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JD logged off of the laptop computer after downloading the information from the digital camera that they were using to keep tabs on the people coming and going around the convoy. So far, they had logged nearly a hundred faces to check against the military database. They were hoping that one of the people was not an actual member of the service, that he had stolen or misappropriated the uniform to gain access. Buck was still watching as the guards on the lot changed shifts. It had been a long day and they were both looking forward to getting out of the confines of the surveillance van.
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A half hour later, the court clerk handed Ezra a copy of the order giving him custody of his daughter. He found his hands shaking as he stared at the sheaf of papers. Mrs. Farmer approached him and drew him aside.
When will you want to leave with Eve? Id like to let Mrs. Crawford know so she can begin packing her things.
There isnt any hurry. I cant return to work right away. I dont want to delay Mr. Tanner any longer than necessary, though. Could we leave on Sunday?
Sure, I will let Mrs. Crawford know. I hope you will consider allowing Eve to remain in contact with them, they have become very attached to your daughter.
Of course! I have no objection to her remaining in contact with them. Will you ask her if we can take Eve to supper again tonight? Give her the number at the hotel and have her call me so that we can work out the final arrangements. I will have to have most of Eves things shipped home. She can take two suitcases on the plane.
Ill ask her to call you.
They caught up with the Traviss in the lobby of the building.
How long are the two of you going to be in Memphis?
Our flight leaves at ten in the morning.
Would you like to have supper with us? We are picking up Eve and I want her to meet the both of you as soon as possible.
Evie protested. Are you sure? You should have supper with just the two of you to celebrate. You dont want a herd of people following you around.
I appreciate the sentiment, Mrs. Travis, but as I am unable to drive myself it wouldnt be just the two of us anyway. Not that I would consider leaving Mr. Tanner alone after all his help, but I would really like to celebrate with all of you.
They met that evening at a nice quiet restaurant. Eve had been told of the judges decision and was both excited and scared. She shyly met the Traviss and shook their hands. After a while, she warmed to them and was animated all evening. Mrs. Travis pulled out her pictures of Billy and also the ones she had of Team 7. Ezra briefly explained about each of the men in the pictures.
Theyll be like my uncles? All of them? Eve asked hopefully.
If thats okay with you.
The curly headed moppet only nodded, her throat suddenly tight and her eyes glistening with tears. She scrubbed at her eyes with her balled up hands until Mrs. Travis handed her a tissue.
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Saturday felt like the longest eight-hour shift either man could ever remember. Nothing moved on the secure lot. The only excitement Nathan and Chris had was the shift change for the guard shack. The convoy of trucks sat, untouched, all day. Larabee called Josiah to tell him that he hoped their day saw more action.
Sunday in the surveillance van was much the same as Saturday had been. There was little or no activity on the secure lot and the absence of cars on the commuter lot made the surveillance van seem to stick out like a sore thumb. At least thats the way JD saw it as he scrolled thru the data from the past two days. Josiah chuckled at the young mans impatience and mumbled something about ants in his pants.
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Mrs. Crawford was very gracious about packing Eves belongings. She agreed to pack two suitcases with her necessities and everything else into boxes for shipping. Ezra made arrangements at the local UPS store to pay for the shipping. They made arrangements to pick the child up at noon on Sunday because their flight was leaving at three in the afternoon.
Eve hung on Mr. and Mrs. Crawford and the other kids in the house before climbing into the car and tearfully waiving goodbye. A letter was pressed into Ezras hand before Mrs. Crawford hugged him and wished him good luck. Vin loaded the suitcases into the trunk and kept in the background as much as possible. The Texan was struggling with his own feelings. He was happy for Ezra and Eve, but he was sad for the family she was leaving, they seemed like really nice people.
It was a quiet drive to the airport. Vin turned on the radio and tuned it to a country music station. Both men were surprised to hear Eve start singing along with the songs in a high, clear voice. She seemed to loosen up after a couple of songs and began to ply her father with questions again.
Do you know where I will be going to school? Is there a pool near your house? Are there other kids in the neighborhood? And then the question that made Ezra shudder slightly. Can I have a hamster?
There is a fine school in the neighborhood, we will go there tomorrow for a tour. Yes, there is a pool in the complex but you may not swim unless I am there to watch you. Yes, there are other children in the neighborhood and a few in our building.
He carefully avoided the hamster question in the hope that she would forget. The small rodents reminded him of mice and made him shudder at the thought. He had been considering a small dog or, God forbid, a cat to keep the girl company. The changes that parenthood wrought were just beginning to dawn on the quiet southerner. His mind was drawn back to the conversation as Vin was pointing out the airplanes that were taking off.
