Fight Night

By: Angela B

Notes: Thanks to Heather F. for her generous time, insight into big families and humorous input. Any mistakes you find are strictly mine!

Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be

NOTE:::: This is dedicated to Twylajane...who asks me months ago for this story…Sorry it took me so long girl.

The setting around the table was noisy as always. Sometimes the velocity of having six brothers could rival that of a jet breaking the sound barrier. What was most annoying to the fourteen-year-old, though, was his nine-year-old brother’s constant drumming of his fingers on the hardwood table. The noise was getting on Ezra’s nerves; which was already frayed by the silent war the two boys had been having for the last three days.

Like all families these brothers had their differences, unlike most other families each brother also carried a lot of baggage from their past, some more than others. There were times when JD’s activeness became too much for the more subdued southerner. Three days ago that activeness had become the pinnacle for the latest fight. JD had come into Ezra and Nathan’s room bobbing around like normal, except this time he had knocked over Ezra’s history project. Ezra’s English class had been studying the works of Mark Twain and for his class project he had made a miniature riverboat passing by a small town out of toothpicks. Ezra had spent over a week making a to-scale replica of the scene representative of the 1800’s. Needless to say once Ezra got over the initial shock words were said, which resulted in JD yelling back. Ezra thought he was showing great restraint by not choking the air out of his little brother.

Buck had shown up to referee. The teenager had rolled his eyes at this prospect. Getting a descent hearing from Buck when it involved JD was practically impossible to Ezra’s way of thinking. JD had turned on his whiny, “I didn’t mean it,” persona, complete with waterworks; which Ezra thought JD was very good at when Buck was around and it paid off; as usual. Buck admonished Ezra for dressing down his brother in such a manner. JD was made to apologize for breaking the model. Having apologized, the younger brother thought all was right with the world again and bounced back out into the hall to find Vin.

The older brother had stayed behind watching Ezra pick up the pieces of his demolished project. He offered his assistance, but received a cold shoulder and curt, “No, thank you.” Buck shrugged off the anger of his brother and left the room thinking his brother just needed a little space. Ezra picked up the pieces and stood looking at the mess before dumping it on the table and escaping to his spot.

Nathan came in later, spotting the lopsided construction; lightly fingering the project. Glancing over to the open window, he climbed out and shimmied up the lattice ladder his dad had nailed to the side of the house when he learned Ezra wasn’t going to quit seeking safety on the roof. Sitting down beside Ezra, he waited in silence for a few minutes. Looking up at the building thunderclouds, he said, “It looks worse than it is. Between the two of us, we can salvage it and having it looking like new.”

Ezra turned slowly and stared at his older brother. Seeing Nathan’s honesty and willingness to help put it back together, Ezra nodded his head and the two climbed back down to the room. As Ezra watched the senior’s hands worked carefully to reconstruct the damage and make it whole again, the teenager realized his brother was going to make a very good surgeon one day.

For the next three days things grew progressively worse. JD had assumed he should be forgiven as easily as the apology had been given. Ezra was less inclined to agree. It had taken Nathan and him more than just a couple of hours, as the youngster had presumed, to put his building and boat back together. During those three days, JD had continually griped to his roommate, Vin, about Ezra’s blatant refusal to forgive and forget. Vin saw both sides of the story. On one hand he knew Ezra had really worked hard on that project and to have it broken was something that Ezra would feel deeper than the others. On the other hand Ezra seemed to be holding a grudge longer than necessary. The atmosphere wasn’t helped none by Mother Nature. She chose those three days to let loose with some torrential rains.

Ezra saw himself as being slighted. ‘Unjustly maligned’, he would say. Over the course of the following days other various things had occurred, nothing anybody else noted except the tender fourteen-year-old. He began watching the way JD and Vin were treated and began comparing it to the way he saw himself being treated. For example, Ezra was always told to get his homework done first thing, but Vin always got to go out and play because he((had?)) to wait until Chris could “help” him with his homework. Ezra began wondering just how much help his brother really needed and how much was a put-on so he could have time with just Chris. JD on the other hand didn’t have to act like he needed Buck’s help; he got his big brother’s attention no matter what. If he whined enough, Buck always put away what he was doing and put his full attention towards the nine-year-old. Ezra saw more and more injustices the more he looked.

As the three days passed, Ezra began withdrawing more from the others and doubted they even noticed. He was more tart with the younger brothers and he was beginning to convince himself he wasn’t really part of the family. Josiah was busy with his work and keeping track of what the others did, Nathan was too busy with his schoolwork and outside interests. Chris was keeping the household going and working with Vin every night and Buck; Buck just seemed to know that JD was around.

Of course the teenager missed the fact that Josiah always asked about his day or the fact that Nathan always talked to him at night when they were in bed. He missed the way Chris looked forward to having Ezra be his cooking partner when it was his turn to cook supper. The blond had learned early on the kid was a real good cook. The blond tried not to think too much((as to)) why. It was too depressing knowing what little he did about Ezra’s past without imagining even worse. Ezra dismissed the way Buck always tried to include him in any game he had going with JD; thinking the man was simply trying to be nice. Or the times the rancher simply happened to show up wherever Ezra was hiding out and sat quietly with the fourteen-year-old. Ezra always assumed the man was looking to escape from some chore, or possibly from the clingy little brother.

The tension in Ezra had mounted until he was ready to blow apart. The clincher had been an act performed only an hour earlier. Ezra had gone in for a Popsicle and Josiah had told him to wait because supper was almost ready, besides there had only been one left and it wouldn’t be fair to the others. Ezra had accepted the reasoning left empty-handed. Josiah had stepped out of the kitchen for a minute. During that minute, Buck had come in with JD and let the youngest get himself a Popsicle. JD had gone into the living room with it. Ezra seeing JD with the treat immediately assumed that Josiah had let him have it and began steaming over it.

Now as he sat at the dining table across from his little brother drumming his fingers, Ezra was ready to smash those hyper little fingers where they could never annoy him again. “JD. Will you please refrain form using your appendages as drum sticks?’ he asked in an even tone.

JD smiled at his brother, knowing he was driving his brother crazy and drummed a little louder. Ezra inhaled a deep breath to calm fried nerves and pushed the need to scream out with his exhale. He was raised as a refined gentleman with impeccable manners. He would not lower himself to his brother’s level. “JD, I am appropriately requesting that you refrain from that annoying noise you’re subjecting all of us to.”

