7 B Ranch
Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be
Note: Thanks to NT for beta reading this for me.
Note: Loblolly is a Texas/southern word. It’s what happens when heavy torrential rains for more than a few hours assault dry, drought-ridden earth. Think giant mud puddle that sucks in anything sitting on it.
WARNING: Does briefly describe spousal abuse
Nathan turned over in his bed and sighed. He knew when the massive black cloud had rolled in earlier in the day it was going to be a rough night. It seemed though, that the thunderstorm season was going to start off with a bang, he just didn’t realize it was going to be such a loud one. He had suggested having a movie night, knowing what would come once they went to bed, but the older ones, being tired, had vetoed that idea and now the long night for him had begun. Mom and dad had always had movies on nights like this, it seemed to ease the fears of the others, if they were awake and surrounded by people when the storms first hit.
Nathan rolled over onto the side of his bed and hung his head over the ledge. He could barely make out the noise, but it was there. Throwing back the covers, he slid off the top bunk and folded back the covers of his younger roommate. Slipping between the sheets, he knew better than to touch Ezra, so he did what he had been doing for the last two years; he began whispering. It was silly reassuring words. Words that told Ezra, even half-asleep, that he wasn’t alone. His big brother was there to protect him from the demons coming after him in his sleep. Whether Ezra ever understood what he was saying, Nathan was never sure. He just knew that they settled his brother down and that was the main objective.
Nathan had just begun to calm down the quiet whimpering of his brother when he felt the presence of another brother in the room. Looking over his shoulder, he could barely make out nine-year-old JD standing at the end of the bed. The lightening strikes made the tears running down his face easy to see. Turning back to Ezra, he whispered, “I got to go check on the young ones, but I’ll be right back. Okay?” Nathan said, more of a reassurance than a question.
Sneaking out of bed, Nathan took hold of the little boy’s hand and led him down the hall. Opening the closed door wide enough to pass through, Nathan saw Vin over at the dresser getting out fresh pajamas. Nathan ignored him, went to the closet and pulled out fresh sheets. Words weren’t necessary and for Vin, they made things worse. This scenario happened at least three times during every storm season. The bigger and louder the storms, the better chances of having all three young ones fall apart. Between trying to comfort a clinging JD and stripping the bed, Nathan, who was a realist most of the time, wished it possible for his parents to come walking though the door
Buck was lying in bed trying to get comfortable, but the noise from the room right above had him concerned. Those two ought to be in bed and sound asleep. So why all the walking around up there? When it didn’t cease, Buck figured Chris, whose room was right next to it, didn’t hear the noise, so he got out of bed and headed for the stairs.
Chris had placed his bed against the wall that separated his room from JD and Vin’s. There were times when he was sorry about that choice, but tonight he was very grateful or he would have never known to get up and investigate the barely audible sounds coming through the walls. Getting out of bed, he walked next door and saw light streaming from under the doorway. Expecting to catch his brothers playing, he opened the door and froze for a second. Vin was in the corner changing clothes and now looking quite pale at his sudden appearance. JD had his face buried in Nathan’s thigh as the senior attempted to remake the twelve-year-old’s bed. Without asking any unnecessary questions, Chris walked up to the other side of the unmade bed and began helping Nathan put on the new bedding.
Buck stepped onto the landing and came face to face with his older brother, Josiah. The oldest used to be able to sleep through a tornado, but having become the “parent” in the house, he was developing those parental instincts. Something had woken him up and he felt the instinctive urge to get up and check on the boys. Meeting Buck on the landing seemed to reinforce those feelings. Looking down the hall, they saw light coming out of the younger ones’ room. Buck headed down the hall while Josiah stopped at the first bedroom to check on its occupants.
Buck walked into the room and asked, “What’s going on?”
JD turned at the voice, then burst into fresh tears and further buried his face into the running pants of his keeper of secrets. Buck was never supposed to find out he hated storms, that they made him cry like a little baby. Buck wouldn’t want to hang out with a baby. Nathan threw Buck a withering look and continued to remake the bed. Buck stepped further into the room and squatted down next to his littlest brother. “Come here, JD,” he spoke softly.
At first, the black-haired boy tried to ignore his brother, but with a little persistence, JD turned his face and looked at his hero. Buck wasn’t mocking him or laughing. He just had his hands out to take him, and JD went willingly. Being lifted up into the masculine arms, JD felt instantly. Nathan was at last relieved of one duty.
Chris watched Vin out of the corner of his eye. The tall kid had changed clothes and put the used ones in a clear garbage bag. Apparently, the blond deduced, this was a reoccurring thing. Without saying a word that would embarrass the youngster any further, Chris tucked the last blanket into place, as Josiah entered the room. With one look the pieces fell into place. “Anybody seen Ezra? He’s gone,” Josiah said in his soft rumbling voice.
“No he’s not,” the three school age boys replied, unruffled by the statement.
Seeing that Vin and JD would no longer need him, Nathan headed for the door; throwing Josiah a threatening look. Stopping next to his oldest brother, he said angrily, “Next time I suggest a movie night, shut up and go with it.”
Nathan started to walk away and felt Josiah’s hand grasp his arm to stop him. “I didn’t know,” Josiah said, half apologetic and half explaining.
Nathan looked back at his other two older brothers and then to Josiah and said harshly, “There’s a lot of thing you guys don’t know.” Yanking his arm from his shocked brother’s grasp, he headed back to his room to deal with the last brother.
Walking into the room, Nathan looked behind the door and found Ezra right where he expected him to be, sitting huddled against the wall rocking back and forth. Nathan heaved a sigh, pushed the door to and sat down next to his brother. When Ezra had first come into the house he had been sarcastic, mouthy and aloof. None of those things had really changed, but at the same time he used them differently. Ezra had kept everyone at a distance and when anyone starting getting too close, he would use that sharp tongue to push them back. There had been a few times when the southern boy had resorted to racist remarks when Nathan had advanced beyond acceptable barriers. The words had stung deeply and Nathan had wished his parents would return the child to social services, but Janice had explained that Ezra had felt threatened by Nathan’s tenacity and had used the only tools he had to make it stop. Bobby had taken the other to the barn and made it quite clear to Ezra that that type of behavior was not going to occur again and for punishment Ezra had been given extra chores. The bitter words had never come again, but Ezra had still parried with the senior anytime Nathan got past his defenses. Even now, they sometimes got into heated arguments, but in the end they were still brothers.
Their relationship had changed after Vin, and then three months later JD, came into the family. Ezra had always had nightmares, but they definitely got worse during thunderstorms. After Vin and JD came, they too were plagued with bad dreams. With Mom and Dad trying to comfort the smaller ones, Nathan had automatically taken over consoling Ezra. Nathan had learned from his parents. He knew touching Ezra when he was deep in a nightmare made things worse. The thing to do was talk to him until he relaxed, then one could physically comfort the frightened teenager.
Nathan was sitting on the floor, talking in a whispery voice when Josiah stepped into the room. Nathan could feel Ezra tense immediately. Before Josiah could offer his help, Nathan said, “I got him. Go to bed.” The senior never bothered to look up at his brother. Josiah sighed. Somehow, Nathan was seeing this as his fault and he couldn’t seem to make it right.
“You sure?” Josiah asked.
“Yeah,” Nathan said. “Me and Ez have been down this road before. Haven’t we, pal?” Nathan’s voice sounded old to Josiah.
Josiah noticed Ezra didn’t reply and Nathan acted like he didn’t expect it. Sighing, Josiah said wearily, “If you need me, I’m here.” Receiving a slight nod from his brother, the counselor moved out of the room and stepped into the hall. Rubbing a hand over his face, he looked down the hall, knowing Chris and Buck had the other’s settled and were planning on staying until the boys fell asleep and Nathan had the situation with Ezra under control. Josiah felt useless and out of his depth.
