The Essence Of Time
‘What the hell was I thinking?’ Chris thought to himself as he rolled over in bed. He groaned as he thought about the situation he found himself in. He never thought the party Buck talked him into attending seven months ago would affect the rest of his life.
‘Damn, it’s all Buck’s fault. I should have known better than to go to that party.’ Rolling out of bed he knew he couldn’t put off the talk with Sarah any longer. He only hoped his new bride would take the news well.
He trudged down the stairs like a man on his way to the gallows. Stopping on the last step he watched as Sarah bustled around the kitchen preparing the mornings meal, wondering if this would be the last morning they spent together.
Sarah had known something was bothering her new husband last night when he came home to bed. She usually found herself in a half awake state as she waited for the comforting presence to join her late into the night. It wasn’t easy being married to a cop, but she loved Chris with all her heart.
She was forever thankful to her friends for having set her up on a blind date. It was love at first sight for them, hard to believe they had only met six months ago, and had only been married for a little over a month. She knew her parents thought she jumped into the marriage too quickly, but she knew her heart and had no regrets.
Coming out of her thoughts she spied her husband making his way down the stairs. She frowned slightly, taking in her love’s heavy steps and down turned eyes. She wasn’t sure she was ready to hear any bad news and took a few minutes to flutter around the kitchen. Knowing she was only putting off the inevitable she lowered the burners and made her way towards Chris.
Chris swallowed hard before stepping into the kitchen, meeting Sarah as she made her way towards him.
“What’s wrong Chris?”
“I got some shocking news last night.” Shocking wasn’t the word for it. Sometimes he wished he wasn’t such an honest man, it would certainly be easier to pay off that woman than cause pain to the lady of his heart.
“Why don’t we sit down and then you can tell me all about it.”
Chris and Sarah made their way to the kitchen table where they both sat nervously. One with the news that had changed his life and the other worrying what had her husband so upset.
“I got a phone call last night at work from a Maude Standish.”
“Is she a family member? I don’t think I have ever heard of her name before.”
“No she’s not family, but someone I meet before I met you.”
“So she was an old girlfriend? I assume you informed her you were happily married.” She lightly teased, hoping it was just a case of an old girlfriend looking to restart an old romance. Of course that would never happen on her watch.
“No she was a girl I meet at a party one night.” Chris paused as he watched his wife’s brow raise in question.
“I didn’t think you were the type for one night stands.”
“So why is she contacting you now?”
“That’s the problem, she’s pregnant.”
“Oh my, well I certainly hope she doesn’t think you’re going to marry her. You’re taken.”
“God I love you Sarah.”
“I love you too Chris, but we have much to do now. When is Maude due?”
“About two months.”
“Good, that gives us plenty of time.”
“Time for what?”
“Why setting up a nursery silly, where else would your child sleep when he is visiting.”
“What did I ever do to deserve you?”
Sarah just smiled as she went back to cooking breakfast. She could handle being a step-mother to Chris’ child. It would be silly for her to become angry and upset over something that happened before they ever met.
Over the next two months arrangements were made between Maude, Chris and Sarah regarding visitation and support payments. Maude had an amniocentesis earlier in her pregnancy that had ruled out any genetic disorders, as well as confirming paternity. Sarah had been feeling a bit under the weather the morning the call came from Chris that Maude was in labor. Her water had broken just an hour ago and the contractions were about seven minutes apart. Sarah hurriedly got ready and made her way towards the hospital.
The hospital was only a short drive from their home so she was able to get to her husband’s side quickly. She was never so glad to have been there when the nurse came out looking hurried and haggard.
“That’s me, what’s wrong?”
“I’m afraid Ms. Standish is on her way to surgery. If you’ll follow me to the surgical waiting room, the doctor will be with you shortly to explain what is happening.”
Chris and Sarah stared at each other, troubled by the unexpected complication during birth. They followed the nurse to the waiting room anxious to find out what had gone wrong. It was only a few minutes before the doctor came in.
“Mr. Larabee, I’m Doctor Killian, I don’t mean to sound rude but time is of the essence at this point. Ms. Standish is being prepped for an emergency c-section. We have two major problems right now. First and most serious is a prolapsed umbilical cord which has the baby in distress. Secondly the baby has a limb presentation, making vaginal birth impossible. I’m afraid time is of the essence and I will have to answer any questions you have after Ms. Standish’s surgery. I will have the nurse keep you updated.”
The doctor quickly left the couple standing in shock as they waited for news on the surgery. Both wondered how such a perfect pregnancy and normal labor had turned into an emergency so quickly.
It felt like hours to the waiting couple as they held onto each other in anticipation for any news. It was, however, only an hour before the doctor walked into the waiting room.
“Mr. and Mrs. Larabee, Ms. Standish came through the surgery just fine, she’s on her way back to her room for recovery.”
“What about the child?” Sarah asked, interrupting the physician.
“As you know we had to do an emergency cesarean because of the presentation and the prolapsed umbilical cord.”
Chris squeezed his wife’s hand tightly; he feared the worst with the direction the conversation was headed. “The baby, is the baby alright?”
“Your son is in the neonatal intensive care unit.”
Chris felt the breath catch in his lungs, he had a son. A son, that was in an intensive care unit. He looked helplessly towards Sarah.
Sarah understood her husband’s fear; even though this child was not hers biologically she felt just as much anxiety as her husband. “Doctor, why is he in the intensive care unit?”
“The prolapsed cord was cutting off the blood circulation to the child. This caused him to become stressed within the womb, increasing his heart rate. After the birth he was hypoxic, meaning that he was not getting enough oxygen. Normally once the child is born and given oxygen they bounce back quickly. Unfortunately your son has not been able to come off the oxygen and his heart rate has not steadied out yet. I scheduled an echocardiogram and should have the results shortly. Once I have that information we can further treat your son.” The doctor paused seeing that the couple was feeling overwhelmed. “Why don’t I show you to the NICU so you can see your son? The NICU has strict guidelines before you can enter the area; I’ll have one of the nurses help you. Once I have the results I’ll be back to speak with you.”
Chris felt wrung out, the last seventy-four hours had been pure hell. He knew for certain that he never wanted to enter another NICU in his life. It was shocking to see his small son with wires and tubes coming from all directions, but even more was the blue tinge to his skin. The doctor had said the echocardiogram confirmed a diagnosis of persistent pulmonary hypertension. He explained that the vessels to his lungs were constricted and was not able to get the blood flow into his lungs to supply enough oxygen to his body. The oxygen tent soon turned into a ventilator as his oxygen levels dropped. The ventilator didn’t even seem to help as his son fought for every breath. Finally the doctor decided to try a small concentration of nitric oxide gas with the oxygen. He was worried that if the gas didn’t help he would have to start him on a machine that would cycle his blood to add oxygen and remove the carbon dioxide. Thankfully his son had responded to the added gas and was slowly improving. It seemed that finally the crisis was passing and he would be moved out of NICU in the next forty-eight hours if he continued to improve.
Sarah, Chris and Maude had each spent as much time as they could with little Ezra in the NICU. Maude had been adamant on his name and Chris was just too tired to fight her on his name, he was just so happy that his son was alive that he didn’t care what he called him. With only allowing one person in at a time and limiting the amount of time that a visitor could stay left each yearning for each extra moment they could get.
It was three happy parents that finally got to enjoy their son without the tubes and wires. Ezra Patrick Larabee was discharged from the hospital a few days after he was moved out of NICU and continued to breathe well on his own.
It was hard the first few weeks with Sarah and Chris wanting to be involved with Ezra as much as possible. They had invited Maude to stay with them for the first few months, but she had declined. The scheduling conflicts left them both feeling frustrated that they were unable to spend more time with Ezra.
After the first month things began to change. Ezra then seemed to spend the majority of his time with Sarah and Chris, where Maude just didn’t seem to have the time or energy to deal with a child. Sarah believed Maude was suffering from post partum depression, but whenever she tried to bring the subject up with Maude she would be quickly rebuffed. The problems continued to escalate until Maude took off for a few months with no word.
While dealing with Maude was frustrating, Sarah and Chris adored the uninterrupted time they were able to spend with Ezra. He was a happy baby that never seemed to cry. He had the most beautiful jade green eyes with a pair of dimples that made your heart melt. It was not long after that Chris and Sarah found out they would be having a child together. Sarah was thrilled, looking forward to having her child. Chris, though he was excited with the news, couldn’t help the fear that entered his heart when he thought of all the problems they had just gone through with Ezra.
Sarah’s pregnancy progressed normally and Maude had finally returned claiming she had felt overwhelmed being a single mother. Sarah again tried to encourage her to talk to someone about her depression, but even with the assurances she would do so, Maude never made an appointment. The visits with Ezra started evening out to a regular schedule until Sarah went into labor. As Sarah was bringing Chris’ second son, Adam Christopher Larabee, into the world, Maude Standish has disappeared with Ezra.
Chris, with the help of his long time friend Buck, had spent the following years trying to locate the sly woman. Maude, however, continued to remain elusive and untraceable. Chris despaired that he would never see his son Ezra again.
It was a shock then when the woman showed up on his doorstep, with his now six year old son in tow. “Ezra dear do desist in fidgeting, you must remember child that appearances are everything.”
“Yes Mother,” the soft southern voice quickly agreed to his mother before brushing any dirt that had managed to touch his immaculate clothing. The child wondered who his mother was dropping him off with this time.
“Maude” Chris growled at the woman that had arrived on his doorstep before he noticed the small child by her side. “Ezra,” his eyes locked on the sea green pools staring at him with apprehension and a hint of fear. “My God, I’ve missed you son.” Chris quickly gathered the child into a bone crushing embrace. He couldn’t believe he was finally home, and he would be damned if Maude would be running off with him ever again.
Ezra was too shocked to respond until he started having trouble breathing and then began to struggle for his freedom. Finally the tight grip loosened but never let him go as he felt himself lifted into a pair of strong arms. “Mother?” He knew his voice quivered nervously and he would be later reprimanded, but he had never encountered such an off kilter moment before.
“Ezra darling, this is your father, Chris Larabee.”
Before anyone could respond a small russet headed child flew up the steps. “Daddy, Daddy, I got ice cream at school today. Ms. Mattson said I did all my work right and she gave me ice cream. We made a picture today, it’s in my bag. Can we put it on the refrigerator? Can we?” The little whirlwind barely took a breath before moving on to another question. “Who’s that?” he asked pointing to the child being held in his father’s arms.
“Adam, this is your older brother Ezra. Do you remember me telling you about him?”
“Uh huh, the evil witch took him away right before I was born. He’s back does that mean the witch was squished by a house?”
Chris fought hard to keep from laughing at Adam’s words and seeing Sarah barely containing her mirth he couldn’t help cracking a grin. Lowering himself down he place Ezra on his feet and made introductions. “Ezra, this is your little brother Adam. The lovely lady is my wife Sarah. Adam why don’t you and Ezra go up to your room. Your mother and I need to have an adult talk with Ezra’s mother.”
“Okay Daddy, Come on Ezra I got the coolest game. It’s got cowboys and Indians and horses and..” The voice drowned out as the two boys headed off to Adam’s room.
“Maude I believe we need to have a talk.” Chris turned coldly to the woman in front of him, before heading into the house leaving her to follow.