They returned the rental car and made their way to the security check point. They were directed to a special gate after showing their badges. Eve was wide eyed in wonder as she realized that both her father and Vin were carrying guns. She became very quiet and sidled up to Ezra to slip her hand into his as the security staff moved closer to them.
After they were back on the concourses, she looked up at her father with her green-eyed gaze and whispered, That was scary!
Not knowing how to respond to the comment, Ezra looked to Vin.
Have you ever been to an airport before?
Only once, when I was little.
That was the new security measures. You remember what happened on September 11 a couple of years ago?
Yeah, we saw it on the news. The airplanes that crashed into the buildings in New York, right?
Yeah, well now they check people a little closer before they let them on the plane. Because we work for the government, we can carry our weapons onto the plane. But you mustnt say anything about them, okay?
The dark head nodded in agreement. They waited only a short time before their boarding call. Eve proudly handed the woman her ticket as they moved onto the plane. Vin generously allowed the girl to have the window seat. When Ezra raised a questioning eyebrow, the Texan waived him off. He had taken the pill that Nathan gave him and was not feeling as anxious as he might have been without it.
A short time into the flight, Vin noticed that Eve was crying. She didnt make a sound as the gigantic tears rolled down her face. He carefully slipped her his handkerchief as he tapped Ezra on the knee. He had started to nudge him but remembered at the last second about the still healing shoulder.
Is she crying? He mouthed silently. Vin nodded as he offered to switch seats. The two men traded seats and Ezra eased his left arm out of the sling before tapping Eve on the shoulder.
Are you all right?
The girl turned her tear-streaked face toward him and nodded before leaning against his chest and sobbing. The new father carefully wrapped his arm around her and rubbed his hands up and down her back. He cast a worried glance over his shoulder to Vin and received a smile and a nod; he was doing just what he should be doing. After a few minutes, Eve turned in her seat and curled up in his lap. Ezra looked at Vin, his eyes filled with wonder as she closed her eyes. The exhausted child slept through the whole flight, safe in her fathers arms.
The stewardess came and told them that they had to put on their seatbelts on for the landing. Ezra gently wakened Eve and put her back in her own seat. The sight of the mountains outside of her window instantly fascinated her. They made their way to the baggage area where they met up with Josiah.
As they were waiting to collect their bags, Ezra introduced Eve to Josiah. The diminutive child looked up at the graying man and smiled shyly before moving closer to her father. They made their way to the parking lot and to the suburban. Josiah headed for the condo instead of dropping Vin off first. He glanced in the mirror to catch the green-eyed imp watching him closely. He only laughed when she smiled and looked away.
Ezra knew something was up as soon as they pulled onto the parking lot. Chriss truck and JDs motorcycle were both parked next to the Jag. He eyed Josiah curiously and got only a shrugged shoulder. He hoped that whatever they had planned wouldnt be too much for Eve on her first night in a new place.
As soon as the door to the condo opened, he saw them. The entire team along with Rain, Casey Wells and Mary and Billy Travis, were gathered in his living room. Eve immediately hid behind Ezra and clung to his hand. When the bags were settled in a corner and the door closed, he coaxed the girl from behind him and began to make the introductions.
Eve, these are the people I work with and some of my other friends. As he moved closer to the couch, the child was tightly adhered to his side. He introduced them to her one by one and watched her smile shyly at each person before dropping her eyes to her lap. Only when introduced to Mary and Billy did she say anything.
Are the Judge and Evie Travis your grandparents?
Billy nodded. You met my Grandpa and Grandma?
Yeah, they had supper with us in Memphis.
The youngest Travis couldnt resist unveiling the surprise. Do you want to go see your new room? The guys fixed it all up for you and everything!
Casting a questioning look at her father, she received permission to flee and bolted after the running back of the blond boy. Ezra sighed aloud as he heard the thunder of their footsteps on the stairs. Mary moved to place a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Dont worry, we wont stay long. She just needs time to get used to all the new things.
His response was cut off by a squeal of delight from upstairs. Ezra jumped to his feet and raced to the stairwell. He was nearly mowed down by the excited children as they came tearing down the stairs. Eve was so thrilled that she didnt realize she had passed her father. The girl skidded to a stop and looked around the room before her expression became one of concern.
Eve, is everything all right? Ezra asked from behind her.
The girl spun around and threw both arms around him, completely forgetting his injured shoulder. Nathan winced as Ezra paled slightly. Eve grabbed his free arm and drew him toward the steps.