Nathan fumed. He had just begun to get Ezra calmed again when Josiah had appeared at the door and, while intellectually the senior knew his brother was just trying to be helpful, it made him mad. He knew what caused the nightmares that plagued his brothers, he knew how to calm and treat each one. It was his duty, his right to do so. Nathan heaved a sigh, and realizing the time had come, slowly drew his brother loosely into his arms. “It’s alright now, Ez. You’re safe.
Nathan held his brother and remembered the first time Ezra had revealed to him what his bad dreams were about. It had been during a particularly nasty night and Vin and JD seemed to be ‘going off’ as often as Ezra. No longer able to get his brother back to sleep for fear of the reoccurring nightmare, Nathan had finally persuaded Ezra to tell him what had happened.
It had occurred when Ezra was nine. Maude had retrieved him from Social Services and then promptly abandoned him. Maude had sent Ezra to live with ‘relatives’ as Ezra put it. These particular relatives were not what you would wish on anyone. The husband was abusive to both his wife and Ezra .The wife stood back and did nothing to protect herself or Ezra. One night, the last one Ezra would stay there, the uncle had not come home from work. The aunt had fed Ezra and sent him upstairs to bed. Much later, a crack of thunder woke Ezra from his sleep. Normally thunderstorms didn’t bother the young boy, but this night it made him a little nervous. Ezra had decided to go downstairs and see if his aunt was still awake. He hadn’t made it halfway down when he heard yelling and screaming. Carefully tiptoeing down the remaining stairs, Ezra had witnessed his uncle screaming at his aunt. Not an uncommon thing, Ezra had told him. Somehow, Ezra wasn’t sure how, a gun came into the picture.
Ezra had stilled at this point in the story and Nathan had waited his brother out. Continuing, Ezra told how the wife had yelled at her husband for not being considerate enough to call, so she wouldn’t have worried about him being in an accident out in this storm. Apparently, this had triggered something in the man and he shot his wife. Later, Ezra would find out she was only grazed in the arm, but at that moment, he thought she had been killed. Ezra had told the next part very softly. He had screamed when the gun went off, his uncle had turned in his direction and Ezra ran back upstairs. Running into the grown-ups’ room, he had grabbed the phone and dialed the emergency number. Seconds later, he heard his uncle running down the hallway. Ezra turned and saw his uncle, still holding the gun, come running towards the room. Ezra had dove to the floor, still clutching the portable phone, and rolled under the bed. His uncle had managed to grab one of his feet and had started dragging him back out, before Ezra used his other foot to kick out. He successfully hit the man in the eye, causing the uncle to release his hold. Ezra managed to scoot to the center where his uncle couldn’t reach him. He didn’t recall how long he lay there, chanting over and over that his uncle was going to kill him, but Nathan had figured it must have seemed to have been an eternity. The police had arrived and handcuffed his uncle and removed him from the room. Another officer had finally persuaded the nine-year-old out from under the bed. Nathan figured that was why he was so good with JD. He knew how it was to be that age and scared out of your mind. Nathan had always wondered, but never asked, if even his parents knew what had happened.
It was awhile after Josiah left that Nathan was able to get Ezra onto his feet and back into his bed. Covering his brother up, the senior climbed wearily up onto the top buck and nestled down under the covers. No matter who said what, he and Ezra had a private understanding.
The next morning the three oldest brothers met in the kitchen for some really strong coffee, their only blessing was that it was a weekend and none of them had to work. Josiah had tossed and turned all night worrying about what imaginary mistake he had made with Nathan. They were sitting around the table when Nathan came through the swinging doors looking wrung out, and headed for the coffee pot.
Chris glanced at Josiah and noticed his older brother was keeping his head down. Something had evidently taken place the night before, after the two left the small boys’ room. Without looking at his brother, he said softly, “Morning, Nathan.” There was no use asking if he slept all right, it was quite evident that he hadn’t.
“Morning,” Nathan grumbled back. The three older ones rolled their eyes. A tired Nathan was a grumpy Nathan, to be avoided at all costs.
Sitting down at the table, Nathan stared at his cup as if he was trying to drink the hot liquid through osmosis. Josiah finally took in a deep breath and decided to get things over with.
“I’m sorry about last night,” he said. He wasn’t sure what he was apologizing for, but felt the need to say the words. Seeing the coming argument, he raised his hand defensively, “I know there’s a lot we don’t know.”
Nathan just glared at his brother, then turned his gaze to the window. The rain was still coming down, but the thunder and lightening had almost ceased, He briefly wondered about that phenomenon. Why did thunderstorms seem to get so much worse at night? When it was dark and the room seemed to already be filled with enough monsters. Nathan let his gaze fall back on his older brother, the counselor. Of all people, he should understand how some things were more traumatizing than others. How hard was it to understand, some things in life left a permanent mark; like storms?
“Nathan?” Josiah asked, when his brother didn’t respond.
“What, Josiah?” Nathan asked impatiently. If he could he would go back upstairs and go back to bed, but he had always been one to stay up after getting up.
“I said…I know there’s a lot of thing we don’t know. Thought maybe you could help us out there,” Josiah said cautiously, knowing Nathan was angry about something more than his not knowing about thunderstorms and their effects.
“Of course there are a lot of things ya’ll don’t know. That’s because ya’ll were off doing your own thing when those three came along,” Nathan said heatedly, then turned apologetically to Buck. “Well, you were around, but you still lived somewhere else.”
Buck took the half apology with a simple nod. No use adding gasoline to burning embers.
“Nathan, what’s the matter?” Chris asked straight on. He had never been one to stand back and let something fester.
“Dang it, Chris,” Nathan half-way shouted, “I suggested a movie night. How much more of a hint to you need? You know I don’t suggest those types of things very often.”
Josiah put his hands up to placate his brother’s rising ire. “You’re right, Nathan. You suggested something and I didn’t listen. I’m sorry,” he said in a pacifying voice.
Nathan stood up and grabbed his cup. Heading for the doors, Nathan turned and glared at his brother. “Dad would have listened! But, then again you’re not Dad,” Nathan said, letting the full extent of his anger out in his voice.
The three older boys sat stunned speechless. Never, since their deaths, had Nathan spoken of their deceased parents. Looking down at their cups, the men were lost in their own thoughts, and the kitchen became eerily quiet.
“Looks like the three youngest aren’t the only ones having a rough time,” Buck eventually said quietly.
“Buck,” Josiah said in hushed tones. “You’ve been around here all this time. Did you know about the nightmares?”
Buck winced a little. “Sometimes Dad would come out looking a little tired after a stormy night. He’d just say it was a long night, but he’d never elaborate. He just said thunderstorms weren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Never thought it was like this though,” Buck said.
“I wonder if it’s like this every thunderstorm or just the bad ones?” Josiah asked.
“I’m guessing Nathan would know,” Buck said. The challenge had been issued silently. One of them would have to go talk to their hurting brother. Josiah, as oldest, felt the responsibility fall on his shoulders. “I’ll go talk to him,”
“I’ll go,” Chris willingly offered. He and Nathan weren’t extremely tight, but they were still brothers.
“No, that’s alright. Besides I got a feeling there’s a lot he wants to say to me,” Josiah said with a half smile.
Walking into the living room, Josiah found his younger brother staring out the window, watching the rain pour down. The big brother walked up to the senior and realized just how tall the young man was becoming. Placing his hand gently on the strong shoulder, he waited for Nathan to get his thoughts in order and prayed he had the gift to help his brother through whatever was really bothering him.
Waiting a couple of moments, Josiah said, “Wanna talk about it?” Nathan’s reaction surprised him.
