Foster Brothers AU (Seven)
Notes: This is the second story in the Foster Brothers AU. You might want to read the first one first, Freedom From Fear, just so you know how the boys came to live with Orin and Evie Travis.
Special Thanks to: Yolande for her countless patience and work ethic for going through my stories!!
Please send comments and suggestions to email@example.com
Seven boys, and young Casey Wells screamed and yelled as they splashed in the cool refreshing water. Inner tubes, floaties, and the rope swing hanging from the large oak tree entertained the kids. A November heat wave had families and children behaving as though it were mid-summer.
Chris yelled and rushed for the swing; he grabbed it and left the ground with his feet splaying in all directions. He let go of the rope and was momentarily airborne before hitting the water with a splash. Buck soon followed in much of the same manner.
Josiah grabbed Ezra under his arms and tossed him into the lake. Vin, JD, and Casey soon were in line, awaiting their turn. Chris grabbed Buck and they wrestled in the water, before turning their efforts on Nathan who thought he’d escaped the escapade.
“Lord I wish I had their energy,” Nettie said with a shake of her head. She sat comfortably on the blanket next to her good friend.
“It must be my fried chicken,” Evie replied with a smile. She turned toward her husband who slept peacefully on the grass with his ankles crossed and his arms resting comfortably over his chest. “I can’t say the same thing for Orin.” She chuckled when she saw his eyebrow rise.
“Unlike children, my love, I must allow the food to settle for more than just one hour after eating in order to fully enjoy its aftereffects,” he spoke with humor, knowing his wife would be amused.
“Gas?” Nettie questioned.
Orin cocked an eyebrow and shook his head: “I was thinking more of the elasticity of my belly.”
“Gas,” Nettie replied with a chuckle.
Evie laughed and reached out to gently pat Orin’s stomach. She turned back to the children as they played in the water. Casey seemed to fit right in, playing with JD and Vin. Seven boys, brothers without blood ties, but the bond was just as strong…if not stronger.
Orin carried JD into the house. He’d fallen asleep in the truck on the way home. The other boys followed tiredly, particularly Vin and Ezra.
They’d decided to stay and have dinner with Nettie after their trip to the swimming hole, and like so many times before, their evening had gone longer than expected. Thankful that she’d gotten their school clothing washed and put away already, Evie allowed the older boys to shower before bed.
Josiah grabbed Vin and Ezra by the collars of their shirts and helped them up the steps to their rooms. Orin slipped past them, already having tucked JD in, and he headed into the kitchen to find Evie washing the dishes from their earlier picnic.
“Boys are headed to bed,” Orin said, taking a dill pickle from the small plastic container that rested near the table’s edge.
“Josiah has a football game this Friday. Will you be able to make it?” She reached up and kissed his cheek before putting some silverware into the dishwasher.
“I’ll be there with bells on,” he responded, finishing the pickle in one bite.
“His coach thinks the school will let him play varsity next year.”
“Good,” Orin replied. “Should boost his confidence.”
Evie nodded in agreement. “And worry mine.”
Josiah was big for his age, but he was still susceptible to injury. At fifteen and standing nearly six feet tall, he was still trying to get his rhythm, and it wasn’t unusual for him to trip over his own feet. He took it well, even taking dance class to try and better himself.
Orin chuckled and reached out to hug his wife. “You worry too much.” He kissed her gently before leaving the kitchen.
Evie returned to the sink to finish the dishes, never allowing the smile to sway from her face.
Evie looked up as her barrage of boys rushed down the stairs. Along the edge of the kitchen table rested six packed lunches. One by one they were snatched up. Evie could only chuckle and shake her head.
“See ya later,” Buck chimed, pushing the screen door open and rushing down the driveway toward the school bus.
Chris caught the door before it could hit its frame and he rolled his eyes. Nathan, who was in a hurry to get a good seat on the bus, shoved him forward.
Vin and JD followed, each giving Evie a kiss before grabbing their sack lunches and chasing after their brothers.
Josiah’s heavy footsteps sounded as he rushed down the stairs. Still working on his third piece of toast from breakfast, he shoved the remainder into his mouth before smiling toward Evie who could only smile in return.
She watched, from the window above the kitchen sink, six of her seven boys reach the school bus and board before looking toward the stairs where she knew her seventh was still sleeping. She smiled to herself, knowing Ezra wanted to go to school with his brothers, but because he was so far advanced for his age, she wouldn’t allow him to get picked on by boys twice his size.
Evie continued to finish the breakfast dishes, thinking about Josiah’s football game, Vin, JD, and Ezra’s soccer games, as well as Nathan, Buck, and Chris’ pending basketball tryouts. She took a deep breath, feeling thankful that she had sons to worry over, and a husband that was as much a support unit as the boys themselves.
