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Jessica Eaton examined her face critically in the bathroom of the ladies´ room in the Administration building of Regents School. Attractive cherubic features and dark brown eyes stared back at her. She sighed and tried brushing her short mop of dark hair behind her ears in an effort to look a bit more mature looking. It didn´t work so instead she brushed her hands down the tailored jacket and skirt and decided she was as ready as she was every going to be.
As she exited the bathroom and walked confidently to the dean´s office she took some deep breaths and managed to lose some of her nervousness. She had surprised herself by being apprehensive this morning. Maybe it was the ominous stories she had heard about Dean Parker or her eagerness to present a confident and capable appearance. Not only for herself but her nephew. Subsequently she allowed her usual determination to quell her fears.
As the large door opened and she was announced, she exhaled and walked into the room. As she expected the dean was momentarily surprised but he covered himself immediately.
Miss Eaton, he said as he came around the desk and offered his hand.
Dean Parker, she responded ensuring she returned a firm handshake.
Please be seated, Dean Parker said smoothly as he returned to his chair behind the desk. I trust you had no trouble finding the school?
None at all, she replied as she sat stiffly in the chair.
I understand you study at Cambridge University, the dean asked politely.
Jessica smiled tightly. No. I completed my IT degrees at CalTech. I work at Cambridge with Professor Holbrook as a senior research assistant.
Dean Parker´s eyebrows raised slightly. My apologies. I just assumed
I´m older than I look, she replied defensively.
I wish I could say the same, the dean replied affably.
She smiled again although this time it was more relaxed. Settling more into the chair, she spoke. I´d like to hear how J.D. is progressing this term.
Of course, the dean replied.
She listened carefully for the next ten minutes as Dean Parker ran through J.D.´s academic, sport and personal achievements. However, most of the latter part of his verbal report consisted of his disapproval of her nephew´s choice of friends. As the dean went into further detail, she interrupted him by clearing her throat.
I understand and appreciate your concern for J.D. However, I email and talk on the phone to J.D. almost every day. There is no doubt in my mind that the friendships he has developed with these six other students you seem so concerned about, is the reason he´s so happy and settled here, she told him firmly.
That may well be but there are incidences in his file which indicate
I am aware of all of them. I´ve seen all the reports you´ve sent to his father, she replied.
J.D.´s father has shared some of my concerns here, the dean informed her.
And when was the last time you heard from him. Or the last time J.D. got to spend any time with him? she replied abruptly.
Dean Parker dropped his gaze and remained silent.
I think it´s in J.D.´s best interests to retain the friendships he´s made here. However, I think it would also be prudent for you to continue to monitor his progress, she continued.
I will endeavor to do so, the dean replied graciously.
Thank you so much, she replied gratefully. Now if you don´t mind I think I´ll go and find J.D. and see if he´s ready to leave.
Of course, the dean replied. Would you like me to show you the way to the dormitories?
No thank you, she replied. I can find my own way.
A few minutes later she finally escaped the administration building and heaved a sigh relief. She fervently hoped she had helped J.D. toward relieving some of the pressure the dean exerted on the young boy to establish other friendships. When J.D. had asked her to see the dean in a bid to placate his concerns she had agreed. Hopefully her visit to the dean was enough. She began walking down the path to the left.
It had been a long and eventful day already. First her flight from London, then meeting Beatrice Wilmington. The famous romance novelist had contacted her at J.D.´s eager request and offered to collect her from the airport and take her to her appointment and to meet J.D. at the school. There had been plenty of time to refresh at the Wilmington abode and a leisurely lunch before her appointment with Dean Parker, which pleased Beatrice no end. More than enough time to have some girl talk´ as she called it. Jessica had been fascinated and a little overwhelmed at first by Beatrice´s vibrant and open personality. However, she warmed to Beatrice almost immediately and found herself enjoying her company immensely. Especially when Beatrice was asking her all sorts of questions about dating and the romance scene for young women at English universities. She could readily understand why J.D. thought so highly of her and felt comfortable spending time in the Wilmington home.