Nathan yanked out of Josiah’s grip and turned angrily on his brother. “Cut the counselor junk, Josiah. You’re supposed to be brother, not a psychiatrist when you’re home.”
“I am asking as your brother,” Josiah said a lot more calmly than he felt.
Nathan stared at his older brother, reining in his anger. It wasn’t any of their faults that Mom and Dad had added three more children to their family after the older ones had moved out, and then died. Nathan pressed his lips together. He hadn’t asked to be the only one left who knew how to soothe each feather, how to ease each fear, to gently wipe away the insecurities, to know when to step up and when to back off and now it was up to him to off load all this information onto his brothers. He wanted his mom and dad more at that moment than he had since their deaths.
Josiah watched his brother’s face and felt even more guilt descend on him. He hadn’t realized until then just how much Nathan had done for the family since their parent’s deaths and it had all gone unnoticed. None of them had thought that this young clear-minded man was just as much of a lost little boy as the three youngest. Nathan had stepped up to the plate right from the first, taking over the household chores until Chris had taken over from him. He had never complained or voiced his own worries or needs, he had simply done what had needed to be done.
Josiah stepped up to his brother, watching the nervous twitching hands. Setting the cup down, he went to encircle his brother in one of his famous hugs and winced inwardly when Nathan stepped back. Whispering lowly, Josiah made a solemn promise. “I’m not Dad, but I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.” Josiah held his brother’s eyes for along time, taking his brother’s pain and the guilt. It loaded on him as his penance for not being the brother he should have been.
The rest of the day was spent indoors. Games were played and new ones invented. Trying to keep the two young hyper ones involved in some kind of activity so boredom would not set in. The three oldest might not have been home all the time, but they did know what could happen when those two got bored. Ezra preferred to curl up in one of the deep cushioned chairs and read, keeping an eye on the pranksters in the family. Ezra wasn’t sure who could be worse, JD and Buck, or JD and Vin. Either pair was equally bad when you were the one they ganged up on. The only one who didn’t have to worry about being a target, at least on purpose, was Chris. The guy had his own wicked sense of humor, but they were all smart enough not to target him specifically; paybacks were known to be harsh and swift.
That night the thunder and lightening returned, thankfully it only lasted a couple of hours and was nowhere near the ferocity of the one the night before. Therefore, there was only one time when Nathan, still reading, found a little nine-year-old visiting his room. Taking JD back to room and tucking him back in bed, he was thankful for not having to change any sheets. The senior knew how worried Vin was about being judged by the blond in the next room. The storm passed before Nathan turned in for the night. Before climbing to the top bunk, he checked on his bunkmate and found him sleeping peacefully.
The next day, Josiah stood looking out the window and watched the rain come down, the front yard becoming one big loblolly. Since more than half the bus kids lived on dirt roads, the principals deemed it necessary to close school at noon, when they learned the dirt roads were becoming impassable. Other parts of the country had snow days. In this part of the country, though, schools closed due to the rain. When the rains came down hard and fast, it overwhelmed the hard-packed, drought-ridden earth, causing the dirt to turn to mush and became almost like that of quicksand. He had seen more than one vehicle become buried up to its tire rims.
Josiah worried because Nathan had driven into the city, thirty miles away; to take a final exam in one of his college classes he had been taking online. It was more than a possibility that Nathan would not be able to get back in tonight. He knew his brother well enough to know this was probably plaguing his brother. He prayed Nathan wouldn’t rush through the test just so he could get back before it was too late, but feared he might. Nathan was as loyal to his brothers as the rest of them. His attention was diverted by the squeal of nine-year-old JD screaming Ezra’s name. Josiah rolled his eyes and went to see what the commotion was about.
Nathan had worried all the way into the city and the whole time up to walking into the test site. If the rain was this bad at home, there was no way he could get back down the dirt road and that meant the older brothers were left to deal with the others and the others were left to depend on the oldest. Nathan’s gut twisted until he felt physically sick. Once Nathan walked into the test center, though, he blocked it out. The course had not been cheap and, though they weren’t living hand to mouth, it had still been a lot. He couldn’t afford to let his mind think about anything but this test. Nathan took his time and concentrated on passing this test with the same determination he had used to study for it.
Nathan walked out of the test site and once again began worrying. He found a pay phone; hoping maybe the roads could hold out for the next hour until he could get home. Dropping the appropriate amount of money into the slot, he slowly dialed the number and prayed.
“Hello?” Josiah answered.
“Josiah, it’s me,” Nathan started.
“Hey, how’d the test go?” the big brother asked with interest.
“Okay, I guess. I was wondering what the roads were like there?” Nathan asked hesitantly.
“The rain’s coming down pretty hard and the road is a mud pit,” Josiah said. “You got your emergency credit card?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Nathan answered. Josiah couldn’t keep from hearing the sadness and depression in his brother’s voice.
“Well then use it and get a room,” Josiah advised. “With a little luck, this storm will move out tomorrow and you can get back the next day.” Josiah’s practicality kicking in. “No use trying to come in tomorrow, you’d have to park the truck and walk in,” he finished.
When his parents had been alive, they had gotten an extra credit card for the responsible young man with his name on it for emergencies. After their deaths, Josiah had cancelled all their parents’ credit cards, which included Nathan’s. So Josiah had gotten him one on of his account. Now he was grateful that Nathan had the card. He knew Nathan was worried about his young brothers, Nathan had felt he was responsible for them up until now. Josiah sought to assure him that they would all be fine.
Taking a deep breath, the counselor in him took over, and gave the younger brother the reins of control. “So, anything you think I should know?” Josiah asked.
Nathan paused for a minute; there were so many things to know about his three brothers. They have so many fears and quirks. Taking a deep breath, he started explaining how to make it through a bad night, if there was one.
“For JD, it’s mostly about the noise. If I’m not there, he won’t seek out anyone, especially Buck for comfort because he looks up to him; he’ll cry into his pillow instead. So, you’ll have to take the initiative. Keep checking on him through the night. Don’t make a big deal out of it; just tuck him tightly into his bed and pat his back until he falls asleep,” Nathan explained.
“Okay,” Josiah accepted the information with ease.
“ The storms cause Vin and Ezra nightmares, and sometimes Vin wets the bed,” Nathan stated, realizing too late that they had already learned this. Continuing, Nathan said, “If he does, Chris can’t say anything,” knowing that in all likelihood it would be Chris looking after Vin. “ Just tell him to strip and change the bed. Don’t talk to Vin, the silence makes it a dream for him and easier for him to get over it. If Chris talks to him, it’ll shatter the illusion. So whatever he does, tell him not to talk to Vin,” Nathan stressed this last point.
“Okay, no talking to Vin got it,” Josiah said.
“I’m serious, Josiah,” Nathan said heatedly, feeling like Josiah was only patronizing him and not taking any of this serious. Nathan wasn’t sure if he was talking to his brother or the counselor.
“I know, Nathan. I’m listening,” Josiah said trying to placate his brother.
Hating the silence on the phone, he felt he had created, Josiah asked, “What about Ezra?”
Josiah could hear Nathan blow out a long breath on the end. Nathan shook his head; Ezra was the hardest to deal with, the boy didn’t respond well to very many people.
“Nathan?” Josiah asked concerned.
“Okay, are you really listening to me?” Nathan asked.
“Yes, Nathan, I’m honestly listening,” the oldest replied
“Okay,” Nathan said before starting. “First, no matter what, DO NOT TOUCH HIM,” he said, punctuating each word carefully. “Until you’re sure he’s awake and knows who you are.”
“He whimpers really softly, so you won’t hear him from your room, so check on him often,” Nathan said. “Just talk to him and you’re going to have to change your voice. Your deep rumbling one will only scare him further. You’ll have to lighten it and make it come out higher and softer,” Nathan instructed.
