TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY by Monica M. and Debra M.

Disclaimer: The M7 characters in this story belong to MGM.

Thanks: To Debbie for deciding to do a Christmas fic and letting me have a small hand in it as well. And as always, extreme thanks to the Sally-Ann for the wonderful Christmas collage. Once again it is beautiful work!

Notes: This is set in the Regents AU. Just a nice little Christmas fic with all the requisite warm fuzzies. <g> We figured we´d give the boys a little break for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. <g> But never fear, they will be back to their troublemaking ways, very soon.

Previous Stories:

J.D. blinked uncertainly in the semi-darkness as his eyes focused on the ornate light fitting above him. There was a brief second of not recognizing where he was before that disorientation was immediately replaced with the assuring thought that he had woken in the guest bedroom of the Wilmington house. His cherubic features broke into a smile as he then remembered what day it was. Throwing back the covers he padded across the room to the window and pushing aside the curtains he peered out.

Light was already beginning to chase away the darkness even though the sun´s rays had not yet touched the powder soft snow that lay over the still and quiet suburb. A jumble of emotions flooded him as he drew in a deep breath. Memories of past Christmases with his mother filled the boy´s mind bringing him both joy coupled with an acute sense of loss. His eyes moistened and he quickly rubbed at them with the backs of his fingers. He had promised his mother no tears at Christmas and he didn´t intend to break that promise. Thinking back to many warm and special moments he had enjoyed that year and remembering the presents that lay waiting for him under the Christmas tree downstairs, he quickly used the bathroom and got dressed.

A few months ago he would have expected to be spending Christmas with his father or his aunt. His hopes were high when his father mentioned taking his family to Europe for the Christmas holidays but they were short-lived. His father soon asked him to ask his aunt whether she could take him for the seasonal break. And he would have enjoyed being with his aunt but when Buck asked him to stay with him and his mom for Christmas the boy had just been thrilled at the prospect of sharing in a Wilmington home Christmas. So it was arranged he would spend a week with Buck and Beatrice and a week with his aunt.

Leaving his room he moved silently up the hall to Buck´s bedroom. He knocked softly before opening his friend´s door. Buck lay sprawled across his large bed on his stomach. J.D. moved around the bed until he could reach out and shake Buck´s shoulder. There was no reaction. J.D. shook harder and called out.


This time there was movement as Buck burrowed deeper under the blankets. Undeterred J.D. persisted shaking and calling until eventually Buck flipped onto his back and squinted up at the intrusion.



“What´s wrong?”

“Nothing´s wrong, Buck. It´s morning. We can open presents,” the boy replied excitedly.

Buck groaned softly and looked over to his clock radio. “It´s too early!” he protested.

“We can get something to eat first,” J.D. suggested, immediately feeling hungry at the thought.

“You go ahead without me. I´ll be down in a few hours,” Buck replied sleepily before turning over and pulling the pillow over his head.

J.D. sighed forlornly to no avail, so turning he moved to the door. “Sorry I woke you,” he called out in a soft despondent tone before he left the room.

One of Buck´s eyes opened as guilt filled him. J.D. had been hyperactive and excited since they arrived at his home three days ago. His mother thought it was adorable and had lavished attention on him which the young boy had eagerly welcomed. J.D.´s joy at being able to share in Christmas with him and Beatrice had filled their home and had become contagious and Buck had to admit he had been very happy to see Beatrice back to her usual spirited self. So the thought of J.D. sitting alone downstairs pricked at his conscience.

“Dammit,” he groaned as sat up and rubbed his hands through his hair roughly to wake himself.

Downstairs in the kitchen, J.D. had investigated his choices of food looking in the pantry, the refrigerator and finally the freezer. Deciding on pop tarts, he removed them from the packet before finding the toaster in the cupboard and plugging it in.

He paused as he heard footsteps on the stairs and grinned as Buck entered the kitchen.

“Merry Christmas, Buck!” J.D. greeted happily.

“Huh?” Buck replied still struggling to wake up fully. “Oh Merry Christmas, kid.”

“Whatcha want for breakfast?” J.D. asked almost bouncing on the spot.

“Coke,” Buck replied with a crooked smile.

J.D. threw him a disapproving look and fetched him an orange juice instead.

