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Jessica drew J.D. into a comforting hug as much for herself as well as her nephew before they walked arm in arm through the immaculate gardens and paths of the cemetery.
They had flown into Baltimore that morning and as arranged Jessica had picked up a rental car from the airport. As she expected, J.D´s first request was to come here. As they approached the small headstone their steps slowed. Jessica released her hold on J.D. as the teen dropped into a crouch and laid a bunch of pink carnations on his mother´s grave.
Hi, Mom, he said aloud. Jess and me came to see you just like we promised.
Jessica felt tears fill her eyes and she quickly blinked them away as J.D. turned to look back up and her and smile. She smiled back at him reassuringly and as he made himself comfortable cross-legged on the dry ground, she followed suite. Her heart filled with warmth and pride as J.D. began telling his mother all about his school and the friends he had made there and then in more detail he began regaling tales of their adventures, pranks and good times.
Several times Jessica felt the impulse to stop and ask questions about certain aspects of his stories. Whilst they had kept in regular contact while she was in England, it was apparent that he hadn´t told her everything that had occurred inside and outside the school. Making mental notes she realized they were going to have a lot to talk about this week.
Buck and Beatrice shared a knowing smile as they finally found themselves in the hotel elevator making their way up to their hotel room. It had been a bit trying for the mother and son pair to deal with the other mother and son pair they were traveling with. Maude and Ezra were something else to watch in action. Beatrice had felt no small amount of pride when Buck seemed to know instinctively how to distract Ezra when the younger boy and Maude began to get into one of their discussions. And those two could certainly get into some discussions.
Everything seemed to be a battle of wills between them. Beatrice found it very fascinating how all it took was for one to make a simple comment only to have the other pick the polar opposite viewpoint and be casually dismissive. The debate would be civil but unending. So while it was intriguing it was also migraine-inducing. That was when Buck would step in and change the subject, giving Beatrice her cue to engage Maude in conversation. It was only by this tag team method that the Wilmingtons made it through the flight to Miami, luggage claim, the limousine trip to the hotel and, finally, check-in procedures.
Fortunately their suite at the Beach House Bal Harbour had three rooms so that Maude and her son could be separated. Beatrice knew that Buck would not mind sharing a room with Ezra, in fact she was pretty sure that her gregarious son would prefer it. For an only child, Buck had never been alone in his life and Beatrice sometimes wondered and worried about how he would eventually handle that. For now though, the two teens allowed their mothers to choose their rooms first before taking the last room. Beatrice smiled to herself at that silent gentlemanly gesture of the boys and again found herself feeling proud of her son.
Ezra, Maude called out to her son just as he was preparing to enter the room he would share with Buck. Wait for the bellhop and make sure he brings our baggage to the correct room.
The sophomore´s shoulders slumped briefly as he paused in mid- step. Beatrice could just imagine his green eyes rolling at his mother´s voice. Buck must have seen the actual event because he tossed Ezra a warning look from where he already stood in the room and then brushed past the younger teen. Yes, ma´am. Ezra and I will wait for the bellhop, Mrs. Carlisle.
This time Beatrice hid her own eye roll at the way Buck was trying to sound so accommodating and sincere. She knew Maude had to see right through it, but the woman was obviously willing to go along with the pretense as she smiled at Buck and said, You are truly the very model of a young gentleman, Buck. She tossed a meaningful look at her own son who pointedly ignored her. As Maude was stepping into her room, she turned and called back to Buck, Oh and don´t forget to give the bellhop a nice tip. And with that she shut the door behind her.
Ezra and Beatrice both laughed at the confused look on Buck´s face as he realized that he had somehow been left with the task of providing a tip for the bellhop. Finally Beatrice took pity on her son and gave him some money. Your mom is a piece of work, Buck whispered to Ezra after his own mother had disappeared into her room.
The southerner grinned, And she´s only just getting to know you.
What´s that supposed to mean?
It means that you were the one who was all excited about this trip, despite my repeated attempts to warn you about what a disaster it will be, his southern accent was laced with barely contained frustration.
Buck threw himself back into one of the couches, throwing his legs up on the seat as well. You know, Ezra, this trip is only going to be as bad as you make it. We´re on vacation. And in Florida during Spring Break! Loosen up, would ya?
And why would I want to do that?
The older boy sat up on the couch, his blue eyes intense with disbelief, Because it´s fun! Because being out here has got to be better than anything you were going to do back home!
A sly look crossed Ezra´s face. Oh I sincerely doubt that.
