Nightfall brought a slight chill into the air. Tom lit the lamp on the porch wall and sat in one of the wicker chairs to rest a bit. Now that Vin was out of danger and getting well, now that Tom could turn his mind to things other than worry and prayer, he thought he should be getting back to business, taking care of all of the little details of life he'd been ignoring while the boy lay somewhere between life and death. But he was tired and wanted to rest. Tomorrow he'd get a fresh start.

He heard the screen door open and expected Sofia to come onto the porch; everybody else he figured was asleep. He was surprised when the Prodigal himself stepped out.

"Your Mama know you're up and about?" He asked. In answer, Vin showed him the glass of milk and oatmeal cookie he was carrying. Tom smiled. "So she not only knows you're here, she provisioned you. C'mon around and have a seat. Get off of that leg."

Vin limped around the wicker furniture and set himself slowly into the closest chair. He was dressed in a nightshirt and wore a wool robe over it against the chill.

"You should be in bed." Tom told him.

"Dingo was snoring."

"Must've took you awhile to make it all the way down here."

Vin indicated his glass of milk. "I think Maxwell was still milking the cow when I started."

"Well then, we'll see if we can't get you back to bed before Christmas."

"Feels good to get out of the house again." Vin said, after a bite of cookie and a swallow of milk. "Fresh air feels good."

"How's your leg?"

"Hurts some, more from just not using it I reckon. Kinda stiff."

"Maybe that'll keep you grounded to the homestead awhile longer then."

"I promised Tommy already I'd be here for the wedding. Though I don't reckon I'll be fit to travel anywhere before then anyhow."

"You know it's gonna be awhile before your Mama even lets you off this front porch." Tom said.

"Yessir, I do know that." A smile accompanied the words, but it didn't last. "Didn't you ever want to be somewhere you never been before? See something that maybe no white man ever laid eyes on before you? Learn something you never woulda learned if you hadn't left home?"

"I'm kinda partial to seeing the same people in the same places every day."

"That changes." Vin said. "You and me know that always changes. Tommy'll get married and move to that house he's building across the river. Then Max, and they won't be around here all the time. Nothing don't change."

"But Max and Tommy will still be where I can walk over and see them if I want to."

"You moved. This ain't where you grew up. Sometime'r other you left Ransomville back in New York and moved out here."

"But the point was to get here and stay here. The journey wasn't the point, it was the means to the end."

Vin sighed. "I need to wander just as much as Eugene needs to write. You wouldn't ask Eugene to give up his writing would you?"

"The day Eugene's writing comes this close to killing him, I'll do more than ask him to give it up." Tom said.

"That's like saying if Eugene got shot going to town to buy ink, you'd make him stop writing. It's not the wandering that nearly killed me."

Tom raised an eyebrow at the near surly tone and Vin stared hard down at his glass of milk. He'd been known to backtalk, when he was younger, when he was hot under the collar or so frustrated by something that he couldn't check himself. That was true of all the boys except Robert. Tom didn't think Vin was working to avoid backtalking now; he could see yearning in the boy's eyes, not anger.

"Robert don't just seem to care if he ever sets foot off this property, and I don't fault him for that. But I'm not like that. Most days I feel hemmed in by the horizon and I want t'find a way past it. Only I can't go out on the trail with you like Tommy did, 'cause you ain't a lawman anymore. I can't just go up talking to people anywhere, anytime, any reason, like Max can. I can't find the world in books like Eugene does. All I got is me, and where I can get to. That's the only school I ever learned anything in."

Tom was moved by Vin's words. It was the most he'd heard the boy say all at once, except maybe when he was arguing with Eugene.

"I worry about you out there all by your lonesome."

"I can take care of myself."

Though he didn't, Tom felt like shaking his head. At eighteen, Vin probably felt all grown up. Once he was grown, and had young ones himself, he'd know that your child was always your child, whether he was eighteen or eighty.

"All I ask is that you always come home. Whatever happens, whatever you might do, whatever might get done to you, you come home. You hear me?"

"I hear you." Vin nodded. "I promise I'll never wander far."

"I think you and me might disagree on what 'far' means." Tom said.

It was meant lightly, but Vin nodded again, considering it seriously.

"I promise I'll never wander anywhere I can't get back on foot if I have to."

"All right then." Tom moved to sit next to Vin, on his uninjured side. He put his arm around his shoulders and hugged him tight. He figured it was only the darkness and the fact that all his brothers were in bed that kept the boy from bolting at the contact.

"I love you boy. I'm lucky you're my son." He was surprised but pleased when Vin leaned into the embrace.

"Reckon I'm pretty lucky myself." Vin said.

The end!!!