Orin had been thoughtful and pulled out the Thanksgiving decorations from storage and left them in the family room. They’d put them up as a family, with the boys decorating, Orin trying to organize, and herself keeping everyone sane. Their first Thanksgiving had been questionable, everyone still uncertain about their presence, but as the year went by, the boys found their footing. Even Vin had come out of his shell. The shyest of all seven, he was a tribute to how far they’d all come.
Evie smiled when she heard soft footsteps scuffle across the kitchen floor. “Frosted Flakes?” she asked, already reaching for the box.
Ezra rubbed his eyes and nodded, too tired to think. Still wearing his pajamas he sat himself at the table and rested his head in his arms. He lazily watched Evie retrieve the milk, a bowl, and spoon.
“Did you stay up late last night?” Evie asked, grabbing him a glass of orange juice.
Ezra leaned back in his chair and shrugged, unable to lie, but unwilling to tell the truth.
“Was it a good story?”
Reluctantly, Ezra nodded and poured himself some cereal. “How come I can’t go to school with the others?” He stuck his spoon in his bowl and toyed with the flakes before looking up and meeting Evie’s eyes.
Evie nodded in understanding of the question and she slowly seated herself at the table. “My son Steven was really smart like you are,” she sighed and watched him closely, “he got teased a lot because he skipped a grade…just like you.”
Ezra nodded and seemingly took the information to heart. “Is that when he died?”
“No,” she answered, “he got real sick when he was in junior high.”
“Do you miss him?”
Ezra took a bite of his cereal.
“We’ll start on your next lesson after you finish eating—then later we’ll run down to the library.”
Ezra smiled, he loved the library.
Orin stepped through the door of his home and watched his family for a moment before being noticed by Evie, who motioned for him to join them. He watched as Vin tried to keep his cool while reading a book—it was obvious he hated it, but it needed to be done. JD and Buck put a puzzle together on the kitchen table while Ezra worked with Chris on a model airplane. Josiah and Nathan continued with their studies, after greeting their foster father. As usual, everything was pretty much normal—except for the letter he had contained in his briefcase.
“What’s for dinner?” he asked.
“Tuna casserole,” JD chimed in, trying to shove a puzzle piece into a place where it didn’t belong.
Evie searched her husband’s face, knowing his eyes expressed what his smile couldn’t. Unwilling to bring it up before the boys she decided to ask him about it later. “All right, boys, time to put your things away.”
Buck sighed, wishing he’d gotten the puzzle finished. He carefully put as many pieces as he could back in the box without pulling them apart, hoping to finish it another time. JD helped, as best he could, while tossing the pieces into the box that had fallen onto the floor. The two were related, they had to be, Evie thought. She couldn’t get over how much JD looked up to Buck, and there Buck was, guiding, sharing, and helping the kid with every little problem. It was heartwarming, knowing the boys had each other.
Chris and Ezra’s plane was coming together nicely. Both wanted to continue working on it despite their growling tummies. The B52 bomber had yet to be completed, still lacking its left wing. It had been a project Evie had picked out for Chris, but Ezra’s curiosity and inquisitive nature had him in the middle of things. At first it had been a bit rough, Chris wanting to work on it alone, but he soon softened and found Ezra’s constant questions a pleasing source of self-confidence.
Vin was quick to put his book away, having fought over pronunciations for far too long. He worked hard, not wanting to repeat the second grade. It was the numbers and letters he struggled over, yet Evie was patient enough to help him through every step…even when his anger got the better of him. Usually Vin hid inside himself when he felt as though he were falling behind the others, but on occasion, he’d throw his book and stomp up to his room. It wouldn’t be long before he’d come out and pick up that book and start again. He was the most determined one of the bunch, and it showed in his work ethic.
Nathan and Josiah had put their studies down to help set the table. Always willing to make life easier, the two boys were by far the most responsible. Josiah being the oldest had taken it upon himself to make sure things got done. He didn’t want Evie to have to work too hard to take care of them all, so he made sure everyone had their laundry folded, rooms cleaned, and he’d even been caught doing Buck and Ezra’s chores on more than one occasion.
It was sad really, to watch both Nathan and Josiah work so hard, just to make sure they didn’t do anything that would push Evie or Orin away. In the Travis’ eyes, the boys were as much their own as Steven had been, and they’d never let them go…at least not willingly. Evie tried to let them know that…reassure how much they were wanted, but it never seemed to be enough.
The table erupted in small talk as dishes banged together, and silverware scrapped plates and pans. JD picked all the peas out of his casserole, pushing them to the edge of his plate. He stuck his finger in the gravy and then stuck it in his mouth, only to have Buck shove a napkin at him.
Orin smiled and continued to pick at his food. He met his wife’s eyes and saw her concern.