Josiah rubbed his eyebrow, he wondered if all these instructions were all that necessary or if Nathan was still angry for whatever reason and making this as hard as possible to get back at him.
“Got it! Lower, lighten and softened voice and don’t touch him. Anything else?” Josiah asked patiently.
“Tell him the man won’t come there. That he’s gone far away and can’t hurt him,” Nathan advised. “You’ll have to repeat it over and over,” he said.
Josiah could hear the worry and concern in his brother. It made his voice sound so old again. Needing to reassure his brother that they would be fine, Josiah said, “We’ll make it, Nathan. I promise we’ll take care of them as to your instructions.”
“Okay,” Nathan said slowly. “I’m gonna go check in at the Circle R Motel, so if you need me, that’s where you can reach me?” Nathan informed his brother.
“Okay,” Josiah said, holding back his laugh. Nathan was a worse mother hen than a certain blond brother of his. “Enjoy yourself. It’s not often, you get the T.V. to yourself or some quiet time.”
“Yeah, I’ll try. Bye,” Nathan said as he hung up the phone and prayed deeply for an easy night for his brothers.
Josiah hung up and let out a chuckle. His brother was just a worrywart. Between Chris, Buck and him, they could handle any problems that arose. The oldest turned away from the phone and went to find Chris in the kitchen. Walking into the warm room, he inhaled the appetizing aroma of spaghetti and garlic toast.
“Hmmm! Smells good in here,” Josiah said, as he began pulling out the ingredients for a salad.
“Was that Nathan?” Chris inquired.
“Yeah, wanted to know how the roads were. Told him to get a room in town. Didn’t want him trying to drive in this downpour in the dark. Don’t think there’s more than thirty feet of visibility out there,” Josiah answered.
Chris turned to his brother. “Let me guess. He thought he needed to come home to take care of the boys,” the blond said with a smile.
“Yep,” Josiah chuckled. “Should have heard the list of do’s and don’ts he had. Worse than Mom used to be,” he laughed.
Chris smiled back. Their parent’s death had been hard on all of them, and each one dealt with the loss in his own way, but lately it was getting easier to talk about them and remember the good times.
Supper came and went. Buck insisted that Ezra could take Nathan’s place at cleanup. The look of repulsion alone on the fourteen-year-old’s face was enough to send the other five into fits of hysteria. JD had felt sorry for his brother and had volunteered to help out. By the end, Vin had joined, too. Since the kitchen was not made for four bustling bodies, Josiah felt squeezed out. After Josiah had declared his job done and had left the room, the two youngest turned to the other.
JD looked at Ezra, trying to still his nervous lips. After Nathan, he only trusted Ezra and Vin with his fears. While it was true that Buck had only been a comfort to him the other night and not ridiculed him for crying, JD was not willing to take that chance again, especially without Nathan in the house. Nathan had always been around. He trusted the senior implicitly, but Buck was different, he was his hero. He worshipped Buck, the easy way he laughed or could turn something awkward into something funny, the way Buck looked at him. If Buck found out just how much of a baby he was when it came to storms, he was afraid Buck would never look at him the same way. He was pretty sure Vin felt the same way about Chris, too.
“What are we going to do, Ezra?” the young brother asked, pushing his long bangs out of his eyes.
Ezra was stuck for an answer this time. He knew when Josiah had been gone out of town for that seminar and things had gone to pot, the boys had looked to him and he had had a solution for almost every problem. This was different. He knew the boys knew he had problems with storms, too, but he doubted they knew just how bad. How could he help his brothers when he couldn’t help himself?
With a forced bravado and carefree attitude, Ezra said, “ I’ll talk Josiah into letting us have a movie night. By the time it’s time for bed, we won’t notice the storm, but if you need me, you can come get me. I’ll fix it.”
Having that problem settled, JD and Vin left the kitchen and their brother. Closing his eyes, Ezra prayed for a miracle that would allow Nathan to come home. His gut was telling him tonight was going to be a very rough night for all of them
True to his word, Ezra persuaded Josiah to let them watch movies, an inner voice had told the counselor to go with it and do whatever he could to make things run as smoothly as possible. The oldest even popped popcorn and served cold drinks.
When the second movie ended, Josiah noticed it was eleven o’ clock and called for bedtime. The three oldest couldn’t help but notice the looks JD and Vin gave Ezra, as if for confirmation whether they should abide by Josiah’s rules or not. That simple act gave Josiah a very unsettled feeling. They looked like they were considering mutiny and, if they did, what would he do about it? He was still learning the ropes on what kind of punishment each one could handle and what would trigger an old memory or fear and set them off. Josiah bowed his head, Nathan was right; he had a lot to learn. He and Chris had come home for weekends and holidays, but they hadn’t been around enough to really get to know their brothers. He looked over at Buck and wondered how much information he knew about his brothers that would help them out in a crisis.
It seemed Josiah had worried prematurely, because Ezra seemed to have given the younger two some kind of signal that they should mind the rules. Watching the three head up the stairs, Josiah grinned at himself. ‘ Jumped the gun there. It won’t be as bad as you’ve let your imagination make it out to be.’
Nathan stopped at a drive-thru and picked up his supper and headed for the motel. Entering his room, he flopped down on the bed and turned the T.V. on. Flipping through the channels, he couldn’t find anything to hold his interest. He watched the rain pour down and thought of his brothers. Finally pulling himself out of the stupor, he found his bagged supper and heated it into the room’s microwave. Eating the simple meal, Nathan decided he could use the quietness to his advantage and dug his books out of his book bag. Knowing what assignments he missed for the day and calculating what they would be for the next day or two, the senior began working on his homework.
The clap of thunder jerked Nathan from his sleep. Realizing he had fallen asleep while working on an English paper, Nathan rose to clean off the bed and climb in for some real sleep. The sound of another thunderclap brought Nathan’s attention to the window. Walking to it, Nathan stared out into the blackness and began worrying for those at home. He wanted to call home and see how they were doing, but knew if the three oldest were doing their jobs like he had explained to Josiah, they wouldn’t have time to talk on the phone. “Hold on, guys, and trust them,” he silently prayed. Hoping with all his might, the three youngest would let the others help them through the night. Nathan stood and watched the rain and grew anxious. He couldn’t be with them physically, but he could be there spiritually.
Back at the ranch, the storm had taken on a furious life and was close to sending three boys into hysteria. Buck had checked on JD before turning in for the night. The boy had been sound asleep, as well as Vin. Thinking this would be it for the night, he turned in and fell into his deep sleep.
Chris couldn’t distinguish the sound he heard. Pulled from his sleep, he lay there listening, tying to discern where the noise was coming from and what it was. Deciding to go check on the boys next door, Chris rose and slipped on his robe, the storm making the air cooler than normal. Opening the boy’s door and slipping inside, his heart lurched at the sight. Vin, with his own tears spilling down his cheeks was trying his hardest to comfort a huddled JD. The smallest had sat down in the farthest corner of the room, his knees bent up to chest; he had his head buried in the arms encircling his knees. Chris, looked at the twelve-year-old’s half-stripped bed and sighed inwardly. Nathan had told them, why didn’t they listen. The senior was right; they had a lot to learn. Going over to the bed, he finished yanking the covers off. As he walked past their desk, Chris knocked the chair into the wall, hoping the noise would wake his slumbering brother downstairs.
Buck woke with a start. What had that been? he wondered. He figured since he was awake he might as well go check on JD, if for no other reason than so he could tell Nathan that he did.
Buck walked into the boy’s room and sighed. He wondered if it always been like this and Mom and Dad had just never said. Walking over to the corner, he knelt down before his little brother. Vin, without raising his face to look at his brother, stood up and went to change his clothes. Buck patted the black hair. “Hey, JD,” Buck whispered.
