By: Angela B
Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be
Note #1 Thanks to NT for her considerable time and long-suffering patience.
Note#2 Sorry if this isn’t up to par. Had a run-in with RL and just getting back on my feet. (Okay, bad punJ)
Note#3 Every state has different requirements for getting a child the special help he requires. I am going loosely on those of Texas
(Moved to Blackraptor January 2010)
Elaine Burtch, Mrs. B. to the students, walked into the kindergarten class, gave the teacher, Miss Cate a nod, and sat down in the corner to observe. She wanted to watch Ezra in the classroom first hand. The counselor had already spoken to the teacher, as well as the P.E., Computer, and Music teachers. She had wanted to determine if Ezra behaved differently according to the setting. They all had said he was well behaved, had good manners, did as directed and was on or above level for his age range. They had also mentioned that the five-year-old didn’t associate with the other students unless directed to and was much more comfortable with playing by himself. Nor, did he like loud noises and tried to distance himself as far from it as possible.
When he did have to be in groups, he preferred, oddly enough, to be with those that were below grade level. Mrs. B. had asked Miss Cate if she thought Ezra did this to show off his intelligence or for an ego boost, but the teacher said that she thought Ezra was truly more comfortable with these children and seemed to enjoy helping them. Miss Cate then stated that during centers, Ezra did not necessarily chose to be with these same children, but sought out the quieter ones, which led the counselor back to Ezra not liking noise.
As the counselor watched Ezra and the other children, she noted Ezra watched her with keen eyes that held a hint of suspicion. Mrs. Burtch noted Ezra was more observant than his fellow classmates. Thirty minutes later, the counselor rose from her chair and walked out. She could feel Ezra watching her every step.
After lunch, the class was lining up to go to recess when Mrs. B again appeared at the classroom door. “Miss Cate?” she started, waiting for the teacher to turn her attention to her. “ I was wondering if I could borrow Ezra for a while?” she asked. The counselor had picked this specific time having learned that Ezra didn’t enjoy recess.
Miss Cate smiled and waved him to the front of the line. “Sure can,” she said willingly.
Ezra slid past his teacher and stopped in front of the Mrs. B. Although he had met her once briefly, and saw her frequently around the school, she was still a stranger and therefore not trusted. Turning back to Miss Cate, he spoke so softly that she had to bend down hear him. “Vin will want to know where I am,” his voice sounding uneasy.
Miss Cate put her hand on the small shoulder and said, “I’ll let him know. It’ll be okay.” Rising, the teacher met the counselor’s eyes and both smiled grimly. Ezra seemed to be worried about being in trouble with his cousin.
The older woman had stood at the door, watching the little boy make his way to the front door. He was dressed in new jeans and a long-sleeved, red t-shirt, both spotless. Miss Cate had mentioned in her report that the child left school as clean as he had come. His hair was parted on the side and combed back, letting her see the green eyes. Looking into the small appraising eyes, she knew it would take a lot of work to gain the little one’s trust. Most five-year-olds were open and trusting, she could tell this would not be the case. It wouldn’t be the first time she met with such resistance, and she had the patience. Mrs. B held out her hand and Ezra took it politely. She led him out of the room and then loosened her grip, giving him the choice of whether to continue holding her hand or not. Ezra dropped her hand, but continued to walk close by.
She talked as they walked towards her office. “I like to spend time with all the new kids and I haven’t been able to do that with you. I’m sorry. It was quite rude of me not to make time for a proper meeting earlier. So, I thought today we could just get to know each other, alright?” she asked. She had gathered enough information on the child to know that manners were extremely ingrained in him.
“Yes, ma’am,” Ezra responded politely.
Ezra had never been in her office. Walking into the large room, his eyes grew large at the sight of the caged animals and accessories that lined the walls. Mrs. Burtch watched as he took in the entire room, his small eyes widening at each new discovery. She took his small hand and led him over to the shelf with the animals. “Do you like animals?” she asked, squatting down on his level.
Ezra slowly nodded as he gazed up and down the shelf. “Yes, ma’am,” he whispered.
“Which one would you like to hold?” she asked.
Ezra’s turned his head and stared at the woman in disbelief. “Hold?” he gasped, the look of hopefulness glowing in his green eyes.
“Yep,” she affirmed. “You can hold any of them you want. Except the fish of course,” she laughed, earning her a small smile from the boy.
Ezra got the joke and couldn’t help but smile at the infectious laugh the woman had. He looked up and down the shelf undecidedly as he studied each animal. Finally, the woman, seeing how torn he was, suggested gently, “How about Tom?” Moving towards the birdcage, she lifted out a blue house finch.
Ezra took the small bird carefully into his hands and looked at it in complete awe. He’d never seen a bird this up-close before, much less held one. The closest he’d ever gotten to one was passing the pet store window in a mall. Mrs. B. gently guided Ezra over to some small chairs and helped him sit down. Still having his hands cupped around the bird, Ezra didn’t seem to notice the move.
“Here, look. Take this hand and hold out your fingers,” the counselor said as she helped Ezra to place the bird on his finger. “Now you can pet him.”
Ezra smoothed down the fine feathers with two fingers, lost in time. After a spell of silence, he looked up at the woman with complete amazement and rapture. “He’s staying,” he exclaimed, his voice high and excited.
Mrs. Burtch smiled easily. “He likes you,” she said with confidence.
Ezra turned his attention back to the bird. He was fascinated that the animal didn’t try to fly away, but was content to sit and be petted. He wondered if the bird felt like he did when Mr. Buck would just hold him.
The counselor sat in silence, willing to just let the boy be for a while. She noted how careful and tender Ezra was in petting the feathers. When the small shoulders slacked a little further, Elaine Burtch knew Ezra was relaxing and feeling more secure in his surroundings. She slid some coloring sheets and crayons in front of her and quietly began to color. Flicking her eyes up, she caught Ezra watching her, and raised her head just enough to look in Ezra’s direction. “Do you like to color?” she asked passively.
Ezra wasn’t sure how he was supposed to answer. The fact was that he didn’t like coloring. He felt like a failure when he did it because he couldn’t ever get the picture to come out like he envisioned it. Perfect. On the other hand, his mother had taught him that it was rude to tell an adult he hated or disliked something they were offering. Ezra was in a quandary and felt the only thing to do was lie. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied, unconvincingly.
