A Different Sort of Christmas Carol
by Beth Green
Author's Notes: This little tale was written in response to a request for Ezra owies for Christmas.
Ezra groaned and immediately realized that he'd made a mistake. Whereas half-asleep, his headache had been an annoying throb of discomfort behind his eyes, the groan served to intensify both his level of alertness and awareness of the pain. Beneath closed eyelids, he was able to detect an increase in the room's light. That, coupled with the footsteps padding toward him, informed him that his tormentor had returned.
The hated voice of Buck, oozing concern, asked, "Ezra, you okay?"
Ezra threw an arm across his eyes to block out the light's assault upon his senses. He reflected that it was a pity that he could not do the same to his ears.
The voice prodded, "Ezra, you hear me?"
Ezra muttered a curse word then answered, "Unfortunately, yes."
"I thought I heard something, like maybe you were in pain."
Ezra deemed that comment worth the effort of opening his eyes to glare at his torturer. "Let me see: earlier today I was pummeled into unconsciousness. The subsequent trip to the Emergency Room revealed that I had sustained a concussion injury to my brain. To add to my misery, I was not permitted to go home unless I agreed to allow you to accompany me to my abode and allow you to act the role of nursemaid. A role, I must point out, for which you are particularly miscast. The combination of that sequence of events is enough to cause pain to even an insensate individual."
Buck sighed. "I guess that means the answer to my question is 'Yes'."
Ezra closed his eyes, his twisted features revealing his discomfort. He admitted, "I have forgotten what the question was."
Buck patted Ezra's shoulder, offering what little comfort he could. "That's okay. I gotta agree, I'd rather have that cute little nurse from the Emergency Room providing private duty service than the likes 'a me, but me is all you've got. It's been almost six hours since your last dose of Extra-Strength Tylenol. I've got the bottle and some water sitting right here at the bedside."
Ezra listened as Buck bustled around his nightstand. A minute later, Buck stated, "Ezra, you need to sit up so you can take these."
Ezra lay still a moment, debating whether the slight decrease in pain that would result from taking the mild medication was worth the effort of sitting up. He rubbed his hand gently across his aching head and decided that the answer was 'Yes.' Once he'd managed to lever himself to a sitting position, Ezra grabbed the water thoughtfully provided by Buck and held out his hand to receive the pills.
After he had watched Ezra swallow the pills and set down the water glass, Buck deemed that it was necessary to further annoy his injured teammate, or so it seemed to Ezra. "Hey, Ezra, it's been over an hour since we did the concussion drill. I gotta ask you some questions. Aw Hell, I've already told you who you are. That's okay, I got another question I can ask to find out if you're oriented to person. Do you know who I am?"
Deciding that he was indeed in Hell, Ezra replied, "You are the Son of Satan."
Buck was momentarily taken aback. His voice reflecting his uncertainty, he declared, "Okay, I guess I'll just give you the benefit of the doubt regarding the orientation to person. Let's move on. Do you know where you are?"
Ezra leaned back into his pillow, silently admitting defeat. It was obvious that Buck was not going to go away. The sooner he answered the man's questions regarding orientation to place and time, the sooner the injured man would be left in peace. "I'm in my room and it's still Saturday. And I'm asleep and when I wake up I will discover that this has all been some horrible nightmare."
Ezra's eyes remained closed, so he was unable to see the look of pity Buck cast his way. The mustached man simply replied, "If you need anything, just holler. I'll be in the other room. Otherwise, I'll see you in an hour." Buck left, closing the door behind him.
Ezra let a small moan escape. While he waited for the Tylenol to take the edge off of his pain, he thought back on the events that had led to the current sorry state of affairs.
+ + + + + + +
Friday morning, Ezra was perturbed to find that his beloved Jaguar had developed a problem: the vehicle was malfunctioning to the point that the engine wanted to quit running at every stop sign and stop light. The problem was compounded by the fact that Team Seven's schedule for the day did not allow for a visit to Ezra's mechanic.