Sometimes, he hated life.
“Can we do anything?” Evie asked, looking at the letter while sitting on the edge of her bed. The boys were already in bed and asleep…it was her turn to talk with her husband.
“She has a right—” Orin started to say.
“She abandoned him,” came the quick reply.
“According to her lawyer, she was unable to come back for him, Evie—she’s covered all her bases.”
“So we can’t do anything,” she sighed, feeling the sudden weight of the world on her shoulders.
“We can’t prove—and the courts can’t prove, definitively, that she willingly neglected Ezra. According to the petition she signed, she was held against her will by her excessively violent husband. The courts have ruled in her favor.” He sighed. “And…as much as it pains me—they should.”
“When will she get him?”
“She’ll be here in three days. She then has the right to him.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this sooner?” she knew that the letter had been the last step in the proceedings.
Orin sighed: “I didn’t want to worry you.”
“How are we going to tell Ezra and the boys?” She looked hard at her husband. “How do we explain this?” She was angry and had a right to be.
“The best we can and we’ll be there for them when they need us.”
“All except Ezra.”
“His mother’s alive, and she wants him back.”
“For how long?”
“That’s not for you to ask, or me to answer.” Orin sat down on the edge of the bed. “If the roles were reversed—and you were fighting for Steven—”
“If you were that kind of man, Orin—beating me—my son—if you forced me to leave him with a child molester…” she looked at him in surprise, as though asking if she should go on, “I’d kill you first.” Her answer was blunt, honest, and heart felt. She meant what she said, and he knew it.
“Ezra’s not our son, Evie,” he spoke gently. “That’s why we agreed not to adopt these boys—because they’re all from different families—because they have names of their own, they need to be proud of who they are and where they came from.”
Evie nodded in understanding, and she knew she would fight to the death to get Steven back…if only she could.
Orin stood and tossed his jacket onto the chair next to the bed. “He may want to go back to her.”
Evie rubbed her eyes. “Ezra’s a nine year old boy who loves his mother…of course he’ll want to go back to her.” She stood up and headed into the adjoining bathroom.
Orin sat on the bed and started to remove his shoes. His shoulders slumped and he took a deep breath. “He loves you, Evie…just like the rest of them.” He waited a moment and looked up when he spotted her leaning against the bathroom doorframe.
She finished rubbing face cream onto her cheek and then crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not his mother, Orin, and you’re not his father. As much as we want them to be our sons…they never will be, not until they learn that we’ll be there for them—no matter what. When Josiah stops protecting himself from you and I. When Chris realizes that his room is his room. Or when Nathan stops overcompensating for…everything—”
“You know that will only come with time—”
“No, Orin,” Evie sighed, she clenched her jaw as her eyes misted. “Those seven boys are brothers, not by blood, but by circumstance—and they need each other.”
“Ezra needs to be with his mother,” Orin tried to reason, his legal mind wrapping around the problem.
“No,” Evie replied with conviction in her voice. “He needs to be here…he needs to be home.” She turned and closed the door behind her.
Orin sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. He knew she was right, but right in spirit wasn’t necessarily right by law.
Ezra laid in bed and watched JD and Buck get ready for school. He wanted to go with them. He could understand Evie’s concern. He wasn’t as tall as he was supposed to be. It seemed he, Vin, and JD were seemingly the same height. They’d go through their growing spurt when the time was right...maybe when he reached his tenth birthday...just like Nathan had.
JD struggled into his tee shirt and then grabbed his book bag. He ran his fingers through his hair, and rushed down stairs…he wanted to get to breakfast first.
Buck shook his head and chuckled before slipping his books into his backpack. He looked over and noticed Ezra watching him. “What?” he asked, with a hint of humor in his voice.
“Do you like going to school?”
Buck shrugged: “It’s almost homecomin’ weekend,” he smiled, “so all the girls are wearin’ their cheerleadin’ outfits—makes it that much better.”
“Is that all you ever think about, girls in short skirts?”
“Girls in no skirts,” Buck snickered, pulling Ezra’s blanket off his bed. “Don’t worry, kid, one of these days, you’ll know exactly what I’m talkin’ about.” He buckled his backpack and sauntered out of the bedroom.
The boys tumbled out the front door in the same order they normally went. Evie watched them with a smile on her face…wishing only the best for them. Orin had left early that morning, at her request, to try and find anything that could keep Ezra with them. It was something he’d do for her because she asked, despite knowing the judge who’d made the final decision would not be swayed.
She watched as Ezra slowly made his way down the stairs and enter the kitchen fully dressed and ready to face the day. “You’re up early this morning,” she said, dishing him up some eggs and toast.
Ezra shrugged and took a seat at the table. He took a sip of orange juice and waited for Evie to sit across from him.
“I want to go to school with the others,” he said, exposing his true desire.
