Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be
Note: This has been betaed by NotTasha. Thanks to her this is readable.
Dedicated to all those parents out there who suffer this trial every year.
“Oh. My...” Chris said slowly, not finishing his thought. A tinge of fear and disbelief colored his voice.
“Holy Smokes,” Nathan said in complete awe.
“Are you sure the engagement in this particular activity is completely necessary? ” Ezra asked in a trembling voice.
In the vehicle following behind them, similar revulsions were expressed.
“Sheesh,” Buck whispered.
“Who would have thought?” Josiah asked in complete shock.
“Can I just stay in the suburban?” Vin asked pleadingly from the backseat, the sight already making the twelve-year-old leery.
“Wow! This is gonna be great!” JD exclaimed with enthusiasm, bouncing up and down in his seat. This remark earned him three hard, disbelieving stares. JD didn’t care; this was going to be fun.
Josiah pulled into the parking lot behind the black truck. After seeing the amount of vehicles, Josiah mentally agreed with Chris’ decision that it would probably be best to just park out in the back forty and hoof it. There was no way they were going to find parking spaces any closer. Passing row after row of vehicles, he finally parked next to the other vehicle and three of the four brothers piled out.
Buck got out of the truck. Standing outside the suburban door, he looked over the seat. “Forget it, Vin. You’re not staying out here. Get moving,” the older brother said.
Vin muttered under his breath and climbed out. He stared incredulously at his youngest brother bopping around like a deranged marionette. Vin wondered how long his brother’s excitement would last before one of the older ones told him to knock it off. The twelve-year-old looked around the parking lot and tried to calculate how many people were actually going to be inside. If there were at least one person for every car, he figured there had to be a thousand people inside that store. Begrudgingly, he followed his six brothers into the nightmare.
Stepping up next to Chris, Josiah looked at his brother and then looked at what was waiting for them. Fear and apprehension filled him as the seven headed for the entry of the local Wal-Mart. This was the weekend everyone chose to come shopping for back-to-school supplies. JD was already bouncing off the walls and they hadn’t even entered the building. Buck was looking for any excuse to go to the back coffee shop and wait on the others. Vin was looking claustrophobic, and they were still in the parking lot, and Ezra was looking furtively around, probably hoping to escape this fiasco. Josiah looked behind him at the senior bringing up the rear. Nathan, the smart alec, was grinning ear to ear. He was able to go off on his own and shop unhampered.
Stepping inside the store, the seven stopped to gather three shopping carts. Finding a small space over to the side, Josiah turned to his brothers. Taking out three slips of papers, he announced, “Okay, these are your school supplies lists,” he said as he handed JD, his. “You must get everything on the lists,” he stated, stopping to look Vin in the eye. The twelve-year-old hated getting things he deemed unnecessary. “And you may not get anything extra,” the oldest finished, as he handed Ezra, his. The fourteen-year-old huffed silently, thinking Josiah didn’t understand that in junior high it was important to look good.
“All right, get with your partner and don’t lose them or wander off,” Josiah said sternly, looking at JD specifically. JD nodded in a silent acknowledgment. Continuing to look at the youngest, Josiah asked seriously, “What happens if you get separated?”
“I go to the front of the store and find an employee and they will announce it over the intercom,” the youngest replied equally seriously.
“Do you walk off with anyone?” Josiah continued to question the youngest. He didn’t have to question the other two. Vin couldn’t be conned into leaving the store and Ezra didn’t trust anyone, so there was no fear of the fourteen-year-old leaving with anyone.
“No,” JD answered. He wanted to roll his eyes and pout; after all, he heard this speech every time they came to the city.
“Even if they say they’ve lost their dog?” Josiah questioned.
“As if anyone would believe that con,” Ezra muttered, earning himself a small shove from Chris and an exasperated look from Buck.
“Not even to look for a lost dog,” JD answered solemnly. He may not like the interrogation he was getting, but he saw the news and knew bad people took children away and sometimes those children never came home and it seemed to make Josiah happy that he knew the correct answers.
“Okay,” Josiah breathed out, “Let’s get this over with,” he said as he grabbed JD and headed out.