That evening, as the team members were writing up their reports of the day's tasks, Ezra shared his problem. "Gentlemen. In the haste and frenzy of today's activities, I did not have the opportunity to visit my mechanic."
It was Friday night and JD was anxious to leave, so he encouraged Ezra. "And this is a problem because . . ."
"Because I must drop my car at my mechanic's garage tomorrow, and I will be left with no other form of transportation."
Buck cheerfully suggested, "Hey Ezra, there's this place called 'Hertz' and they've got a whole lot full of cars. They let you pick one and rent it for as long as you need to."
Ezra shook his head. "I only have need of transportation to the local mall. After I described the problem to him, my mechanic stated that he is fairly certain that he knows what ailment has befallen my Jaguar. He believes that it will take less than a day to complete the necessary work."
Vin mumbled, "I sure hope you didn't pull my name for the gift exchange."
Ezra frowned. The Seven had agreed to a Secret Santa gift exchange this year. In order that they have an even number of participants, Nathan's significant other, Rain, happily agreed to her name being added into the mix. The only thing they had trouble agreeing on was the dollar limit. After a bit of discussion, all agreed that the minimum dollar amount should be set at fifty dollars. An impartial bystander, JD's friend Casey volunteered to help with the organization. It was Casey who went around and had everyone anonymously pull names out of a hat. More importantly, she prodded the participants to provide her with a list of gift suggestions that they themselves would like to receive, should the gift giver be at a loss as to what to spend their money on. The gift exchange and party were to take place at Chris' ranch this Sunday.
Ezra defended himself. "With the recent increase in criminal activity requiring our expertise, I am certain that I am not the only person in this room who has yet to purchase a gift for the exchange."
Chris stated, "Got my shopping done the first day."
Nathan reported, "Me, too."
Buck added, "Me and JD got ours done."
Vin stated, "Don't like to shop. Got it over and done with as soon as I could."
Josiah, the last to speak, replied, "I agree that we have been exceptionally busy lately. And I understand if someone hasn't had the time to purchase a gift or two. However, I got my gift shopping done yesterday. Ezra, it looks like you're on your own."
Buck was starting to feel sorry for Ezra. Personally, Christmas was Buck's favorite time of the year. He loved the lights, the music, and the general air of happiness that pervaded everything and everyone. Buck got as much enjoyment out of giving gifts as he did receiving them. Therefore, he decided to take pity on Ezra and offered the gift of his time. "It just so happens I'm not doing anything tomorrow. If you want, I'll play chauffeur for you."
Ezra was dumbstruck by the unexpected gesture of kindness. He'd been silently working on developing a suitably Scrooge-like attitude toward the holiday season. Buck's offer had abruptly put an end to that line of thought. It took him a minute to respond, especially in light of the fact that he had drawn Buck's name and did not want the mustached man to have his fun spoiled by inadvertently discovering his gifts.
As if Buck had been reading his thoughts, the man added, "Just in case you happened to draw my name, I'll hang out at one end of the mall while you're visiting the other. You can just buzz me on my cell phone whenever you finish up. Deal?"
Ezra could think of no reason to refuse. He smiled. "Deal."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra held firm to the belief that weekends were for sleeping in. Therefore, he'd arranged to meet with his mechanic at noon on Saturday. When Buck arrived to follow him to the garage, he did not come alone.
JD waved from the cab of Buck's truck. "Morning, Ezra. I thought of something that I wanted to get for Casey, and Buck invited me to tag along with you guys today. That way, I can keep Buck company while you're buying my gift for the Secret Santa exchange."
Ezra raised an eyebrow in question. "What makes you think that I drew your name?"
JD shrugged. "I'm just saying. Oh, and I wanted to remind you that the minimum amount we can spend is fifty dollars. If you want to spend more than that, then go right ahead."
Ezra grimaced. "Thank you for that reminder."