Mrs. Burtch had been at this job for a long time and could spot a lie when delivered. Appearing nonchalant, she said, “Well, you can color if you want or you can continue petting Tom. Which I’m sure he had no objections to,” she added with a short laugh as she nodded towards the tranquil bird.
“Well,” Ezra said, drawing the word out, “He does seem to be happy.”
“That he does,” she agreed, turning back to her coloring.
After a couple of minutes, the counselor laid down her crayon. “What do you say we put Tom back and do something else?” she asked folding her hands and gazing at the little boy in front of her.
Ezra knew it was more of a directive than a suggestion. Slowly, he stood and walked back to the birdcage, holding the bird safely in his hands. Once the bird was back in his cage, Mrs. Burtch led Ezra over to another part of the room. There she took out a bucket, some beanbags and a basketball-sized foam ball. “How about a game?” she asked with a smile. “I want to see how many of these beanbags you can toss into the bucket,” she instructed in a soothing voice, as she placed Ezra several paces away from the bucket.
Ezra thought it was a strange request, but he knew not to say it. Instead, he began tossing the beanbags one-by-one at the bucket. He quickly became agitated with himself when one wouldn’t make it in. The counselor was watching, not only for eye-hand coordination, but also how well the child dealt with having new things requested of him on the spur of the moment. That in itself told the counselor a lot about the child. The fact Ezra that didn’t even blink, but started the task told her Ezra was quick to adapt to change and seemed capable of dealing with new instructions without becoming upset. Like the coloring, Mrs. B. could tell Ezra wasn’t fond of the game, but he went along with anyway. After Ezra’s first miss, the reaction on the small face told her he was upset by it. By the fifth, Ezra’s face had contorted into a face of hard concentration marred by a deep frown.
“It’s okay to miss. Sometimes that happens,” she said in a soft assuring voice.
Ezra stopped his throwing and studied the woman a moment before hesitantly holding out a bag to her. “Do you want to play?” His voice held apprehension.
Mrs. Burtch broke out into a smile as she stood up. “I would love to. Thank you for asking,” she said, warmed at the child’s thoughtfulness
The two continued to throw the bags, the counselor sometimes missing the bucket intentionally. When she did she would just shrug and say, “Oh well.”
The modeling soon transferred onto Ezra and when he would miss he stopped getting so upset with himself. Once all the bags were used, Ezra ran to the bucket. “I can pick them up for you,” he offered.
“Why, thank you so much. That’s very kind of you,” the older woman replied.
Once Ezra had put all the beanbags in the bucket, he moved it back to where he saw the counselor get it from. He was rewarded with a bright smile. “Wow, I bet that was really heavy for you. You must be really strong,” Mrs. B. complimented.
It was short lived when she picked up the ball and asked, “Would you play catch with me?”
Again. Ezra became mad at his ineptitude for occasionally missing the ball. Once again, the counselor modeled how she dealt with missing the ball. Mrs. Burtch was forming the insight that the five-year-old put an extreme amount of pressure on himself. Watching the clock, she didn’t want to drag the game out too long. When another five minutes had passed, she called a halt and put the ball away.
Ezra was forming his own thoughts about the woman. He wasn’t sure what to make of the woman who had a room full of games, toys and animals. He had never met a woman that played catch with him. He wasn’t sure about her at all, but so far she seemed okay.
Leading Ezra back to the table, Mrs. B. sat down across from him. Looking at the intense green-eyes, she began to explain what they were going to do next. “Ezra,” she started. “At the beginning of the school year, all the kids in you class were tested to see what they knew. Now, since you weren’t here, you missed out. So, I would like to do it now, okay?” she asked.
Ezra nodded uncertainly, his fingers twitching in nervousness.
“First, let me explain it to you,” she said. “I want to see if you know your ABC's. Which I bet you do, don’t you?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” Ezra replied with relief.
“Then I’m going to ask you to count for me,” she went on. Ezra smiled and began to relax a little more. This sounded easy enough so far. “After that,” she continued, “There’s a few other things I want ask you to do, but before each one, I’ll explain it, alright?” she asked.
Ezra breathed a little sigh of relief. It didn’t sound too hard. “Yes, ma’am,” he answered.
“If you don’t understand something, you tell me and I’ll explain it better. If you don’t know the answer, it’s no big deal. You aren’t expected to know everything. Understand?” she asked, staring into his eyes.
Ezra nodded as he licked his dry lips. “Yes, ma’am,” he said quietly, clasping his hands together under the table.
The counselor began the series of tests that involved not only knowledge, but also critical thinking and problem solving. Ezra was capable of doing each task without difficulty. Every fifteen minutes they would take a two-minute break and look at the animals and talk about them. Mrs. Burtch quickly figured out that Harvey the Rat slightly freaked the youngster out, while Bunny the rabbit held Ezra’s fascination. When the last test was completed, Mrs. Burtch passed Ezra a coloring sheet and took one for herself. “I know coloring isn’t your favorite thing, but how about we do one page before you go back to class?” she asked.
Ezra looked at the grandmotherly woman and acquiesced, wondering how she knew he really didn’t like to color. “Yes, ma’am.” The tests she had asked him to do had been fairly easy and he had enjoyed the part where he got to read to her. She gave him her undivided attention. Besides Buck, no one else had done that. Ezra tried to color his paper as carefully as possible, but his fingers and the crayon defied him. The crayon continued to slip out of the line. Turning his picture into what he thought was an ugly mess.
Although she continued to color, the counselor kept one eye on the little guy across from her. The amount of pressure the child put on himself in everything he did was quite evident. It would be a vital thing she would have to work on first. Breaking the silence, she said, “I understand you don’t like recess. Can you tell me what you don’t like about it?” she asked conversationally
Ezra froze for a moment in fear before looking at the woman with suspicion. He finally decided she really was just making conversation. “The kids are loud and run about unruly,” Ezra stated in a soft tone. “Mother says ‘one can judge a child’s upbringing by the character of the child’,” Ezra quoted, the added, “I don’t think their parents are doing a very good job.”
The counselor was dumbstruck for a moment. She wondered just what else his mother had taught him. The telling helped to formulate what kind of upbringing Ezra’d had himself. It was not painting a pretty picture. “Hmmm,” she said. “Does Vin run and yell?”
