Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be
Note…#1: Thanks to my beta reader, NT, for her great work
Note…#2: In our region the paramedics call the ambulance a bus. It may differ in other areas of the states. Our rules are also different. Here you can’t take EMT classes until you’re eighteen. In some states you can begin taking EMT classes at an earlier age. Though I think it’s mostly for those regions that are sparsely populated and need all the help they can get.
Note…#3 There are four levels of techs. Level one is that of a basic orderly. As the levels progress so does his/her abilities. Level four is almost equivalent to that of an RN without the degree. (Most level three tech’s are intermediate EMT’s and level four techs are licensed paramedics)
Note: # 4 There are different treatments for each scenario depending on the variables.
This is for Twy. Who asked me for a Christmas story a long time ago. Enjoy!!!
The seven brothers were scattered throughout the house, each one with a sad and lonely heart. The melancholy filled the house. This was the first Christmas without their parents and each one was dealing it in their own way, none of them sure how to get through the holiday season.
Thanksgiving had been difficult in and of itself, but it had been a one-day event. School had stayed in session for half the week, only having one vacation day before the big day. To help matters it hadn’t been celebrated at home. Nettie Wells had been kind enough to invite the boys to her house to share the holiday with her and Casey. Only when they sat down to eat did they feel the true impact of the missing people. After dinner, Nathan and Ezra had helped Nettie clean up while the three oldest did little chores around the house before the afternoon big game. Vin, JD and Casey and played outdoors. It had been a pretty manageable day.
This was a different case altogether. School had let out for the holidays, with ten days to mope around the house before the actual day. The days seemed to last an eternity and allowed for more time to think. Of course, there were still chores to see to and animals to care for, but there was enough empty time and mindless chores for thoughts to wander.
Thoughts drifted back to past Christmases. The brothers had always drawn names to keep the cost down. The children had been given the option of spending their allowance and buying a present or making one. On the weekend before Christmas, the whole family would meet up in Ridge City at the mall and break into partners before going their separate ways. This year not one of the older brothers had even mentioned drawing names and surely not the big shopping trip, and the younger ones were not about to bring it up. So, they drifted through the month.
This year, Chris would have preferred to saddle up and ride out. Find one of the caves carved out in the surrounding mountains and hide out for a couple of days. Josiah was wondering how he, himself, was going to cope. He had been in the family the longest. Since he was eight, he’d lived in this house and remembered every Christmas. He had no idea how to help the others deal with the loss, much less help everyone else escape the slump they had fallen into. Buck was contemplating going into Ridge City and finding a few parties to attend. Perhaps, look up a couple girls he knew in high school that now lived in the big town. Nathan was trying to convince himself that, at eighteen, he was too old to miss such silly nonsense as decorating a tree and singing stupid carols.
As Josiah walked through the somber house, he began feeling as if he was in a tomb. He needed help and he was smart enough to know it. He stopped by the office where Chris was reading. “Going to Nettie’s,” the oldest said, before leaving, only receiving a slight nod. Josiah walked through the kitchen and reached for Buck’s truck keys. Chris heard the truck roar to life and then idle a while as it warmed up. As the truck spun on the gravel Chris felt cheated at his lack of ability to make his own escape.
Ezra was sitting at his bedroom window, missing what he’d had for a fleeting moment. After he had moved in here, he’d had real parents for the first time in his life. Parents who talked to him, who asked him what he wanted to do in his life instead of being told what to do. They had treated him like a real person. Maude had cared about him in her own way, of that Ezra had no doubt, but Bobby and Janis had given him a glimpse of what a real family was like. He didn’t know he could feel so bad about a holiday that he’d rarely celebrated until moving here. Most of the time, Maude had dumped him on some unsuspecting relative, who wasn’t very happy about having to take him in. He remembered the few times Maude had let him be with her for the holiday. Of course, being with his mother had been a relative term, since Christmas usually involved Maude going out to parties while he stayed in the hotel suite watching TV and ordering up his meals. He could, however, remember the cities they visited with their glittering lights and festivities. None of it compared to the decorations Bobby and Janis and the boys put up, though not as extravagant it was more meaningful. Christmas had been a big affair. Josiah and Chris would come home and they would all string lights around inside and outside of the house and barn, even though nobody but them ever saw it. Everyone was so happy. Not like this year. Leaning against the window and staring off into the distance, he wondered where Maude was spending this Christmas and if she even thought of him. Raising his head, he decided he needed to get away from this oppressive mood.
Vin was in his own room, thinking of the previous Christmas. It had been the first Christmas in a long time that he’d had a truly happy time. All the family had been there. They had laughed and joked until tears ran down their faces. They had sung Christmas carols, which he couldn’t remember doing since he had been with his mother. Even Ezra had been cajoled into joining in on one or two. Vin recalled clearly how happy the brother had looked at times, when he had let his guarded expressions slip, as the seven of them had gathered around the coffee table and played games. It had been a good holiday. This year, there was no laughing, no games, not even any decorations. Vin didn’t feel like it was his place to voice his desire for the wanted items. He was one of the last ones to be adopted, a ‘newbie’. He knew neither Chris nor Ezra would push for the celebration. Chris always had an especially hard time with the holiday and Ezra, though he would never admit it, felt as much the newbie as he did. For Josiah and the others, he hadn’t figured out why they hadn’t carried on the tradition, though he was surprised by Buck’s seemingly lack of interest, he seemed ot be truly enthralled last year in the season, but figured they had their reasons. He rolled off his bed and headed downstairs to see what the rest were doing. As he reached the top of the stairs, he saw Ezra walking out the front door and followed.
JD was staring at the TV, not really watching the game Buck had turned on. His missed his parents something awful. Even now, he wasn’t completely sure the accident wasn’t his fault, even though he wasn’t with them when it occurred. Although the rest kept assuring him he wasn’t to blame, JD still felt like a jinx. First, his original parents got divorced before he was even a year old, and he never saw his dad again. Then his mother died, and then his second set of parents died. The ache of loss was made worse by the Christmas holiday, or maybe rather the lack of it. The nine-year-old wanted to put up the decorations, and to sing, and play games. He wanted it to be like last Christmas. He had helped Janis start decorating the house before the rest got involved. They’d had so much fun. It just wasn’t Christmas this year. It wasn’t feeling like family. If Bobby and Janis had been here, this wouldn’t be happening. Then he reminded himself if they were here, he wouldn’t feel so sad to begin with. He wanted to do things to help him remember his parents. Lately, recalling detailed memory pictures was getting harder. He looked up as Ezra passed through the living room.
“Going out,” Ezra said flatly to Buck without breaking stride. Ezra grabbed his coat and walked out the door.
Buck had merely nodded. JD wasn’t sure his big brother even heard. A minute later, Vin walked by and simply said, “Going with Ezra.”
“Me, too,” JD said as he rose from the couch and walked out the door.
JD found his brothers saddling up their horses in silence. The youngest asked tentatively, “Can I come?”
Vin nodded his head and Ezra simple replied, “Sure.”
JD got the bridle on his horse with no problem, but he always had to have help with the blanket and saddle. He was sure his brothers would ride out without helping him and, at the moment, he was a little afraid to ask for help. The air seemed to be filled with rigid tension. JD had managed to get on top of a bale of hay and was trying to get the blanket on when Vin stepped in and took it from him. Placing the blanket on the horse, the thin boy stepped back and Ezra came forward with the saddle.
The three mounted up and rode out. The air was a little chilly, but nice. At sixty-five degrees, it wasn’t unbearable since the sun was out and the wind wasn’t blowing. Ezra became leader by default by being the oldest. The ride was silent except for the sound of horse’s hooves hitting the scattered twigs and crushing what leaves remained on the ground. JD wished his brothers would say something because he was dying to unload his burden, but he knew by his brother’s dispositions, they weren’t in the mood for talking or to listening to him talking.
Ezra twisted in his saddle and tossed out a silent question to his brothers. Before JD could say anything, Vin quietly voiced his opinion. “We could go to the river and look for wildlife.”
JD just nodded in acceptance; he didn’t care where they went. He just wished he could stop feeling so bad about wanting to be happy. The fact that they weren’t supposed to go near the water wasn’t an issue he felt he should bring up right now. The fact that he had asked to come along and his older brothers had consented also played a big role in keeping quiet. If he acted like a baby, they would send him back to the house and that was the last place he wanted to be right now. Besides, he rationalized, Ezra was almost fifteen, which was almost an adult.
Ezra turned back in the saddle and reined his horse towards the river. The river didn’t flow as deep or as wide as it had once due to the last two years of drought and the fact the water supply had almost been cut off because the higher elevations had already started freezing up. Come summer, the river would flow a little deeper after the winter snow had melted.
Josiah drove into the small yard of the neighboring ranch woman. Josiah sat in the truck until he had been acknowledged, then stepped out and walked up to the front door. Nettie had been a wonderful neighbor even before his parents had died. She had become like a grandmother over the years and always ready to listen, help or simply been there for all the boys when they showed up on her doorstep. But since the moment she learned of their parent’s deaths, she had become a god-send. She had been there to help with the funeral arrangements. She’d given suggestions, hidden in tactful questions about what needed to be done, such as: executing the will, and canceling credit cards. She had helped them solve the reason behind Ezra’s sleepwalking a couple of months earlier. She had invited them into her home for Thanksgiving. Nettie was always there when needed.
“Josiah,” Nettie greeted the oldest brother warmly, as she held the door open for him.
“Nettie. How are you doing?” he asked, as he entered the small house and removed his jacket.
“I’m fine,” Nettie answered, deciding to let the boy tell her in his own time the reason for the visit.
Spotting the young niece, who had been reading, on the couch, he smiled. “Hey, Casey.”
Staring at Josiah, she returned the smile. “Hey, Josiah.”
Nettie motioned for the young man to sit down and shooed Casey from the room.
“I need help, Nettie,” Josiah rushed out, barely waiting for the woman to seat herself.
“With?” the old woman questioned.
Shrugging helplessly, Josiah looked down at his clasped hands and looked back up, piercing the adopted grandmother with the saddest gray eyes. “Christmas. The boys. Traditions,” he said confused. “Buck wants to pretend it’s not happening. It’s taking everything Chris has not to ride out and not come back. Nathan…well not real sure what’s going on with him. Three youngest are so…so…I don’t know,” he said, raking his hand through his hair. “I just don’t know, Nettie. I just don’t know,” he voice so sad and lost.
Nettie’s heart went out to the young man. She had known Thanksgiving was going to be the first major holiday without Bobby and Janis and figured she could help them through the day by having them at her house, but Christmas was different. They would have to deal with that as a family. She just didn’t realize, by stepping back and letting them try to handle it, she had unconsciously let them start sinking.
She knew she could offer to have Christmas at her house and it truly would be no hardship, but it wouldn’t be beneficial to the boys. They needed to start learning how to deal with each other and help one another through tough times without someone stepping in.
“Josiah?” Nettie asked quietly. “What would you boys be doing if Bobby and Janis were here?”
Josiah let out a little grin. “We would have met at the mall and buddy-shop. The next day Dad would have us older boys outside decorating everything in sight to mom’s specific directions. Mom would be letting Vin and JD decorate the inside of the windows, the banister and putting up every little knickknack she had ever bought,” Josiah explained, his smile getting wider at the memories. “Mom would have Ezra in the kitchen helping her bake cookies,” he said. “He’s pretty good in the kitchen, you know? Then again, he’d have to be,” Josiah’s smile dipping a little.
“After we were all through, we’d pile into the back of the truck, dad driving with mom snuggled next to him, and go find the tree that dad had been scouting out earlier. Cut it down and haul it back to the house. We’d set it up in the same corner we always do and then spend the evening decorating it. When we were through, someone would pull out the game of Monopoly and we’d crowd around the table and play while Mom and Dad sat and watched us,” Josiah told, losing himself in the memories. “Of course, last year we helped Vin and JD. Somehow those two came out with the most money.” He laughed.
Nettie sat there for a long time, letting the boy relish his good memories. “So, why can’t you do that this year?”
Nettie’s question caught the brother off guard. “Not the same, Nettie,” he answered, lowering is head. All traces of the smile gone.
“No,” she said slowly, “but those were good times. Right? They reinforced everything you knew to be true. That no matter how old you boys got, or where you went, you still had a home to come back to with parents that loved you. By celebrating Christmas the same way, you are carrying on that tradition, reinforcing in each other that ya’ll are still a family no matter what,” the old woman said, piercing Josiah with her own hard gaze.
“You’ve tried ignoring it and it hasn’t helped,” Nettie said, stating the truth.
Josiah let out as soft bark of laughter. With twinkling eyes, he asked, “You sure you don’t have a degree in counseling?”
Nettie smiled back and said, “Son, when you get to be sixty years old, you don’t need a degree. Life has taught you enough to know by then.”
Josiah was coaxed into staying long enough for a cup of coffee and easier conversation. When he finally finished his second cup, he set it down and began to rise. “Well, guess I better get on back home. Make sure none of them have jumped ship or killed one another,” he joked as he headed for the door.
“You need any more help, you just call. I got a lifetime of experiences. We’ll come up with something,” Nettie instructed with a warm smile.
Josiah leaned down and kissed the weathered cheek. “Thank you, Nettie,” he whispered kindly.
With shining eyes, she answered, “You’re welcome, sugar. Anytime.”
The horses trotted up as close as their riders would let them to the old riverbed. They lifted their heads and snorted. Ezra, Vin and JD, with the same quietness that had permeated their trip from the beginning, dismounted and tied their mounts to the log. The river was only about three feet deep, but, as the days grew colder, the water temperature dropped and could cause serious problems if one of them fell in. In some spots the shoreline was open and clear, then in spots there were rocks and boulders from previous landslides, some displaced from years of erosion. Plentiful trees dotted the area.
JD walked to the edge of the water and squatted down to see if he could spot any fish. Ezra stood beside his little brother with his hand on the youngster’s shoulder. “They’ve burrowed down in the bottom or swam further downstream,” Ezra said, quoting what he had learned from Bobby.
JD looked up at his brother and smiled a sad smile and turned back to stare at the river. It seemed even the fish had somewhere to go.
Vin scouted around the riverbed, looking for evidence of animal tracks. One of his former foster families, his favorite until moving here, had been an older Seminole couple. The father had taken Vin out into the desert and gave him a few lessons in learning to read tracks and clues. It wasn’t enough to actually live as a hermit out in the desert, but it was enough to know how to survive if he had become lost. After coming to live with the Walker’s, Bobby had continued that education. The twelve-year-old’s sharp vision latched onto possible raccoon tracks. He walked upstream a ways, pushing aside some low branches, disappearing from view once on the other side. Looking out in front of him, he never saw the danger lying at his feet before it was too late.
Ezra moved back to the log where they had tied the horses and sat down. The outdoors was not bringing him the peace he had been seeking when he had walked out the front door. He watched JD with half interest. Keeping just enough senses alert to be aware that JD was staying safe. He didn’t worry about Vin. He always had kidded his younger brother that he had been a wilderness tracker in a previous life. The twelve-year-old seemed to absorb all the knowledge he could about the outdoors and he had a keen sense of danger and navigation. They had all joked that they could dump Vin out in the middle of the Rocky Mountains and the boy would beat them back home.
The sudden, blood-curling scream made Ezra come to full alert. He was up and running before he was even aware he was moving. To Ezra, the screams seemed to be one long continuous shriek. Ezra shoved aside the same branches Vin had passed through earlier, and froze. The sight before him seemed surreal.
On the ground before him sat Vin with a medieval contraption surrounding his ankle. Vin was holding onto his lower leg with a white-knuckle grip. The screaming pulsating so hard through the air that Ezra was sure he could feel it inside. The sudden jolt he got from JD slamming into the back of him, set Ezra in motion again. The oldest ran to a sliding stop beside his brother. Blood was flowing freely from the wounds were the device had imbedded itself into Vin’s flesh. Of all times, Vin was wearing his tennis shoes instead of his boots. Ezra glanced at his brother’s face. It was white with deeply etched pain. His normally blue eyes were wide open and so dilated they were completely black. Tears of torturous pain ran in a steady stream. Without really thinking about anything consciously, Ezra shoved Vin’s hands aside and clamped his own hands around the contraption and tried to yank it open to release the foot. Vin let out an ear-splitting scream of pain and began fighting Ezra. Landing bruising blows on his brother’s arm and chest.
“Stop it!” JD shrieked, as he stood at the end of Vin’s feet, tears flowing down his face.
Ezra had let go of the trap to ward off the blows. JD’s words ended the sudden battle. Ezra grabbed Vin’s wrists and Vin dropped backwards onto the ground gasping for air and looking even more ghastly than before. Ezra’s mind was racing for a solution. Collecting his thoughts, Ezra unbuckled his belt and yanked it loose. At the same time, he looked up JD. “Go for help!” Ezra screamed.
JD, his heart pounding in fear, stared at his brother now lying writhing on the ground. He didn’t hear Ezra’s first scream. “JD!” Ezra screamed again. This time garnering his little brother’s attention, Ezra yelled again. “Ride for help! Now!” JD nodded and took off running with every bit of energy he had. Scaring the horses a bit, he didn’t slow down. Yanking his horse’s reins free, he jerked the horse sideways to the log and jumped into the saddle. He kicked the flanks with more force than necessary and urged the horse to run full out.
Ezra wrapped his belt around Vin’s calf with shaking hands. Bobby had insisted they all learn basic first aid being around farm equipment. After Nathan started taking EMT classes, he would come home and teach his younger brothers more lifesaving skills. Ezra was praying as fast as he was wrapping. He hoped he was doing it right. Vin was still crying exceedingly hard. “You got to stop, Vin,” Ezra ordered.
When Vin’s cries continued, Ezra put both ends of the belt in one hand and reached up with his free hand and slapped his brother’s face. “Stop it, Vin!” he ordered ferociously.
Vin drew in a sharp breath and quit screaming.
Ezra was drawing in his own breath rapidly. There didn’t seem to be enough air around him. Seeing his brother suck in air and become still, Ezra stammered out, “S…S…sorry. You…you…you know what N...Nathan said. Panicking and screaming raises the adrenaline which forces the blood to run faster. You must get calm so the blood flow will slow down. Okay?” The ending sounding more like a plea than a directive.
Vin merely nodded and then seemed to fade out.
Ezra looked down at Vin with accelerated fear when the brother suddenly became unnervingly still.
“Vin! Vin stay with me!” Ezra cried out, quickly fastening the belt tight and then taking his brother’s face in his bloodied hands. “Vin!” he begged.
“I’m here,” Vin replied weakly.
Ezra nodded with relief. “It’s going to be fine. Everything will be okay,” he placated repeatedly. The repeating words becoming a strange lullaby, but not convincing the oldest at all. There was just too much blood. Ezra removed his jacket and placed over his little brother’s shivering form.
“Just hold on, please,” Ezra begged, running one hand through Vin’s hair. The other hand was gripped in a vise lock in one of Vin’s cold hands. His eyes constantly roving from his brother’s colorless face down to the injured and bleeding leg. When he noted that the bleeding seemed to have slowed down, Ezra gave thanks in prayers.
JD’s mind could only see only the blood and his brother’s contorted face in his mind as he raced through the trees and out into the clearing. The moment the house came into view, he began calling out with all his force.
Josiah had only stepped through the door and was still hanging up his jacket when the sound of his youngest brother’s panicked voice came to him. He was run over by Buck and Chris trying to get out the door.
Buck had been watching the game with only half-interested when he heard JD’s excited voice. Instinct telling him by the tone something awful had occurred, he was off the couch and running towards the door. Shoving Josiah out of the way, he was out the door and cleared all three steps in one jump. Running towards the speeding horse, he grabbed the reins and pulled it to a stop.
Before he could get a word out, JD was rapidly trying to explain what happened. “Vin got caught in a trap!”
“What?!” Chris asked, asked as he moved beside Buck. Coming from the study, he had pushed Josiah aside, who was still trying to get out the door.
“Vin! His leg is stuck in a trap! Come on!” JD urged. All four brothers had gathered around him by that time.
“Where is he?” Chris asked, as Buck lifted the little one out of the saddle.
“The river,” JD replied excitedly. He wished his brothers would stop just standing there and move into action.
“The river? You guys know better than go there!” Buck hollered.
“Later, Buck,” Chris shouted, giving him a quick glare. “Nathan, grab your medical bag! Buck, call it in. Come on, Josiah,” Chris ordered as he raced towards the barn, pulling JD’s huffing horse behind him. There was no way to get the truck back in there. They had to take the horses.