Come see! Come see my room!
Stumbling up the stairs, Ezra was dragged to the former guest room. The renovation of the room was thorough and complete. The walls were a soft, pale pink. The day bed sat along one wall covered with a spread that matched the curtains on the window. Several large stuffed bears sat on the bed and in the corners of the room. There was a small entertainment center on the other wall with a small stereo and a collection of childrens books. Eve stopped in the middle of the room and turned in a complete circle.
Is it really all mine? My very own room?
Before he could respond, Ezra felt a hand settle on his uninjured shoulder and looked back to see Chris smiling broadly. Mouthing a silent thank you to his friends as they crowded the hall behind him, he turned back to his daughter.
All yours. What do you think? He was unprepared for her response. The dark head bobbed once and then she slammed into him, wrapping her arms around him and squealing in joy.
Thank you, Daddy, thank you!
Seeing the tears well up in the southerners eyes, the team beat a hasty retreat and let themselves out of the apartment. Ezra had no idea how long he stood there holding on to the sobbing, squealing, dark-headed moppet, but it felt damned good.
What do you say we order a pizza and put some of your things away while we wait for it to arrive?
After ordering their pizza, they spent the next half hour unpacking Eves clothes and personal items. When the pizza arrived, they piled up on the couch and ate while listening to the stereo. Occasionally, the child would put down her pizza to belt out the chorus of a song. When they had finished eating, they returned to putting away her clothes.
Following a brief shower, Eve settled into her new room and dropped into an exhausted sleep. Ezra stood in the doorway for several minutes just watching her sleep. When he was sure that she wasnt going to wake up right away, he went downstairs and collapsed on the couch.
So many thoughts raced thru his mind. He began to make a list of all the things he needed to do in the next few days. School and finding a pediatrician and taking her to the pool and maybe shopping for some new clothes and His train of thought was interrupted by the phone ringing.
Hey Ezra, how are you two doing? Vins voice was unnaturally loud and Ezra knew he was on the speakerphone at Josiahs house from the number on his caller ID.
Shes asleep. We had a pizza together and put away her things and she took a shower and put on her pajamas. I really want to thank everybody for the room, she was thrilled.
Nathans voice called out. Hows that shoulder. I thought you were going to fall out when she ran into you.
Me too. He said with a chuckle. Its not too bad. Mr. Tanner did a remarkable job of keeping me to my exercises while we were gone. It hardly pains me at all.
Well let you get back to whatever you were doing, then. Call us and let us know how youre doing sometime tomorrow.
I will do just that, Mr. Larabee. And thank you again for all youve done, all of you.
Replacing the phone in the charger, Ezra realized that he was exhausted. Shutting off the lights and checking the door before he climbed the stairs, he proceeded to get undressed for bed. Pulling his gun from the shoulder holster, he laid it on the nightstand and started to pull off his jacket. As he closed his hands on the lapels of the jacket his gaze fell on the gun.
I must get in the habit of putting it in the safe when I take it off now.
After locking the weapon in the safe, he changed and slid into bed. A few minutes later, he got up and padded down the hall to look in on Eve one more time. She lay sprawled out in the middle of the bed in her pink pajamas. A warm feeling spread from his heart in every direction as he smiled at her sleeping face. He left his door ajar so that he would hear her when she awoke in the morning.
Eve awoke and felt a moment of confused disorientation. Then it all came rushing back to her. She remembered packing her things with Meg. She remembered the going away party they had for her. She remembered the final church service. She remembered the airport and the plane taking off. She remembered crying on the plane and her dad, it felt funny to think that word, taking her into his arms. Suddenly, she wanted more than anything to feel that safety again and she crept out into the hallway.
His bedroom door stood open and in the dim light she could see him lying on his side facing the door. She stepped back to her bed and grabbed her blanket before padding softly down the hall. She almost lost her nerve when she reached the side of the bed. For a couple of minutes she stood watching him sleep. She finally settled for cuddling up in the chair in the corner near the bed.
Ezra awakened to the sound of soft breathing in the room with him. His first instinct was to go on the defensive before the little voice reminded him that he had a child in the condo with him. Opening his eyes, he looked around the room and saw her curled up on the overstuffed chair in the corner, her pink blanket hanging mostly in the floor. He rolled off the bed and moved quietly to her side. Slipping his hands under her legs and neck, he lifted her and prepared to return her to her bed. One thin, pink clad arm snaked around his neck and she snuggled against his chest.
Shh, its okay. Im going to put you back to bed. He whispered into the mass of dark curls. Her head shook and she murmured softly.