“That ain´t gonna wake me up, J.D.,” Buck complained.

“Coffee then?” the boy offered.

Buck nodded grudgingly. “Three sugars,” he reminded the freshman.


“And there should be some cream in the fridge,” he added.

“Anything else, Master,” J.D. teased as he busied himself.

Buck slouched, bringing his elbows up onto the table and dropping his chin into his cupped hands. “Egg and soldiers,” he replied.

J.D. paused and looked at him. “Eggs and what?”

“Eggs. Hard boiled. Soft in the middle but not too runny. I hate them runny. And soldiers. You know toast cut up longways into soldiers so I can dip them into the egg,” Buck explained.

J.D. rolled his eyes as he turned and grabbed a mug as the coffee machine announced its brew was ready. “I was just going to make snacks, Buck,” he replied.

“Yeah well I´m downstairs now because of you and I´m hungry, so get out a saucepan and I´ll tell you what to do,” Buck informed him.

J.D. shook his head but good-naturedly began cooking Buck his eggs. Fifteen minutes later after they had both eaten, the boy got wiggly again.

“Do you think your mom will be down soon?” J.D. asked still eager to open presents.

Buck snorted then shook his head. “It´s too early.”

“Maybe we could take her up some breakfast?” J.D. tried.

“Trust me. That ain´t gonna work,” Buck replied. “Mom is not a morning person,” he added.

J.D. continued to look at him imploringly.

“Not even on Christmas day,” he continued, smiling when J.D. sighed.

“Tell ya what. We can open a couple of presents and save some for later when Mom gets up,” Buck suggested.

“Cool!” J.D. exclaimed as he bounced off the stool and headed for the lounge room and the tall and well decorated Christmas tree.

By the time Buck arrived, J.D. had sorted out several gifts from the others nestled under the tree.

“This is for you,” he told his friend eagerly.

Buck took the gift and teased the younger boy a little by opening it slowly. However, it did not produce the required effect as J.D. waited patiently and expectantly. So Buck ripped the remaining paper and held up a Greenbay Packers, Brett Favre autographed mini football helmet and stared in amazement.

“Do you like it?´ J.D. asked worriedly when the junior did not speak.

“Well... yeah,” Buck replied, still surprised J.D. had bought memorabilia of his favorite player on his beloved NFL team. He could not imagine buying any items from any other rival team. It just didn´t seem natural. So he looked over to his younger friend in true appreciation.

“I love it,” he added softly and J.D. grinned happily.

“Glad to see you´re developing some good taste,” Buck added teasingly.

J.D. rolled his eyes but his attention was quickly focused on the present to him from Buck. Hastily he pulled on the Christmas wrapping and his face lit up with joy when he held a box containing a palm pilot.

“Oh wow!” he breathed.

“I know it´s another gadget but I knew you wanted one,” Buck chuckled as he watched J.D. open the box and pull the plastic off the wireless email and web browser.

“It´s great, Buck!” the boy enthused as he became lost in starting it up and learning its functions.

Within minutes he was excitedly showing Buck all its functions while the junior indulged him. Suddenly J.D. paused, cocked his head then grinned. “Your mom is up!” he stated as they both heard footsteps on the stairs.

“It is the season for miracles,” Buck laughed.

+ + + + + + +

Vin began smiling even before his eyes opened. The wonderful aromas emanating from Betty´s kitchen had his stomach immediately rumbling. Blinking his eyes open he drew in a deep breath and let it out contentedly. Whenever he came home, Betty saw it as her mission to try and fatten him up. It never happened. The Texan was naturally lean no matter how much he ate. Convinced they did not feed him properly at the school Betty literally cooked enough food to feed three teenage boys and then some ensuring there were always plenty of leftovers. Vin never minded. In fact he flourished under the mountain of food and affection the middle aged woman lavished on him. And he enjoyed Henry teasing Betty about how he was supposed to be lean. He was a track athlete.

He cared deeply for the couple whom he had come to love as much as real parents. Henry and Betty had made it very clear their home was now his and always would be. And for a boy who had learned mostly through the painful and hard lessons of his short life, the unconditional love they gave was overwhelming at the same time as it felt so very natural. He didn´t know what he had done to deserve such love and caring from two wonderful people but he knew he would be eternally grateful for whatever had drawn them together.