JD smiled wickedly and pushed the tip of his tongue to the edge of his lips. The others were involved in their own discussions and had not bothered listening to the two on the end. In fact they were trying to ignore the feud going on between Ezra and JD.

“Don’t stick your tongue out at me. That’s rude and disgusting,” Ezra said in a louder voice. His blood pressure rising.

His slightly raised voice garnered the rest of his brother’s attention. Buck turned to the youngest and queried, “JD, did you stick out your tongue at Ezra?” He was all for brothers being brothers, but there was line in his tolerance.

“No!” JD pouted. He knew it was a lie, but satisfied it in his nine-year-old mind because he hadn't technically stuck his tongue all the way out of his mouth. “He’s lying to get me into trouble,” JD said defensively.

“I am not!” Ezra replied indignantly.

“Ezra,” Buck said in a warning voice. He was tired of the teenager’s grudge against JD. It had been an accident and Nathan had helped the brother to repair the damaged artwork back to new.

“Yeah, Ez,” JD said tauntingly.

“JD,” Chris said sternly. He too was tired of the silent war, but unlike Buck, he saw Ezra had a right to be mad.

JD was to wrapped up in it now to hear the warning in Chris’ voice. Ezra had been mean to him every since he had accidentally knocked the project over. He truly had been sorry, but Ezra began acting like he had destroyed something really valuable and JD had grown less sorry.

Ezra had heard Chris’ warning and then watched JD blatantly ignore it and get away with it. Reinforcing what Ezra always subconsciously believed, he always was and always would be inconsequential when placed next to the younger brothers.

Cutting into the ensuing argument, Josiah cleared his throat. “I think everyone’s finished. You boys go on,” he said, clearly indicating he meant the youngest three brothers were excused form the table.

Walking into the living room, JD, feeling really brave and a little spiteful turned around to Ezra and spoke the truth the way he saw it, “Buck’s always going to believe me and not you because I’m his favorite.” Vin cringed at the remark while Ezra seemed to remain unperturbed by it.

“That’s why he will always take my side. That’s how come I get Popsicles when Josiah tells you to stay out of them.” Unbeknownst to poor Buck, JD had played him earlier that afternoon. JD had known Ezra had been told no when asked for the same treat. He just wanted to goad Ezra a little and he knew Buck would let him have one if he asked.

The other brother coming in from the kitchen had overheard JD’s brazen remarks. “WHAT!? JD!” Buck and four other brothers spoke in unison. Some in shock, some in anger and some in fear of what was going to come next.

Buck stared at his little brother and began seeing the kid in a different light. He knew he had always acquiesced when it came to JD. It was so hard to say no to the little boy with those big eyes. He never realized though that JD saw it as favoritism. Looking across at Ezra, he could now see that the other also saw the same thing. Buck cursed himself for not seeing the light before. “JD,” he said in a warning tone. Wanting to shut his little brother up before he said something irreparable.

Startled for a moment by being caught, the youngster froze for a minute before putting on his most innocent look. “But you do love me best, don’t you, Buck?” JD asked, his lower lip quivering. “Just like we all know Vin is Chris’ favorite.”

JD watched Ezra’s face flicker with pain and grinned. He finally found a way to hurt his brother, just like Ezra had been hurting him by not accepting his apology. Finding a chink in his brother’s armory, he drove the spear in a little deeper. “Nathan and Josiah are close and Ezra is just there. But he doesn’t really care because he doesn’t want us anyway. That’s why he left with his mother.” JD had never completely understood why Ezra had left with Maude and had taken personally that Ezra didn’t want to be around them.

The group was stunned into silence, no one knowing what to say to that last statement. Buck was looking at JD like he had suddenly become possessed. The sweet, good-hearted, lovable little brother just turned evil.

Ezra slowly looked around him and saw the stunned faces staring back and forth between him and JD. He mumbled his pardons and slipped passed Chris, managing to stay arm’s length from anyone and exited the room.

Buck finally found his voice. “John Dunne-Walker” he sputtered for a few seconds, refraining from using the words that popped into his mind. “What were you thinking? And for heaven’s sake what possessed you to say it.”

Their parents had hyphenated each of their last names when they were adopted, with the intention of giving each boy the choice of which name they wanted to carry when they turned twenty-one. So far the three oldest had kept their names like it read on the adoption papers.

JD looked into the bright blue eyes that were alight with an emotion he had never seen in Buck’s eyes before; aimed right at him…disappointment. The air went right out of him. To have his big brother look at him in such a fashion made him realize what he had just done and how he had made Buck look in front of everyone. He knew trouble when he saw it and he was in a lot of it.

Josiah was at a loss of what to do first. He knew by all rights he should go find Ezra and try and straighten this mess out, but also knew without a doubt, Ezra would just brush him off. For a kid whose vocabulary was abundant, words meant very little to the fourteen-year-old. The oldest heaved a hard sigh. It seemed now that his parents were gone; they needed them now more than ever.

Chris and Vin looked at one another. Guilt splayed across each face. They had been unwittingly dragged into a fight they weren’t even apart of. Vin knew there had been some anger between the two, but he never would have guessed JD could be so stupid as to point out the obvious and think he could win with it.

Buck shook his head and mumbled. “I don’t play favorites.”

“Yes you do, Buck,” Chris said in a low tone. “Your partial to JD. There has been more than one time when Josiah or I have said no to JD about something specific and then he goes to you and you reverse our saying.”

Buck glared at the blond. “Don’t you get all righteous with me, Chris,” Buck said angrily, feeling hurt and defensive. “More than once the two of you,” Buck paused to cast an eye towards Vin before continuing, “Have ridden out of here and left Ezra behind.”

“I never blatantly deprive him of something…like a horse ride,” Chris staring hard at the youngest, “Then turn around and give one to Vin, like you did JD.”

“When did I do that?” Buck asked hotly.

JD cringed. That was supposed to have been a secret. One afternoon, Ezra had been saddling up the horses and Buck had walked in. He had asked if they had gotten their school lessons finished. Ezra had answered honestly, but still wanted to go riding. Buck had told him no. JD had told Buck all he had was a little reading and he was waiting until that night so he could read to the older brother, using Buck’s good nature to his advantage. Ezra had been sent back to the house and JD had gotten to ride around in the corral. Vin had been there and had known the truth, he later told Chris, but by then it was too late.

“Shut up, Chris. Leave Buck alone,” JD cried. JD saw things coming apart and now a big family fight was about to be ensued because of him. He didn’t like his older brother being attacked for being nice to him.