Behind him, Buck partnered with Vin, and Chris walked up beside Ezra and nodded for the boy to start moving. Josiah had carefully planned the pairing. JD and Buck in the store together was a bad idea, therefore Buck had been given Vin, and Chris was the sternest one to keep Ezra in line and away from buying the high priced versions of the things that were required. Nathan walked off on his own. He knew what he needed, and wanted to purchase his items and get out of the store as fast as possible.
Josiah kept an eye on JD as they walked over to where the school supplies were located. Fear of losing his little brother in this madhouse was ratcheting up his nerves as his imagination played out the worst scenarios. Finally arriving at the destined location, the oldest moaned as they turned into the aisle. It was packed with mothers, children and carts that seemed way too big for the narrow aisle. Taking a deep breath, Josiah turned to his little brother and forced a smile on his face. Just because this was brutal for him, he shouldn’t ruin the excitement for JD. He could very well remember how it felt to pick out new supplies every year and he didn’t intend to ruin it for the nine-year-old. “Okay, JD, what’s first?” Josiah asked with fake enthusiasm.
JD looked down at his list. He was so psyched about this. He had been a little nervous earlier in the week because going back to school had always meant a shopping expedition for new clothes and supplies. He and his mom had always made a big blow-out day, and then after her death, he figured there would be no more of that, but Janis and Bobby had done the same thing his first year with them. This year was different; there were no parents and he didn’t know if Josiah would understand about needing new things. He had been greatly relieved when his oldest brother had announced the day before that the whole family would be driving the forty miles into the bigger town to shop. Now, while he was excited about the day, he found himself glancing about for Janis or Bobby. He wondered if that feeling would ever go away.
Looking at the list, he saw the first item was for pens. Cool. He looked up at the large display of pens and became completely immersed in his shopping. There were so many kinds: different colors, shapes, writing abilities, wide, narrow, fine, broad. It was going to be a difficult decision.
Josiah watched his brother carefully exam each type of pen. Looking down at his watch, he wondered how long they would be here and how well the others were doing. He hoped they were having an easier time than he was, he was dreading the colored markers.
After what seemed like an eternity, JD looked up at his brother and announced, “I’m going to the next aisle and see if they got anything better.”
“No you’re not,” Josiah said sharply. “You know the rules. You don’t go anywhere without me. Not even to the end of the aisle.”
Josiah knew that days like today were what predators lived for; a surge in customers. Children going one way and parents another. Nobody paying specific attention to the mass of children around them and just because JD knew not to walk away with a stranger didn’t mean that he couldn’t be grabbed. If a predator was serious enough, the boy wouldn’t have to go willingly or consciously to be taken.
“If you want to go to the other aisle we go together,” Josiah said.
JD understood and nodded his head before leading Josiah around the corner.
“I am not going to wear any article of clothing with a sports name emblazed across the front, Chris,” Ezra said emphatically, glaring at his brother.
“Ezra,” Chris sighed, thinking it was way too early for this kind of battle already, “You’ve got to have new clothes.”
“I agree, but not this…this…atrocity of apparel,” Ezra stated as he held up the brightly colored basketball jersey Chris had merely pointed out.
The fourteen-year-old knew the family was on a budget. For that reason alone, he hadn’t commented when it was announced he would be getting his clothes from the discount store instead of the more fashionable stores, like Maude had always insisted on him doing when she was around. He flinched at the memory, shopping with Maude had never been a picnic. She was too much of a perfectionist. Everything always had to be just so and to her specific liking. It didn’t matter that she wouldn’t be around to see him wear any of the clothing she picked out. Ezra had to be outfitted to look just right. He stared at the shirt in his hand without seeing it. Janis and Bobby had been the first grownups he had lived with to let him chose his own clothes and style. His heart lurched a bit at their memory before he shut that thinking down.
Chris watched his brother disappear right before his eyes and wondered where he had gone. He knew these clothes weren’t his brother’s type, but they were going to have to find something that Ezra could wear and didn’t cost more than what they’d budgeted. Chris wished he could have faked an illness, but didn’t see himself getting away with it.