JD raised his head slowly; afraid he would see condemnation in his brother’s eyes. Instead he found love. JD lunged into the warm embrace. “Make it stop, Buck,” he pleaded as only a scared child can.
“It can’t get us, JD. We’re safe. Promise,” Buck said reassuringly, not realizing he had taken up a rocking motion.
Buck stood up and was carrying JD back to his bed when Vin came back into the room, changed. Chris was just finishing tucking in the last corner of the blankets. As Vin walked up to his bed to climb in, Chris pulled back the covers for his brother to climb in under. Looking his brother straight in the eye, he flashed Vin a smile and said, “There you are.”
Josiah, Chris and Buck would learn this night just how much of a blessing Nathan had been.
Vin froze for an entire two seconds before running out of the room. JD, with a look closer to anger than they had ever seen him, screamed at Chris, “You’re not suppose to talk to Vin”
Chris took off after his brother. He had made this mess and he would fix it.
Buck, trying to calm nerves, said, “It’ll be alright, JD.”
“Didn’t Nathan tell you not to talk to Vin?” JD asked, tears forming in his eyes.
“Yes, bu…” Buck started.
Before Buck could finish, JD slugged him in the arm, asking. "Why didn’t you listen?” Looking appalled at his actions, JD yanked himself out of his brother’s arms and ran for the bathroom. Once inside, he slammed the door and locked it. Falling down on the floor, he laid his arms down on the closed toilet seat and began crying uncontrollably. He had messed up big time. He wanted Nathan.
Josiah had heard footsteps pass by his door. Getting up to investigate, he noticed the light coming out of Vin and JD’s room. Starting down the hall, he heard Buck’s soft whispering. Knowing they were in good hands, he stepped in to check on Ezra before going back to bed. Seeing the empty bed, Josiah panicked for a moment before remembering the other night. Looking behind the door, he found the brother huddled like he had been the previous time rocking hard. Walking into the room, he sat down on the floor next to Ezra. Trying to think of what kind of calming words Nathan would use, Josiah began talking in soft tones. His voice made the younger one jump and Josiah stopped talking. Just as he was about to try again the door flew open, hitting him, and he fell over onto Ezra. This caused the younger one to shove Josiah away from him and jump up with a blood-curling scream. Feeling free, Ezra raced out of the room and headed for the stairs. Josiah was vaguely aware of a door slamming behind him, as he headed out the door, running into Chris coming in the room. The two exchanged looks of fear and dread as they passed one another. Josiah ran after Ezra.
Buck tried to open the door and found it locked. Knocking on it, he said, “Come on, JD unlock the door.”
Hearing nothing, but crying coming from the other side, Buck tried again, “JD, unlock the door, so we can talk.”
Realizing that his brother wasn’t going to unlock the door for him, Buck sighed. None of the younger ones were aware of it, he was sure, but Chris had locked himself in there many a time. When he was younger, the blond would get so consumed by anger, he would start a rampage through the house, ending up locked in the bathroom. For some reason being locked in a room with no possibilities of hurting family members helped. Buck recalled how his dad would sit outside the door and not talk. He’d just sit there, whistling and wait until Chris had calmed down, then Dad would unlock the door and struggle to put the angry young boy back together.
JD didn’t hear Buck’s voice; he only heard the one in his head telling him what a baby he was. How could he ever look any of them in the face again after this completely babyish display? The memory of slugging his brother repeated in his mind. Buck would never understand. The tears fell in a steady stream.
Buck slid down the wall onto the floor and began softly whistling. He finally understood the whistling part now. It was Dad’s way of letting Chris know he wasn’t alone without using words. If Dad could wait out Chris, he could wait out JD. At least no sounds of crashing were coming from inside. Buck tried to recall how many mirrors his brother had broke in that same room. ‘No wonder we’re having such a hard time,’ Buck chuckled to himself.
Chris strode to Ezra and Nathan’s closet. One of the nice things about the big house was the small walk-in closet in every bedroom. He put his hand on the doorknob and began to open the door, only to have Vin grabbed the doorknob from his side and yank the door back closed, screaming, “No!”
Vin held tight to the doorknob, but the door wasn’t opened again. Vin sat down on the floor and buried his head in his drawn up knees. It had never been like this with Mom and Dad. Without talking, it had been so much easier to pretend the whole bed-wetting scene was an awful dream. After changing the bed, Mom would always remove the evidence of anything happening. He supposed she would always have the clean sheets put back in the closet before he got home and there was never any conversation. Conversation made it real and he just wanted to forget how terrifying thunderstorms could be. Chris was only trying to be helpful and he had run away like a little kid. Vin felt the hot tears silently roll down his cheeks. He would never be able to look his brother in the eye again.
Chris sat down outside the door. What was he supposed to do now? This was Buck’s or Josiah’s thing, even Ezra was better at dealing with the little kids’ emotions than he was. He had always taken his and Vin’s tightness for granted. Most times, they didn’t even need words, just eye contact, but with Vin sitting on the other side of the door, that wouldn’t work; words were going to have to be used and used well.
Josiah ran down the stairs in time to hear the front door thrown open. The oldest shook his head and followed. Getting as far as the porch, Josiah stopped for a moment and stared at the deluge coming down. Stepping back inside, he grabbed a couple of jackets off their hooks and put one on before proceeding out into the rain. He hoped Ezra had run for the barn.
Running across the yard, he sent up a plea, “Lord, please cut off the waterworks.” At the same time a large roll of thunder rumbled directly above. “Okay, I’ll settle for less noise,” he quipped. Making it to the barn, Josiah made his way to the middle of the aisle. Intense sobbing could be heard coming from the dun’s stall. Stopping in front of Chaucer’s opened stall, the counselor watched his curled up brother hiding in the back of the stall rocking himself back and forth pleading with an unseen figure.
‘Okay, Josiah, soft, light and don’t rumble,’ Josiah thought. Then something clicked and he made a stray connection between rumbling thunder and his rumbling voice. More than once, he had been told he had low rumbling voice, until now he had never given it much thought. ‘Okay, absolutely no rumbling.’
Petting Chaucer’s forehead, he once again was reminded of how protective this horse was of its owner. “Hey, Chaucer. How’re you doing?” Josiah thought the best course of action was to let Ezra know he was there, without getting too close at first. “You protecting our boy, huh?” Continuing to give the horse even patting, he kept talking. “You’re a good friend. He knows it, too,” Josiah slowly grabbed hold of Chris’ lariat hanging between the two stalls and slipped the noose over the horse’s head. “Why don’t you step out here and let me in there, huh?” Josiah gently led the horse out of the stall and threw the rope’s end over the stall slats. There was no use tying it, Chaucer would be free in seconds if he wanted to be. Once Chaucer was out, Josiah thought about his next move.
Buck was still sitting outside the door; he hurt for his little brother. After a time, he decided to stop waiting for JD to open the door, and open it himself. JD wasn’t Chris; he didn’t need to calm down; he needed consoling. Rising to his feet and feeling above the doorframe, Buck found the old bent knife. Sliding it between the door and its frame, he jimmied the lock and opened the door. Walking into the small room, he bent down next to his crying brother. “Hey, Pal. What happened?” Buck asked still a little confused of why his brother turned from him and ran to the bathroom.
“I hit you,” JD said, the reply muffled.
“Is that all? Shoot, that was nothing,” Buck said with a little laugh.
JD raised his head, the tears still streaming down his face. “You ain’t suppose’ to hit people,” he said, his voice warbling.
