Alternate Universe: "Regents"
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The miles sped by and all the initial fidgeting, talking over one another and general boisterous excitement had settled somewhat, except for J.D.
Chris tried very hard not to become irritated but J.D. was almost constantly talking to Buck and occasionally Nathan. Several times, he bit back the urge to lean forward in his seat and ask if he could give them a break but the look of unchecked happiness of the freshman's face when he often turned around to grin at them had him remaining silent.
Suddenly, as if he had read his mind, J.D. became silent. Chris took in a deep breath of relief, only to look out his window and frown as Josiah started up.
"Patoka Lake is known as the 'jewel' of southern Indiana. It's lake consists of nearly nine thousand acres of water wonderland, in addition to over 26,000 acres of unspoiled beauty housing a diverse and plentiful range of spectacular wildlife, including fox, gray squirrels, duck and turkey" Josiah spoke, sounding every bit like some tourist guide.
Chris glanced over his shoulder to find Vin grinning at him. He shot him a displeased look and turned away.
"Visitors are drawn to its beauty not only for the fishing and hunting. However, Patoka Lake offers activities for all. Boating, hiking, water-skiing, swimming, archery
"Archery?" Vin interrupted.
Chris shot him a "not a chance" glare but the Texan was too pleased with himself to alter his sunny countenance.
"I have done many hours of archery," Ezra spoke up, turning back to look at the others. "I would be happy to teach you, Vin," he smiled.
"NO!" Clint and Chris said together. The others chuckled but Chris didn't join in. The thought of Vin and Ezra on the loose with bows and arrows was too scary to contemplate.
"What else is there Josiah?" Nathan asked, noting the matching scowls of both younger and older Larabee.
"Jetskis," Josiah offered.
"Now they're a lot of fun!" Buck said, until he also caught Chris' look. "After we've done some fishing maybe?"
"They also have tours where you can participate in mushroom identification whilst delving into the many native herbs and edible plants," Josiah continued.
Clint looked into his rear vision mirror, catching Chris' eye. He raised his eyebrows, his son just shrugged.
Like a tag team. J.D. started up again, firing questions to Buck about fishing. What fish would they catch? What bait do you use? On and on it went. Buck answered them patiently at first, then as the questions increased told J.D. to just wait until they got there.
The silence was only brief. "You want to hear my fishing joke?" J.D. asked then without waiting for a response, launched into his tale.
"One day right, this guy was driving home from fishing. Its starts to rain and he gets a flat tire outside a monastery. A monk comes out, invites him to dinner and to spend the night. The guy says yeah. That night he has such a great dinner of fish and chips, he decides to compliment the chef. So he goes to the kitchen, and asks the cook, 'Are you the fish fryer?' 'No,' the guy replies, 'I'm the chip monk."
Collective groans bounced around the interior of the Durango but one boyish giggle could still be heard audibly.
"Who has eight guns and terrorizes the ocean?" J.D. continued, completely unperturbed no one laughed at his joke.
"Billy the Squid!" he laughed again.
"Good Lord," Ezra's drawl echoed other similar utterances.
"Buck!" Clint called out.
"Yeah, Clint," Buck replied straight away.
"Let him ask about fishing," Clint ordered, shaking his head, but still unable to resist smiling.
"Oh you mean like the surprise attack of the Tiger Muskie?" Buck grinned. The statement was followed by derisive snorts from Clint and Chris.
"Tiger Muskie?" J.D. queried. "What's that?"
"Oh you'll know, IF you see on!" Buck chuckled.
+ + + + + + +
When they finally pulled up in front of the cabin that Beatrice had rented them, Clint was incredibly eager to just get out of the vehicle and put a bit of distance between himself and the seven boys he had brought along. He took a deep breath of the fresh air and then almost choked it back out as he realized that the trip was just beginning and he had two more days of this. Later he would have to remember to try and figure out how Beatrice had tricked him into this and then plan on a way to repay her in kind. But for now, he had to keep an eye on the boys and see what they were getting into.
