By: Angela B
Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be
Note #1: After looking over some of the stories I realize I haven’t given Ezra’s view of things very much. I hope this gives a little insight
Note#2: Thanks to NT for betaing this for me
Follows Red Tape & Bows
(Moved to Blackraptor January 2010)
Ezra startled awake the same way he had all the other times this particular nightmare visited. He lay there in fear, hoping he hadn’t screamed out. Maude always hated it when he did that, as did most of the relatives he’d been forced to stay with. She had always become greatly agitated when her sleep was interrupted.
Ezra waited quietly in the dark, his heart pumping so hard it made it difficult to hear anything but the rushing of blood in his ears. The light, filtering in from the hall nightlight, illuminated the room enough to make out the outlines of the furniture. The agent had originally put the nightlight in his room, but Ezra had turned it off, preferring the dark. After the second night, Buck moved the small light to the hallway.
Ezra waited for Buck to make an appearance, knowing he would have come if he had heard him, and he had no doubt that Buck would have somehow heard him. Buck was different that way. The agent seemed to sleep like the dead, but came awake immediately if Ezra woke with a telling fear. It had happened twice already and, though Buck had seemed concerned and not bothered at all by the disruption, Ezra didn’t want to push it. When Buck didn’t arrive, Ezra felt relief flow through him, realizing that he had held back the scream that had threatened to erupt before he woke.
Ezra was too awake to lie down and go back to sleep; instead he slid out of bed and crept down the hall. Buck slept with his door opened and Ezra carefully sat down in the doorway on the carpeted floor and crossed his legs. He listened to the sound of Buck sleeping. The gregarious man who had invaded his life now lied sprawled across his bed, sheets skewed crossways, snoring loudly. Ezra stared into the room, the nightlight, and digital numbers glowing off the clock, lighting up the room enough to see an outline of the man. Ezra, who had never felt wanted his entire life, leaned his head over against the doorframe and pondered the man who had come charging into his life, literally, and hadn’t walked away yet.
Ezra remembered how he had felt the first time they had come face to face. He had been reading a book in the hotel room where Maude had left him alone, while she ‘ran an errand’, when the sound of the neighboring door being smashed in filled the room. Terror and instincts had him jumping up and running for his life. At first, he had run to the front door, but there had been too many locks for him to undo in the limited time, so he had headed for his bedroom. The thundering sound of many running feet and calls of “ATF!” had him changing directions and scurrying for the nearest exit, which was how he ended up on the balcony. Then he was trapped, black fencing at his back and five big men in front. He remembered the death grip he’d had on those simple little wrought iron posts behind him. He’d been unable to breath; his heart had been pumping so hard in his chest, it hurt. He thought he was going to die and no one would care or help him. Then suddenly, all the men left, except one: Mr. Buck.
It was the deep blue eyes that had captured his attention. He had concentrated so hard on those eyes at first. They were so wide and open, like the man was opening his soul to show him that there wasn’t any danger. Those eyes stayed glued on him. Then the man had begun speaking; the voice was strong, but gentle and its softness was calming. But, Ezra didn’t move, didn’t dare to. Buck did though. The big man had opened a nearby door and then scooted back. Giving him a path to escape off that balcony. He had taken that opportunity, only to find himself cornered in the bathroom. The whole time, all he could think of was how mad his mother was going to be. He remembered thinking she would surely relieve herself of him as quickly as possible.
Ezra sighed, as Buck took what seemed an extra long breath and then snored it out loudly. Ezra continued remembering that day. It had been like standing outside of himself as he watched Buck ease closer, taking off his uniform jacket and wrapping it around him. It was like snuggling into a warm cocoon. He remembered taking a deep breath and trying to imprint the smell into memory. The jacket smelled of sweat with a touch of fragrance: cologne, he had thought at the time, strong, but not overpowering. He had associated it with the kind that cowboy in the commercial advertised. Then Buck had picked him up as if he was fragile. Ezra remembered feeling greatly uneasy about it. He couldn’t remember anyone ever picking him up like that. Maude had carried him a few times, but it was only when they were what she called, ‘on the job’. After coming to live with Buck, Ezra had learned quite quickly that the man liked to pick him up, and for no reason. It still confused him as to why Buck would pick him up or hold him, but he was slowly getting used to it. Sometimes, he even liked it. It was something he could become attached to if he let himself, but he knew his stay wasn’t going to last, so he held the desire in check as best as he could.