Cant I just stay with you?
With a sigh, Ezra turned and settled the child on the other side of the king-sized bed and placed her blanket over her. She immediately curled into a ball around the pillow and went back to sleep. He moved back to the other side of the bed and slid under the blankets. Unable to go back to sleep, he simply watched her as she slept.
Eve wakened a short time later to the smell of breakfast. Padding back to her room with her blanket, she quickly straightened the bed and dressed. Her dad had promised her a tour of her new school today. She gathered her brush and headed downstairs. I sure hope he knows how to make a pony tail, she thought to herself.
The bacon was almost done when Ezra started the biscuits. He didnt know how much longer Eve would sleep but he wanted to have breakfast ready when she came down. He had set the table for the two of them and made a pot of coffee for himself. The sound of slippers on the stone tile kitchen floor caused him to turn. Eve was completely dressed except for her shoes and stood watching him with a brush in her hand.
Good morning! I trust that you slept well?
Uh-huh, and I made up my bed and put my pajamas under my pillow. Is that okay?
Thats fine with me. Are you hungry?
Yes, what are you making?
Do you like scrambled eggs? I have bacon and biscuits and theres milk and orange juice in the refrigerator.
Sounds good! Do you, um, do you know how to do a ponytail? I cant get it by myself. But I brushed out all the tangles!
A broad smile bloomed on his face as he turned the fire off under the skillet and turned back to the child. Pulling out a chair, he indicated that she should give him the brush and turn around. It took him three tries, but he finally got all the hair together in the barrette she handed to him and he sent her to the bathroom to survey the results.
He was just finishing the eggs when she returned with her shoes on and took a seat at the table. Setting the food down, he poured himself a cup of coffee and asked her what she would like to drink with breakfast.
Just milk is fine. Orange juice makes my spit taste bitter. She confided.
Fighting to hold back the laughter that threatened to break free, he nodded. Ill have to remember that. Can you help yourself or do you want me to do it?
With a confident smile, Eve helped herself to the food and began to eat. When they were finished, they cleaned the dishes and loaded the dishwasher. While he was wiping off the stove and counters, Eve went into the living room and looked at the wide-screen TV in the entertainment center.
Can I turn on the TV? She called back to him.
Sure. Will you be all right watching TV while I shower and change clothes? Then we can head over to the school and see about getting you enrolled.
She nodded eagerly and began to search for a cartoon to watch. When he had showered and changed, she was still sitting on the couch watching some early morning childrens programming. As soon as he reached the back of the couch, she looked up at him.
Are you ready to go see your new school?
Turning off the TV, she jumped up and smoothed her clothes. He had to suppress a smile as he recognized an action that he had done so often himself as a child. He offered her his hand and she moved quickly to take it with her own.
Dont you need your sling?
I cant drive with it so Ill just go without it today, okay? Just dont tell Nathan, hell fuss at me if he finds out. A conspiratory wink brought a giggle and they headed out. At the last minute, he remembered the letter Mrs. Crawford had given him and went to the counter to retrieve it. He hadnt had an opportunity to read it yet but he suspected that it contained the information he would need to enroll her in school, he hoped.
A gasp and a look of awe crossed Eves face as he opened the door of the Jag for her. She slid quietly into the leather seat and pulled at the seatbelt while he closed the door. When he started the engine, the classical music station poured softly from the speakers. He put the car in gear and backed out of the parking space and headed for the driveway. When they reached the stoplight she finally spoke.
Can I change the station? A hopeful look lit her green eyes as her nose wrinkled as the next piano concerto began to play.
How about if we just turn it off for now? He reached out and shut off the music. Do you only listen to country music?
Mostly, but sometimes I listen to gospel and I like jazz, too!
A truly delightful palate of music. Perhaps after you have been here a while you will warm to classical?
The wrinkled up nose appeared again and he had to laugh. They turned onto the school parking lot just as recess was beginning. The doors burst open and children spilled into the yard, yelling and laughing as they rushed to the playground equipment. Eve moved to take Ezras hand as they approached the building.
The smell of chalk dust and crayons assailed his nose as they entered the building. As they passed the quiet classrooms, Eve peeked carefully into each one.
Once inside, they quickly found the office and acquired the enrollment forms. The secretary tried to strike up a conversation with Eve only to have the child bury her face in Ezras shoulder. He looked down at her as he filled in the blanks on the forms. When he reached the sections where he didnt know the answers, he looked at his daughter.
Can you assist me with the answers to these questions?