Vin, who up until now had been trying to disappear into the floor spoke up, “You just don’t want Buck to know your lying,” he said softly.

Buck saw red. JD was a good kid, a little mouthy right now, but a good kid. JD would never lie. Especially not to him. “Vin! JD doesn’t lie.”

Chris’ anger rose three levels as Vin ducked his head. JD, looking back and forth at the faces of Chris and Buck, began twisting his fingers together; regretting ever starting this argument. He should have just quit drumming his fingers when Ezra had asked him and if Ezra had accepted his apology like he should have instead of being mean, he would have. This was all Ezra’s fault.

Josiah could see the whole situation heading south with no return trip. “Enough!” he said in a sharp tone. “JD and Vin got to your room and stay there until I say otherwise.” The oldest turned his glare to his remaining two brothers. “You two, in the office.” Not seeing anyone moving from their spots, he raised his voice a notch, “Now!”

Every stood and headed out to their respective places. Before following the two brothers to the study, Josiah turned his attention back to his lone brother. Nathan had stood through the ordeal quietly. “Nathan,” Josiah said, half in question and half in plea. Raising his gray eyes upward the plea request went unspoken. Nathan nodded his head solemnly and rose from his seat. He would go sit with Ezra, but the mess was some else’s to fix. He would just lay a little groundwork.

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Josiah closed the study door after herding Buck and Chris inside. Once the door was closed the argument ensued. Buck turned and faced his blond brother. “What do you mean I show favoritism?” he asked heatedly.

“It’s true, Buck,” Chris replied evenly.

“And you never show favoritism to Vin?” Buck shot back mockingly, stepping closer into Chris’ personal space.

Josiah could see this spiraling down even further and stepped in between the two brothers before punches could be exchanged. “All right, enough. You’ve both shown favoritism towards the your younger brothers respective younger siblings,” he said, glaring at both brothers.

“Josiah don’t go into counselor mode on us,” Chris said warningly.

The oldest took a deep breath before replying, “All right, so it can be said that there have been moments when each of our youngest brothers has gotten away with things they wouldn’t have gotten away with the other older brother. Is that fair to say?” he asked.

Chris and Buck both nodded in agreement. Buck looked up at his brothers. “It’s just so hard to deny JD anything, or Vin; or Ezra for that matter. I mean…” he stopped and ran his hand through his hair. “It just seems they got the short end of the stick.” Quickly looking abashed he glanced at his brothers before adding, “Not that the rest of us haven’t had difficulties.”

Josiah laid his hand on the younger brother’s shoulder. “We know what you meant Buck,” he said, as Chris nodded in agreement.

“I wonder if Mom and Dad felt the same about us?” the blond asked quietly.

“Probably,” Josiah answered. “And yet they managed to give us what we needed without spoiling us.”

“I wonder how they did that,” Buck asked softly.

“By giving us what we needed and not what we necessarily wanted,” Josiah answered.

“We can’t take away their pain, or their loss or make everything okay by giving them everything they want,” Josiah said as he began pacing the floor.

Josiah stopped and looked at his brothers. “I know it’s hard not to give in to them; to not give them everything they ask for, but if we do we are only creating a bigger problem. Not solving the ones they already have,” the oldest continued.

“Vin and Ezra don’t ask for that much,” Chris all but whispered the comment.

“I know. Vin, because he doesn’t want that much and Ezra, because he doesn’t trust that we’ll give it to him if he did ask; or if he did ask, he would wonder what he’d have to do in return. Ezra would calculate the necessity of asking for anything because I suspect he figures there is a price for everything,” Josiah said. “JD, on the other hand feels confident and secure enough to ask for what he wants and while we want him to retain that confidence, we can’t be giving into every little whim.”

Both of the other brothers agreed. Buck thought about all the things that had happened lately and tried to see it through each of the younger brother’s perspective. JD did probably see him as the lenient one, because he was too softhearted to say no to the little one. Ezra probably didn’t see it as favoritism so much as the way it just naturally should be. He, of all of them, was a nobody’s child. From all they could learn it seemed that not even the relatives had wanted the young boy. Buck winced, when he saw it through Ezra’s eyes. He did favor JD, just as Chris and Vin shared an especially tight bond. Once again Ezra had become a nobody’s child. Buck shook his head at these inner thoughts; declaring to himself that things would change.

While Buck was having his thoughts, Chris was having his own enlightening moment. It was true what Buck had said, he and Vin had rode off many times together without the others. It had seemed so normal and right at the time that he had never challenged it. He wondered now how Ezra saw it, or even JD for that fact. Maybe that was why the nine-year-old clung to Buck so much, because he felt left out by Chris. Josiah had been busy trying to keep up with his job and making sure everything was running in order that he didn’t always have time for the younger ones. Chris wondered suddenly how Nathan felt about his place in the family now. They knew from a past scene that he had felt his place threatened. He had been the oldest until they had moved back in and taken over. Chris swiped a hand over his forehead. This parenting thing was hard. He wondered how his parents managed it with seven of them.

Josiah was glad his brothers were thinking about the way they had handled everything. They would easily miss how much he had messed up, himself. He had taken the responsibility of guardianship, but somehow left the tending of the kids to Buck and Chris since they were with them more than he. Being the only counselor for the junior high kept him busy and inundated with paperwork. Many times during the week he had bought work home. He was going to have to start managing his time better and keeping a closer eye on things. They all needed him as much as they needed each other. They were only going to get through this by being a complete family, dependent on each other. He could no longer be available only part-time. JD needed security from all of them; only then maybe would he stop being dependent solely on Buck. Vin…well Vin was too reliant on himself and while his bond with Chris was needed and great for the boy. Vin was going to have to learn to count on the rest of them, especially if Chris went back to the academy and began his schooling again. And then there was Ezra. Josiah knew the fourteen-year-old saw himself as the outsider and what really bothered the counselor was that the boy accepted it so easily. Josiah knew the boy wanted more, but was too afraid to reach out. After tonight’s episode, Josiah wondered how far back they had regressed with their brother. JD’s statement about Ezra leaving with his mother sure didn’t help, of that, Josiah was certain.

The counselor looked at his brothers. “We have to start laying out new rules and EVERYONE abiding by them,” he said sternly.

“I guess now is as good as any,” Chris said, as he sat down and made himself comfortable. Buck and Josiah followed suit.

