A New Reason To Celebrate


Author's Notes and disclaimer:  This is in response to Sue's (Delanysis) 4th of July story challenge- just a little short one

Disclaimers: the usual, don't own, wish I did, no money, what's new?

Thanks to Sue N for the really quick beta(s). Any goofs are all mine . . .


The team had finished their case the last week of June and were excitedly talking about their plans for the upcoming holiday.

Everyone except Vin Tanner.

It wasn't that he wasn't patriotic, but he always had a hard time at this time of the year. So as the others planned their annual team cookout, Vin sat back quietly, remembering.

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All week the firecrackers had been banging and popping. It didn't matter where he went; they were everywhere. Someone constantly lighting and tossing them with no regard for where they landed. It usually only lasted a week or two, but those few weeks were always hell for the young man who hated everything about them, the sound, the smell, even the way they looked all used up on the sidewalk afterwards.

He ducked into the nearest alley, hoping to find a quieter place to spend the afternoon. School had just ended for the summer and without a place to be on a daily basis, the city became a cold place, even during the warm summer months. For a homeless teen, finding a place where someone wasn't waiting to tell him to move on was a constant challenge. Now that the schools were out, many of the odd jobs he did after classes let out were filled by other teens, teens who had a place to live and regular meals, kids who just wanted to earn some extra money for CDs or new clothes or to spend at concerts and clubs.

For Vin Tanner, the summer was even more of a challenge than the rest of the year. And the Fourth of July was just the beginning.

Just like it had been the beginning of his life, at least the beginning of the life he had now.

It had been the first week of July when his mother had died.

The tiny, dirty apartment had been hot and dark, and smelled like the piles of trash that had accumulated over the past weeks as she had gotten sicker and sicker. He had finished all the bread and jam that had been left over from the food stamps she had recieved last month, but she had been too sick to pick up the new ones. The only sounds that penetrated the gloom of the darkened room were the bangs and snaps of the firecrackers, and her laboured breathing that got louder and harsher... until it had stopped completely.

Now at 15, he was living wherever he could find a place to sleep away from the winos and junkies, away from where the "respectable" people harassed him just for stopping to rest or tie a shoe lace and away from the gangs who wanted him to join them in their violent world, or be a victim of their violence.

It wasn't easy. But then it never had been. He just wished that they would stop lighting the damn firecrackers. Just make the noise stop for one night.

He stayed in the alley for a while, but soon there were too many winos and as they drank more and more they began to get aggressive. It was time to move.

The street wasn't much better. The crowds of people gathering to celebrate the holiday made it harder to disappear, the teens always on the lookout for a small, shabbily dressed target fot their boredom. Someone to push and shove, someone to vent their pent up hostility upon.

He managed to slink past several groups, taking only minor flack as he ghosted his way towards the edges of the area where the empty warehouses would often provide a safe haven. He was almost there, having to detour an extra few blocks because one of the toughest gangs had taken over the street that he usually used. The detour took him past the fenced in building that served the area's high school.

He had almost gotten past when a sharp voice called out his name.

"Vin Tanner!" The familiar voice of his favorite teacher startled him. He stopped and turned to face the older woman whose kindness had been one of the main reasons he'd stayed in school this past year, despite the challenges he faced just getting himself to school each day.

"Ma'am," he murmeered politely as she approached. He knew his jeans were dirty, and that his hair needed a wash, but the gas station where he'd cleaned up most mornings for school had been sold and the new owner had put locks on the restrooms, only giving the keys to the paying customers.

Her sharp eyes didn't miss a thing. She was pretty sure he was living on the street, but hadn't been able to do a lot to help the boy who had joined her class midway through the school year. She could see how threadbare his clothes were and how lean his body. Something about the look in his eyes caused her to make a decision that she would never regret.

"Young man," she began in her sternest, but kindest voice, "I have been hoping that I would run into you or one of your classmates. I desperately need a hand to help out at my ranch this summer. Do you know someone who would be willing to work hard in exchange for a small salary along with room and board?" She paused, watching his face as she baited her trap. "Unfortunately I can't afford to pay a lot and have been having a hard time finding anyone willing to take the position."

The light that she saw in his eyes at the prospect of a summer in the country was enough to know that she'd made the right decision.

"Yeah," he began an little hesitently, "I really could use a job... You have a ranch? Does that mean you have horses?"

"Sure do, and they are in dire need of some exercise." She knew she had him, "How soon can you start?"

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By the time they had picked up Vin's pack from the locker he'd stashed it in and picked up the groceries she needed for the picnic she was hosting later that weekend and driven out to the small ranch, they were beginning to strike up a friendship that would last a lifetime.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

As he came back to the present, he realized that despite the unhappy memories he always carried with him at this time of the year, he also had some very good ones. They had begun ten years ago on that lonely Friday afternoon and now, since joining the ATF's team 7, he had even more to celebrate. He knew that the rest of the team had always wondered why he hadn't participated in their yearly party but he just hadn't been able to bring himself to talk about it. Until now.

"Hey, guys..." The softspoken sharpshooter cut in to the conversation. "Would any of you mind if I brought Nettie along to the picnic this year?"

The rest of the team looked up in surprise at Vin's apparent desire to finally join in the celebration, then several spoke up at once. "Sure, Vin... the more the merrier!"

"Great, we'll be there, only one thing... " He looked around at the six men, asking with his eyes that they agree. "Please, don't bring any firecrackers."

The End . . . or perhaps, the beginning.

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