Don´t you ever get tired of scheming, Ezra? I mean just a little bit? Don´t you just want to enjoy life from one minute to the next instead of planning everything out, arranging things to go your way? Buck asked sincerely. It was something about Ezra that he had not quite realized, but now that he had he could not understand it.
Fortunately for Ezra the bellhop chose that moment to arrive and he did not have to answer Buck. But as he led the bellhop from room to room to deliver the bags, the southerner kept hearing the question echo in his head. He had no idea how he would have responded to it and that disturbed him. He wished that he could slip away to be alone and contemplate what Buck´s words said about him. But he was also grateful that that was not possible. He was not sure if he would like the answer to the question himself.
Nathan settled into the bed that had been vacated by his cousin. He had not wanted to force Andre out of his own bed, but his aunt Natalie had insisted. Twenty-year-old Andre had decided to work straight out of high school, so he still lived at home while he tried to earn enough to find a place of his own. So Natalie and Leroy Fontenot still had a full house with their five children of which Andre was the oldest.
Nathan looked over at where his cousin slept on the floor of his own room. Andre had been very insistent that the teenager take his bed as well. Of course that was nothing new to Nathan really. Whenever he did visit his cousins, no matter how seldom it seemed to him, they always managed to make him feel right at home. As he thought to himself, Nathan realized that they actually made him feel more at home than he did in his own home. But that was only because their house was always bustling with activity, while back in Indiana the Jackson house was empty more often than not.
Andre rolled over on the floor as if sensing Nathan staring at him and turning away from his gaze. The younger boy could not help but think about how different they were, how different they had always been. In some ways Ezra reminded Nathan of Andre, because his cousin was always pushing the limits, testing the waters of what he could get away with. But where Ezra did it to prove a point or to make a profit, Andre simply did it because he could. It had gotten him into some trouble, and might even be the reason why he had not kept one job for any length of time, but so far he had been smart enough to stay out of any serious difficulties.
And shortly after Nathan´s arrival to their house, Andre had pulled him aside to speak to him privately. The older boy told him that he was going to take him out at some point during his Spring Break and show him a good time. That he was going to have a chance to experience the nightlife that only New Orleans had to offer. When Nathan started to decline the offer, Andre only laughed and told him that he was not giving him a choice. They were going to party during this Spring Break and Nathan was going to enjoy himself. What surprised Nathan most was that he did not protest any further. In fact, he had to admit to himself that he was actually looking forward to being a bit irresponsible for once. He would never admit it to his six friends back at Regents, but every once in a while, the junior did want to cut loose. Here in the Big Easy, he was going to have his opportunity. Nathan smiled and turned on his side, closing his eyes on his first night at his aunt´s house and looking forward to the next few days.
Josiah heard his sister walking down the hallway toward the living room and called out to her, Hey, Hannah, before you come and sit down will you put the popcorn in the microwave? I rented I, Spy zzzzfor us to watch tonight.
He did not hear a reply from her but could hear the sounds of her opening the cabinet, then the package of popcorn, and finally the sound of her programming the timer on the microwave. As the first kernels begin to pop, Josiah heard Hannah walk into the living room. His smile to greet her quickly fell when he saw the look on her face.
Without preamble she stated, I´m going over to my friend´s house and we´re going to watch a couple of movies over there.
Josiah turned more fully in the chair so that he could face her directly. What friend?
Does it matter? she asked with a careless shrug. It´s one of the ones you don´t like anyway.
But, Hannah, I thought we could spend our first night on Spring Break together and watch a movie like we always do, he protested.
You´ll be off all week, Josiah, we´ll have time.
He hated the uncaring way she spoke to him and hated feeling so out of control. It was as if he did not even know the girl that stood in front of him. Josiah mentally corrected himself since a recently turned fifteen Hannah was not a little girl anymore, or at least she saw herself as a young woman. She still disdained wearing makeup, but her low slung jeans and low-cut, tight blouse revealed a more mature Hannah than he was used to seeing. What time will you be home?
I don´t know, she shrugged again. Dad was never worried about it, so neither should you.
I´m not Dad. Josiah got to his feet, feeling the anger at her attitude washing over him. He knew that he needed to remain calm and not overreact, but it was as if she was pushing all his buttons, purposefully antagonizing him.
No you´re not, she agreed. But both of you are hardly here any more so why should I work around your schedules?
Josiah stared at her in open mouthed shock, struggling to find some response to her accusation. But she turned away from him just as the timer went off on the microwave. Your popcorn is ready, she said flatly as she headed toward the front door. Enjoy your movie. And then without so much as a goodbye she shut the door behind her.