The path she was following stopped at the Sports Hall. Realizing she was lost, she stopped the nearest student and asked for directions. A short time later she found the school dormitories.
Buck did a double take when he entered J.D.´s room to see a pretty and petite brunette sitting on the end of the bed. Immediately the Buck charisma oozed forth.
Hello there, he said flirtatiously. Are you lost?
One delicate eyebrow raised and dark eyes looked him over coolly. No I´m not. Why do you ask? the soft feminine voice replied confidently.
Because my room is upstairs, he grinned cheekily at her.
She blinked slowly and stood. Then I am relieved to be in this room, she replied with a half smile.
Now that´s a shame, Buck told her in a low voice.
Maybe for you, she laughed.
Are you busy tonight? he asked boldly.
She gave him a look of surprise and he grinned cockily.
I´m meeting someone, she replied firmly.
Postpone it, he said eagerly as he stepped closer to her.
It´s someone very special, she informed him, stepping back so she didn´t have to crane her neck looking up at him.
Buck gave her a pout and she shook her head with amusement. He sidled closer again and she put up her hand.
Look, she said intently. You´re clearly very confident about your own abilities, she began with slight smile. But I don´t go out with teenage boys.
Buck went to protest when he heard a satisfied snigger behind him. Frowning he turned and saw J.D.´s triumphant look before he was brushed past.
J.D.! Jessica spoke aloud with deep affection.
Jess, the teenager responded just as warmly as he was taken into a squeezy embrace.
Buck looked on in confusion as the two hugged then eventually broke apart.
Look how much you´ve grown, Jessica said in awe. You´re taller than me now!
Well that´s not saying much, J.D. teased and laughed when Jess gave him a playful shove.
Hey you may be taller but I can still boss you around, she teased back.
J.D. shot her a cheeky grin that signified he doubted her statement.
You going to make introductions, J.D.? Buck asked as he approached the two, an amused and quizzical look in his eyes.
This is my aunt, Jessica Eaton, J.D. told him.
Buck couldn´t hide his surprise. You don´t look old enough to be anyone´s aunt, he complimented with an admiring look.
J.D. rolled his eyes. Jess, this is
Buck Wilmington, she supplied.
You´ve heard of me then? Buck replied looking very pleased.
Your mother warned me about you, she replied with mock seriousness.
Buck´s face fell, eliciting warm laughter from both J.D. and Jessica.
She exaggerates, Buck protested good-naturedly. It´s part of her job.
Oh I think she knows you very well, Jessica grinned.
Come on, Jess, I want you to meet the other guys, J.D. urged as began tugging on her arm.
Ok. Ok, she agreed with a laugh. Let´s meet the rest of the Magnificent Seven´ then, she continued as she followed him out the door.
They all gathered in Vin and Ezra´s room after J.D.´s departure, mainly due to the fact that in his surly mood, Ezra refused to go anywhere else. Any hopes the southerner had that the others would take the hint and meet somewhere else were dashed when Vin just walked into their shared room and the others followed.
Ezra petulantly sat on his bed and stretched his legs out ensuring no one got any idea they could sit on his bed. He watched as the others affably took up other spots. Chris took Vin´s desk chair, reversed it and sat resting his forearms on the backrest. Nathan did the same with his desk chair smiling happily when Ezra shot him a frown. Josiah and Buck sat on Vin´s bed and his roommate sat up inside their open window, draping one leg casually outside.
J.D. must take after his father, Buck mused aloud. The junior was clearly still fascinated after meeting Jessica.
I could see a strong resemblance there to his mother´s side, Josiah commented with a smile. They had all enjoyed Buck´s continued attempts to flirt with J.D.´s pretty aunt and her quick deflection of his efforts.
It´s a pity they couldn´t change their plans to join us in Miami, hey Ez? Buck grinned raising his eyebrows.
Ezra looked suitably unimpressed but remained silent. Any attempt all week to get his mother to change her mind or at least leave him behind had met with failure. To make matters worse, Buck grew increasingly excited about the trip, irritating him daily.
Buck snorted. I never met anyone so gloomy about going on vacation! he teased.
It´s not my idea of a vacation, Ezra replied.
