by Joy K
|This is a variation of the Little Britches Universe, modern day with Vin, JD and Ezra as children. It follows "Refuge," which establishes how the boys came to live at North Pass Ranch after a natural disaster.|
Nettie smiled sadly as the back screen door slapped shut and an eight-year-old boy hurried down the steps trying not to look too anxious.
"Mrs. Wells?" he asked unable to mask his anticipation, "May we go get the mail?"
It had been the same every mail-delivery day since the boys had arrived at North Pass Ranch. Two-thirty-five was time to go and pick up the mail. It would have been a mundane event that most almost nine-year-olds would have had no interest in, but they were not anxiously awaiting the arrival of a letter from an absent mother.
Ever since Josiah had told the boy how forwarding mail worked, Ezra had been checking the mailbox. It didn't matter which adult was home with the three boys for the day, one little boy trying very hard to pretend he wasn't missing his mother would ask to get the mail.
At eight, he was old enough to get the mail by himself under most circumstances, but the driveway of North Pass Ranch was almost a mile long. While Ezra could probably trek the distance solo, no one would allow him to face the heartbreak of not receiving a letter on his own.
The eight-year-old would never admit it, but he appreciated the company. It made the anticipation, the hope, and the dread just a little bit easier to handle. Ezra didn't understand why, but it made it hurt a little less when an adult who cared about him accompanied him on the long trip back to the house.
It still confused him that they seemed to truly care about him. His mother had schooled him not to trust the police and especially not to tell them anything, but these men and Mrs. Wells didn't fit the picture his mother had painted. Despite his mother's instructions, Ezra found himself wanting to trust, wanting to believe they cared, hoping that it was real and true.
And the almost forty-minute walk to get the mail and return to the house gave him exclusive one-on-one time with whichever adult was home for the day. He especially enjoyed walking with Mrs. Wells. She reminded him of Aunt Grace. He didn't know if Aunt Grace was really related to him or not, but he knew the lady was special to his mother as well. Mrs. Wells was straightforward and sometimes blunt, she smelled like roses and she gave good hugs, just like Aunt Grace.
He missed Aunt Grace.
"Vin, JD, you mind Tiny now," Nettie called. Hearing 'yes' from the two younger boys as they eagerly agreed to help Tiny with the horses, she held her hand out and smiled as Ezra grasped it and they started their journey to the mailbox.
He liked walking with Mr. Sanchez, too. He liked the rumbly sound of his low voice. It made him feel warm and safe. Ezra liked the stories Mr. Sanchez told him, the way Josiah praised the questions he asked even if they sometimes had to wait to figure out the answers.
Mr. Wilmington was fun to walk with. More often than not, Ezra would find himself swooped up into a piggyback ride as soon as they were out of sight of the house. Somehow Mr. Wilmington understood that piggyback rides were not dignified, but they were okay when no one else was looking. Buck liked to tell jokes and tall tales. Sometimes Ezra would fall for them before realizing Mr. Wilmington was teasing him. The eight-year-old usually found himself smiling before they got back to the house even though there was no letter.
Mr. Jackson was much more serious. Ezra often felt nervous with him though he tried not to show it. Mr. Jackson always wanted to know how he was feeling and he always meant more than 'Hi, how are you?' Ever since he had taken them to see a doctor after they came to the ranch, Mr. Jackson had tried to find out more about Ezra. It was probably because the x-rays told him things that the eight-year-old didn't want to remember. But sometimes, Mr. Jackson would talk to him about the flowers and plants and rocks and trees that lined the driveway. He knew a lot of things about them and Ezra liked learning the scientific names.
Mr. Larabee was the scariest, but he was also probably his favorite to walk with. Mr. Larabee would ask how his day was going and he'd expect an answer. And for some reason Ezra would answer. Sometimes he'd tell him long-winded stories, but Mr. Larabee would just say, "Ezra..." and for some reason he'd tell him the truth, or most of it anyway. Mr. Larabee made him wish that he could tell him everything, but the teachings of his mother were too strong. The best part of walking with Mr. Larabee was the way back from the mailbox. After finding no letter from his mother, Chris would take Ezra to the big flat-topped rock and sit quietly with him just watching the horses graze. Sometimes when Ezra felt particularly sad, Mr. Larabee would put an arm around his shoulder and pull him into a hug. That was the best part, though he'd never admit it to anyone.
"You seem particularly thoughtful today," said Mrs. Wells. "Is everything all right?"
As much as he wanted to find that first letter from his mother, Ezra knew he'd be sad, but all right when the mailbox was empty. He'd still have Vin and JD, and he had five adults who seemed to care about him and made him feel like North Pass Ranch was home.
"Yes, Ma'am," he said. "I'm just fine."
And today he meant it.
Next: A Little Comfort