Evie knew that and she nodded. They’d had this same conversation many times. “How about I go talk to the school teachers and see what we can do?” She was making it harder for herself and she knew it.
Ezra cocked an eyebrow and looked at her, looking for that tell. “Before, you always said no?”
“I was wrong before,” she admitted. Slowly, she buttered her toast and waited for the questions. She knew Ezra was a smart boy, smarter than most his age. She knew if he wasn’t challenged in his classes he wouldn’t put forth an effort—even to the point of failing. He needed encouragement, and he needed strong guidelines.
Ezra poked his eggs with his fork. “Did I do something wrong?” he asked, concern lining his words. For reasons he feared most, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.
Evie sighed. She’d wanted to talk to Ezra when Orin was home…she wanted—needed, his support, and she knew Ezra would need it as well. She took a deep breath and pushed her plate away from the edge of the table. Slowly, she rested her elbows on the frame and entwined her fingers together. “Your mother,” she saw his eyes light up with hope…the one thing she knew she didn’t want to see, “has petitioned the courts to reclaim custody of you.”
“She came back for me?” his words shook; from fear or excitement…what did it matter?
Evie smiled, seeing his hope. Ezra was a child, innocent like the others, but always remaining hopeful of a mother’s love. She nodded: “She’ll be here to pick you up in a couple of days.” It hurt to say, but she remained calm—lying to herself in thinking it was for the best.
“She really came back for me?” Ezra asked in disbelief. A million thoughts rushed through his mind. He’d always known she’d return for him…at least he’d always hoped. It was a dream come true. He jumped out of his seat and rushed for the other side of the table where he wrapped his arms around Evie. It was the first time he’d ever freely hugged her. He turned quickly and rushed up the stairs, thinking about what he should pack…and what he should wear when Maude came to get him.
Evie clenched her jaw and rested her face in her hand. Her heart twisted and ached. Ezra had every right to be excited… Maude was his mother, and more than anything in the world he wanted to know she loved him…and in his way, this was reminiscent of those words. It was wrong in every sense of her imagination, but Evie hated her. Angrily, she wiped the stray tear away from her cheek before getting to her feet to start cleaning up the breakfast dishes.
When the words left Orin’s mouth it became a deafening silence. Nobody knew what to say. JD and Vin sat on the floor of the living room and played with the laces on their shoes. Chris stood up and left the room…he needed some time alone and nobody wanted to blame him. Buck remained silent, keeping his feelings inward. Josiah seemed to understand the situation on a different level…almost wishing he had the opportunity to see his mother again. Nathan was confused, and angry. He refused to see the hope that Ezra did…Maude had abandoned him once…why wouldn’t she do it again?
Ezra looked elated. His mother was coming back for him, and he couldn’t see beyond the idea. He was too young to see the complications, and he was too trusting to want to.
“When’s she goin’ to be here?” Buck asked. Why was this so hard?
“Day after tomorrow,” Orin answered, watching his wife…watching his family.
“Do you want to go?” Vin questioned, shyly looking up from his white tennis shoe.
Ezra felt like a surfer who’d just missed the ride of his life. He watched the water rush around him and his chest felt suddenly heavy, as though a part of him had been taken away and replaced with lead. Of course he wanted to go—Maude was his mother…and she’d come back for him…after all this time, she’d come back for him. Though his face remained impassive, his mind wrapped around the pain his brothers were enduring, and his heart cried out.
Evie reached out and gently squeezed Ezra’s shoulder, knowing the confusion he was in. “It’s not up to Ezra,” she said, keeping her voice even.
“Will we see you again?” Vin asked, his eyes expressing his fears.
Orin took a deep breath. Leave it to Vin, he thought, watching and listening as his family approached another difficulty. Would they see Ezra again? Would Maude take him so far away that they’d lose contact? He hoped not, but he knew the chances, and he’d seen too many cases like this one where the child just…disappeared. He and Evie had known when they got involved as foster parents that things would be difficult…but having someone explain the situation and actually going through it was completely different.
Ezra shrugged his shoulders and looked out the window, trying to figure the question out in his mind. Would he see them again…Josiah, Nathan, Vin, JD, Buck, and Chris? He’d been too excited to hear that his mother actually wanted him back to even notice the repercussions. He’d forgotten how she’d abandoned him so many years ago—saying that she’d be right back. She never showed. He’d grown accustomed to not having her around… Would he remember what she looked like? Had she remarried?
“There are a lot of things to think about,” Evie said, keeping her voice calm and soft—like a child talking to a kitten. “Some things are going to be different.” She looked at the boys. “But Ezra’s always going to be your family—nothing can change that.”
“But he won’t be here,” JD said, feeling as though a separation would be permanent…when his Foster mother Maggie died…and Tia.
