Notes: This is the first in a set of stories that will attempt to fill in some of the missing pieces of the boy’s past. I fully and happily blame Setch for giving me the attack of the muses and the road onto which I could travel back into their previous lives.
Note: This is an answer to the M7 Challenge: Create a story that pairs one of the boys with a stuffed bear or some other kind of cuddly. (paraphrased)
Thanks to NT for betaing this for me. Some days she really has a tough job. J
Every one of the brothers had a box that Bobby and Janis Walker had lovingly made for them . When they first arrived to live with them, Bobby carved, engraved and varnished each box, and then passed it on to Janis, who lined it in felt. The tops of the boxes were engraved with the child’s name, followed by the words ‘before box’. Inside, each held at least one memento from the boys’ lives before joining the Walker family.
Each brother took care of his own box and got to choose whether or not he wanted to share the contents with the others. For the most part, the boxes had been secreted away. For some, the philosophy was “out of sight out of mind.” The past was something a few of the boys wanted to shut out, but some shared their other lives willingly.
Buck was sitting in the office, going over the list of needed supplies they would have to purchase on their next trip to the bigger town. The movement he caught out of the corner of his eye made him smile as he kept working. The little figure approached quietly, meandering around the room before coming to stand next to his big brother.
Buck laid his pen down and looked over at the boy. “Hey, JD. Whadda ya up to?” he asked.
“Nuthin’,” JD said, dragging the word out.
“Where’s Vin and Ezra?” the older one asked.
“Vin got to go home with Frankie, and Josiah will pick him up on the way home. Ezra is upstairs doing his homework,” JD explained.
“Ah,” Buck said.
JD looked at his brother hesitantly before quietly asking, “Can we look at your before box?” The youngest couldn’t explain it, but he loved to go through his brother’s box and look at all the things in there.
Buck looked at the work on his desk before him and then back at his brother. “Sure. Why not?” he replied, breaking into a smile.
“May I go get it?” the younger one asked politely, keeping his figure perfectly still. It was important to him for Buck to think he could be trusted with such a gift. He knew that touching another’s box without permission was absolutely forbidden; it was right up there with breaking one of the commandments, and JD stood by the rule solidly.
“You know where it is,” Buck said in way of an answer.
JD left the room and returned a few minutes later carrying the wooden box as if it was made of crystal and would crumble to pieces if he breathed too hard. The black-haired boy sat the box down on the desk carefully, then slid onto one of Buck’s knees and waited for his brother to open the box.
Buck lifted the lid off the pine box, relishing for a moment the unique smell. He could feel the excitement coming from his brother as JD fought to keep his hands to himself. Why JD loved his old stuff boggled Buck’s mind. Perhaps, because, beside him and Buck, Nathan was the only other one willing to share his box all the time. Josiah did every-once-in-a-great-while, when he was in an exceptionally sharing mood, but only some of the contents. Vin sometimes would tell stories about the things he had done with his mother, but the box’s contents remained unveiled. As for Chris and Ezra, well, Buck figured the rest of them had a better chance of getting a personal tour through Fort Knox than they were of ever seeing the contents of those two boxes. The past carried too much emotional turmoil for the two to share. Their boxes, Buck guessed, kept their memories safe so they couldn’t overrun their minds, kind of like a locked box for weapons. JD took his box out all the time and shared with whoever happened to be in the room at the time. Buck smiled as he watched his little brother’s fingers wiggle and then clinch in a fist.
