By Joy K

Little Britches ATF Universe

Chris Larabee stood at the end of the couch watching his adopted son sleep. Vin was using the arm of the couch his impromptu pillow. He had fallen asleep waiting for Chris to come home from work. Chris wasn't late, but Vin's unscheduled nap confirmed the reports of a hard day at school. Fortunately JD had greeted Buck outside, affording Chris the chance to slip in quietly to check on his boy.

He sat down on the couch next to Vin, observing that he was clutching his backpack to his chest even in his sleep. He hoped that it wasn't out of insecurity. When the boys had first come to live at the ranch their backpacks went everywhere the boys went, even if it was to the bathroom. Losing so much at an early age, and living on the streets had taught Vin and JD to keep everything they valued close. It seemed to have taken too long before they felt secure enough to leave their treasures in their "treasure boxes" in the dresser and not carry everything with them. When Vin had a rough day, sometimes little signs of his past would show and they would have to remind him that he was safe.

Chris reached over and affectionately brushed Vin's long hair off of his forehead.

Vin stirred, slowly sitting up and getting his bearings. Seeing Chris, he smiled.

"Hi, Cowboy," Chris said softly. "How was your day?"

Vin grimaced slightly. "It wasn't so good, but it's okay now."

"I heard some things didn't go so well," Chris said, gently taking Vin's backpack and setting it on the floor, pleased that Vin didn't resist.

"Mr. Beidler called you?" Vin asked. "He told me he was gonna."

Chris nodded. "He told me what happened, but I'd like to hear it from you."

Vin sighed. "We had a subs'tute teacher ‘cause Mrs. Roquette was sick. She wasn't too bad ‘cept for art."

"What happened during art class?" Chris asked.

"She told us to draw our home and I did," Vin answered slightly defensive. "And then she told me I didn't do it right."

"Did she say that?" Chris asked, wondering just what version of "home" Vin had drawn. While he hoped that Vin had drawn the ranch, he dreaded the idea of having to explain why Vin would draw a haphazard stack of crates as his home.

"Not ‘zactly," Vin said honestly.

Chris smiled. "What ‘zactly did she say?"

"She kept telling me to finish it, but I was done. Then she said I could go out to recess when I finished, but what she really meant was I couldn't go out ‘til I's done."


Miss Johnson wasn't as nice as Mrs. Roquette, but she was okay. She read them a story in the morning and then they talked about shapes like circles and squares and triangles and they took a walk outside to see if they could find any of the shapes.

"The sun!" chirped JD. "It's a circle."

"That's right," said Miss Johnson.

"The school bus is kinda rectangle," said Jennifer, "and the wheels are circles."

"What about you?" Miss Johnson asked Vin.

Vin froze momentarily. He wasn't used to being put on the spot by his teachers. Mrs. Roquette and Mr. Beidler didn't call on him in front of the whole class unless he raised his hand to answer a question, which was rare. But this was a new teacher and she didn't know how things were supposed to be.

Freddie and Eli Joe started snickering when Vin waited too long to answer. ‘Dang it,' Vin thought. ‘Now they're gonna tease me at recess.' He looked around quickly trying to find something that was round or triangular or rectangular. He wanted to answer something really exciting, but he could tell the teacher was getting impatient, so he blurted out the first thing he saw.

"The garbage box is a rectangle."

"Yes, the dumpster is a rectangle," the teacher confirmed. Freddie and Eli snickered louder.

‘What a stupid answer,' Vin thought to himself. Freddie caught his eye and he knew he'd never hear the end of it.

"The school sign is a rectangle," Eli Joe volunteered.

"And the stop sign is a circle," added Freddie.

"Actually, the stop sign is an octagon," the teacher corrected.

Vin smirked. Freddie stuck his tongue out at him. Vin wanted to pop him in the nose, but he knew he'd get in big trouble for that.

"Come, children," the substitute teacher said. "It's time for art."

The children followed her inside, a little more disorderly than they would have been with Mrs. Roquette. Eli Joe stepped on the heel of JD's shoe on purpose causing it to come off JD's foot. Vin stopped to help and Freddie bumped into him hard enough make him take a step backward.

"Trash boy!" he whispered harshly as he passed Vin.

Vin growled inside. He was going to punch Freddie and knock him into the garbage. Then he'd know just who the trash boy was.