Ezra sat up in the doorway as Buck shifted. He watched the big man turn over in bed and settle back down. Ezra leaned back against the frame and thought about the children’s home. It came close to being the worst experience of his life. He hadn’t liked it there. There had been too many children and too much noise. The noise really bothered him; not growing up around other children, he wasn’t used to it. It was nerve-wracking and uncivilized. Mother wouldn’t have liked it at all. The director had tried to get him to wear other clothes, but he had refused, in case Maude showed up. He remembered rationalizing that she would have been revolted by him wearing such garb. He had thought at that time that she was probably mad enough as it was, after all she had left him there a week already as punishment for letting those men into their suites at the hotel. He wondered, now, if she even knew he had been taken there and if she even cared. Probably not, he thought.
Then Mr. Buck had shown up there and suddenly the day had stopped being so bad. His insides felt instantly better. Mr. Buck had stayed and talked to him, never once trying to encourage him to go play like the other adults had.
Then he had said goodbye and Ezra remembered wanting to cry. His stomach hurt and he suddenly didn’t feel well, though he didn’t know why. He knew better than to go tell anyone. Maude had never been pleased when he was ill. So, he had sat there on that bench and tried to occupy his mind so he wouldn’t cry. Then Mr. Buck had come back. For him. The yucky feeling inside went away as Buck walked with him to his room and helped gathered his meager belongings. Mr. Buck had even managed to get his cards back from that mean lady who had taken them away.
Ezra tried to stifle a yawn and failed.
Mr. Buck had taken him to McDonalds and, while privately he’d always wanted to try out the colorful playground, it was actually a little overwhelming to see it up close; it was so big. The thought of getting lost in those tunnels frightened him, but Mr. Buck had coaxed him to go try it and it hadn’t turned out so bad.
There were other things that had been a first since coming to stay with Mr. Buck: eating at Mr. Larabee’s ranch, going swimming in the lake, being ‘adopted’ by the other men as their nephew. Ezra breathed deeply and relaxed a little further. Mr. Buck’s friends were different from any of the friends Maude had ever let him meet. They were nice to him, considerate and always greeted him as if they were actually glad to see him. They mystified him.
Ezra categorically ran through all the men that Mr. Buck worked with. First, there was Mr. Dunne. Ezra had to admit the first time he saw the man, he thought the young agent was Mr. Buck’s brother. In a way, Ezra figured they were, though not by blood. Mr. Dunne liked to talk and laugh, just like Mr. Buck. The young agent had bought him some games that he said Ezra could keep. He was still a suspicious of such nice acts, but Mr. Buck had put them in his room with his other toys and games he was acquiring.
Mr. Jackson was always checking on his weight. That bothered Ezra until Mr. Buck explained it was just the man’s way of making sure he was doing well. Mr. Buck had said it was Mr. Jackson’s nature to worry about the people he cared about. That had made his stomached jiggle a little. Maude certainly hadn’t cared how much he had weighed. One time Mr. Jackson bought him a medical play kit. Ezra remembered thinking the man looked a little nervous, like he wasn’t sure Ezra would like the toy. He had taken it and politely said his thank you’s. It had a toy ambulance, a doctor, a nurse, and a fake medical bag that held medical instruments. Ezra only played with them when he was sure he was alone in his room or when Mr. Jackson was over.
Mr. Sanchez was a giant. He also had a rumbling laugh, like it came from way down deep. His eyes were the oddest color Ezra had seen: at times they almost seemed transparent. But, for a big man, he was real gentle. Ezra remembered the first time out at Mr. Larabee’s, they had gone swimming and Mr. Sanchez had lifted him in the water. The man pretended to throw him back and forth with the others, but in truth never really let go until the other person had him. Mr. Sanchez had given him a small punching bag that was on a spring attached to a base platform and two small boxing gloves. The giant had said something about exorcizing demons. Mr. Buck had set it up in his room for him and told him it was to be used whenever he felt like it. He hadn’t used it yet; it made him feel silly to hit the red bag.
Mr. Larabee and Vin had given him some action figures to go with the ones Mr. Buck had bought him. Ezra liked Vin. The boy was quiet and easy going. Not loud and boisterous like the other kids he had been around lately. Vin didn’t make him do anything he didn’t want to either, like playing cars in the dirt. Vin had just sat down and did it. He never harangued Ezra into sitting down or getting dirty. Vin just took him as is and accepted him. Mr. Larabee was another matter. Not that the tall blond had done anything to him, but there was something about the man that set off Ezra’s alarms. Ezra had no doubt that the man could become violent if provoked. He had seen that kind of person before, which was how he got the marks on his back that he refused to tell anyone about, no matter how nice Mr. Buck and Mr. Jackson were. So far, though, Mr. Larabee had been nothing but nice to him. Ezra would wait and see about Mr. Larabee.