Eve rattled off the information in a flat tone of voice. It raised red flags in the new fathers mind as he completed the form. They were then shown into the school counselors office. The woman came in and introduced herself. Once again, Ezra found his daughter clinging to his arm and hiding her face. Her distress was almost palpable to him and he asked her if she would rather wait in the hall while he finished enrolling her.
Why dont I find someone to show you around for a little while so your father and I can talk? Would that be okay? The counselor offered.
You wont leave without me, will you? She drilled into Ezras eyes with her own.
No, we still have things to do today. You go ahead and I will meet you back here when youre finished.
He watched as she reluctantly followed the woman out of the office. When the woman came back and sat down, she smiled warmly at him.
Well, Mr. Standish. What can you tell me about your daughter?
Not much, actually. I only took custody of her yesterday. Her mother died five or six weeks ago but she was placed in foster care for over a year. I only found out about her a week ago. I presume that you can get her school records from her previous school?
Wow. Talk about instant fatherhood. Okay, do you know if her shots are up to date?
He opened the envelope and pulled out several sheets of paper. The first two were a letter to him and the next one was a copy of Eves shot records. He passed the paper across the desk and waited for the woman to make a copy of it and hand it back.
Okay, I see you filled in all of the contact information. My, but you have a lot of emergency contact numbers! The primary contact other than yourself is this Evie Travis?
Yes, she is the wife of my department head. She knows that I have listed her as the emergency contact so it will be all right if you call her.
All right, will you be bringing your daughter to school and picking her up in the afternoon? We have a latchkey program for children who need it, they can play games or finish their homework.
I will be picking her up and dropping her off for the first few weeks until we get things figured out at home. Ill let you know if it changes.
Very good, school starts at eight in the morning and ends at three sharp. Here is some additional information for you to go over with your daughter and we will see her tomorrow morning. I will take you both and show you her classroom and introduce you to her teacher.
They moved back into the hallway just as Eve was coming up from the lower level. The girl who was showing her around called out that she would see her later before returning to the playground. The counselor took them down the hall to an empty classroom and knocked on the door.
Mrs. Johnson? Id like to introduce you to a new student who will be starting tomorrow. This is Eve Simpson and her father, Mr. Standish.
The teacher was young, probably only in her late twenties, and she stood and held out her hand to Eve. The child shyly extended her hand and shook the teachers hand before tucking her hand back into her fathers. After a few minutes of exchanged pleasantries, a bell rang and the teacher announced that she had to go and get her class from the playground.
When they got back to the car, Ezra began to question Eve.
Did you like the school? The girl that was showing you around seemed nice. Did she show you where the lunchroom is and the restroom? Your teacher seems nice. Eve, are you okay?
Yeah, Im fine. Ill be okay. Her voice was small and tired sounding. Ezra reached across and touched her shoulder lightly. She smiled, but it was a strained smile.
Would you like to see the building where I work? He would have offered her anything at the moment to take the scared look off of her face.
Yeah! Can I?
Twenty minutes later, they were pulling into the parking garage and into a parking space. He took her hand as they crossed to the elevator. He used his ID badge to call the elevator and let Eve push the button for the seventh floor. When the doors opened, she clung shyly to his hand as he led her into the offices where he worked.
Eve smile became more relaxed as she saw the familiar faces in the large room. Ezra led her to his desk and pulled out the chair. She climbed into the big, leather swivel chair and glanced around at the desk.
Will you be all right here for a minute? I need to talk to Mr. Tanner and Mr. Jackson for a few minutes. Please dont touch anything.
As he was walking away, he caught JDs eye and nodded toward Eve. The young agent nodded back and returned to the report he was typing, looking casually over the top of his monitor every couple of moments to see what she was doing.
Ezra motioned Vin into the conference room and closed the door.
Is something wrong, Ezra? You look worried.
I am worried. Although Eve appears fine and content while its just the two of us, she seems to shrink from other people. Her body language and her manner of speaking change when she is faced with a new situation.
Vin smiled. He remembered only too well how it felt, always being the new kid, never knowing who was a friend and who wasnt. The first day at a new school was always horrible. He could remember the teasing and the bullying as the kids jockeyed for position around the newcomer.
Shell be okay, Ezra. You moved around a lot as a kid, dont you remember what it was like being the new kid?
The undercover agent was thrown back in time to his own troubled childhood. He vividly remembered being the new kid. Being small for his age, he was always being picked on by the bigger kids. That was why he had taken up boxing and karate, to even the gap. He also remembered the intense sadness at having to leave a school where he had finally made his place in the pecking order.