Ezra thought about it for a moment. “Sometimes,” he answered cautiously.
“Do you think his dad isn’t doing a good job of raising him?” the counselor asked casually.
“Mr. Larabee loves Vin a lot and Vin loves Mr. Larabee,” Ezra stated defensively.
The woman sat quietly trying to find the connection between Vin being loud yet still being loved by his father.
Dropping the line of questioning, she moved on to another topic. “I bet you don’t like the loud noise either, do you?” she continued questioning in a quiet voice.
Ezra was silent before replying, “No, ma’am.”
Smiling reassuringly, the counselor said, “Sometimes loud noises can be bothersome. But sometimes it’s fun to relax and let loose and have fun, too.”
Ezra remained mute. He didn’t know about cutting loose. His whole life had been about structure, having restraint and being on one’s best behavior at all times. He had often wished, since moving in with Mr. Buck, that he could emulate Vin. The older boy seemed to be so easy going and both Mr. Buck and Vin liked having fun. Ezra didn’t want to be like his classmates. They just acted too silly for his liking.
The aged woman went back to her coloring. She noticed how hard the little boy concentrated on his own paper. When they were finished, Mrs. B. took Ezra’s coloring paper and exclaimed, “This is terrific coloring. You did such a good job!”
Ezra beamed once again at the praise.
“Can I have this and hang it up, so I can look at it?” she asked with a genuine smile.
Ezra studied the counselor a moment before slowly nodding. He couldn’t believe that the woman would want something of his, especially his coloring, much less want to hang it up.
“Thank you,” the counselor said, as she stood and walked over to her computer desk. She proceeded to tape it to the small cabinet door. Stepping back, she said, “There, now I can see it any time I want.”
The woman just plain baffled Ezra. She had animals that she let him hold, she played games with him, she missed the ball sometimes and didn’t get mad when he missed, she gave easy tests and she liked his coloring. She was nothing like his mother. The sudden thought sunk Ezra’s happiness. He missed his mother. He had gone long periods before without seeing her, but he always missed her. Looking at the older woman, he temporarily wished this woman were his mother. He would bet everything Mrs. Burtch would never leave him behind with strangers or get arrested.
Mrs. Burtch caught the sad look that filled the little boy before her and wondered what had bought it on. Kneeling down before Ezra, she cocked her head to one side and asked, “You okay? You seem kind of sad.”
“No, ma’am. I mean yes, ma’am,” Ezra stuttered getting flustered at the two different questions. “I mean, I’m fine, ma’am.”
The counselor was hard pressed not to delve on this some more, but the child wasn’t ready for her counseling yet, they were still getting to know each other. Then another thought popped into her mind. “Did you want to take the picture home and give it to your Mr. Buck?” she asked, getting ready to take the paper down.
“No,” Ezra said too quickly. “You can keep it,” he offered.
Turning back to Ezra, she studied the child before saying. “Thank you. I would like that.”
Deciding now would be a good time to call it quits, Mrs. B. walked Ezra back to his classroom. Stopping him before he could enter, she said, “ I enjoyed your company today. Would it be all right if I came and got you again sometime?”
Ezra’s eyes lit up at the prospect of getting to hold another animal. Just as quickly he quashed his emotions, his mother had taught him never to let other people know what was important to him. “That would okay,” he replied, trying not to let it show how much it meant to him.
“Good,” Mrs. B. said, opening the door for the youngster. “Me and Tom will look forward to it. Or perhaps, you would like to chose a different animal to hold,” she said with a smile.
As she walked back to her office, she reflected on how much the child tried to restrain from showing any feelings and how often he failed at it. She knew that if the child was allowed to continue the practice, or worse if he’d never been found, that within the next year or so, Ezra would completely master the ability not to feel.
That night during their quiet time, Buck was holding Ezra as he did every night. He had known that the counselor was going to administer tests. He was anxious to know what kind of theories she drew from the results, but kept his anxiety to himself. He knew his boy was smart; it was all the little idiosyncrasies that worried him. She had told him it would take a day or two to write up her evaluation. Snuggling Ezra further into his arms, Buck asked the same question he did every night. “So, what did you do today?”
Ezra laid with his head against Buck’s shoulder and contemplated the question. “After lunch, that lady, Mrs. B. came and took me to her room,” he started.
“She did?” Buck asked with interest.
Sitting up and turning to look Buck in the eye, Ezra nodded. “Yes, and you know what?” the child asked, his voice rising with excitement to match the look in his bright eyes.
“No. What?” Buck asked intrigued by the child’s sudden change in demeanor.
“She has animals. Lots of them and she let me hold one. Tom. He’s a blue house finch,” Ezra said, his voice telling just how in awe he was that he was allowed to hold such a prize.
“Really?” Buck asked, enjoying this side of the boy he rarely saw.
Ezra nodded his head emphatically. “Really. And she said I could go back and see her and hold any of them I want. Except the fish,” he ended with a small giggle.
Buck was caught up in the moment of having a regular conversation with his son. Playing along with the joke, he said, “Yeah, guess they wouldn’t like that too much, would they?”
Ezra shook his head solemnly. “No, sir, because they would die if they were taken out of the water.”
Nodding his head in agreement, Buck said, “Yep, they would.” Changing the course a little, he said, “So, tell me more about these animals.”
Ezra scooted down Buck’s outstretched legs so he could get a better view of Buck’s face and began describing each animal and their cages. Buck noticed Ezra flinched slightly when he skimmed over Harry the Rat. As Ezra continued talking about the animals, Buck had a feeling they were going to wind up with a small zoo of their own once they moved into their home. Buck mentally shrugged, if that’s all it took to make the kid happy then so be it. Buck had always wanted to have lots of pets himself as a kid, but living in apartments, it wasn’t allowed.
Buck gathered Ezra into his arms as Ezra moved to telling in detail about the simple tests he’d been asked to perform. “…And then I read to her and she said I did so well, she asked me to read a harder book, and when I read that, she said she was so amazed at my ability she asked me to read a harder book,” Ezra was saying. He stopped for a minute before quietly acknowledging, “I had trouble with some of the words in that one, but Mrs. B. said she thought I did an awesome job and that some second graders couldn’t read that book.” Ezra looked up at Buck, unsure of what his reaction would be that he couldn’t read the book better.