A few hours later, Maude took her leave without Ezra. He would be spending the next month with Chris and Sarah while she took care of some business. Her excuse of taking off with Ezra to give Chris and Sarah time with their new baby had felt hollow. Chris was sure there was another reason, but Maude was not forth coming.
Ezra and Adam seemed to settle in well for the first few days, but it wasn’t long before small fights would break out. Adam had never had another child in his life to compete with and it seemed now everything was a competition.
“Daddy Ezra won’t play with me.”
“Why don’t you find another game you could play by yourself?”
“He’s just being mean. All he ever wants to do is read. That’s boring, I want to play. Why doesn’t he ever want to play? He’s weird!”
“Adam that’s not very nice, your brother is not weird. Ezra is a bit older than you and when people get older they find enjoyment in different types of games. Your brother loves to read; maybe you can ask him to read you a story?”
“I did Dad,” he whined “but he said he did not like to read baby books. I’m not a baby and his books are boring, there’s no pictures.”
“I’ll have a talk with Ezra and see if he can find something the two of you can do together.”
“Thank you Daddy”
Chris sighed as he made his way up to the room the boys were sharing. He wondered how Sarah dealt with this every day. He had been watching the boys for the last four hours and had already spoken to them multiple times about getting along together. He hoped things would settle between the boys soon. When Maude returned in a few weeks they would be working out a regular visiting schedule for Ezra. Maude had left them with the responsibility of getting enrolled into school. Ezra had seemed relieved that he and Adam would be in different grade levels, but Adam was not. He had wanted to take his brother in for show and tell. Chris groaned as he considered the call he would receive from the school regarding the tale Adam would tell. It reminded him that he would be having a long talk with Buck about how he explained certain things to his son.
Ezra quickly brushed the dirt off his shirt and sighed in relief that no one noticed he had been dirty. He sighed as he readjusted the glove on his hand again. Baseball is what his father called the game they were trying to play. He wasn’t sure what all the rules were, but when the ball flew towards him he was supposed to try and catch it. He smiled at the ball that was resting in his glove.
“Great catch Ezra!” His father exclaimed.
A brilliant smile with full dimples took over the child’s face. Ezra decided that he loved this game and wanted to know everything he could about the game of baseball. His little brother even seemed to be enjoying himself. It was the first time Ezra could remember ever having such a pleasant day with other people. Normally he was left out and shunned by others when brought to a family activity. That was one reason why he tended to prefer reading. He was out of everyone’s way and could lose himself in the author’s story.
“Hey Ezra come on in son, it’s your turn at bat.”
Smiling even brighter, Ezra watched as the ball he hit went flying over the fence before it disappeared into the woods. He bit his lip nervously as he waited for the explosion that he lost the ball.
“WOW, did you see that Daddy? Ezra hit a home run! Wow can you show me how to do that Ezra? Man wait till I tell the kids at school!”
“Nice hit son, I think you’re a natural.”
An hour later Sarah smiled as she watched her three boys playing a game of ball. She was so happy to see all of them playing together. It seemed her little boy now had a hero worship with his big brother’s baseball playing. She knew the childhood fights would continue but had a feeling the two boys would become very close over the years. She was only saddened that Maude had cheated them out of so many years together.
Sarah smiled as she watched her two boys quickly make their way to the waiting car. She couldn’t believe it had been nearly six months since Maude had shown back up with Ezra. Of course she was less surprised that Maude hadn’t been in contact with them since that day. Ezra, to her surprise, didn’t seem to be affected by his mother’s absence. She couldn’t imagine ever being able to stay away from her son that long. She decided that tonight she and Chris would have a long discussion regarding Maude and her lack of maternal care.
“Mom, guess what I did at school today! It’s so cool, even Ezra says so. Right Ezra?”
“Well darling why don’t you tell me all about it on the way home.” Sarah couldn’t help but notice Ezra’s rather subdued manner. Perhaps he was missing his mother after all. She decided that she would find some private time with him this afternoon so they could have a little talk. Settling the boys in the booster seats she couldn’t help but smile at their near identical looks. It had amazed her how many times she was asked if they were twins. Of course she could pull out the many differences between the boys, but understood at first glance just how much alike they both were. Coming out of her musings she quickly got into the car and headed home, all the while listening to the excited chatter of her little boy.
Buck relaxed back in the chair as he waited for Chris to come back downstairs. It wasn’t often that they could be relieved early from work and spend an afternoon off. He grinned when he heard the car pull into the drive. The grin quickly turned into a toothy smile as he heard the thumping footfalls racing up the steps. Any second now, he thought.
“UNCLE BUCK!” twin voices yelled out with excitement.
Buck felt his heart swell when he received a double hug. It was so great to feel that connection with Ezra. It had been a long road before Ezra would stop calling him Mister Buck and only in the last month he had been openly demonstrative with affection. Adam though he had no concerns about, the loving and happy child seemed to exemplify the feeling of being alive.
“Hey what about me?” The gruff voice called from the steps.
Chris quickly found himself with an armload of Adam, while Ezra slipped his arms around him for a hug. Chris didn’t think he could be much happier than he was now.
“Daddy you’re home! How come? Are we going to do something? Is Uncle Buck having dinner with us tonight? Guess what I did at school today.”
“Hold on there son, slow down and take a breath. You’re Uncle Buck and I got to leave work early today and thought we’d take you boys riding.”
“Sure thing Pard! Why your daddy and I have it all planned out, but first I need a little partner to help me saddle up some horses. What you say you and Uncle Buck go get them ponies ready?”
Adam quickly squirmed his way out of his father’s arms and raced off for the door. “Come on Uncle Buck we got’s work to do!”
Chris smiled after his best friend and youngest son went flying out of the house. Buck was always a pretty perceptive person and must have picked up on Ezra’s disquiet. Although he had moments of normal behavior, Ezra always seemed so quiet and reserved compared to his brother. He had come out of his shell with Adam’s influence, but Chris figured he may always be that much calmer.
“Well son, you want to tell me what’s wrong?”
Ezra bit his bottom lip before raising tear filled eyes to his father. “Is my mother dead?”
“No Ezra, why would you think that?” Chris watched as the tears fell over reddened rims. He had wondered when Ezra would ask about Maude, but never considered that he might think she was dead. His eyes sought out Sarah’s in worry as he gathered his son in his arms and joined her on the couch.
“She’s never left me this long before and Timmy said I was a bastard and that father’s only wanted their bastard sons when their mommy’s die. I looked up bastard in the dictionary and it said a bastard is someone born to unmarried parents. Mother is unmarried, but you are married so that makes me a bastard, and if Timmy was right about me being a bastard than maybe is right about mother dying.”
Chris and Sarah could hardly believe what they were hearing. They just couldn’t believe that another child in the class had said such nasty things to their son.
“Oh honey, Timmy is so wrong. You’re mother is alive, even though we don’t know where she is at the moment, we have no doubt she will be back when she can.” Sarah was quick to reassure him.
“Son, I have loved you from the moment I knew you were coming into my life. There is nothing that can change how much I love and want you in my life.”
“I love you too Dad.”
“How about you and I see what kind of trouble your little brother and Uncle Buck has gotten into?”
Sarah took advantage of the peace and quiet with all the boys out of the house. She immediately called the school regarding the incident between Ezra and Timmy. She had a teacher conference planned for tomorrow morning. It would mean leaving early to have enough time to talk with the teacher before the other kids started to arrive, but there was no way she would allow her son to be bullied.
Laying in bed next to her husband she finally decided to have the talk that has been bothering her for some time. “Chris?”
“We need to talk.”
Uh oh, Chris thought. It was never a good talk when it started out with those four dreaded words. “What’s wrong honey?”
“I know, but that woman disappears off the map like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s like she doesn’t exist. If it wasn’t for Ezra, I’d swear she was a figment of my imagination.”
“Yes well, regardless of her location, wherever that may be, what she is doing to Ezra is unforgivable. Chris I want us to petition for full custody of him. Maude can then visit him when she feels the need to be motherly. It’s just not fair to our son to not have a feeling of home, and he is my son too Chris. I may not have bore him, but he is every bit my child as Adam is. Those two boys should never be split apart. They are so happy together. God help me Chris, but I wish that woman would never come back. All she causes is chaos and pain.”
“You’re right honey, I’ll start the paperwork tomorrow.”
“Thank you Chris, I love you.”
With Maude’s absence the custody proceedings were completed quickly with full custody granted to Chris and Sarah. They allowed for visitation with Maude for Ezra’s sake, which was of course if she ever showed up again.
Ezra though had taken the change of custody in stride. He was saddened that his mother never showed up to fight for him but was at the same time happy to be staying somewhere permanent. He had come to care a great deal for his little brother and father; and felt closer to Sarah then he ever had his own mother.
Summer vacation was coming to an end and he was looking forward to starting second grade. After Sarah had talked with the school things had gotten better with Timmy, he just hoped that the new school year would stay that way.
With his thoughts wandering he never noticed the petite figure watching him from the doorway, and was startled when she spoke.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Sarah asked teasingly.
“I’m afraid it wouldn’t be a good return on your investment.” Ezra grinned at her.
“Oh I think I’ll take my chances with the market, after all it has been on a steady rise.”
Ezra enjoyed the banter and sat up on his bed to make room for her.
“Are you worried about school starting next week?”
“A little but mostly just my thoughts are wandering today.”
“Oh anything you want to discuss?”
Ezra thought for a moment before biting his bottom lip and giving a quick nod.
Sarah smiled at the nervous gesture, Ezra always seemed to bite his bottom lip when he had something serious to discuss. Now if he was up to mischief it was a quick wetting of the lips and the devilish smile. “Well out with it,” she encouraged.
Ezra gathered his nerves before asked the question he desperately wanted and affirmative response to. “Mrs. Sarah,….. um, would it be okay,…….. um, what I mean to say is, woulditbeokayifIcalledyoumom?” He finished off very quickly.
Sarah couldn’t contain the smile that lit up her face. “I would be honored Ezra. I love you as a son as much as I love Adam as a son. Nothing would make me prouder than for you to call me mom.”
Ezra released a slow breath of relief, he wasn’t sure how his question would be taken; but he was pleased with the response. “Thank you mom.” He quickly hugged her before taking off towards his brother’s room.
Sarah laughed as she heard Ezra’s voice calling down the hallway. “Adam you were right Mrs. Sarah said I could call her mom.”
Sarah was still glowing when Chris came home from work.
“What has you so happy this evening love?” Chris asked as he wrapped his arms around his wife.
“He asked if he could call me mom” she squealed with delight. Sarah was still feeling giddy from the morning’s event.
“That’s wonderful, I’m very pleased about that,” he said as he reached around her to snag a cookie from the sheet cooling on the counter.
“You’re going to spoil your dinner. You know I had to keep the boys outside to keep them from snatching the cookies and mmm” the rest of her sentence was cut off as she enjoyed a chocolate chip flavored kiss.
“You might want to hide those cookies; the big kid is here too. He’s out chasing the boys around. Got a big case coming up so figured we could get some work done tonight, which of course is if I can drag him away from his two nephews.”
Chris left after snagging another kiss and cookie to go save the boys from their exuberant uncle.