When he walked into the warm and inviting kitchen a few moments later he smiled fondly as he watched Henry and Betty embrace lovingly before they both became aware of his presence. Betty let out happy cry as she took a few steps and drew him into a squeezy hug as Henry ruffled his hair. He returned her embrace unhesitatingly, remembering briefly a time when he would draw back from such affection but now a comfortable ease had bonded between them.

“Merry Christmas, Vin,” Betty told him warmly as she stepped back.

“Merry Christmas, Betty. Henry,” Vin replied shyly.

“Sit. Eat!” Betty ordered with a happy chuckle as she began serving the most enormous breakfast.

By the time he had finished eating as much as he could and then some, the Texan decided he couldn´t move. But when Betty rose from the table and started clearing plates, the teenager quickly began helping.

Later he could feel both Betty and Henry´s excitement as they led him to the Christmas tree in their front parlor. Nodding eagerly to Henry, Betty sat herself down on their modest couch as she encouraged Vin to sit beside her. As Henry handed him the large present, his own excitement grew. Savoring the moment he unhurriedly unwrapped the bright paper until he held a long dark case. He looked up as Betty inhaled expectantly beside him and he grinned at her. With a glance up at Henry who also waited eagerly, he dropped his gaze and slowly opened the case.

He exhaled in deep surprise at what he saw. A Winchester hunting rifle lay nestled in the soft interior of the case. He needed several seconds to comprehend the magnitude of the gift especially its father and son significance so when he lifted his gaze to Henry again, his look was one of awe and disbelief.

Henry beamed at him. “If you´re going to learn to shoot and come hunting with me, y´all need your own rifle,” he explained.

Vin nodded, still not sure he could speak until he rasped out, “Thank you.”

Betty leaned over and hugged him as she attempted to muffle a choked cry and Vin´s smile deepened. When she released him he saw her blink away some tears and he allowed himself to bask for a few seconds in the warmth and love that shone from the older couple as they smiled happily at him.

“I have something for both of you, too,” he told them as he carefully set the rifle case on the floor and stepped over to the Christmas tree. Picking up a flat package he handed it to Henry with a hopeful look. He had put a lot of thought and time in choosing gifts for Henry and Betty. Last Christmas they were still getting to know one another after he had only been placed in their care for a few months by then. His gifts last year had been simple yet still gratefully received. This year he wanted to give them something each that reflected how deeply he cared for them and for everything they had done for him.

Henry received the gift and sat down next to his wife who smiled lovingly at him as he slowly unwrapped his gift. His eyes flickered over the wooden framed print of cowboys riding at sunset and his pleasure was unmistakable as he lifted his gaze to Vin.

“I like it very much, Vin,” he said simply. “Thank you.”

The teenager went shy and Betty began speaking, adding her own praise for his choice of picture and adding her own thoughts as to where Henry should hang it. Gratefully Vin used the diversion to retrieve Betty´s gift, who in contrast to her husband, impatiently ripped off the Christmas paper before taking the lid off the box that lay within.

Betty shook her head in surprise as she reached in and picked up an off white long sleeve cashmere cardigan with rose, pink and pale aqua flowers with green stems and leaves embroidered around the neck and sleeves. It was something she had always wanted but always thought was too expensive. She looked over to Vin in amazement wondering how he had known and then worried about how he had afforded it.

“Oh, Vin,” she exclaimed. “It´s beautiful but you shouldn´t have.”

“Now, Betty, let the boy spoil you,” Henry spoke up. “It´s Christmas.”

+ + + + + + +

Chris moved slowly from his room until he reached the main living areas of the Larabee house. Stopping and hearing nothing he realized his father was still sleeping. So moving into the kitchen he put the coffee machine on before he returned to the lounge and plonked into the couch and stretched his long legs out. He reached for the TV remote and as he did his gaze fell on the Christmas tree in the corner of the room.