Buck eased on down to the floor, taking JD into his lap. “Well,” he said slowly, “That’s true. Mom and Dad didn’t allow hitting, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.” Settling JD into a more comfortable position, Buck continued to talk to the little one, while he used toilet paper to dry up the face. “You ought to have seen me and Chris when we were younger. Boy, we could really get into it sometimes, both of us coming out bloodied and bruised.”
“Really?” the nine-year-old asked enthusiastically, his interest peaked.
“Yep, sure did. Of course Mom was never real happy about it,” the older one said in a conspiratorial voice. “She always made Dad give us extra chores. She said if we had that much energy, it might as well be put it to good use.”
“But, you and Chris like each other,” JD said accusingly.
“Yep, that’s brothers for ya. One minute you can be wailing the dickens out of one another and the next be best friends,” Buck explained. “Just like you and me.”
“You mean you don’t hate me and want to stop being my brother?” JD asked earnestly.
“Stop being your brother?” Buck asked, surprised. “Never,” he said, drawing the youngster up tighter. A few moments of tight hugging and JD was squirming to be let loose.
About that time another rumble of thunder rolled over. JD shivered and tried not to look as scared as he was. Buck saw the attempt JD made of concealing his fear. “Awful noise, isn’t it?” the older one asked quietly.
JD nodded his head. “Sounds like it’s coming inside,” he admitted.
Buck tightened his grip and rested his chin on the black hair. “You know?” he began, sounding like he was about to tell of an ancient secret. “If you ignore the pesky noise and just concentrate on the lightening, it’s like a Fourth of July fireworks. Without the colors of course. The thunder is just the sky clapping for the show.”
JD looked at his brother for a moment, the nine-year-old trying to decide if the grownup had totally lost it. “Fourth of July fireworks,” JD said suspiciously. “Get serious, Buck.”
Leaning back and pressing a hand to chest, Buck tried to look mortally wounded. “You don’t believe your brother? The older and wiser brother, who knows about these things?” Buck said, sounding offended.
“Prove it!” JD challenged.
“Alright, I will,” Buck, answered. Getting up, Buck took the youngster hand in his and led JD back into his bedroom. Going to the window, he knelt down and drew JD into his arms. “Okay, my friend, prepare to be amazed,” he said as if he was a magician.
Chris was still sitting on the floor outside of the closet. Though the door wasn’t locked, it might as well have been. Chris was not going to intrude on Vin until he knew Vin was ready for him to. Looking at his hands clasped together in front of him, he remembered all the times when he would secure himself behind a door. It didn’t matter that his father could have the door opened in two seconds, it was just the thought of having something to separate him from the rest of the world for those few minutes his dad would allow him to gather himself together. After that, Dad would come in and, somehow, no matter what had stirred his anger, it was forgotten with the presence of his dad and the strong arms that encircled him and made him feel right with the world again.
Not two minutes had passed until Chris decided time was up. Remaining where he was, he reached up, turned the doorknob and let the door swing open on its volition. It didn’t swing open much, but then again Chris didn’t need much. The blond let out a sigh of relief when Vin left the door open. He sat there for a moment, trying to think of something wise his dad might have said.
Giving up, he just relied on being himself. “Vin, get out here. I’m not talking to the shadows on the wall,” Chris commanded.
Hearing small scooting sounds, he felt the extra presence at his shoulder. He didn’t push for any more. Now, to get to the bottom of this nonsense. They should be in bed, not sitting in a closet in an abandoned room. Chris didn’t want to think what Josiah was going through, or how far he’d had to chase the boy.
“So which gives ya the bad dreams; the thunder, the lightening or the rain?” Chris asked softly, in a no nonsense manner. He always liked getting to the heart of a matter and getting it resolved.
Vin sat there for a moment and thought about it. What did make him have the bad dreams? Shrugging, Vin said sheepishly, “I don’t know, just have them.”
Softening his voice further, Chris asked, “Just since you came here?”
“No. Before that,” the twelve-year-old said. Vin was silent for a moment then answered so low Chris had to strain to hear, “Ever since my real mom died.”
Chris waited in the silence for his reticent brother to get his thoughts together.
“She used to ride the city bus to and from work,” he began slowly. “One night she had to wait for the bus in the rain. She got sick. At first, she kept telling me it was just a sore throat, but she kept getting worse. Then one day her boss made one of the other women where she worked take her to the hospital and they wouldn’t let her come home. In the hospital she got real sick. Then she died,” he said matter-of-factly. “The storm never stopped,” he ended so softly his words were no more than breaths of air.
Chris did nothing more than wrap an arm around his brother’s shoulders and let the other lean on him. Sometimes, silence was better than words that didn’t say enough.
“I watched her, you know. Die, I mean. I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t stop the thunder or the rain or her dying,” Vin sad sadly. “When I hear the thunder, it’s like watching her die all over again.” Vin wondered if he had made any sense or if his brother would just think he was dumb little kid.
Chris kept his silence and tightened his grip. He knew about guilt and how it could eat you up on the inside. He promised himself, then and there, he would do everything he could to keep Vin from going any further down that path.
Keeping up a steady litany of reassurances, Josiah got down on his knees and crawled over to his brother. He figured if his voice scared his brother, then his extended height wouldn’t help matters either. Stopping right bedside the rocking teen, he could hear Ezra begging for someone to stop and go away. Remembering Nathan’s words, Josiah began repeating what he had been told. “It’s okay Ezra. He’s gone far away and will never come here. He can’t hurt you anymore. I promise,” Josiah whispered.
Repeating the conversation over and over, he began to notice Ezra calming down and becoming more awake. The counselor in him knew it was safe to touch his brother now and wrapped his arms around the shivering, wet youngster.
Keeping up the reassurances, Josiah eased back from his position and picked up the jacket he had bought with him. Wrapping the jacket around his brother, Josiah helped Ezra get his arms into the sleeves. Only then did he realize he had grabbed Buck’s coat. It was about ten sizes too big and Ezra’s hands easily got lost inside the sleeves. Josiah went back to holding his brother. He could tell Ezra was awake, though he wasn’t sure how much. Josiah was in no rush to dispel the moment. It wasn’t often Ezra allowed anyone to touch him intimately. Slaps on the shoulder or head, sometimes a little roughhousing, but to touch and hug, just for the sake of it was out of the question. Reasoning set in and the older one knew he had to get Ezra inside and warmed up. “Come on, Ezra, let’s go get in from this weather,” he said in a hushed tone.
Helping Ezra to his feet, Josiah guided him out of the stall and leaned him against Buck’s horse’s stall. Making sure Ezra was going to stay put for a minute, Josiah led Chaucer back in his stall and removed the lariat. “Thanks, Chaucer. You’re a good friend,” he whispered. Turning back to his brother, he led him to the barn door and realized the rain was not coming down as hard and the thundering and lightening had ceased. “Gonna have to make a run for it, okay,” he said. Getting a nod as a reply, Josiah held onto his brother’s hand and the two of them raced back to the house.
The oldest sat on the couch, in front of the roaring fire. His hands unconsciously combing through the brown hair that laid in his lap. Coming in from the rain, he had ushered Ezra into a hot shower, then went to check on the others. Buck was lying on the very edge of JD’s bed with the youngster, sleeping on his stomach, sprawled to the four corners, half of which consisted of the older brother. Josiah smiled and turned to go find the other pair.
Josiah stepped into the other bedroom. Vin was sound asleep leaning against Chris’ shoulder. Chris had one arm wrapped around the other’s shoulders, his head leaned back against the wall and slightly snoring. Josiah took Ezra’s covers off his bed and spread over the duo. Leaving the room, he went to get his own short shower. Having so many kids in the house, their parents had installed two hot water heaters, one for the kid’s bathroom and one for the rest of the house.