It wasn’t long before the boys were back in school. Adam was enjoying his first grade year, though he wasn’t taking too well with more structure in the classroom. Thankfully he had high scores on his reading levels and was able to enjoy a rotation of art, music and phys ed.
Ezra on the other hand was enjoying his class work but not some of the new students that had arrived for the school year. Timmy had quickly become friends with the new boy, Bob, and Ezra’s torment had begun. The two boys seemed to have a distinct dislike for Ezra and he couldn’t figure out why. All three had been left with their fathers by their mothers, but other than that he couldn’t figure out why they didn’t like him. He was thankful at least that neither boy was in his class, he just had to deal with them during phys ed and lunch time. He hadn’t said anything to his parents and the teacher’s never seemed to witness the harassment.
“Lookie here Bob’O, it’s little Ezwah”
“Sure is, say Ezwah that’s a nice looking deck o cards. I like em, think you should hand um over” Bob said as he moved over top Ezra to intimidate the smaller boy.
Ezra quickly pocketed his cards and stood to face the school yard bullies. “Yes well you’d like a new face too, guess you’re outta luck there too.”
Ezra wasn’t expecting the quick retort and found himself on his rear with his cheek stinging smartly from the blow. He quickly got up and barreled into the larger boy knocking them both into the dirt and they rolled around and traded blows. It would have been a fair fight but Timmy decided to join in and Ezra found himself on the losing end of the fight until Bob’s weight was torn off of him. Not considering the circumstances he quickly planted his fist into Timmy’s nose and cringed at the sickening crunch he heard. He stared a little wide eyed at Timmy’s bleeding nose. The boy was rolling on the ground screaming in pain. Ezra spotted Bob with an older boy trading barbs and blows.
“Afraid to take on someone your own size” he heard the other boy taunt. He felt an instant kinship to the older boy. The soft words in a familiar tone, though he couldn’t place it at the moment. Bob was quickly felled and held stomach as he moaned in pain.
Ezra found himself panting from the adrenalin rushing through his system. He looked up into cerulean eyes and smiled his thanks.
“Yes thank you kind sir, you have impeccable timing.” He said as he brushed off the layers of dirt he found himself covered in. Looking up when he received no response he was surprised to find himself alone with the two moaning bullies and a small herd of teachers headed in his direction.
Ezra was dismayed that no one seemed to believe him about the older boy that had helped him, but no one at the school knew of the boy he was speaking about. He, along with Timmy and Bob, found themselves in the principal’s office awaiting their parents’ arrival. Timmy’s nose had finally stopped bleeding, but his face was all puffy and he had two black eyes. He was supposed to go to the emergency room but his father insisted that he would take him on his own. Bob on the other hand still guarded his stomach, the waste basket beside him held what was left of his lunch from earlier that day. Ezra wrinkled his nose a bit that thought. School lunch was bad enough before it was even served, let alone brought back up after digestion had started to occur.
Looking up he spied his mom and dad making their way down the hall. His dad looked ready to shoot someone, but it was him mom that had the laser coming out of her eyes. Ezra was just glad her aim was on the two ruffians sitting in chairs beside him. Ezra schooled himself, he wasn’t sure what was going to happen. He felt his chin lifted and twisted gently.
“You alright son?”
He gave a quick nod, catching the strange jealous looks of the two boys awaiting their fathers. He didn’t know why they would feel jealous, it wasn’t like Chris was their father.
“Come on let’s go speak with the principal.”
Ezra found himself led into the forbearing office, from the giant desk to the giant man sitting behind it.
“Mr. and Mrs. Larabee, I’m sorry to have had to call you in about this today. Ezra and the two boys were fighting in the playground today. As I’m sure you could see Ezra inflected quite a bit of damage to the other boys. The boys said that Ezra attacked them for no reason. Ezra insisted that he was the one attacked and was helped by an older kid that nobody has ever seen before. I’m afraid we are going to have to suspend Ezra for fighting for a week.”
“Excuse me but one of those boys has been bullying my son for the past year and this school has done nothing to prevent this, and now he was attacked by two boys and you want to suspend him for defending himself. I don’t think so. If my son says that he was attacked and another boy helped him out than by all that is holy that is what happened!” Sarah was livid, how dare he try to pin this onto her son.
“Ezra” Chris got his son’s attention. “What did this boy look like?”
“He was older than me, a bit taller with longer curly brown hair and blue eyes. He talked with an accent too, but I can’t remember where I heard it before, just know I have heard it before.”
Ezra couldn’t believe it, his mom and dad believed him. Even though he still ended up on suspension, so did Timmy and Bob.
It wasn’t until Ezra tried out for the baseball team the next year that he saw his school yard hero again. Ezra was amazed at how much the boy had changed over the past year. The boy had grown in height and build, and his hair had grown even longer.
He watched as the boy threw fast ball after fast ball and struck out the boy at bat. Ezra had just started to make his way over to the field the other boy was playing on when he heard his name called out to one of the fields for try outs. Throwing one more look at his hero he smiled and ran off to try and make the team.
A couple of hours later he stood nervously with the other boys that were trying out for the team and waited to see if his was one of the names called on this year’s roster.
It felt like hours as he heard other names called until he finally heard his name called. “Ezra Larabee, first base” he heard and then felt a blossom of warmth engulf him as he saw his parents and little brother cheering in the stands. He listened on as some of his other friends also made the team, but soon found his eyes locked on with his blue-eyed hero. The boy had a smug smile on his face as he relaxed on the edge of the crowd by the stands. He felt a smidgen of pride that his making the team pleased his hero.
He heard the coach finish listing the new team and releasing the boys until the weekend when they would have their first practice. Ezra quickly congratulated the other boys and started to make his way over to his hero. He really wanted to know his name and to thank him for his help so long ago.
He had barely made it halfway across the field before he was nearly barreled over by one very enthusiastic little brother. “Ezra you did it, you made the team. Wow that is so awesome. Can you believe it Dad, he even gots first base! Oh man wait till I tell everyone tomorrow. I can’t wait till next year and I can try out. You think we’ll be on the same team? Oh man that is so great…”
Ezra smiled and gave a little laugh as his biggest fan expounded on the virtues of his future baseball career. Looking back towards the stands he noticed his hero had disappeared and sighed inwardly at the missed opportunity.
“No I won’t go! It’s not fair; I don’t want to visit with her.” It was a rarity to hear the normally mild mannered child raise his voice in anger. Soon to be ten, Ezra though had good reason for his anger and could sum it all up into one word, Maude.
The southern lady had called last night about visiting with her son, of course her being missing in his life the last few years didn’t seem to bother her in the least. She gave no excuses about her missing part in Ezra’s life. Maude hadn’t changed; she did what she wanted when she wanted. It seemed now that she wanted to spend time with her son as he turned ten years old.
Chris and Sarah had been wary when Maude had called but had reluctantly agreed to let Maude spend some time with her son. They decided to let Ezra visit her after his baseball game. They would spend the morning together as a family to celebrate his birthday. Unfortunately Chris had to go into work so would be unable to make it to the game. Chris and Adam both had games that day and Sarah would drop Ezra off after they were over. Maude was more than pleased that she would have her son delivered and wouldn’t have to watch that boring baseball game.
Now the night before Ezra was fighting them tooth and nail about visiting his mother. While Sarah and Chris would prefer he never see the woman again, they knew that Ezra would grow to resent them if they kept his mother away from him. No matter how much he protested they knew deep down he longed for his mother’s acceptance.
“Ezra it’s only for one evening, you don’t even have to stay the night.” Sarah tried to ease the boy’s mind. “We’ll spend the morning together as a family, then you and Adam will have your baseball games, and you can spend the rest of the day with your mother. I know you’re afraid of being hurt by her again, but do you really want to give up the chance of being able to repair your relationship? You never know you just may enjoy some time with her.”
Ezra listened thoughtfully to Sarah’s reasoning and could only sigh in response. He knew there was nothing he could say to change their mind. He had no doubts as to his mother’s sudden resurgence into his life; she wanted to make sure her baby boy hadn’t forgotten all his lessons. The problem was that he had forgotten a great deal of them and knew she would be deeply disappointed in him. “Okay mom if it will make you happy I’ll go visit with mother.”
Sarah sighed, she had hoped that he would want to visit her because he wanted to, not because she asked him to; but she figured he would be happy once his mother showed some interest in him. “Thank you Ezra. Now why don’t you head up to bed; tomorrow’s going to be a long day for you birthday boy.”
Sarah watched the boy make his way up the stairs and to bed. “Chris do you think we’re doing the right thing by letting him spend time with that woman?”
“I don’t know, but I do know that if we don’t one day Ezra will resent us for not giving his mother the chance to be a part of his life.”
“You’re right honey, how about we head off to bed as well. I have a feeling tomorrow is going to be a trying day.”
Swish…flip flip flip…..swish
“What’re you doing?” A voice bellowed from the doorway.
“Shh Adam, You’ll wake mom and dad.”
“Sorry. So whatcha doing? When are you going to teach me to do that? That looked pretty cool, how come you haven’t done that before? You haven’t even touched cards in a really looooooong time.”
“I’m going to visit mother tomorrow after the game.”
“Huh? You see mom everyday silly.”
“Not mom, mother. You remember when I first moved in with you guys?”
“Oh yeah the old lady that dropped you off, sorry I forgot all about her.”
“I wish I could too.” Ezra said under his breath. “She wants me to spend some time with her tomorrow.”
“But it’s your birthday we had lots of plans. I know dad was going to be at work and mom’s been tired lately, but you and me was going to go riding and have a day of it. Now what are we going to do? Can’t your mother have you visit some other day?”
“I’m afraid not, mom and dad have it all planned out already.”
“Oh bummer, so what are you playing with the cards for?”
“I need to brush up on my lessons, mother will not be pleased though, I’ve gotten very sloppy.” Ezra sighed.
“Oh, well you look pretty good at that to me.”
“You don’t want to leaves us do you?” Adam asked seriously.
The tone had Ezra looking at his brother sharply, “Adam I have no desire to live anywhere but her with you, mom and dad. Mother would just dump me at some relatives home anyway when she got tired of having a kid around.”
“Oh well we’d never get rid of you, besides who would help me with my homework if you were gone?”
Ezra snorted at his brother’s humor. “All right brother how about I teach you some card tricks. Now be prepared to be amazed!”
The morning time with the family came and went much faster than Ezra could have believed. Standing on third base he waited to steal home. Home he thought, he hoped his mother’s arrival wouldn’t disturb his now peaceful life. All he could remember from his mother before was the endless lessons and hours of time spent by himself. He figured he would try one more time after the game to get out of seeing his mother.
Adam was in a bad mood, his strike out at bat had been the last chance for his baseball team to advance for the season. Most of his friends were supportive over the loss, but there were a few that seemed to blame him for the loss. Sure, like I was the only one to strike out. Just because I was the last one to strike out it’s all my fault. Adam sighed as he watched Ezra steal home and score the run that would clinch his team a spot in the playoffs. He thought his brother was one of the best baseball players he’d ever seen. He had dreams of Ezra one day playing professional baseball. His happiness over his brother’s win dampened with the thought of their day changed from their previous plans. Dad assured him that tomorrow Uncle Buck was coming over and the four of them would take off for the day.