Chris was about to answer when both of their attention was drawn over to where a woman and child were having a heated, if not loud, argument over the choice of clothing the child was holding onto. Suddenly the youngster threw himself on the floor and began having a whopping big tantrum while the mother just stood there softly telling the youngster to stop and get up.
Chris forced himself to take a deep breath and refrain himself from going over and yanking the child up and giving him a stern look. The blond turned back to his brother. “Alright, then we’ll keep looking,” Chris offered. At least Ezra didn’t yell or throw tantrums.
Ezra looked at his brother, nodded in agreement, hung the shirt back where it belonged and walked quickly away from the loud scene. He wondered if JD or Vin was having any luck, and knew for certain JD probably was.
Vin and Buck entered the shoe aisle. Josiah had purposely sent them all in different directions so the boys could chose what they wanted. It occurred to the three oldest that sometimes the three youngest chose things based on what the others wanted or got. If Vin got a certain type of shirt, JD was bound to want one just like it; or if Ezra chose a certain item, Vin would wind up with something like it and, more often than not, Ezra and Vin let JD choose what game they played or video they watched for no other reason than because it was JD. This way each boy couldn’t see what the other got and were bound to choose what he wanted. Buck thought it was a pretty good plan all-in-all. Not to mention they only had to deal with the one brother and not all three at one time.
Vin looked up and down the shoe aisle. He had already complained to Buck about the necessity of buying the tennis shoes. “But Buck, why can’t I just wear my boots to school? They’re comfortable and I got them broke in,” he had voiced.
Buck had explained the why. “Vin, you can’t wear your boots in gym. You’ll need tennis shoes,” he had patiently said. It had then occurred to the oldest that maybe the reason he had been paired with Vin was because the boy was way too serious and needed to see this as a fun project and, while Chris had his moments, Buck couldn’t see his blond brother making this a fun experience.
Vin had shrugged and plodded down the aisle looking for shoes that were acceptable.
“Hey, Vin! Dig these!” Buck exclaimed as he held out a pair of orange sneakers that were as close to being neon as you could get.
Vin started to shake his head seriously before realizing Buck was joking. He passed Buck and grabbed a pair of shoes that looked ratty on purpose. “How about these?” he asked laughingly.
At least now, Vin saw that this didn’t have to be so torturous, making Buck grin. Now the twelve-year-old was looking at the different styles, not that there was a lot to chose from, but at least he was honestly looking for a pair he liked. “I’ll take these,” Vin finally said, as he lifted a pair off the shelves. They weren’t fancy or bright, just blue tennis shoes with white stripes, but at least Vin had picked them out himself.
“Great,” Buck said, happy that it wasn’t that hard. “Let’s try them on and make sure they fit and then we can go on to the supplies,” Buck said. He remembered how Janis had always made him try on new shoes before purchasing them. Back then it had made no sense, now it did. They lived too far away to run back to the store and exchange them.
Vin tried the shoes on and was relieved they fit. He wouldn’t have to look any further. Buck put the box in the cart and led the way to the supply aisle. Maybe, this wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
Josiah had finally told JD they couldn’t spend all day in the supply aisle while he picked out the stuff he wanted. Josiah was dreading the buying of the backpack; heaven knew how many styles and colors there would be to choose from. JD finally finished getting all the things on his list of supplies and followed Josiah dutifully over to the clothing department. He looked around to see if Chris and Ezra were still around, but it became apparent that they had already moved on.
The jeans seemed to be a trial of patience and determination. JD was small for his age, much like Ezra. Finding jeans that weren’t ‘babyish’ and that would fit had Josiah ready to climb the walls. JD wanted specific jeans. They had to be carpenter style and baggy. Josiah had put his foot down on the baggy part. As a counselor, he got sick and tired of kids walking into his office with jeans with the crotch hanging almost down to their knees and their underwear showing. Though these types of pants had been banned from their school, it didn’t mean the students didn’t try and get away with wearing it. Hence, the many students who came to his office wearing this particular apparel. He just couldn’t see the appeal of this style. JD started to protest, but the look on his brother’s face killed the remark, but didn’t end the silent pouting. Josiah closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. How his mother ever did this with him, Buck, Chris and Nathan all at one time, by herself, without committing murder or strangling them was beyond him at this moment.