JD chose not to take Ezra's words for the sarcasm that he'd intended. The younger man responded with a smile and a "You're welcome."
Ezra sighed. It was going to be a long day, and it had only just begun.
The drive to the garage took longer than it should have, as Ezra's car stalled more than once. He was thankful that Buck and JD were following behind him. That way, the impatient drivers who couldn't wait while he restarted his vehicle were behind Buck and JD rather than himself.
Buck did not let the mean-spirited drivers affect his good mood. For every honk and rude gesture tossed his way, he responded with a smile and a wave. JD responded by waving his ATF badge, so any cases of road rage were cut off before they could escalate into something unpleasant.
+ + + + + + +
All three men were relieved when they piled out of Buck's truck in front of the mall. Ezra was pleased that his mechanic's garage was closer to the Fair Tree Mall rather than the city's other, larger mall, the 16th Street Mall. The 16th Street Mall was located near the offices of the ATF, and undoubtedly where the other members of Team Seven did their shopping. The Fair Tree Mall was newer, and catered to the upper class residents of the Fair Tree Estates subdivision. The Fair Tree Mall was built on three different levels.
Ezra announced, "The establishments that I wish to visit are all located on the second level of the mall. Therefore, if you will confine your wanderings to either the first or third levels, then I need not worry regarding your discovering anything in regards to my purchases."
Buck was reading over the Mall's directory. He pointed out the slight flaw in Ezra's plan. "Ah, Ezra, you plannin' on havin' your stuff gift-wrapped before you leave here?"
Ezra nodded. "Certainly."
Buck used his finger to underline the item that he we looking at. "It says here that the gift-wrapping service is located on the first floor."
Ezra tapped a foot impatiently. "Very well. I will contact you via my cell phone when I depart the second floor."
Buck smiled. "Well, alright then. Sounds like a plan. On your mark, get set, shop!"
Ezra set off, a man on a mission. He had been pleasantly surprised when he had contacted Casey regarding Buck's gift wish-list. Ezra had visions of crude coasters and neon signs proclaiming "Buck's Pleasure Palace" on his list of possibilities. Much to his surprise, in addition to the expected items of the Pull My Finger Santa Doll and the Glycerine Soap Boobs, Buck had included a pendulum clock on his gift wish list. Ezra had done an online search prior to setting out on his shopping expedition, and he was pleased to find that the requested item was available at the All Things Remembered store. Even better, Ezra discovered that the item was on sale. He was able to have a message engraved and still came out slightly under the fifty dollar limit.
Although there was no way that anyone would be aware of the fact that Ezra had spent less than fifty dollars, he decided that the fact that he knew how much he'd spent was reason enough to stop at one additional store. He sighed. His mother would never understand nor condone his desire to spend more money when it was not strictly necessary to do so. He strolled slowly past the stores, considering what else he might purchase. He smiled when he came to Katy's Chocolates. The smell alone was enough to draw him in.
In addition to selling candy, Katy's served both coffee and hot chocolate. Ezra immediately purchased a coffee, then spent his time looking over the collection of chocolates.
A helpful clerk offered her assistance. "Sir, if you like, you can make up your own assortment."
Ezra's returned the woman's friendly smile. "Thank you. I believe that I will. I would like a dozen chocolates." He pointed out one item after another.
Finally, the comely clerk announced, "Two more to go."
Ezra pointed to the chocolate-covered pecan and caramel confections with a small label indicating that they were Dove-brand chocolates. His mouth watered at the remembered taste. "I'll have two of those turtles, please."
The clerk asked, "Would you like those in a gift box?"
"Yes, please." Ezra thanked the woman for her assistance, and happily went on his way. He was so busy congratulated himself on the completion of his mission that he nearly missed seeing an all-too-familiar figure arrive on the second level of the mall. He stopped short, ignoring another individual who nearly collided with him due to the abruptness of his action. He could feel himself pale as he mentally confirmed the identity of the first man. "Oh. My. God." Ezra ducked into the shelter of a nearby store and pulled out his cell phone.