In less time than anyone figured it could take, Chris and Josiah had four horses saddled and out it in the yard. JD was swung roughly up into the saddle behind Buck and the brothers were off at the same high rate that JD had raced for help, each brother fearing the worst, their hearts beating time with the pounding hooves hitting the ground.
As the brother rode, each was having their own thoughts.
Josiah had started repeating the same prayer since JD had ridded into the yard. “Please, let him be okay,” he begged silently. He pleaded fervently that it wasn’t as bad as JD had made it sound.
Chris was already laying a thick layer of guilt upon himself. He blamed himself for hiding out in the study like a coward. If he had gone with his brothers, this wouldn’t have happened. Then the remembrance of wanting to ride out came to the forefront and compounded the guilt. What if he had followed his desires and this had happened? Chris was heading for despair before he even reached his brothers.
Nathan was praying with everything he had that the injury wasn’t beyond his capabilities. He had joined the volunteer ambulance crew when he was sixteen. Legally, he couldn’t begin taking his EMT class until he had turned eighteen; he couldn’t even drive the bus, but he could ride along, help where he could and learn. He was on call every third weekend. Since they lived seven miles, by way of highway, from Four Corners and it would be too far away to answer many calls, he stayed in town with a fellow paramedic on those weekends. The day after he turned eighteen, he signed up for his first level EMT class. Since he had been riding with the ambulance for two years, he had learned a lot. Now he prayed he had learned enough to save his brother’s life.
Buck was terrified, plain and simple. Losing another family member wasn’t something he could handle. He had managed to survive his mother’s death, followed thirteen years later by his second set of parent’s death. There was just no way he could lose a brother and come out of with his sanity intact. What had those boys been thinking? he wondered as he kept pace with the others.
The brothers rode up to the site where the other horses were tied. Chris jumped from his saddle and lifted JD off hurriedly. “Where?” he demanded.
JD pointed the way. “Beyond those branches.”
Thrusting his reins into JD’s hands, Buck barked, “Stay here and wait for the paramedics.” Turning on his heels, without waiting for an agreement, he sprinted after his brothers.
Pushing aside the branches, the four brothers never broke stride as they rushed forward. Chris and Nathan dropped down to their knees on the opposite side of a decidedly pale looking Ezra. Relief could be seen in those green eyes as the mute brother stared at them with shimmering scared eyes.
Chris could see the anxiety he felt in himself in those green eyes. “It’s okay, Ezra,” he offered.
Chris turned his attention to Vin’s unmoving face. “Vin?” he called softly.
“Chris?” Vin whispered, opening his water-filled eyes. He had managed to keep the tears from falling since Ezra told him not to cry, but now that the older ones were there, they threatened to start falling again.
“I’m here, pal. It’s going be okay,” Chris soothed.
“Hurts,” Vin whimpered.
“I know. Just hang with us. Help is on the way and we’ll get you out here,” Chris talked as he watched Nathan work. Looking down at Vin’s leg ensnared in the ugly looking contraption, he swallowed down the bile that threatened to come up.
“Okay,” Vin hiccupped.
Josiah slid into place next to Ezra. Nathan had begun unloading his small backpack and was directing Chris calmly, but urgently, to rip open every gauze package there was and start making thick stacks.
Buck slid up next to Josiah and yanked Ezra to his feet. “Move,” he said breathlessly.
Ezra was momentarily shocked by the roughness. He moved back near a tree and hunkered down. He figured the roughness was the least he should have expected and deservedly so. He watched silently as Nathan asked Buck and Josiah if they could spring the trap open. He listened as Vin began whimpering and pleading not to touch the trap. Resting on his heels, Ezra bowed his head into his knees and covered his head with his arms, in an attempt to block out Vin’s whimpering, and curled in on himself. Falling back on lifelong skills, he pulled up his walls and shut out the pain.
Chris moved up to Vin’s head. Sinking down on his knees, he took Vin’s face between his hands and absently began gently wiping away the blood smears across the ghostly white face. Vin looked up at his brother and locked onto the green eyes, seeking solace, strength and reassurance. Chris was moving his lips, but Vin was having a difficult time hearing the words. Then a ripping pain flared to life and the twelve-year-old felt himself arching off the ground. A piercing scream started to erupt from his vocal chords before everything went dark and he fell bonelessly to the ground.
Chris had watched Buck and Josiah as they had studied the trap, its menacing claws piercing through the jeans and into the leg. The blond saw first the concern and wariness in removing the trap and then the steel determination when Nathan informed them it had to be done.
Buck and Josiah grabbed both sides of the snare on opposite ends and quietly counted down. On three, they yanked it open, scrunching under the short-lived scream emanating from their little brother. Together the two flung the contraption to the side, its iron teeth snapping back together as it hit the ground. Once Nathan had carefully lifted the leg out of the trap and laid it back down, he grabbed his medical scissors, made so that they could cut through denim like tissue paper and cut the shredded jean leg off. Together, Buck, Josiah and Nathan seized the piles of gauze and began applying pressure to the bleeding holes in the delicate skin. Nathan looked over at Chris who was talking softly to the unconscious boy. “Need you to take off the tunicate,” Nathan ordered.
Chris’ eyes opened wide. “You sure?” he asked in concern. “ Won’t that increase the blood flow?” Worry and fear clearly showing on his face.
“Yes, but if we leave it on too long the lack of blood will cause damage to the nerves and the whole extremity,” Nathan explained with more patience than he felt. He wished the more experienced guys would miraculously show up, but knew that living so far out it would be a little while before they got there.
“Okay,” Chris said reluctantly. Leaning forward, he tried to undo the belt Ezra had tied around the leg one-handedly. Not having any luck, Chris let go of his grip on Vin, rocked up on his knees, stretched forward and undid the belt. Sinking quickly back in place, he took Vin’s face back in his hands.
Nathan was scared. He was only an EMT in training. He was worried he was doing everything wrong. This was his brother’s life he held in his hands. If Vin died, there would be no one else to blame but himself. Sucking in a large gulp of air, Nathan tried to calm his nerves and clear his head.
The three brothers concentrated on Vin, forgetting about everything, but the passing of time, waiting for help to arrive. It was with a deep sense of relief when they heard voices beyond their sight, hidden on the other side of the branches, then the crashing of footsteps through those same branches and the appearance of angels in the form of paramedics and EMTs.
Sam ‘Tiny’ Mullins was the first one through. The man operated one of the two auto shops in Four Corners. He was a large man with a good sense of humor. His trademark handlebar mustache had earned him the added nickname of Yosemite, after the cartoon character Yosemite Sam. He was one of only three fully licensed paramedics Four Corners had. The rest of the volunteers were made up of intermediate and beginning EMTs.
Laying his satchel down on the ground, he sat down beside Nathan and gave the junior medic a wink and a reassuring smile before getting down to business, checking the bandaging while shooting questions at Nathan faster than he could answer. The rest of the team were swarming all around the child. One took vitals while another one started an IV. One lady, Chris didn’t know her, opened a silver thermal blanket and began spreading it over Vin to keep what warmth the boy could generate in. Two others bought in a folding backboard and snapped it open, placing it beside Vin. It was completely organized chaos. Finally, the woman taking vitals looked up at Chris and said, “Called in for AeroCare. They’ll be landing at the ranch.”
Chris could only nod. He didn’t care if the thing landed on the house, he just wanted Vin to be okay. Josiah helped lift the injured leg up long enough for Yosemite to slide a splint under it. Chris kept his eyes on the lax face. Vin’s hair falling back made the twelve-year-old look even younger. Once the leg was resting in the splint, the medic began strapping it down tight. Once the job was completed, the team prepared to lift Vin up and slide the board under him. Buck heard the soft moan emanating from the prone child and heard Chris’ plea, “No. Not now.”
Anther moan and Vin tried to shift, but Buck’s reflexes were quicker and he tightened his grip on Vin to prevent the move. “Go back to sleep,” Buck soothed softly.
Whether it was the demand or just luck, Vin settled back down and seemed to slip back into unconsciousness.
Chris held onto Vin’s head as they lifted the child up and then lowered him back down onto the board. Chris noticed they had placed a folded blanket under the leg to keep it elevated. When they had Vin strapped to the board, Chris grabbed the head of it and Josiah and Nathan grabbed on to the place where they were sitting. On the count of three, the group lifted the stretcher and moved out.
When the medics arrived, Ezra had lifted his face and rested his chin on his knees, his eyes and mind taking in every detail in a detached sense of curiosity. It was like watching a movie through someone else’s eyes.
Buck began following the troupe when he spotted the discarded belt. Bending down, he caught a glimpse of Ezra out of the corner of his eye. “Ezra, get up from there and come on!” Buck exclaimed testily. His emotions still running high.
When Ezra didn’t move, Buck strove over to his brother angrily, his mind not processing the telling actions of his brother. “Don’t have time for this,” he grounded out. Reaching down and jerking Ezra to his feet, he shoved Ezra forward, propelling him in motion. “What were you thinking bringing them here? You’re the oldest. You knew better. This wouldn’t have happened if you had given any thought,” Buck hissed brusquely, following Ezra back to the horses.
Ezra remained silent. The words drifted through the fog that enveloped Ezra’s mind and sank deeply within. He deserved everything Buck was throwing at him. He was the oldest, he should have thought. Maude had always been telling him to think ahead, to see the future. Well, he had really messed up this time. He had become lax in his thinking. He had started acting like a regular fourteen-year-old, acting on a whim. Now his whim had possible costs Vin his leg, if not his life. Ezra let the cloud drift around him and pull him further inside himself.
JD had paced nervously up and down the shoreline. Part of him wanted to be with his brothers, but the rest had no desire to see Vin with his leg in that monstrous devise again, or all that blood. He had jumped a mile when Vin had let out that short scream moments earlier only to die midway through, but he had remained at his post. He had been told to wait for the paramedics and his brother’s life depended on him to do just that, so he stayed put to wait and pace.
It was an immense relief when he spotted the paramedics trudging toward him. He had ran out to greet them and then pointed in the direction they needed to go to help Vin. He had wanted to follow, but knew that he should stay there. He breathed a little easier when the branches parted once again a short time later and the medics came out carrying his brother. He ran up to Josiah. “Is he all right?” the youngest asked breathlessly.
Josiah looked down at his brother and tried to give him a smile. “He’s hanging on,” he said.
JD knew what that meant. He may have only been nine, but he understood the underlying message. Vin was not doing so good, but he was alive. JD stepped back out of the way of the moving people and got a glimpse of Vin’s face as he was carried past. JD stood stock still, feeling time had frozen as he stared at the pale face and closed eyes. He looked up at Chris, but his brother was staring straight ahead and didn’t even seem to notice him. JD ran towards the dividing branches to find Buck. He counted on all his brothers to keep his world safe now, but Buck was the one that seemed to be best at it.
JD ran through the branches, pushing them out of his way. He halted when he heard Buck’s harsh words. One look at Buck’s face and JD lost his nerve to jump to Ezra’s defense. Ezra walked passed him with a harden look on his face, showing no emotions. JD didn’t like that look; it scared him. JD turned his attention to Buck, “He’s okay, right?” JD asked, seeking reconfirmation.
“They’ll do their best and Vin is pretty tough,” Buck said absently. He needed to get the guys back to the ranch and get on the road. The helicopter would be here any minute and he didn’t want it to have too much of a lead. Buck grabbed up the reins of his horse, and then grabbed the others’ reins. JD mounted up behind Ezra, seeking safety in his brother’s presence.
Buck, Ezra and JD scouted out around the walking paramedics with their load and trotted to the house. By the time Buck and the two other brothers had the horses unsaddled and put up, they could hear the small party arriving with Vin. Not too far off, the unmistakable sounds of whirring rotors could be detected.
Four Corners was a small, barely thriving farm community. Its emergency services, like many other small towns, was operated solely by volunteers. It was the county seat, thereby doing slightly better than the few neighboring towns that were sporadically built around in the outlying area. Besides Dollar General store, Baskets of Flowers, the little, barely thriving, gift store, the bank and the grocery store, the main thing it had going for it was the twenty-eight bed hospital it maintained. The emergency room contained two beds, three if a curtain was pulled closed in the largest one. The physicians staffing it consisted of the three doctors that practiced in the health clinic next door. They rotated turns being on call for the ER. It was okay if you had a cold, or a broken limb. What it was mostly used for though was caring for the nursing home patients. Today, the hospital wasn’t even been a blip in the emergencies tech’s thinking. Accidents like these called for treatment from the big hospital in Ridge City.
Vin was loaded into the aircraft. Ridge City’s AeroCare had five medical choppers. Four of them were only big enough for staff and stretcher to fit into. Luck was finally turning their way. The helicopter that landed in the yard was the newest purchase of AeroCare and was a larger size. Josiah was ordered to climb in and sit in the small jumper seat at the head of the narrow cot. Giving a thumbs-up to the rest of the family, the doors shut and the copter took off.
Chris turned to the rest of the family rooted to their spots. “Let’s go!” he yelled over the sound of the rotors.
Buck pushed JD towards the truck. Ezra remained rooted to the spot he was standing, looking heavenward following his younger brother’s route with his eyes. It was Nathan that pulled on his arm sleeve. “Come on,” he said urgently. Ezra turned from the view and felt the weight on the world grow a little larger and the sense of Vin grow dimmer. He silently climbed into the back seat of Chris’ extended cab truck and sat down warily. Leaning his head over on the window, he tuned out the heavy silence around him.
The ride to the hospital had been solemnly quiet. JD kept his questions and thoughts to himself, knowing he really didn’t want to know the truth. He didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that, once again, he was partially responsible for the injury, and possible death, of someone he loved. He was beginning to think Ezra had the right idea. If he didn’t let anyone close, then it wouldn’t matter if they died. Looking up to the front seat and seeing the profiles of his older brothers, he knew he would never be able to detach himself from the feelings he had for his family. The youngest turned to Nathan sitting beside him. The senior was scrubbing at the dried blood coating his hands. Turning to look at Ezra, leaned up against the window with his eyes closed, JD looked down at the older one’s hands and noticed, like Nathan, he was covered in blood. The sight of both of them made JD nauseas. JD couldn’t help but wonder why the normally fastidious brother wasn’t trying to rub it away like Nathan. Another look at Ezra and JD was definitely getting the impression something was wrong with his brother.
They arrived at the hospital where JD and Ezra were led by Nathan to the waiting chairs while Buck and Chris checked in with the nurse behind the window. A minute later, a tech came out and escorted the two oldest back to the trauma area. Chris had simply turned and ordered Nathan to stay put with them, pointing to the two other brothers.
JD fidgeted in his chair. The mesh seat with its hard cloth cover backing was becoming uncomfortable. All the chairs were linked together and JD pondered at the thinking behind this. Did the makers really think anyone was going to want to steal a chair from a children’s ER? And even if someone did, how did they think they were going to be able to pick it up and carry it out without anyone noticing? JD thought adults were kinda dumb sometimes.
Ezra kept inside himself. The screaming and the pouring of blood replaying in his mind like a stuck reel. Vin’s face, full of terror, leaped out at him, recalling how Vin had screamed for the pain to stop. Ezra yelled inwardly at himself. For all his intellect he kept managing to do the dumbest things. Ezra could hear a voice far away and struggled to the surface of the consciousness. Nathan was standing over him with a puzzled look on his face.
“Ezra? Are you all right?” Nathan asked, slightly worried. This was the third time he called his brother’s name.
Ezra blinked his eyes again and focused on the older one in front of him. Nodding his head in affirmation, he wasn’t sure what he was agreeing to, but was hoping it was the right thing to do.
When Nathan’s expression softened and looked relieved, Ezra figured he’d managed to respond correctly. “Why don’t you go wash your hands?” Nathan suggested softly. He had already washed his. Only upon returning did he notice the condition of Ezra’s hands.
Ezra looked down at his hands like they were foreign body parts. He felt detached from them and from everything around him. Ezra shivered and stood to go wash his hands. The lights of the hospital faded a little and the room began to swivel. He walked past Nathan, focusing on staying upright and headed towards the bathroom. Once inside, he began running water over his red-crusted hands. The blood seemed make a continuous stream. Ezra watched in detached fascination for a long time.
Once on the helicopter, the flight nurse turned to Josiah and asked, “Have you contacted your parents?”
Josiah looked at her at said, “Our parents died. I’m his legal guardian.”
“Oh,” the flight nurse whispered. Then regained her questioning. “Does he have any known allergies?” she quizzed.
Josiah shook his head absently. “I don’t know,” he said, as he watched the other medic tend to his brother.
“How about penicillin or any pain killers?” she questioned further.
“I don’t know,” Josiah replied softly, realizing how little he knew about this brother or, for that fact, any of his brother’s medical history.
Except for the time when Ezra caught pneumonia, they’d all been relatively well, and since Ezra had stayed in the Four Corners hospital and the doctor there already had Ezra’s medical history, there was no questions for Josiah to answer. Now, Vin’s life depended on this knowledge, and he realized he knew nothing. Josiah hung his head in shame and frustration.
The nurse could see the worry, fear and self-incrimination growing inside the young man in front of her. Laying a hand on his arm, she smiled warmly. “Don’t worry. A lot of parents don’t know their child’s allergies until they get sick. One of life’s little ironies,” she said kindly.
Josiah gave her a small appreciative smile, but didn’t feel any better.
The nurse turned her attention back to her patient and studied the heart monitor. She didn’t say it out loud, but she was amazed the child was doing as well as he was. With the blood loss he had suffered, she expected more problems. She could only hope the kid could hang on a little longer.
When the helicopter arrived at Memorial hospital, an ambulance was waiting for them to take them the block and a half to the children’s side of the hospital. The landing pad had been made on the adult side of the hospital near their ER.
Once out of the ambulance, Josiah kept pace with the rushed gurney. A nurse came up to him, matching him stride for stride. Giving the young man a once over, she could tell he wasn’t the father. She looked at the anxious face of the twenty-five-year-old and asked. “Have you contacted his parents?”
Before Josiah could answer, the flight nurse jumped in for him. “This is Josiah Walker. He has legal custody of his brother, twelve-year-old Vin Walker.”
The flight nurse then began filling the staff in on the accident and resulting problems.
Josiah followed the white bed into the trauma room and moved off to the side, out of the way, and watched the flurry of activities that he couldn’t even begin keeping track of. The hospital nurse stepped up beside of him. “Has he had any previous surgeries?” she asked.
“Huh?” Josiah asked distractedly. Centering his attention on the nurse again, he shook his head. “Not since he came to live with us,” he answered, turning his attention back to watching the doctors and nurses move around like busy bees. His brother was obscured from his sight.
The nurse continued to ask more questions much to the dismay of Josiah. Finally, he turned on the nurse. “Look, it’s no good asking me these question. I told you I don’t know anything about him.” The frustration and stress of the situation showing through clearly in his misty gray eyes.
The nurse cocked her head to the side and smiled. “I know, but if he’s ever been to a hospital or a doctor that you know of, we can call them and see if they have a medical history on your brother,” she patiently explained.
“Oh.” Josiah said, feeling rather stupid about his outburst. “If there are any records, they would be at the Four Corners Clinic,” he answered contritely.
”Okay, I’ll put a call in to them and see what I can find out,” she said confidently. Before turning to go, she whispered, “He’s in good hands now.”
Josiah let out a breath of air and nodded, keeping his gaze glued on the cot in front of him.
A form was suddenly thrust into his hands. Looking down at it, he was puzzled by it. Looking back up, he saw a young man standing before him.
The male nurse explained hastily, “It’s a consent form. We need you to sign it before they can take him to surgery.
“Ah,” was all Josiah could think to say and signed his name on the line. The counselor, with a masters in psychology, suddenly felt very much out of his depth. Josiah signed the form with a heavy feeling.
The nurse patted his arm, gaining his attention. “They’re taking him to the O.R. now,” he informed him.
Josiah turned a dazed look back in the direction where Vin was lying and noticed they were moving his bed. Somewhere along the way, Vin had come to and he caught sight of those big blue eyes. Josiah wondered how he had missed it. What worried him even more was the fact his brother wasn’t making a sound.
“You can see him for just a second before they take him,” the nurse instructed him.
Josiah nodded his thanks and girded himself with willpower. Striding up to the bed with false confidence, he ran his hand through Vin’s sweaty hair. Bestowing his little brother with a sincere smile, Josiah spoke softly. “Hey, pal. They’re going to take you to surgery now and when you wake up you’ll be good as new,” he said promisingly.