Sarah was never happier as when the baseball game had finished. She had been feeling sick since breakfast and only wanted to lie down after she dropped Ezra off to Maude. Rubbing her head she got up from the stands when she noticed her boys coming to join her.
“Great job Ezra, your team should do very next weekend.”
“You played very well too Adam, I’m sorry your team didn’t advance.”
“That’s alright mom, we’ll get there next season. Besides without us there Ezra’s team might have a chance.” He laughed at his brother’s sour look.
“Very funny Adam.”
“Alright boys let’s get loaded up I need to drop Ezra off at his mother’s hotel.”
“Ah mom do you have to? Can’t we just forget and go home?”
“No Adam, Maude should get to spend some time with Ezra.”
“I really wouldn’t mind missing the excursion to mother’s.”
“I’m sure Ezra, now let’s get going boys.”
Sarah sighed as she listened to the boys grip in the back seat. They had both been relentless since they left the baseball field in trying to get her to go back home and forget dropping Ezra off with Maude.
“Alright boys that’s enough groveling.”
“Ah but mom Ezra said he’s gonna be a disappointment to his mother for not remembering his lessons.”
Ezra was mortified; he had never wanted that shared with mom or dad. “Adam” he hissed, trying to get his brother to stop talking.
“Adam, Ezra’s mother would never be disappointed in him. Besides Ezra is making straight A’s”
“Not those kinda lessons mom, his card game lessons.”
“Adam” Ezra hissed louder, he now knew he shouldn’t have told his brother so much last night. Adam could never stop talking sometimes.
“Enough boys, we’ll talk about this later.”
Adam sighed knowing that his mom wouldn’t budge any. Turning he implored his bright eyes on his brother, trying to convey to him to plead their case.
Oh sure tell all my secrets then give me those puppy dog eyes to get you what you want. Ezra sighed knowing it was a lost cause trying to ignore his little brother.
“Mom I really don’t want to go, I barely know her anymore anyway. She hasn’t even contacted me for years.”
“Ezra I said that was enough, now you and Adam need to…” Whatever else Sarah was about to say was cut off when she suddenly lost consciousness.
“MOM” the two boys yelled when they saw their mother slump in the seat. Adam quickly unbuckled his seatbelt and started to climb in the front of the car.
Ezra tried to pull his brother back into his seat but it was too late. Ezra watched as time seemed to slow down; he watched in horror as Adam was thrown through the windshield before he lost consciousness.
Buck never felt more tired and defeated as he did at this moment. It was still hard for him to believe all that had occurred in the last few hours. He shook his head sadly at his best friend’s prone body lying dead to the world. Chris had a devastating blow and Buck couldn’t blame the man for getting as drunk as possible. He wished he was able to lose himself in an alcoholic daze as well, but he knew it was up to him to keep his friend safe from himself during his grief. Even worse was when he finally came to realize how big a mistake he had made with his son. Sighing he leaned back in his seat as he remembered those awful moments that would forever change a father and son’s relationship.
“Damn it Chris it’s not that boy’s fault.”
“The hell it ain’t! He’s alive and they’re dead!”
“It was an accident Chris; you can’t blame him for something he had no control over.”
“My wife, my son and my unborn child are dead because of him! It’s all his fault he should be the one dead not them!”
Buck sighed as he watched his friend tear down the hallway. He knew Chris was only lashing out in pain and would think clearer when the wounds weren’t so raw. It wasn’t the boy’s fault; he was as much a victim as everyone else in this tragedy. The feeling of being watched had him looking down the hall and a pair of familiar green eyes caught his gaze before slipping back into his room. In that one moment he had never seen so much devastation and self-loathing in one so young.
Buck ran his hand through his hair as he remembered the last emotion he had seen in those green eyes. How could everything go so wrong so quickly? Not only had Chris lost Sarah, Adam and the unknown child she had been carrying, but now Ezra was gone as well.
Buck hurried into Ezra’s room after he pulled himself out of his stupor. He was too late though, by the time he got to the room Ezra was fast asleep, tear tracks still moist ran down his face.
“Aw Ez, your Dad wasn’t talking about you son. Damn” Buck sighed at the mess that had been created by careless words. He needed to find Chris and quickly before the damage got any worse.
Buck leaned forward in the chair his hands gripping a chunk of hair in each. But I was too late. Too late to save the only good thing left in Chris’ life. All that was left was a letter, a letter that was currently gripped tightly in Chris’ hand. As he looked back at his friend’s figure he could no longer contain his grief and allowed the tears to flow.
It had taken awhile for Buck to find Chris and fill him in on Ezra overhearing their conversation in the hallway. Chris had looked stricken at the thought that Ezra had thought he was the boy they were talking about. Nothing however prepared him for the moment they entered Ezra’s room to find the bed striped clear, the bedside tables cleared and the fresh scent of antiseptic that permeated the room.
Terrified eyes turned to him. “Buck?”
“I don’t know pard, let’s go find the nurse and find out.”
The two men quickly made their way to the nurse’s station raging emotions barely kept in check.
“My son, where’s my son?”
“I’m sorry Mister Larabee but he’s gone.”
“Oh God no.”
Buck felt his stomach drop with the nurse’s words, but he watched her eyes widen in alarm and felt his heart thrum when she next spoke.
“Oh dear, not that gone. I’m sorry his mother checked him out. The boy left a letter for you though. I’m so sorry I never intended for…”
“That’s alright, thank you ma’am.” Buck headed off anymore apologies, he could see Chris was at the end of his rope and needed to get him home so they could figure out what to do about Ezra and Maude.
Chris had gripped the letter tightly until they were in his truck on the way back to the ranch. Buck glanced over from the driver’s seat as Chris finally ripped the envelope open and read its contents.
When they finally reached the house Chris left the truck without a word and headed directly for the liquor cabinet. Chris could be a surly son of a bitch sometimes, but nothing compared to the torment he was going through at this moment. Buck sat silently, waiting patiently for Chris to finish his current self-destruction. The pain was too fresh and the wounds too raw for any pathetic words of wisdom to counter. So he kept silent vigil over his friend until he finally passed out. Chris had uttered only six words before he slipped into oblivion. Six words that carried all the pain and emptiness he felt inside.
“Happy Birthday Son, I love you.”
Buck quickly stood up to shake off the emotions. He couldn’t let himself be buried under their weight. He had to be strong for Chris. He looked again at his friend and felt his eyes drawn again to the tightly clutched letter. Chris hadn’t revealed what was in the letter nor had he released it from his possession. Buck was disquieted by his need to know what Ezra had been thinking. He needed to know how to help his friend through this. With this in mind Buck carefully pulled the letter free of Chris’ hand and began to read.
Words cannot express the sorrow I feel for being the reason that Mom, Adam, and the baby died. I’m not sure what I did that caused their deaths but if I could do everything all over again I would gladly take their place in heaven. Do you think I would go there, probably not since I caused the accident in the first place? I’m sorry father that I have caused you so much pain. I called Maude to take me away with her so I would no longer cause you any pain. Maude said she would leave our address with you so that maybe incase, you might ever possibly find your way to forgive me for all the pain I have caused. Maude says we have to go. I’m so sorry. Please tell Uncle Buck I’m sorry as well.
I Love you always, Ezra
Buck sniffed as more tears fell from his eyes. He quickly replaced the letter in the envelope before placing it back into Chris’ grasp.
“A hell of a mess”
The door slammed harshly as Chris entered his home, throwing his mail across the counter in disgust. “Damn it” he cursed as he reached for the bottle of whiskey that was rarely out of his reach these days. The burning sensation of the alcohol only seemed to enhance the fiery pain in his heart. He sneered at the pile of envelopes with their bright red stamp marked ‘return to sender.’ He cursed Maude again for her clandestine ways. He and Buck had tried to track down the woman, but with each dead end Chris lost himself further into his grief. With each returned letter he fell deeper and deeper into that bottomless pit of despair. Soon his anguish changed into anger with each returned letter and felt lived with the southern woman. What surprised him though was the anger that he harbored towards Ezra. He knew it was irrational but couldn’t seem to help the feelings that seemed to germinate on their own.
Chris sighed as he looked at the ominous envelops again and quickly retrieved them from the counter before placing them along with the others that had piled up over the months. He had started writing Ezra the morning after he had disappeared in hopes that he would read them and know he wasn’t to blame for the accident that took their family’s lives. He wanted him to know how much he missed him and wanted him to come home, back where he belongs. Once he placed the newest returned letters with the others he kept locked safely away he grabbed his bottle of whiskey and the last photo he had of his family together and proceeded to lose himself in the latest alcohol haze.
Ezra found it hard to believe a year had passed since the tragedy of losing his family. Maude had been angry with him from the start for falling into the trap of emotional attachments. She spent the better part of six months retraining him to bury his emotions. He had found it easier as time went on to suppress his feelings when in the company of others, but it was proving difficult to turn off the emotions when he was alone. He was left feeling shaken and unsure in those moments. He felt angry with himself for disappointing his mother with his lack of control. He tried his hardest to please her but always seemed to be lacking in some regard or another. She had found out though about his private breakdowns and quickly provided tutelage on how to push away the emotions entirely. Soon he was able to push the emotions away for the more important things his mother wanted, like the many lessons she expected him to master. He could soon separate his personal feelings and push them behind a wall that left him feeling nearly numb inside. He was diligent in his lessons and quickly learned the art of charming others and his natural gift of acting skills provided his mother with many new inventive ways to enhance her personal business ventures. At times he forgot when he was playing a part, enjoying being someone else without the emotions battering against his walls. It was the times he wasn’t helping his mother that they would push harder against the walls searching for some way to break free. He was beginning to fear those hidden emotions and hoped they never found a way out.
Today though was his eleventh birthday and once again he found the day to be ruined with tragedy. Mother had been angry with him once again when he made the mistake of asking about his father. He couldn’t help the small spark of hope that his father would one day try to contact him and forgive him for his horrific sin. He didn’t think it would be possible after how angry he was when Ezra had overheard him and Uncle Buck talking, but that small hope was so hard to keep down. Maude had only harsh words though to share about his behavior and just how ungrateful he was to her for all she had sacrificed to continue to raise him.
Now a few hours later he found himself the new resident of a boy’s private school while his mother went on a much needed vacation. He sighed at the accommodations he would be staying in for an indefinite amount of time. He continued to unpack his meager things in the single dorm room while he wondered how his next birthday would compare to the last two.
“May I help the next customer please” asked the bored post office clerk. He looked up at the clock that was ever so slowly moving towards five o’clock. He couldn’t wait for the hand to reach the allotted time so he could leave for the day. Sighing he looked up as a stunning blonde beauty made her way to his counter and quickly rethought that leaving for the day wasn’t as pleasant as it was before. Affecting his most charming smile he eagerly greeted the bombshell, “how may I be of assistance to you today?” His eyes raked over her figure in a lascivious manor before refocusing on her sparkling eyes.
“I’m afraid I keep getting these letters coming to my home, but no one by that name lives there. Is there any way to keep from receiving all these letters?”
Maude smiled inwardly as she watched another of the many letters Chris had been sending stamped with the red ink and tossed into a pile of other mail waiting to be mailed out. It’s for the best baby boy, Mother knows what’s best for you and returning to that distasteful environment has only caused you so much pain. I’ll find us a nice rich husband and we’ll be set, just you wait and see son.