A ghost of a smile crossed his lips as he found Nathan and Josiah already working on unloading the Durango. Ezra still sat in the car with the door open. The scene reminded Clint of an animal that was being released into strange surroundings. No matter how much they hated that cage, at least it was something they were familiar with and they were slow to leave it. Obviously the other boys had decided to let Ezra move at his own pace and Clint accepted the wisdom of that and looked for his son. He found Chris and Vin already moving along the edge of the lake and could see Chris pointing out interesting places or views. Finally his gaze was drawn to where Buck and J.D. had stepped out onto the small dock.
Eagerly, J.D. took off his shoes and socks. Sitting down he dangled his feet in the water. "It's not too cold. I reckon we could swim in it," he said.
Buck nodded as he looked out over their small, secluded part of the lake. He had to hand it to his mother; she knew how to pick the best spots. He turned slightly as he heard someone else walk out on the dock with them.
"You know Patoka Lake has the biggest fresh water jellyfish population in the state," Josiah advised them.
J.D. immediately pulled his feet out of the water and looked up at Josiah in disbelief. From behind them, Ezra broke out in laughter at the worried look on the freshmans face. Clint walked by him and slammed the door shut on him, effectively cutting off the sound and earning him an unimpressed look from the southerner. "Why dont we get settled in before we start worrying about whats in the water besides the fish well be catching," Clint called out to the others as he grabbed up some of the gear that Nathan had unloaded.
As he walked back by the passenger door he could not help but tease, "What are you waiting for, Ezra? Move it!" That earned him another glare from the young man. The cop knew he should not be antagonizing Ezra so much. But it was just too much fun. Especially now as the boy tried to open the door again, already pushing on the heavy door with his shoulder only to get pulled up short because the door was locked. Clint managed to choke back most of the short bark of laughter at the look on Ezras face as he belatedly unlocked the door.
The boys all filed into the cabin as they brought in the gear and supplies. They paused as they entered the main room and suddenly realized that they had no idea about how the sleeping arrangements would work in the three bedroom cabin. All eyes turned to Clint and the cop shrugged. "I get the main bedroom, and Chris can share with me. The rest I leave up to you guys."
Buck draped an arm over J.D.s shoulders. "Dont worry, kid, you and I can share a room, so that you dont get scared about any lake monsters coming to get you in the night." J.D. threw Bucks arm off and glared up at the older boy through his bangs.
Ezra said nothing but moved toward the room on the other side of the cabin, away from Buck and J.D. He did not dare look, but he hoped that Vin would room with him. He did not mind Josiah and Nathan, but he would just feel more comfortable with his old roommate. For their part, Josiah and Nathan shared a look as they watched J.D. and Buck move off to one room and Ezra and Vin to another. Silently Josiah left the choice up to Nathan. The junior picked up his bag and followed Vin into the other room, leaving Josiah to share with Buck and J.D. Nathan figured Josiah could sleep through anything, including the incessant chatter of J.D. and Buck.
Clint and Chris waited until they could hear the others stowing their gear and of course arguing over who got which bunk, before they headed to their own room. "Not as bad as you thought it would be, is it, Dad?" Chris asked with a smirk.
"No, not so far," Clint answered. "But Im a patient man and I figure its just a matter of time."
They spent the better part of the morning and early afternoon unloading and getting settled. Then they sat around the picnic table and had their lunch of the sandwiches that they had packed. After they all finished eating they sat around the table for a bit until the conversation just died away.
"Alright, boys, lets go fishing," Clint called out as he stood up and clapped his hands together eagerly.
Six boys jumped to their feet. Naturally the seventh had to groan as he slowly turned around from the picnic table. "Just for that, Ezra, the new rule in force today is that whoever catches the least amount of fish is the first one dumped into the lake."
The boy started to protest, but Clint continued, "No, I do think its fair because J.D.s never been fishing before either and hes not whining about it." The cop allowed himself a smug smile at having beaten Ezra to the punch, as the others laughed, enjoying their friends look of surprise.
Still Ezra said nothing as he followed the other boys back to the cabin to grab their gear. Vin hung back so that he could talk privately to his roommate. "Hes just joking, Ezra. He wouldnt throw you into the lake."
"I have no fear of that, Vin," the southerner replied. "And if he did, my mother would own anything and everything that he might have of value after the resulting lawsuits."
Vin shook his head, "Were supposed to be having fun, remember, Ez?"
"I had lost sight of that, thank you for reminding me of that fact," Ezra replied, his voice thick with sarcasm.
