The disclaimer is and always will be I dont own em and never made a plug nickel off em. Wish I did. This is a series of stories where Ezras a child and the remaining seven are adults. This here is a takes place after my story Secrets I thank Wyvern for allowing me to play in this sand box. This aint betaed. All the mistakes are mine and mine alone. There are references to my series Journey to Four Corners. If you havent read them parts of this story might be confusing. 4/22/02
The sun had barely cleared the trees, a solitary horse plodded down the well-worn trail. Chris Larabee glanced back and smiled. The boy that sat in the saddle behind him, the childs slight arms were loosely wrapped around the older mans waist as he gazed blearily at the passing scenery. It was just too early for the boy, but then again anytime before noon was too early for Ezra. Even the small amount of diluted coffee the boy insisted on drinking with this breakfast failed to perk him up. The youngster had just idly picked at the meal until it was time to leave for town. Although the boy wasnt normally big on food at such an earlier hour there was something else amiss that Chris just couldnt put a finger on. The older man had every intention of finding out what it was as soon as he finished attending to his business in town.
Sitting in the warmth of the early morning sun Ezra shifted in his seat in a futile effort to relieve the growing discomfort in his lower leg. His nervous restlessness didnt go unnoticed. Standing just inside the open door of the sheriffs office Chris had seen the boy shifting around in the hard backed bench on the boardwalk outside while Ezra waited for him to finish speaking with Dunne about the upcoming prisoner transfer. Larabee turned away for a moment looking through some wires sent by the Judge unaware the boy had slipped away.
The black clad gunslinger stepped out onto the boardwalk expecting to see his young charge but all he found was a vacant bench. Squinting he looked down the boardwalk as the townsfolk went about their daily routine. Ezra was nowhere in sight.
The child had been acting down right particular since they arrival this morning now he had up and disappeared.
JD, I need you to keep an eye out for Ezra The younger man was confused at first but quickly realized the boy wasnt sitting outside where Chris had left him moments earlier. Sure Chris The words no sooner left Dunnes mouth and Larabee was jogging off in the direction of the livery.
An hour had passed by. A quick sweep of the town revealed little. Only confirming the fact Ezra was indeed gone. What worried Larabee the most was that the boy hadnt taken a thing with him, his belonging in their boarding house room were untouched. He was momentarily distracted from the troublesome thoughts when he saw Sanchez ride in from patrol and shouted out to him.
The big man changed direction and guided his horse towards the agitated gunslinger.
Brother whats wrong?
About an hour ago
I saw him walking towards the church when I left
Soft white clouds floated through the blue-sky overhead and Ezra could a hawk soaring in the distance sorely regretting wandering off. Tired he looked around for a relatively clean place to sit having to settle for resting upon a fallen tree trunk. Sucking in a shaky sigh the despondent child slumped against the rough bark, taking a small measure of comfort created by basking under the warm spring sun. He was hopelessly lost.
The day had started off like any other but it wasnt, today Ezra P. Standish turned twelve, he hadnt expected much, he had hoped for a word from his mother. A short note or wire would have sufficed. Long ago he had given up the fantasy that she would return to help celebrate the day of his birth. His guardian Mr. Larabee, who insisted on being called Chris, didnt know the importance of this particular day and Ezra wasnt about to enlighten him either. Or at least that had been his intention this morning despite several inquiries from the older man asking what was troubling him. Thats why he had left his seat in front of the jail rapt in his own thoughts. He hadnt paid close attention to where exactly it was he was going. The boy just wanted to get away trying desperately not to remember past disappointments.
He closed his eyes and ran his fingers through the new grass. Maude would shutter if she knew, he was never allowed to get dirty. Well-groomed and tidy at all times anything less was not tolerated.
His mother hadnt seen him unkempt or filthy, because she hadnt been anywhere near during those times.
The vividly painful memories flashed through his mind of the filth and squalor he endured while in the care of Matthias Stiles. It wasnt like Maude knew what had transpired on his uncles farm. At least it was easier for him to believe that.
The latter half of the year that had passed since his eleventh birthday had been a tumultuous one. Without the intervention of Ole Hattie, Ezra would not have survived his stay with Uncle Matthias.
A shiver went up his spine. The man was still out there and still was wrecking havoc in the boys dreams.