He was inwardly surprised at how easy the comforting lie came out and wondered how many times his parents had bluffed their way through things with him and the other boys.
Vin barely nodded and whispered hoarsely, “You ain’t mad?”
Puzzled, Josiah asked “Mad? What for?”
“River. My idea,” Vin abbreviated.
Josiah let out a huff of air and really smiled. “No, I’m not mad,” he said, keeping to himself the thought, ‘That’s the least of my worries.’
The medical staff began moving the bed. Josiah softly clamped the small shoulder. “I’ll be right there when you wake up. Promise.”
Josiah stood watching his brother be wheeled away. Suddenly, he didn’t think he had the strength to stand any longer. He felt the female nurse who had been talking to him earlier take his arm and heard her voice. “Come with me,” she said softly. He felt himself being seated in a chair and was given a cup of water. A short time later, she returned with a clip board with some papers. “Need you to fill out these insurance papers,” she instructed.
He was still sitting there filling out forms when the level two tech led Chris and Buck to him. The two sat down on either side of him. Before either could ask, Josiah quietly said, “They’ve taken him to surgery.” Buck and Chris felt a loss at not being there when Vin was taken upstairs.
When Ezra hadn’t returned from the bathroom after a time, JD offered to go see about him. Nathan, seeing that the energetic one needed to get up and do something, nodded his head in consent. JD walked into the bathroom to find Ezra still washing his hands, his eyes staring blankly into the mirror. JD’s heart began beating faster. Easing up next to Ezra, JD called softly, “Ezra?” When Ezra didn’t reply, JD patted his arm and called louder, “Ezra?” Still Ezra had remained unmoving, letting the water run over his stilled hands.
“Ezra!” JD’s voice rising in panic.
Ezra’s eyes blinked and he looked at his brother. JD let out a sigh of relief. “ You okay? I can go get Nathan,” JD offered starting to rise.
“NO!” Ezra almost shouted, panicked that he had become so lost inside of himself. “I’m okay,” Ezra said, with a forced smile and began drying his hands.
“You don’t look all right,” JD said, clearly not buying his brother’s statement.
“JD, I’m fine. I just needed to wash my hands and began daydreaming, that’s it. Besides our older siblings have enough to worry about. We mustn’t add to their load of woes,” the older one spoke profoundly.
JD was hesitant. Ezra had a point, but he was still worried about his brother. “Are you sure?” JD asked in uncertainty.
“Most definitely,” Ezra claimed. “Now, we must not tell anyone of this, okay? Everything is fine and we need to protect Buck and the others from more anxiety,” Ezra said laying on the responsibility of protecting their brothers.
“Okay, not a word,” JD promised. He opened the door for him and Ezra and led the way back to Nathan in the waiting room.
After the forms were finished, Josiah and the other two went out to the other three and then led the way to the surgical waiting room. They filed into the small room and Ezra headed for the chair in the farthest corner. Turning sideways in it, Ezra drew his legs up and wrapped his arms around his knees, forcing himself to forget why they were there and whose fault it was.
Buck ran his hand through his hair and spat out what they had all been thinking since this had started. “I want to know just where that piece of…,” Buck stopped himself, took a deep breath and finished, “…that thing came from?” he hissed, his hands fisting into balls.
“We’ll find out,” Chris stated with confidence. “And when we do, I’m going to rip the son…,” Chris started.
“Chris,” Josiah and Buck warned in unison. Ezra and JD didn’t need to hear it.
Taking a deep breath, Chris finished heatedly. “The one responsible head off.”
Ezra flinched at the venom in Chris’ voice. There would be no salvation for his mistakes this time. He had been pondering how it came to be that every time something bad happened in the family, he was connected. His only wish was that Vin would come out of the operation fixed and be released tomorrow. It was a child’s dream wished by a child.
It had been three hours since Vin had gone into surgery. The minutes ticked by at a snail’s pace. Refreshment machines were fed dollar after dollar. Nathan and JD went down to the basement to the food court and purchased hamburgers for all. The food was picked at. Ezra quietly wrapped his up and slid it over to JD and still the time passed without news.
Chris had passed the point of sitting patiently and had begun to pace. Ezra, having buried his head in his arms, pretended to be asleep. This had only irritated Buck, who was a nervous wreck, even further, not liking the supposedly indifference Ezra was showing to the emergency. He had been ready to blow apart at the seams and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity. It was only after Josiah grabbed his arm and settled him back in his chair, that he explained to him that Ezra’s own body had taken a big shock in its own way and was trying to recover that Buck let up.
Finally almost four hours after Vin had first been rolled into surgery, their name was called over the intercom. Ezra waited until he could judge by the noise that the boys were exiting the room, then uncurled and walked slowly behind the rest. Josiah and Buck took the two guests seats. Buck pulled JD into his lap and Chris and Nathan stood behind the chairs. Ezra stood just inside the doorway. They all listened with anticipation to the man sitting before them in scrubs.
“He pulled through the operation fine,” the doctor started. “It took us a while to find all the bleeders and repair them. When the trap closed around his leg, it snapped the tibia in two. Now, luckily, the break wasn’t as shattered as it could have been, but it was bad enough,” the doctor spoke directly.
“How bad?” Josiah asked, keeping calm so far.
“We were forced to implant a plate and screws along the bone. There were other places where the bone was fractured like small fissures, none of them to the extent of needing medical assistance other than the cast. He will be wearing for the next six to eight weeks,” the doctor said.
The brothers just nodded. At the moment, they were trying absorb the information and deal with the outcome.
“He was lucky he fell into the trap,” the doctor said after a moment, stressing the word ‘fell’.
“Excuse me?!” the four oldest exclaimed at the same time with identical shocked looks.
“I said it was lucky he fell into the trap instead of stepping into it,” the doctor clarified.
“I’m sorry, doc, I guess we’re not following you,” Buck said.
The doctor had figured this out and was shaking his head. “From the scrapes on his knees and hands, we figure Vin tripped over something and fell. We’re guessing after he fell, he rolled over and his leg landed in the trap, setting it off,” the doctor explained.
“And it was lucky because….,” Buck said, roving his hand for further clarification.
“Since he’s small, if he had stepped into the trap and set it off, then it would have probably broken every bone in his foot, and from the upright position, it could have severed the anklebone and an artery. He would have bled out in a matter of minutes. Being in a prone position when the trap was set off, the teeth of the trap missed the artery. Tripping over whatever he did probably saved his life.”
The doctor stood and informed the six brothers that, if they went back to the waiting room, someone would come get them and they could go back to the recovery room and see Vin for a few minutes, and then Vin would be sent to the Surgical ICU for at least twenty-four hours.
The six brothers weren’t in the waiting room long when a level one tech came and got them. JD heaved a heavy sigh as his brothers stood to go, resigned to the knowledge he wasn’t allowed in the back. Chris turned to the youngest and patting his leg said, “We won’t be long.”
Ezra spoke up for the first time. “I’ll stay with him,” he offered.
Chris shot him a weak smile. “Thanks.”
The four oldest left the room and disappeared down the hall. Ezra moved over to the vacant seat next to JD. “You doing all right?” he asked in quiet concern.
JD turned and stared at Ezra a moment before answering. “I guess so,” he spoke softly. Another moment of silence settled between them before JD asked in great concern, “Are you?”
“Have no fear of my welfare,” Ezra said flatly.
JD’s alarm went off. Ezra was talking fancy, meaning all was not well with his brother. Pinning Ezra with the best glare he could deliver, JD asked, “What’s wrong?” After the bathroom incident, he didn’t want Ezra to do that again.
“I do not know to what you are referring to, JD,” the oldest said, skirting the issue.
JD had been thinking of Ezra in the bathroom and all the things that could have been the reason, besides the obvious, which was Vin lying back in a room somewhere hooked up to machines and who knew what all else. JD’s mind kept flashing back and remembering how Ezra and Buck were the last to come out and how angry Buck had been acting ever since. Like a flashbulb, an idea glowed to life. “Did Buck get mad at you or say something mean?”
“JD, don’t trouble yourself with such trivial burdens,” Ezra said wearily, trying not to squirm under JD’s scrutiny.
“What did he say or do?” JD demanded, sure he was on the right track now. He knew Buck could go a little nutty when things happened involving family.
Ezra sighed. For a little kid, JD could be most tenacious when going after something he wanted. Ezra blamed it on being around the older brothers and their influence. “Buck simply reinforced what I already knew to be true,” Ezra stated.
JD stared at his brother for a long time in silence, making Ezra finally shift in self-consciousness. “ It wasn’t your fault .You didn’t make him fall into that trap,” the youngest one stated with unsurpassable conviction.
Ezra shrugged in indifference. He knew the truth. The fact that Buck’s convicting words resounded in his head only reinforced the guilty belief. The silence enveloped the two boys as they waited the return of their brothers and the subsequent news about their brother.
The four brothers walked into the large room and followed the tech to a curtained off bed. Slipping past the curtain, the brothers gathered around the bed. Vin was still under the influence of the anesthesia and sleeping. He was hooked to a heart monitor, beeping steadily. Flowing through one needle, was the fluids of the IV and through another one was the last of the blood transfusions he had been given to replenish the blood loss he had suffered. His leg was wrapped in gauze and bandages. Sticking up through the bandaging was a drain tube connected to a small plastic bulb filled slightly with the red liquid. The paleness of Vin’s features was a shock to all the boys. They had convinced themselves Vin would look better after surgery. Josiah took one hand and Chris took the other while Nathan and Buck stood as close to the injured as possible.
“Hey, buddy,” Josiah said softly to the sleeping child.
“Hey, pal,” Chris followed up. “You’re doing good, Vin,” he said encouragingly.
“Yeah, Vin. You’re gonna be up and running around in no time,” Buck whispered.
They were still standing in silence when a nurse came to check the fluids. Looking at the concerned faces, she offered her support. “He’s doing just fine,” she voiced as she moved about.
“Thanks,” Josiah said quietly.
After the nurse was finished with her duties, she turned to the men and informed them, “You’ll have to go now. We will be moving him in a little while. Someone will come out and get you when we do.”
The men nodded and left the room. Moving back down the hall, Josiah said, “Buck, why don’t you and Nathan take Ezra and JD home. We’ll stay here for the night.”
Buck would have argued, but knew Josiah was just saying what needed to be said. It was getting late and JD would only have to continue waiting in the waiting room and most likely someone having to wait with him. “We’ll be back first thing in the morning,” Buck stated.
“Why don’t you see if Nettie can come over and watch JD tomorrow? No use making him come, just to sit in the waiting room,” Chris suggested. “And Ezra, if he chooses, can stay home with JD.”
“I’ll call her when I get home,” Buck said agreeing with his brother, as they entered the waiting room.
JD ran up to them and asked tensely, “How is Vin?”
Chris and Josiah noted how Ezra stood up, but didn’t move forward. The two oldest glanced at each other and wondered how much damage the trap had done to the other two ‘victims’.
“He’s doing good, JD. He’s still asleep from the medicine they gave him during surgery, but he’s fine,” Josiah answered truthfully.
“Buck and Nathan are taking ya’ll home. Buck is going to try and get Nettie to come stay with you tomorrow and they’re going to come back,” Josiah explained.
“I want to come back, too,” JD exclaimed.
“JD,” Josiah said tiredly. “You can’t go in and see him,” Josiah explained.
“That’s okay, I don’t mind,” JD argued.
“JD,” Buck said wearily
JD looked at his brother’s faces and gave up the argument. “Okay,” JD gave in.
“Okay,” Buck said with relief. Turning to Josiah, he stated, “See ya in the morning.”
“See ya then. If anything changes I’ll call,” Josiah assured.
Buck nodded and herded the others out the door.
The ride home was almost as silent as the ride to the hospital had been. All the drama followed by the extensive waiting had taken its toll on all, leaving them emotionally drained. Ezra had the added the imaginary guilt weighing heavily on his shoulders.
Arriving at the ranch, they split up and began doing the evening chores. Stock had no concept of real life or emergencies. Once everything was done, the four brothers headed indoors. Nathan went into the kitchen to fix supper. Ezra slipped up the stairs to bed. He had no desire to face Buck’s condemnation.
JD followed Buck around the kitchen as the oldest started setting the table. “Can we call and check on Vin?” he asked, pleadingly.
“Sorry, pal. Can’t,” Buck said, sidestepping the young one.
“Why not?” JD questioned, following Buck to the table.
“Because Vin isn’t in a private room yet and Chris and Josiah have their cell phones off,” Buck explained patiently.
“Why? What if something happens and we need to get a hold of them?” JD asked, following Buck back to the cabinets.
“Why? Because cell phones aren’t allowed in certain areas of the hospital, like the ICU. The signal from the cell phone interferes with the readings on the heart monitors and that’s bad for the nurses and the patients. And, if there is an emergency, we can call the hospital and have them paged,” Buck talked as he worked.
“Oh,” JD said, satisfied with the reasonable answers;
“Now go find Ezra and let’s eat,” Buck directed.
“He’s gone to bed,” JD informed his brother. JD had caught his brother quietly sneaking off to his room.
Buck looked exasperated as he said harshly, “I’ll go get him. He hasn’t eaten since breakfast.”
Buck wasn’t as mad at Ezra as he was worried. Ezra had been a completely different kid all day, and while he could understand it had probably been very traumatic for the fourteen-year- old, Ezra’s attitude was having an effect on Buck he couldn’t explain.
“Let him rest,” Nathan said, stopping Buck. “Besides, Vin was hurt, but not the only one traumatized,” he said, glancing meaningful at the nine-year-old at the table.
Buck stared at Nathan for a minute, wondering at the strangeness that Nathan seemed to have spoken his very thoughts. The oldest let go of his bunched nerves as he expelled a deep breath. He couldn’t deal with one of the traumatized brothers, but he could start dealing with the other.
Buck sat down next to JD and watched as the youngest picked at his food. Giving the small kid a playful elbow, Buck said, “Everything’s going to be okay. Vin’s very tough.”
“Yeah, I know,” JD responded. His words might have said he knew, but his tone said he wasn’t so sure.
Looking at the youngster, Buck softly said, “I bet it was scary, huh?”
JD’s eyes dilated until they were almost all pupil while his head bobbed up and down. “There was a lot of blood and Vin was crying.” JD’s deep expression and intense tone told Buck this had clearly made an impression on his brother. Vin, nor any of them for that matter, cried easily.
Then in a turn of defensiveness, JD stated emphatically. “That was okay, though. I would have cried, too.”
Buck understood the seriousness of such an occurrence. “Me, too,” Pausing a moment, he said. “You did good coming for help,” he said to reaffirm that JD had done the right thing.
“Ezra didn’t cry either. He wasn’t scared at all. He just took charge and tried to get the trap open, but he couldn’t, and then Vin screamed and Ezra stopped trying, but he tried to help,” JD said insistently. It was important that his brothers knew that.
Buck could only nod. He wanted to tell JD if Ezra hadn’t taken them to the river in the first place none of this would have happened to begin with, but held it inside. There was no use going into now. There would be time for that later.
“Hey! How about you sharing my room tonight?” Buck asked with a smile.
“Really?” JD said with evident relief. Any other time, he would have refused in an attempt to act older around his brothers, but he wouldn’t turn down the offer tonight.
“Yep,” Buck said with a curt nod.
“Okay,” JD said, feeling a lot better.
Supper was quickly eaten and the dishes done. Buck, taking JD by the hand, parted ways with Nathan at the bottom of the stairs and went to bed. He didn’t think he would get any sleep, but he could be there for JD.
Nathan dragged himself up the stairs. Today had been so adrenaline-filled, he was almost sick to his stomach. Walking into the room, he found that Ezra had left the lamp on for him. Climbing up onto his bunk, he whispered, “’Nite, Ezra.” There was no reply.
Ezra kept silent and vowed not to go sleep. He had no wish of dreaming the horrid events of the day.
The next morning Buck and Nathan were up early, choosing to let the other two sleep. Ezra had fallen asleep against his own wishes. When Nathan got up, he saw the telltale signs of a restless night. Ezra was curled into a tight ball, his hair rumpled and a troubled countenance gracing his face. Bedcovers were skewed all over and half the comforter was on the floor. Nathan recovered Ezra’s covers and pulled them up over his brother, before quietly walking out of the room.
The two were just finishing their coffee when Nettie Wells drove up in the yard. Buck went out to greet the woman, who was maneuvering her sleepy niece towards the house. He noticed the gray clouds off in the distance. Buck lifted Casey up into his arms and carried her in.
“Thanks for coming,” Buck said, laying the mostly-asleep girl on the couch.
“No problem,” Nettie said, covering Casey with a blanket. “Didn’t hear anything, did you?” she asked, knowing that Chris would have called only if the boy had taken a turn for the worst.
”No,” Buck answered. Walking to the door where Nathan was waiting, Buck whispered, “Okay, Ezra and JD are still asleep.” Putting on his jacket, he said, “Let JD know I’ll call around ten or eleven and, if you would, keep an eye on Ezra. Make sure he eats something and, if you think it’s necessary, call us at the hospital,” Buck continued his instructions as he zipped the heavy jacket up. “Oh! And JD may not be up to doing much today. He’s having a hard time with this. Just play things by ear.”
Nettie had followed the young man to the door, nodding her head at all the directions while fighting to keep a large grin off her face. It tickled her to see this normally overgrown boy taking on role of a mature nurturer. “I’ll see they’re taken care of, Buck,” Nettie promised.
“Thanks so much, Nettie,” the black-haired young man said as he bent down and gave her a bear hug.
“Git,” Nettie directed with a laugh, shooing the two boys out the door.
“Bye, Nettie,” Nathan called out as he walked out the door.
Buck and Nathan stepped onto the porch laughing, only to stop in their tracks and stare at the convoy coming up the drive. Buck stepped off the porch, with Nathan right behind him, and went to meet the person in the sheriff’s car, Sheriff Tom Sutton.
“What’s going on, Tom?” Buck asked as he shook the man’s hand.
“I called in Pete Williams and the posse,” the sheriff answered, looking back over his shoulder at the men unloading their horses from their trailer, all whom Buck knew personally.
“Thought we’d go back to where the trap was and see if Pete’s dogs could pick up a scent. Maybe we’ll get lucky and catch the creep or creeps who did this,” Sheriff Sutton finished as he walked over to where his own horse had been unloaded.
Buck looked at the group of men, then back at Nathan. The senior could see his brother’s indecision. Buck’s loyalties were divided; one half wanted to go see Vin and the other half wanted to join the group, of which he was member of, and go find the person or persons responsible for Vin’s injuries.
“Go,” Nathan ordered. “I’ll go to the hospital and relieve the guys so they can come home. Like that’s really going to happen,” he finished, rolling his eyes.
Buck flashed his brother a grin before nodding his head once and running for the barn.
The posse was made up of community people who volunteered their time to the organization. The posse did several things besides just riding in local parades. They searched for missing children, hunted down escaped convicts that were reported to be in the area, they collected toys for sick children and held charity bar-b-ques to raise money for families going through a crisis and in need of financial help.
Sheriff Sutton looked at Nathan and asked, “You got anything of Vin Chris and Buck’s, so we can discount their smells?”
Nathan nodded, “Yes sir. I’ll go get them.”
“Need something of yours, too,” the sheriff called after the retreating back.
Nathan returned with a shirt of both brothers and waited until Buck came back, wearing his orange vest identifying him as a posse member and leading his horse before giving a wave, climbing into the truck. Sticking his head out the window, he yelled, “Good luck.”
Buck mounted up and led the sheriff back to where the trap was lying. On arrival, Buck fell back with the rest of the riders. Sheriff Sutton and Pete Williams scouted around the area, looking in futility for tracks leading away from the crime scene. The area was full of boot tracks belonging to both the brothers and the EMT’s. When it appeared there would be no tracks to follow, Pete collected his restrained dogs from a fellow posse member. The sheriff stepped back and let his lifetime friend do his thing.
Pete Williams had been using dogs to find people for over twenty years. He squatted down by the trap and let the dogs sniff the contraption. He looked up at Buck and asked, “Who all touched it?”
“Just me and Josiah,” Buck answered and then recalled JD’s story. “And Ezra. He tried to release Vin first, but couldn’t do it.”
“You got anything of his?” Sheriff Sutton asked from the sidelines.
Buck shook his head. “Can ride back and get somthin’,” he offered.