Ezra was unimpressed when as soon as the fishing gear and bait had been distributed the other boys scattered into groups leaving him alone with Clint.
"Well fish off the jetty," Clint informed him as he collected their gear and began to move off. "Its easier for beginners," he added. Ezra rolled his eyes derisively behinds the older mans back. Clint reached the beginning of the jetty and looked back.
"Come on," he grinned as the boy remained unmoved.
Letting out a small sigh Ezra shoved his hands into his jeans and followed Chris father. Arriving at the end of the jetty Ezra waited patiently as Clint set up their rods whilst explaining the fundamentals of one of the most popular sports in the world.
"Sport? Ezra queried. "I thought it was a pastime. You know like a waste of time?"
"Nope. Its a sport!"
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, Im sure. Just what would you call a sport?" Clint challenged. "Something that youve actually participated in."
The young man straightened, rising to the challenge. "Baseball."
Clint frowned as he regarded Ezra. It was so very hard to read the southerner, but the cop thought that there seemed to be a wistfulness in the boys eyes and voice. He almost wanted to follow up on the topic of baseball but decided that he didnt want to enter into a debate. So he handed the smaller rod to Ezra. "Give it a chance. Its relaxing and a lot of fun."
"Its so messy," Ezra complained. "Its so much easier to go to a market and select a fish then have someone else cook it for you," he added with a small smile.
Clint smiled but ignored the comment. "You push that lever," he instructed placing Ezras thumb on the reel. "Twist the reel to the side then cast out. Just flick your wrists. Then twist the reel back into place. You got that?"
"Push. Twist. Flick. Twist," Ezra summarized.
"Exactly," Clint encouraged warmly then his face lit into a smile. "But first we have to bait the hook."
"You can do it, Ezra. Its easy," Clint replied still smiling as he bent down and picked up the small cooler.
"I appreciate your enthusiasm, Mr. Larabee, however, in this instance, dont you think it would be more expeditious if you baited the hooks?" Ezra suggested.
"Nope. The best way is hands on," Clint said firmly.
"How unfortunate in this case," Ezra drawled.
Clint chuckled and opened the lid of the cooler, "Nightcrawlers," he declared.
Ezra just managed to keep an impassive face as he looked into the cooler to see dozens of plump earthworms wiggling around in a tangled heap.
"Take one," Clint told him and Ezra glanced up and saw the challenging look in the older mans piercing green eyes. His stubborn nature kicked in and he reached in and picked up one worm and held it up, answering Clints challenge with a raised eyebrow. The worm squirmed between his two fingers and Ezra fought the instinct to drop it and squash it. He never had time to dwell too long on it as Clint was issuing instructions again.
"Grab your hook," he directed and nodded his approval when Ezra mimicked him. Hook in one hand, worm in the other.
"Now, starting at one end, you thread the worm over the hook, leaving about half an inch dangling... like so," he continued as he demonstrated.
As Ezra brought the worm and hook together, he made a mental note to aggravate Vin as much as possible for talking him into this trip. However, as the hook plunged into the earthworm and he skewered it he had to admit there was a certain amount of satisfaction.
"Not bad," Clint admitted when he had finished. "Now watch me cast."
Ezra watched and permitted himself a smug smile when he cast his rod without a hitch. Then he proceeded to tell Clint about his stepfathers large yacht and a trip with his mother cruising the Bahamas.
"Ssssshhhh," Clint ordered. "Youre too loud. Youll scare the fish."
"I wasnt aware they had ears," Ezra drawled.
"Ezra," Clint admonished.
"Alright. I will not scare the fish," Ezra replied as he lapsed into a temporary silence that lasted less than a few minutes.
"Do you think we could get pizza for dinner?" the southerner asked seriously.
"Its an idea, Mr. Larabee. A good one at this point," the boy retorted.
"Well be having fish for dinner," Clint replied confidently.
Ezra had another retort ready, however, his attention was drawn to the tugging on the end of his rod.
"It moved," he announced in amazement.
Clint turned around in time to see the Ezras rod bend again. "Bring it in.. slowly," he coaxed softly.
Ezra began drawing in the line and could not hold back the growing excitement as the pulling and tugging became more intense. "I think Ive got something," he exclaimed.