He really hated this place. Mother had arrived a few weeks ago all aglow with her new husband and turned his world upside down again. He had finally begun to settle into the boarding school after months of putting up with the other privileged students, but now he found himself in another new situation that he was unprepared for. He moved into the massive house just over three week ago and already the number of rules were grating on him. Don’t go in this room, don’t go in that room, and don’t touch this or that. Then there were the time schedules and strict manners with which he was to present himself with during meals and social meetings. He had no outlet for pleasure; the television was only allowed to be on news or information channels, music outside of classical or opera was vetoed, and left him only with books to lose himself with. Mother had made sure the only clothing he had was designer and fitting of a child in the upper society. His jeans, shorts, and tee shirts were all thrown out.
The worst thing was that he had no one to talk to. The staff was polite, but none of them were interested in conversing with a twelve year old boy beyond what was expected from them in their position. He was to start in a new school next week, where Mother’s new husband was one of the largest contributors. Robert J. Bizworth III was a rich and influential man within the community. He was one of the richest men in the town, and spread his wealth throughout the community. This made him a popular member of society and highly sought out for his financial banking. Unfortunately the man had an alternate personality outside of the public eye. In the short time Ezra had been in the home he had experienced enough of the man’s cutting remarks and threatening stances. His mother seemed oblivious to the man’s short temper and often explained that he was just stressed because of his work.
Mother was enjoying the new lifestyle of endless money. She was always out squandering the money she had gained access to through her marriage. Ezra was certain she was skimming off the top of every purchase into her private account while her husband was ignorant of her actions. He didn’t think his step father would be too happy if he ever found out.
Ezra heard the front door open and close with his step-father’s entrance. He sighed and wondered what terrible transgression he will have done today. It seemed over the past week he could do nothing right in the eyes of the man, and his mother eager to keep her husband happy backed the man in anything he was reprimanded on.
It had been nearly five months since he last found himself in an intoxicated stage. The letters he continued to write his son slowly tapered off until he was writing only once a month. It was still painful when they would be returned undeliverable but he was finding it wasn’t that all encompassing pain. He had little hope he would ever see Ezra again and felt as if he had lost two sons in that dreadful accident.
Judge Orin Travis contacted him a few weeks ago about heading a new team for the Denver branch of the ATF. He had given his acceptance of the position with the provision that he would choose the members of his team.
Buck had been the first to fill one of the positions on the new team. His oldest friend was a good choice not only for his ability to work with him, but the man was the top in his field. Buck had eagerly accepted the new position as the team’s second in command and communications expert.
Josiah Sanchez was his next agent to join the team. The man had been a bit reluctant at first but said something about fate later that changed his mind. Josiah was an excellent profiler, granted he was considered old by most for a field agent, but Chris wanted the experience the man would bring with him.
He lucked into his next agent; Nathan Jackson had an extensive education in the services industry. The man had graduated with top honors with a triple degree in emergency medicine, law enforcement and forensic science. The man had come highly recommended but with a warning that he could be difficult to work with due to his bull-headedness.
He wondered though if he was making a mistake with the hiring of his last agent, JD Dunne. The young man barely met the twenty-one year old age requirement and had very little field experience, but he was considered the best computer expert out there. He had been consulting with the government since he was sixteen and his mother found out about his hacking into a government agency’s computer systems. She had hoped that letting him use the skills he had developed in boredom for good would keep him from getting in trouble with his life. JD was a smart kid, a member of MENSA and graduated high school at seventeen. The government covered the boy’s schooling through MIT with the stipulation that he would work for a government agency upon his graduation. Chris had really thought that computer crimes would have snagged the kid, but somehow he was finagled by the ATF.
Tomorrow would be the first day the men would all met and begin their work as a team. He hoped the men would mesh together well, he had a strong feeling Buck would latch onto JD like a dog with a bone. They man was missing his status of favorite uncle and the time nursing Chris was a poor substitute.
Ezra sighed in dismay over the grade on his report card, wondering how he could have been so stupid to have gotten a ‘B’ in his computer programming class for the semester. Robert had told him he had high expectations and would accept nothing but the best from his step-son. Maude he knew wouldn’t even bother reading the grade report. She always thought of his drive for good grades to be a waste of time, after all that extra studying time could have been put to better uses in honing his conning trade. He worried his bottom lip as their limo driver pulled up to the mansion’s entrance. Ezra hoped that Robert hadn’t heard about his grade yet, the man seemed to know every little thing that he did wrong. Knowing there was no way to put off the imminent confrontation he thanked the driver and quickly made his way inside. He paused in the doorway of the silent house and let the breath he had been holding out slowly in relief. The relief was hover short lived as he heard the ominous voice from the living room.
“Ezra, join me. I believe we need to discuss the grade report you received today.”
Ezra’s shoulders slumped in defeat before he made his way to the living room. Before entering he straightened his posture and fixed a polite expression on his face. It was at times like these that he appreciated his mother’s tutelage in hiding his emotions. “Yes sir, I was dismayed myself by the slight mark upon my dossier.”
“That may be my boy but you know I expect the best.”
“Do you know I had the head master of the school call to tell me that my step-son was performing below par?”
Ezra cringed inwardly but his expression gave nothing away. “I’m sorry sir I will do better next time.”
“Next time? Yes, yes you will do better next time; however my boy what are we going to do about this time?”
Ezra looked down for a moment and was taken by surprise with the swift upper cut to the jaw that had him falling to the floor seconds later.
“Don’t you ever embarrass me like that again! Until you bring that grade back up to an ‘A’ you’ll have no privileges. You are to come home from school, do your homework and study until lights out. Do you understand me my boy?”
“Yes sir,” a stunned Ezra was able to get out. He watched as his step-father left the room and reached up to his sore jaw. He looked at the blood that tinged his fingers in mild fascination. Robert had never raised a hand at anyone before, sure he would yell and throw things, but this was the first time Ezra saw him become physical. He sighed with disappointment with himself for causing the man to lash out like that. If he had only gotten that ‘A’ Robert wouldn’t have had to become physical. He would have to come up with a reasonable explanation for the bruise that was sure to be there by tomorrow morning. He would do his best to keep from shaming his step-father again.
Looking out across the city roof tops the young man considered all that had happened in his life; but what was really lying heavy on his mind this night was the decision he would have to make soon. Vin Tanner was no stranger to hard times and rough living, but he never crossed the line into hurting others. He knew if he didn’t say something soon people would be hurt; after all isn’t that what happens with guns?
Vin had found himself in a new foster home a few weeks ago. He wasn’t sure why he was always changing foster homes but he certainly didn’t like the one he was in now. John and Megan Cross had brought him into his home as their two sons would reach eighteen in the next few months. Vin knew at his age of fifteen that even finding a foster home was considered lucky. Most of the homes wanted younger kids, especially those not raised by Indians. Vin thought it was funny even in this day and age that there was still so much prejudice in the world.
When he had first arrived at their home he was nervous as to what would be expected of him, but found it easy to acclimate into their household. It was about a week later when he started getting suspicious of the goings on in the home. There seemed to be visitors at all times of the night and the phone never seemed to stop ringing. John worked as a truck driver for a local shipping company and Megan was a stay at home mom. Vin though couldn’t help but feel there was something more going on. It was only a few days ago that he stumbled onto what the couple and their sons were into.
Three days ago Vin was home sick from school with one of those twenty-four hour stomach bugs. It was during one of his trips to the lavatory that he heard Megan yelling over the phone about John’s large shipment coming in for a special client. Being naturally curious he continued to listen as she discussed the day, time and location of the delivery. His eyes about bugged out when he heard Megan confirm the order of guns being purchased. Vin knew from the description that these were guns on the illegal trade list. He had an affinity for firearms and found their history to be fascinating, perhaps this was one of the reasons the Cross’ had decided to foster him. It was common in the home for the family to discuss different firearms and he found himself actively engaged in their conversations. It had made the transition into their home rather smooth, but all the previous conversations had focused only on hunting rifles and the typical hand guns people carried.
“Larabee” Chris answered the phone ringing at his desk hoping it would be a new case for his team to work. They had been bored the last few weeks since their last case had cleared and started pulling practical jokes against one another. He listened attentively to the other speaker as he was filled in with the pertinent information. “I’ll be down in a few minutes sir.”
Chris made a few notations before heading into the outer office. He sighed and shook his head at what his crack pot team was up to. JD and Buck were involved in spit ball war, the evidence of their missed shots scattered around their feet. Rolling his eyes he wondered what the hell Josiah was building with the small stones on his desk. He didn’t even consider asking, knowing he was in no position to hear one of his many parables that only left him feeling more confused in the end. His eyes traveled to his most sensible agent and then wished he hadn’t. Somehow Nathan had in his position a life-like human head and chest. He was currently cutting into the dummy’s throat with a very sharp scalpel. He cringed at the thought of anyone having that procedure. From the looks of the dummy and all the paraphernalia poking out from its orifices he was considering having Josiah speak with the healer about things that may be bothering him. He cleared his throat to gain everyone’s attention and cringed again when his distraction had caused a disaster for Nathan.
“Damn it!” Nathan yelled in frustration as he severed the carotid artery in the mannequin’s neck.
“Problem brother?” Josiah chuckled at the man’s frustration before frowning when his own project fell apart.
“You have a new case for us stud?” Buck swung his seat around while he dislodged a modest amount of spitballs from his head and shoulders.
“Thank God!” JD exclaimed. He was seriously bored, he’d already run every virus scan and backup program he could think of..twice!
“Travis has a new case for us. I’m on my way to meet with him and bring back an informant. He’ll be under protective custody until the case is finished. I don’t have much more information right now. I’ll fill everyone in when I get back. Buck you’re with me, everyone else clean up this mess.” Chris didn’t wait as he continued out of office and into the elevator with Buck following quickly on his heels.
Vin paced the room for the umpteenth time before settling by the window that offered a stunning view of the city of Denver. He’d been waiting in this room for what felt like hours while some guy named Travis arranged for his protection after he had been filled in on the information Vin possessed. He rubbed his stomach in appreciation of the fine meal he was treated to. McDonald’s big mac and fries was a special treat for him and his eyes had lit up when his requested food was brought in. Now though he was bored and anxious to meet the man he would be living with throughout the investigation.
According to Travis they had to work with the foster care system and set up a believable reason for Vin’s removal from their home and care. It was for this reason he was waiting so long. Sighing again he let his gaze angle towards the sky and wondered just where he would end up after all this was over.
“You did WHAT?” Chris couldn’t believe what Travis had done.
“It’s for the best Chris, it will make everything safer this way.” Orin knew he would face Chris’ wraith over this but he felt he was the best suited for this situation.
“How long?” He gritted out between clenched teeth. He really didn’t want this but knew there was no getting out of it, the case was just too important.
“Until after the trial is over. Shouldn’t be but a few weeks, month or two tops.” At least Orin hoped for his sake it was only that long. He cringed as he watched Chris slam the door behind him as he left the office. He could hear Buck Wilmington cry out in disbelief as Chris filled him in on the plan.