The tree had been a source of much emotional pondering starting when he had spent a weekend at home two weeks ago. He had been very surprised to see the family Christmas tree up and decorated in its usual corner especially since the tree had remained packed away in the garage for the past two Christmases. Wondering at its significance he had asked Clint why he had chosen to erect the tree this year. Clint had looked briefly uncomfortable before he admitted that Cynthia had encouraged him to get the tree out and she had decorated it. A coldness had swept over Chris mixed with a hint of betrayal. He still perceived the house and the way it looked inside as his mother´s. How could his father let another woman touch his mother´s things? Decide on changes in their house?

Moodily, Chris had said nothing at the time. He just drew all those feelings within himself and closed off as was his usual custom with his father up until a few months ago. He was still brooding when he returned to school on Sunday night and by Monday night was discussing how he felt with Josiah. His roommate had listened intently as Chris had explained how he felt about such a simple change and why he couldn´t leave it be. When he finally paused Josiah dropped his gaze briefly before he asked directly.

“Do you always want your father to be alone, Chris? Or would you want him to regain some measure of happiness?”

Chris had blinked in surprise at that before he realized Josiah had succinctly pointed out he had only been dwelling on how he felt not his father. He nodded his head slowly as the impact of those words took him in new directions of thought. He was determined to leave for the military after graduation despite his father´s obvious misgivings. Part of him knew his father didn´t want to see him leave especially as they had made tenative steps in repairing their relationship over the past months. However, his mind was made up. He wanted the freedom to plan for and choose his future, yet he didn´t want his father to do the same. He had looked back at Josiah a little sheepish at his selfish venting and muttered his thanks. His fellow senior had smiled gently and then changed the subject.

Arriving home a few days ago for the Christmas break, Chris and Clint had treaded warily with each other. The familiar awkwardness and long silent spells had returned and Chris immediately regretted the back step. Especially since the Thanksgiving they had spent together had been the most comfortable they had been around one another since the tragic accident that had tore apart their family.

Chris watched TV without really seeing or hearing the particular program that was on. He wanted this Christmas to be different from the last two particularly painful ones. Both he and his father could truly relax at the Wilmington home. They weren´t expected to do or be anything more than who they were. The open and deep affection Beatrice and Buck had for he and his father was comforting and sure. It blanketed them, supported them and often nurtured them. He couldn´t imagine either of their lives without that strong Wilmington influence and when they were around them, Chris allowed himself to believe that he and his father could make it. Not only as father and son, but individually.

His thoughts were interrupted when he heard the shower start. Clint had woken and Chris got up and went to the kitchen and started preparing a big breakfast as was their usual custom whenever they were invited to Beatrice's place for a meal and they knew she was cooking.

Clint pulled his sweater over his head as he stepped out of his bedroom. He took a deep breath recognizing the distinctive smells of coffee and bacon. His stomach rumbled its approval and Clint smiled and entered the kitchen.

“Hey, Chris,” he said warmly.

His son looked over to him and smiled easily back at him. “Merry Christmas, Dad,” he spoke sincerely.

Clint basked for second in the feeling of closeness he felt at that moment with his son before he stepped closer and returned the greeting. “Merry Christmas, Chris,” he replied huskily. They locked eyes briefly as they expressed their feelings non-verbally, neither comfortable with open dialogue. Then they both looked away almost simultaneously.

“So what are we eating?” Clint asked as he placed his hand on Chris´s shoulder and gave it a slight squeeze.

“The works of course,” Chris chuckled. “Even beans.”

Clint shot him a ‘are you crazy´ look and the young man grinned wickedly. “Ok!” Clint laughed. “But I´ll be blaming you for the side effects.”

Later after they had eaten and washed up, they exchanged gifts. They opened them together and when both pulled out items of similar dark clothing they both grinned sheepishly at one another.

“You´re hard to buy for,” they both quickly chorused together then laughed again before Clint announced they ought to get ready to go to Bea´s.

Chris got ready first and as he waited his gaze once again fell upon the Christmas tree. Which was how Clint found him a few moments later. The older Larabee´s smile faded as he watched his son stare thoughtfully at the brightly decorated tree. He carefully cleared his throat.

“Ready to go?” he asked Chris.

The blond turned around and nodded. “Dad?” Chris called halting his father´s movements.

“Yeah,” Clint replied apprehensively.

“Tell Cynthia I like how she decorated the tree,” he told his father simply.