You´re kidding, Buck replied in astonishment. Beaches, girls, pools, bikinis! he continued. What´s not to like?
You know, Ezra, Nathan spoke up. You could have fun. You and your Mama could have a great time with Buck and his Mom.
That´s what I keep telling him, Buck added.
Ezra looked at Nathan with unconcealed amazement. However, not wishing to discuss his mother or her motives for this vacation, he changed the subject.
And what are your plans for Spring Break, Nathan? he asked politely.
New Orleans, Nathan replied with a grin, enjoying Ezra´s brief flash of envy.
Nathan acknowledged the comments of surprise and well wishes from the others.
My mom only finished organizing it last night with her sister. I´ve been invited to spend a week with my cousins, he explained.
What about you Josiah, Nathan added. You still getting away for a few days with your dad and Hannah?
The big senior sighed. Unfortunately no. Dad can´t get time off now and Hannah refused to go in any case.
Sorry to hear that, Nathan commiserated.
You´re welcome around my dad´s place any time, you know that right Siah? Chris offered.
Yeah I know. Thanks, Chris, Josiah replied. I will take you up on that, he continued. Especially to celebrate Vin getting his license, Josiah finished with a grin at the lanky Texan.
Vin smiled crookedly. I haven´t passed yet, he reminded them.
But he will, Chris said confidently. He wants to get some driving in when we go out dirtbiking on Wednesday.
You going up to Steve´s place? Buck asked eagerly. Steve was a retired cop and a friend of Clint´s. He had a large property upstate less than two hours drive away that consisted of miles of adjoining dirt tracks. He, Chris and Clint had been there several times.
Yep, Chris replied with a smile.
Oh man! That´s great, Buck replied. You know we should all go up there one weekend.
Chris laughed. I´ll let you be the one to suggest that to Dad. I still don´t think he´s completely recovered from the fishing trip.
They all joked about that briefly and then Chris looked from Buck to Ezra. I recall saying this before, he began shooting a glance at Vin who smirked. You guys will stay out of trouble right? he continued resting his gaze on Buck.
Well only if you call too many girls trouble, Buck grinned.
Ezra said some disparaging remarks under his breath and Buck turned to him. Don´t worry, Ez, I´ll find you some girls too, he boasted, tossing him a wink.
Amidst laughing and teasing Ezra sighed heavily.
Buck was grateful that no sooner had he sat down on the uncomfortable, but extremely stylish, couch that he heard steps on the stairs. They had arrived at the Carlisle home only to learn that Maude had not completed her packing. Beatrice had gone upstairs to assist the other woman, leaving Buck to wait for Ezra downstairs. Turning slightly he could see feet and a suitcase descend the staircase. Buck watched the butler take the suitcase out the front door to the waiting limousine. His attention returned to the stairs as another set of feet and legs began the descent followed by two other pairs and voices that were not familiar to him. The teenager could not help but allow himself a brief smile at the extremely displeased look on Ezra´s face as he reached the bottom of the stairs. It took a minute for the sophomore to turn and see that Buck was already there. By that time the two other young men behind him had spied their guest as well.
Ezra winced slightly as the lighter haired of the two prompted him, Where are your manners, Ezzy? Introduce us to your friend.
Buck stood up instantly at that. He knew exactly who the two were now. They could only be Robert Carlisle IV and Chester Carlisle. He knew their kind all too well. He had met a few in some of the earlier schools his mother had placed him in before finally finding Regents. Buck´s instincts picked up their arrogance and casual indifference towards their younger stepbrother. And he took an instant dislike to their nickname for Ezra. No one teased him about his name except Buck or one of the other five of their friends. There was nothing friendly about their tone, only condescension.
Saving Ezra from having to respond to that name, Buck strode forward, purposefully stopping too close to the others. They were older than he was, but he was already taller than them both and he enjoyed making them have to look up at him as he spoke. I´m Buck Wilmington. He extended his hand in greeting and as each took it reluctantly, he gave their hand a strong squeeze and pump in return.