“Just because he’s not here doesn’t mean he won’t be family,” Evie said with a smile. “I’m sure he’ll call whenever he can. We can write....” It wouldn’t be enough...
Ezra nodded: still unable to speak. His desire to see his mother had been quenched and new fears aroused.
“Buck?” Orin pushed. “You want to say anything?”
Buck stood and shrugged: “I don’t think he should go.” He left the family room and headed up the stairs to his bedroom.
“I think it’s great that your mom is comin’ back for you, Ezra?” Nathan lied, but kept a convincing tone.
“Yeah,” JD added.
“Come on,” Evie said, getting to her feet, “time for bed.” She motioned with her hand for the boys to move up the stairs. She looked at Orin and noticed his silence. “You too.”
Evie stared up at the ceiling, noticing the shadows caused by the textured paint and the dim moonlight entering through the bedroom window. The silence was deafening. She knew Orin wasn’t asleep by the sound of his breathing, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to talk to him at the moment. She felt him kick off his socks and then roll onto his back.
“You should have told me about this sooner,” she said, keeping her voice low to not wake the boys.
“I thought it was better this way,” he replied, shoving his left hand behind his head. “Laws are slow to change, Evie…and I know them better than most.”
“You should have told me.”
Orin didn’t say anything, feeling as though he’d been right in his decision.
“What’s she like?” Evie asked, “Maude?”
Orin rolled onto his side to face his her. “On paper…she’s had it tough, and I don’t know what she’s like in person.”
“Will Ezra be alright?”
“I believe he will be,” he answered confidently. “If he ever gets into trouble—he can call us, and we’ll go get him if need be.”
“Even if we have to fly across the country to get him?” Her greatest fear revealed.
“Australia, if we have to.” He grasped her arm and squeezed it gently.
Evie smiled: “I’ll remember you said that.”
“It’s going to be hard…not having him here for the holidays.” She brushed her bangs away from her eyes.
Evie sat on Ezra’s bed and helped him pack his suitcase. He’d folded everything perfectly, taking the time to put creases in his shirts, and pants. He wasn’t in a hurry, and Evie guessed he was having second thoughts about leaving. It was less than 24 hours before Maude arrived.
“Are you excited?” she asked, helping him shove a few books into a book bag. She remained seated on the bed.
“I want you to know…” she paused, picking some lint off the blanket, “…if you ever need us, any of us, you can call here any time.” She pulled on his arm, bringing him to a stop. “We’ll always be here for you.”
Again, Ezra nodded, too afraid to look up and meet her eyes. He didn’t want to see her tears…he didn’t want to know he was the one that had caused her pain.
“Hey,” Chris interrupted, leaning against the inside of the bedroom doorframe. He shoved his hands into his back pockets and smiled at Evie who stood.
“I’ll start dinner,” she said, gently squeezing Chris’ arm as she left the room.
“You goin’ to get everythin’ in that suitcase?” Chris asked, watching the nine-year-old’s movements.
“Won’t need it all,” Ezra replied, grabbing a small stuffed rabbit out of his bottom drawer. He toyed with the ears a moment before shoving it into his book bag.
Chris nodded and stepped into the room. He took a seat on Buck’s bed. “It’s cool that your ma’s comin’ back for you.” His voice lacked the enthusiasm his words didn’t.
“She always said she would.”
Chris nodded, and watched as Ezra closed his suitcase and pulled it off the bed. He shoved it up against the wall and set his book-bag next to it. Even to him it seemed strange, having his whole life wrapped up in two bags. He turned and looked at Chris, wishing he’d say something wise…something understandable.
“I ain’t one for words, Ezra,” Chris said softly, rubbing his hands together. He wished he had the right words to say, at least something the kid could grasp hold of, but he didn’t. “I want you to have somethin’,” he rushed. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small pocketknife and then handed it to Ezra.
“Your dad gave you this,” Ezra said, handing it back.
Chris held his hands up in protest. “Figure you can give it back to me when I see you again.” He headed for the door. “Don’t lose it,” he said, before quickly leaving.
Ezra rubbed the knife between his fingers, remembering the stories Chris had told them while they were living with Berry Crawford. The Old Timer pocketknife had seen better days, but the label was still readable, and the bone was well worn, shiny from the many years of use. One of the blades was missing, but that didn’t matter. Chris didn’t have much, but the suggestion meant the world to Ezra. His green eyes flashed upward and he looked at his luggage, wishing he didn’t have to go. He understood more now, and he remembered everything.
Maude hadn’t been married when she’d left him with his ‘uncle’. Ezra remembered she had to leave in a hurry and she couldn’t take him with her. It hadn’t been the first time, but it had been the longest. The other times had been short, a few weeks, maybe a month or so…but never a year. It had been four long years since he’d seen her.