He had only hazy recollection of what the old black woman looked like, his strongest memories were the soothing tone of her voice and an all encompassing feeling of comfort, a first in his short life, while she tended him.
Mrs. Petersens kindness confused him. Ezra could only go by what the Mrs. Reilly told him. A woman he barely knew had traveled a long way to rescue him at the request of Ole Hattie, even tried cornering his mother trying to get her help. The restaurant owners efforts failed to produce his mother but they had propelled Maude into making arrangement to recoup at his cousins home. On Mrs. Standishs word alone she hauled him across the countryside. Delivering him safely into the waiting arms of the Reilly clan.
The youngster smiled. The love and compassion of the Reillys had baffled him at first. But after spending summer on their farm healing he had started to get comfortable with the gregarious family and it wasnt long before Maude sent for him again. Ezra was waylaid in route by tragic stagecoach accident.
The brief encounter he had with the late Mr. Bean and trek he had made to Calistoga had left a lasting impression on the boy. Reinforcing that no matter how kind and good-hearted people were he was still alone in the world. Despite Mr. Larabees kind reassurances there was one constant in the youngsters life he never stayed anywhere more than a few months.
A stifled sob escaped as a stray tear ran down his cheek.
That time was up and he waited to be called or sent away.
Five months had passed since his disastrous first day in Four Corners when he broke his leg after he stole Bucks horse and Chris money. Ezra thought for sure hed be sent packing once again. Instead six tough men made room for him in their lives for reasons the boy still couldnt quite fathom. Most days he could mask his insecurities but today it had been impossible and he could no longer divert Mr. Larabees attention.
The trail the boy had left behind had been easy enough for Chris to track but made him all the more concerned. The childs path meandered on and off the old dirt road heading away from town and other homesteads.
Larabee urged his mount forward following the signs Ezra had unknowingly left behind.
The dull ache in his lower leg hadnt eased at all causing Ezra to shift in his seat again. Trying to distract himself as he sat against the log he hummed the small ditty. It would be far easier to explain the complexities of the universe than to explain his reason why he found comfort in the silly tune. None of that really mattered since no one was in earshot to hear. The boy frowned and wondered if Chris would come looking for him, as he had before or had he gone too far this time remembering his promise not to run. Ezra shivered a little in the cool spring air as the sun disappeared behind the darkening clouds wishing he had dressed a little warmer as a light rain began to fall.
The storm had moved in quickly. The skies had quickly blackened and a hard cold rain fell down. Amidst the rugged hills and barren trees a solitary horse plodded down the muddy incline, its rider occasionally shouted out a name.
Wiping the excess water from his face Chris searched the hillside looking for the boy. He had gone past the point where he could turn back to town for help and he was afraid. Spurring his horse forward he called out again.
Larabee would have missing the child if a flash of lightning hadnt revealed a small form tightly huddled against the fallen tree. The boy was soaked to the skin and almost rigid staring wordlessly in his direction as the gunslinger slid from his saddle grabbing the bedroll. When Chris headed straight to him Ezra didnt move a muscle when he was asked. You okay?
It took a moment but the boy slowly nodded barely acknowledging the older man as he shook out the blankets gently wrapping them around Ezras shoulders before picking him up and carried him back to the horse. After placing the child into the saddle Chris maintained a steadying grip on Ezra as he swung up behind the boy and maneuvered his horse back up the incline.
For most of the trip the youngster sat rigid in front of Larabee, almost as if he was afraid to move and with the weather steadily worsening the older man made a decision not to return to town. Instead Chris headed towards some place closer the homestead had been abandoned some years ago but it would make an adequate shelter until the storm passed. Ezra shifted slightly against him as they passed a section of collapsed fencing as the approached the small well-weathered house.
Lets get ya out of the rain The older man spoke as he lifted the sodden child off the horse setting him down on the muddy ground. With a steadying hand Chris led Ezra through the partial open door only to leave the boy standing in the center of the room with a quiet order. Stay here Before he disappeared into rain.
The young southerner stared after him looking out into the rain for a moment then he turned away and began to search the compact domicile with a keen eye. A sudden chill shuttered through his small frame as he tugged the damp blankets closer trying to maintain what little warmth he had left. Knowing full well that he had brought this on himself and tried hard not to wonder how Mr. Larabee was going to handle this transgression.