“Nah, that’s alright. We can work with what we got. Done worse,” Pete answered as he shoved the two shirts he’d gotten from Nathan under the dog’s noses, giving the command, “No” each time. Looking back at Buck, he said, “Need you’re glove, though.”
Buck removed his glove and tossed it to the dog handler. Pete grabbed it and repeated the process. Turning the dog’s attention back to the trap, he let them sniff and then led the dogs in a small circle. When the dogs ran back to the log where the horses had been tied the day before, the handler took the dogs back to the trap and began widening the circle. On the third widening, both dogs set on the trail. With the posse following Pete Williams, they chased the leashed dogs along the stream.
Not long after they started out, Buck heard the distinct sound of iron snapping together and tensed. Swinging his head in the direction of the sound, he was relieved when he realized no scream followed. He focused on a person shoving a disengaged trap into her saddlebag. The face was harshly set and Buck was glad her wrath wasn’t aimed at him. Once the rider was back on the group of riders began traveling again, eyes strained to catch any sign of more traps before it was too late.
Two miles later, the dogs abruptly turned and began lunging at a log lying across the river. Pete held the dogs tight and looked back at the sheriff. The sheriff, in turn, twisted in his saddle and looked at Buck. “Anywhere we can ford the river?” he asked.
“Upstream a little ways we built a plank bridge,” Buck answered. “Been years ago, though.”
The sheriff nodded his head once and looked back at Pete. “It’s safer if we go upstream and cross and then come back down.”
Pete nodded in agreement and headed upstream. When they came to the plank bridge, Buck rode across first, making sure it was as safe to cross. Once on the other side, Buck called for the others. The horse riders crossed in a single file, the clapping sound of hoofs hitting the raw boards echoed softly around them. The men trekked back to the log bridge and, once again, the dogs set to the scent trail. As the posse began climbing higher into the mountains, the tree line grew thicker. The higher they climbed, the colder it became and the men pulled up the collars on the coats.
They had been on the trail for over four hours when the light smell of smoke wafted down to them. They had found four traps up to this point. The men pulled up to a stop and huddled around the sheriff and dog handler.
“Spread out and keep alert. We’re getting close to his homing patch, so watch the ground for booby traps,” the sheriff directed, his breath blowing out puffs of air. “We’ll let Pete and the dogs in the lead on a short leash. You know how this works,” he commanded.
The group of men nodded in understanding and separated. Buck’s nerves began strumming with anticipation and apprehension. He wanted get this person or persons, but not at the expense of a horse or a friend. Buck felt like his whole being tighten up as he watched the ground for telltale signs of the intruder and danger. As was protocol, he also kept an eye on the member on each side of him. As they slowly moved up the mountain, the smell of burning wood grew stronger. Almost a half an hour later, the sound of two dogs viciously barking had the whole posse converging on the snarling canines.
As Buck approached on Pete Williams and his dogs, he could make out a small shelter and saw Sheriff Sutton arresting a small, thin man with long straggly hair and a wild beard. Some of the posse members had rifles trained on the suspect. Buck’s anger came over him and, before anyone could stop him, the outraged man was out of his saddle and tackling the handcuffed man. The two went down to the ground and Buck quickly and efficiently rolled the man onto his back and was straddled him in seconds.
“Where is your partner?” Buck growled venomously.
“A…Ain’t got a partner,” the man stuttered out.
“Why? Why the….why the traps? Why our place? Do you know what you’ve done?” Buck spat out brutally. His mind going faster than his thoughts could keep up.
The posse members sat their on mounts and watched as some backwoods justice was dispensed.
“What are ya so riled up about? I’s just catching a little food and trying to make a few dollars to get me through the winter. Weren’t hurtin’ nobody,” asked the bewildered hermit.
“Not hurting anyone?” Buck hissed incredulously. “Your traps caught more than food. My little brother stepped in one of your traps and nearly lost his leg? You could have killed him!” Buck yelled, his chokehold on the guy increasing exponentially with his anger.
Instead of responding, the man began struggling for air. The sheriff sighed before calling out, “Buck!”
Buck’s attention was completely centered on the man that had caused damage to his little brother and didn’t hear the sheriff’s warning. Looking into this man’s eyes, all the protector could see was his little brother and the immense pain he had been in.
Sheriff Tom Sutton nodded subtly at a rider who slowly dismounted and handed his reins to a neighboring posse member. He then walked unhurriedly over to the sheriff and together they ambled over to Buck. “Buck, let ‘em up,” the sheriff commanded.
Not getting a reply the posse member put his hands around one of Buck’s bulging bicep and said softly, “Come on, Buck, let him go.”
“No!” Buck said forcefully. “He hurt Vin. The others could have stepped into one as well,” his voice shaking as he talked. “We wouldn’t have known until it was too late,” he said vehemently, the real problem in Buck’s mind rising to the surface.
“We almost lost Vin. It could have been JD and Ezra, too. We could have lost them all,” Buck choked out, tears forming in his eyes.
“I know, but you didn’t,” the sheriff said comfortingly. “Let him go so you can go tell Chris and the others we caught him. They need to know,” the other posse member added quietly.
The reasoning slowly penetrated Buck’s single-minded brain and he slowly released the trapper.
Yanking the criminal up none-to-gently the sheriff growled, “Now you’re going to help us find every trap out there.”
Ezra awoke to an empty room. He got dressed, went downstairs and found Casey sitting on the floor folding clothes. Upon further inspection, he realized it was their clothes. Ezra wandered through the kitchen, got a glass of juice and walked into the laundry room.
Nettie looked around at the youth leaning against the doorframe. “Mornin’” she greeted before turning back to the washing machine.
“Good morning, Mrs. Wells,” Ezra replied. “Where’s might JD be?”
“He’s still asleep in Buck’s room,” Nettie informed the youngster without stopping her doings.
“Thank you,” Ezra said. Sighing inwardly at the thought of being alone with the woman and her niece, she said, “I believe I shall go to the barn,” before turning and leaving.
Grabbing his jacket, he headed for the barn and solace. Stepping inside of Regalo’s stall, he picked up the currying brush and began stroking the shinycoat. With each stroke, he told himself he didn’t care what had happened, it didn’t hurt, and he didn’t feel anything. At one time in his life, it would have been and easy task to shake off the foreboding emotions that threatened to topple his world. Before moving here, feelings had been buried so far down nothing had affected him. Not even being abandoned by his mother had bothered him, or so he had repetitively told himself. When Bobby and Janice had died, he had hidden up in the rafter of the barn. When Mrs. Potter came from social services, he had run. That’s how he coped, by running from his feelings. He wasn’t comfortable feeling anything, except maybe anger or rejection, those he understood and could cast off.
The brushing was calming to rattled nerves. It allowed him to concentrate on something while shutting down. It was technique he had used in the past. By doing something mindless, he could disappear inside himself.
His thoughts were startled by the sudden appearance of Casey calling his name.
“Ezra, Aunt Nettie says it’s time to come to lunch or, and I quote, ‘Will be forced to come out there and get him myself and he won’t like it,’” the small dark-haired girl exclaimed as she climbed up on the stall gate and stared at him. Her big smile lighting up her face.
Ezra had found his safe place inwardly and everything was fine now. He nodded and replied, “Then by all means we should go to lunch.”
The two walked into the kitchen to find Nettie spooning up soup into bowls and JD already seated. Seeing the sad look on his young brother’s face, Ezra realized it was up to him to cheer up JD. “How about we play some games after lunch?” he asked in a cheerful tone.
JD looked at his brother suspiciously and then asked, “Payday?”
“Sure, why not?” Ezra replied.
Nettie watched the fourteen-year-old suspiciously, but kept her thoughts to herself.
Nathan, Chris and Josiah spent the day waiting for the regulated visiting hours when they could see Vin. Being in the ICU, they were limited to when and for how long they could visit Vin. That morning’s fifteen minutes had not seemed long enough for any of them.
When the afternoon came, the three brothers walked solemnly through the heavy wood doors, hoping Vin would look better than he had earlier. They walked to the end of the aisle, gathered near the head of the bed and immediately noticed that Vin’s color was looking better. Whether it did or whether it was just the boys’ optimism, the nurses didn’t correct them.
Reaching out to run his fingers through Vin’s hair, Chris quietly spoke, “Hey, Vin.”
He was surprised when Vin choked out, “Chris?” His blue eyes didn’t open.
A smile lit on Chris’ face as he lovingly patted Vin’s chest. “Yeah, kid, it’s me. Josiah and Nathan are here, too,” he whispered.
Vin didn’t respond other than to give a little half nod of understanding. Talking quietly amongst themselves the way family members do when surrounding a sick one, they hoped Vin could hear them, even if it was subconsciously and find comfort in their conversation. The brothers took inventory of Vin’s surroundings. The nurses tending to a patient in the next bed heard several of the comments.
“His heart rate is good.”
“His color’s looking better.”
“There is just a little blood in the drain tube.”
Visiting time ended too quickly. The brothers walked silently back out the doors and headed back to wait for the next visiting session at five that evening. As they walked down the hall, they ran into Vin’s doctor.
“Oh. I was coming to find you,” the doctor exclaimed, stopping the three in the hall. “Vin is doing very well. I’m really pleased.”
Three smiles of relief appeared.
Before any of the boys could speak, the doctor went on talking. “ I think he’ll be able to move to the orthopedic floor tomorrow. Then we’ll start lowering his medication and let him start coming around more.”
Chris burst out, “That’s great.”
The doctor smiled back. “I have to warn you though, it’s going to be a long recovery. Children are lucky in one regard though, they are more resilient. Their bodies bounce back faster from injuries than adults. If he keeps improving, I don’t see why he can’t be home by Christmas,” he said.
The brothers didn’t think of the holiday. All they heard was Vin would be home soon.
“Thanks, Doctor,” Josiah said enthusiastically, pumping the man’s hand heartedly.
“You’re welcome. You guys look like you could use some food,” the doctor implied the command with a smile. He figured that at least two of them, by their looks, hadn’t left the area since last night when their brother was bought in.
“Thanks again, Doctor.” Chris beamed. Today had been along day, but it was beginning to get better.
Buck walked into the waiting room to find his brothers resting. Stepping through the door with a happy heart and a smile, he found Josiah and Chris each lying on a couch and Nathan sitting in one of the chairs. Buck smiled in acknowledgment as he stepped up to his brother’s side. Chris let Buck get seated before asking, “Did you find him?”
Buck didn’t need ‘him’ defined and related his story.
“You mean, this happened because some guy got tired of living in the real world?” Chris hissed in disbelief after hearing Buck’s story, fighting to control both his emotions and his voice. There were other families in the room to consider.
“Seems that way, according to what Tom told me. He wouldn’t let me near the guy again, but apparently the guy didn’t even know we lived nearby. He was just trying to catch food to live off and maybe a few pelts to sell to get him through the winter,” Buck related
“You tell JD and Ezra?” Nathan asked. He was worried about the fourteen-year-old. He knew Ezra had a habit of internalizing everything.
“Yeah, I told them,” Buck said.
“Ezra, too,” Nathan asked heatedly, suddenly finding himself quite defensive of his absent brother. He had seen how Buck had treated Ezra the day before at the river, but had been too busy then to do anything about it.
“Yes, Ezra was there. Not that he seemed to care,” Buck said defensively, his temper flaring, his mind flashing back to the living room. The three kids had been playing a game when he’d walked in. JD had been relieved at the news, but Ezra hadn’t even acknowledged the news. It was like it didn’t bother him one way or the other. Ezra’s seemingly indifference really irritated him.
“What’s your problem anyway? You’ve been acting like you’ve got a chip on your shoulder since last night,” Buck asked harshly, his voice rising a little.
“Guys,” Josiah warned. Nerves were frayed but they didn’t need to have a blowout in the waiting room in front of other people.
Nathan looked contrite and lowered his voice. “ I just want you to keep in mind who’s to really blame for this and it’s not Ezra,” Nathan said, containing his anger.
“I know he didn’t set the traps, but he still should have known better,” Buck whispered harshly.
Josiah had been trying to break in and now saw the opportunity. “Now, Buck, Vin told me yesterday in the ER it was his idea to go to the river,” he said placidly.
“Ezra should have still known better,” Buck shot back.
“You telling me, you never did something you weren’t supposed to when you were fourteen?” Josiah asked pointedly.
Buck didn’t answer. Chris looked at his dark-haired brother and quietly said, “Ezra couldn’t have prevented it from happening any more than we could have. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, but that creep’s. Okay?” he asked. He knew Buck well enough to know that, somehow, Buck was blaming himself for the accident.
Buck stood still for a long time before he nodded his head in understanding and turned his mind back to the one behind the double doors. Buck’s heart broke every time he thought of the little victim. Why did bad things keep happening to the ones he loved? And why couldn’t he stop it?
The hours moved slowly. They were allowed in one last time for the night to see Vin. This time he didn’t stir. When nine rolled around, the nurse stuck her head in the door and informed them the last visiting hours for the day were over. Buck convinced Chris and Josiah to go home and get some real sleep. Stepping out into the parking garage, both shivered and jammed their hands into their pockets.
“Storm front’s moving in,” Josiah said absently.
“Yep,” Chris said in way of acknowledgement.
The hour drive home seemed endless to the two tired men. Sitting was as tiring as working. Nettie left with Casey right after the two came in from finishing up the chores that Ezra and JD had been unable to do.
“Go on to bed, Josiah. I’ll look in on the guys,” Chris offered.
Josiah acknowledged his equally tired brother. “Thanks, Chris,” he said, climbing the stairs wearily.
Chris went up the stairs and cracked Ezra’s door open a bit before walking in to the dark room. The hall light illuminated two figures in Ezra’s bed. Chris bent over and made sure the covers were warm enough before going and seeking his own bed.
The next morning Ezra found himself alone in bed. He quietly snuck down the steps hoping to sneak out of the house without getting caught. He was walking through the living room when he heard Chris and JD’s voices. Ezra reflectively shrunk away from the voice. Facing Chris would be worse than facing Buck. Garnering up his nerve, he started forward again, his eyes set on the front door. Just as he reached it, Josiah came through it from the outside. Ezra cursed his luck.
“Morning,” Josiah said with a smile.
“Good morning,” Ezra replied, hoping to still maneuver around his brother and get out the door.
“You ate yet?” Josiah asked, intentionally blocking his brother’s path.
“Not hungry,” Ezra said, still determined to get away without having to run into Chris.
“Nuh uh,” Josiah said, laying an arm around Ezra’s shoulders. “You got to eat, kiddo.”
Ezra felt like slumping against the weight on his shoulders, both figuratively and physically.
Ezra walked into the kitchen and prepared himself for Chris’ hate. Chris looked up and watched Josiah guide Ezra into the kitchen. Josiah told him a lot with just a small look. Chris shook his head, it seemed everyone was taking the blame for what happened to Vin.
“Hey, Ezra. How are you this morning?” Chris said with a smile as Ezra sat down at the table.
Ezra stared at Chris for a moment in shock. He had been prepared for Chris’ wrath, not this.
“I’m fine,” Ezra said, keeping back the rest of the words that wanted to tumble out. He wanted to know how Vin’s leg was and when he was coming home.
Chris was getting better at reading his little brother and could see the trepidation and desire to say something else. “I was just telling JD, that Vin was doing pretty good yesterday and they might move him to the orthopedic floor today.”
Ezra couldn’t help but smile. “Then he’s coming home?” he blurted out, immediately chastising himself for not having more self restraint.
“In a few days maybe,” Chris answered honestly. He kept the smile hidden that threatened to erupt at his brother’s impulsiveness. It was nice to know that Ezra wasn’t always so controlled.
“Oh,” Ezra said, his unhappiness at the statement clearly showing.
“But maybe by tomorrow you guys can go visit,” Josiah put in.
“Me, too?” JD piped up with excitement.
“Yep, you too,” Josiah said with a full smile.
The breakfast was eaten and the dishes had been cleaned by the time Nettie drove up. Chris and Josiah had decided that they didn’t have to be at the hospital at the crack of dawn and had given Nettie time to feed Casey at home. The grownups met each other on the porch and the two brothers headed for the truck. It would be another long day, but hopefully today would be better.
Since Vin had showed sighs of stability through the night, it was definite that the child could be moved up to the orthopedic floor. The nurse had put the order in and was waiting for confirmation of an available bed. They had also given the four brothers permission to stay in the ICU room since Vin would be moving and knowing that the older boys would be quiet and not bother the sleeping child.
Chris had taken pillows and stacked them on the portable toilet chair to make the chair more comfortable to sit on. Josiah had taken back the recliner and Buck was sitting on the straight back chair. Nathan was standing by the bedside watching Vin sleep. The twelve-year-old began to stir and Nathan immediately picked up the lax hand. When Vin moved again, the senior patted the held hand and crooned softly, “It’s okay.”
Chris rose from his seat and stood on the other side. “Easy, Vin. You’re okay,” he said.
Vin opened his eyes; confusion was the main emotion in them. “Hurts,” he croaked out.
“I know. Hold on and we’ll get something for it. Alright?” Chris said, even as Buck was hitting the call button.
Vin licked his dry lips and insinuated a need for liquid. “Open your mouth, Vin,” Chris gently ordered. Picking up a small square sponge attached to what looked to be a sucker stick, Chris dunked it into the pitcher of water and then glided it over Vin’s parched lips. Vin opened his mouth wider and Chris gently swapped the inside of the dry mouth. Vin’s lips automatically clamped over the stick and sucked on the sponge. When it was devoid of any more liquid, he released the stick and looked at Chris expectantly. Chris obeyed the silent command and soaked the sponge in water again, then repeated the process.
The nurse came and checked the electronic boxes giving out all the vitals. Patting the small hand opposite of where Chris was standing, she asked, “Does it hurt like a sticker, a bee sting or like you got hit with a board?”
Vin had to think for a minute before replying in a whisper, “Bee sting.”
The nurse nodded and put in the appropriate amount of painkiller into his IV. “Okay, Vin. It’s going to get better real soon. You count to hundred and the pain will be gone,” she said with a smile before giving him a final pat and walked to the door. Turning to face Josiah she said, “Transportation should be down here soon to move him to his new room.”
“Thank you,” Josiah responded.
The nurse smiled and walked out the door. Chris was listening to his brother trying to count and had to stifle the laugh that built up inside him as the drugs began to take effect. Vin on painkillers was one thing, Vin trying to count while on pain killers was something else.
It was another hour before transportation showed up to move Vin. Chris was grateful the kid was out of it, when they moved him. He had a hard enough time being in the room when they scooted Vin from the bed to the gurney, he didn’t think he could have taken it if Vin had been awake when they did it, much less Vin being able to handle it.
For a large part, the rest of the day was spent sitting. With the occasional disruption of Vin coming partially awake, most of the time to say he was in pain or needed water. The drugs seemed to keep him pretty out of it.
Ezra spent the day either alone reading or helping Nettie by occupying Casey and JD. The term out-of-sigh-out-of-mind applied real well. Children had a capacity for going on with life if they didn’t have to delve on certain aspects of it. With Ezra playing hide-and-seek with him, JD was having fun. Every once in a while, he would remember where Vin was and then a storm of sadness swept over him, but then Ezra would do something, like a magic trick, or swing on the tire swing and yell like Tarzan and he would be caught back up in the fun. For Ezra, it was a simple coping mechanism. Don’t think. Don’t feel.
Buck and Josiah didn’t stay as long at the hospital as they had previously. It wasn’t fair to Nettie, and Vin was well enough so there were no worries of something going wrong. As Buck and Nathan drove home, each commented on how well Vin was doing and how soon it would be before the boy would be up and going. The doctor had already started cutting back on Vin’s sedation medication this evening. Vin had been awake enough to say goodbye to them. Though they weren’t sure if Vin knew why he was saying goodbye or to whom, he was able, at least, do it. Bobby and Janice hadn’t raised the boys to delve on the negative, but on the positive. If there was only five percent chance of survival, then take the five and don’t think of the other ninety-five percent.
Once they were home, they had a quick meal with JD and sat down for some TV before finally giving up and going to bed. Both noticed Ezra’s obvious absence. JD had told them he had gone to bed early, but Buck was beginning to have a bad feeling in the pit of is stomach. Following Nathan up the stairs, he personally wanted to check on Ezra. Opening the door a fraction, he looked into the darkened room and could make out the outline of his brother. Deciding to deal with it later, he closed the door and went back downstairs to bed. JD was already in his bed and waiting for him.