"Easy," Clint warned. "Not too fast. You dont want to lose him."
Ezra nodded eagerly and slowly kept the line taut as he reeled carefully. Finally his catch left the water and he tightened his grip as the large fish somersaulted at the end of his line, struggling vainly to be free. Ezras eyes widened at the size of his catch. His surprise was echoed with Clints words of awe.
"Thats a big fish."
Ezra grinned at him before asking, "Now what?"
Clint smiled and quickly secured his rod before taking Ezras out of his hands. "Now you remove the hook from the fish."
Ezras smile quickly faded. But Clints return look was firm. Gingerly he approached the fish as it flopped around on the jetty.
"Grip it around the back of the gills," Clint told him.
It took him several goes but he finally held the fish in one hand. He grimaced as he saw the end of the hook protruding from the fishs eye. He looked back at Clint and a silent plea flickered through his pale green eyes.
"Your fish," Clint smiled.
Ezra sighed and ignoring the crunching and squishing sounds persevered until he freed the hook. He turned to present his prize to Clint when the fish wiggled and slipped from his hands. It bounced on the jetty and two flops later it was back in the water. Ezra peered over the edge.
"I guess thats the one that got away," he quipped.
Clint laughed aloud as he shook his head. "Get another worm."
"Oh no. That is quite unnecessary Mr. Larabee. I can confidently say I have now experienced fishing," Ezra declared.
"Ezra, get another damn worm," Clint ordered smugly.
Ezra obeyed but slowly. Once he had another worm threaded, he cast out and checked his watch. Only two hours until dark. He wondered idly how the others were doing and then considered how much annoying it would take to get Clint to send him to harass one of the others. A dimpled smile lit his face as his agile mind mulled over the many possibilities.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan smiled as more good-natured arguing drifted over the lake. He and Josiah had found themselves a nice grassy bank to sit and fish. It also afforded them a great view of Buck attempting to teach J.D. how to fish. J.Ds excited babbling and questions followed by Bucks booming voice and animated arm gestures were a sight to behold especially when J.D. got their lines tangled together for the second time.
"How long do you think it will take Buck to realize that if they moved a little further up the bank then J.D. wont keep getting his hook caught on those rocks?" Nathan asked.
Josiah chuckled. "Not for a while I hope. Im enjoying the entertainment."
Nathan smiled with satisfaction as he viewed his and Josiahs half dozen fish sitting in their bucket. They were already cleaned and gutted and ready to cook later that evening.
"At least we know we aint going swimming," Nathan laughed.
+ + + + + + +
Chris smirked as Vin reeled in his third consecutive fish.
"I thought you hadnt done this kind of fishing before?"
"I havent," Vin grinned as he baited up again. "You wanna try my spot?" he added cheekily.
"No," Chris replied.
"Ok. But I cant wait to see your dad dump you in the lake," Vin laughed.
"J.D. hasnt caught anything either," Chris replied.
Before Vin could reply there was a loud whoop further down the bank as J.D. reeled in his first catch and the Texan laughed louder.
"Shut up, Tanner!"
+ + + + + + +
Clint watched as Buck and J.D. were the first group of boys to make their way back to the jetty. Actually he did not even have to watch them as he could mark their progress simply by the sound of their voices. "Buck and J.D. must have superior fishing skills, dont you agree, Officer Larabee?" a southern drawl laced with sarcasm called from behind Clint.
He whirled around to face the fifteen year old and without saying a word demanded to know what the hell Ezra was talking about.
Dimples flashed as the sarcasm thickened. "No one is louder that those two, not even me. And since you blamed our lack of success on my talking and scaring away the fish, then they must be superior fishermen than yourself. Perhaps I would have had better luck if I had a better teacher, like Buck."
Clint glared at Ezra, though he knew from first hand experience throughout the long day that it would not silence the boy. "Youre forgetting that Im the one that taught Buck. And I caught a few," he added motioning to the fish that lay in their cooler.
The young man nodded in agreement, surprising Clint, but that cheeky smile never left his face. "True, but then you also taught your son. And judging from that scowl plastered across his face, Christopher did not fare very well either. Perhaps Buck simply has natural talent that your teaching did not take away from." Ezra laughed then when Clints own scowl matched his sons exactly.