Buck stared at the box before him as a myriad of memories flashed through his mind, the same memories that came forth every time he took the box out of its hiding place. His earliest clear memory of his mom was when he was five. It was right before his sixth birthday and his mom had come into his room to tell him that they had to move from their small suburban two-bedroom house. He could remember bits and pieces of that house. The regular living room, where he and his mom watched TV together. The breakfast bar that separated the tiny dining room from the kitchen, which was always stocked with good food. His little bedroom with its small bed covered by a comforter with some kind of animals on it, he couldn’t remember what kind now. The small bookshelves she had found cheap, and the two had put together. He could remember getting up in the mornings and going to her room and climbing under the covers with her and snuggling. His momma always did laundry on Mondays and the sheets smelled so good afterwards. His momma was the best in the world
His mom had been a showgirl in one of the casinos in Atlantic City. Showgirls contracts were not written in stone by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, a girl could lose her job over the smallest infraction, from gaining too much weight and not losing it fast enough, to consorting with the wrong customers. In this case, Linda Wilmington had lost her job because, like every year, all the girls had to compete with new tryouts to retain their spot in the show. There were as many wannabe showgirls as there were slot machines and Linda had lost out to a younger, bubblier, bigger built, bottle blonde. She had promised everything would be all right. They were just going to have to adjust. She found a job working nights out of Lady Camille’s House of Hospitality, but she had kept her word: they had been okay. At least until that awful night.
Buck sat back in the office chair. JD stayed rigidly upright. “Why don’t you take them out for me?” the older one asked .
JD glanced back at his brother for reassurance before picking up two matchbox cars. Handling the old beat up cars carefully, he sat them down on the desk. Both cars spoke of hard use and more than a little abuse. It was not difficult to guess that the cars had been raced a lot of miles and had seen their share of crashes. On the tires that still existed, the shiny metallic silver on the rims had been rubbed off; now only the black undercoat showed. Flecks of paint had flaked off and tiny dents covered both of them. These were well-loved cars.
“You got these for your sixth birthday,” JD recounted the story he had heard over and over. “Your mom worked extra hard so she could buy you a store-bought cake and these came on top of it,” the youngster retold the history of the cars.
“Yep,” Buck said with a fond smile. He and his mom had given up their house and moved into an apartment right before his sixth birthday. His mother had laughingly called it a birthday/housewarming party. He could recall vividly the lime green, plush carpet in the living room where he would play with those cars quietly while waiting for his mom to wake up from her nap after working all night. He had driven those two cars over that carpet for miles, enough to drive around the world, he had thought as a kid.
Like Ezra and Vin, Buck had learned to take care of himself at an early age. His mother, after losing her job at the casino, had worked two jobs a lot of the time in hopes of earning enough money to attend a trade school and make a better life for her son. Sometimes, to make ends meet, she would work through a replacement agency as a temporary secretary. He could remember worrying about how tired she looked and she picked him up, telling him, “You keep me going.” Buck’s smile faded as he remembered she never got to fulfill that dream.
Next, JD lifted out a jacket pin. Its simplicity was nothing to laud over. The fake gold had vanished over the years. The stickpin, with its small little jewel set in prongs at the top, had been worn by his mother on special occasions and held fond memories for Buck. He could remember rare ‘special dates’. On those nights, his mother had curled her hair, put on her best dress; (a short, black, slinky one that shimmered in the lights) , put on her black, high heel, sling-back stilettos and, over the dress, she had worn a black waist-length coat with the stick pin stuck in the lapel, shining like a crown jewel. Buck recalled how beautiful his mother had been. Even today, he could see her in the kitchen baking, smiling that contagious smile of hers, or in the living room , tickling him, and hear her booming laugh. He knew a small part of him would always miss her.
The next item always confused JD. In the beginning, he had always asked Buck why he had it and Buck always answered, “Just do. A remembrance.” After the sixth time or so, JD had stopped asking. Lifting out the pacifier, he tried not to wrinkle his nose at the smell of old plastic; after all, this was Buck’s box and he was entitled to keep whatever he wanted to in it.
Buck looked at the old pacifier and became a little sad. He and his mother had picked it out, along with some other baby items at the thrift store just a week before her death. When his mother had found out she was pregnant again, she’d had her doubts about keeping it. Then Buck found out and his joy at having a baby in the house dissolved any doubts. Three months along, she had just about quit working at Miss Camile’s and was depending solely on her check-out job at the local market. One night, only a week before she was to completely stop working at the ‘House of Hospitality’, a customer she had known from previous encounters came in and offered her a good sum of money if she would just have a little fun with him. At ten years of age, only a year older than what JD was now, Buck Wilmington lost his mother and baby sibling to a man who lost control and had become excessively violent. His mother had died before help from the other staff could arrive.