Buck looked into down into those questioning eyes and smiled even bigger. “That sounded really hard,” he said in a solemn tone.
Ezra nodded his head, waiting for some other reaction. Buck squeezed Ezra into a bear hug and grunted, “I don’t care how well you did, I love you anyways.”
Ezra smiled to himself and enjoyed the moment while it lasted.
Buck was about to drive his co-workers to distraction. The counselor had called him earlier that morning to set up a time to meet and from then on, the time seemed to drag by; for everyone. Buck wasn’t sure that he wanted to hear what she had to say. His stomach was in knots and he was more nervous than on his first bust.
JD was contemplating shooting his friend and putting them both out of their misery. As desk partner, he’d had his desk kicked more than he could stand by Buck’s swinging foot. The youngest member of the team looked over to the profiler for some help and realized Josiah had no more idea how to help than he did. They had already told Buck several times, to no avail, that everything would be okay. Even Chris had called the man in for a sit down. That had calmed Buck down for exactly twenty-seven minutes and forty-three seconds, not that JD had been counting. Finally, in exasperation, JD stood up and said, “Buck, come help me in the file room.”
Buck looked up in puzzlement. “Whatever for?” he asked.
“Just come on,” JD said sternly.
Once in the file room, JD turned towards Buck. “What are you so nervous about? Ezra’s a great kid, a little strange at times, but he’s a good kid. And he’s smart. What are you worried about?” JD demanded.
Buck ran his hand through hair. “I don’t know. It’s that ‘getting sent to the principal’s office sinking feeling’,” Buck tried to explain. “You know. You’re not sure why you’re being sent and you’re not sure you’re going to like the answer,” Buck tried to explain his apprehension about the meeting.
“Buck, I can’t say I know what you’re going through as the parent. I mean, I love Ezra, too, but not like you do. I do know this. No matter what she found wrong, or right, with Ezra, he is still going home with you tonight and you will still tuck him in and you will still be the center of his small world. Okay? And whatever she says, me and the guys are going to be right behind you, Aright?” JD stated firmly, putting his hand on the bigger man’s shoulder and shaking it a little.
Buck drew in a deep breath. “Yeah, you’re right,” he said, lowering his head and shaking it. “Thanks.”
Softening his tone, JD asked, “Would it help if Chris or Josiah went with you and be backup?” JD was wise enough to know that, as a father, Chris would being able to identify with Buck’s feelings and Josiah, as psychologists himself, would know what kind of questions to ask and understand any diagnosis that Buck might have trouble with.
At this, Buck burst out into a short laugh. “No, they both offered, but I want to handle this operation solo.”
JD watched his friend for a minute and then said, “Good, you can stop kicking my desk then.” Flashing Buck a smile, he hurried out of the room before Buck could smack him up-side the head like he usually did.
Buck watched his friend run out of the room before an evil grin came to light on his face. Walking back to his desk, Buck sat down quietly and began to work. Fifteen minutes later when he saw his friend had been lulled into security, Buck drew back his leg and kicked out at JD’s desk. The other agent jumped a foot and Buck roared with laughter. “I could have resisted, but I didn’t want to.”
JD glared at his friend and shook his finger at Buck, “When you least expect it, my friend. When you least expect it.”
Buck just wiggled his fingers in a ‘bring it on’ motion.
The tall agent arrived in the school parking lot and took a deep breath. He kept trying to remind himself of what his friends had all said, ‘He had nothing to worry about.’ He just couldn’t get the sinking feeling out of the pit of his stomach.
Buck walked into the central office and signed in. Writing his name on a fluorescent pink nametag, he stuck it to his shirt and walked towards the counselor’s room. Since the door was opened, he knocked once before stepping into the room. Mrs. Burtch looked up from her desk and smiled. “Mr. Wilmington, right on time.” She motioned for the tall man to walk over to a large table and sit down.
Mrs. Burtch strode across the room and put a ‘do not come in’ sign out on the doorknob then shut the door. She turned to the table and held back a laugh as the long-legged agent was trying to find a comfortable position in the low chair. Walking towards the table, she said, “Sorry about the seating; the chairs are not the most comfortable things for adults.”
Buck laughed a little as he agreed, “I understand.”
The counselor set herself across from the father and opened up the file. “First, let me say that Ezra is a smart, well mannered, polite, little boy.”
Buck grinned and then let it falter a bit. “Yeah, Ezra’s well-mannered all right.” His tone lacked any happiness.
“Mr. Wilmington?” she questioned.
“It’s just that…well like you said, he’s well mannered. Sometimes, too much in my opinion,” Buck said, looking down at the table. Jerking his head up he tried to quickly explain his thoughts. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want Ezra misbehaving or anything, but I want him to…to also act like a little boy.” Buck felt as if he was floundering, waving his hands in exasperation for the right words.
“You want him to relax a little and enjoy being a kid?” the counselor asked helpfully.
“Yeah, it’s hard to explain, Buck admitted. “It’s like he skipped childhood altogether and went straight to adulthood,” he said.
“I understand. Why don’t we go through my findings and maybe that will help,” she offered.
“Oh, yeah,” Buck said, slightly embarrassed. “Didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
“That’s quite all right. I want your feedback and input,” she said.
“First off, as far as intelligence, he is above grade average on everything. I found his comprehension level to be on a very high second grade level. Meaning, he understands things on the same level as a high seven-year-old would,” she said. Continuing, she said, “His reading and math skill are between low and middle second grade level.”
“So, are you suggesting that we move him to second grade?” Buck asked in trepidation. He wasn’t so sure he wanted Ezra placed with second graders. The boy was the smallest boy in kindergarten; he couldn’t imagine Ezra being with seven and eight-year-olds. While it was true that he played well with Vin, playing with a cousin that is seven and being in a classroom full of seven-year-olds were two different things.
“No,” the counselor said forcefully, but softly.
The sinking feeling in Buck’s stomach returned with a vengeance. He couldn’t ask the question. Instead, he waited for her to explain her reasoning.