The following morning, Ezra slowly descended the stairs, dragging his feet. He had to face Buck and his incriminations sooner or later; he figured he should get it over. Walking into the kitchen, he was surprised to find it empty. Grabbing a snack bar, he headed for the next possible location, the barn. Walking into the warm barn out of the cold air, Ezra couldn’t help but breathe in the smell of hay. The fourteen-year-old went unnoticed for a moment, before Buck looked up. “Hey, it’s about time, lazy,” he called jokingly.
Ezra took the barb personally instead of the joke it was meant to be. Figuring it wasn’t going to be the last insult, Ezra barred his emotions and went up to Regalo’s stall. Giving the horse some hay, Ezra stayed silent.
Buck looked over to Nathan and shrugged. JD bounded out of his horse’s stall and charged up to Ezra. “Guess what?” he exclaimed excitedly. “We’re going to get to go see Vin today!” The wriggling little body demonstrating how much JD was anticipating the visit.
Ezra was shocked. That wasn’t supposed to happen for a couple of more days. He immediately stilled the turmoil churning inside of him and went blank inside. This was no big deal. It wasn’t like he cared or anything, he told himself. Then another thought occurred to him, perhaps the accident wasn’t as bad as first deemed. If they were already going to visit, then his brother’s injuries were not as bad as thought. Ezra put on a smile and said, “I am glad that Vin is progressing to the point that visitation has moved forward.”
JD looked at his brother circumspectly. Ezra was using complicated sentences again. “Yeah,” JD said slowly, still watching his brother with a wary eye, “maybe he’ll get to come home soon, too.”
Buck could see disappointment in the horizon and decided to head it off now. “JD, Vin is doing better, but he’s not anywhere ready to come home,” Buck warned his little brother as he came over to where JD was standing.
“Maybe he’ll get better faster than you think,” JD said with conviction. He firmly believed his brothers were capable of doing anything.
“Maybe,” Buck conceded, “but let’s not get our hopes up too much, okay.”
“Okay,” JD said, as he hopped off the gate. “Can we go now?” he asked, heading towards the barn doors.
Buck looked at Nathan. Nathan said, “I’m ready when ya’ll are.”
“Okay, then. Let’s go,” Buck said as JD went out the doors.
Turning back to find Ezra still in the stall, Buck said, “Come on, Ezra. We’re waiting on you.”
Ezra didn’t want to do this, but saw no clear way out of it. Giving Regalo one last pat, he walked out of the stall and closed the gate. Buck waited until his brother was even with him and then fell into step with his younger brother. Ezra needed a pep talk,that was plain to see, Buck just wasn’t sure he was the one to do it. When he tried to help Ezra in the past, it always turned out worse than when it started. Climbing in behind the wheel of the truck, Buck hoped one of his other brothers could do the talking.
Josiah and Chris were having a rough morning. With the changing of the drugs, Vin was more aware of his leg and the pain surging through it. The doctor were having a hard time finding the right balance of keeping the pain at bay and keeping Vin from being literally stoned out of his mind. With the drugs, or rather lack of them, came the upset stomach. Josiah had already had to change his clothes twice. The nurses had been kind enough to loan him a set of scrubs after his second set of clothes were ruined. They had learned one thing for future references, when the twelve-year-old threw up, the dinky little pan the hospital issued for such occurrences was no where near wide enough. Vin didn’t just toss up the fluids and acid that had accumulated in his stomach, he spewed them. Josiah hadn’t even been close to the bed the first time. Afterwards, Vin had become very agitated and Chris had worked to calm him down while Josiah changed his clothes. The worst thing was that every time Vin retched, it jerked on his leg and the pain would flare up again.
The doctor had already tried two different kinds of meds to control the stomach, neither worked. Now, they had to wait until those meds were out of his system before giving him anything else. Too much medicine in the body at one time could be detrimental to Vin. Along with the nausea, Vin was having hot flashes. This, they figured, was due to the anesthesia. Chris had long given up the fight to keep a sheet over his brother.
Vin was once again being sick when Buck walked in with JD and Ezra. JD and Ezra stared at their brother. Vin was half-risen, throwing up into a bed pan, which now had multiple uses. His collar length hair was sweaty, stringy and matted. The room had a distinct smell to it. Ezra let his eyes rove over the rest of Vin’s body. He looked much thinner than Ezra remembered him looking a couple of days ago. The wires coming out from the neck of his gown made it look like Vin was hooked up to a charger, like that used to recharge batteries. As Ezra’s gaze fell on the wrapped leg, his breath stopped. He felt as if he had been suckered punched. Breathing deeply, he fought for control over himself. He clamped down on the urge to run; instead he watched with a new sense of detachment.
Buck had regretted not calling Chris in advanced the moment they walked into the door, but it was too late now. The boys might as well get used to the idea that Vin was sick and this was part of life. They were family in good times and bad. Looking down at JD, who was standing next to him, he could tell the little boy was fighting the urge to cling to him. Since their parents’ deaths, JD had become very clingy. Josiah had said it was the nine-year-old’s way of holding onto what he had left. Buck slipped his hand into JD’s and squeezed. JD immediately clasped onto the big hand and fed all his anxieties through the joining. Buck looked over to Ezra and was dismayed to find a blank face staring at Vin.
Vin’s stomach finally quit rebelling and Chris handed the pan to Nathan to rinse out. Chris looked down on his brother. When he had whole-heartedly volunteered to help Josiah raise the boys, there had been numerous things he hadn’t taken into consideration; this had been one of them. Watching Vin lie back gingerly on his pillow and close his eyes, Chris picked up the frail hand and pushed the dirty hair back before running a wet rag Nathan had handed him over the pasty face. He knew, without a doubt, that no matter how bad it got, he would never regret his decision.
Chris looked up to see JD and Ezra still standing at the foot of the bed. “Come on, guys. It’s okay,” he said invitingly.
Buck led JD up to the opposite side of the bed, but Ezra remained rooted to his spot. Chris let it pass, knowing this was difficult for his brother.
Buck looked back to Ezra and tried to be reaffirming.“Come on, Ezra. There’s room.” In his mind, Ezra heard, ‘Come, Ezra. See what you have done.’ Ezra moved up slowly to Vin’s side. The images of Vin lying on the ground, pleading for help and bleeding to death flashed like snapshots in his mind. The pictures of him trying to release the trap and hurting Vin even further played predominately. Followed by the memory of him slapping and screaming at Vin, though in his mind, he slapped Vin not once, but repetitively. He was not only careless about his brother’s welfare, but cruel as well.
Vin wearily opened his eyes and saw the new additions. Trying for a smile, he managed a weak grin. “Hey, guys,” he croaked out.
“Hey, Vin,” JD responded somberly. The sensitive nine-year-old knew his brother wasn’t feeling well and toned down his greeting.
Vin rolled his eyes to the other side of the bed.“Hey, Ezra,” Vin said weakly.
“Vin,” Ezra replied nervously. All the machines bothered him a lot.
Vin shut his eyes and fell into a restful sleep. Ezra began taking in every little nuance of his brother’s appearance. This was his doing. Ezra stared at the sleeping patient for a long time, sentencing himself for a crime he had no part of. It was Nathan’s voice that broke him out of his reverie with the suggestion that they go to the waiting room for a while. Buck’d had the insight to have the boys bring some cards and a few books to occupy their time. The rest of the day was spent either watching Vin sleep or in the waiting room. For Ezra, it was spent reeling from the effects of his judgment. Buck was right, he should have known better than to take them to the river.
It was nearing time to go and Buck asked Nathan to go check on Ezra and JD. It was a unnecessary thing, but Buck needed to talk to Chris and Josiah alone. He had picked up subtle cues from the eighteen-year-old about how he was feeling about his role in Vin’s care. The basic EMT needed it confirmed that everything he had done, before the arrival of the paramedics, had been the right thing to do. Buck also suspected he needed, both, Josiah and Chris’ approval of how he had dealt with the situation. Buck talked to the other two and it was decided that Chris would stay the night with Nathan. Buck would go home with Josiah. Josiah could talk to the senior the next day and that would solve one brother’s guilt. Buck was uncertain what to do about Ezra. The great thing about Josiah going home tonight was that, hopefully, the counselor would be of some help in that department.
Nathan sat quietly in the room watching the various monitors. Vin’s heart rate and blood pressure remained stable and the lead, attached to the injured leg, running to the pulse monitor, showed that the pulse in the leg was good. A pulse rate in the leg indicated that blood flow to the lower extremity was as it should be. Chris sat watching Nathan. The oldest shifted in his seat garnering Nathan’s attention. Once Nathan was looking at him, Chris said, “You did good out there the other day.” The compliment was straightforward and from the heart.
Nathan bowed his head. “Thanks,” he said. A few moments lapsed. “I was afraid I was doing everything wrong,” he quietly admitted.
Chris leaned forward in his chair and rested his arms on his knees. “You were doing your best. That’s what counts,” Chris whispered in respect of a sleeping Vin.
When Nathan didn’t say anything, Chris resumed, “You knew more about it than any of us did. No one expected any more from you than you trying. That was all any of us could do. Like I told Buck…like I tell myself…it wasn’t any of our fault. It was someone else’s responsibility.”
Nathan remained quiet for a while before confessing, “It doesn’t feel that way.”
Chris studied his brother for a long time and then said, “We’re proud of you, Nathan. You did your best and you saved his life.”
“Thanks,” Nathan whispered.
The foursome walked through the hospital and into the parking garage, noting the brisk air. It wasn’t until after they drove out of the garage did they know it was snowing. By the time they got home, it had begun to accumulate. The evening chores were abbreviated done quickly.
Climbing the stairs, Josiah prepared himself for a cold front of a different kind. Buck was downstairs putting JD to bed,, so this was solely his job. Knocking on the closed door, Josiah opened the door and walked in. “Ezra?” he questioned, not seeing the teenager anywhere.
“Yes,” Ezra replied coolly, stepping out of the
“Come here, will ya?” Josiah summoned, sitting down on the lower bunk. Josiah saw the perturbed look cross fleetingly over the other’s face, but Ezra sat down.
“Just wanted to see how you were holding up. It’s been a trial for all,” the oldest stated, studying the blank face for any tells of distress. After a few seconds, Josiah had to admit defeat. His brother was a pro at hiding his emotions.
“I am hardly the person you should be exhausting you reserves on,” Ezra replied, trying very hard to keep his feelings shoved down. Seeing Vin today had bought everything home and it hit hard.
“Vin falling into that trap wasn’t your fault, Ezra. You are not to blame,” Josiah said sternly, meaning every word.
“I am fully aware of the perpetrator’s role in the whole event,” Ezra said, yawning.
Josiah knew the yawn was for the most part real, it had been a long four days, but he was guessing it was also greatly exaggerated. The guardian was gearing up for a battle of the wills. “Ezra,” he began before being cut off.
“Josiah, it has been a utterly long day. Might we forsake this conversation until tomorrow?” Ezra asked, as he stood and looked pointedly at the oldest.
Josiah fought to keep from arguing, but resigned himself to the fact that he was being told, however nicely, to leave. The counselor reconciled himself with the fact that Ezra probably wouldn’t listen to anything he had to say tonight anyway. Perhaps tomorrow morning would be best; for both of them. “Sure, Ezra,” he answered, rising to his feet. “But, first thing in the morning, we’re going to talk about this,” he finished as he stepped through the doorway.
Ezra nodded his understanding and shut the door behind his brother. “Liar!” he hissed. “Not my fault. Ha! Someone else’s. Suuree. How stupid does he think I am?
Trying to trick me into believing it was anyone else’s fault but my own.” Ezra continued to mutter as he climbed into bed. “I know what I did and so does everyone else. Especially Vin and Buck.” Lying down in bed, the guilt of his crime assailed the fourteen-year-old and, as hard as he tried, he couldn’t escape from the deep pain it bought to him.
The next morning, Ezra woke as tired as he had been when he went to bed. Pulling on his clothes, he noticed the snow-covered tree branches outside his window. Looking out, he took in the beauty of everything covered in white. Ezra shivered and backed away from the window. Vin liked snow, more specifically snowball fights. Raised in the panhandle of Texas, snow had been a rarity for the child. For Ezra, raised in the south, predominantly Georgia and Louisiana, snow, too, had been a rarity. Unlike Vin though, Ezra detested the cold stuff and preferred to stay indoors and avoid it.
Thoughts of Vin bought back the recriminations of his stupidity. Ezra didn’t intend to go downstairs and face Buck and his hatred, or Josiah and his passive ways. Instead, he headed for one of his numerous hiding places to disappear.
Josiah tasted the oatmeal he was fixing for breakfast. Turning to Buck, who was setting the table, he said, “It’s almost ready. Why don’t you call the boys?”
Buck nodded, walked into the living room and yelled, “Breakfast!”
JD put his memories back in his box and slid the treasure back under his bed. He walked down the hall, stopping long enough to glance into Ezra’s room. Not seeing his brother, JD headed downstairs.
Buck looked up at the staircase and watched the black-haired boy slumping down the steps. “Where’s Ezra?” he asked.
JD shrugged his shoulders and moved past his brother. He wasn’t too worried. It was snowing. There was no way Ezra would have gone outside. He was probably in one of his hiding places he escaped to periodically.
“Ezra! Get down here!” Buck yelled at the top of his lungs.
When that didn’t produce his brother, Buck marched up the stairs. Going into the bedroom, he looked around. Finding nothing, he stormed out and began searching the other rooms. The more time he spent looking and calling for his brother, the angrier he became. He had too much to worry about without having to deal with a self-involved brother. He had taken Ezra’s aloofness to all that had happened as not caring. The boy had shown no regret whatsoever. Buck continued to search muttering aloud to knock some sense into Ezra once he was found.
Josiah looked to see JD walking into the kitchen. The sad eyes made Josiah feel hurt for his brother. “Hey, kid. You ready for some breakfast?”
JD shrugged, as he slid into his spot. He didn’t care if he ate or not. Everything was going wrong. Vin was in the hospital. Ezra was hiding. Buck was mad at Ezra for no reason and screaming his name. Josiah had no clue how to be a parent and stop all this and Chris was being weird about the whole thing. The blond brother was being too upbeat for JD’s liking. Chris was a brooder most of the time; his recent optimism threw JD for a loop.
Josiah spooned the oatmeal into a bowl and set it in front of JD. “I heard Buck yelling for Ezra. He still in bed?”
JD looked up at Josiah and nailed him with his sorrow-filled eyes. “No. Buck is looking for him.”
“Oh?” Josiah asked quietly with concern. Since the accident, Ezra had been solitary and Buck had been on edge. He prayed that once Buck found Ezra, he wouldn’t go off on the boy. Then he realized that he’d had about as much luck of that not happening as he did winning the lottery.
Buck stormed back into the kitchen, grabbing his insulated work coat. “Can’t find him,” was all he barked out as he headed outside.
After an intense look around the immediate area, Buck walked back into the warm kitchen blowing on his cold hands. His cheeks were red and his nose was running from the sting of the wind. He was less angry and a lot more worried. If Ezra were out in the cold without proper clothes, it wouldn’t be long before he caught pneumonia again and that was the last thing they needed. The temperature had fallen to twenty-nine, but with the wind chill it was down to nineteen. “Couldn’t find him,” he stuttered.
Josiah had looked up expectantly when he heard the kitchen door open. His heart clenched in fear when only Buck appeared. Josiah watched in dread as Buck stomped the snow off his boots, noticing the cuffs of his pants were sopped. Ezra wouldn’t go out in the cold, he told himself. “You looked everywhere in the house?” Josiah questioned, hoping against hope.
“Yep,” Buck answered. Before Josiah could say anything else, the dark-haired
brother continued, “Going to change pants and then saddle up and go look. Maybe
he’s at Motley Cave or the old Logan’s Cabin.”
Both places sounded much warmer and cozier than they actually were. The cave was barely big enough for one person and Logan’s Cabin had been one of the first homesteads in the area. One would have to be desperate to call it a shelter. The roof was mostly gone and there were chinks in the walls big enough for animals to walk through.
By the time Buck got back downstairs, Josiah had called Nettie and explained the situation. She had told him she was on her way. Both men shrugged into their layered clothing, wrapped on their heavy woolen scarves their mother had made them, followed by their heavy insulated overalls and matching insulated work jackets. By the time they finished, each looked fifty pounds heavier.
JD watched his brothers prepare to go out and search for Ezra as emotions warred inside. He wanted to punish them all of this. It was their fault to begin with. They were older; they should have done something to have prevented this in the first place. If they had been carrying on family tradition, Ezra, Vin and he wouldn’t have left; and Vin wouldn’t have wanted to go to the river; and Vin wouldn’t have stepped in the trap; and he wouldn’t be in the hospital; and Buck wouldn’t have yelled at Ezra; and Ezra wouldn’t be hiding. JD was betting on the attic in this instance.
Buck grumbled as he struggled with another scarf, “ Is that all that boy knows how to do when thing get tough? Run?”
Josiah, pulling on his fur-lined gloves, replied, “Do I need to remind you whose raised him?”
Buck sighed and continued to bundle up. When Bobby and Janice had decided to adopt Ezra, they had dug as much as possible into his background. They hadn’t learned much except that Maude used several aliases and had been constantly on the move.
Josiah and Buck looked at one another. “Ready?” Josiah asked. Buck nodded.
Josiah turned to JD. “Stay put. Mrs. Nettie will be here in a little while.”
JD nodded, his guilty conscience nagged at him to do the right thing, but he hated squealing on Ezra, too.
“And don’t burn the house down,” Buck joked lightly, trying to ease the serious look off the youngster’s face.
“I won’t,” JD replied sadly.
The two grimaced and turned towards the barn. Watching his brothers trudge through the mounting snow drifts, JD’s conscience finally won out. He ran after his brothers calling out to them to wait.
Buck and Josiah turned around. “JD, get back in the house before you freeze and you wind up in the hospital!” Buck shouted above the rising wind.
JD protested. “But you guys don’t have to go out! I bet Ezra’s safe and warm in the house,” he said, trying hard to hint the truth without actually telling.
Josiah figured JD was just being optimistic. Either that or he was overwhelmed by the recent events and didn’t’ want to be left alone. “Just get back in the house. Everything will be all right. We’ll be back before you know it,” Josiah ordered.
“But …” JD argued.
“JD! Stop it and go back to the house. Now!” Buck demanded, before turning and walking away.
JD swelled up. “Fine,” he muttered. “Freeze. See if I care.” JD walked back to the house determined to find Ezra and join him.
Once inside, JD figured Ezra was getting hungry so he stopped by the kitchen, raided the cookie jar and got two glasses of milk. Needing a way to transport it, he retrieved the large cookie sheet, set the items on it and carefully headed for the attic. Once he was in the attic, he noticed how cold it was and figured he’d come back down later for some blankets. Walking towards the far corner, he spotted the old rocking horse and whispered, “You here?”
“Yeah,” was the only reply.
Buck and Josiah saddled their mounts and led them outside. The wind hadn’t let up a bit. The cold would have frozen them in no time if not for their accessories. Each hoped Ezra had also bundled up as well. The glare off the snow could cause damage to one’s eyes after a prolonged exposure, both men pulled out their sunglasses to help prevent snow blindness. Buck yelled through his scarf, “ Hope that boy’s survival skills kicked in and he’s holed up somewhere warm.”
“Amen to that,” Josiah called back, as he led the way out the yard and guided his horse into the trees.
Nettie Wells walked into the house followed by Casey. “Hello,” she called out.
When JD didn’t appear, Nettie walked to the foot of the staircase. “JD!” she called louder.
JD came out of the attic door making sure to close it behind him. “I’m right here, Nettie,” he answered as he leaned against the railing of the second floor.
“What are you doing?” the older woman asked in suspicion.
“Nuthin’,” JD replied, not moving
“Why don’t you come down her and play with Casey?” Nettie suggested, her eyes still questioning the child.
JD put on his best sad face, which considering how he felt, wasn’t too hard and pleaded, “If it’s all right, I’d rather stay in my room.”
Nettie contemplated the situation for a minute before reluctantly relenting. “I guess so, sweetie.”
The black-haired boy disappeared a little too quickly for Nettie’s liking, but she decided to let it go. She would just keep tabs on the boy. Turning to her niece, she said, “You may watch TV for a little while.” She hoped after a little time, JD would get bored, come downstairs and play.