But the cop did not have an opportunity to respond as first Buck and J.D. walked out to them, followed by Chris and Vin with Nathan and Josiah not far behind either. Apparently the boys had decided that they had enough fishing for today and Clint had to agree with their assessment. Ezra had been a quick study and there had been times when Clint actually thought the boy was enjoying himself. But then it was like Ezra caught himself and just had to do, or more often say something, that would spoil the moment.
Ezra surprised him again when the boys were all comparing the number of fish that they had caught. Nathan and Josiah by far had the most, followed by Buck and J.D. Vin was complaining that he had no help from Chris, so they should look at individual totals. The boys argument was silenced when Ezra had stated that he had not caught anything either. That surprised Clint because earlier the southerner had been adamant that the fish that had got away should count as a catch since he had managed to at least remove the hook from it. Clint had been suspicious then that Ezra had actually let the fish go so he would not have to clean it. But here he was, seemingly helping to salvage some of Chris wounded pride by saying that he had not caught anything either. Deciding that he did not have the time or even the inclination to try and figure out the teenager, Clint told the boys to gather up their stuff so they could head back to the cabin and begin preparations for dinner.
Later that evening the boys sat around the large picnic table. They had cooked, eaten and even cleaned up after their meal. Clint had at first attempted to act as mediator between the boys and the arguments, some playful, some not, that cropped up among them as they worked. But then he had realized that he would get much better enjoyment, and keep his blood pressure down, if he simply let them work it all out on their own. And truth be told it was fascinating to watch the dynamics of their group at work. So he continued to watch and listen to the seven teenagers.
"So now what?" came the eager question from the youngest of them.
"What do you mean?" Buck asked
J.D. shrugged, his long bangs falling into his eyes. "I dunno. But shouldnt we be telling scary stories or roasting marshmallows, or something like that." The boy seemed to shrink away from the laughter that erupted from the other six. Even Clint had to chuckle to himself.
Ezra pulled out his omnipresent deck of cards and began to shuffle them. "Well, if you are bored, I can certainly suggest a game of chance."
"None of us brought enough money to be of any interest to you, Ez," Buck laughed.
Ezra noticed how Clint straightened in his chair and turned his keen gaze his way. The southerner laughed as he caught Clints eyes. "No, Buck, I was suggesting that we play just for fun like we always do." That statement immediately got the attention of the other six boys as well.
"Like always?" Buck asked in amazement.
"Since when have you ever played a game of poker just for fun?" Vin laughed.
The others were prepared to tease as well, but they were all silenced by a sight they had never seen; had never thought that they would ever see. Ezra lost control of the deck of cards he was shuffling and 52 cards flew out of his hands and onto the tabletop and ground. As one they all turned to see what held the southerners rapt and nervous attention. Clint had stood up, but he was no longer Chris dad who had brought them all out to enjoy a weekend of fishing. Instead, even without his uniform, he looked every inch the very serious Officer Larabee.
"Adding illegal gambling to your crimes, Standish?" Clint asked. That question immediately brought the others up to speed. Buck and Vin had the good grace to look slightly abashed at having busted Ezra though they were sure that Clint would have seen through the southerners feeble attempt at misdirection.
Ezra grinned then, his self-assurance suddenly flaring back to life. "If so, I wouldnt be alone in that crime." With those words, his sage green eyes flicked over to the others, even giving a slight nod of his head in Chris direction. It was not in Ezras nature to be a rat, but it was definitely in his nature to always play the odds. And he was absolutely certain that if it were him alone he would never be let off the hook for this. But with the others involved, Clint would drop the subject. The cop would definitely be more alert and watchful, waiting for the opportunity to catch Ezra alone in the crime, or any wrongdoing. But that did not bother Ezra. Actually he quite enjoyed the challenge. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more he found the situation to be beneficial to him. It was always good to study ones enemy, to test his abilities. And while he did not exactly see the law enforcement officer as his enemy he did see him as an adversary. Maude had taught him to run fast and loose with any and all rules, except of course her own. He was good at it, he already knew that, but he also knew that there was always room for improvement. And the teachers and staff at Regents were certainly no challenge for him.