Four years of believing her words: “I’ll come back for you”.
She hadn’t come back.
Not after the state got custody of him.
Not after Peterson had taken him in, locked him in closets while he abused the girls...Tia.
Not after Crawford had beaten him.
Not after Tia had died.
So what was her reasoning now?
Was she coming back for him?
Or was she coming back for her?
Ezra slid the pocketknife into his pant pocket and brushed off the front of his shirt before heading downstairs for dinner.
“JD, eat your peas,” Evie said, amused with the fact that the youngest managed to push all of his vegetables onto the very edge of the plate, most ending up on the table.
The kid curled his top lip. “I hate peas. They’re hard on the outside and squishy on the inside.”
Buck chuckled and took a bite of his meatloaf. “They’re better than cabbage.”
“Eewww,” JD giggled.
As much as the boys tried to act as though everything was normal, there was an uncomfortable aura around the table. The older boys realized this would be the last time all seven of them would be together for a meal.
Chris had remained silent, at least what Evie could see. Buck put on a brave face…but she was sure it wouldn’t last for long. Josiah… Josiah, as usual was making up for the loss—and Ezra wasn’t even gone yet. It wouldn’t be long before the eldest boy burned out, when he realized he couldn’t control everyone else’s feelings. Nathan had been more vocal than the others. He’d challenged Evie and Orin both on Maude’s ability as a parent; he’d asked many of the same questions they’d asked each other. Unfortunately, they couldn’t answer his questions with any amount of distinction...they all seemed...uninformed.
Evie laid in bed, trying to think of the situation in a positive manner—but she couldn’t. Her maternal instincts continually told her things would change...for all of them, not just Ezra. She could feel Orin beside her, fighting with his own demons. They didn’t know Maude...and they weren’t sure they wanted to.
“If there was anything I could do to stop this...” Orin whispered, “...you know I’d do it.”
She reached behind her and patted his thigh, not able to say anything. She felt him reach out and squeeze her hand and for reasons she wasn’t fully aware of, she pulled away, tucking her hands beneath her head while she lay facing the door.
“I’m sorry,” Orin said, knowing he’d hurt her in not telling her sooner...but he’d thought he’d been protecting her.
Evie saw the door slowly open, not a lot at first, just enough to let her know someone was there. She smiled, trying to ward off the impending tears. She watched Ezra walk toward the bed, the legs of his pajama bottoms dragging the floor with his feet hidden inside. He held his stuffed rabbit, something he hadn’t done since he’d first moved in...2 years...it had been two short years.
Evie reached out. “What’s the matter?” she whispered, taking his hand.
Ezra stepped closer to the bed. “I don’t want to go.” He looked down, keeping his eyes on the floor.
“I don’t want you to go either,” Evie replied. “But I think your momma loves you an awful lot, and as much as I want you to stay here...she wants you to go home with her.”
“I don’t remember her...” he whispered, looking up, “...what if I don’t recognize her when she comes?”
“You will.” She reached up and brushed his bangs away from his eyes and forehead.
Ezra flexed his toes, trying to find the right words. He leaned forward, not wanting Orin to hear, “I could stay in the small room—wouldn’t be in the way or anything.”
Evie sat up. She pulled the child into her arms and gave him a hug, trying to find her own strength. “This house will always be your home,” she pushed him away and looked him in the eye, “don’t you ever forget that. If you need to call us or if you need some help, you always remember we’re here for you.” Her words couldn’t fully describe how she was feeling.
A world had opened up to her when Tia and seven young boys were in need of a home...in need of parents...and love. A heart that had once been filled with the loss of her son, had suddenly found a new family...and slowly, that family was diminishing. Tia, born with a sever case of asthma, had tragically succumbed to the illness...in front of Ezra, not only causing him to crawl back inside himself, but he saw for the first time the harshness of death...at an age far too young.
And now Ezra was leaving...
Ezra turned toward the door and looked back toward the bed. He didn’t say anything, unsure of himself or the situation. He nodded once, more to himself than for Evie’s benefit, before he disappeared out into the hall and back into his bedroom.
“He’ll be all right,” Orin said, trying to be confident.
“Australia, Orin...if we have to fly to Australia to get that boy—we will.” She stood up and headed into the bathroom.
Orin watched her from his side of the bed and nodded in agreement.
The black limo barreled down the drive way, spitting dust and rocks behind its back tires. Ezra stood up and watched, his heart racing a mile a minute. He looked to his left and saw his friends...his brothers, peeking through the window—watching for the woman claiming to be his mother.
Evie and Orin stepped out onto the front porch and waited. Evie carefully placed her hands on each side of Ezra’s shoulders, offering him the strength he was in need of.