He dropped back into the couch, the popcorn and movie forgotten. He decided he would let her have this night with her friends, but was determined that sometime during this Spring Break that they would spend time together, just the two of them. And that he would find a way to make her see that he was still her big brother and that even though he could not be home as much as he would like that he still loved her as much as he ever had. She had to know that. He just could not see how she could think otherwise.
Beatrice and Buck sat out on the small terrace and enjoyed the early morning sun and warmth as they ate their breakfast. They had left the sliding doors open and Beatrice could see Ezra sitting on the couch, the remote control in his hand, flipping through the channels. She had the suspicion that the younger boy was not quite fully awake yet. He had just been far too quiet this morning. But he was still sharp as a tack as Buck occasionally threw out a question or comment directed to him and without missing a beat or taking his eyes from the television, Ezra would respond. It just seemed that he would have preferred sleeping in, like his mother was doing, but Buck had not allowed that.
After a bit of a rest yesterday evening, the four of them had gone out for a relaxing dinner. It had actually been rather pleasant as Ezra and Maude were more civil toward each other. They had returned to the hotel after a short stroll around the area. The women had then decided that they would retire for the night. Buck had stated that he and Ezra would watch some TV and play video games on the in room Playstation system. The southerner had not seemed very thrilled with that prospect, but Beatrice had heard the two boys arguing a couple of times through the night.
You sure you don´t want something to eat? Beatrice called to Ezra.
No, thank you, ma´am, he responded politely.
There´s plenty here, she pushed a little. It just did not seem right to her that a fifteen-year-old boy would only have orange juice for breakfast. At that age Buck had been practically eating her out of house and home. He still was as the dishes of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and toast attested to.
I´m sure Buck will ensure that nothing goes to waste, the sophomore stated confidently.
Hey! the junior protested. I´m still a growing boy!
Beatrice winced. Buck, don´t talk with your mouth full! she scolded even as she playfully threw a piece of toast at him.
Don´t waste food, he scolded her right back as he picked up the piece of toast from his plate and popped it into his mouth. His mother rolled her eyes at him.
Ezra simply ignored both of them as he continued trying to find anything of interest on the television. He had his legs up, his feet propped up on one arm of the couch, with the remote in one hand and his chin resting on the cupped palm of the other. He did not understand why Buck had felt the need to make him get up this morning with him. He had known that his mother would not make an appearance outside her room until at least after 10:00 a.m., so there was really no point for any of them to get up anytime before then either. But despite his colorful use of language, Ezra had been unable to convince Buck to leave him alone.
It was not until 10:15 that Maude stepped foot outside of her room, but she was at least already dressed for the day. Her gaze fell on her son, who did not move his head to look up at her before dropping his gaze back to the television without acknowledging her. Maude´s eyes narrowed briefly at Ezra but other than that she did not acknowledge his rudeness. Instead she turned her attention to where Buck and Beatrice had now moved inside the room and on the couches. Buck had gained possession of the remote and stopped in his channel changing to greet her, Good morning, Mrs. Carlisle.
Good morning, Maude responded, extending it to everyone within the room. The southern woman was surprised to see that Beatrice was still in her pajamas and the complimentary hotel robe as she lounged on another couch with Buck.
Beatrice either did not notice the appalled look the other woman tossed her way or she chose to ignore it. I´m sorry, Maude, but we already ordered up breakfast. There´s still plenty of fruit left, we put it in the refrigerator. And there still might be time to order something from room service.
No, a bit of fruit will be just fine. I´m not much of a breakfast person, Maude waved away Beatrice´s concern.
Buck snorted, So that´s where Ezra gets it from
Ezra scowled at the other teen before tossing one leg over the other so that the heel of one foot rested on the toes of the other, effectively blocking out Buck from his sight. Maude again caught the rudeness from her son and commented, Yes, though it pains my son to no end, I´m afraid he has inherited a few things from me.
This time Ezra snorted. Beatrice and Buck shared a look as Maude glared back at her son before heading toward the refrigerator. Buck reached over and pushed at Ezra´s feet, dropping them to the ground and making Ezra sit up in the couch. The sophomore caught the pointed look from Beatrice and bit back the response he had prepared for Buck.
So what are you boys going to do today? Maude asked.
Buck and Ezra exchanged looks and then turned to see an equally bemused Beatrice. Maude took in all of their expressions and laughed, Well obviously you boys are going to have to amuse yourselves while Beatrice and I finish up our work on the novel.
Do you have a name for it yet? Buck asked. As his mom and Maude collaborated on the novel, he had heard quite a bit about the plot and characters. Lately Beatrice had been telling him that she and Maude were having a hard time agreeing to a title.