Clint immediately saw the teenagers ploy, as did the others. And while they did not want to be implicated in Ezras plots, they also did not want Ezra to be singled out for something they had all actually done. So as Clint looked over at all of them for confirmation, he received grudging nods though none of them would make eye contact with him. Well none except for Ezra. That boy knew how to take smugness to a whole new level. "Well Ill bring this up to the headmaster at Regents and make sure that he looks into this." Ezra read the promise in the older Larabees voice and knew that he would be singled out for close scrutiny. But all that simply meant was that he would have to find a new way to make money on the side.
"Yes, I would hate to learn that young minds at the school were being corrupted," Ezra agreed.
"Pick up your cards and put them away, Ezra," Clint ordered in a growl as he spun to sit back down in his chair. Ezra tossed off a two-fingered salute to the cops back that ended in a rude gesture. The others could not help but laugh at the oddity of Ezra being crude, though Chris tossed the younger boy a warning look. Clint, for his part, ignored it all, knowing that Standish always had to have the last word even if it was silent.
J.D. watched as Ezra stood up from the table and began to gather up his cards, making sure to brush the dirt off of them by swiping them against Vins pantleg. Vin nudged at Ezra with his leg, but the southerners balance saved him from taking a sprawl into the dirt. J.D. suddenly brightened as he watched Ezra with the cards and he jumped up from the table and rushed back into the cabin with all the others watching him. When he returned he held up a deck of Uno cards. Ezra looked up from where he was still gathering his cards and groaned. "I believe I would rather retire early," he drawled as he stood up.
"Youll sit where I can keep an eye on you," Clint warned.
The southern sophomore dropped his head as he chuckled. "You know, Officer Larabee, you have been awfully insistent during this trip that you need to keep an eye on me." Ezra accented his words with the shuffling of his newly restored deck. He flipped the top card over to show it to be the Jack of Hearts before he turned it back over. "The question is," Ezra raised his eyes and met Clints, "can you always trust what your eyes see?" With that he flipped the top card over again to reveal it to be the Ace of Spades.
"Ive been a cop for twenty some years, Standish, and one of the first things I learned was not to just see with my eyes. So your little tricks and your sleight of hand arent going to work on me." Clint stopped himself from saying what else he was thinking which was that he did not need to use his eyes to know that Ezra was a criminal, because his instincts alone told him that. But Clint could not place that label on the young man, not here, not in front of the friends that he had made against all odds because Clints instincts also told him that Ezras fate was not sealed. The boy was definitely at a turning point and these six friends that he had made could actually make all the difference in the world. They gave him a new perspective on things and the cop did not want to upset the balance that they offered to the young man.
Ezra met Clints gaze and for just a moment, his devil may care grin was dropped and the emotion flickering in his green eyes was that of introspection. The young man did not let it show too much, but Clint could almost feel his surprise. And that in turn piqued the cops curiosity. His gut feeling was that he was responding to Ezra in a way different from how the boy had always been treated. Clint filed away that information for future use. Of course, his ability to use it might be hampered by the frustration that usually rose in him when dealing with the young southerner. Again, though, Clint realized that Ezra purposely stoked that frustration so that people dealt with and dismissed him quickly.
Vin also watched his roommate and he, too, read the surprise on Ezras face. The Texan was a little surprised himself to see it. But then he figured that the southerner was out of his element out here at the lake and so would be a little off his game. He was a bit more vulnerable since he felt himself to be at the mercy of the hospitality and knowledge of the others. Vin was not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. It could make Ezra more defensive so he closed himself off completely, or it could lead to his being more receptive to something new. He looked over to Clint and thought he saw the cop working some of that out as well.
"Come on, Ezra, itll at least be a card game," J.D. nearly pleaded as he began what he considered shuffling the oversize deck; splitting it in half and cramming the two halves back together.
The sophomore winced at the mistreatment of what could only be loosely called a deck of cards. "Give those to me," he demanded, stretching out his right hand as he sat back down at the table and put up his own deck of cards. With the deck in his nimble hands he began to properly shuffle them. Once he had run through several shuffles he suddenly looked up at the others with an almost sheepish look on his face. "Exactly how many cards do we each get?"
"Seven!" J.D. laughed. "My deck, my rules." Six boys groaned at that news, but Clint chuckled from his seat behind them.