The driver of the limo slipped out and opened the rear door, helping a young woman from the back. She wore a beautiful blue suit. Blonde hair had been styled around her delicate features, and her green eyes danced with the excitement of finding her son.
“Ezra,” she said, wanting to rush for him, but keeping her composure.
Ezra turned to his left and looked up at Evie, questions lining his features—his eyes.
An older woman slipped out of the limo and moved toward Orin. She held a file, and wore a heavy coat...despite the warm temperature. “Mr. and Mrs. Travis,” she called, walking toward the front steps of the house. “I’m Lorie Peterson...Mrs. Standish’s social worker.” She reached out and shook their hands. “You must be Ezra?” she asked, watching as the boy slipped behind the couple.
Maude followed, feeling her heart race and she knew for the first time she couldn’t hide her excitement. “Ezra?” she said softly, bending over to get a look at her son. She didn’t blink the tears away, she let them fall. She reached out for him. “Come to mother.”
Ezra gripped Evie’s hand and looked up at her. She smiled, and though she tried to hide her tears she couldn’t. Ezra swallowed hard and took a step forward when the woman who’d taken him in when nobody else would, started walking him down the steps. He was in a daze, blinded by confusion and emotions he’d tried all his life to avoid. He wanted to run to his mother, wrap his arms around her neck and let her swing him around in circles...but a doubt in the back of his mind kept him from it...it was a doubt that he couldn’t place or truly reveal.
Maude couldn’t wait. She rushed forward and picked her son up and squeezed him. It felt so natural—the embrace. And when Ezra returned the hug, Maude gasped and let her tears fall. “I’ve missed you,” she wept, kissing his cheek, running her fingers through his dark hair, looking into his eyes that reminded her so much of his father.
Evie let her tears roll down her cheeks, afraid if she wiped them away someone would notice them.
“Thank you,” Maude gasped, looking at Evie. “Thank you for taking care of him.” She turned, with Ezra still in her arms, and headed for the limo.
Ezra reached out for Evie. Tears streamed down his face uncontrollably and his chin quivered violently.
Evie stepped forward. “He loves to read....anything by Chaucer—and Grimms’ Fairy Tales. He loves hot chocolate with toast, and fuzzy blankets.” She stopped and brought her hand to her face. She fell back into the embrace of her husband and Orin did all he could to comfort her.
Orin watched as Ezra was placed in the limo with his mother and he watched the door close. Even he wasn’t callus to the loss. He held Evie tighter when they heard the sound of the screen door bounce and watched helplessly as six boys rushed for the limo. They pounded on the glass and trunk as it slowly started down the driveway. They yelled, screamed, and cried as one of their own was pulled from their embrace.
Ezra tried to press his hand through the glass window, while sitting on his knees on the back seat of the limo. “I don’t wanna go,” he cried, glancing toward his mother and then toward his brothers who tried desperately to keep up with the moving vehicle. “Please,” he turned back toward her, tears flooding his eyes, and streaming down his cheeks. “I don’t wanna go,” he pleaded one last time as one by one his brothers fell away.
“Don’t go,” JD pleaded, falling back, unable to keep up. “Don’t go!” he screamed, before falling back onto his bottom. He pressed his hands to his eyes and freely wept.
Evie released her embrace from her husband and rushed forward. She picked him up and held him, crying with him. “He’ll be okay,” she said, trying to convince herself. She watched as one by one the boys fell back and the car continued down the driveway, unforgiving of the hearts it broke. Brake lights flashed and everyone jumped in hope...until finally the car pulled out of the driveway and disappeared.
Chris crossed his arms across his chest and slowly made his way to the horse barn. He’d spend the rest of the day there, alone, and grieving in private. He tried to hide the redness around his eyes, but he couldn’t, none of them could, and it was understandable as to why.
Josiah picked Vin up and carried him toward the house, like JD he’d found himself choking on his tears and succumbing to a case of hiccups. Josiah held him tight, trying to offer the comfort he needed, but it wouldn’t be enough. How could it be?
Buck had remained standing where he’d stopped, no longer able to keep up with the speed of the limo. He wiped at his face in angry manners and tried his best not to look the part of a boy in pain. He continued to stare at the end of the driveway, hoping in some way, and by some miracle the car would come back.
Nathan followed Josiah, feeling his own grief squeeze his heart and rob his optimism. Why did things have to be so hard? It seemed as though, every time life was going good—something happened to change it. Things would be different with Ezra gone. He wouldn’t be asking questions, poking his nose into books, or reading something that the rest of them had a difficult time understanding. No longer would he cajole his brothers into doing things for him. Nathan reached up and wiped the tears away from his cheeks.
The social worker stepped forward, doing nothing but her job. “My ride seems to have left without me,” she said, looking toward Orin.