Josiah walked around the small jean department and finally found some jeans that, with a little touting how great they were, pacified the nine-year-old. The next item was the shirts, which Josiah thanked the beings above pleased JD, almost too much. Again, JD found himself in a quandary because he could only chose four of the great looking shirts he had found. Josiah looked at his watch and wondered if the others were in the checkout line, yet. He heard a laugh and turned around to find Buck and Vin once again hot on their trail. They had already caught up to them once in the supply aisle. So that both boys wouldn’t be there together, Buck had moved Vin on to who-knew-where. Apparently, after Josiah and JD had left the aisle the other two had showed up. It looked like Vin wasn’t taking long to shop.
Buck veered the teen away and left the clothing aisle. Josiah turned to JD and gave him five minutes to make up his mind or, in Josiah’s words, “I’ll pick them out myself and you’ll have to live with it.”
The small threat had JD narrowing down his choices a bit faster. He found three shirts and was debating on the fourth one. Turning to Josiah, he asked, “Which one do you like best?”
Josiah looked at the two wild colored shirts with their weird designs, reminiscent of the artist’s Andy Warhol. One was orange and lime green and the other was yellow and red. He tried to decide which one wouldn’t put Chris' eyes out when the blond did the laundry. Grinning evilly, he suggested, “I like the orange and green one.” Chris would probably yell at him later on, but it would be worth it just to see Chris’ face when he saw the shirt.
With the clothes selected, the two headed for the shoe department. Josiah was getting happier by the minute; they were almost done.
Ezra had drifted through the clothes department looking for shirts for what seemed an eternity to Chris. The school-age boys had been told they were allowed two pairs of jeans to start the year off with and four shirts. Outfitting four kids for school could get expensive if a line wasn’t drawn. Finding acceptable jeans had been comparatively easy; it was the shirts that had tried Chris’ patience. He remembered his junior high school days and understood that how one dressed affected their lives for the year. Even in small schools, there were social differences and cliques and kids that weren’t able to dress at least similar in fashion to the rest of the class got teased mercilessly. However, Ezra wasn’t your typical junior high student. Neither was Vin. They both tended to dress according to how they wanted within bounds. One could say they marched to the beat of their own drum. Ezra’s drum banged out rather loudly that he couldn’t be caught dead in some of today’s ‘fashions’.
Ezra had finally found four shirts he could ‘live with’. Two were rather simplistic golf-type shirts and the other two were short sleeve ‘oxford’. Chris was relieved. Then Ezra pushed the cart as Chris, pinching the bridge of his nose, followed him to the shoe department. Chris was definitely going to speak to Josiah about his division of partners. Since there was only one aisle of shoes in his size, the choices had been dramatically narrowed. For this, Chris had breathed a sigh of relief. Ezra found the area with his size and looked over his choices, muttering under his breath, “Oh my! The choices. How will I ever choose?” Chris ignored the sarcastic remark, leaned up against a shelf, and tried to stay out of the way of mothers and their children’s way. Ezra finally chose a basic white tennis shoe. As he passed the loafers, he paused to look briefly. Knowing they couldn’t afford the extra expense, he turned his attention back to his next stop.
Chris had watched Ezra stop in front of the loafers. The blond knew his brothers would have preferred to get khakis instead of jeans, but the jeans had been more practical. The blond had noticed his brother’s lack of complaining about having to shop in a ‘discount’ store and did understand that the boy had been raised with a whole set of rules that the blond had yet to figure out or learn how to battle against. He made a note to check with Josiah and see if they couldn’t swing one pair of khakis and the loafers the next paycheck. If not, maybe the next time they bought jeans for the other two.
Buck followed Vin into the supply aisle, and Josiah and JD were still there so he had taken Vin to the electronic department for a while. After a few minutes, the duo had gone back to where the supplies were located. Vin looked at the supply aisle in trepidation. Buck saw how the choices were overwhelming for his brother. Vin believed he didn’t need half the stuff on his list. The younger brother had grown up accustomed to getting by on essentials. It had only been a couple of years living with this family and the ability to buy more than just the bare requirements still went against the grain. The twelve-year-old looked up apprehensively at his older brother and received a full-blown smile that reassured him.