Buying clothes at Wal-Mart had been another first and one that he was sure going to make Maude very displeased if she were to ever find out. She had been very clear that ‘those’ type of stores were beneath them and only people with little money and less taste shopped in them. Ezra subconsciously rubbed his pajama top, feeling its softness. The top came from said store and, while it was true Mr. Buck wasn’t into clothing, the man had spent a great deal of time letting him help select his own clothes.
Ezra mind leapt to the day the guys came over to help Mr. Buck convert a room into a bedroom. Vin had played with him while the grownups were busy, and then Mr. Dunne had suggested they go to the park in the back of the complex to play for a while. The young agent had left Vin and him alone and they had found a group of frogs. He hadn’t wanted to touch them, but Vin was down on the ground playing with the small green animals and he hadn’t wanted to be seen as a scaredy cat, so he had joined Vin. Then the older boy had suggested taking one home for a pet. He had refused at first, thinking Mr. Buck would surely come unglued, but in the end, the older seven-year-old had persuaded him to do it. He had chosen one, but then the other frogs started making this odd sound and it sounded like crying to Ezra. He couldn’t separate the family; he knew what that was like, to be alone in a new surrounding and be scared, so he and Vin had gathered all of them up. Unfortunately, they had gotten lose in the apartment before he could find a container. He figured that right there would earn him a black eye, if not a broken hand. Mr. Buck had done neither. He simply laughed. The grownups finally caught all the little frogs and he wasn’t the one that got into trouble, as it was JD. Even then, the young agent only got cuffed good-naturedly. They had all returned the frogs to their place of hiding. When Vin had explained that families shouldn’t get split up, all the men got strange looks on their faces.
Another first happened that day. Something he would never let himself forget or do again. He had cried. He had known Buck Wilmington only three days and yet when Josiah and Nathan had made a sarcastic remark about the man, he had gotten defensive over the man. It was strange and horrible thing to feel that way about someone he barely knew. Relatives, he stayed with, had always made nasty comments, far worse, about Maude and while he didn’t like it, he had never become to upset by them. Mr. Buck was something totally different than any person he’d ever met before. As Ezra thought about it, sitting there in the floor, he realized it bothered him to be so affixed to one person.
Then there was the scary night he had become lost and that nice man had found him and then Mr. Buck had come, again. There had been no yelling or calling him stupid or any discipline, just a lot of Mr. Buck hugging him. Mr. Buck had explained how all those men and women that had been in the parking lot had come out to help find him because they cared about him. He had not understood that at all. Mr. Jackson had asked him some questions, some had been weird, but he had answered them anyways. Like if someone had taken him from the playground. He had told them about the hurt little dog and that seemed to make the adults smile. Buck had given him an extra hug. They asked if anyone had touched him and he had to say that the man at the bar had picked him up. That earned him a frown until he told him the man also gave him a drink, then he figured they knew which man he was talking about and smiled again. Sometimes, these adults were a little strange.
Ezra felt his eyes closing and jerked them open.
School hadn’t been fun. The odd thing was that when Mr. Buck found out that he’d had a bad week, the man had seemed genuinely upset, far more than he was himself. He was used to having to ride out uncomfortable situations. Mr. Buck had told him expressively afterwards that if he was at anytime unhappy, someone was being mean to him, or if something bad happened to him, he was to tell the man right away. Mr. Buck wasn’t like mother at all, he analyzed.
Ezra shivered hard in the dark and contemplated going back to bed. Instead, his eyes lit upon the blue ATF jacket hanging on the back of the stuffed chair, Mr. Buck had in the corner of his room. Tiptoeing into the room, he crawled up into the cloth-covered chair, picked the jacket up and covered himself with it. He knew he shouldn’t be doing it; he was taking an awful risk. He could almost hear Maude screaming in his head about the lack of self-control, but he convinced himself it would only be for a few minutes, then he would go back to bed. Besides, Mr. Buck was asleep. Snuggling down into the chair, Ezra crossed his arms on the chair arm and rested his cheek on them. Staring at the man, he wondered about the new move.