JD was in his room folding up his blanket and listening for the right time to slip it upstairs to Ezra. It was really cold up there. In just the short time he had been up, he had become very cold. The whole time he was up there Ezra hadn’t but a word. That was almost as bad as when he sounded like a teacher, JD thought.
Josiah, his throat aching from calling his brother’s name, didn’t think he could feel his toes any longer. Glancing sideways to Buck, he noted his brother’s set jaw. It told him that unless he called the hunt to a halt himself, Buck wouldn’t quit.
“It’s been over an hour. Let’s call it,” Josiah shouted, his face frozen.
“No,” Buck yelled back. He had messed up seven ways to Sunday; he wasn’t giving up on Ezra.
“We got to call reinforcements,” Josiah argued.
“Then you go back and I’ll keep looking,” Buck shot back.
“You know that’s stupid. Besides, it goes against every rule for survival there is. Now come on,” Josiah coaxed urgently. “The sooner we get back and get help, the sooner we get back out here and find him,” Josiah reasoned with frustration.
Dejectedly, Buck turned his horse and headed home. This was turning into a nightmare. His thoughts kept drifting back to the scene of Vin lying on the ground, screaming, with those prongs stuck in his leg, and all that blood covering Ezra’s hands. The moments following were blank, but he distinctly remembered Vin’s scream as they released the trap. The next moment he could remember clearly was being at the hospital. All he could think of was what if they had missed a trap, and now Ezra had stepped in one and was lying out there, bleeding, with no one to help him. The two brothers rode back into the barn nearly frozen. With cold hands and ice forming on their gloves, they cared for the horses first. Once that necessary chore was completed, they tromped through the snow with heavy hearts, and stomped up the steps. Entering the house, they were greeted by Nettie pouring two cups of strong hot coffee. Having watched for their arrival from the kitchen window, Nettie’s’ heart had lurched when she realized they didn’t have the young one with them. Solemnly struggling out of their outer wear, the two men took the coffee. Walking into the living room, they headed for the fireplace.
“I’ll call the sheriff and have him get a search party put together,” Josiah said wearily.
Buck caught a blur out of the corner of his eye. Stepping closer to the far wall, he could look up to the second floor and see part of the hallway. He caught a brief flash of the attic door shutting.
Turning to Nettie, Buck asked, “Why is JD going to the attic?”
Nettie looked puzzled. “He’s stayed up in his room the entire time you’ve been gone,” the ranch woman said, motioning to Casey to go to the kitchen.
Buck stood there for a few seconds before spewing vehemently, “You little brats!”
He called back to Josiah, who was picking up the phone. “Forget it, Josiah. I think I just found him,” he hissed angrily.
Josiah ended his dialing and followed his furious brother charging up the stairs. “JD!” Buck screamed in anger.
“Ezra!” Josiah shouted with hope of finding his lost brother. Hugs first, then murder.
They both ran up the final steps. Anticipation and annoyance overruled their good sense, so neither one fully processed the scene before them. Both JD and Ezra had startled when the door had been shoved opened with such rage. Huddled up against the wall, Ezra had pushed JD behind him as the two enraged brothers stalked closer. As the big brothers stopped and faced the two younger ones, no one said a word for a moment. Ezra faced the two, who had such anger and accusing eyes. Swallowing hard, he started to speak, “I can…,” That was as far as he got.
“Shut up!” Buck bellowed, his eyes flashing with anger. Pointing towards the door, he ordered, “ Get downstairs! Now!” The attic was too cold to have this conversation.
Ezra kept himself between his older brothers and JD, a tactical move that wasn’t lost on Josiah. As the boys slid past and started down the step, Josiah laid a hand on Buck’s shoulder. “Buck,” he warned. Buck rarely went off, but Josiah had learned when he did, he was harder to control than Chris.
Buck shrugged off the hand. “Save it, Josiah.” Buck stomped down the stairs with Josiah following. The oldest hoped his normally genial brother wouldn’t do something they would all regret later.
Nettie was angry with herself for not figuring it out sooner. By the time the boys came downstairs, she had departed to the kitchen with Casey.
The standoff was evident. Ezra once again placed JD behind him. Buck and Josiah were facing him, Buck was glaring, and Josiah was trying to remember that there had to have been a reason for all of this.
“How…how…” Buck was at a loss for words he was so furious at the two boys.
“What did you think you were doing? Do you know how worried we were?” the irate brother asked. “We just spent over an hour out there freezing looking for you, and the whole time you’re here, warm and safe.”
“And you?!” Buck turned his eyes on JD peering around Ezra. “Did you know he was here all the time and still let us go?” Buck felt completely betrayed by the nine-year-old who he loved so much.
“I tied to tell you!” JD shot back. “You wouldn’t listen.” JD looked just as mad at Buck.
Josiah let out a laugh. “He has a point,” he said.
“Josiah!” Buck turned on his older brother. Josiah raised an eyebrow and gave a warning look. He had let Buck go as far as he was going to go. It was time to rein in that anger and listen to what the boys had to say for themselves. Buck saw the warning signs. Releasing a hard breath, he let his shoulders drop. Turning his attention back to Ezra, Buck stepped forward to get his point across about how scared he had been, how much he had worried at not being able to save him.
Ezra was still in the defensive mode. Bristling, he put his hands out to the side and warned, “You can hurt me all you want, but you leave JD alone.” His face belied how scared he really was of being hurt, but his stance said he wasn’t backing down
Josiah felt a heavy weight fall on his shoulders. “No one is going to hurt anyone,” he said remorsefully.
The words deflated Buck and then he felt his anger return, though for a purely different reason. Grapping Ezra’s forearms, he was about to explain to Ezra, he didn’t have to fear them. He never got the chance to.
JD felt fear of his own. He had never seen Buck so angry. It made his stomach twist up in knots. When Buck grabbed Ezra, he feared Ezra’s proclamation earlier in the attic was coming true. Ezra hadn’t said much up there, but he had finally admitted to the youngest that he was afraid he had finally messed up so bad he would be returned to the foster care system. That was, if they didn’t hurt him so bad he wound up in the hospital first. JD had pointlessly tried to explain that would never happen. When Buck grabbed Ezra, brotherly instincts overcame everything else. Dashing out from behind Ezra, JD drew back and kicked as hard as he could, solidly connecting with Buck’s shin.
“Ow!” Buck cried out, letting go of Ezra to grab his ankle.
“Run, Ezra!” JD screamed, pushing Ezra towards the door.
Buck was holding his ankle as he looked accusingly at the little boy. “What’d you do that for?”
“You were going to hurt Ezra,” JD hollered.
“No, I wasn’t,” Buck shouted back. He couldn’t believe the power behind those spindly little legs of JD’s. He was going to have a knot; he just knew it.
“Well this is all your fault anyway,” JD argued.
“My fault?” Buck asked incredulously. “How’s this my fault?”
“You yelled out him and blamed him for Vin’s accident. He didn’t know the trap was there,” JD explicated.
Buck swiped a hand through his hair. It seemed everyone was trying to make that point clear to him. He wondered if everyone saw the same thing in him as he had seen in Nathan, a need to be cleared of any wrong doings on his part in this and had unconsciously blamed Ezra to squelch his own guilt. “I didn’t mean it. I was just reacting to a bad situation,” he tried to explain. “I’m sorry,” he said softly.
“Tell Ezra that,” JD shot back.
Buck turned and looked around the living room. “Where did he go?”
“He left the house and this time for real,” Josiah said with frustration. “Might I suggest we catch up to him before we really do have to call in the reinforcements?” Josiah said pointedly.
Buck shoulders slumped as he resigned himself to going back out into the cold. Stepping off the porch, Josiah began following the deep imprints in the snow. When they realize Ezra hadn’t headed for the barn as hoped, but towards the trees, Buck turned to JD and ordered him to go back inside the house. JD didn’t listen and was determined to follow, but was stopped by two strong arms wrapping around them. Buck looked back when he heard JD yelling and saw Nettie holding the youngster back.
The two large brothers began running in earnest. Ezra was running hard and erratically. Josiah could feel the cold air pulling on his lungs. His mind was racing as fast as his legs. If only he had stepped forward earlier and taken control of things. He should have simply stood up and said they were having Christmas as normal and dealt with the fallout as it came. It certainly couldn’t have turned out any worse. Josiah became frantic when he realized Ezra’s footsteps were leading towards the river.
Buck was matching Josiah step for step, thanking God for the miracle that was Nettie. If she had left instead of staying, then JD would have been right behind them trying to keep up and Buck would have had to fall back so as not to lose the youngster.
Ezra was running without direction. A strange metaphor popped into his head as he ran into the thin tree line. This was what Maude had taught him a smart person always did: run. The only thing wrong with that obscure thought: was that he didn’t feel smart at all at the moment.
Buck had scared him more than he’d been scared in a long time. He had begun thinking that he truly was safe in this family, but the entire episode of late had really shaken him up. It seemed the whole week had been a roller coaster of emotions--from missing Bobby and Janice, to Vin’s accident, to Buck’s accusation and all the ensuing complications.
Ezra’s mind didn’t register his feet were taking the same path that he and his brothers had taken only days earlier. Suddenly he was at the stream, the top having been iced over and covered with snow, never noticing where he was, Ezra ran blindly on. He had to get away. The eerie creak before the ice shattered was his only warning before he plunged through the ice and fell into the cold water. Going under like a lead weight, his feet hit the bottom and went out from under him. He struggled to rise back up, but his foot was caught in the limbs of a rotten branch, and the loops of one of his tennis shoes snagged on something down at the bottom. He began to panic as the cold water surrounded him. Ezra fought to get his head above the freezing water; floundering, he felt himself go under for another time. He managed to yell before slipping below again. He fought under the water to get his frozen fingers to untie the shoelaces. Ezra had always tied his tight. Now they were so tight, he couldn’t slip the shoe off and the laces wouldn’t pull loose. His mind let go of the panic as the blackness overtook him; the cold water swallowing him up as Ezra lost the fight.
The two brothers had been gaining on Ezra’s much shorter strides. Buck was sure they were only a couple hundred yards behind when he thought he heard a short cry, but wasn’t sure if he’d actually heard it. The simple possibility forced him to re-double his efforts, getting a slight lead on Josiah.
Josiah didn’t hear the cry, he only saw Buck speed up. The urgency of Buck sudden speed had a direct impact on his own pace.
Buck came to a halt momentarily as he scanned the area for any sight of his brother and then he saw the brown head pop up from the water only to disappear again. The guardian rushed onto the frozen water, only for it to break under his weight. He slugged through the deep water the rest of the way. Coming to where he thought he had seen Ezra last, he dropped under the water and searched for his brother. Spotting the motionless body, Buck grabbed Ezra under his arms and hauled him up. When he broke water, Josiah was there and grabbed Ezra’s arms. In their blind panic, they pulled up on him with everything they had, but Ezra’s trapped leg prevented them from pulling Ezra from the freezing water. When Ezra’s body refused to be pulled up any further, Buck cried out, “He’s tangled up, somewhere.”
“I got him,” Josiah yelled, tightening his death grip even further.
Buck went back under and followed the outstretched leg down until he found the log Ezra’s shoelace was tangled up with. Buck tried to pull the shoe loose, but to no effect. The shoe wouldn’t dislodge. With a hard yank, Buck tried to pull the shoe off, but it didn’t budge. Standing up quickly, he shoved his frozen, shaking hands into his pocket and pulled out his knife. Using his chattering teeth, he pulled out the biggest blade. Looking at Josiah before disappearing back under the water, he said, “Shoe stuck.”
Josiah had followed Buck into the water unquestionably. When his brother had pulled Ezra’s upper body out the water, he grabbed onto him in shock. Ezra’s face was just barely above the surface and his eyes were closed. His almost translucent face had a blue tinge to it, with lips so blue they looked purple. The picture would be burned into Josiah’s mind forever. He had gripped Ezra tightly, whispering, “Hold on, Ezra. I got you. Just hold on.” Remembering enough of the first aid he’d been taught, Josiah maneuvered around and performed a rough version of the hymlac maneuver to force any swallowed water out of his brother’s lungs. When nothing was regurgitated, Josiah was relieved. He had felt the rough yank on his brother, but kept Ezra head above water, despite the numbness in his hands. When Buck resurfaced, the fear he had felt tripled. Then Buck had pulled out his knife and disappeared back under the water. Seconds later Ezra came free. Josiah lifted the unconscious brother up into his arms and sloshed through the icy water to shore.
Buck was right behind him. Reaching shore, Josiah shifted Ezra in arms, he could barely feel, going on sheer determination. Knowledge that he and Buck were Ezra’s only chance at survival made Josiah unwavering in saving his brother. Knowing he shouldn’t move a hypothermic patient more than necessary, he carried Ezra over to some trees blocking most of the wind, laid Ezra down and covered him with his body. Buck had fallen in step with his brother. Josiah looked up at his brother and spoke through chattering teeth. “G…g…go. H…h…help.”
Buck understood, turned, and picked up his broken pace, his strides much shorter now. It was difficult to walk and several times he stumbled, always catching himself before he hit the ground. His frozen jeans added to the difficulty in walking. It seemed a lifetime before the house came into view. When he reached the door, he couldn’t get his fingers to grip the door handle. Nettie flung the door open and stared in shock at the man before her with ice frozen in his eyebrows and on his cheeks. His clothes, white with ice, creaked when he moved forward.
“What happened? Where are Josiah and Ezra?” Nettie exclaimed, as she propelled Buck toward the fire, glancing worriedly behind her, looking for the two missing boys.
“Ez…Ezz..Ezra. R..r..r…r..rriver,” Buck stammered out., falling in a controlled heap by the fire with the old woman’s help.
“NO!” JD screamed. Scrambling to his feet, he was intent on going to his brother’s aid when he stopped by Nettie’s sharp voice.
“JD! Get back here and help me with Buck!” Nettie demanded. Seeing JD stop in his tracks torn, between brothers, she ordered. “JD, go get me as many blankets as you can carry. Casey, get me the phone!”
Nettie turned her attention back to Buck, who was valiantly trying, but unsuccessfully in removing his wet clothes. The old woman had the big boy stripped to his skivvies in no time, not blinking in her task. Casey bought the phone back and dialed 9-1-1 before handing the phone to her aunt. Nettie took the phone and tucked it between her chin and shoulder and she vigorously began rubbing Buck’s arms and legs. Talking to the dispatcher, Nettie ordered Casey to go upstairs and retrieve the blankets from JD and have the boy find Buck some socks and a heating pad.
Casey jumped to her feet and carried out her aunt’s directions with a racing heart. Nettie was talking to the dispatcher and caring for Buck, when Casey reappeared with the blankets and began spreading them over the shivering man. JD was right behind her with the socks and heating pad. Nettie made the kids leave long enough for her to reach under the blankets and strip the rest of the wet clothes off. Placing the heating pad on the bottom blanket over the groin area, she turned it on high. Everything had been done that could be done for Buck. Her next concern was Josiah and Ezra.
Handing the phone over to JD with orders to stay on the line with the dispatcher, Nettie grabbed up the remaining blankets and ran to the door.
Before she got to the door, Buck stuttered out, “Nettie.” Garnering her attention, the cold man stuttered, “T…t…trees.”
Nettie nodded once and rushed out to her old work truck. Starting the truck, she shifted the gears and made the old truck go where it wasn’t supposed to be able to. Maneuvering it through the first line of trees, she slammed it into park and grabbed the blankets. The old ranchwoman, who had lived a life of trials, had more gumption than anyone ever suspected. She ran the rest of the way, coming to river and finding Josiah huddled over an unconscious Ezra. Sliding up to the pair, she was torn between moving them out of the cold or keeping them there and waiting for the paramedics. The dispatcher had said to avoid rough movement and excess activity because jarring movements could produce cardiac arrest, but in Nettie’s mind, if she left them there, freezing wet in the wind, it would only worsen their condition. Making a choice, she shoved Josiah hard enough to gain his attention. “Can you carry him?” Nettie demanded with a stern tone. The oldest looked at the neighbor in confusion for a moment before slowly nodding.
“Come on,” she said forcefully. Grabbing Josiah by his forearm and pulling him to his feet, she could tell Josiah was losing his own battle with consciousness. “Pick him up! Carefully!” she yelled.
Josiah bent over like an old man and going on sheer willpower lifted Ezra into his arms and staggered ahead of Nettie, carrying the blankets, through the snow to the truck. Josiah placed Ezra into the seat and then felt Nettie shoving him into the truck. Dumping the blankets into the bed of the truck she began systematically taking them one-by-one and covering both frozen figures. When all the blankets were used, she ran to the other side and backed the truck down the hill. Running on pure adrenaline and fear of losing her boys, Nettie was doing the impossible.
Getting back to the house, Nettie was met by Casey and JD. Yanking the blankets off the bodies, she shoved them into the youngster’s hands. Pulling Josiah out of the truck, she directed him to pick Ezra up and pushed Josiah into the house. With the help of a roused Buck, he laid Ezra down by the fire and then collapsed. “Josiah!” JD screamed.
Nettie knelt down by the unconscious man. Taking the carotid pulse, she blew out a breath of air and nodded at Casey, who was still on the phone to the dispatcher. Turning to JD, who was standing there with bulging eyes, she directed, “You and Buck get Josiah’s clothes off.”
JD dropped to his knees and, working with Buck, began undressing his brother as Nettie turned her attention to Ezra. After Josiah’s clothes were removed and he was swaddled from head to toe in blankets, JD turned his attention on Ezra. Huddling near him, JD took in the pale, motionless face. JD looked for signs telling him Ezra was okay; when none appeared, he begged quietly. “Please, Ezra. Please don’t die.”
Casey felt tears of sorrow for her friend worrying over his brother. She hoped for his sake his brothers recovered. Two ambulances came screeching into the yard, tires spinning in the snow, the wind too strong for the helicopters to fly. Paramedics soon filled the room. They split into teams. Having established that Buck was breathing and moving on his own, they wrapped him in an insulation blanket and fixed an oxygen mask over his mouth. One EMT stayed and monitored him, while the other one moved to help with Ezra. The first thing they did was establish that Ezra was breathing, albeit shallowly, on his own. The next thing they did was take a pulse. Establishing that it was far too low, they began a warm IV Saline solution and administered the appropriate medication. Keeping the child wrapped from head to toe, they backboarded him and carried him to the bus. After taking a core temperature, they cranked up the heater. Since Ezra would be going to the children’s hospital, the paramedics took off for the hospital, going code four.
Buck was backboarded and put in the other ambulance. He had rebelled against the backboard at first, but they had explained that just because he was ambulatory didn’t mean he couldn’t develop sudden problems. His energy gave out on him and he buckled, closing his eyes and hoping for the best. Josiah was treated in the same manner as Ezra. He was placed next to Buck in the bus and the ambulance took off.
Nettie put out the fire in the fireplace and gathered up to the two children and headed for the truck. These boys meant as much to her as Casey did. When her neighbors had died, she had made a vow to watch over them. Losing one of them would be like losing a child of her own. Once she was on the pavement, she had JD pull out her cell phone and dial the hospital number and be patched through to Vin’s room. JD held the phone to her ear as she waited for Chris to pick up the phone. How she hated to have to break the news to the blond.
Vin’s night passed relatively quiet. Only the intrusion of nurses that checked on him periodically through the late hours disturbed the light-sleeping child. With the dawning of the morning light, Vin’s awareness of the real world rose. Blinking his eyes open, he turned his head, searching to see who was there. He spotted Nathan sitting in a chair at the end of the bed and off to the side. Looking further around the room, his eyes landed on Chris, leaned back in the recliner, next to the bed, sleeping. Vin took in the rumpled hair. Scanning the rest of the face, he noticed the dark circles under his eyes, standing out on the light complexion. Chris was covered with a blanket with one arm sticking out. Following the arm, Vin saw it stuck between the railings on his bed. Vin glanced down the side of his own body and smiled. Chris was holding his hand. Feeling more relaxed, Vin closed his eyes.
Lying there, Vin was beginning to realize how safe he really was with this family. He’d only been with them for seventeen months before the accident that took Booby and Janis. He had been certain that he’d be turned back to the state like a used car returned to the dealer to be resold. But in a move that shocked him, Josiah had gone before the judge and gained custody of him permanently.