A weary Ezra wandered around the room. He had thought the abandoned building would be completely bare. Instead an odd collection of furniture filled the room, old tintype photographs still graced the mantel. Fine bone china and cutlery had been placed with care on the linen cloth atop the kitchen table with care waiting for the next meal. It almost appeared that who ever had lived there just stepped out and would be back any moment. The thick layer of dust ruined that illusion as youngster peered into the only other room in the small home.
After quickly tending to his mount Chris trotted back to the house carrying his saddlebag as he cleared the threshold to find himself alone in the room.
After searching in the dim light he saw what he was looking for in the bedroom curled up fast asleep looking pathetically small in the middle of the bare mattress. Chris quietly trod across the floor and lightly shook a thin shoulder. When he didnt get a response he reached down and carefully plucked off the boys shoes and wet socks. Left to silently to wonder what exactly had gone wrong earlier that day the older man exchanged the boys soaked clothing with much larger drier versions of his own. An exhausted Ezra never stirred during these gentle ministrations.
A small oil lamp lit the room as Chris crouched in front of the potbelly stove stoking up the fire that burned with in its cast iron form. Thankfully once he had gotten the flue cleared the stove had readily warmed the room. It was well past midnight and he was tired after spending several long hours trying to get the boy warm. Goddamn the little southerner had given him quite the fright by wandering off like he had.
What had gotten it the boy?
That was in Chris mind when he felt like he was being watched and turned to see a pair of green eyes staring at him from the bed. He smiled at the boy trying to convey some small measure of reassurance.
Hey feeling better? The eyes blinked and continued to watch him but Ezra didnt say a word as Larabee rose from his task instead he slowly nodded. The stoic man crossed the short distance to the bed to sit by the boys side and gently placed a cool hand on the childs warm skin. What happened today?
The quiet had woken Ezra and he lay there with his eyes closed, normally there was some kind of noise when he was sleeping if he was in town it was rowdy cowboys out after a long night of drinking. At the Larabee ranch it was either livestock or wild animals that filled with the night air. All he heard in the out in the dark was occasional creak of floorboards as a pair of boots walked over them.
No longer sure where exactly he was, Ezra snapped open his eyes and a combination of dread and relief overcame him as he saw a familiar form tending the fire turn and ask him a question. The first was easy enough to answer but the twelve year old was at a loss on how to respond to the second. Without him intending to the truth slipped out.
Nothing. The single word was so quiet Chris almost missed it as he watched the distress in the boys eyes.
So you just decided to take a walk and got lost? The older man prodded on. Something was bothering you all morning
I didnt run off Ezra wearily defended himself even as he fought against the sleep that was pulling at him.
Never said you did eleven year-olds arent supposed to know everything maybe it something I can help with? Chris tried to reassure the boy.
Twelve The youngster corrected Larabee.
When did you turn twelve? A sudden realization sank in.
Yesterday The tired whisper revealed the source of Ezras pain.
You shouldve said something Chris reached out and brushed a stray lock of hair off of the childs forehead.
It didnt matter the syllables were slightly slurred as sleep finally overtook the exhausted boy as a stunned Chris Larabee sat by his side.
Not many words were exchanged in morning during the trip back to town. Ezra rode in the saddle behind Mr. Larabee as he had the day before. The ache in his leg didnt even come close to matching the pain that had settled in his heart. He sat mutely behind the man in black afraid to speak for fear the tears would begin to flow. There were subtle signs that man was angry, the clenched jaw, the way the skin around his eyes wrinkled and the boy could feel tension in Chriss back muscles as he held on to him. They were miles from town. He didnt want to do anything else to anger Mr. Larabee further and risk be left behind.
As he guided his horse along the well-worn trail back to town, Larabee did his best to keep his temper in check and it wasnt working all that well because the boy scared. Some one else would have put the boys silence to the early hour but Chris knew better as the youngster sat stiffly behind him terrified. For what the child had nothing wrong, it had been Ezras birthday. No wonder he had been upset. Why hadnt he asked when it was? Better yet why hadnt the boys mother written, sent a message, something to wish the boy well after he was just a child who needed someone to celebrate the day of his birth. Chris would remedy that as soon as they got to town.
It was still early in the morning when there was a knock at the clinics door before it slowly opened. Nate looked up from the bandages he was folding to see Larabee walk in carrying the boy.