Getting out of the shower, Josiah dressed quickly and went to the other bathroom. Tapping lightly on the door, he stuck his head in and told Ezra to come downstairs when he got out. Going downstairs, Josiah looked at his watch and winced, two-thirty. The counselor was grateful school would continue to be closed today. Josiah was slow heating the milk on the stove, just like Janis used to make it.
After what seemed an eternity, Ezra entered the kitchen. Scowling, the teen asked, “What happened? Why are Chris and Vin sitting in the door of my closet? And who used my blankets to cover them up?”
“Vin used your closet as a hideout for a while and that’s where they fell asleep. As for the covers, that was my fault,” Josiah explained as he poured up the hot milk and stirred in the chocolate mix.
“Why did Vin find it necessary to hide in my closet and where do you expect me sleep now?” Ezra asked, his temper rising.
Grabbing the two cups, Josiah walked to the door. “Come in here and I’ll do my best to explain,” he said.
Having no choice, Ezra followed his brother into the living room and sat down on the couch, where Josiah had placed the cups on the coffee table. Josiah sat down on the couch, but away from his brother, giving him the required space. Sipping his hot drink, Josiah began explaining to the best of his knowledge what might have taken place. At that time he was still unaware of the events between JD and Buck. “For some reason, and I’m purely guessing here, Chris accidentally spoke to Vin,” the oldest said.
“Chris did what? Didn’t Nathan tell you you’re not suppose to do that?” the southern voice thickening with anger. “You’re not supposed to do that!” Ezra emphasized.
Rubbing his forehead, the counselor replied tiredly, “Yes, Nathan told me. And I told Chris, but in the midst of things he forgot. But it’s all right now, Chris made it right,” Josiah said, thinking that at least by the look of things Chris had made it right. “As far as the sleeping arrangements, you have your choice of Nathan, Buck or Chris’ bed,” he offered.
Ezra shot back, “What about yours since you’re the one that gave mine away.”
“Okay, if you want mine, you can have it,” Josiah said, hoping to smooth over the rough spots.
“No, thanks. Just wondered what you’d do,” Ezra said, with a slightly smug smile before drinking some of his cocoa. Josiah had to smile back.
It wasn’t long after that Ezra’s head fell back against the couch and his eyes slid shut. Josiah moved him around until he was lying down, with his head in the older one’s lap. Josiah stayed up, staring into the fire and thought for a long while before closing his eyes and falling asleep.
Nathan paced the floor until the earlier hours of the morning. The majority of the storm had passed through about an hour past midnight. Waiting for the sun to come up, he checked out and headed home. Getting to their cutoff, he pulled onto the dirt road and made it a couple of feet before bogging down. Nathan turned off the ignition, removed his socks and shoes, rolled up his pants and started walking home. He hoped the members of the household had faired better than some of the landscape he passed by. More than one tree had been blown over and several had lost at least one branch. Walking up the steps of the ranch house, he became aware of the quietness. With the sun up, he expected at least Chris and Vin up, not to mention Buck. The quietness seemed a foreboding of what damage lie within the house.
Walking into the kitchen, he tiptoed to the sink to keep as much mud off the floor as possible. Rinsing his mud-drenched feet, he grabbed a couple of paper towels and dried off. Walking through the living room, he spotted the back of Josiah’s head resting on the couch. Peering over the edge, the senior saw that Ezra was lying down with his head on the oldest lap. He pondered what had occurred that would have made the fourteen-year-old allow such physical contact. Deciding he would ask later, Nathan headed upstairs to bed. After worrying half the night, he was dead tired. Stepping into his bedroom, he noticed the two figures sitting over in the corner asleep under Ezra’ covers. He really began wondering what had happened last night. Slipping back out of his bedroom, Nathan went to check on JD. Opening the door, Nathan saw that the youngest was comfortably snuggled up to his dead-to-the-world brother.
Standing out in the hall, he began having that angry feeling sneaking back up on him. He feels like screaming and without knowing why. Suddenly feeling very isolated, Nathan decided there was no place to go and headed back downstairs. Getting a glass of milk, the senior walked back into the living room and stared at the two asleep on the couch.
Josiah woke up to the feeling he was being watched. Turning his head, he noticed Nathan standing there. “Hey! When did you get home,” sitting up straighter, he asks, “How did you get home?” with concern.
“The roads were fine, but I had to leave the pickup at the end of the road. Walked in,” Nathan said, still staring at his brother.
Josiah could feel the barely concealed anger radiating from his brother. Raising Ezra’s head enough to slip out from under it, he placed a pillow under the head and lowered it back down. Walking up to Nathan, he said, “Talk to me, Nathan.”
“Nothing to talk about. You apparently you have everything under control here. You don’t need me,” the young man said, a tinge of hostility and hurt colored his voice.
Josiah knew he had just been handed a piece of the puzzle of what was bothering his brother. Laying his hand on Nathan’s shoulders, Josiah said, “Of course we do. Last night I realized just how much.”
“Oh get off it, Josiah. Half the time I can’t tell if I’m talking to my brother or the counselor,” Nathan said heatedly, swiping the hand off his shoulder.
Josiah was momentarily stunned. Softening his voice, he said, “I’m always you’re brother, no matter what.” Trying to show Nathan, that he was needed, Josiah asked, “Look, you’re the only one here that knows why Ezra and the others act the way they do during storms. It would really help me deal with them if you shared what you know, especially with Ezra.”
“See, there you go again being the counselor and leave Ezra alone. He’s mine,” Nathan ended vehemently, instantly lowering his head out of shame for his outburst.
“I’m not playing counselor, I’m being a concerned big brother,” Josiah said more harshly than intended. “I’ve always been your big brother,” he said, softening his voice.
Nathan struggled for control. He knew right now he was acting worse than JD, but he didn’t really care at this moment; he was tired of keeping it all bottled up inside. Taking a slow breath, he looked at the floor and began explaining, “When you were here, you were the big brother. We all looked to you. When you moved out, then Chris and Buck were the big brothers. When they moved out it was just me. Then Ezra, Vin and JD came along and I was the big brother. They came to me for help and when the storms hit and Mom and Dad were taking care of the younger ones, I took care of Ezra,” Nathan said, his voice rising a little. “Then they died and you three come marching back home and…and…forget it. I’m going to go find an empty bed,” he said. Marching upstairs, he turned around and said angrily, “Maybe, I’ll take yours.”
Josiah saw a large hunk of the puzzle fall into place and felt like he had been hit with a hammer over the head. Mom and Dad had been the parents and Nathan had been big brother. They had had their roles nicely defined for them. Now those roles had been wiped out and Nathan was wondering where that left him, who that left him. The counselor in him knew that Nathan’s last remark had been a dig at him. He had inadvertently taken something away from Nathan and it was more than just a role. Josiah turned back to find Ezra had slept through the whole thing and suddenly the whole picture fell into place, as he recalled his brother’s words, “Ezra’s mine.” Now all Josiah had to do was figure how to put back together a puzzle he had no clue had been torn apart.
Nathan stormed into what had once been their parent’s room. After their death, he had helped Josiah pack up some of their belongings and stored it in the attic. Nathan realized, Josiah had evidently packed the rest up, probably a little at a time so it wouldn’t be so noticeable. Now there was practically nothing of theirs left in the room, their presence had been essentially wiped away. Nathan felt the hot tears flood his eyes again and flung himself on what had once been their bed and cried.
The senior never heard his oldest brother enter the room, nor knew when Josiah sat down in the recliner. One of their few remaining items still left in the room that had been their parents’. The pain of their deaths, the emptiness their departure had left, the fear of letting one of his brothers down, the stress of quietly keeping it all together was being unloaded all in one go.
His sobs, though muffled by the covers did not go by unheard. JD had woken a short time earlier, the call of nature his alarm clock. Going back to the room, he ran into Buck coming out. “You hungry?” Buck asked.