"Vin, my shoe," JD said, breaking Vin's train of thought. The older boy bent down and helped him get his foot back in the shoe. Both boys struggled, not wanting to take the time or effort to untie it. "There!" JD exclaimed when his foot finally slipped back in.

"Come along, boys," the teacher said, giving them a stern look for dawdling.

They were the last two into the room. JD hurried over to the Kindergarten tables and sat down. Vin looked around and groaned inwardly. The only place left to sit was at the table with Freddie and Eli Joe. Stifling a sigh, he sat down at the table.

"Trash boy," Freddie whispered.

Vin did his best to ignore him and listen to the teacher.

"I would like all of you to draw a picture of your home," the substitute stated. "I'd like you to put lots of details in it. When you finish, please raise your hand and I'll come look at your picture and excuse you to recess."

Recess was a great incentive to finish pictures quickly. Most of the children started in quickly on their drawings. A few, like Vin spent a couple of minutes considering what they would draw.

"You gonna draw a garbage can?" Freddie taunted.

"Shut up, Freddie," Vin hissed quietly.

"You gonna make me, Trash Boy?"

Vin took a deep breath, picked up a crayon and started to draw his picture. About the same time, Eli Joe's hand shot up. He was done with his picture. The teacher came over and looked at his picture of a house. Walls, windows, and a roof.

"Can you name a couple of the shapes in your picture?" the teacher asked.

Eli Joe was quick to point to the square windows and the triangle roof. He was barely done when Freddie chimed in.

"I'm done, too."

The teacher quickly looked over his page, and when he had pointed out the shapes in his picture, she excused both boys to recess. Glancing at Vin's paper, she could see he was just starting, so she moved to another table.

A few minutes later, Vin raised his hand. The teacher came over to the table and looked at his picture.

"I'm done," Vin said politely.

"Honey, why don't you finish up?" she asked. "As soon as you finish, you can go outside and play."

She walked away before Vin could protest that he was finished.

Vin frowned and added a few more details to his picture. When he looked up, he was the only student left in the room. Again he raised his hand.

The teacher came over and looked at his picture. "If you finish up, you can go outside," she said.

"I am done," he said in frustration.

"You haven't completed what I asked you to do," the teacher said. "It's not that difficult. Just draw a house."

"But you said to draw my home," Vin said defensively, "and I did." He had done what she asked and now she was changing the rules on him.

"Young man," she said firmly, "finish your drawing so you can go outside."

"I'm done," he said just as firmly.

"Just draw some walls and a roof," she said, her exasperation showing.

"No!" Vin said angrily. "It's home. You said to draw home and I did!"

"Is there a problem?" asked Mr. Beidler as he walked up to the pair.

"He doesn't want to finish his assignment," the substitute said.

Vin looked up at Mr. Beidler with tears in his eyes. He didn't want to be in trouble. He didn't want to disappoint Mr. Beidler.

"Vin?" Mr. Beidler asked.

"I did finish," he said softly.

"Miss Johnson, why don't you go ahead and take your lunch now?" Mr. Beidler suggested. "I'll take care of things here and meet you there in a few minutes."

Miss Johnson was ready for a break. Stepping into a classroom of students she didn't know at the last moment was taxing. She knew she had overreacted and needed the time to get herself prepared for the afternoon. "It is that time," she said.

"Vin will be with me this afternoon," Mr. Beidler added.

She nodded her agreement and headed for the staff lounge.

He sat down in a chair next to Vin. "Can I see your picture?" he asked.

Vin fisted away his tears and pulled the crumpled paper from his lap, laying it on the table. "I wrecked it," he said regretfully.

Jim Beidler was a perfect teacher for two traumatized little boys who had suffered the loss of their families and had lived on the streets. He and Carolyn Roquette truly cared about their students and invested in their lives. Both had taken the time to work with the family and health care providers to become a valuable part of Vin and JD's support team. While Vin didn't have the same amount of trust in Mr. Beidler as he did in Chris Larabee, his teacher was a safe haven for him.

Mr. Beidler helped Vin smooth out the wrinkles and lay the pieces side by side where it had torn. He had to smile when he saw what Vin had drawn. It was a very accurate picture of what Vin considered home. "I think we can tape it back together," Mr. Beidler said.