Chris had stormed from Travis’ office with Buck on his heels the whole way. He had quickly filled Buck in on the plans and found himself standing in front of the two way mirror silently observing the kid watching the sky on the other side. He could hear his friend snicker quietly every few minutes and could just imagine what pranks would become part of his life for the next year. He had to admit now that he had a few minutes to calm down that Travis’ plan was ideal for getting the kid out of the house, but he wasn’t sure he was ready for this. He felt like he was betraying Ezra by doing this, even temporarily. It would all take place in a few hours once all the paperwork was completed. First though he had to go in and explain to the kid what was going to happen.
“Wait here,” he instructed Buck while he made his way towards the room’s door. He took a deep breath before he breached the room’s barrier.
Vin heard the footfalls before the door opened and turned in anticipations. Finally, he thought after hours of boredom. He was surprised that Travis’ was not the person entering but instead a vaguely familiar man in dark clothing and there was something about him that Vin instantly took a liking to.
A thousand silent words passed between the two before either volunteered a word. It was Vin that broke the silence as he introduced himself. “Vin Tanner”
“Chris Larabee, your father.”
Ezra winced as he settled into his desk at school. Last night hadn’t gone very well when his step-father had lost a considerable sum to falling stock prices. Mother of course was out on the town as usual filling her bags with purchases and inflating her private bank account. Ezra though had been the sole recipient of last night’s tirade with the man.
Since the first time he was struck by the man nearly a year ago the man’s temper had escalated. He’d only recently had the cast removed from ‘accidently’ breaking his arm and dislocating his shoulder when he ‘slipped’ down the stairs. It seemed he was an accident prone child according to the adults surrounding him in his life.
He had considered saying something to one of the adults at school but was quickly swayed from that idea when he caught the administrator conversing about his abuse but had to turn a blind eye to it because of who was involved. It was then that Ezra knew he could never trust one of the adults with what was happening.
He had tried to get involved in afterschool activities but because of his clumsiness he was never able to make it to try outs, let alone play in any of the games. The other students didn’t like him either, he was considered too quiet and smart to want to have as a friend. He had even tried doing crazy stunts to earn him a place in their ranks but instead found himself left with the consequences.
It was not for the first time since the death of his brother that he wished he was the one that had been killed instead. He knew he was a burden to his mother; it was never her intention to take him with her, of that she was certain to remind him nearly every day. He often wondered why he had even been born; certainly there was no one that would mourn his loss.
Sighing he tried to focus on what the teacher was talking about but had far too many thoughts circulating that worry about what she was saying. He knew he would need to prepare himself for when he went home after this class and was confronted with his step-father again. He just hoped that tonight the man wouldn’t cause another serious injury but knew that any hope he had was in vain as he considered the heavy weight of the poor progress report he would be bringing home.
Less than an hour later the final bell of the day signaled his release from classes and he made his way to the waiting limousine located in the front of the school. Spotting the administrator talking with his step-father he felt a deep dread infuse him straight to his bones. He contemplated turning and running as far away as he could but knew it was futile; there was no help in this town for him. He put all his strength into his mask as he continued to walk up to the two men.
“Ah Ezra my boy!” He step-father greeted him with a sugary smile, insincere to the core. Ezra felt his shoulder, his recently healed shoulder, grasped in a punishing grip and tried to keep the wince off his face. “I believe dear boy that you and I must discuss your academic challenges.”
Ezra felt himself propelled into the back end of the vehicle and waited silently as his step-father finished his farewells. He flinched noticeably when the door slammed shut and cursed himself silently for providing such a tell to the man. He shivered as the cold eyes measured him and he heard the privacy window rise ominously. With its final click in place he knew he was trapped in silence with the unstable man. The first punch left his ears ringing while stars filled his visual field. By the time the limousine pulled into the mansion’s circular driveway he was oblivious to the world around him but he would swear he heard his step-father speak.
“James put this piece of trash in his room and lock it, I can’t believe he got blood on my favorite jacket.”
Vin couldn’t believe that the case had taken nearly a year to complete. He had worried throughout about what would happen to him after the trial but as the months continued he found himself settled into the Larabee household. He had an easy rapport with Chris and found it easy to fall into a father and son relationship. They were both alike in many ways, though Chris didn’t care much for his number of practical jokes.
He found an easy relationship with the other men Chris worked with and was surprised that he was included in so many of their personal activities. It was a surprise for him when the guys had worked together and surprised him with a birthday to remember. According to Buck, a boy’s sixteenth birthday was an important one. He was therefore even more surprised when the guys had brought in an old jeep. He had been told it needed a lot of work but part of becoming a man was knowing how to care for and fix any problems with his vehicle. Others may have turned their nose up at the obviously old and beat up vehicle, but to him it was like looking at gold. Vin spent hours a day working on the vehicle either on his own or with one of the others.
Now though he wondered what would become of the beautiful machine when he was taken back into the foster system. He had allowed himself to become too comfortable in a home he had known from the start was only temporary at best. He had hoped that Chris would want him to stay even after his official duty was fulfilled. He wanted to bring up to the man his desire to stay, but was afraid his request would be rejected.
Chris looked out with pride on his fellow agents. The case was finally over and a guilty verdict was brought down by the jury. He smiled as he thought of the young man that had become his son during the time. He had spoke with the judge a few weeks ago about making the boy’s status official. He hadn’t spoke with any of the others about his plans but now holding the official papers he knew he would need to. He was thinking that they should have a party for Vin’s official welcome to the family.
Clearing his throat he stepped into the open office area, “Boy’s got something to tell you.”
The others quickly turned their attention to Chris as they wondered if they were being given a new case already.
“Nothing wrong with the case is there?” Buck asked hoping that things there were settled.
“Nope, got some good news.”
“Well don’t keep us waiting big dog!”
Chris smiled at Buck’s excitement. “Vin is now officially my son.”
Stunned silence filled the room before bursts of congratulations were given by the others. Buck held back as feelings of happiness and sadness fought for control. He was happy that Vin would have a permanent home. He was a good kid and easy to be around. He was sad though that Chris seemed to have moved on from trying to find Ezra. He had noticed that the box of letters Chris had kept for Ezra disappeared to wherever he had placed all the other traces from his past life. He knew the other men he worked with had no clue that Chris had a son missing out there. He was just sad that it seemed as though the search for Ezra would come to a close. He was brought out of his musings when Chris’ gaze resettled on him. He could see the mutual recognition in the man in regards to his past. “I’m very happy for you Chris. Vin’s a good kid and will be a great son for you.” He couldn’t help though the voice that screamed inside…but what about Ezra?
Dinner that night in the Larabee household was a quiet affair. Vin ate his meal silently as he waited for Chris to tell him when he should be ready for child services to pick him up.
In turn Chris wondered how he would bring the subject up with the observant boy. He had been thrilled at work today when the official paperwork had arrived, but now at home he wondered if Vin really would want to be his son. He hadn’t felt so at peace since before the accident that had destroyed his world. He still missed his family immensely and hadn’t given up hope that one day he would be reunited with Ezra. He didn’t miss the look in Buck’s eyes in the office with his hidden knowledge of the missing child and his despair over his acceptance of his loss in his life. It was true he never spoke of his son to the others, but it was just too painful to explain everything that had transpired. He had finally stopped mailing out letters, not being able to deal with the emotions when they would be returned shortly thereafter. The collection of letters he had saved he added to the other memories of his family he had stored in his closest. It was even too difficult for him to have the photos of them around the place, so they were stored away as well.
Vin had watched as Chris had become sad and contemplative in his thoughts. He wondered what was going through his head. Probably trying to figure out how to tell me my time here is over. Vin decided to make it easier on the man, after all he had only planned on having his houseguest for a few weeks, a month tops. “Dad, um Chris, when should I expect to be picked up?” He cursed himself for slipping up and automatically calling the man Dad, but he had been addressing him that way from the start because of the cover story and had become habit.
Chris was shocked out of his memories when Vin started talking. “What are you talking about?” Oh please don’t tell me he doesn’t want to stay here, I won’t make him stay if he doesn’t want to, but damn I want him to stay.
“I figure you’re trying to figure out how to break the news to me about being sent back to foster care. I understand you was only expecting me to stay for a few weeks. I have loved it here, been the best place I ever been at. Can’t thank ya enough for everything you have done.”
Chris interrupted him before he could go on any farther, “ain’t anyone coming from child services.” Chris smiled at the stunned look on his sin’s face. “Was trying to figure out how to tell you I made it official. I wanted you to be my son, so went and adopted you officially.” Any worry Chris held was dismissed by the bright smile and tears that slipped down his son’s face.
Ezra sighed as he looked at the paper that was placed on his desk by the new teacher assistant; Ms. Tenant. She was studying to be a teacher herself and was spending the time working in the classroom for experience. She was the only teacher that Ezra liked; she was kind to him and asked him constantly about his home life. Ezra figured she was almost too observant. He had caught her worried look as she placed the paper on his desk with the red ‘B-‘ on the paper. Ezra couldn’t help the fear and worry that filled him when he realized his step-father would confront him later tonight about the grade. He was certain that his step-father had already been notified about the grade.
Shelia Tenant sighed as she considered the young boy she had grown attached to during the school year. She had noticed that whenever he received a grade below an A he came back the next day with an injury. She had tried to get the child to open up but was never successful as he would somehow gain control of the conversation and before she knew it the subject was forgotten until five minutes after he left. Shelia had tried talking with the teacher and administration at the school regarding her concerns but it seemed no one would take her claims seriously. She decided to take her concerns to her brother and see what he could do for the child. Perhaps he would feel more secure talking to someone in authority.
Ezra grimaced as the school’s final bell sounded; he couldn’t help but think it sounded faintly like funeral music; of course that was likely more his imagination. He slowly put his books away before leaving the classroom, knowing that the longer he took exiting the greater the chance he would not encounter any misfortune from the local student body; he really did hate it here. He had learned early on that leaving with the crowd ended with him being tormented verbally, tripped, hit or stuff thrown at him. Of course none of this was ever witnessed by a teacher so he had to figure out his own way to get through the bullying. Since he was considered a car rider he knew he would be able to leave a little later than the majority of the students, after all his step father would never consider placing a child of his on public transportation; he had appearances to keep up for the public. James, his chauffer, had figured out his desire to be the last student picked up if possible. As bad as his time at school was, his time at home was worse. Seeing the halls had cleared of most of the students he made his way out to the car line to begin his journey into hell again tonight.
Shelia sighed as she watched the sad little boy leave for the day. Grabbing her keys she said her goodbyes to the teacher and left the school. She planned as soon as she got home to call her brother and get the child the help he needed. She also decided it was time for her to search for a different school to work at. She knew she could never respect an administration that would knowingly allow a child to be endangered. It left a bitter taste in her mouth that such people were put in charge of innocent children.
Robert Bizworth was not having a good day. This morning he had found over two hundred thousand dollars missing from his accounts. He spent the remainder of the day trying to find where the money had disappeared to. To make matters worse Ezra’s school called to inform him his step-son did not make an A on his latest exam. He had finally received an answer regarding the missing money and it left him livid with anger.
The house staff had spent as much time staying busy out of his anger’s reach to avoid being an outlet for his anger. Broken pieces from priceless possessions littered the floor in a sad display of his potent anger.