Clint stared at him speechlessly for a few seconds before he answered. “I will,” he replied then overcome with emotion, he busied himself with finding the car keys.

As they both slid into Clint´s car, Chris broke the silence with a tease.

“So where are we eating on the way home?” he asked, referring to their habit of eating out somewhere after they had been to Beatrice´s home for a meal.

“Jake´s Diner,” Clint grinned.

“You have to stop spoiling me, Dad,” Chris laughed.

+ + + + + + +

Maude Standish Carlisle opened the bedroom door quietly, not wanting to disturb the boy within. She paused a moment after entering and simply gazed at the sleeping form of her only child. A restless sleeper at times, Ezra was twisted in the bedclothes, but to his mother he never looked more peaceful than he did now. She, of all people, knew just how deceiving the look was, but in his sleep his childlike innocence came to the fore. Moving silently across the room, she sat on the bed next to him and continued simply to look at her son.

To her mother´s heart, in that moment he looked as close to an angel as her Ezra could get. And she cherished seeing him like that since she rarely got to see her son these days. And more often than not, whenever they were face to face his expression was more often one of sullen wariness than of peace and love. A bittersweet smile touched Maude´s beautiful face at the irony of her enjoying the sight of Ezra with his defenses down when she was the one always telling him that he must never let his guard down. She had wanted to be the one person exempt from those defenses, but the walls he had built held her at bay as well. He had learned his lessons all too well.

Maude was self aware enough to know that she was certainly an unconventional mother. She always had been, but it had become more pronounced after the death of Ezra´s father. Dylan Thomas Standish had been idolized by his young son since he always made time to do things with the little boy. As soon as Ezra was old enough to hold and swing a plastic bat, Dylan was constantly outside with him, pitching to him or playing catch. Maude had felt a little left out of the male bonding but had not truly ever begrudged them that. She had wanted a daughter, and while she and Dylan tried, it just had not been meant to be.

She sighed at her own reminiscing. When Dylan died she simply had not been prepared for not only having to raise Ezra on her own but also having to start completely from scratch. And Ezra had taken the death of his father so very hard. Maude had not been prepared for her own devastation let alone know how to handle his. He had become very clingy to her as if he feared losing her as well. And Maude had over reacted to that, fearing that her son would become dependent, just as she suddenly realized how dependent she had been on Dylan. And so she forced independence upon her ten-year-old son, wanted him to be self-sufficient so that he would never have to rely on another person for anything.

She had at first included herself among those that she did not want him to rely on. But he took to his lessons too quickly and she found herself more afraid of completely losing him than of having him rely too much on her. Maude knew that it confused him because it confused her, made her feel as if she was at war with herself. She wanted him to be independent but at the same time wanted him to need her as well. So now she found herself locked in a battle of wills with Ezra as he asserted his independence in ways that she did not desire. She knew part of it was normal teenage rebellion, but she also knew it was their different philosophies. Immediately after losing Dylan, Maude had decided that she needed to find stability, and so had Ezra. The only difference was that Maude wanted financial while Ezra wanted emotional stability. Maude told herself, and him, that when they were set, when they had enough money to be truly comfortable and on their own, that things would be different, that she would be more of the mother that he wanted. And she had herself convinced of that. But what she could not see was that she would never find that level of comfort as she became addicted to the thrill of trying to achieve it.

Reaching out Maude gently brushed Ezra´s hair off his face and then ran her hand through the sleep-mussed locks. It was a gesture she could never hope to accomplish when he was awake. Anytime she reached out toward him he flinched away, raising his own hand to his hair to intercept hers. Another manifestation of his teenage struggle for independence, Maude knew, but it was so hard to have a child rebuke her attempts to show affection. His eyes snapped open immediately, as she had known they would. He had never been comfortable in the Carlisle home and would be a light sleeper because of it. His pale green eyes met hers directly. For only the barest of seconds surprise registered in them before resignation settled across his features.

“You promised, Mother. We have a deal,” were his waking words to her, not good morning, or merry Christmas, not even hello. It hurt Maude to know that her son assumed that she had come to see him to tell him that they had to leave the Carlisle house. She knew that he had a history on which to base his assumption, but still it hurt. But she could not let him see that.