“Simply because of a couple of very big reasons,” she paused, “his social skills being the main one. He also has delayed coordination skills. Now, that in itself is not a reason to hold him from moving forward. The social skills are. As we have just discussed, Ezra acts like an adult. Somewhere, he missed a key step in being able to socialize with children of his own age. I believe it would be in his best interest that we keep him where he is and work on his socialization and teach him how to be a child. We can also work on his hand-eye coordination,” she finished.
“What can I do?” Buck asked immediately.
“Well, simple games at home, such as tossing a ball, walking a plank, other things like that. I would like your consent for Ezra to be helped by specialists,” she said.
Buck thought it over for a minute. “That sounds like a good idea. Okay. How do we do that?”
“Well, you, me, his teacher and any other specialists I believe necessary will get together in a meeting called an ARD. That stands for Admission Review and Dismissal. Then, we can come up with an I.E.P. for him and start implementing it as soon as possible,” she explained.
“I.E.P.? Now hold on there. You said Ezra was a smart boy. Why is he having an I.E.P.?” Buck voice snapped in hostility. He knew how the I.E.P. (Individual Education Program) worked because Chris had talked about them when Vin was being placed in school and had to have remedial help.
“I.E.P.’s cover more than just educational services, Mr. Wilmington. We can make one up that will only cover the problems he’s having,” she said placating. She understood how upset parents could become when their child’s abilities were challenged or categorized. “He is not being labeled, Mr. Wilmington. Just being given the services he needs to become that little boy we all want to see him become,” she said.
“Who all would be involved in this?” Buck asked, a little calmer.
“Besides me, there would be an Occupational Therapist who would work on his coordination, a Social Therapist, and like we’ve discussed before, a regular psychologist; once we get you set up with one,” she added.
She gave the man time to digest it all.
“Sounds like he’s bloody nuts with all those psychologists,” Buck muttered.
“Mr. Wilmington, I can assure you, Ezra is not ‘nuts’ as you put it, but he does need help and a lot of it. You told me yourself, you believe he had been left alone for long periods of time. You also indicated the child had been beaten. Those two issues alone are things that need to be discovered in depth and begin being dealt with as quickly as possible. It is probably one of the reasons he can’t socialize with children his own age; he may have never been around them. And could explain why he feels no compulsion to return affection when he receives it,” she spoke openly.
“Is that all?” Buck asked quietly, knowing the woman was right and Ezra needed lots of help to deal with the traumas that had been inflicted on him.
“You said that Ezra tends to shy away from loud noises, especially when your extended family gets together and starts up playing. He does the same thing here at school. I think we should set you up with an audiologist and see if there is a physical reason that loud noises bother him. If not, then that will need to be addressed as well,” she explained.
Buck studied the woman for a few minutes, the knot in his stomach had yet to loosen. “What aren’t you saying?” he finally asked.
Taking a deep breath, the counselor had been dreading this moment. “Mr. Wilmington, Ezra presents some characteristics of F.A.S. Though, I can’t for certain say that’s what he has.”
“What’s a F.A.S.?” Buck asked slowly.
Licking her lips, Mrs. Burtch replied, “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.”
Buck stared at the woman for a second before it clicked. “What?! She drank while she was pregnant?” Buck’s voice rose in agitation.
“Mr. Wilmington, we need to calm down. I know it’s a bit of a shock, but there are signs pointing to that,” the counselor spoke in a calm voice. She had expected such a reaction from the caring foster parent.
“But… but, he looks normal. Don’t children with that problem have certain characteristics?” Buck stammered.
“Yes. Sometimes when they are born they have certain facial features that can be attributed to F.A.S., but, as the child grows up, many of the features disappear,” she explained quietly.
“Doesn’t F.A.S. cause mental retardation?” Buck asked confusedly, his mind spinning in a hundred different directions. “You just said he had above average intelligence,” he argued, swiping at his dry mouth.
“That is true. That is why I want to set up an appointment with a specialist that specializes in F.A.S. Like I said, it’s only a suspicion because, like you pointed out, there are inconsistencies, ” the counselor spoke carefully.
Feeling abundantly guilty for overloading the parent with all the news at once, she said, “Mr. Wilmington, let me assure you, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Yes, right now, it seems a mite overwhelming, but once we get Ezra into the doctors’ appointments and find out what problems we are dealing with, then we can begin to focus solely on getting Ezra to where he needs to be. Until then, we work on the problems we know he has. It will be all right, Mr. Wilmington, I promise. I’ll be here to answer any questions and help you find the best sources of help for Ezra,” her words spoken softly were comforting to the big agent.
“Can’t someone just ask Maude if she drank during her pregnancy?” he asked hopelessly.
“Mr. Wilmington,” the older woman started, compassion filling her voice, “That would be up to D.C.F.S. and, while we would like to think they are as capable and devoted as they are portrayed on TV, the harsh reality is that each case worker has between 75 and 200 cases, sometimes more. It could be a while before Ezra’s caseworker could get around to that inquiry and then there is no telling if the woman would be honest. She might see it as another strike against her if she confessed to drinking while pregnant,” Mrs. B. explained carefully.
Buck sat in silence for a long time. He wondered just how many strikes one little boy could have against him and still come out half normal. Running his hand through his hair, he came to a decision. “Okay, so we plan this like a bust. One step at a time and put all the people in place to have the most profitable outcome,” Buck said, speaking to himself.
Mrs. Burtch arched her eyebrow at the association. “Well, if that’s how it helps you to think of this, I suppose the similarities are right,” she said, a little worried. “You do realize it’s not going to be an overnight success? This is going to be a long, ongoing process,” the counselor said.
“I know. I do realize that. It’s been a little over two years since me and Chris found Vin,” Buck gritted his teeth at the memory of finding that scared little boy in the locked closet. “I have been with Chris every step of the way. There were times when we could see no improvement, but looking back now, he was getting better all the time little by little. There’s a world of difference now. I know Ezra can make the same headway,” Buck said with absolute faith. ‘He’s got me and four uncles and Vin to help him get there,” Buck said, his stubbornness kicking in. He would do whatever was required to help his son, physically and emotionally.
“I just bet he does,” Mrs. B. smiled. The shock of it all had passed and now she was seeing the determination of a father.
Letting out a long sigh, Buck dreaded to ask, but felt he should hear it all. “Is there anything else?”