I am Robert Carlisle the Fourth and this is my brother Chester. We do hope that you will be taking good care of Ezzy during your trip. Again Buck knew that the young man could care less about what happened to Ezra and was taking every opportunity to let him know that.
Well, Bobby, don´t you worry none about that! You and Chestie can rest easy about that! Both frowned at him, but Buck only grinned back at them. He could see that they both knew that they could not protest his familiarization of their names after doing the same with Ezra´s. Obviously they were pains in the ass but fairly intelligent ones. Deciding to change the subject Buck asked, So I guess the two of you are on Spring Break from college. So what are you up to?
The brothers exchanged looks before answering. We´ll be going to Cancun, Chester finally answered with a sneer. So if you´ll excuse us we have to finish preparing for our trip.
Have a good one, Buck replied turning away from them first, knowing it would irritate them. He heard them mumble something to Ezra and his retort of good riddance.´
Waiting until he heard their retreat back up the stairs Buck looked over to the southerner, Bet you´re glad to be leaving here for a week.
I can handle them, Ezra stated as he sat on the couch, slouching into it insolently.
Yeah, I saw that, Buck laughed only to earn a roll of green eyes.
Settling back down on the couch on the other side from Ezra but unable to mirror the other boy´s easy repose, he asked, How long do you think we´ll have to wait for your mom?
Let me put it to you this way, Ezra said with a wry grin, if you were hoping to see women in bikinis by the pool, you might want to start trying to talk to the women on staff here. Although I have to warn you that the majority of them are not the type that you would want to see in a thong.
Buck shuddered slightly at the thought and with a groan of dismay fell back into the couch. Ezra grinned, suddenly feeling better now that someone else was as miserable as he was.
Fortunately for Buck, Ezra´s estimation was an extreme exaggeration. They ended up only have to wait another hour before Beatrice finally managed to get Maude downstairs with only two suitcases for their week trip. Buck´s joy at finally getting things moving was short lived when they arrived at the airport to learn that their flight was delayed. The junior found reserves of control he never thought he possessed when he restrained himself from throttling the smug smirk off of Ezra´s face at the news of the further delay.
But Buck was an inventive boy, so he found a new way to embarrass the southerner. They sat facing each other at the airport gate´s waiting lounge, Buck and Beatrice on one side and Ezra and Maude on the other. Clearing his throat the lanky teen suddenly asked, Excuse me, Mrs. Carlisle, but I was just wondering why you named Ezra what you did?
Beatrice gaped at her son before swatting at him with the fashion magazine she had been flipping through. Buck! she exclaimed in exasperation and dismay.
Ezra glared over at his friend who only smiled back innocently at him. Maude´s keen eyes did not miss the byplay. Bored with the magazine she had been perusing, she set it aside and gazed intently at Buck. The young man smiled back at her but she saw the mischievous look in his eyes and knew that somehow his question was payback for something that Ezra had done. Why do you ask?
I´m just curious, is all. It´s such a different name. I don´t think I´ve ever heard of anyone named Ezra before. He told us it was biblical, so is that why you named him that?
Maude laughed, not only at the suggestion that she had named her child after a biblical figure, but also at the way Buck´s question made Ezra squirm ever so slightly in his chair next to her. Her son´s discomfort with this topic of conversation made her want to make up an outlandish story to taunt him with. But his name had been a matter of pride with his father, and Maude felt she owed it to him to remain truthful about that. No, Ezra´s father and I did not choose his name out of the Bible. He was named Ezra Patrick Standish to honor the Standish men who had sacrificed their lives fighting in controversial wars. What they thought about the wars they fought in is lost to history, but we do know they never shirked from their duties. Ezra Standish fought and died in the Civil War. And Patrick Standish, Ezra´s grandfather, fought and died in the Vietnam War. During the silence that met her answer, Maude looked over at Ezra and noticed that he had finally straightened in his chair and that his shoulders were square with pride. Her heart swelled with maternal pride. She and Ezra got so busy with their lives that sometimes she felt as if they did not have any connection at all. But right now she could feel it strongly and it made her so very happy.