Yeah, I can see you do remember. Vin said softly as he saw the faraway look in the green eyes of the southerner.
Thanks, Mr. Tanner, I needed to be reminded. I may not understand everything she is going thru right now but I do understand being the new kid. I need to talk to Mr. Jackson, is he around here today?
No, hes on surveillance with Buck right now. You can call him, though, Chris said its been pretty quiet out there today.
Thats all right, I dont want to bother him, it is a personal matter anyway. Thanks again, for all your help. Ezra shook Vins hand and left the conference room. As soon as he reached the hallway, he heard Eve laughing and watched with disbelieving eyes as Chris was spinning her around in his chair.
Mr. Larabee! You scolded Mr. Dunne for doing that same thing only a couple of weeks ago. I will not have you teaching my daughter bad habits!
The Larabee glare hit him squarely in the chest along with the rubber band Chris had stretched from the tip of his index finger. Eve laughed hysterically at the shocked expression on Ezras face as he stared at his team leader.
Reach for the sky you yellow bellied side winder! Chris drawled as he shot another rubber band into Ezras chest. By now, tears were rolling down Eves face and she was gasping for breath from laughter. JD stood in the door of the kitchen, shaking his head in response to the scene before him. Larabee had noticed the long face on the little girl and had come out of his office to cheer her up.
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Pouring himself another cup of coffee from the thermos, Buck stretched in the confined quarters before returning his gaze to the high-powered binoculars mounted on the dash in front of him. Nathan was using the digitally enhanced camera to watch and record the faces of everyone coming and going from the secure lot where the convoy trucks were parked.
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It took a few minutes for Eve to regain control of the spasms of laughter that kept spilling from her mouth every time she looked at her father. She quivered in delight at the rubber bands that Chris had snuck into her pocket with whispered instructions to take no prisoners. When they reached the car, Ezra pulled his cell phone and made a call.
Rain, this is Ezra Standish, do you have a minute? Great. No, everything is going well. I have her enrolled in school but I was wondering if you could recommend a good pediatrician for a young lady? Sure, that would help a lot. Thank you.
Whats a pediatrician?
A young persons doctor. Mrs. Jackson is going to call me with the name of a good pediatrician so I can have your medical records transferred from your previous doctor. How do you feel about lunch? I am beginning to feel the need to recharge my batteries.
Me too. All that laughing made me hungry. Chris said that hes having a barbeque at his ranch on Saturday. Can we go? He said we would be able to ride the horses and everything!
Of course we will go to Mr. Larabees ranch this weekend. I want you to get to know the people I work with so that you wont have to be uncomfortable with them in the future. I would appreciate it if you would use their proper names, in spite of what they tell you. As a young person, it shows respect for your elders, okay?
Her smile quickly fell. Yes, sir.
I wasnt scolding you, Eve. I just want you to know what I expect from you. If we dont tell each other these things then we will end up angry or upset and I dont want that to happen to us, understand? He reached out and hugged her to him for a moment receiving a hug from her in return.
They stopped at a Chinese restaurant not far from the condo for lunch while they waited for Rain to call back. Eve ordered confidently and spent the meal comparing the food to what Meg made. She explained how they had a menu for the whole month so they always knew when their favorite meals were being served.
Rain Jackson called back just as they were finishing their meals. She gave Ezra the name of a pediatrician and had set them an appointment for that afternoon. She informed him that she had only briefly explained the situation to the doctor so that she would understand why they needed to be seen so quickly.
Eve was watching him closely as he put the phone back into his pocket. She had a pout on her face and her arms folded across her chest.
That was Mrs. Jackson, she got you an appointment for this afternoon. Youll have a complete physical and she can send for your medical records. Did I say something to displease you?
I dont like doctors! Im not going!
And with that, she left the table and headed for the ladies room. When she didnt come out after several minutes, Ezra called Vin.
She says she doesnt like doctors and she went into the ladies room and hasnt come out. Do you have any pearls of wisdom to enlighten me as to how I might lure her out?
Vin remembered the many visits to the doctors and hospitals. He shuddered as he remembered being held down for shots he didnt need and exams he didnt want. There was the cast on his arm and the stitches and the time he got dehydrated after the flu because the foster mom wouldnt take off work to take him to the doctor.
Aw, hell, Ezra, even I dont like going to the doctor. I dont have any idea how to talk her out of there. Do you want me to come and talk to her?
No, thank you, Mr. Tanner. I should not be phoning you with every little problem. I am her father and I shall have to lay down the law.