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Vin walked up the stairs resignedly. He had known it would have been a matter of time before things hit the fan. It always did in his previous homes. People can only live under one roof for so long without letting the tension and differences get to them. But, unlike the other homes, Vin wasn’t worried about being sent away or losing his place in the family. Sure things had been said and damage undoubtly been done, but this time he had a family that cared about staying together and that included him. He had every belief that Josiah, Buck and Chris would figure a way to resolve this new problem. Thinking about his little brother stomping up the stairs behind him, he figured some time-out and a little duct-tape might help.

JD was mad as he stomped up the stairs behind slow-moving Vin. He was mad at Ezra for starting this whole thing, mad at Vin for tattling on him about the lie; mad at Buck for letting Chris talk to his older brother that way. He was mad at Chris for getting into something that didn’t affect him and he was mad at Nathan for just sitting there and not taking his side. He was mad at Josiah too, he just didn’t know what for. The nine-year-old followed Vin into their room and then slammed the door shut. Vin turned around and said in a harsh voice, “Hey! Knock it off!”

“No!” JD yelled back and opened the door only to slam it shut again, crossing his arms he looked at his brother in a daring manner. “Whatcha gonna do about it?” JD teased.

Vin shrugged his shoulders. “Nuthin’,” he said calmly as he sat down at his desk and began to draw. He knew sometimes the best way to put out an explosion was to deny it air. If he didn’t respond to JD, the youngster had nobody to fight against.

JD huffed and stormed over to his bed. “This is all Ezra’s fault!” he exclaimed.

Vin carefully laid his pencil down and turned around, hooking an elbow over the knob on the high-back chair. “How do you figure that?” he asked evenly.

“Well…” JD began. “He… he shouldn’t have made such a big deal out of that stupid project. It wasn’t like he needed the extra-credit anyway. Besides, I said I was sorry,” he pouted out.

Vin silently rose from his chair and went over to JD’s dresser drawers. On top sat a model truck; a ’57 Chevy, that JD and Buck had put together. JD loved the model because it was the first thing he and Buck had built together. Picking up the car, Vin saw he immediately gained JD’s suspicious attention.

“What are you doing with my car?” JD asked angrily, a little afraid of what Vin was fixing to do.

Taking the car over to the bed, Vin sat down next to JD. “How would you feel if I dropped this and broke it?” Vin asked flatly.

“Give me that!” JD yelped, reaching and missing the model. “Vinnnn,” he whined.

“Look at me, JD,” Vin said again. “How would you feel?”

JD slumped his shoulders; he knew there was a lesson coming on. “Terrible,” he mumbled.

“Why?” Vin asked.

“Because Buck helped me make that,” JD answered and then softly said, “It’s mine.”

Vin nodded his head before giving the car to his brother. “That project was Ezra’s. He made it with his own hands,” Vin spoke the words honestly. “Just because it means nothing to you, doesn’t mean it didn’t mean something to him. Got it,” Vin asked.

JD nodded his head. He would hurt anyone who destroyed his beloved car. “Got it,” he mumbled.

Vin started to move off the bed, but stopped at JD’s next words. “It wasn’t right Chris jumping on Buck like that. He likes you better than Ezra, too.”

“First of all,” Vin began, “Chris got involved because he’s part of the head of the household.”

“I know, but he didn’t need to jump in. Buck was doing just fine,” JD interrupted to defend his hero.

“You put him the position of having to tell the truth!” Vin said, feeling defensive of Chris. Vin wanted to smack his brother in the head, but refrained. “JD, you’re no dummy. You know Buck would do anything for you. You also know, he spoils you and you take advantage of that. Don’t you?” Vin asked, making his younger brother squirm.

“Yes,” JD admitted quietly.

“Well, sometimes you carry it too far and Chris felt it only right to point it out to Buck,” Vin said.

“I don’t either,” JD rebuked the claim that he carried it too far.

Vin cocked his eyebrow and simply said, “The Popsicle.”

JD blushed for a moment and then said, “Chris still loves you better than Ezra, too.”

Vin heaved a sigh. He knew the poor kid didn’t understand a lot. He hadn’t been bounced from one home to another like him and Ezra. Talking a deep breath, Vin began, “Chris doesn’t love me better. He loves me differently.”

Seeing JD’s confused face, he tried to think of a way to explain it better. “Buck loves you, right? Plays games and does things you like, right?”

JD nodded vigorously. He wasn’t sure of a lot of things a lot of the time, but of Bucks’ love, he was completely sure of.

Vin said, “You know he loves you because he spends time doing what you like, but Ezra is older. He doesn’t like doing the things you like, so Buck finds other things to do with him. It doesn’t mean Buck doesn’t love Ezra, he just shows him love in a different way. So does Chris,” Vin finished, hoping his brother caught on.

JD sat there for a moment and began sorting though what Vin had told him, but still thought he and Vin were their brother’s favorites. “But, Ezra doesn’t like doing anything. When I see Buck with Ezra; they’re just sitting there and I’m not sure what Chris does with Ezra,” JD said, truly puzzled.

Vin laughed a little. “Did it ever occur to you that Ezra never got the chance to find out what he likes to do? Or that maybe just sitting and having someone to talk to him makes him happy. As far as Chris; who does he always try to get as a partner when it’s his turn to cook?” the twelve-year-old asked.

JD sat there for a long time, his sharp little mind processing all the data. It was true that Ezra didn’t seem to know much about anything about being a kid and when he was sitting off to himself, Ezra was still doing something. Sometimes he wrote little stories, sometimes he read, or other things. And Chris did always seem relieved when he could get Ezra in the kitchen with him. Maybe, Vin was right. Maybe, Ezra was loved differently, the way he loved each of the brothers differently.

Vin began to rise from his seat when JD’s s next question stopped him. “Why DID Ezra leave with his mother, if she didn’t want him?” JD asked hesitantly. He had never really understood Josiah’s explanation.

Sitting back down, Vin looked at his brother and said honestly. “Maybe, he didn’t feel wanted here, either.”

JD knew that was aimed right at him and he cringed from the hurt it had. “I never said I didn’t want Ezra around,” JD argued.

“Isn’t that what you said tonight? Isn’t that what you say silently, every time you get your way with Buck when you know it’s wrong or that Ezra had already been told no?” Vin pushed. JD hung his head.

“Isn’t that what we all tell him when he gets left out or treated differently,” Vin asked quietly, more to himself than to his brothers.

JD hung his head and Vin went back to his drawing. He would give his little brother time to think about everything and hopefully he would use that smart brain of his to come to up with right answer. Vin, himself, would think about how he and Chris left Ezra out when they spent time together.