Permanently. Vin liked the sound of that word. He would be the first to admit they were no Brady Bunch family. They had their disagreements, quarrels and at least one knock-down-drag-out fight, but they were still together and would be permanently. That meant forever. They were a real family, laughed, played, fought each other and most importantly, stuck together in the bad times. He couldn’t remember one instance since falling into that trap where he had been alone. Every memory, he had one brother, if not more, had been there by his side. Vin yawned and flexed his hand, squeezing the one holding his. Instantly, he felt the hand squeeze gently back. Vin took another deep breath and settled back to sleep.
The next time he awoke, the aide was coming through the door with his breakfast tray. Letting go of Chris’ hand, Vin raised the bed into a sitting position and pressed his hands down in an effort to scoot himself up. A loud hiss escaped as his elevated leg was pulled on. Panting momentarily for air as he waited for the pain to pass, he felt both hands being taken in support. Realizing Nathan and Chris were on either side, the boy tried to force a brave smile.
“Forgot,’ Vin panted.
“Betcha don’t in the future,” Chris joked.
“Ha Ha,” Vin retorted, making a face at his brother.
“Come on, Nathan. Let’s get the prince here situated so he can eat his royal breakfast,” Chris continued his harassing, hoping to distract Vin’s attention off his leg.
Together, Chris and Nathan grabbed the short sheet under Vin and lifted him up the bed. Once Vin was in a better sitting position, Nathan pulled the tray closer and uncovered the bowl of Cream of Wheat.
While Chris fixed the cereal with added sugar and a little milk to cool it down, Nathan went to roam the halls and walk the kinks out of his spine. The twelve-year-old studied the blond next to him between bites. Gathering his courage, he asked quietly, “Chris,” he began hesitantly, “you think I’m gonna lose my leg?”
Chris had looked up as his name and was mentioned and was shocked by the question. Standing up next to the bed so they would be face-to-face, Chris said strongly, “No. You’re not going to lose your leg.”
This was the first real conversation Vin had been able to have since the incident. Looking down at the wrapped leg with its empty drain tube still sticking out, Chris started explaining, “The teeth of the trap did do some damage and the doctors had to put a steel plate in it to strengthen it. It’s going to be slow healing and you’ll probably be in therapy, but I promise, as it stands now, you are going to be just fine.”
Vin quietly contemplated the information for a moment before whispering, “I’m sorry.”
Chris’ anger rose. It seemed everyone was blaming themselves for this except the rightful person.
“What for?” he demanded. “You did nothing wrong. You understand me? You didn’t know that it was there. You have nothing to be sorry for. Okay?” Chris said sternly.
“But this is going to cost a lot of money and rehab, too,” Vin tried explain. He understood how strapped they were for money.
Chris took Vin’s chin between his fingers. “You don’t worry about that. We got enough insurance. It’ll be all right,” he said.
The three minors were still covered by their parents insurance, as long as the premiums were paid, plus Josiah had them all covered with the school’s insurance, as paltry as it was, and the rest they would just have to work out.
Vin trusted Chris. He trusted all his brothers explicitly. He had found it to be an odd, and at first troubling, emotion for him. It had been a long time since he’s trusted someone so completely, much less an entire group of people. The twelve-year-old relaxed and finished his breakfast. If Chris said it was going to be okay, then it was.
The aide came and removed the empty container, giving Vin a large grin as she left. Nathan returned and sat down in his chair. Vin lowered the bed back down and closed his eyes tiredly. The simple task of eating had left him drained. Seeing that Vin was drifting off to sleep, Chris patted the showing shoulder. “I’m going downstairs to get some coffee. I’ll be back.”
Vin, knowing Chris needed his coffee in the morning, nodded once. Before turning to leave, Chris said lowly, “Nathan will still be here if you need anything.”
Not getting a reply, Chris nodded at Nathan and walked out the door. After four days of stress and worry, he was bone weary tired. The blond was thankful that things were looking up though. Vin was more alert and eating, even if it wasn’t solids yet. The staff had finally found the right dosage of medicine that kept Vin comfortable and not feeling too much pain without being sick, too. As he stepped off the elevator, Chris could feel some of his bunched nerves starting to relax.
Nathan was reading a book when a nurse, carrying a tray of supplies, walked in. the senior’s stomach tightened in knots. He knew instinctively he was going to be wishing Chris was back in the room. The nurse walked next to the bed and Nathan joined her on the other side. She gently shook Vin awake. The boy came to sluggishly and then came fully awake with bells going off in his head. This was not a regular nurse’s visit something told him.
Before either brother could say anything, the nurse began speaking. “I’m Robin and I have orders to take that awful drain tube out,” she said with a warm smile.
Vin’s response was immediate. “No!” Turning panicked eye on Nathan, he begged, “Nathan?” The pleading eyes said it all.
Nathan was just as panicked as Vin was. Staring at the nurse with pleading eyes, he asked, “Can’t you wait until my older brother gets back?”
Being sympathetic to the boy’s plight, but also inundated with other standing orders, she smiled sadly. “Sorry, guys. But I promise this won’t take long and you,” stressing the word ‘you’, while looking at Vin, “won’t feel a thing.”
Vin turned his eyes back to Nathan and the senior swallowed down his own fear. Moving around to the same side as the nurse, he took Vin’s hand in his and lied convincingly, “It’ll be okay.” Nathan figured at least this time there was something he could do to help his little brother.
Vin didn’t feel completely okay with what was about to happen, but seeing the surety in Nathan’s eyes, he nodded in acceptance and gripped Nathan’s hand with all his strength. Nathan moved closer to the bed, intent on blocking as much of the nurse’s movements from Vin’s sight as possible.
The nurse injected a small amount Darvecet into the IV’s main line, enough to dull the pain, but still allow the boy to remain conscious. She then moved down to the end of the bed and began unwrapping the ace bandages. She worked slowly and methodically, easing each layer off as gently as possible. Once the ace bandages were off, she began unwinding the gauze. Nathan wanted to break the concentrated stare of his brother and look down at the leg. From a medical stand point, his interest was highly piqued, but he knew if he looked, then Vin would also likely look and that would not be the right thing to happen, at least not yet.
Once the leg was bare, the nurse moved up to Vin’s side. Garnering his attention, Robin explained the next step. “I’m going to give you a little shot of Novocain, like the dentist uses, to numb the area. You’ll feel a small sting and then it will be over. Try to hold still for me, okay?”
Vin nodded and gripped Nathan’s hand even harder. He was a big boy, he kept telling himself. He could handle a little shot. But it seemed his nerves were already frayed and his pain toleration had hit zero. Vin began breathing hard, expecting a great wave of pain to hit when Nathan let out a “Hey!” rather loudly.
Vin was so startled by the sudden sound, he missed the small sting in his leg until after it was over. “What?” Vin asked quizzically.
“Nothing,” Nathan replied with a big smile. “But you didn’t feel the needle did you?”
“Nathan,” Vin ground out. He hated to admit it, but Nathan’s distraction worked.
Nathan kept grinning. “Dad used to do it to me when I had to have shots or stuff. Worked every time, even when I knew it was coming,” the tall boy said in remembrance.
The nurse, smiling at Nathan’s ploy, said, “ Okay, I’m going next door to see another patient. By the time I get back, it will be good and numb.”
With that, she left the room. Nathan eased his grip on Vin’s hand, which triggered Vin to let go. Nathan wanted to rub his hand so bad and restart the circulation in it, but didn’t dare do it in front of Vin. It would only cause the boy to become self-conscious. Keeping Vin’s attention away from the bare leg, Nathan began talking.
“I remember one time Buck and I were out playing rodeo in the old arena, even though Dad had told us not to, but Buck had convinced me it would be okay. Anyway, I was to be the cow and he was going to lasso me.” Nathan stopped to laugh. “I was running and Buck lassoed me alright, but neither of us saw the rock. When he yanked the rope to tighten it up it pulled me off my feet and my head met the rock.” Nathan had to stop at the memory and noticed, happily, that Vin was caught up in the story.
“Dad held my hand the whole time they stitched up my forehead,” Nathan said fondly. “Buck felt so guilty,” then added conspiratorially, “Boy, I got a lot of mileage out it,” Nathan said, waggling his eyebrows and smiling largely.
The nurse stepped back in the room and Nathan kept regaling Vin with other stories to occupy his brother’s attention. It didn’t take the nurse long to snip the stitch on either side of the small tube and then replace the hole with four stitches. Rewrapping the leg, the nurse patted the good leg and said, “All done. You were a very good patient. Thank You.”
Vin and Nathan both breathed a sigh or relief that it was over. When Chris reappeared a little later and was told of the good news, he made a big deal for Vin’s sake about how tough he was and heaped no small amount of praise on Nathan for filling in and making things go easier. Once Vin was back to dozing and Nathan was reading, Chris stepped out to the nurse’s desk to have a few not-so-pleasant words with the charge nurse. When he stepped back into the room the telephone rang. It was Nettie.
Buck was terrified, plain and simple. The images of him hauling Ezra’ unconscious body up out of the water was imprinted into his mind. His eyes glued to the ceiling, his single prayer was for both brothers to be okay. Being wheeled through the pneumatic doors, Buck pulled the oxygen mask off his face and made his demand very clear. “I want to be next to Josiah.” The least he could do for Chris was watch out for his other brother.
The nurse nodded and said, “Don’t worry. We’ll take good care of him,” she said, trying placate the agitated patient.
“Next to him,” Buck demanded with a heated look, as they pushed his gurney into Pod A.
Buck looked to his right as he was pushed into a double room with its curtain pushed back. Josiah was still lying still with his eyes closed. Buck wasn’t sure if he was sleeping or unconscious again. Flicking his eyes back to the nurse, his eyes asking the question he didn’t want to voice.
“Sleeping,” the nurse answered quietly.
Buck turned his attention back on Josiah to keep a vigil as best as he could. His eyes raking over his large brother, his hulking body buried under mounds of warming blankets. The heart monitor kept a steady beeping. The rugged face partially obscured by the oxygen mask blowing the same kind of heated air that he, himself, breathed. A nurse sat on the other side of Josiah, keeping notes on his condition. Buck’s body finally gave in to the needful sleep. His last thoughts were on his family and what a mess this Christmas was turning into.
Chris paced outside of the trauma room where Ezra lay. It felt like he was the last man standing and with the entire weight of his family resting on his lone shoulders; he wasn’t sure he was up to the challenge. There was still Nathan, thank goodness, but he was with Vin. Chris felt guilt there because the kid was only eighteen and shouldn’t be burdened with such heavy responsibility. Chris continued to pace out his fears. He was walking towards one side of the waiting room when a shrill voice behind him got his attention.
“Chris!” JD yelled, running towards the blond.
Chris caught the slender kid up in his arms and felt the youngster’s arms and legs wrap themselves tightly around him. Chris said nothing as he held onto his little brother. A few moments of silent comfort later, Chris raised his eyes and found Nettie and Casey standing a ways back. Once she was recognized, the older woman stepped forward and asked, “Heard anything?”
Chris shifted JD down to the ground, but kept a solid hand on the figure, pressing JD against his side. JD wrapped his arms around Chris’ waist and listened to Chris talk. “Had to sign some authorization papers for Ezra,” he said, his eyes conveying the silent message that further information wasn’t going to be elaborated in front of the two kids.
Nettie nodded her head in understanding.
“Haven’t heard about Buck and Josiah,” he said nervously.
Nettie could only imagine how hard this was on the young man. “I’ll go over there and keep an eye on them for you,” she said in a tone that was more of an order than an offer.
“I couldn’t ask you to do that,” Chris said with a tinge of wistfulness, his eyes begging for the older woman’s help.
“Nonsense, boy. You need all the help you can get,” Nettie said in a no nonsense tone. Chris turned red, but nodded his head in agreement.
JD had been listening to the whole conversation and knew that everything was not good. He was torn between staying with Chris and waiting on Ezra, and going with Mrs. Nettie to see Josiah and Buck. His decision was made for him when Nettie held out her hand, “Come on JD, you’re with me.”
JD looked up at Chris, receiving a nod and a final pat on the back, he let go of Chris and took the offered hand. Chris watched the dynamic woman lead the two children down the hall towards an adjoining hall that would take them to the adult hospital.
Chris sat on the hard seats wiping his hands repeatedly up and down on his jeans. What he hadn’t told Nettie was that Ezra’s heart had stopped on the way in and they’d had to shock him. Now they were working to keep him stabilized. The paramedics had told him that it was a normal occurrence and didn’t mean Ezra wouldn’t be up and about the next day, though. Chris was lost in thought and wasn’t aware of the other person until they sat down next to him.
Looking up, he was startled. “Mary?” he said in surprise.
“Heard the call on the news scanner,” she explained.
“This isn’t the time for a interview,” Chris hissed, taking out his fear and frustration on the new reporter.
Mary sighed. “We may not be the best of friends, Chris, but your brothers still mean a lot to me,” she said in a sad tone.
Chris stared at the woman for a long time before nodding his acceptance and turned his attention back to the metal doors hiding his brother from view. He was feeling a little better despite things. At least he wasn’t alone and neither were Buck and Josiah. Chris was breathing a little easier. He looked at his watch and rubbed his hands. He had promised to keep Nathan informed every twenty minutes, there were still five minutes left to the next phone call. Chris was staring at the doors when he caught a glimpse of a person out of his peripheral view. Turning, he tensed immediately. The person was none other than the social worker, Mrs. Potter. Standing up, he felt a surge of protectiveness.
Mrs. Potter stopped in front of Chris, looking around the blond, she acknowledged the other woman before turning her eyes back to Chris. She could read the alarm in the green eyes and hurried to extinguish the added stress. “Relax, Chris. I heard about the accident and thought you might could use an extra pair of hands.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in. She was here to help, not take the boys away. Chris couldn’t get his tired mind to think and simply stared in relieve at the woman.
Mrs. Potter took pity on the young man and asked, “Where’s Buck and Josiah?”
“Uhh,” Chris stammered. “They’re over in the adult ER. Mrs. Wells is with them,” he finally answered.
“Ok. Is Nathan with Vin?” she questioned, trying to ascertain where her help would best be put to use.
“Yeah, Nathan is all alone with Vin,” Chris answered, his regret showing through.
“Then I’ll go sit with him,” the social worker said.
Chris felt a bit more stress leave his body. Nodding his head, he choked out, “That would be much appreciated. Thank you.”
“Think nothing of it. You need anything, you just call up there and I’ll be here instantly,” she said, before turning a walking towards the elevators.
Chris sat down heavily. He felt Mary rubbing his shoulders softly and whispering in his ear, “It’ll be okay.”
Chris nodded and waited for word of his brother.
24 hours later
The brothers were all together once again. The doctors had been coaxed into moving Ezra into the same room as Vin with the help of both Nettie and the social worker. They’d had to push the beds close to the walls to make the room, but it had been done. Josiah was still technically admitted, but had persuaded the nurses to let Buck, who had been released that morning, push him over to visit his brothers for a little while.
Chris and Buck had helped Josiah, still looking rather pasty, into the recliner. Ezra was sleeping with his back to them. He’d been in ICU during the night and most of the day, but was now stabilized enough to be monitored by the nursing staff, with the additional surveillance of his brothers. Except for the bruised anklebone, the doctors predicted he would be back to normal in just a couple of days. JD was retelling everything that had happened in the past few days to Vin. Chris stood between the two beds and Nathan stood by Ezra’s bed on the far side. Buck, who had taken the wheelchair and tilted it back on its rear wheels, was leaned back against the wall listening to JD with his eyes closed.
JD was telling how Buck had been mad since the accident. “And he was really angry,” he was saying when he was interrupted.
“That’s because you guys knew better than to be there by the river. You’ve been told a hundred time it’s dangerous,” Buck said, defending himself as he leaned the chair back forward.
“Well, we wouldn’t have been out there if you hadn’t forgotten about Christmas,” JD argued back fiercely. “This wouldn’t have happened at all if Mom and Dad had been here,” he spoke without thinking.
There it was, the white elephant in the room no one spoke about.
“I miss them,” JD said quietly after a long lull.
His words breaking the invisible shield that had formed around them; it was out in the open. The one thing each brother wanted, but none dared to say. Buck and the others were silent. Chris had noticed a slight shift in the bed next to him and noticed Ezra’s body was tense. The teenager wasn’t asleep after all.
“Come here,” Josiah coaxed JD. The youngster carefully scooted off the bed into the protective arms of his guardian.
Josiah talked quietly. “I miss them, too.”
The room was quiet for a minute, each brother lost in contemplation. Chris spoke up, beating Josiah who was having the same thought, “It’s not too late.”
JD looked at Chris with a puzzled look. “Not too late for what?” he asked.
“Christmas,” Chris said. “We still got time to make it.”
JD popped up straight, and then slumped back against Josiah’s chest. “What about Ezra and Vin though?” he asked with concern.
Chris rubbed a hand over the blanket covering the teen pretending to be asleep. “Well, Ezra ought to be released in a couple of days and Vin,” he stopped to look at the pained twelve-year-old, “should be released a couple of days after that. That would be what?” he paused, counting the days in his head. “Christmas Eve,” he finished with a smile aimed at Vin.
“Yeah,” JD yelled, only to be quickly shushed.
“Come here squirt,” Buck demanded, holding out his arms. JD gently rose off Josiah’s lap. Even though he was nine, JD didn’t mind in the least sitting in his brothers’ laps. The security he got from their embrace was calming and reassuring.
Landing in Buck’s arms, Buck, adjusting the lightweight kid, was once again reminded how thin and light all three of his youngest brothers were. He knew for a fact that Josiah, Chris, Nathan and himself had all been built solid as a rock at their ages. He and Josiah had even been what could have been called stocky. The lightweightness of JD in his arms made him associate it with fragility and felt that way about Ezra and Vin, too. He sighed as he tightened his arms around JD. “I know you know I wasn’t happy about you guys going to the river, but I haven’t told you how proud I am of both you and Ezra. The way you both kept your heads and did all the right things. You both did good,” Buck said loud enough for Ezra to hear, too. He had gathered by the way Chris and Nathan were both acting, the fourteen-year-old wasn’t asleep.
Josiah turned his attention towards the far bed. “Ezra did a good job stopping the blood flow. It was good thinking about the tourniquet,” he said.
Ezra wasn’t buying it for a moment. Josiah, Buck or Chris would have done so much better. Not to mention Nathan. Heck, Nathan would have been such a better person to be stuck with instead of him. It wasn’t even comparable. The blood pouring from his brother’s wound wouldn’t have made them sick to their stomachs either. In fact, Ezra was quite positive that Buck and Chris would have known the traps were there. He could feel someone rubbing his back and, as nice as it felt, it made him feel guilty, too. He shouldn’t be getting such attention after all he had done wrong.
Vin turned his attention to the other bed. He couldn’t remember everything, but he did remember when it was only him and Ezra out there and he was hurting so bad. He had seen the freaked look in Ezra’s eyes, but not once had his brother abandoned him. Ezra hadn’t left him behind, but stuck with him. Something he would be forever grateful. He knew how hard that had been for Ezra. Ezra hadn’t run when he was needed. Vin smiled tightly. He would have to remind his brother of that later on.
“Christmas would be nice,” the twelve-year-old said quietly.
“Okay, then,” Buck said. “I guess if we’re going to have Christmas, then we better start planning.” The big boy was smiling largely. He loved Christmas.
Chris put his hand up immediately, “Whoa there, Buck. I can just imagine all the things you have going on in that head of yours and you can forget everyone one of them,” Chris said authoritatively.
“Hey now,” Buck said, warming up for an argument.
“NO,” Chris said emphatically. “You heard the doctor. You have to take it easy still and it’s not fair to expect Nathan, here, to do all the hard work.”
“I can do it,” Nathan said argumentatively.
Chris looked at his brother across the bed. “I know you can, but you’re not going to. We’re just going for small this year,” Chris explained. “None of us are in any shape to do much, so it’s just a tree and a few lights on it. That’s it!”
Nathan looked disgusted, but didn’t argue. Chris had a point. Buck still looked awful bad, even if he were technically released, and Josiah, well Josiah was in no shape to get outside and hang lights. Chris had his hands full with both Vin and Ezra laid up. Nathan slowly nodded his head. Maybe, small wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Later that afternoon, Nathan and Buck wheeled Josiah back to his room. After depositing him to his bed, Nathan was planning on taking Buck home. After getting Josiah in bed, the doctor walked through the door, “How are you feeling, Mr. Walker?” Dr. Wheeler asked.
“Okay, a bit tired,” Josiah answered honestly.
“Well, I was thinking, if you felt well enough in the morning, you could go home,” the doctor said with a small smile.