“Why don’t I call out the list and you pick what you want?” Buck offered, reaching for the supply list.
Vin handed him the piece of paper and Buck had started calling out what he needed. It didn’t take long for Buck to realize that Vin wasn’t merely grabbing the required necessities, but was choosing the cheapest of them. Buck had grimaced. Previous foster families had deeply entrenched upon the kid that children were expensive; therefore, Vin was doing his part at keeping the expenses down. Buck hated to chastise the boy for what he believed was the right thing, but he also wanted to encourage Vin to get what he wanted. Buck looked down in the cart and chose four items, the colored marker, the pens, the folders and the notebook. Taking them out of the cart, he said casually, “How about we get the better quality of these?”
Seeing Vin’s concern, Buck had continued, choosing words that would have the desired effect in getting Vin to go along, “The better stuff will last longer. It’ll be more economical.”
Vin thought about it and agreed. If that meant saving money, then being economical would be best in the long run. He turned back to the row and chose the middle priced items. Buck smiled at the small grin enlightening his brother’s face as he chose the pens with the easy grips. The smile brightened further as Vin looked of the markers, before settling on the bright colored ones. Vin chose the type of folders that had both the pockets and the brads to hold papers in, instead of just the flimsy pockets. Buck stood back and watched Vin carefully select the new items that he wanted with a smile to match his own.
JD moved on to the shoes. Josiah breathed a sigh of relief. The shoe aisle narrowed JD’s choices down considerably. This shouldn’t take too long, he thought. He thought wrong. JD picked up every tennis shoe there was in his size, even if some of them were the same. He examined them with the greatest scrutiny, turning them this way and that. Trying on half of them to see how they felt on his feet. “What do you think of these?” JD asked, still full of energy. The shoes he was holding were blue with deeper blue ribboning around the edges.
“Nice,” Josiah commented wearily.
After putting the shoes back, JD picked up the next pair. “How about these? They have lights that come on when you walk,” JD stated, as he repeatedly hit the bottom of the shoe to make the lights come on.
“Cool,” the oldest responded, trying to make his voice sound enthused. ‘Until the lights stop working,’ he thought gravely.
“There’s so many to chose from,” JD’s voice rose a bit in excitement.
“Well, then, I’m going to sit down right here while you look,” Josiah said, guessing that to a nine-year-old there might appear to be a lot of choices and that it was futile to try and hurry the boy up.
“Okay,” JD responded, barely acknowledging his brother.
Josiah sat down on one of the stools provided and watched his brother shop.
Josiah realized that JD and Buck were like two peas in a pod. Neither did anything half-way; they gave whatever they were doing their all and it was always with zeal. Josiah smiled as JD tested every pair of tennis shoe before moving on to the next type. The boy was so enthusiastic about this day. Mostly, Josiah believed because it led to the first day of school. Of all of them, JD loved school the most. Ezra had told the youngest once to wait until he was older and then school wouldn’t be so much fun, but Josiah didn’t see that happening. He figured JD would be the one to always love learning. Josiah leaned back against the end-cap and contended himself with watching JD pick out just the right shoes.
Ezra stopped at the end of the aisle and instinctively rebelled against going in. While he could stand the darkest, smallest spaces, he could not abide being closed in by people. He had already been bumped, pushed, ran into, rolled over by carts driven by youngsters unable to see over the handle, had mothers yelling at their children near his ear and overly touched in general. There was no way he was going down an aisle crammed with juveniles and parents. Gripping the handle of the shopping cart, Ezra began backing up, subconsciously shaking his head. He took three steps and hit something solid. Turning around, he realized that solid object was his brother. Chris didn’t look any more motivated to go in than he did. Maybe he could convince Chris he didn’t need anything and they could finally get out this overrun nightmare.