Breaking into a smile, the counselor shook her head. “No, we about covered it. That doesn’t mean we won’t discover other problems down the road, but we’ll deal with them as they come. How’s that?” she asked.
“Sounds like a plan,” Buck responded. Looking down at his watch, he noticed it was already almost five. “Best get going. Ezra will be waiting for me,” he said.
Sticking out her hand, Mrs. Burtch offered final words. “Ezra is a lucky little boy to have you as his guardian.”
Buck blushed and nodded his thanks. Stopping by the office, he returned his nametag and headed out the door. If he hurried, he could get back to town and pick Ezra up himself instead of Chris doing it. He hated having to ask Chris for such favors, he felt like an intruder into his and Vin’s lives already.
Ezra was sitting with his back at the low brick fence reading inside the big room. Chris had been by five minutes earlier to get Vin and had told him Buck had been held up at a meeting, but was on his way. A booming voice sounded down the hall and Ezra jerked his head up. “Who wants to go home with me?”
Ezra hopped up and looked over the fence to see Buck striding towards him. Ezra picked up his backpack and waited for the inevitable. Buck stopped at the partition and, instead of opening the gate, picked Ezra up and hoisted him into his arms. “How about you? You want to go home with me?”
Ezra nodded his head with a smile. Buck pulled the limp boy into a hug and whispered, “Love ya, sweet boy.”
After putting Ezra to bed that night, Buck hit the internet and started doing research on the possible enemy. An hour later, Buck was not seeing a good outcome. Sitting at the computer, he had his head leaned back and his palms dug into his eyes. He didn’t hear Chris come up from behind and jumped when he spoke, “What’d ya find out?” Chris asked. Buck had told him the report from counselor’s after tucking the boy’s in.
“Listen to this,” Buck said as he began to quote the statistics. “...95% will have mental health problems, 55% will be confined in prison, drug or alcohol treatment centers or a mental institution, 82% will not be able to live independently, 70% will have problems with employment. And that’s not all,” Buck said with a sigh. Looking up to Chris with sad doomed eyes, he continued, “…Early Intervention is a critical element in determining the prognosis for a child with F.A.S.” Buck shook his head. “If he’s had this for five years what kind of damage has been done that could have been treated earlier?” Buck’s voice cracked at the end.
Chris knelt down beside his friend. He had been as shocked as Buck had been when he was informed that Ezra might have been a victim even before he was born. Placing his hand on Buck’s shoulder, he said sternly. “Now you listen to me, Buck Wilmington, these are just numbers and probabilities. You’re getting defeated even before we know we have a battle on our hands.” Chris shook the strong shoulder gently. “You aren’t alone in this by a long shot, Buck. You got the guys behind you all the way and you and I have been friends for too long for you to even think I’m not going to be there with you all the way,” Chris stated with seriousness. “You and I have hit some harder times than this and made it through. This is just one more journey we’ll take together. Got that?”
Buck let out sigh of relief and nodded his head. “Yeah, Hoss, I got it,” The fear was still there, but the burden of going through this alone was gone.
“Good,” Chris said, standing back up. “Turn that off and join me out on the porch. It’s too nice of a night to be in here,” he ordered. There had been many a time when Buck had kept him from sinking into depression, he would do no less in return.
Buck sat in the doctor’s office, sweating out the impending meeting. He had been in conflict over whether to be honest with the little boy as to why they were having to come see this doctor or not. He always believed that one should be truthful with children and that kids could handle a lot more than they were thought capable. He had seen this acted out on the streets many times when he was a cop. On the other hand, he didn’t want to scare Ezra or give him a negative outlook on his mother, especially if he was going ot be required to go visit her. In the end, Buck had decided to hold off telling Ezra the real reason they were here until they knew for sure.
Ezra sat on one side of him, reading a book, and Josiah sat on the other side. Chris had taken matters into his own hands and had asked Josiah personally to go with Buck, so he wouldn’t be alone. Josiah had been more than glad to go, even if all he did was be support.
Buck was having an internal dialogue that he knew most people would find strange. He had been with the ATF a little over ten years and, except for the occasional cold, he had never taken a day off. Then Ezra came along and suddenly he felt as if he was playing catch-up for all those years. He was just grateful he had accumulated all that time and had a boss that was very understanding of the situation. He remembered when he had hesitantly walked into Chris’ office two days after finding out Ezra might have F.A.S. He had felt so bad about asking for even more time off since he had already used up more days in the past few weeks than he had his entire career. Chris had just smiled and shook his head and reminded him of how often he, himself, had taken off a lot in the beginning after becoming Vin’s foster dad. Buck had felt some of the weight come off his shoulders. Looking over to Josiah, he wondered if he could have done any of this without the help of his friends.
Ezra sat, reading his book and thinking. Mr. Buck had told him Mrs. B had been so impressed with him being able to do so many things that she wanted her friend Dr. Free to see him. Mr. Buck had told him it was a good thing, he wasn’t supposed to worry about it, but he was. Ever since Mrs. B had talked to him that day, Mr. Buck had given him more hugs and had caught the man watching him a lot. Ezra wasn’t sure what Mr. Buck was looking at him for, but sometimes he had a sad face until he noticed Ezra was watching him and then he would grin real big. Now they were here at the doctor’s office and Josiah had come, too. Mr. Sanchez had said since Mohammad couldn’t come to the mountain, then the mountain had to come to Mohammad. This had confused him a great deal until Mr. Buck explained that he and Mr. Sanchez were working together on some things for the office and since he was here with him, Mr. Sanchez came here, too, so that the men could talk business.
The door to the back soon opened and a nurse invited all three into the back. They were shown to a room that was filled with more toys and games than Mrs. B. had in her room. Buck and Josiah took child-sized seats against the back wall while Ezra sat down at the kid’s table and played with some cars. The door opened and a tall, portly man came in wearing jeans and a white shirt.
“Hey there, I’m Dr. Free, but you can call me Scott,” the man introduced himself.
“I’m Ezra and that is Mr. Buck and Mr. Sanchez,” Ezra introduced the men, who shook hands.
“Mrs. Burtch wanted me to see you because you amazed her. So, I am going to ask you do to a lot of what you did for her, and maybe a few extra things. Okay?” the man asked as he sat down at the table.