“Yes, I know, Ezra. And I will honor our deal. We are not going anywhere this morning or anytime this school year. I just wanted to give you a present in private, is all.”

He sat up in the bed, his sage eyes still wary. “Why?”

“Because I´m your mother, Ezra. And it´s Christmas morning so I wanted to give you something a little special just between us and not in front of Robert´s family.”

“But, Mother, you always tell me that I should consider Robert´s family as part of our own,” sleepiness and sarcasm thickened his drawl.

“And as long as we need them, they will be our family, Ezra, sugar. You just remember that,” her own drawl was honey sweet.

The teenager could not help but smile. There was no one else quite like his mother. And the world could be grateful for that. He suddenly realized what his mother had just said. “What present?”

Maude smiled to herself, Ezra could berate her all he liked about her own greed, but he had all the makings of being greedy himself. Of course, his mercurial nature had to choose that moment to show itself as his expressive face collapsed into chagrin. “But my present for you is downstairs with all the others,” his voice was filled with dismay as well. He had always been a sensitive soul, though he had learned to hide it well. But it was Maude´s ace in the hole that as his mother she would always be able to see how things affected him.

When he started to get out of bed to retrieve his present for her, Maude placed a restraining hand on his arm. “That´s quite alright, Ezra. We can exchange presents with each other downstairs with the others. What I have for you now is not from me, but from your father.”

His big green eyes widened with surprise as he was caught speechless. Maude quickly explained. “It´s something that he would have wanted you to have. He actually spoke about giving it to you when you were older, as a reminder that no matter what was said about them, that the Standish men have a history of honor and bravery.”

His young brow furrowed in confusion even as his eyes lit up with anticipation. But he knew that his mother had a flair for dramatics so he tried to curb his impatience as she continued speaking without revealing the present. “This belonged to your grandfather, but it went to your father as his only son and so now will come to you as your father´s only son.”

Ezra tried to continue to pay attention to his mother´s words, because he did not want to miss anything of importance. But at the same time, his mind could not help but wander through what little information he had on the grandfather he had never known. He knew that he had been given his grandfather´s name as his own middle name Patrick. And he knew that Patrick Standish had served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and lost his life there in 1972 when his son Dylan was only seven years old. When his father had died, Ezra had remembered how Dylan had lost his own father at a younger age and had used him as an example as he struggled to find that same strength.

As he thought about that now, Ezra also remembered how the stories about Dylan dealing with the loss of Patrick Standish had been more frequent shortly before Dylan died. In fact he even remembered that after one such story he told his dad that he did not ever want to lose him. Dylan had looked at him very sadly and had told him that he was sure that Ezra would be equal to the task if it were ever necessary. Ezra had protested, saying that he needed him so much and just could not imagine not having him. His father abruptly changed the subject then, telling Ezra rather brusquely that they all had to deal with situations that they would rather not.

When his father had been killed, Ezra had tried to do just as Dylan had said he must in those sad circumstances. And in his desire to be strong, he never even thought about the coincidence in the timing of his conversation about losing his father and then actually doing so. Now at fifteen, Ezra could not help but wonder. His father´s death had been a random act, a robbery that had turned into a homicide, so there was no way that Dylan Standish could have known that he would die so soon after having a discussion of that sort with his son. But now that the oddity of it had struck Ezra, he decided that it was something he would have to ponder further and perhaps even research a little. With all his prowess with computers and hacking it had never really occurred to him to look more deeply into his father´s death. He had simply accepted the explanation that a grieving mother had given to a ten- year-old boy. Now that he was older he had questions. And instinctively he knew not to direct those questions to his mother, but to independent sources that would give him unbiased information.

Taking the case that she had hidden behind her back on the bed, Maude brought it forward for Ezra to see. Eagerly he took it into his own hands and stared at it for a moment before opening it. He gasped at the beauty of the medal that lay within, the Congressional Medal of Honor. The light blue ribbon with its board of thirteen stars was unmistakable as was the medal itself, a wreath of laurel and oak leaves around a five pointed star surrounding the head of Lady Liberty. It was attached to the ribbon with the word Valor and the Air Force coat of arms.

He did not dare remove it from the case but reverently touched the medal with gentle fingers. “Is it real?” he could not help but ask.