But the undercover agent who would stare down the barrel of a 9mm and not flinch was terrified of confronting one, dark haired, green eyed little girl. Like a man facing a firing squad, he trudged to the door of the ladies room and knocked.
Eve, you have to come out, now. Please? We can talk about this. Come on out.
The door opened and she came out. Her eyes were red rimmed and swollen from crying. She took his outstretched hand and allowed him to lead her back to the car. He handed her his handkerchief and sat quietly while she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. Stretching out his arm, he stroked the back of her head.
Do you want to talk about whats bothering you?
No. I just dont like doctors.
Okay, thats fair. Vin doesnt like doctors either and Im not particularly fond about them myself. But if you get sick, a doctor needs to know what you look and act like when youre well so he has something to compare. Otherwise, how will he know if youre getting better?
Eve let go a huge sigh and nodded her head. She lifted her eyes to his and asked, Will you stay with me? You wont make me go by myself will you?
If you want me to stay, Ill stay. If you decide you would prefer for me to leave, Ill wait outside of the room. Whatever makes you happy.
She nodded her head. He decided to lighten her spirits by taking her to the mall to shop for some new clothes before the doctors appointment. He let her pick out several outfits for school. Her choice of clothing surprised and pleased him. She chose jeans and pullover shirts. She commented that Meg would not allow her to dress in some of the other styles they saw.
They arrived early for the appointment to fill out paperwork. Judge Travis assured him that his insurance would pick up her medical care and got him a temporary card. He gave the copy of the shot record to the woman who took the papers from him. Only a few minutes later, they were shown into an exam room. Eve clung to Ezra and shied away from the nurse when she tried to take her pulse. After gathering the information she needed, the nurse handed her a gown and told her to go behind the screen in the corner and put it on.
While the nurse was out of the room, Ezra listened for the sounds of clothing being removed. When all he heard was soft sniffles, he spoke softly.
Eve, are you all right? Are you getting into the gown like the nurse told you to do?
After a moment, he heard her begin to undress. Several moments passed and she didnt come out. Remembering his own dislike for hospital gowns, he removed his jacket and handed it over the screen.
How about wrapping this around you?
She took the jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders before leaving the shelter of the screen. Her eyes were filled with a deep fear and she watched the door as if she expected the devil himself to come thru at any time. Ezra lifted her to sit on the exam table and was mildly surprised when she wrapped her arms around his neck. He could feel her shaking.
The door opened and the grip on his neck tightened.
Hello, my name is Dr. McCrary. And one of you would be Miss Eve Simpson?
Ezra peeled his daughters arms from around his neck and shifted to stand beside her while retaining his grip around her waist.
Dr. McCrary was an older woman, not at all a threatening character. She had a gentle smile on her face as she moved away from the frightened child and sat on a rolling stool.
Lets just sit and talk for a little while shall we? I see here that you are from Memphis, I visited there once a long time ago.
The doctor talked nonstop, asking questions and sharing information as she moved closer to the exam table. By the time she was within reach of the child, Eve had warmed up and was able to let the doctor look into her mouth and ears. More talking and she was able to check her glands and reflexes. By the time the doctor got around to telling jokes, she had eased the jacket down and was completing the exam.
Okay, Eve why dont you go ahead and get dressed while I have a word with your father in my office. Well be back in just a minute.
The child tossed a meaningful glance at her father and received a confirming nod before she slipped from the table and moved behind the screen.
Once in the doctors office, Dr. McCrary turned suddenly.
She has been abused. Not recently, the scars are old, but there are definite signs of abuse. Ill need to get her records from her previous pediatrician and you would do well to contact her case worker and see what information you can get. She is current on her shots so we dont have to traumatize her today with more pain. As soon as I get her records, I will want to discuss them with you.
Ezra had paled as he considered what the doctor was saying. Someone had abused his daughter! He shook with rage, as he wondered why Mrs. Farmer hadnt told him. He would have some choice words for the woman when he spoke to her next.
After he collected his daughter, Ezra took her to Chriss ranch. He suddenly needed to feel safe and that was the one place he knew they would be safe. He didnt ask the questions that were slamming into his mind. He didnt feel that she was up to answering anything right now. He wanted to get her mind off of the afternoons events.
Where are we going? She was watching the landscape as they headed out of the city.
We are going to stop at Mr. Larabees ranch for a little while. I want to show you my horse. Perhaps we can even take a short ride.
By the time they arrived at the ranch, Ezra had calmed somewhat. He led Eve into the barn and introduced her to Chaucer. He saddled the horse and put his daughter in front of him on the saddle and took her for a ride. When the girl began to relax against his chest, he returned with her to the ranch and then home.