Thankfully, Buck picked up on the first ring. "Hey, Ezra, done already?"
Ezra kept his voice low. He extended his free hand over his face in an attempt to hide his features from the man he'd seen, should the fellow make the appalling decision to enter this particular store. "Mr. Wilmington. Buck. I need help."
Buck grew serious in response to the tone of Ezra's voice. "What's wrong?"
"I just saw the last person I would have expected to see at this particular mall: Reginald Partridge."
Buck clarified, "You mean that big, dumb ape who thinks you stole his girl?"
Ezra hissed, "How many other Reginald Partridges do you know?"
Buck asked, "Do you think he meant it when he said he was gonna kill you?"
"I have no desire to find out. That being said, I would prefer that you join me at my present location sooner rather than later."
"Okay. Where are you, exactly?"
"Lord and Taylor's."
Buck snorted. "Figures."
Ezra bristled at the insulting tone of voice. "If there were a Wal*Mart store at this particular mall, I have no doubt I would find you browsing the clothing section. I will give you directions as to my current location, as I am certain that you have no idea of the Lord and Taylor store's location."
Buck corrected Ezra's misapprehension. "As a matter of fact, I know exactly where the store is. I picked up one of the store directory handouts when we first walked in the mall." Buck was glad that Ezra could not see him as he held the handout under JD's nose and mouthed the words, 'Find Lord and Taylor' to his friend. Aloud, he said, "JD, Ezra might find himself in a bit of trouble in a minute or two. We need to join him at Lord and Taylor's."
Buck was too busy dividing his attention between JD and Ezra to watch where he was going. That was why he ran into a human brick wall. He literally bounced off the obstruction and would have fallen had JD not moved to support him. The man he'd run into began to curse. At least, that's what Buck assumed the fellow was doing, because the words weren't in English. The man had two friends with him, equally large. They began a furious exchange of French.
Buck offered a "Sorry" and attempted to walk around the human roadblock. A large, beefy hand on his chest stopped him. The man Buck had assaulted seemed to be asking him a question, and not politely.
While he was doing so, Ezra's voice came through on the cell phone, sounding increasingly frantic. "Mr. Wilmington? Buck? Buck? Where are you? What's happening?"
JD grabbed the phone. "We got ourselves a little diplomatic crisis here. Buck's got three French guys ready to take his head off. How do you say 'I'm sorry' in French?"
Ezra winced as Buck's "Mea culpa" drifted into his ear. Ezra yelled into the phone: "Buck! Repeat after me!" Ezra proceeded to spout a stream of French that Buck repeated. Ezra made sure that Buck conveyed the fact that he was an idiot. Although the mustached man mangled the pronunciation, the gist of the message came through, and the irate Frenchman backed down. His two friends went so far as to laugh, while their angry friend stated, "Vraiment." Buck didn't care what they said, as long as they let him pass without starting World War III. He took the phone back from JD. "Hey, Ezra, what exactly did I just say?"
Ezra smiled. "Do you really want to know?"
Buck, knowing Ezra, simply replied, "No, I don't believe I do. Leastways, not if you want me to protect you from the likes of Reginald Partridge."
Although intent on his rescue mission, Buck took the time to admire the four lovely ladies on the escalator in front of JD and himself. Buck couldn't help but overhear their conversation as they disembarked. They pointed toward the Lord and Taylor store.
"Look, over there. See that guy?"
"The one with the dark hair."
"You know who he looks like?"
"No! It isn't! It can't be! Tracy Byrd? He of the gorgeous bod and voice? Mr. 'Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo'? The Watermelon Crawl? Lifestyles of the Not-so-Rich and Famous?"
"Oh my God! It is him!"
Buck did not realize it, but he'd been watching a disaster in the making. The dark-haired man in question entered the Lord and Taylor store when Reginald Partridge happened to be heading in the same direction. The four girls, who until then had been standing still, suddenly took off at a pace that would do a sprinter proud, shouting at the top of their lungs, "Mr. Byrd! Mr. Byrd!"