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Ezra was unhappy to say the least. He couldn’t figure out how he kept bringing such bad luck to himself. He silently reminded himself that he was the one who had held the grudge. JD had apologized, even though it seemed too easy for the young brother to skip right on the next thing. Ezra was telling himself he should have realized that he should have been grateful that he still had a place to live after that Maude stunt. The thought bought back JD’s harsh words and Ezra physically drew himself up further in an attempt to get away from the hurt the words caused.

The fourteen-year-old was sitting out on a tree limb, when Nathan found him. It was not his favorite spot, but it left a few escapable options if he needed one. Nathan gingerly sat down next to his brother; he really wished Ezra would find a better hiding spot, or at least one closer to the ground. No one could ever accuse the two of them being tight-knit, but when the times got bad Nathan and Ezra always knew they could count on the other. That had been proven time and again.

“He’s just nine, Ez,” Nathan started. “He calls them as he sees them according to his perception of the world.”

“I harbor no ill will against JD,” Ezra said. “Besides,” he said lowly, “The truth is sometimes painful to hear. He’s right. I am just here.”

Nathan shook his head. Ezra belonged in this family as much as the rest of them did. They were all orphaned and the kids at school had more than once called them misfits, but they were misfits that belonged together. “Ezra, who helps Chris and Vin cook supper so that it’s edible? Who helps Vin with his spelling when Chris is out helping Buck round up strays or riding the fence? Who keeps JD entertained on rainy days so he doesn’t drive the rest of us batty? You! You just don’t exist here. You’re a part of this family. You can live anywhere, but you belong here,” Nathan said as he found a more comfortable position.

Nathan turned around to face his brother. The senior felt horrible for his brother and began trying to lay the foundation to repair the damage. “JD was just mad because you wouldn’t accept his apology as easily as the rest of us do. And that’s partly our fault. The rest of us just either ignore his behavior or we accept his apology too easily and he’s gotten to point of thinking all he has to do is say he’s sorry and everything is okay. You are the one who tried to make him realize his actions had consequences and saying “sorry” doesn’t always fix things.” Stopping for a moment to make sure his brother was listening, he continued, “And that’s a good thing.”

Ezra gave his brother a weak smile, but Nathan knew Ezra didn’t buy it all. Nathan consoled himself by admitting that at least Ezra listened and with the southerner that was half the battle. It was going to be up to the others to finish straightening out this mess.

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The three oldest emerged from the study. Though feelings had been trampled on and accusations still burned; new rules had tentatively been laid out and fresh pacts to start including everyone were promised. Standing at the foot of the stairs, Josiah, using his booming voice yelled up, “Boys get down here!”

Still smarting from the lecture he had received from Vin, JD pushed his older brother out of the way as they headed down the hall. Vin’d had enough of his little brother’s behavior and pushed back, resulting in a shoving match.

Vin had stopped long enough at Nathan and Ezra’s bedroom door to shout a warning, “Josiah wants us!” he bellowed, before continuing his shoving match, which continued all the way down the stairs.

The three oldest had flashbacks to similar scenes when it had been them fighting amongst themselves. Their parents had tried multiple times to put a stop to aggressive behavior. Trying to get the boys to see such actions never helped or solved anything, but in the end brothers were still brothers and fights had happened and apparently still did.

Nathan stood up and looked down at Ez. “Come on,” he said, half encouraging and half frustrated. He’d had a few things he had wanted to say at the table, but had held his tongue.

Ezra let out a long sigh and unfurled from his spot. Standing up on the branch he walked back towards the window. He sighed once more before following his brother into their room and out into the hall. He could hear Vin and JD still arguing. He straightened his shoulders and put on his blank face. He would not let anyone know how much he had been wounded, not that he really cared or so he tried to convince himself. It wasn’t as if anyone would notice or care, he thought

As Vin and JD reached the bottom of the stairs they separated and walked up to their respective protectors, Vin giving JD one last heated look.

“Okay, Vin enough,” Buck said wearily. He hated for people he loved to be fighting. He hated it more when someone picked on a smaller person.

Chris turned on Buck. “See!” he pointed out, anger showing on his face.

Looking at Chris and Buck, Josiah squelched the thought of hitting his brothers. “Knock it off the two of you!” Josiah said tiredly.

“Back off!” Buck and Chris ask simultaneous, turning on their older brother as one. Nothing like a common enemy to unite warriors.

Nathan came to be halfway down the stairs at that moment; bottled up emotions spilled. “Leave him alone,” he shouted.

JD turned on Nathan, “You shut up. Chris and Buck are handling it.”

Vin nodded his head. “Yeah,” he said, concurring with his brother.

This earned both boys a slap to the back of their heads, with Buck reprimanding JD. “Don’t talk to Nathan like that.”

Chris looked at Vin and said, “You know better.”

Josiah took a deep breath. “Guys,” he said pleadingly. ‘Fighting is not the answer’, he repeated inwardly.

“Don’t “Guys” us,” Nathan said sharply; boring holes into his oldest brother. If Josiah had put an end to this in the beginning, there wouldn’t be a problem now.

“Yeah,” Chris said, agreeing with Nathan’s unspoken message.

“Chris!” Josiah said with waning patience.

“Oh blow it out your…” Chris paused and redirected his line of thinking, “Ear.” Giving Josiah a sharp push; knocking him into Buck.

“Don’t push,” JD said threateningly, giving Chris a small push of his own.

Vin seethed at the reaction, but waited to see Chris’ reaction before doing anything. He had learned it was best to size up the situation before becoming involved in a physical action.

“Stay out this JD,” Buck said as he pushed JD back out of the way.

“Leave JD alone,” Chris said sharply; as he gave Buck a shove.

“Stop pushing Buck around,” Nathan shot out as he pushed Chris.

“Guys!” Josiah said loudly, as he was bumped by Chris. Josiah growled and shoved Chris back, knocking him into Buck.

“Don’t!” Vin shouted at Josiah, finally deciding it was time to help his brother; at the same time as JD yelled it at Chris and pushing his blond brother.

“Hey!” Vin shrieked as he saw the unjust push and pushed JD.

Meanwhile Ezra slowly moved down the stairs as he watched his brothers push each other towards the front screen door.

Nathan reached out to grab Vin to stop him from pushing and felt the impact of his nine-year-old brother hit him from the side. “Let Vin go,” JD demanded.

Buck made to shove Chris back. The blond grabbed onto the muscular arms and both fell back into Josiah, who pushed them back off of him.