He looked over the group of boys and again was amazed at their diversity. Yet there was no denying the strength and loyalty of their friendship. His eyes fell on his son. Chris had his back turned to him, but even so Clint could see that he was far more relaxed than he had seen him in a long time. And for that he was extremely grateful. It did not matter to him that it was not just he and Chris out here, or that he tended to get left out as the boys talked and joked around. He knew that the going would be slow between him and his son. So if he could not be there for his son, he appreciated the fact that there were six others who could be. Clint had very little doubt that it was because Chris had that connection to his six friends that he was becoming a bit more open with him.
The Uno game began in earnest. And while this game was being played out by seven teenage boys, Clints memory was still stimulated enough to transport him back to a time when his family would play board games. There would be summer nights when Buck was over that they would gather to play games, one of the boys favorite being "Sorry". For a game with an apologetic title, it sure led to some knockdown grudge matches. Sarah and Eve would complain that the boys were not even playing to win anymore but just trying to knock each other out of the running. Clint smiled to himself even as he remembered how he and Sarah would share those happy smiles. It was funny how the sound of family squabbling could be reassuring. But that was the joy of a family; you could complain and fight all you wanted, they would still love you when all was said and done.
An irritated southern drawl pulled Clint out of his reminiscing. "It is your turn, Vincent. Honestly, if you juveniles are going to insist that we play this 'kiddie' game the least y'all could do is pay attention. And don't 'Skip' me again. Between you and Buck reversing and skipping me I've lost 5 turns."
"Sure thing, Ez. I won't 'Skip' ya this time," Vin replied a smug smile covering his face as he laid down a 'Draw 4 Wild Card'. "Oh, and this time I want the color to be blue."
Ezra rolled his eyes as he drew his 4 required cards and added them to the rather large handful of cards he already possessed. "You just had to pick blue, didn't you? Naturally it is the one color that I do not have in this monstrosity of rainbow colored cards."
"And you know we're playing by J.D.'s rules, so that means you got to keep drawing until you get a card to play," Nathan laughed.
"I am aware of the house rules that J.D. has inflicted upon us."
The other six boys watched as Ezra continued to pull card after card from the deck and add it to his stack. "You've gotta have a card you can play in there somewhere, Ez. Lemme see!" Buck said in frustration as he tried to pull down Ezra's hand so he could get a glimpse of his cards.
"Why, Buck, I am simply appalled at your attempt to cheat and look at my cards!" Ezra's outrage, though they all knew it to be feigned, was impressive.
It was Buck's turn to roll his eyes. "Please, Ez. Why don't you do us all a favor and just quit. You've got about half the deck there in your hands."
"A Standish, sir, never quits," the southerner responded in his thickest drawl. Then that wide grin flashed his dimples, "Unless of course there is more profit to be garnered in quitting than in continuing."
"Just shut up and play," Chris cut in, not wanting to hear a dissertation on Standish profit making schemes.
Ezra smiled again at Chris as he continued to struggle with the cards in his hands. "Just how am I supposed to manage this many cards? Whoever invented this game should be shot."
Clint could not resist and spoke up, "Just shove 'em up. . . " he paused and smiled, though the curve of his lips was more snarl than smile, as he enjoyed the shocked reaction he was earning not only from Ezra but from the others as well, "your sleeve. Isn't that where you usually hide your cards?" he finished in an innocent yet mocking tone.
The southerner glared over at him as the others burst into laughter. "I have never resorted to such a crude form of cheating."
"But you don't deny that you cheat?"
Again that damnable grin flashed, but for once Ezra held his tongue. Instead he allowed the glint in his pale green eyes to speak volumes about how he would not incriminate himself. And with that the boy returned his attention to drawing an elusive blue card so that he could finish his play. Finally, quite pleased with himself, Ezra drew a blue seven and with a flourish snapped it down on top of the wild card that Vin had played.
"Finally," Buck cheered as he immediately played his own blue four. They played around a few times in actual quiet.
As J.D. moved the cards around in his hand prior to making his own play, he tried to nonchalantly bring up the scary story again. When he had first heard about this fishing trip he had a set idea of what all they would do and he just could not give up on that. "So, Mr. Larabee, have there ever been any murders out here that youve heard about?"