No, not yet. That is something that we hope to have before we leave Florida. Which is why we are going to need some time alone to work, Maude answered.
Ezra rolled his eyes as he stood up and walked toward the room he shared with Buck. Then why did we ever have to come along on this trip? he muttered.
Again Beatrice and Buck exchanged glances knowing that they were going to have to keep the other mother and son combination from an unending argument. Buck quickly stood up and followed Ezra into their room. We´ll just figure out what we´re gonna do today, he said with a smile trying to make it seem as if that was Ezra´s intention.
A few minutes later the two teens reemerged from their room. They were both dressed in shorts, though Buck has his topped with a t- shirt and Ezra with a polo shirt. As always Buck was grinning and Ezra was sulking. How about if Ezra and I just wander around right out here, maybe check out the beaches and everything.
Beatrice smiled at her son showing her appreciation for him and his attempts to smooth things over. That sounds good, Buck. Just don´t go too far and make sure you have your cell phones. Are you going to go swimming?
This time both Ezra and Buck had to roll their eyes at the smothering maternal questioning. I will not be swimming, Ezra stated in a tone that brokered no negotiation.
But Ezra you love to swim, Maude stated. Smiling with maternal pride, she purposefully embarrassed him by adding, Ezra is quite the swimmer. I often tell him that he should join the swim team. He would do so very well, not to mention look so good in those Speedos they wear.
Beatrice´s appreciation for her son dimmed a bit as he burst out laughing. Ezra? In a Speedo?
The southerner decided that glaring at Buck would suffice for now since both their mothers were present. But he would not let that remark go unpunished. Right now he turned his withering glace to his mother, I am sure I will have many an opportunity this week to swim either in the pools or in the ocean, so there is no need to worry if I choose not to do so today.
But Maude was not finished with her humiliation that she thought of as retaliation for his rudeness earlier. Well whatever you do today, I am sure that y´all will be in the sun so do remember to put on plenty of sunblock. I wouldn´t want your lovely fair skin to get all red and burnt. She turned to Beatrice, He got sunburned once and he just looked like a scaling lobster when he started to peel. It was just the most disgusting thing I´d ever seen.
Mother, Ezra said warningly under his breath but loud enough for her to hear. Maude smiled back at him, raising her eyebrows at him, letting him know that she was counting this as a victory for her. Buck, somehow instinctively knowing that it was time to pull Ezra out of the room, grabbed his friend´s arm and started doing exactly that.
We´ll be back in time for dinner, the junior called back to the mothers who both called out their farewells.
Ezra shrugged free of Buck once they were in the hallway. The older teen shook his head, You and your mom are both a piece of work, you know that?
The sophomore said nothing as he strode over to the elevators and pressed the down button. It was not until they were out on the sidewalk outside the hotel, trying to decide what to do, that Ezra seemed to shrug off the sullenness that filled him when around his mother. The beginnings of the mischievous glint touched his sage green eyes. So what exactly should we do today?
Buck grinned glad to see the Ezra that he knew. Why don´t we just see what we can wander into today, see what we find for the next couple of days. I´m sure our moms are going to be busy working´ on their book for a while. So we might as well plan on checking things out on our own.
Ezra´s sly grin cut across his face, And here I thought you wanted to party with the Spring Break girls going wild!´
Well yeah of course I do! Buck exclaimed. But this isn´t exactly where they all hang out.
If the mountain won´t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain, Ezra stated.
If what you want isn´t here, then you have to go where it´s at. Like say Fort Lauderdale? The flash of dimples that accompanied his words was quite devilish.
Buck eyed Ezra speculatively. And just how do you suggest we do that? I don´t think our moms would like it too much.
Ezra shook his head in dismay. Buck! Disbelief filled his southern accent. Now why would our mothers have to know anything about it? After all I´m sure they want us to enjoy ourselves out here.
The junior nodded thoughtfully. It´s not too far. We could probably take a bus.
There you have it, Ezra exclaimed grinning happily.
What´s in it for you? Buck asked suddenly, not liking the look he saw in Ezra´s eyes.
We´ll talk more about that a bit later, the southerner shrugged. First though let´s find an internet café. I need to check on something. Some friends of mine are supposed to be in town and I want to see if I can arrange a meeting.
Friends of yours? Buck´s tone was incredulous. I didn´t think you had other friends than us, he laughed.
Ezra shook his head with mimicking laughter. You´d be surprised at what you don´t know about me, he promised as he walked ahead of Buck.
Oh I know that! Buck laughed. And some things I don´t want to know. Or see!! Like that image of you in a Speedo! He shuddered for dramatic effect as he trailed after his friend.
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