The shoving match made its way through the screen door and onto the front porch. A rip in the screen went unnoticed. True blows had not yet developed, each silently remembering their parent’s teaching, but it wouldn’t last much longer, though. Enough would be enough.

Chris righted himself and pushed his oldest brother back. “I’m tired of you acting all righteous. Like you have all the answers when you don’t even know what’s going on half the time,” Chris barked out.

Josiah stumbled back to the first step on the porch and grabbled onto the younger brother before managing to shove him down the steps. “And I’m tired of you thinking you’re the boss of this family,’ Josiah shouted back.

Buck pushed Josiah from the back, sending the oldest down the steps to join the blond. “He’s just trying to help. Chris does a lot of good around here,” the gregarious man claimed.

“Yeah,” JD chimed in. “Chris does good things for us,” he added with a superior air.

Nathan gave JD a small shove. “Stay out of this, JD. This is partly your fault anyway,” he said angrily.

“Leave JD alone,” Vin said as he pushed Nathan, who fell into Buck; making the other lose his footing on the steps and stumble down them.

Nathan reached out to grab onto Vin to steady himself and JD reacted. In doing so all three lost their precious balance and went tumbling down the three steps, landing in the mud below.

Ezra had slowly followed the pack’s progress across the living room, out the door and now stood on the porch and stared at the others sitting or standing in the gooey mud. He was wondering if there was going to be any family left after this debacle. If they all went their separate ways, he could easily see Josiah continuing with his counseling job, Nathan moving away to college. Chris would go back to the academy and no doubt file for guardianship of Vin, because surely after this night Josiah would have had his fill of brothers and wouldn’t want to retain custody of any of them. Buck would most likely either remain working on the ranch or find another one to work for; either way he, like Chris, would ask for custody of JD. Ezra saw himself of course being set adrift once more. He’d had great hopes once of staying here, now those hopes looked completely lost.

Buck bent over to help JD up and lost his footing in the slippery mess, falling back on Josiah, whose fall cushioned Buck’s descent into the mud. Josiah, in his falling, kicked out his legs; kicking Chris in the calves; who was attempting to help both Nathan and Vin up. Chris went down like a felled log.

Ezra couldn’t help but worry over the tumbling events. They had looked like dominoes or better yet, those old ‘Three Stooges movies, his brothers watched sometimes. Surely someone was going to wind up hurt and that would make things only worse.

Nathan rose from the mud first. Hands solidly on hips, glaring at his brothers, he scolded his brothers. “Look at you guys. You're all going to catch yourselves colds and be sick for a week."

“Oh hush,” Josiah said with a laugh as he yanked the senior back down into the mire. “Live a little,” he advised as he held up his other hand, filled with a mud ball and threw it at the worrier of the family.

It was downhill from there as a mud fight quickly evolved. Ezra stepped ever closer to the edge of the porch and wrapped his arms around one of the posts. Leaning his head against the support beam, he watched as his brothers went from fighting and yelling to laughing and playing. This type of behavior confused the young teenager all the more. Before when he had witnessed people fighting it had never turned out pleasant and more than once he had suffered the consequences. He jerked himself upright at that remembrance and slowly eased back into the house, trying hard not to bring attention to himself and waited for the implosion of his family.

After the mud fight ended, the six brothers headed into the house laughing and shoving each other good-naturedly. Ezra, hearing the commotion from his room took a deep breath and let it out; apparently the family was still in tact, for now. The boys took turns showering and getting ready for bed. Ezra was sitting on his bed when a light knock sounded on his opened door. Ezra was surprised to see Josiah standing in the doorway waiting for permission to enter. Ezra smiled a little and the oldest entered the room. Grabbing the desk chair, he carried it over to the bed and turned it backwards before sitting down. Crossing his arms across the back of the chair, he watched his brother for a moment before speaking. “Not easy, being in a big family is it?” he asked.

Ezra looked down at his hands folded in his lap. He had grown up being the only child. The only times he was in a large family was when he was sent to live with relatives with cousins and then he wasn’t really part of the family. It was like being a constant visitor. Slowly he shook his head negatively.

Reaching over and slapping Ezra on the knee, Josiah said jokingly, “Good news is its not always like this. Bad news is sometimes its worse,” jokingly.

Ezra let out a light nervous laugh, but knew it was only a matter of time before there was another disagreement, another fight. He wondered just how long seven brothers could stay under one roof and remain a family.

“JD is really sorry about your project,” Josiah said, trying to patch up the youth’s mistake.

“I know. Doesn’t matter anyway, Nathan helped fix it,” Ezra said. He knew his little brother; knew JD had a good heart for the most part, but there would come a time again when he or one of the others would reopen his emotional wounds and never bother to see it.

“It does matter, Ez,” Josiah said in defense, seeing a glimmer of the damage done to his brother.

Ezra shrugged his shoulders indifferent to Josiah’s thoughts. “It’s okay, Josiah. Honest,” he said, slipping on his friendly mask that he hid behind so artfully.

He felt Josiah ease up off the chair and looked up at the big brother. “Goodnight, Ez,” he said. His deep voice sounding slightly defeated. The counselor mentally shook his head and wondered if they would ever convince their brother that his feelings really did matter. After the earlier episode, he figured it would be a long time coming.

“Goodnight,” Ezra replied. Slipping beneath his covers, hiding his emotional scars from the rest of the family.

The next morning things looked brighter for a majority of the brothers. They had cleaned the air last night and got rid of a lot of pent up feelings. Breakfast was back to its cheerful, loud event. Ezra had come downstairs prepared. Straight face in place and giving off the feeling that he was fine with everything, he wouldn’t let anyone see anything more than he wanted them to see. Once breakfast was over, Ezra began following JD and Vin out to do the chores. JD was recapping the mud fight for Ezra.

“You missed a great time last night, Ez, last night,” JD said in his hyper-flighty way.

All the brothers had noticed the fourteen-years-old lack of involvement in the episode last night, but had left it alone. The older ones knew Ezra wasn’t the kind to physically strike out at people. He either held it in, or used his acerbic language to express his feelings. Right now they all felt like they were treading on shaky ground.

The three brothers continued to make their way outside with JD giving a blow-by-blow account when he started telling them about falling down the steps. “….And then Vin pushed Nathan like this...”. JD then gave Ezra a first-hand example of the push, without thinking that there was no Buck to stop Ezra’s fall like there had been to stop Nathan’s.