Chris had stalled behind his brother. He had no desires whatsoever to go down that aisle, much less try to fight his way into the crowd to gather the necessary items. He was all for just staying put and letting Ezra go get the stuff and bringing back to the cart when he noticed the subtle shaking of his brother’s head and Ezra backing up. Looking down to meet those round green-eyes, he felt like a coward suddenly. Ezra liked people well enough, as long as they stood outside his perimeter. Today had been a real trial for the young teen. Now, with just the slightest acknowledgment on his part, Ezra would rabbit on him and leave him with the checkout duties, minus the required articles. Gritting his teeth Chris looked at his brother and said, “Let’s get this over with.”
Ezra looked like he had been betrayed for an instant and then the hated blank look dominated his face. Chris thought of a soldier facing his final conflict as Ezra marched down the aisle with a stiff posture.
Ezra looked at his list and slowly began filling the order. Aside from the mother’s yammering at their kids and children reaching over or around him grabbing stuff, Ezra managed to snag a few items that were on the high end of the price range. Chris sighed as he watched his brother do it. He wondered if it was really necessary to call his brother on it; after all, letting it slide would get them out of there faster. In the end, conscious won out and Chris snagged his brother’s wrist, as Ezra was about to put a very expensive notebook keeper into the cart.
“Put it back,” Chris ordered.
Ezra stood there, staring at his brother in a standoff. He was tired, nerve wracked and irritable, and now Chris was judging what he needed.
“Put it back,” Chris repeated more firmly.
Pursing his lips together, Ezra muttered, “Fine.”
Putting the keeper back, Ezra stared at an invisible spot and tried to escape momentarily into his own world. Maude had never questioned what he bought. Of course, most of the time Maude truly didn’t know what Ezra needed so he had been able to get away with getting what he wanted. Janis had been different. She had known exactly what he did and didn’t need, but sometimes let him slide on some of the stuff. He missed her. Ezra worked his mouth and blinked his eyes several times before moving on to the next thing.
Chris watched from the side as Ezra slipped into himself again, this time wherever he went produced an unhappy emotion as Chris watched Ezra fight back the watery liquid that formed in his eyes. Chris wished this day would be over.
Ezra began taking the rest of the required articles of the little hooks they had been stocked on. Making sure he got the cheapest. He hated the feeling of not having any money of his own. Since moving in with this family, he never had the chance of making his own pocket money like he did when he had lived in the city. Maude may not of known what he needed, but at least she always bought what he wanted. She always said the more you paid the better it was. Janis had tried to tell him differently, but he still didn’t quite believe it, otherwise why would people pay more attention to the people with expensive stuff more than people with ordinary things.
Ezra soon had his stuff and headed for the book bags. He knew, without a doubt, he wanted one in green that had wheels.
Buck and Vin had once again caught up to Josiah and JD in the clothing department. Buck swung the cart back towards the men’s department and wasted a few minutes looking for some jeans for himself After a while, Buck led Vin back to the boy’s side. Watching Josiah and JD leave the area, Buck smirked. The look on the oldest brother clearly stated that shopping with JD was proving to be a trial. Buck suggested they get the jeans first. Again, Vin found the cheapest jeans; Buck let it slide. Moving on to the shirts, Vin was disappointed that there were no western-cut ones. He figured they’d be too expensive anyway. Walking around the aisles of shelves and racks, Vin found four shirts that were acceptable and quite cheap. They were simple tee shirts: solid colored and plain. Buck rolled his eyes. Looking about for shirts that were a bit livelier without being glaringly loud, Buck spotted some polo-type shirts with the names of Colorado sports teams embroidered on them
“Hey Vin, look at these shirts. They’re pretty cool, I think,” Buck said cheerfully.
Vin walked over to the shirts and his eyes shone a little brighter. Picking up the price tag, the twelve-year-old grimaced. “Nah, I like what I got,” he said, his tone not matching his words.
Buck started to sigh again, caught himself and stopped. “You sure? Because they’re in the price range,” he stated temptingly.
Vin’s head snapped up. “Price range?” he asked.
“Yep. Chris, Josiah and I sat down last night and figured out what all this was going to cost for each of ya. We set a price range for the shoes, the clothing and the supplies. And with jeans you picked, the way I figure it, you could get three of these shirts,” Buck explained. “Unless you’re sure you want to keep those other tee shirts.”
