joe. Sure enough, Eli Joe made a fist and headed for Justin.
What happened next was a blur, but, Eli Joe ended up on the ground, blinking in surprise. Justin hadn't hit him - he'd just sort of grabbed his arm and thrown him.
Vin didn't know what was going to happen. He'd pretty much decided he didn't like the new kid, but he didn't want to see him get beat up on his first day, either. He also thought he should leave with JD, because if there was a fight, they might have to be in it, and they'd be in trouble, but, on the other hand, he didn't want to miss it.
Eli Joe sat in the dirt for a few seconds, but then stood up and dusted off his pants. "Well, okay, then," he said to Justin. "Wanna go play on the slide?"
Justin shrugged. "Okay,"
The two boys walked off together, leaving Vin and JD completely ignored, which was just fine with them.
They figured Eli Joe had made a truce with the new kid, so, their truce with him was finally over!
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