Ezra had half-listened to the conversation and was not really paying attention to his little brother’s antics. The push startled him and before he could find get his feet under him, he overbalanced and went headfirst down the steps. In an effort to instinctively protect his head, he threw his arms outward. Ezra landed in the mud with a yelp. He immediately curled up against the searing pain flashing up and down his arm. He heard both Vin and JD’s screams for help, but couldn’t concentrate well enough to know it was for him.

The other four were out the door in seconds and kneeling in the mud around Ezra. They finally sat him up and blanched at the tear stained face. For Ezra to cry it had to be hurting something fierce. Collective sighs were heard all the way around and Chris wondered if his younger brother had some kind of cosmic force against him. Sighing, the brothers stood Ezra up and shuffled him towards the pickup.

Buck was the first one to volunteer to take the injured to the hospital. Josiah argued for a moment before Vin coughed and pointed out that Ezra was sitting in the truck and was in need of medical attention. Josiah resigned the fact that no matter who went, they were going to get the silent treatment. The counselor figured at least this way, maybe, Buck could use the time to patch things up between Ezra and the him. Josiah conceded and Buck climbed into the driver’s seat.

Ezra sat on the white clothed cot and stared balefully down at the white splint ensconcing his right arm. It had not been his fault. Not any of it. Yet, he was the one sitting here in the antiseptic over-ripe room with it’s stupid, blindingly, bright walls painted with animal caricatures designed to make any child smile. Well, he wasn’t smiling. In fact, as angry as he was at this point he felt like he might never smile again.

The fourteen-year-old had yet to speak to any of the people traveling in and out of the room. He was especially not going to talk to the large brother standing over in the corner trying to stay out of the way of the hospital staff. He didn’t care how pathetic his normally cheerful brother looked; he wasn’t going to talk to him or any of his other brothers. Ever. He still wasn’t pleased at the way Buck let JD get away with the things he did. Sure, Buck had tried to apologize to him in the truck, but Ezra didn’t really believe him. From Ezra’s point of view, Buck had stumbled through it too awkwardly for him to really have meant it.

The doctor came in took one last look at the new temporary cast that was going to be replaced with a permanent one after the massive swelling from the broken wrist went down. The pediatrician ]with his stupid, happy grin and dumb jokes, had only irritated Ezra’s mood further; making Ezra was mad at him, too. The doctor finally gave up trying to get a smile out of the young boy and turned to the brother standing in the corner with his arms crossed. “He’s ready to go,” the physician said. “No running or jostling it for awhile and keep it dry,” he informed.

Buck nodded. He knew all too well the procedures for wearing a cast. The doctor left and Buck pushed off the wall and for the first time since arriving at the ER spoke to the other brother. “Ready?” Though it was a question that needn’t be answered and wouldn’t be, Buck watched as Ezra scooted to the edge of the bed to hop down. Buck put out his hand to help, which Ezra quickly dodged and hopped off the bed on his own. Buck sighed and followed his brother out.

Ezra stewed all the way home. He had not started the fight last night. In fact he had even agreed with JD’s assessment; if not vocally at least inwardly. Now he’d have to go home, face his brothers and pretend everything was just fine. Survival instincts told him to avoid as much contact with them as possible and not rock the boat. He would do what he had always done; he would fade into the background. Ezra leaned his head against the cool Plexiglas window and drifted to sleep, thankful that Buck had the good sense not to talk to him.

Arriving home, Ezra walked into the house and was greeted by the rest of the family, like he knew he would be. This family was so different than any other he had lived with. One minute they were knocking you down and the next helping you back up. Ezra had long ago stopped trying to make sense of it. JD, in his normal exuberance came bounding towards him like some kangaroo. Ezra wished they would put the kid on a sedative. Besides, the kid had no right to bounce and be happy to see him. The little brat was part of the reason for his unscheduled trip to the hospital in the first place. The green-eyed teenager looked over to his other younger brother. Vin gave a shy smile and stayed where he was.

“I’m awful sorry about your arm, Ezra,” JD said sadly. JD was looking bashful, but not as remorseful as Ezra wanted him to be.

Ezra was slow in replying. He knew the correct thing was to accept the apology and act like it was nothing, just like he had always done in the past . He’d just go along like it really didn’t matter to him. But it did matter to him; it had always mattered. He hated himself and the others for playing this routine. Trying to avoid the youngest and escape to his room, he shouldered the kid out of his way and headed for the stairs. He was almost there when Chris stopped him.

“JD said he was sorry, Ezra,” the blond said. His voice evoking that warning that said Ezra should accept the apology.

Muttering evil curses in his head, he turned to his little brother, plastered on a smile that even JD knew was fake and said, “That’s okay, JD.”

Turning back to Chris, the teenager flashed the oldest a grin that clearly said, “Satisfied?” Without waiting for any further remarks, Ezra walked up the stairs and headed for his room. Normally he would have opened the window and climbed out onto the roof. Thanks to his new adornment that was now impossible for the time being. Instead, he sat down on the bed and scooted up into the far corner.


The six brothers watched Ezra climb the stairs and disappear down the hall. Vin turned to Chris and said, “You shouldn’t have made Ezra accept JD’s apology.” The words were spoken softly, but hard.

Chris turned with a puzzled look to his brother. “Why not?”

Vin shuffled his feet for a moment before saying, “Mom,” pausing for another breath, “Mom and Dad were always telling us it wasn’t alright for people to hurt us.” Stopping and looking up at Chris with pleading eyes to understand how important this was, he continued, “Making Ezra accept JD’s apology was making him say it was okay we hurt him. And it’s not.” The words were almost a whisper and hard to hear.

Chris noticed the “we” and felt like he had been punched in the gut. It was hard to remember just what these boys had been through, or what they assumed they went through. The blond looked to Buck and Josiah for assistance on this, but found Buck’s eyes had diverted elsewhere and Josiah looked like he had been struck. Chris turned back to the twelve-year-old and laying a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder said, “They were right, Vin. It’s not all right for people to hurt you. But when it is truly an accident, the way it was today; an apology is expected.”

Buck stepped forward and put in his own thoughts. “JD apologized and it should be accepted.”

“See! There you go again. This wasn’t about JD! It was about Ezra and he shouldn’t have been MADE to accept it. He should have been able to do it on his own,” Vin shot back. “Which he was going to do if you had waited,” he said firmly.

He wanted Chris, needed Chris, to see the difference. Ezra had been made to do a lot of things in his life because someone else thought it was the right thing to do or because it benefited someone else. Ezra should have been given, at the very least, the choice of when to accept the apology.