Getting a nod, Buck started down the hall. Passing by the main bedroom, they heard the crying. He and JD looked at each other before walking into the room. Josiah quickly gestured for them to be quiet. Not ones to leave their brothers hurting, the duo sat down on the floor and listened as Nathan sobbed away his pain.
Chris woke to a throbbing arm. Using his other hand to lift the half-numb arm off his brother, Vin woke to the movement. “Sorry,” Chris whispered. “Didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“It’s okay. I was half awake anyway,” Vin replied. “You hear that? Sounds like someone is crying and close by,” he stated as he stood up.
Chris listened carefully and could very well make out the soft sobbing. Nodding his head slightly, the two headed out the room and followed the noise to their parent’s old room. Seeing the other three, the two joined them in their silent vigil of support.
Ezra lay on the couch, thinking. He hadn’t been asleep as Josiah had thought. He had heard the conversation between the two, had heard the message Nathan had sent Josiah, and hoped his brother with the psychological training had heard it. What Ezra had trouble with, was the single phrase that had made the picture fall into place for Josiah. Ezra wasn’t completely sure what this meant, but he figured it had something to do with Chris and Buck taking over the care of the two youngest. Why Nathan thought he needed taking care of, though, was beyond him. He had been self-sufficient ever since he could remember. Deciding that his bed would be a lot more comfortable, Ezra rolled off the couch and headed upstairs. Getting to the top landing, he heard the same thing that had drawn the others and stopped in the doorway. Getting a gesture for his other brothers, he cautiously moved into the room. Something told him, he was walking into something he had just as soon avoid. It was too late now. He sat down on the floor with the others.
The sobs finally ceased. JD crawled up onto the bed and began running his hand through his brother’s hair. “It’s’ okay Nathan. It wasn’t so bad last night,” the youngest said. “Well, except for when Chris spoke to Vin, and Vin winding up somewhere else in the house, and Chris having to follow, and me hitting Buck, then locking myself in the bathroom, and Ezra screaming bloody murder. But it’s all right now, there’s nothing to worry about. We’re okay. And you know what Buck taught me? Lightning is like Fourth of July fireworks without the colors, but just as cool.”
The others softly laughed at this narration, but Nathan couldn’t get enough air or strength to respond. Being away wasn’t all of it, but he didn’t have it in him to explain to the nine-year-old.
“Nathan?” Chris called softly, after a brief period of silence.
“Go away!” Nathan ordered in a whisper, silently berating himself. The one time he cracked and they all show up to bear witness.
Chris and Buck looked at Josiah for suggestions, but Vin and JD turned to Ezra. Josiah noticed the subtle power shift. Maybe, this was exactly what Nathan needed. The senior had felt like they had taken over everything and commandeered his role, maybe by letting Ezra be the one to stay and talk to the senior, Josiah could give back what Nathan had thought was stolen.
Standing up, Josiah issued the order for everyone to get out. “Josiah,” Chris said lowly in one his more threatening tones. Abandoning his brother was out of the question.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be alright,” the counselor said, giving Ezra’s arm a squeeze before ushering the others out.
Ezra shut the door quietly, and then waited until Nathan rolled over onto his side, before making his way to the bed. How many times had this brother made a scary night safer, or tried to protect him from himself, when he was about to or had done something stupid? How many times had Nathan battered at his defenses until finally breaking small hunks out of it? How many times had Nathan been there to catch him, when he didn’t even know he was falling?
Climbing onto the bed, Ezra laid down behind the senior without touching, just like Nathan had done for him on countless occasions. The two remained there for a long time, before Ezra whispered, “You’re the only one that knows about that night, Nathan.”
Not being very good with emotional dealings, he hated revealing any more than necessary, but knew what it was like to need to hear the words, and knowing his brother needed to hear it, he said. “I never had much in life. Maude never really wanted me, not as a son anyway. The relatives she used to dump me on never wanted me,” Ezra stopped and swallowed before continuing, “I never knew what it was like to be wanted somewhere until I came here. You’re the first person that made me feel wanted,” he revealed quietly. Wincing at his supplied feelings, he added, “But, I swear if you ever tell anyone I said that I’ll deny it to my dying days, you understand?”
Nathan let out a brief laugh and turned over to face his brother, “Yeah, Ezra, I understand.” Looking into his brother’s serious green-eyes, he did understand. He would always be the older brother to the youngest ones, the one they came to for help or safety, he just didn’t have to carry all the responsibilities alone anymore, that’s what HIS older brothers were for.
Rolling over to face the other way, Ezra turned to his brother on the other side. In a near nothing of a voice, he asked uncertainly, “Nathan, I will always be YOUR brother,”
Nathan looked his brother back and solemnly said, “Always, Ezra.”
A few hours of sleep had Nathan rested and feeling better about the things. Rolling off the bed easily, so as not to bother his brother, the senior headed downstairs. Walking into the living room, he only found his oldest brother.
Josiah looked up to see his brother walk into the room, “Hey,” he said. “Ezra still asleep?” he asked.
“Not as asleep as he’d like me to think,” Nathan said with a laugh. It was true that their brother loved to lie in bed in the mornings. “Where is everyone?” Nathan inquired after a while.
“Chris and Buck took the other two out to the barn to do chores and run off some of that excessive energy,” Josiah answered. Looking up as Nathan sat down on the couch.
Putting away the book he had been reading, Josiah studied his brother closely and wondered when his once baby brother had grown up. “You were right when you said we didn’t know anything about those three,” Josiah said as a small form of reassurance. Continuing the older one said, “I like to think I knew everything there was about them. That I was closer to them than I really was and that Mom and Dad shared all they could so I could help them out at school, but I guess I was wrong.”
“They shared what they had to with the counselor, but maybe they figured as a brother the rest was up to you,” Nathan pointed out. He couldn’t seem to get Josiah to see the fine line drawn in the sand between counselor and brother.
Josiah nodded his head in acceptance, he was beginning to see what Nathan had been repeating the last few days, it wasn’t Mom and Dad’s job to bond them together, it was theirs. more specifically his. As a counselor he needed know what would affect the brothers at school, but as a brother it was his job to get to know them period.
The silence filled the room for a while, neither brother knowing what to say next. Josiah finally broke the deadness in the air. “Did Mom and Dad know why Ezra would get so frantic during the storms.
Nathan sat there for a while, wondering if his brother was going to ask him to reveal a secret he had no intention of revealing. “No,” he finally said quietly
“But you do?” Josiah prodded.
“He gave it freely, I just listened,” Nathan answered, wanting Josiah to know Ezra only told what he wanted to, when he was ready.
‘I’m glad he has someone he can talk to,” Josiah said. He had to admit it hurt some that Ezra didn’t trust him to tell, but then had to remind himself, he hadn’t been around all that much to form that trust, either.
“Josiah,” Nathan started hesitantly. “JD just wants security in his life, that’s all,” stopping, he collected his thought. “Vin was out there with all kinds of families for five years and Ezra got tossed around since birth. A lot of things can happen to a person in those years and some things can’t be fixed over night or with “tell me how you feel” speeches. Some things just take time and endurance.”
Josiah thought about the truths his brother had spoken and felt the wisdom behind the words. Time was the only thing that was going to heal most of the wounds his brothers had been inflicted with, including the one sitting across from him.
“Nathan,” Josiah said softly, “Mom and Dad would be really proud of you and no matter what you might think, you truly are a valuable asset to this family.
The senior sat quietly on the couch, thinking about the last couple of days and about what his older brother had just said. He might not always know it and his brothers were definite not the type to say it, but he was needed around here. If for no other reason than to be used as a bridge to close some very big gaps. A small smile graced his face as he finally started to realize he had a lot of blessings around him.
7 B Ranch Index