The leg is bothering him and he spent a good part of yesterday in the rain. Chris huffed out as he carefully set Ezra on the clinics bed and stepped back so that the healer could take a good look at the youngster. The pale pinched face spoke volumes. As soon as Chris pulled the boy off the horse and set him on the ground by the livery he had noticed Ezra was trying not to put weight on the aching limb.
Ezra Im gonna have to take yer shoe off Nate waited for the slight nod before he removed the boys foot-ware and began to gently probe the old injury.
A quick gasp slipped out before Ezra could stop it. The shame washed over him and he immediately dropped his gaze to the floor. All he could do was sit there, feeling worthless. He silently cursed for forgetting all his training and took deep breath and steadied himself before looking back up at Nathan.
More than a bit Jackson lightly grasped the boys chin and looked into the pained green eyes before resting an open palm on Ezras forehead. Youre a mite warm too Nate smiled, patted the child lightly on the shoulder and continued to the youngster over.
He over did it, that leg of his is gonna give him trouble for a while. Needs to stay off it for the next couple days If he gets a fever bring him back. Chris nodded as he tucked the shoe in his coat pocket and picked up the boy.
I will Nate.
Chris thanked the healer again before carrying Ezra out the door speaking quietly to the tired boy as they descended the stairs.
Would you like a hot bath or breakfast first? He whispered in the boys ear.
A bath The little southerner was confused by Chris behavior but managed to answer the older mans question.
A bath it is
The water nearly reached his chin as he lay in the tub soaking. It felt good to be clean. The ache in his lower leg was subsiding as the heat loosened up stiff muscles. Mr. Larabee had paid the money for the bath and left Ezra. But only after the boy had peeled off his filthy garments and climbed into the sudsy water. The older man picked up the soiled clothing and told that he would return with some clean clothes. This confused Ezra because as angry as Chris had been earlier he had been nothing but kind since they arrived in town and now the youngster wasnt sure what to expect.
The hinge creaked as the bathhouse door opened, Larabee stepped through with neatly folded clothing in one hand and a clean pair of shoes in the other. As Ezra watched Chris, the boys stomach grumbled loudly.
I guess that means breakfast is next? The tough gunslingers face softened as he smiled at Ezra. Ill leave these here, you get dressed and well get some food.
Larabee placed the items on a nearby chair and left him to dress.
Limping slightly a neatly attired and well-groomed Ezra stepped out of the bathhouse to find Mr. Larabee waiting for him. He cringed back as Chris went to pick him up. The man immediately stopped and crouched down in front of him. Looking him in the eye as he spoke.
Im quite capable of walking Mr. Larabee.
Uh huh thats not what Nate said Chris quietly laughed as Ezra flushed red. He took full advantage of the opportunity and hoisted the lad up allowing the boy to grasp his arms tightly around his neck. The embarrassed child had hid his face in the front of Larabees shirt even before the two of them headed off on the boardwalk towards the restaurant.
Everyone in the room looked in their direction as Chris carried a completely humiliated Ezra into the restaurant.
Hey Im gonna set you down
The normally stoic man smiled at the impromptu gathering of his friends waiting at a table for them, the five grown men were grinning like fools. For the first time in a long time Chris realized he had been blessed the moment the little southerner first stepped off the stage in town. The previous day had been miserable for Ezra so while the youngster has been busy bathing Larabee had quickly explained to the others what had happened the day before and why and the men quickly came up with a plan to remedy what truly ailed the boy.
These tough men couldnt help but laugh at the stunned look on the twelve year olds face when he was finally seated in a chair saw them and the hastily wrapped gifts at the table. Ezra was wide-eyed and speechless when Chris whispered in his ear.
I know its a day late but Happy Birthday Ezra A quiet round of Happy Birthday barraged the boy as he sat there. The full meaning behind the soft words sank in. He finally understood the magnitude of the gift he had been given five months earlier when he had been offered a place in Mr. Larabees home and having five additional foster fathers and big brothers welcome him into their lives as well.
Thank you Two quiet words were all he could manage to say as he looked at these men who had come to mean so much to him.
Youre welcome Chris smiled and light patted Ezra on the knee.
And I betcha ya thought they were going to sing Happy Birthday.
Couldnt have because the traditional birthday song wasnt written until 1893.