The others turned towards the very youngest. JD feeling the pressure shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t look at me. I said I was sorry.”

“You’re right. I should have let Ezra accept the apology on his terms,” Chris said complacently.

“Beside the words spoken last night weren’t an accident and JD wasn’t made to apologized for that,” Vin said softly.

This time when the others turned to JD, the youngster had the good-sense to look abashed. He had forgotten to apologize for that.

“I am sorry for what I said at supper, too,” JD said quietly, looking at the floor.

Buck heaved a sigh. “Maybe its time you told Ezra that,” he said, lifting an eyebrow at his younger brother. “Maybe, we both owe him an apology.”

The two climbed the stairs and went in search of their brother. JD knew what he had done was wrong, but he couldn’t fathom why Buck would need to apologize. They stopped at the doorway and searched the room for their brother before locating him. The way the bunks were located it was hard to see who, or if anyone, was on the bed. Finally seeing Ezra, Buck knocked on the door and stopped JD from entering before receiving permission.

Ezra looked out to see which one was at the door and cringed to see JD standing in the doorway. Wondering what kind of trouble he was going to get into now, he put on his game-face and with the right amount of pleasantness said, “Come in.”

Buck, standing back away from the door, gave JD a nod and the youngest entered the room on his own. The younger one sat down gingerly on the bed, so he wouldn’t bother his brother’s arm. Really looking hard at the teenager, JD could tell his brother was feeling really bad and he figured it had nothing to do with the broke appendage. Ezra, meanwhile, wondered who had forced the kid to come up here.

Looking down at the bedspread then back up, JD said sorrowfully, “I’m really sorry for the mean things I said last night. I’m sorry for breaking your project, too. Sometimes, I just don’t know what comes over me.”

Ezra was surprised at the level of true sincerity he heard in his brother’s voice as JD had apologized. JD wasn’t a good liar and he got worse when he was forced, so Ezra knew the apology was truly from his little brother and he meant it.

Ezra, for reasons he couldn’t understand, felt relief. He knew there were going to be times in the future that things would get rocky again, but for right now; it felt good having someone apologize to him and actually mean it.

Shrugging one shoulder in a it’s-all-right gesture, Ezra said, “I accept your apology and thank you for giving it in free-will.”

JD wasn’t sure what his brother meant from the last part, but as long as Ezra was in a forgiving mood, he’d take it. Before moving off the bed, JD had a thought. Licking his lips nervously, he said slowly, “Ezra. I’ll try to never make you want to leave us again.”

Buck had watched it all and cringed at the last statement. He wondered, if maybe, JD wasn’t thinking Ezra’s departure had been the kid’s fault. Rolling his shoulders, Buck wondered when those “good times” his parents often spoke of would start coming.

Ezra had no comment for that statement for a moment. It had taken him too much by surprise. Then, taking a deep breath, Ezra said, “JD, it wasn’t your fault I left. I…I…I did that on my own,” he said haltingly, not knowing how to explain to his little brother what exactly had possessed him to leave with Maude.

JD shrugged. “Vin says: ‘We all had a part in it. ‘Cause we didn’t make you feel wanted, but I want you,” the youngest said with starling clear eyes that stopped Ezra’s cynisysm dead in it’s tracks. The youngest flashed Ezra a smile and started getting off the bed.

Watching JD move off the bed, Ezra spontaneously swung his hand out and gently slugged his brother on the arm, giving his brother a sheepish grin.

JD sat in shock for all of two seconds before bursting out with a wide grin. Giving it a quick thought, JD leaned over, careful of the cast and gave his brother a hug. Ezra wasn’t much of a hugger, but JD figured he was due one. “See ya,” he called out as he bounded form the room.

JD passed Buck in the hall and gave him a thumbs-up. Buck smiled and patted his brother on the back and then steeled himself for his turn. Knocking on the door, he waited until Ezra peered around the corner of the bed and said, “Come in.”

Ezra was surprised to see Buck standing there, but quickly hid it. Buck grabbed the desk chair and copying Josiah’s earlier motion, turned it backwards before sitting down. Buck stared at his brother a few moments. Studying the perfect styled hair, the wrinkle-free clothes, the blank, but polite face. Buck sighed inwardly. It had been almost three years since Ezra had come into this family and they had yet to convince him that being perfect wasn’t necessary to being accepted. ‘Of course, last night hadn’t helped that in the least,’ he thought bitterly.

“Hey Pal,” Buck said with a smile.

“Buck,” Ezra replied cautiously. The wheels turning furiously trying to figure out why he his older brother was paying a visit to him, when he had already accepted JD’s apology.

Buck gazed down at the floor looking for inspiration. They had messed up seven ways from Sunday with Ezra, but then again with this brother that seemed to be a constant. Buck wondered how it was that it was so easy to dismiss the fourteen-year-old’s feelings. The older brother had to silently acknowledge part of the problem was that Ezra seemed to slough any insult off, unlike the rest of who would speak spoke up or strike back.

Raising his head and staring into the green eyes studying him intently, he said, “I owe you a big apology.”

Buck could have laughed at the surprised look that briefly fluttered across his brother’s face. “Why?” Ezra questioned before catching himself.

Buck took in a deep breath and began. “Because…sometimes I forget you’re just a kid, too.”

Seeing Ezra’s confusion, Buck continued. “You were forced to grow up so quickly,” He said with a sad tone. “You never got to be a kid yourself.… and that’s not your fault,” he hurried on to say. “You seem so independent…so capable of taking care of yourself. We forget you need someone to take care of you.” Buck looked hard at his brother “And you do need someone to take care of you,” he said certainly.

“I am sorry for not looking out for you better. I’m telling you now, I’m going to do a better job from now on,” he said solemnly.

Ezra didn’t know what to say. Buck seemed so serious and he couldn’t exactly argue the point that Maude had always insisted he “grow-up” and be “responsible”. Now Buck was telling him that being “adult” wasn’t such a good thing and he needed to someone to take care of him. That thought on the surface ruffled his feathers, but deeper down it felt warm.

Ezra shrugged slightly and grimaced. Buck saw the flash of pain and stood up. “Lay down,” he said softly.

Ezra didn’t bother to argue with his brother. He wiggled down on his bed and after a little shifting, found a comfortable position. Buck covered Ezra with the comforter and ruffled the brown hair lightly.

“Love ya, kiddo.” Buck said softly.

Ezra figured he fell asleep to the best words ever invented, even if they might be temporary.

7 B Ranch Index