“Of course it´s real, Ezra Patrick Standish!” Maude allowed her outrage to fill her voice.

He grinned at her, trying to take the sting out of his words, “Well one can never be too sure with you, Mother.”

She could not help but laugh at that as there was no disputing the truth of his words. “Well you can rest assured that this is the genuine article. Your grandfather did not die in vain…” Maude paused in making her point as she was suddenly struck by near overwhelming sorrow at the fact that Dylan, unlike his father before him, had died in vain, in a senseless act of violence. Not wanting Ezra to see how she did indeed still grieve over the loss of her husband, she pointed out, “The full citation is in there as well. You can read all about what your grandfather did to receive such an honor.” She eyed him contemplatively. “And knowing you, you´ll look it all up on the Internet and see what else you can learn.”

He grinned back at her, a bit self-consciously since that was what he planned on doing. He also planned on seeing what he could learn about his father as well, but he was not about to tell her that. His pale eyes moved back to the medal in its case. “Are you sure that I should keep it?” he had to ask hesitantly. He did not want to give it up but he was not sure he was worthy enough to be entrusted with such a family heirloom.

Maude smiled at him, a very gentle and loving smile that rose up into her eyes filling them with warmth. “Yes, I´m sure, Ezra, sugar. Your father was very adamant about my making sure that you got this. If you want we can get a safe deposit box…” she paused and eyed her son, sizing him up, “that is if you don´t already have one of your own.”

His response was a cheeky flash of his dimples that told her that he probably had a few things that she did not know about. And oddly enough that filled her with a measure of pride. She would have to keep a handle on it, but she did like knowing that he was capable of being sneaky all on his own. “Well, then keep it in there, where it will be safe.”

He snapped the medal case shut and gave his mother his undivided attention. “Thank you, Mother,” he said simply before reaching out to her and giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She squeezed him back a little more tightly and longer that she normally would since they were alone. But then she felt him pull away from her and she reluctantly released him.

Standing, she looked around the room as she spoke. “You might as well get up now and get dressed. I heard your ‘cousins´ already making their way down to the Christmas tree. So I´m sure the little heathens are already tearing into their presents. And we will be required to make an appearance, so I will expect you to be on your best behavior. You do, after all, know how important appearances are.”

Ezra nodded, a slight, appreciative smile on his face. His mother never ceased to amaze him. He was certain that she had carefully thought out the timing of her gifting him with the Medal of Honor. She knew it would place him in a good, charitable mood. And her hope would be that would lead to his being at least civil with his stepfamily and their extended family as well. In the Christmas spirit, Ezra decided that he would do just that. It would be his special gift for his mother, though he hoped she appreciated the Herculean effort it would take on his part.

As Maude turned she noticed a couple of cards on Ezra´s nightstand. Curious at the strange nature of the cards, she strode over and picked them up. “What are these, Ezra?”

A sheepish, yet unrepentant, grin touched his handsome face. “Those belonged to young ‘cousin´ Kip. They are Yu-Gi- Oh! cards, Mother. They are actually quite the trading commodity, much like Pokemon cards were. Those two there are worth at least $40-$50 dollars if handled correctly.”

An incredulous look crossed his mother´s face as she carefully placed the cards back down on the nightstand. “Fifty dollars? For a couple of cards?”

“No, Mother, $50 for each of those cards. Amazing isn´t it?”

Maude nodded; she was shocked at the worth of the cards but incredibly pleased to know her son was quick to take advantage of them. But she should have known that he would. He had done very well with Pokemon cards when he was younger. “And Kip gave them up willingly?”

“That child doesn´t know how much they are worth. He traded them for some worthless cards that I acquired.” Ezra did not feel guilty about taking advantage of his stepfather´s eleven-year-old nephew. After all, he knew from experience that there were kids far younger than eleven that could be quite the card sharks when it came to Pokemon cards or now Yu-Gi- Oh!.

“You make a mother proud, Ezra,” Maude smiled lovingly at him.

“Merry Christmas, Mother,” joy and laughter filled his drawl as he truly was pleased with the rare moment that had passed between him and his mother this morning.

“Merry Christmas, Ezra,” she responded before exiting the room.