It was this environment that Ezra found himself walking into as he came home for the day. By the time his shocked mind put the evidence in order it was too late for him to get away from the latest item catching him on the side of the head as its aerial journey came to an abrupt end. Blood splattered from his head onto the outside of the still open door as the boy dropped to his knees from the pain. Green eyes were desperate to focus on the advancing figure, while the normally sharp mind worked through the muddled commands it was being given to escape. Neither sense worked to the boy’s advantage as he felt hot breath invade his personal space. The words that were spat at him came from far away as his still overly taxed mind tried to catch up with everything that had transpired.
“My God, Ezra! Robert you monster let go of my son!” Maude had arrived home early this day since she had no social events planned on her schedule. She’d had a wonderful day in the town’s exquisite boutiques filling her wardrobe with the latest of the year’s fashion. She had even managed to skim a healthy sum of money from Robert’s account before treating herself to an expensive brunch. Her afternoon had been spent with a powerfully connected lawyer discussing the ending of her marriage to Robert. The lawyer had provided her with ample incentives to use him in her divorce proceedings. A few hours later she had the paperwork being processed and would soon disappear from the man’s life soon with over half his fortune. It was with this satisfying day that she found her world turned upside down as she entered through open door to see her husband assaulting her son.
Robert flung the child away not caring where or how he landed to turn his anger on the one that he was truly angry with. He grabbed the conniving woman he had brought into his life by the upper arms and began to yell and scream obscenities at her for what she had done to him and the embarrassment her and her son had brought to his image in this town. He ignored her screams as he landed blow after blow upon her until she was nothing but a blundering mess.
Ezra had watched as if from far away his mother’s subsequent beating. He tried to get his body to move but except for a moan or two his brain was unable to get the body to fulfill its orders. His brain begged and pleaded with his body to respond as the images became clearer and saw his step-father lift his mother by her throat. Finally he was able to move his legs but like a newborn foal they just would not sustain his weight immediately. By the time he had his feet securely under him again he was too late to stop his mother’s forward explosion into the wall. He stood frozen as he heard a sickening crack when she landed. Wide terrified eyes focused on sightless eyes as blood pooled around her once golden hair.
He felt himself grabbed and hit as if from far away as his eyes remained transfixed on the lifeless figure on the floor. Even as he felt more blows connect to his body he couldn’t remove his eyes from the image of his mother’s broken and bleeding body. He watched through a dimming view as the world began to tunnel away. Green eyes filled what was left of his vision and a whispered “Dad” escaped his tormented throat before he succumbed to the darkness.
Jacob Tenant had listened as his sister told him about the young boy she was worried about in her class. The call had come in over an hour ago when he answered the call that was transferred to his desk by the department’s switchboard. Shelia had begun by telling him about the events that seemed too corresponded with injuries to the child. She explained about the school’s lack of concern where the child’s welfare was concerned. After promising his sister he would check on the child he finished his current paperwork before calling his partner over about checking out a possible child abuse case.
Ryan Hart was a long time veteran to the police profession but had only recently moved to the area like Jacob and his sister had. Ryan had a distinct dislike for adults that committed crimes against children and was ready to go before Jacob had made it past his desk. “Hurry up son I want to check this out.”
Jacob was his junior by at least fifteen years and was still in his early years of law enforcement. “Alright let’s go, I’ll fill you in on the way.”
The two men quickly reached their patrol car and Jacob drove them away from the station to the address his sister had given him.
“So where are we head son?”
“Robert Bizworth’s place, it’s his step-son that the call was about.”
Ryan thought about the name he had been hearing since the beginning of his stay in the town. He had heard the man had his hand in just about every business he could find, a supposed pillar of the community. He had the distinct feeling that the powers that be had a close attachment to the man’s business and the information he was supplied was to warn him away from checking into the man’s affairs. He was never one to be intimidated or warned off a potential perpetrator and would be damned if he would turn a blind eye to a child abuser. “So what’s the story?”
“The boy is a student in my sister’s class. She has tried going through the proper channels but has been unsuccessful in getting them to consider there is any problems within the home. She’s noticed a correlation that whenever he gets below an A he comes back the next day with at least one serious injury. Told her we would check in and see if there was anything going on.”
“Well there better not be or Bizworth will be spending a long time behind bars!”
They lapsed into silence as the journey continued, each with their own thoughts, hoping that the reports would have no foundation. When they reached the estate the sight of the wide open front door had them calling in their location with a request for backup before they cautiously made their way towards the home.
Robert was too far lost in his frenzy to realize the damage he had wrought upon his wife and was currently bringing towards his step-son. He never heard the officers enter his home and requesting him to release and step back away from the child. All his aggression-crazed mind could recognize was two other beings to lash out at. As a result he dropped the child not even watching as he fell boneless and still towards the ground. His hand grabbed the first object within reach and took a swing at the nearest individual.
Jacob had been shocked as he and Ryan breached the home’s threshold. He was shocked by the destruction throughout the room and sighed sadly as he saw the body crumpled by the wall. What was once likely a highly attractive woman was now a broken and empty shell that would never to grace the world with her presence again. He was brought back from his musing as he heard his partner growling at the man holding the small child and adjusted his gun’s aim at the perpetrator.
Ryan was beyond livid; he was sickened by the images that flashed through his field of vision as he quickly spotted the monster that had created the hell that was still being wrought upon the child that was quickly losing his hold on reality. He called for the man to release the child and step back, but was only mildly responded to as the man dropped the child and took a swing at him with the crystal vase. Thankfully his anger worked against him and he missed slipping on the debris and shattering the vase against the floor and the side of his head. With the man down and stunned Ryan quickly cuffed him before yelling to his partner. ”Check the woman.” He quickly turned to the small boy and was in time to witness the child look at him with such hope and pleasure before he heard the hurt child call ‘Dad’ before losing consciousness.
Chris stood in the doorway of the barn listening with pride as Vin expounded the adoption to his favorite horse, Sonny. He always thought he would have to sell the beast that wanted to bite and kick anyone in his path, everyone that is except Vin.
He looked a few stalls down to the beautiful chestnut painted gelding that was kicking at his stall in obvious envy for the other horse’s good fortune. Copper had changed though since the tragedy, not nearly the wildly mischievous horse he was before. In the last year though he seemed to perk up with Vin’s arrival, but still the ornery cuss would allow no one to ride him.
He chuckled softly when he remembered JD’s failed attempt shortly after the team’s first successful case. The boy’s rump had barely settled before Copper had bucked him right off into the water trough. Buck of course had a grand time that weekend teasing his new protégé. JD was tenacious though and tried again and again, but damn if that horse didn’t always come out on top. JD finally gave up after being unceremoniously thrown again before the indignant horse backed up to the prone figure and left a pile of what he considered of JD’s attempts to ride him.
Vin finished caring for his beautiful palomino and took notice of his father’s arrival, wondering why he was looking at the pinto so pensively. He’d caught Chris on a number of occasions watching the stubborn critter sadly, but could never figure out why. Perhaps he was supposed to be a stud horse that was gelded for some reason, which would tend to make a horse breeder morose. He had tried to get on friendly terms with the flashy horse, but was rebuffed like everyone else. It was a wonder Chris hadn’t sold the gelding with how impersonal he was.
“Morning Dad,” Vin grinned with all the happiness he could muster.
“Morning son,” Chris reciprocated, “guys should be here soon, told them to come on out and we’d have a celebration today.”
Vin brightened at the idea, he enjoyed spending time with the other men.
The others had arrived a short time later and spent the morning riding the trails with the newest member of their family. The noon hour was upon them and all agreed that lunch was the most important item on the agenda. Vin was joined by Nathan and JD in taking care of the horses while Chris, Buck and Josiah headed for the house and to start preparing the afternoon feast. The guys had arrived with all the fixings of a weekend grilling; everything from ground beef to potato salad littered the counters and refrigerator.
“Hey Buck, why don’t you get the grill started while I get the burgers put together.”
Buck waved and nodded as he snatched a cold beer on his way out of the kitchen.
Josiah shook his head fondly at his friend before following his example and downing his own cold beer. “What can I do to help brother?”
“Can you put the fixings together? Probably best to set everything up outside, we’ll have more room that way.”
The men quickly went to work; hunger was a motivator that no man could resist. Soon the sounds of meat sizzling on the grill were heard amongst good natured teasing. It was this atmosphere that the guys noticed the arrival of Orin Travis.
“Wonder why he’s here?” Buck mused aloud.
“Hopefully not a new case, we just finished the last one.” JD whined at the thought of hours upon hours of research work that would take place.
“Guess we’ll find out in a moment brothers.” Like the others Josiah was curious about their boss’ arrival.
Chris watched silently as the man in question made his way towards the group. He hoped it was nothing that would be a complication to the adoption he had just finalized. Orin had warned him that while it was official if a relative was found the adoption could be contested. “Judge,” he greeted, “what brings you out here when you should be enjoying your weekend off?”
“Chris can I speak with you alone for a few minutes?”
Chris nodded and turned into the house where they could talk in private. The others watched as the door closed behind the two men and wondered what was going on.
“Do you think the judge is going to make me go back into foster care?” Vin asked worriedly.
“No, no son, I’m sure this is just work business. Chris would move mountains before he would let his son be taken from him.” Josiah soothed the boy as best he could while still he had a niggling worry in the back of his mind about what the judge had to discuss so urgently.
Buck turned away from the scene during Josiah’s comforting words as his mind abidingly thought of Chris’ other son that couldn’t be found even after moving all the mountains and rivers in his path. He sighed and prayed that no more complications came to his friend’s life.
Chris sat stunned after hearing what the judge had to say, even after he had him repeat it to be certain he had heard him right. Ezra, his son, had finally been found. A great weight of relief lifted off his chest and the smallest of grins soon came to a full-fledged smile or pure delight. “Where is he? When can I see him? Is he okay? What happened?”
“Whoa, slow down Chris. That’s what I need to talk to you about.” Orin took a deep breath before he began and shuddered as he watched the worried look take over the glee of moments ago. “Ezra has been living with Maude and her husband in a small Georgia community for the last two years.”
“Two years, damn it! Two years in one spot and we couldn’t find him. Shit!”
“Well Maude was a professional con artist Chris; she was very good at her schemes.”
Chris quickly picked up on the past tense Orin was using, “what do you mean was?”
“Maude’s dead Chris, she was killed yesterday afternoon.”
“Shit. Shit. What the hell happened? Is Ezra okay?”
“Her husband beat her to death. We’re not sure exactly what all happened as the husband isn’t talking. When the officers got there she was already dead.”
“What about Ezra? What the hell is going on with my son?” Chris had jumped up as the anger surged through him over hearing of Maude’s death. Sure he was pissed at the woman for taking their son and not contacting him but damn no woman deserved that kind of treatment.
“Sit down Chris and I’ll tell you everything I know.”
Chris reluctantly sat down, he felt like a stick of dynamite ready to explode. “Go on”
“Chris Ezra’s in the hospital, he was also a victim of the husband’s abuse.”
“Fucking hell..Son of bitch! I’ll kill the mother fucker! What the hell did he do? Is Ezra alright?”