Linda Wilmington left Buck only with a selected number of girls she trusted. That night his mother had placed him with someone whom she thought she could depend on. Buck had never told her that the friend wasn’t that good at babysitting. He figured his mom had enough to worry about without worrying about him, too. So, he never told his mom how the friend, Monica, would leave him alone sometimes in her apartment while she went out. There were other times when she would drag him along and make him wait, either outside some rundown motel room or inside the room while she walked the streets looking for her next meal ticket. How the police found him alone in his babysitter’s ratty motel room she had rented for the night alone, he would never know. Were they looking for Monica, herself, when they barged in, or did they manage to track her roosting place down to locate him? He just knew the police found him in that dump and he had been scared out of his wits.
JD stared at the last item in the box. The one that always made Buck break out into one of his big grins. He guessed that was why he always chose to see it last, because the pacifier always made him the saddest. Putting his small hands into the box, he lifted out the monkey and held him with reverence.
“George,” JD breathed out quietly.
The monkey was definitely old and was fifteen inches tall, more or less. Its stuffed body had fur thinning in places. The upper torso fur was colored yellow to distinguish it as a shirt and the lower trunk of the body was in black fur to make it appear as if it wore pants. The feet were big white plastic shoes sewed into place. The face was tannish-yellow; the forehead creased with wrinkles over the deep set, blue eyes; the nose puckered; the big lips, that had once been painted bright red, now faded somewhat, opened wide and curved into a smile that pouched outwards. One hand was opened and had its fingers sealed close together while the other hand fisted around a peeled banana, the whole thing molded as one piece. The monkey was worn, ragged and appeared to have been loved as much as the racecars.
Buck smiled fondly at the poor old excuse for a comfort toy. It had seen better days. His mind drifted back to the day he got the monkey. It was one of super-duper-never-forget-until-you-die days. His mother had come in his room, waking him with more vigor than she usually had in the mornings. Buck had asked her what she was so happy about and she announced they were going to the Board Walk and spend the whole day together. Buck had been eight years old and as excited as JD would get when he was wound up on sugar. Indeed, they had spent the whole day there, riding the rides; (his mom had loved the Ferris wheel the best), eating junk food and his mother had allowing him to try many of the different carnival games. There had been a specific one in which one threw a ball and had to knock down some milk bottles. He had tried and tried before he finally gave up in frustration; then his mother had smiled very nicely at the man behind the booth and asked if she could have a try. Miraculously, she won and Buck had been so buzzed out on excitement he never noticed the small kiss his mother had bestowed on the carnie. For knocking down the bottles she had won the monkey.
That was his mom. She was always trying to do the best she could for him. That was why she worked two jobs most of the time: to give him as normal a life as possible. She had sworn to herself that no matter what, they would never end up in some dive, invested with roaches, mice or other infectious carriers. It was a complete irony of life that it was that kind of place Buck was in the night his mother had been killed. He had put Henry and his cars in his overnight bag. Buck had never allowed the monkey out of sight when not in school or around his friends. It was his best comfort when his mother wasn’t around and that was all he had from his life with his mother. It had taken him forever to convince the police that the hotel room wasn’t his real home, that he lived in a clean apartment, with food and decent beds and, most importantly, his belongings. It wasn’t until after Monica returned from her ‘services’ and backed Buck’s story that he was finally believed. After all that, he still didn’t receive anything other than, by some will of a Good Samaritan, he had wound up with his mother’s pin. The rest of their stuff poofed into thin air, probably Goodwill, Buck had surmised later in his life. If not for this family and Chris, Buck couldn’t imagine what would have happened to him.
Sitting in the chair, watching JD slowly and methodically place the few precious memories back in his box, Buck smiled. He didn’t have a lot of his ‘before’ memories, but he had a slew of ‘after’ ones to make up for it. Buck looked upwards and smiled. Silently sending his mom a message: “I love you, mom”.
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7 B Ranch Index