Once at the condo, he made supper for them and helped Eve put away her new clothes. After they ate, he sent her to take a shower while he unwound with the newspaper. When she came out in her pajamas, they curled up together on the couch and watched TV for a while before she fell asleep. He carried her to her bed and tucked her in.
As soon as he reached the first floor, he called Vin. By the time the Texan answered the phone he was nearly in tears. Tanner did not hesitate; he climbed into his jeep and headed for Ezras place. He ran nearly every light coming across town to get there.
Ezra opened the door almost before Vin knocked.
Mr. Tanner, I found out this afternoon that my daughter has been abused.
Vin reached out to comfort his friend. He couldnt begin to imagine how it would feel to find out that your child had been abused. It was bad enough to have been abused as a child; he couldnt help but have sympathy for Ezra. He could feel the rage pouring off of the man.
Control your emotions, Ezra. It will do her more harm than good to see you angry. She wont understand that it isnt her youre angry at. Talk to her, listen to her and let her know that she is safe and loved. When shes ready to talk, she will talk. Dont push her.
You know what shes going through, dont you? You talk as though youve been through all of this. How do you bear it?
I grew out of it. I had help. Nettie Wells helped me to stop trying to hurt myself. She put me on the right path. If you love her and support her, Eve will be all right.
After Vin left, Ezra showered and then spent a half hour standing in the door of Eves room watching her sleep. It was a long night for him.
The alarm went off at six in the morning and Ezra turned over to shut it off. He padded down the hall and knocked on Eves door. She opened her eyes and smiled at him.
Time to get up and start getting ready for school. Would you prefer eggs or waffles for breakfast this morning?
You know how to make waffles?
I was undercover in a fancy French restaurant once and I learned how to cook all kinds of food. So, waffles it is?
When Eve came down a little while later, she was dressed and had her shoes on. She had a backpack, which she hung on the back of her chair. She laid out the dishes and the silverware that Ezra had put on the table. When they finished breakfast, he put her hair up for her and then they sat down to watch the morning news for a few minutes before he drove her to the school. He gave her two dollars for her lunch and a card with his cell phone number on it.
If it gets to be too much, call me and Ill come get you, okay?
Thanks, dad. She gave him a sheepish smile.
I love you, kiddo. He said softly. He watched her until she was on the playground. A couple of little girls ran up to her and she went off with them toward the swings.
Arriving back at the condo, Ezra sat down and called the caseworker.
Mrs. Farmer, Ezra Standish, I have a couple of questions for you. Why didnt you tell me that Eve had been abused?
How did you find out about that? Eve hasnt spoken to anyone about what happened to her. She came into care with those injuries. One of her mothers boy friends beat her and tied her to a radiator to keep her out of the way. Emily admitted to it when she was sent to jail for the year. We were never able to get Eve to talk about it.
Why didnt you tell me? The doctor got it right away. I need her medical records and any other information you can give me about her. Id also like any information you have about Emily. Anything you can tell me about her and her family.
I didnt tell you because I hadnt really thought about it. Eve wasnt one of my problem cases and I hate to admit it but I just didnt put too much time on her case until her mother was dying. The Crawfords were taking excellent care of her and I had other kids that needed my time more than your daughter. There isnt a lot in the file about Emily. She ran away from home and returned four years later with a toddler, according to her friends. She hit a rough crowd and began selling drugs and her body to support her habit and her baby. We had twelve abuse hotlines on Eve before we were able to take her into care.
Twelve! It took twelve hotlines for you to do something?
Mr. Standish, please understand, we try not to remove children from their home unless they are in imminent danger. Emilys problem was lack of housing and lack of employment; none of the abuse charges could be substantiated. We could not remove Eve from the home.
Hearing the slow, deep breaths on the other end of the line, Caroline softened.
Im sorry that you had to find out like that. I will copy the file and get her medical records and send them to you as soon as possible. How is Eve? Is she adjusting well?
Shes fine. Shes at school. The first night she came into my room and curled up in the chair in the corner but she slept in her bed all night last night. She seems shy around new people. I took her horseback riding yesterday after the doctor, to take her mind off of things. She seemed to enjoy it. Shes been eating well.
Thats good to hear. She deserves to be happy. Mrs. Crawford would like her to call, they really miss her.
Ill have her call when she gets home from school. Will you send me the names of Emilys friends, anyone that I can talk to about her? I want to find out who sent the cassette tape to me after she died.
Ill do that. Tell Eve that I wish her all the best.