Everything seemed to be happening fast and slow at the same time. The previous week at school seemed to last forever, but the evenings with Mr. Buck went too fast. The big man was always there to pick him at the end of the day like he said would. Even that other Friday when he was one of the last kids to be picked up, Mr. Buck had shown up before the school closed or the principal had to call him and remind the agent that he was still there. Ezra thought about that day and had to give Mr. Buck credit because the man had actually called and said he would be a few minutes late. After being picked up, they went back to the office for a while. Though technically he understood he was suppose to go to the after school daycare, for some reason Mr. Larabee let Mr. Buck take him to the office. Sometimes, Vin would be there, too, and the two of them got to play in the conference room until it was time to go home. The other men in the office always made a point of greeting him and asking about his day. Mr. Dunne always had snacks for him, and Mr. Jackson always got mad about the ‘quality’ of the snack. It had taken a few times for him to realize it was mostly just an act between the two men and neither one ever got upset with the other.
After they came home, Mr. Buck always fixed supper, something Maude would never be caught doing. Ezra had never had Macaroni and Cheese before. He remembered the first time the agent had fixed it. It had been pretty good, especially with the weenies cut up in it. After supper, they usually went to the park, or played video games, another first for him. Sometimes, JD came over for a little while and, instead of being shooed out of the room so the adults could be alone to talk, he was allowed to stay. JD would join them in whatever they were doing.
After they finished playing, Mr. Buck would start his bath water. He had tried to tell the agent that he was capable of running his own bath water ’cause he was good at taking care of himself. Mr. Buck had just looked at him with an odd expression before simply telling him, “I don’t want you to get burned.” Mr. Buck would run his water and then leave him to bathe. Ezra thought about the cups and empty water bottles Mr. Buck had given him to play with in the tub. He hadn’t though, not until last night when he had gathered the courage to do so. It had been kind of fun pouring the water from one container into another. Mr. Buck had come in like he always did and asked if he was ready to get out. The big man knelt by the tub and opened up the giant warm towel, as he stepped out of the tub and into the waiting towel, he noticed Mr. Buck look over at the wet supplies. His heart had almost stopped right then, but Mr. Buck had looked at him and smiled real big and asked, “ Have fun?”
For the life of him, Ezra couldn’t resist nodding his head and replying, “Yes, sir.” Mr. Buck had dried him off and helped him into his pajamas, the whole time smiling with a big goofy grin on his face.
Even on the few weekends they’d had together so far, Mr. Buck spent his whole time with him. Even the times they went out to Mr. Larabee’s ranch, Mr. Buck never dumped him and left. Instead, Mr. Buck, as well as the other men played with him and Vin, or at the very least stayed close by.
The very end of day was his favorite time, though. Mr. Buck would take him up in his arms, and sit down in the big recliner. The big man would cover him with a throw cover and they would talk for a while. Mostly, it was Mr. Buck talking about his mother and the things they did, or about what he and Mr. Larabee did in college, just different things about his life. For the most part, Ezra didn’t talk about his past, he knew better. Things like that could be used against you or get you in trouble. Sometimes, he would talk about something inconsequential, such as books he liked or the sound of the ocean, but nothing that really mattered. Mr. Buck always seemed interested in it, no matter how trivial it was.
Then Mr. Buck would read to him. The books were little kid books, but he liked to listen to Mr. Buck’s voice, so it didn’t matter. Mr. Buck’s voice sounded deep, bubbly and happy. It was a good sound to listen to, he had decided.
After Mr. Buck finished reading to him, the agent would turn down the lights and turn on the stereo. The big agent had dubbed one of the songs as ‘theirs’. Mr. Buck would play it every night as he cradled Ezra in his arms.
Ezra felt his eyes drifting close as he thought about laying in the big man’s arms, listening to the music, feeling the strong arms around him and hearing Mr. Buck’s heart beating against his ear. Sometimes, he would fall asleep before the song was over, but not every time. On those times, he knew when Mr. Buck would carry him to bed. After having the covers tucked up around him, Mr. Buck would sit on the edge of the bed and run his fingers through his hair. This always put Ezra to sleep, he realized as he yawned again. He could almost feel his guardian’s fingers drift through his hair and never realized when his eyes fluttered closed for the last time that night.
Buck woke up and hit the alarm before it even went off. Getting out of bed, he passed the chair. Stopping in med-stride, he backed up and took another look. Squatting down in front of the chair, he resisted the urge to stroke the baby soft fine hair. Instead, he reached for his comforter off the bed and dragged it over to him. As he covered Ezra with it, the child that had stolen his heart snuggled further down. Love flooded Buck’s heart for this little boy as he slipped back into bed and lay there, watching the little boy in his chair sleep.