Ezra folded his hands together and looked the man right in the eye. “Yes, sir,” he said calmly.
“How about we start with reading?” he asked as he pushed a book towards Ezra.
An hour later Josiah didn’t think he could stand up if he wanted to, there was no feeling in his legs. The physician had asked Ezra to perform the same tasks that he had performed with the counselor, even questioning the boy about his dislike on loud noises. Ezra’s same response had the doctor looking at Buck with a questioning look. All Buck could do was put his palms up and shrug. Dr. Free had asked him what the difference was between playing with his friend, Vin, and playing with one of the kids at school. Ezra’s response had been that Vin had good manners and Vin knew he didn’t like yelling. Buck made a mental note of the last comment and was sure the doctor did too. Next, Ezra was taken down the hall and had his hearing tested. Ezra had not liked the high-pitch tones going off so close to ear and had flinched. That had ended the test.
By the time it was all done, it was suggested to Buck that they go get some lunch and take a long break. They were due back in three hours for a final discussion. The three climbed into Buck’s truck and both men turned to Ezra. “This is your special day,” Buck said with a smile. “You get to pick where we go eat.”
Ezra hesitated. It made him nervous to decide things when other people were involved. He wanted to make everyone happy. Buck could see the slow rise of panic in Ezra’s eyes and decided to narrow the decision down. “Okay, let’s make this easier. I’ll give you three choices and you pick one, and whatever you pick will be great with us, okay?”
Ezra nodded, relieved the narrowed lists.
“McDonalds? KFC? Or Long John Silvers?” Buck stated the choices.
Ezra thought for a while before quietly voicing what he hoped was the right choice. “Long John Silvers,” he said timidly.
Josiah clapped his hands and smiled big. “Sounds like a good choice to me,” he said cheerfully.
“Me, too,” Buck agreed, cranking up the engine.
After lunch, Buck, knowing how Ezra felt about crowds and noise, avoided the mall and big toy stores, instead he chose to take them to a small toy store he had passed by several times. The three got out and went in. Going up and down the aisles, Buck and Josiah looked at different toys and discussing how they wished they had this stuff when they were kids. Ezra, for his part, kept quiet unless spoken to. He kept it to himself, but he wondered if the reason he had to take all those tests were for Mr. Buck to decide if he was good enough to keep.
Buck kept a close eye on the time and noted it was getting almost time to head back. Looking down at his quiet son, he noticed that Ezra was getting slower at keeping up. Bending down, he looked into two tired green eyes. “What’s the matter, pal? Feet getting too slow to carry you?” he asked, knowing the answer before Ezra nodded.
It had been a long day for the kid and Buck knew it. Picking Ezra up, he was surprised when the small head fell against his shoulder. Buck shifted Ezra’s dead weight and began walking again. It wasn’t long before Ezra was completely out.
A short time later, Josiah help Buck buckle a sleeping Ezra into his booster seat and headed back to the clinic. Ezra was still sleeping when they walked through the doors. Buck had just gotten Ezra settled on his lap, when the nurse indicated they could go back to the doctor’s office. The room was done in a light-colored wainscoting halfway up the walls with cartoon caricatures covering the top half. Buck and Josiah each took a seat in the leather chairs and waited for the doctor. Right then, Buck was wishing Nathan had come, because he was sure he was about to have the biggest panic attack of his life.
Josiah noticed Buck taking large breaths and put his hand on the man’s arm. “Whatever he says, Buck, we’re all in this together. Just remember that,” he said with confidence.
Buck nodded and felt slightly better. Cupping Ezra’s sleeping body closer to him, he made a silent vow. He would do everything in his power to give Ezra every chance at a normal life.
Dr. Free stepped through the door and noticed the sleeping child. He smiled. The counselor had been right; Ezra had been quite something. Sitting down at his desk, he acknowledged both men. Opening his file, he clasped his hands and leaned forward. “Let me put your mind at ease right now. Ezra does not have F.A.S.,” the doctor said with a smile.
Josiah thanked his God for his answering his prayer and Buck felt his heart start beating again. Looking at the doctor for assurance, he asked, “You sure?” Then, just as quickly, said, “No, that…well…,” fumbling for the correct words.
“I understand completely and, yes, I am sure. Now, Ezra does have the characteristic small head and body and he does show slow development in eye-hand coordination, negative reactions to loud noises, and lacks on-level social behavior in some areas. He does not exhibit anti-social tendencies such as: deviance or aggression. As far as his body, I believe he’s just a small child. Most importantly, he shows no signs whatsoever of intelligence impairment,” the specialists stated. Dr. Free looked Buck in the eye and said with a smile, “Mr. Wilmington, I can say with 100% certainty that Ezra does not have F.A.S.,” the man said.
“That’s good,” Buck said, more to reassure himself than anything.
“Yes, it is,” Josiah quietly intoned, squeezing the Buck’s arm.
Dr. Free held his silence, knowing the man needed a moment to just be relieved.
“So, Mrs. B was wrong,” Buck whispered to himself.
Dr. Free spoke up, “To be fair to Mrs. Burtch, she made a cautionary call she could based on her results and observations. Better safe than sorry, as they say.”
Buck nodded in quiet agreement. “So, now what?” he asked, still trying to gain his balance after hearing the good news.
“Mrs. Burtch will be given a report of the diagnosis and you will go from there,” Dr. Free said, watching the child sleep blissfully unaware of the drama going on around him. “I will include my own recommendations and will be available for consultation if she needs anything else,” he offered.
Buck shifted Ezra around in his arms and stood. Holding the sleeping child slumped against him in one arm, Buck held out his other hand to shake the doctor’s hand. “Thank you very much,” he said sincerely.
“My pleasure,” Dr. Free said, shaking the man’s hand. Nodding towards Ezra, he said, “He’s quite a boy.”
Buck smiled proudly. “Yeah. Yeah, he is,” the father said.
Josiah rose alongside Buck and shook the doctor’s hand before turning to follow Buck out of the room.
While Buck buckled Ezra in, Josiah called Chris to let him know the good news. A joyous breath of relief could be heard coming through the line. Ezra woke half-way to the ranch. Turning sleepy eyes on his guardian, he mumbled, “Where are we?”
Buck turned at the sudden voice and smiled. “We are headed to the ranch,” he explained.