Buck reached over and shoved the younger boy in the shoulder. "Dont answer that, Clint," he called over to his friends dad. "The last thing I need is J.D. staying up all night cause hes too scared and is hearing all kinds of things all night."
"Now, dont be so hasty," Josiah said, "I would be interested in hearing if this area has a colorful and sordid history."
The game paused for a moment as all eyes turned to the cop. Clint stretched his legs out as he leaned further back into his chair and made a show of trying to dig up an old memory. When he looked back over at the boys, an all too familiar smirk covered his face. "Well now, I cant really say that Ive heard anything about any kind of murders going on out here. But this aint my neck of the woods, if you know what I mean."
J.D. frowned, unable to hide his disappointment. Clint looked over to his son and his oldest friend and his smirk grew when Buck, realizing his intent, began to shake his head. "No, I cant say that I know of any murders. But there were stories about strange goings on in these parts."
"What kind of stories?" the youngest asked eagerly.
"Now, Clint, he was asking about murders. Aint no reason to bring up those stupid old stories," Buck protested.
Chris smirk was an exact replica of his fathers. "Come on, Buck, you used to love hearing those stories."
"I did not! You were the one who kept telling em. You and your dad."
J.D. was not completely sure but he had the feeling that whatever stories Clint had to tell had once frightened Buck. And that meant that the young boy definitely had to hear them. Buck teased him enough. If he could get something to use against him, he was not about to give it up easily. The others also sensed that the tables were turning on Buck and turned to offer their encouragement to Clint to tell the tale.
"You guys ever hear about Bigfoot?" Clint asked, smiling now. When he received a few hesitant nods he continued, "Well there have been some sighting of him out here in Indiana. In fact, Buck here, had his own sighting. Isnt that right, Buck?"
The Uno game was again paused as seven pair of eyes waited for confirmation from the tall football player. He met their gazes defiantly and remained silent. But he could not hold his peace for very long. "Well I did. I aint ashamed to say it scared the hell out of me! It would scare the hell out of all of you if you ever saw anything like that."
"What? A tall, hairy beast walking around?" Nathan asked. "No, it couldnt be any scarier than seeing you first thing in the morning."
"Shut up, Nate," Buck snapped over the others laughter. "Im serious. I never saw anything like it and hope I never do again."
"Whered you see it, Buck?" J.D. pressed for more details. "Was it close to here?"
"Yeah," Vin teased, "you think it might come back? Like Nathan says you look a little like a Bigfoot in the mornings yourself. Maybe it thought you were one of its own and its gonna come back for ya."
"Ha, ha, ha," Buck mocked their teasing. "You can laugh all you like. You werent there. You dont know what I saw. And since you cant take it seriously, I aint tellin ya nothing else!"
"Thats alright, Buck," Clint cut in, "if its too difficult for you to tell, then I can."
"Yeah," Chris agreed, "or I can. It was the only thing youd talk about for months."
"Well I dont want to talk about it now, so can we please just get back to playing Uno?" Buck sulked.
Clint stood up and gave Buck a nod. "Alright, I wont tell your story. But just to be on the safe side, Ill go and make sure that there arent any monsters under your bed."
The football players head dropped down to the picnic table as he realized that he would not be able to live this down all weekend or probably even the rest of the school year. The laughter of the others, along with several teasing comments, reminded him that it was not always beneficial to have people who knew everything about you. But Buck was nothing if not good-natured, so after a few growls and warnings to his friends to back off, he was back to being able to laugh at himself. But the subject of Bigfoot was dropped; at least for now.
The Uno game continued for quite some time, J.D.'s rules all but ensuring a long, drawn out game. And so they were all surprised when a southern drawl called out, "Uno!". All eyes snapped over to Ezra and confirmed that he did indeed only have one card left in his hand.
"How the hell did you do that?" Buck demanded. The last time he had checked, Ezra still had a handful of cards.
Ezra said nothing; his poker face (though the others would later come to call it his Uno face) was fully in place as he motioned regally for Buck to take his turn. Grudgingly each of the boys played their cards, each one hoping that whatever card they played would be the one that forced Ezra to draw more cards from the deck. But in the end it did not matter as Ezra's fine boned hand elegantly laid his final card down. The wild card seemed to mock them just as the look in the southerner's eyes did. As one the rest of them groaned and tossed down the cards in their own hands.
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