Beatrice saw the pride that filled both mother and son and smiled at them both. She was enjoying seeing some of their differences being washed away as they both renewed the strong connection that existed between them. She felt vindicated about the trip and her hope that it would do both mother and son good. Beatrice was beginning to feel grateful that Buck had dared to ask the question when he again spoke up.
So why didn´t you name him Patrick Ezra Standish? I mean Patrick is a bit more ordinary.
Perhaps I did not want my son to have an ordinary´ name, Maude responded with a hint of chastisement in her voice. She paused to give Beatrice time to swat Buck again with her magazine and for Ezra to shoot him another glare. And that did play into my decision in naming him Ezra first. However, the truth is that I wanted his name to have something in common with his father´s. Dylan Thomas Standish was named after the poet. I don´t recall the exact details of the story but apparently Ezra´s grandmother and grandfather´s meeting had something to do with a book of Dylan Thomas´ poetry. Anyway I insisted that he be named Ezra Patrick Standish because of the poet Ezra Pound. This way he has a connection not only to the ancestors he never knew, but to his father as well. Maude added silently that she only wished that her son had gotten to know his father far longer than the mere ten years that they had together.
Maude smiled at the open curiosity on Ezra´s face. She had never shared her reasoning with him before and she could see that it touched him. She loved being able to surprise him. It was growing more and more difficult, but she was never one to back down from a challenge. But they were in a public place and Maude did not like the sentimental feel that suddenly hovered over their small group. So smiling over at Buck she said, So now that I have satisfied your curiosity, you must satisfy mine. How is it that you came to be named Buck?
Ezra laughed, loving how his mother so easily turned things around on Buck. Because now the older teen was showing all the signs of discomfort that Ezra had exhibited earlier. Even Beatrice seemed a bit uncomfortable as all eyes turned questioningly at her. She smiled weakly at them as if trying to beg off answering the question. But Buck recovered and nudged her encouragingly as if he were eager to hear the answer himself. Ezra wondered at how Buck could not have asked the question before. But as he studied his friend, he realized that Buck was not eager to hear the answer but to see their reaction to it. More curious than ever, Ezra turned his full attention to the other woman.
Beatrice ran a hand through the curls of her hair, fidgeting in her seat. Well, she started and then stopped. She looked at Buck almost apologetically but he just grinned encouragingly at her. So she started again, Well I got his name from a TV show.
Really? Maude interjected. Which one?
Beatrice heaved a sigh. I don´t know if you remember it. It´s an old show. I was just a little girl, but I loved this show. She paused again, shifting in her chair. It was called Battlestar Galactica and there were these characters named Apollo and Starbuck that I just loved. Wincing with that admission, she turned away, unable to look any of them in the eye.
Buck just laughed and nudged his mother again. Go on, tell em about Starbuck and how he was your favorite.
With a sigh of realization that her own son was not going to let her off the hook, Beatrice quickly finished, He was a fighter pilot and quite the ladies´ man. You know one of those a girl in every port´ kind of guy?
Maude fought back the urge to laugh out loud, instead managing only the slightest exhale of laughter. Well at least you shortened it to Buck? Or is Starbuck his full name?
Ezra could not help himself then, his laughter exploded out of him first in a snort then in deep, true laughter. He was completely unmindful of the glare that Buck now shot his way.
Beatrice felt the flush of embarrassment across her cheeks as she shook her head. No, it´s just Buck.
Maude found herself dealing with the odd feeling of taking pity on Beatrice. With a curt order she sent Ezra and Buck off to get some refreshments for them. She watched the two boys, who were so very different physically but who shared so many similarities as fatherless young men, for a moment before moving to sit next to Beatrice.
Buck is a fine name for your son, Beatrice, nothing to be ashamed of. And it does suit him, though I´m sure that was not your intent when you named him.
The younger woman laughed at that. Hell no. If I had any idea that he would turn out to be just like Starbuck I never would have named him that! I would have named him after that by the books colonel who was never any fun.
Maude joined her laughter, then leaning in to whisper secretively she added, I preferred Apollo. Enjoying the shocked look that earned her, Maude then moved back to her original seat.
What do you want to drink, Starbuck? Ezra drawled out teasingly as he stepped up to the vending machine.