“That would be nice,” Josiah said with a yawn. He wouldn’t admit it, but just being pushed to his brother’s room, sitting and being pushed back had been very tiring.
“Well, I’ll stop by in the morning and check on you, then,” Dr. Wheeler said, before leaving.
The brothers said their goodbyes, before Nathan ushered Buck out the door and down to the lobby. He would go get the truck and bring it around and pick Buck up at the door. Once they arrived at the ranch, they were shocked to see not only Nettie’s truck, but Tiny’s as well. Walking into the house the smell of stew and cornbread hit their senses, making their stomachs growl in return. Going into the kitchen, they found Casey setting the table and Nettie ladling the stew up. Sitting down at the table, Buck asked the older woman, “What’s Tiny doing here?”
“Well, he figured with over half of ya in the hospital you would be needing help with the chores. Some of the ranchers have already made out a schedule to make sure the ranch is kept up until you boys are able to do it yourselves,” Nettie spoke as she carried the steaming stew over to the table.
Slathering butter on his piece of cornbread, Buck smiled to himself. This was one of the perks in living in a small community. The neighbors still looked out for one another. When his parents died, every rancher and their families from the surrounding area had showed up at the funeral and offered every kind of assistance there was. The wives bought more food than they had room for and the generosity kept them going in those first few days. Now they were back once again. Buck felt blessed to have such good people around.
“So, how is everyone?” Nettie asked, breaking Buck’s reflections.
“Doing better little by little,” Nathan replied. “Gonna have Christmas.”
“Not a big one like we normally have. Just a small one,” he added.
“That’s sounds nice,” Nettie said with a warm smile.
“Yeah, and the best thing, hopefully, is that Vin will be released by then,” Nathan added.
“Well, maybe he will be,” Nettie said, standing up and gathering her things. “I’m gonna head home. If you boys need anything at all, you just call,” she directed before taking Casey and heading out the door.
Buck looked out the window and waved to Tiny, who had apparently finished what he was doing and was now making sure Nettie got to her truck safely. Buck had to laugh at the thought of anyone having to help Nettie across the snow. If they had seen her in action the day before, they would know the woman was anything but frail. Both boys ate their supper up and headed for bed.
Chris had made sure each boy had eaten his supper. It had been an exercise in extreme patience, since neither one seemed to like what was being served. They had bought Ezra chicken noodle soup and a corn dog, and Vin had been forced to have broth and Tapioca pudding. Among threats of force-feeding each one, Chris had managed to get each one to eat at least half of what was on their tray. Afterwards, Vin settled down to watch TV while Ezra turned over to stare out the window.
Chris sat in the recliner and felt like his backside was permanently glued to it. Seeing each brother was relatively secure, he got up and stretched. “I’m going to walk over and check on Josiah for a bit. Will you two be all right for a little while?” he asked, rotating his neck, setting off a series of popping bones.
“Yeah, we’ll be okay,” Vin answered. “Tell him ‘Hi’ for us.”
“Will do. Be back in a few,” Chris said as he walked out the door and stopped to let the nurses know where he was going.
It had been less than fifteen minutes and Vin wanted to shift, move, anything to readjust his position, but knew movement on his own would only bring discomfit. He tried concentrating on the TV, and then he tried to go to close his eyes and go to sleep, but the discomfort of lying in one spot was growing rapidly. The twelve-year-old glanced over at the other bed and wondered if Ezra was really a sleep. With his back to Vin, it was hard to tell. Finally, Vin saw no other choice; he had no way of knowing when Chris would be back. “Ezra?” he called softly. Waiting a moment, he called again, “Ezra?”
The fourteen-year-old felt like frozen road kill. It didn’t matter how hard he attempted to ignore it; he was cold. The fact the heart monitor he was forced to wear, tucked in the pocket in the middle of the gown, kept sliding to the side didn’t improve his comfort either. Hearing his name called, he at first ignored it, then remembering Chris had left, he turned over in concern.
Vin felt guilty for disturbing Ezra. He looked plumb pathetic huddled under his mound of blankets and still wearing a nasal oxygen tube didn’t help the look. Vin debated whether his discomfort bore having Ezra get out of bed and help him or not. He looked up at the ceiling and then back to Ezra. He really wanted to move. Before he could ask, Ezra was laying his nasal cannula aside and rising up off the bed. Ezra, hobbling on his sore ankle, pushed his IV stand towards Vin. Once he was standing at the other bed, he asked, “What can I do for you?” Trying hard not to chatter.
“Need to move,” Vin replied.
Ezra nodded, moved to the other side of the bed while trying to ignore the searing pain that was shooting through his ankle, and pushed his hands under the short sheet. Using them as leverage, he rolled Vin up on his hip, slightly. Vin couldn’t be rolled up onto his hip completely due to the leg, but at least he was shifted off his back some. Vin had gripped the railing and assisted Ezra as best as possible. Ezra grabbed one of the many pillows and shoved it behind Vin to keep him from rolling backwards. Ezra was hobbling back around the bed, headed for his own, completely exhausted from the exertion he had put out, when Vin said, self-consciously, “You don’t have to walk all the way back over there. I’ll share.”
Ezra looked at the honest, pleading, blue eyes and nodded. Climbing very carefully into the bed. Ezra lay down in front of Vin, with his back to Vin, and curled up on his side. Vin flicked the covers over Ezra. Ezra, for his selfish part, soaked the heat his brother was giving off and attempted not to think about how hard his lungs had to work to get enough air. If Vin needed him close, than so be it.
Vin turned the TV off and laid there, one arm tucked over Ezra; simply because it was the most comfortable position, thinking. There was a long moment of silence. “Thank you,” Vin finally said quietly into the dimming light.
“You’re welcome. When Chris gets back he can do better,” Ezra said, quietly sucking in air.
“That’s not what I meant and besides, you did just fine,” Vin said. “I meant out at the river. Thanks for staying,” he spoke quietly. “I know you wouldn’t have, but a part of me kept expecting to be left alone,” Vin confessed.
Ezra was quiet a moment and then replied, “I understand completely.” He hesitated before adding, “I will always do my best by you.”
“ ’Nite,” Vin whispered, suddenly tired.
“Goodnight,” Ezra returned. Wishing he could take a deep breath of air without alarming Vin.
Five minutes later Chris pushed open the door, half-flooding the semi-dark room in light. He felt a momentary surge of panic when he saw the far bed empty. Stepping further into the room, letting the door close behind him, he noticed the two figure in one bed. Walking around to where Ezra lay, Chris could hear the rattling of Ezra trying to get his breath. “Ezra!” he exclaimed softly. Shoving the IV stand halfway back across the room, Chris pushed back the covers and lifted Ezra up into his arms. Settling Ezra into his own bed, Chris covered him up and then replaced the oxygen tube. Once that was done, he turned and smoothed out Vin’s own covers. Going back to Ezra, he began rubbing Ezra’s arms to warm him up. “What happened? Vin get scared?” Chris asked worriedly. He knew Ezra wouldn’t have done what he did without a very good reason.
“Needed to turn,” Ezra slurred out.
Chris shook his head at his brother’s tenacity. “Glad you were there for him,” was all Chris said as he stopped rubbing and began combing his fingers through Ezra’s hair. In no time Ezra was asleep.
Buck opened the hospital door quietly and walked in, getting Chris’s attention immediately. The blond stood and met Buck inside the doorway. “Calvary is here,” Buck whispered jovially. After a good nights rest, he was feeling much better. “You look awful,” he commented with a large smile. “You go get Josiah, take him home and get some sleep,” Buck ordered.
“Nathan visiting Josiah?” Chris asked.
“Nope. He took my truck and went Christmas shopping. We made a list last night, deciding on one nice gift for each of us. Well, except for him and me. That’s going to be your job later.”
“Thanks,” Chris said sarcastically, but with a light in eyes.
Walking further into the room, Buck asked, “ So how are they?”
“Vin is getting restless. Hard to find a comfortable position for him to be in for too long of a period,” Chris informed.
Turning to the other bed, Buck started to say, “How’s Ez…?” Stopping and changing it to, “What happened?” Becoming alarmed at the site of the blood bag and a lead patch attached to the youngster’s forehead.
“Body temp dropped early this morning. Blood test revealed he was really anemic, so they’re giving him a pint of blood and warm saline. They figure that will do it. He might have to continue taking iron pills for a while to keep his blood count up,” Chris said in a blasé tone, though that wasn’t how he had felt earlier when Ezra had been shivering uncontrollably.
Buck nodded, taking in all the information. “And the patch?” he asked, pointing to his own forehead.
“Called a tympanic membrane sensor. Monitors his core body temp.” Chris smiled largely at the earlier argument. “Ezra wouldn’t let them take it the other way,” Chris laughed, wiggling his eyebrows. Buck had to fight to stifle the laugh at the image that produced.
Buck got serious once again and turned to Chris. “Okay, boss, I got it. Now get out of here and go home.”
Chris was only too willing to go home for a few hours and get some decent sleep in a real bed.
Buck barely sat down before Vin’s plaintive whine started in. “Buck,” the child said so pathetically.
Getting up, Buck stood at the head of the bed. “Yeah, pal?” he asked.
“Do something,” Vin demanded in an irritable tone.
“Like what?” Buck asked in confusion.
“I don’t know,” Vin’s whine deepening. He was tired and sore from lying either on his back or on the one hip. “Just do something,” he demanded.
Buck sighed. “Okay, Vin. Okay.” A few minutes of adjusting the tilt of the bed to the right angle and stuffing pillows under the hips and knee, Vin was relatively comfortable for the time being.
Buck walked to the other bed in time to see Ezra shiver. Walking briskly out the door, Buck returned a short time later. Stepping up to the bed, he pulled the covers back, startling Ezra.
“Buck?” Ezra asked in a timid and slightly scared tone.
“Hang on for just a just a sec,” Buck said reassuringly. He laid the new blanket fresh from the warmer over Ezra. Feeling the warm blanket, Ezra uncurled from his fetal position and stretched out. Buck, making chopping motions with his hands, tucked the warm blanket snugly around Ezra all the way down. Once he got to the feet, he tucked the remaining end underneath. Then he pulled the other covers back up to hold in the heat as long as possible.
“Thanks,” Ezra said drowsily.
Carding his fingers through the short hair, Buck leaned over and whispered, “I love you.”
While the most of the other brothers had trouble expressing their feelings, Buck had no problems with doing it. His mother had taught him early on that it took a stronger man to express his emotions and love than it did to hide from it. That and having such wonderful demonstrative mother had an impact on the kind of man he was today.
Once Ezra was settled, Buck started back to the chair, but was stopped by Vin’s pleading, “Buck.”
Buck could tell it was going to be a long day already as he headed for the bed and looked down at the pitiful kid. Being cooped up and still went against every grain in Vin’s body. Lowering the railing, Buck uncovered the good leg. “How about a story,” he asked, as he settled on the edge of the bed. Picking up the leg , he began to knead the tired muscles softly. “I ever tell you the time Chris and I tried to repel off the house?”
As the muscles began to relax, so did Vin. Soon he was lying with his eyes closed, listening to Buck’s calming voice tell how Chris and Buck almost hung themselves in the rope they were using. Vin smiled. It was a wonder any of them were still alive.
Buck’s day didn’t get any easier and was relieved when Nathan walked in later that afternoon. With the senior there, Buck to the opportunity to take a break and go in search of some coffee and food. By the time he got back, Chris had arrived, leaving Josiah home with JD playing nursemaid. It gave the young boy a sense of helping and contributing to the family’s benefit, with Nettie on standby just in case. Chris figured they owed the woman big time for all she had done for them. After Buck settled on the edge of Ezra’s bed, Chris said, “We need to do something for Nettie for all the help she has been to us.” Everyone agreed, but no one could think of anything special that the independent woman needed or would accept.
Buck left at the same time as Nathan, leaving Chris to the task of caring for the two unhappy patients. Although they all knew that the two kids would be perfectly alright for the night if left with the nurses, they didn’t feel comfortable with it; it seemed like they were abandoning them. Chris had just settled down when Vin turned and pleaded, “Chris.”
Three days later Vin and Ezra were released at the same time. It was Christmas Eve. The doctor had kept Ezra for longer observation since the teen didn’t seem to be progressing as expected. Chris had finally taken the doctor to the side and explained that it had more do with Ezra’s emotional state than it did his physical and the only cure for that was by going home and being with family.
With Ezra on one bench seat in the suburban and Vin in the other, both with legs propped up, the boys were taken home. When they arrived some small part of each of them had both expected to see the outside lit up, like the year before. Even though Chris had said it wouldn’t be, they both had imagined the lights, like in some TV Christmas movie, where miracles happened. That hope was dashed when they arrived at the same plain looking farmhouse that always stood there.
Josiah got out of the passenger seat and opened the side doors. Against Ezra’s protest, he carried the kid across the snow and ice-covered ground. No way was Ezra going to traverse the ground on crutches. Vin eased into Chris’ arms and held on tightly. When the two men walked into the house with their loads, both Ezra and Vin gasped at the alteration.
A Christmas store had seemingly erupted inside their home. There were lights, garland, fake snow, animated figures and candy canes everywhere. JD was fairly jumping up and down with anticipation. “Do you like it?” he asked excitedly with his eyes lit up in wonder.
Vin, being placed on the couch, was struck silent as he tried to take everything in. Ezra, placed in the recliner near the fireplace, stammered, “What happened?” It was just too surreal. The arrangements were right out of a catalog or Santa’s wonderland and not everything was theirs.
“The neighbors donated some of their Christmas things,” Josiah explained. “Tiny lent us his lighted reindeer,” which was now standing by the wall leading to the kitchen. “Mrs. Fein gave us some of her animated figurines. Mr. and Mrs. Binder donated their sliding Santa.”—which was now perched on the staircase rail. “And the rest are from other friends.” Josiah finished.
”But...but why?” asked a very confused Ezra.
“And why are they inside?” Vin chimed in, finally able to take his attention away from all the glittering and place it on Josiah.
Buck sitting on the floor close to the recliner. “ ‘Cause we are blessed with good friends and they wanted you boys to have a memorable Christmas. And since neither of you will be outside for some time, we figured we’d put them where you could enjoy them the most,” Buck said, looking at Ezra.
What Buck had said wasn’t too far from the truth. The neighbors had been good in wanting the boys to have a special Christmas, but mostly they wanted something besides the awful things that had happened in the months and days leading up to this Christmas to be remembered, too. They wanted the boys to be able to look back and know that with all the bad things that had happened that year, the Christmas had been a good one, if not original.
Ezra looked down at his hands in his lap and was taken by surprise at the gentle squeeze he felt on his knee. Looking up, he found himself staring into Buck’s blue eyes. Buck stared right back not blinking. “We all make mistakes and we’ve,” indicating himself, Josiah and Chris, “made quite a few lately. One of mine was taking my fear out on you. I’m sorry.”
Ezra couldn’t have been more shocked if Buck had grown two heads. Being apologized to was something he doubt he’d ever get used to. Finally, he managed a weak smile. Buck smiled right back at him and then turned to the others. “Who’s ready to decorate the tree?”
“Tree?” Ezra and Vin exclaimed together. With all the things in the room, they had missed the fact that it lacked a tree.
“Yep. Nathan, JD and I went and got it this morning,” Buck explained as Nathan and Chris carried the tree in.
The rest of the evening, five of the seven decorated the tree with the two ‘coaches’ directing where ornaments should go and informing them when the lights went out. Afterwards, JD disappeared and came back carrying the Monopoly game. The game was quickly set up, and after a little maneuvering, they were gathered around the coffee table playing and laughing. Vin lasted two times around the board before falling asleep. Ezra conked out halfway through, being tied with JD in the amount of wealth. JD, then of course, after losing his competitor, came out winner, again.
Chris moved Vin into Buck’s room for Josiah, who was also tiring out. It had been decided it would be best to keep Vin on the main floor. Buck lifted Ezra up and carried him upstairs. Tucking him in, Buck said goodnight and went to Josiah’s room. Buck and JD had set up a roll-a-way bed in the downstairs room earlier in the day. Josiah had been adamant about sleeping in there with Vin the first night since he hadn’t been able to spend much time with the youngster lately.
The next morning all were awaken by JD’s loud announcement that Christmas had finally arrived. Nathan helped a partially dressed Ezra get his pants over the bandaged ankle, and then followed him cautiously as he navigated the stairs on crutches. As in the past, tradition called for a breakfast of pancakes and sausage first. While Chris cooked breakfast, Nathan set the table. Josiah and Buck were trying to figure out all the things that would make up Christmas dinner and when to start each one so they would all be done at the same time. Josiah had already called Nettie twice.
After breakfast, presents were doled out. Josiah received several “This card entitles you to…” from the younger brothers and a new scarf and glove set from them as a whole. Chris and Buck also received ‘benefit’ cards. Buck, also got a pair of battery operated heating socks and Chris got a new lariat. Nathan was entitled to two afternoons a week of complete quiet for a month and a new backpack on wheels. Ezra received an entitlement card to use up to three free chores and a wooden 3-D puzzle that when put together formed the Eiffel Tower. Vin got two ‘get-out-of trouble’ passes, with the exception of major violations and a pocketknife, with a warning not to take it to school. JD got certificates for one-on-one time from both Ezra and Vin; plus a remote control car whose front end could swivel in a circular 360 degree motion and be driven upside down. His toy got the most used that morning and not by him alone.
Right after all the presents had been exchanged, Nettie and Casey showed up. Josiah was flabbergasted and a whole lot embarrassed when the woman marched in to the kitchen and took over.
“Ahh, Nettie, I didn’t intend for you to come over. I don’t want to ruin your Christmas with Casey,” Josiah apologized.
“Phooey!” Nettie remarked as she gathered what supplies she needed. “Christmas is about spending time with your family and you boys are family. Besides, Casey would have been bored cooped up all day with an old lady.”
Chris walked into the kitchen a little sheepishly, followed by Buck and Nathan. “Nettie, we were going to get you something real special for all you’ve done for us, but nothing seemed good enough,” the blond said, speaking for the others.
Nettie’s face softened. Taking Chris’ face in her hands, she said, “Having all you boys home and getting to be with you is all this old woman wants.”
Chris smiled and walked away before he could flush any redder. Nathan spoke up, “You aren’t old Mrs. Wells.”
It was Nettie’s turn to blush. Waving her hands, she said, “Scoot. I got work to do.”
The day was spent eating, laughing and remembering. Nettie and Josiah had offered up a wonderful meal. Buck and Chris had cleaned up and Nathan had kept the others occupied. Nettie and Casey had left and now the seven boys sat in quiet solitude. Josiah looked around the living room at the six contemplative faces. The same sad faces that he had seen before Vin’s incident. Rising from his chair, he ordered, “ Everyone go get your insulated overalls and coats on.” Looking at Chris, he nodded at Vin, “him, too.”
“Josiah?!” was a chorus of confusion.
“Just do it!” Josiah demanded.
Chris unzipped the pant leg of Vin’s overalls and carefully slipped them on. Once everyone was ready, Josiah directed them to the trucks. Chris followed Josiah slowly down the long drive and out onto the pavement. Seven miles later Josiah pulled into the cemetery.
Nathan made sure Ezra was bundled up good before cautiously helping him out of the truck. Buck came around and piggybacked the pale teen to the designated spot and put him down. Nathan followed carrying the crutches. Chris pushed Vin in a wheelchair a neighbor had dropped off the day before. Gathered around the two head stones, each son was somber. JD’s indelible spirit got the best of him and he couldn’t be quiet anymore. “Hey, guess what I got for Christmas, Dad? A remote control car.” JD spent the next couple of minutes telling his parents everything the car was capable of doing. Afterwards, each one took their turn at talking to their parents. Ezra and Vin were the last. Neither one was comfortable with the situation. Vin finally broke his silence. “Fell into a trap,” he said quietly. “Hurt real bad, but you would have been proud of Ezra. He did everything you and Nathan taught us. He did real good.”
Ezra remained silent. Buck, his hands on Ezra’s shoulders steadying the boy, squeezed lovingly and said, “You sure would have! Ezra did us all proud.”
JD popped up and said, “Until Buck scared him and he ran away and fell through the ice.”
“JD!” Josiah, Buck and Chris chorused.
“Well he did,” JD said defensively.
A small argument ensued. Everyone forgetting for the moment they were arguing in a cemetery. Ezra looked at Vin, smiled and arched an eyebrow. Vin grinned back. It was good to be with family again.
7 B Ranch Index