The judge and former attorney shrugged his shoulders and placed a comforting hand on Nathan’s shoulder. “Then it would be wise to start walking...” he headed his family toward the house, “it’s a long walk back to town.”
There wasn’t a recipe for curing broken hearts, and Evie knew if there had been she would have purchased enough for 10 lifetimes. The boys sat silently together in the family room, sitting on the floor, the sofa, and the rocking chair. They sat close together...just sitting, thinking, and wishing for the return of their brother.
It wasn’t going to happen.
Hot chocolate and marshmallows rested on the coffee table, cups untouched. Evie cradled JD in her lap, brushing his black hair away from his forehead. Though he’d stopped crying, his eyes were puffy and his nose plugged. He toyed with a small plastic horse.
Vin sat beside her, quiet like always, and rubbing his eyes; lost in thought, grieving a loss, and finding it difficult to think about much else. He pulled unconsciously at his shirt sleeves, fraying the thread and pulling it out into long strings, only to roll them into balls and watch them snag on fingernails.
Buck sat with his head down, his eyes red, his throat tight, and his heart burning like it never had before. It was worse than when Tia passed away...it was worse than losing his mother, it was worse than taking a beating for being nothing more than a bastard. He reached up and wiped his face, avoiding the looks from the others.
Chris sat next to Vin, fighting his will—fighting his anger and disappointment. He’d shed his tears in private, and was forming in his mind the remainder of his family, searching for ways to keep them together. His mind couldn’t truly grasp it—Ezra was gone...he wasn’t coming back. Like the sudden realization of fate, it would only be a matter of time before he exploded.
Josiah hated it. He hated the tears, the sadness, the anger, and most importantly...the loss. It was a cruel torture of sorts; replaying the scene of Ezra’s crying face as the car pulled away from them. He’d tried to keep up, but he couldn’t. He’d tried to open the door, but he couldn’t. He tried to be strong...but he couldn’t.
When had it changed? Nathan thought, feeling as though a family member had just perished. When had the bonds been welded together, forming a sodder as hard as iron and as strong as steel?
Nathan stood up and started up the stairs. “He’ll come back,” he said confidently. “He’ll be back.”
JD looked up into Evie’s eyes. “Will he?” he asked innocently.
Evie smiled tightly. She pressed her lips to his forehead and whispered, “Maybe.”
Though each day got better for the boys, they never let the idea of Ezra’s being gone stray from their minds. And, like the year before, they all picked out Christmas presents for him. They wrapped them, wrote his name on the packages and shoved them under the tree with the hopes that he would come home.
Evie couldn’t tell them no.
By Christmas morning, winter had finally moved in and brought with it a fresh blanket of snow. The boys had gone out and played, making snow angels and shoving wet powder down each other’s shirts. It had been good to see their enjoyment, but Evie couldn’t help wonder how long it would be before that missing link was realized.
She made her traditional hot chocolate and dropped mini-marshmallows into each cup. She looked up in time to see Orin enter the kitchen with a small gift wrapped box.
“What’s this,” she asked, taking the silver wrapped present. She held the long narrow box in her hand, and grinned, knowing it was far too wide for a necklace, but her inquisitive nature caused her to guess. “Can’t be a tie,” she giggled, “maybe a watch?”
Orin shook his head: “Just open it.” He smiled and waited patiently, looking out the window toward the boys.
Evie slipped the white bow from the package and tossed it onto the kitchen island. She tore the silver paper, smiling, looking like the young girl from college. Looking beautiful. She held the brown box and looked up to meet her husband’s eyes before opening the box. “Oh, Orin,” she gasped, pulling out nine airline tickets to Australia. They hadn’t been scheduled for a date, but she guessed these weren’t the kind of tickets that needed them. She covered her mouth, making sure she’d counted correctly, and looked up with tear flooded eyes.
“For when he comes home.”
“You’re a sentimental old fool,” she gasped, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“But practical,” he chuckled, kissing her gently on the cheek. “Shall we let the boys at their stockings?”
She lowered her arm to his waist and nodded, watching as the boys toppled one another. “Yes,” she whispered, glancing toward the stocking on the fireplace that wouldn’t be opened, and toward the presents that wouldn’t be read, worn, or played with.
Evie reached out and grabbed the phone before it could wake Orin from his deep slumber. “Hello,” she whispered, sitting up in bed, looking toward her husband. “Hello,” she said again. She didn’t hear anything on the other end, but she knew someone was there. “Ezra?” she questioned, frowning. She sighed when she heard a click and looked toward Orin who’d rolled onto his back.
“Everything okay?” he asked, seeing her concern.
“I don’t know,” she replied.
I know, it’s a terrible place to end the story, but you’ll understand why with the next one...I hope anyway! Thanks for reading and I look forward to any comments and suggestions! firstname.lastname@example.org