“We’re not going back to Dr. Free,” Ezra asked in confusion. He knew the nurse told them to go back and Buck had said that they would.
Josiah chuckled as he reached over and tickled the little tummy. “We’ve already been. You…,” poking Ezra softly, “slept right through it.”
“I did?” Ezra asked, smiling back at Josiah when the large man tickled his stomach.
“Yep. He said you were indeed a very smart, little boy,” Josiah said with a large grin.
“He did?” Ezra said, repeating himself as he tried to wake up enough to understand everything.
“He sure did,” Buck put in. “Said, I had me quite a good kid,” Buck turned his attention to Ezra for a moment before turning his eyes back to the road. “Of course, I already knew that.”
As Buck pulled up into the yard, Ezra noticed the other vehicles. “Why are your friends here, Mr. Buck?” Ezra questioned, as he tried to push himself up higher, as if that would help him find the answer.
“I guess Chris asked them to come out and to eat with us,” Buck supplied.
“Oh,” Ezra said softly. He had become used to the idea that, on a regular basis, one of the guys would come out and spend the evening during the week. It usually wasn’t until the weekend though that all of them would show up. Buck pulled to a stop and opened the door, but before he could get turned around to get Ezra out, Josiah was already lifting the boy to the ground. The three walked to the back of the house and found Chris had already started the grill. Walking up to the blond, Buck watched Ezra wander over to where JD was pushing Vin on the tire swing.
Josiah grabbed a can of soda out of the cooler and asked, “Nathan in the house?”
Chris simply nodded as he ripped open the cellophane on the hamburger meat. Setting the package down on the table, Buck grabbed a handful, after using a squirt of anti-bacterial, and began forming the hamburgers. The two men worked in companionable silence. Chris knew they would talk later after the boys had gone to bed.
The four men didn’t stay long after eating, knowing it was a school night. Nathan gave Josiah a lift back to parking lot to retrieve his vehicle. Buck scooped Ezra up into his arms after the last taillight disappeared down the gravel road and asked in a conspiratorial voice, “Guess who’s bathtime it is?”
Ezra sighed, “It would be mine.”
Jiggling the light weight in his arms, Buck headed for the bathroom. “See, I told you I had a smart kid.”
Chris turned to his own son and nodded towards his room. “Time for yours, too.”
Chris was running the bath water for Vin when the seven-year-old appeared at his shoulder. “Dad, is something wrong with Ezra?” he asked solemnly, his eyes belying the uncertainty he felt.
Chris looked up into those heart-stealing blue eyes and rocked back on his knees. “No, nothing is wrong with Ezra,” he answered honestly.
“But…,” Vin lowered his head for a minute before looking his dad in the eye, “He had to go to the doctor and Uncle Buck has been acting kinda weird around Ezra lately.”
Holding out his hand, Chris, quickly checked on the water, then turned his attention back to Vin. Pulling the boy into his lap, he began pulling off the socks. “Weird? How? he asked. Wondering how much Vin knew or thought he knew.
“Well,” Vin began, “like giving extra hugs and sometimes, he would stand and watch Ezra. Like he was looking for something,” Vin tried to explain.
Sitting Vin up so he could pull off the shirt, Chris decided to keep it simple. “Do you remember when you first came to live with me?”
Vin nodded, waiting for Chris to go on.
“I had to take you to doctor’s, too. So we could be sure you were healthy and then I took you to the eye doctor because you had trouble seeing words at school, remember?” Chris asked as Vin stood and pulled off the rest of his clothes and climbed into the tub.
“I remember. I had to wear a patch over my eye because it was tired all the time and it made me see everything blurry,” Vin recalled, pointing to his left eye.
“Yep,” Chris agreed, as he began soaping down the youngster. “But the doctor put the patch on and it got better, and now you can see better, right?”
“Well, it’s like that for Ezra. Uncle Buck had to take him to the doctor to see if he had a special kind of problem,” Chris said.
“Did he?” Vin said worriedly.
“Nope. Doc says he’s just fine in that area,” Chris said rinsing Vin off and reaching up for the shower hose to watch his hair.
“Now, there might be some things that we have to do to help Ezra later, but he will always just be our Ezra, no matter what. Just like you are my Vin,” Chris ended with a large smile as he shot the water from the hose into Vin’s forehead.
“Dad!” Vin squealed with laughter.
Chris grabbed two bottles of water and headed for the porch. Approaching Buck, he could make out the shaking shoulders. Sliding down to sit next to his friend, he waited out the storm.
Buck felt the presence of Chris and gathered himself together. Wiping his hands over his face, he preceded to wipe dry them on his jeans. Trying to make light of the situation, he said, “Real macho, huh? Crying cause your kid doesn’t have some debilitating disease.”
Chris handed Buck his water bottle and stared out into the darkness. “Sarah used to accuse me all the time of reverting back to my childhood after Adam was born. She said she never knew a man who could plan out and execute a thirty man operation, have it go bust and still remain calm enough to get the job done, only to come home and have a panic attack when his kid fell down and scraped his knee.”
Buck barked out a laugh and then silenced it. “Yeah, she never would let you live that one down, did she?”
“Nope,” Chris said with a smile.
Without looking up, Buck whispered, “I feel like I dodged this really big bullet today.”
Chris didn’t say anything. Years of friendship told him that Buck was finished talking.
Buck went on talking while still looking down. “I feel so selfish for being relieved. Isn’t that stupid?” Buck asked. “But these last two days, all I could keep thinking, ‘What if he does have F.A.S. or something just as bad?’ and then when the doctor said he didn’t, I couldn’t help but thank God,” he choked.
Chris took a deep breath, before replying. To anyone else this would have sounded completely normal. Of course, Buck would be relieved Ezra didn’t have F.A.S., but to the big hearted agent it was more. Buck was feeling the age-old “Only by the grace of God” feeling and felt guilty because somebody else’s kid would be diagnosed with that terrible syndrome.
There are times in life it just feels good to sit and catch one’s breath after a roller coaster ride, so Chris said nothing because words just weren’t needed between the two of them. Buck knew he had friends, knew Chris would be there for him no matter what and, when the next tumultuous turn of events hit, they would ride them out together, no matter which kid is was.
Next: Dirt and Worms for Dessert