Vin looked up hopefully. "I didn't mean to wreck it. I just got... uh... frustrated."

Jim nodded. "You understand that she had a specific project in mind?"

Vin nodded. "After. Then I knew. When Eli Joe and Freddie said where there was circle and squares, then I knew she wanted a roof and walls and doors and stuff. But that wasn't what she said to do. I listened real hard to all the d'rections like you said I should."

"Did you know Miss Johnson is a student teacher?" Mr. Beidler asked.

"I thought all teachers teached students," Vin said.

Jim smiled. "That's true, Vin, but a student teacher means that she is still a student herself and she's still learning how to teach. In fact, I'm still learning new things every day. Today Miss Johnson will learn some things about communicating clearly and being prepared for the unexpected."

"I didn't mean to do it wrong," Vin said brushing away a stray tear.

"You didn't do it wrong," Jim assured. "You drew your home and that was what she asked. And," he paused and looked Vin in the eyes, "It's a fine picture."

Vin chewed on his lower lip, holding the paper in place so Mr. Beidler could tape it together. "Did I wreck her homework?" he asked.

"No," Jim said. "I'm sure she had a specific lesson plan in mind and she has to report on the results, but you didn't wreck it."

"Maybe I could make another picture for her 'signment," Vin suggested.

"That's a good idea, Vin," Mr. Beidler agreed. "A house with walls and a roof and windows, and then after lunch you can show her you know your shapes."

"Should I tell her sorry?" Vin asked quietly.

"Should you?" Jim asked.

Vin shrugged. "I's sorry I upset her, but I's not sorry I made my picture."

Jim nodded. "There's nothing wrong with your picture."

"Vin, I called Da," JD hollered as he ran back into the classroom. "Freddie and Eli Joe was pickin' on me."

"Did they hurt you?" Vin stood up and checked over his little brother.

"Nope," said JD with a giggle. "The Mon'tor saw them. She made them stand by the wall. Da says you should call Chris."

Vin sighed. While he liked to talk to Chris, he wasn't supposed to call him at work if it wasn't important.

"How about if I call your dad?" said Mr. Beidler. "You're not in trouble. I can just leave a message and tell him what happened and that you're not in trouble. That way you still have time to eat your lunch."

"Okay," said Vin. He took the crayons and started to draw a house. He made the walls, the roof, a door, windows and even a door knob on the door. "There," he said. "It gots all the shapes on it."

"Thank you, Vin," said Mr. Beidler. "I'd still like you to sit by me this afternoon and be my helper."

"Okay," Vin answered.

"Me, too?" JD asked.

Jim smiled. "Not this time, JD. I hear the kindergarten class is having a special reading time."

"Oh boy!" said JD.

Jim looked at the clock. "Go get your lunch, boys. I'll see you after lunch."

"Yes, Mr. Beidler," both boys chorused. Vin took his original picture, now taped, and folded it carefully and put it in his backpack.


"So what happened after lunch?" Chris asked.

"I showed the picture to Miss Johnson and showed her the circle and squares and triangle and rectangles. And then I told her I was sorry for upsetting her. And she said she was sorry she didn't explain it very well."

"It sounds like you handled it very well, Son," Chris said.

"But I wish it didn't 'sturb you at work."

"Vin, you call me any time you need to," Chris said, putting an arm around Vin and hugging him. "Sometimes I might not be able to answer the call right away, but I want you to call. Okay?"

Vin nodded, enjoying the hug.

"I didn't mean to be a big baby," said Vin.

"A few tears doesn't make you a baby," Chris said. "Now, if you were sucking on a pacifier..."

"Dad!" Vin said with a giggle.

"Can I see your picture?" Chris asked.

Vin slipped out of the hug and got his backpack. He sat down next to Chris and unzipped the bag. "I lived lots of places with Mama," Vin said as he unfolded the paper, "And with JD, and well, here." He handed Chris the picture.

Chris smiled. It was a crude second grader drawing with stick figures, but there was no doubt who the two figures were.

"It's me and you, Dad," said Vin. "Don't matter if it's a house or not. If I'm with you, I'm home."

Chris brushed away his tears and hugged Vin. "Me, too, Son. Me, too."

The End

Next - The Long Way Home by LaraMee