Vin hesitated and then looking at Buck for confirmation and began looking through the shirts for ones he liked.
With that job finished, the duo headed for the checkout line. He spotted Nathan coming back through the front doors. He had had obviously shopped for his stuff and had put it in the suburban. Nathan walked up to the two.
“Yeah, Vin, you already finished?” he asked.
“Yep,” Vin replied.
“Didn’t take you long?” Nathan responded, looking at Buck slightly worried.
Buck took up the conversation. “Boy here knows what he wants. Doesn’t mess around,” he said, explaining it all.
Nathan understood and looked over the stuff in the cart. He raised his eyebrow as he looked at Vin. “No backpack?” he asked.
“Nah. Ezra is letting me use his old one,” Vin said. Before Nathan could object or argue that Vin was entitled to a new one, Vin continued. “It’s really cool!” he said, his eyes lighting up. “It’s got all these pockets and hidden compartments. It’s really neat.”
“Oh,” was all Nathan said. He almost wondered if Ezra hadn’t conned Vin into taking it and then knew better. If anything, Ezra would have coaxed Vin into getting a new one. Ezra had understood better than anyone at the beginning just how deprived the twelve-year-old had been. Vin’s next statement only confirmed Nathan’s thoughts.
“He wasn’t going to let me have it at first, but I told him I’d trade something for it. So he took my old drawing pencils for it,” Vin said. “Don’t know why he wanted them. He could have gotten a new pack of pencils today,” he said clearly puzzled.
Nathan and Josiah smiled at one another. They knew why. Vin probably offered to trade something more substantial and meaningful to get the pack and, seeing Vin’s true want, took the pencils instead. Ezra wasn’t nearly as manipulative as he wanted everyone to think he was, especially of the younger ones.
Nathan stood with them as Vin laid his items on the rotating belt to check out.
The three brothers stood at the front of the store to wait on the other four. Fifteen or so minutes later, Vin spotted Chris and Ezra at the back of the line in one of the checkouts. Neither looked particularly happy. By the time the two reached their turn to load the horizontal escalator, Buck spotted Josiah and JD. JD was still bouncing, probably due to the excitement of actually buying the things they came for, while Josiah looked bone weary.
Chris and Ezra soon joined the trio and they waited on the last two. Ezra and Vin were snooping through each other’s bags to see what each had purchased. Chris and Buck were sitting on the bench like a couple of old men, d Nathan stood to the side, believed he didn’t have to go through that. After Josiah and JD joined the others, they walked back toward the vehicles. JD was still bounding around them, chatting excitedly about all the neat things he got. Seeing the glares aimed at the youngest, Nathan grabbed hold of JD and said, “Come on, let’s go ahead and unlock the suburban. JD nodded in agreement and challenged the senior to a race in which Nathan complied.
The rest walked wearily to vehicles. Buck, Chris and Josiah felt wrung out, Vin was glad to be away from the pressure of all the choices, and Ezra was glad to be away from all the people. Reaching the suburban, the three oldest crowded around the back doors and began unloading the carts.
“Don’t get mine mixed up with the others,” JD called out.
“We won’t,” Josiah answered back, sounding more joyful than he was.
Once the back end was loaded, they slammed the doors shut and gathered around the back. “Can we go out to eat?” JD asked, hopping up and down, his eyes pleading.
Five “No’s!” resounded in the parking lot. Nathan, being the only one who’d had a good trip, didn’t respond. JD looked momentarily crushed and then got over it. His brothers were a bunch of old grumps.
Hearing themselves and seeing the hurt look on JD’s face, the others looked abashed and quietly apologized. Josiah looked over at Chris and Buck, and a silent agreement was made and Okayed. “How about Long John Silvers?” he asked, looking at JD.
“Yeah,” the youngest responded cheerfully. He liked the fish place, but best of all, he liked getting to eat out. With as many as there were of them, that was a very rare treat.
Dividing up and getting in the truck and suburban, Chris looked over to Josiah and asked, “We don’t have to do this again for another year, right?”
“Right,” Josiah said, “but Christmas is only four months away.”
Chris dropped his head. He wondered if he could be sick by then.
7 B Ranch Index