It´s Buck! the older boy insisted warningly.
You mean like my name is Ezra and not Ez? the southerner continued innocently.
Buck rolled his eyes. There´s nothing wrong with shortening someone´s name. You´re adding to mine!
But it is the origin of your name, Ezra gloated.
It ain´t on my birth certificate, so you can´t call me that. Just how much is my silence worth to you? the younger boy questioned.
Well if you value your life, you´ll keep your silence!
Is that a threat? Because you know I don´t react well to threats. Yeah, yeah, I know. I know. Buck grinned as inspiration struck. But you can´t repeat yourself, now can you? And you already played that trick on me with my name, remember?
Oh yes, that´s right, Archibald Orville Wilmington, wasn´t it? he asked with a cheeky, dimpled smile.
Yeah that´s the one, Buck groaned.
You do have a point. I would not want anyone to think that my repertoire is so limited that I must fall back on the same tricks. However, I will not forget what I have learned, Starbuck.
Look, you don´t call me Starbuck and I won´t call you Ez. Is that a deal?
Again the dimpled smile flashed across the southerner´s face. Not only do we have a deal, Buck, but I will also make a wager with you. I bet that you will call me Ez before I ever call you Starbuck again.
Are you saying that I can´t hold up my end of a deal?
Ezra nodded. That is exactly what I´m saying. You just can´t help yourself.
Then you´re on! A Wilmington never goes back on a deal! Buck reached out and took Ezra´s hand in a hearty handshake to seal the deal. Ezra winced under the pressure but was glad that the older boy did not insist on any barbaric practices like spitting into each other´s palms first.
Alright then let´s discuss the amount of the wager. And you saying Ez and then extending it out into Ez-Ra does not count. It must all flow out together, no hesitation in between syllables.
Whatever, EzRA. I´m gonna win this bet. So you just decide how much you are willing to lose to me.
The southerner grinned at the other boy´s confidence. It was all just so easy. Perhaps this trip would not be as wasted as he had first thought.
In the lounge room of the Larabee home Vin stole another glance at the clock while he and Chris sat around watching TV. They were waiting for Chris´ dad to come home before they headed out on some driving practice for Vin. Clint had offered to supervise the Texan in some practice driving and taking Vin to his driver´s test and Vin´s foster parents had agreed.
Nervous? Chris asked as he pulled his gaze away from the TV to study his younger friend.
Nah, Vin answered honestly. And he wasn´t. He had spent countless hours driving the pick-up around Henry´s ranch and sometimes on the quiet roads in and around their small town. He wasn't concerned about driving.
What´s on your mind? Chris asked directly.
You ok with your dad taking me for my driver´s test? Vin replied, his blue eyes watching his friend closely.
A slight furrow crossed Chris´ brow before he answered. I wouldn´t have suggested it to him if I wasn´t.
Yeah but Buck told me he started then stopped a little awkwardly.
Buck told you what? Chris prompted as he grabbed the remote and turned the TV volume down.
That his mom took you for your driver´s test because your dad couldn´t, Vin replied softly.
The cool green eyes that had been holding his blinked and looked away. Chris couldn´t deny that Vin going for his driver´s license had awakened many old wounds for he and his father. After the tragic accident that took his mother and sister while he was driving, he had lost all interest in getting a driver´s license for some considerable time. It was only through Beatrice´s insistence that he eventually went and passed the test. Chris knew Beatrice had tried to persuade Clint to make the time to take his son for his test but the grief-stricken cop couldn´t deal with that back then. So in the end Beatrice took him.
Yeah Bea took me to get my license, he confirmed.
So this is ok with your dad too? Vin asked with concern.
He´s ok, Vin, Chris assured him. He even seemed pleased that I asked him.
Vin nodded, happy that some of his concerns had been placated.
Chris smirked. What I´m worried about is that I told him you can drive, he teased.
I can drive, Vin stated firmly.
We´re not talking about a couple of laps in the cow paddock here right? We do real driving up here, Chris smiled.
I can drive, Larabee, the Texan growled out.
We´ll see, Chris replied with a light laugh.
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