Orin watched the explosion he knew would happen, especially after his reaction to Maude’s death. “He’s at the pediatric trauma center in Atlanta. They have him listed as critical but stable. I don’t have all the information on his injuries but they will be expecting your arrival this evening and have promised to have his attending physician available to answer your questions.”
“Fuck,” his temper was punctuated as he grabbed the closest item he could get his hands on and flung it with all his strength against the wall. Hearing the glass shatter did little to abate his anger and worry. “Who do I contact at the police department in regards to the mother fucker that did this? I want the son of a bitch to fry for this shit!”
Orin related all the information as well as supplying him with a note with all the contacts he would need in Atlanta. “Take all the time you need Chris, and please keep me updated. I’ll see myself out.”
“Orin, thank you. Can you send Buck in here please?”
A few hours later five silent men were cramped on a flight to Atlanta, while one young man fidgeted throughout the flight. Vin had been shocked to hear that Chris had a son that had been missing for nearly four years. He looked towards his dad, but the same stony façade hadn’t lost its hold since Judge Travis had stepped into the house to talk to him. He had tried to ask about the kid, Ezra, but it seemed since the Judge’s announcement no one could get more than a word or two out of the man. Vin was worried though, now that Chris would have his real son back would he still want to keep the son he adopted? Vin sighed as he tried to get comfortable in the close seating and watched as the scenery was quickly passed by.
Buck was pissed, no he was beyond pissed he was so livid he could rip the heart out of the cold-hearted bastard that had hurt his nephew. Finally, finally the moment he had been waiting for, for so long. Only it was tarnished with death and destruction. He just wanted five minutes with the son of a bitch. He looked over at his longtime friend and could see the blood lust seeping from him. He was given a wide berth through the airport, hell the six of them looked like a torpedo coming through, probably scared the heck out of a lot of people. He was worried about Ezra though, except for being told he was critical but stable there was no other information.
Jacob Tenant and Ryan Hart were the arresting officers and would be picking the group up at the airport. As the plane set down Buck could only hope the poor bastards had balls of steel to deal with the likes of Chris Larabee; cause he knew that anyone that had something to do with the condition his son was in would pay for their part.
Pain-filled green eyes worked their way through heavy lids to focus blandly on the silent figures that surrounded his bed. He laid as still as possible trying both to avoid aggravating the already increasing pain level and so as not to disturb the wondrous apparitions that had taken residence in his consciousness. He knew they couldn’t be real and he figured he had finally begun to lose his mind.
Deciding that he could care less at this time if he was going crazy, he took a moment to memorize ever feature on the first figure. The boy was slightly older than him, with long curly brown hair and features that were beginning to mature with age. Ezra felt a jolt of recognition, realizing he had met this young man before. He sighed in wonder as his usually sharp mind slowly put the missing pieces together and identified his childhood hero. Sure the boy was older now, but Ezra realized his mind would have created the changes too. It just made sense that his hero would be older than him. Feeling safer than he had in many years he absorbed all the small nuances he could of the slumbering figure.
Once he had his fill he focused on the next figure and his sharpening mind quickly identified his Uncle Buck. He smiled wistfully as he remembered the fun times he had with the gregarious man. Like with his hero, his mind had adjusted to the aging of the man. Ezra wondered why they were all sleeping in his newly created world, but figured he would learn how to adjust that in time. He ached to reach out for the comfort his Uncle would bring him but held back afraid he would disturb the carefully constructed illusion and leave his world emptier than before.
It was with great expectation that he turned towards the last figure and could barely contain the joy of finding his father sitting at his bedside. His jade eyes locked onto the figure as a silent tear tracked its way down the bruised and swollen face. He couldn’t contain the desire to reach out for that parental affection and prayed everything wouldn’t disappear as the whisper-soft word “Dad” filled the silent room. When the figures remained within his realm he slowly relaxed and let consciousness fade. He couldn’t help but pray that when he woke again that his apparitions would still be present.
Chris woke slowly to the whispered word, wondering if he had imagined his son calling for him. As he looked at the small figure sleeping soundly in the oversized bed he figured it was just his mind playing tricks on him. Looking at his best friend and son still sleeping just confirmed that he was hearing things, but after five days of waiting for his son to regain consciousness it would be a surprise if he wasn’t hearing things.
He barely remembered the first day in the humid city, just the rush from the airport to the hospital where he had been hold up ever since. He sighed guiltily when he considered his actions of the last few days. He knew it wasn’t his friends fault, but he couldn’t seem to stop lashing out at them every time one of them would bring up the question of why they never knew about Ezra.
Taking a deep breath, he considered Vin and the hurt confusion he had seen in the boy since finding out about Ezra’s existence. He knew the boy was worried about his place in his life now that Ezra had been found and Chris knew he had done nothing to help alleviate those fears. He made a promise to himself to do that this morning when the boy woke up. They’d go out this morning, have a good breakfast and he spend some time reassuring Vin of his place in his life. He was a bit nervous about leaving Ezra’s side for the first time but he also had Vin to think about too. It wasn’t like he was abandoning his son, Buck or one of the others would be here and they could contact him if anything happened.
He had tried to get Josiah, Nathan and JD to return back home, but they seemed just about as stubborn about staying. They were really good men and wasn’t surprised by their behavior. They had been instrumental in helping to clean up the mess with the step-father and school system. He knew that by the time they left the city that town would never be the same again.
Chris frowned when he thought about the man that had put his son into the hospital. He had learned over the last few days that Ezra had been a visitor many times to different hospitals, clinics and private physicians in the years he had been missing. He wondered how it was that no one had considered his abuse before. He owed a great deal to the young Miss Tenant and her brother and his partner as well. From the report he had heard on Maude, it was a wonder that Ezra wasn’t killed.
Robert Bizworth was on his way to a psychiatric facility. Within an hour’s time of being in custody he had attacked another prisoner. Unfortunately for Mr. Bizworth he chose the wrong person to attack. By the time the guards were able to separate them Bizworth had sustained numerous injuries. When his lawyer found out he had suspected foul on the part of the law enforcement, after all prisoners had been known to be beaten by revengeful officers; it certainly wouldn’t be the first time it happened. However, when Bizworth tried attacking him as well he quickly changed his tune and proceeded to get paperwork together for the man to be evaluated by a psychiatrist.
Chris had not been pleased with the insanity card being played, but there was little he could do about once the doctor’s diagnosis was verified by an additional two psychiatrists. In all accounts the doctor’s agreed the man’s mind snapped when he discovered the swindle his wife was pulling on him. So it was the murder of Maude and the attack on her son would never be brought to trial. That however didn’t mean that those sane and knowing of the problems would be held unaccountable. The list was growing longer by the day and each where being charged as accessories to child abuse, assault and battery on a minor, and murder of Maude Bizworth. Chris had tried to throw everything he could at the individuals responsible, not caring that he was coming across as a vindictive bastard. In his book any one of those people could have prevented this tragedy from happening. From the staff that worked in the estate to the administration at the private school, the list was long on those being charged both criminally and professionally. Most of the staff at the private school would not only lose their jobs and face prison time, but would never be able to work in a school system again.
Seeing his friend rouse from another night of sleep brought him out of his contemplative mood. “Morning Buck.”
“Any change?” Buck asked as he stretched and tried to adjust his body from the cramped positions he had been in for the past few days.
Chris just shook his head negatively. “I need to talk with Vin, you mind staying with Ezra till we get back?”
“No problem, will ya bring back something decent to eat? If you weren’t a patient before you got here, just eating that stuff will be sure you’re one after.”
Chris cracked the first grin in nearly a week with his friend’s comment. “Yeah we’ll bring you back something. Let me get Vin up and going, I want to be back for when the doctor comes in for the morning check up.”
Chris went to wake Vin up but saw the two cerulean eyes watching his advance. He could see the worry that the boy tried to hide, but Chris felt his heart drop as he realized just how much he had left the boy in doubts. Well he would take care of that this morning and help Vin see just how important he was to him. “Come on Vin, let’s go grab some breakfast.”
It was a few hours later that a relieved Vin found himself alone in the hospital room with his new brother. Breakfast with Chris and their subsequent talk had reaffirmed his place in Chris’ life. He hadn’t realized just how worried he was that Chris would no longer want him now that his real son had been found until Chris had started to alleviate his worries. Now feeling secure in his position within the family once again he began to think about his new role as big brother.
Sure he had stayed in foster homes with other kids, some younger and older, but this was the first time it would be permanent. He wanted to be the best big brother Ezra could ever have. He had seen a lot of abuse in his days, even experienced it himself, so he was prepared in some ways to help his brother deal with the trauma. Vin promised himself he would be the strong shoulder the kid could cry on when things would catch up with him.
So deep in his thoughts he didn’t realize he was being watched until a soft southern-tinted word traveled his way. “Hey your awake!”
Vin watched the eyes that returned his stare with equal parts wonder and curiosity. Seeing the smaller boy lick his lips he jumped from his chair to help him get a drink. “Here have some water.” He had to take it away when Ezra was on the verge of choking from drink too fast. “Sorry Ezra, but ya gotta slow down. Don’t want it to come right back up.”
He laughed a bit at the amazed expression on the kid’s face. He wondered why the kid was looking at him as if he was some rare jewel.
“Are you real?”
“Course I’m real,” Vin laughed at the silly question. He figured Ezra must have gotten knocked pretty hard on his head; kid just wasn’t making all that much sense.
“My hero, you always show up when I need you, and then disappear before anyone can see you,” the boy filled in painstakingly slow, trying to get the older boy to understand.
“We’ve met before?” Vin asked curiously, he didn’t remember meeting him before but couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he had.
Ezra shook his head affirmatively before replying, “first time was at school, I’s being bullied,” he finished tiredly, his words starting to slur together.
Vin’s eyes widened in enlightenment, remembering the small boy he had protected on the playground so many years before. “That was you?”
Ezra smiled but it was easy to see the boy’s energy levels were dropping fast. “Name?” he asked blinkingly trying to keep the sleep at bay.
“Vin,” he smiled at the younger boy. He watched as the kid tried out his name before falling into a deep slumber.
When Chris had returned to the room after his meeting with the doctor he couldn’t believe he had missed the first moments of his son’s return to consciousness. He knew he should never have left the room. Vin had filled him in on the conversation he had with Ezra, short though it might be. He couldn’t help but be amazed by the story. He could barely remember Ezra’s story of the boy he dubbed his hero. At the time he and Sarah had believed it was only Ezra’s imaginary friend and the way for their son to deal with many of the changes in his life. Now though, to know that the boy was real and now his big brother really had Chris amazed.
Chris suddenly smiled as he caught the first glimpse of green eyes staring at him with gamut of emotions flickering through them. The final emotion was identified as a deep want to be held and loved; it was an expression he would never forget in his son’s eyes. He quickly gathered the boy into his fold, praying to never be separated from him again. He felt Ezra cling as tightly to him as humanly possibly with silent tears soaked his shoulder. “Oh God Ezra, I’ve missed you so much,” he felt his own tears travel down his chiseled jaw.
“I’m sorry Dad, so sorry,” he heard his son chant over and over. In return he offered words of comfort to the boy as they both released years of pain and emptiness. It wasn’t long before Chris felt his son’s body relax into his hold and slumber; but for Chris it was a long time before he released his hold on his son.