The alleged Mr. Byrd passed Ezra's hiding place at the same time as the girls arrived. The dark-haired stranger smiled at their antics and shook his head. "Well, ladies, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm just plain old Bob Smith."
With the scene that they'd just made, all eyes were upon that particular area of the store; including, unfortunately, those belonging to Mr. Reginald Partridge. Buck and JD ran toward the scene.
A crowd had quickly gathered, leaving Ezra no means of escape. He cringed as the imposing form of Reginald Partridge approached. His nemesis stated, "Standish, you're a dead man."
Ezra began to raise his hands as he assumed a defensive position. The next events seemed to happen in slow motion. Ezra's eyes widened as the huge, beefy fist of Mr. Partridge headed toward his face. He was able to duck at the last second, so that instead of destroying his face, the fist impacted the side of his head. A moment before contact, Ezra noted that the man wore an excessive amount of jewelry, including five rings on his fingers.
It seemed as if no time passed, but obviously it did. Ezra did not remember the fist connecting with his head, nor the boneless manner in which he'd immediately slumped to the floor. He was not aware of Buck and JD restraining Mr. Partridge, nor of the fact that they'd quickly been assisted by the mall's security force.
The next thing he'd been aware of was Buck hovering anxiously above him. The concerned man tapped gently at Ezra's face. "Ezra? Ezra? You okay? Come on, time to get up."
Ezra blinked. Hm. That was odd. It was bad enough when there was only one of Buck. Seeing two images of the same face was rather disturbing. The injured man turned his head to investigate a commotion off to the side. He watched as mall security escorted Mr. Partridge out of the store. Ezra's eyes were drawn to the man's be-ringed hands. He began to laugh.
Buck worried over his friend. "Ezra, can you tell me your name?"
Ezra laughed again. "Five. Five."
Buck's concern grew. "No, you're Ezra. Do you know who I am?"
Ezra laughed. "Yes. No. You don't understand. This is hilarious." Ezra continued, while Buck assisted him to a sitting position. "Uproarious. Absolutely hysterical."
Buck spoke slowly and clearly, as if to a child. "What are you talking about?"
Ezra laughed, then raised a hand to his aching head. He frowned at the wetness he felt. When he drew his hand back, he was not surprised to find that it was bloody. He frowned. "Ow." He laughed again.
Buck said, "You think you can stand? Or do we need to get you an ambulance?"
Ezra tried to settle down so that Buck would not be under the impression that he was completely out of his mind. He attempted to explain. "Oh, the irony. It must be Christmas. Why else would there be five golden rings? Four calling 'Byrd'? Three French men? Two turtle Doves? And a Partridge in the Fair Tree?"
Buck might've laughed, too, had Ezra not passed out at the end of his confused explanation. One ambulance ride and hospital visit later, Ezra found himself in the comfort of his own home. Well, as comfortable as he could get with a concussion and five stitches to his lacerated scalp; which actually wasn't very comfortable at all. Ezra grimaced as a new need made itself known. He dragged himself out of bed. That simple movement alerted his caregiver.
Buck stood nearby, ready to lend a hand. "Somethin' I can help you with?"
Ezra pointed vaguely in the direction that he wanted to go as he mumbled, "Bathroom."
Buck supported Ezra as he slowly shuffled along, astutely deducing, "Floor won't stay still, eh?"
Ezra almost nodded in response when his head reminded him that a verbal reply would be better. "Yes."
Buck patiently waited just outside the door while Ezra finished his business then escorted him back to bed. Ezra was too tired to pull the covers back over himself. He was grateful almost to the point of tears when Buck tenderly pulled them up for him. He sighed as the room darkened once again when Buck left.
Ezra reflected that he was very glad that he had pulled Buck's name. The inscription on his gift was more appropriate now than ever. It simply declared, 'Buck Wilmington - A Good Friend.'