Notes: This fic was originally posted as an episode of Peacekeeper Productions first "virtual season." It is a collection of seven vignettes, one for each of the Seven tied together with a common background story:
Working Girl (Buck)
How You Play the Game (Ezra)
The Measure of a Man (JD)
Warnings: If you don't like reading about the Boys as kids, skip this one.
Billy Travis's seventh birthday was a day that took on a unique meaning for each of the Seven peacekeepers of Four Corners. It was hardest for Chris, whose own son would have been not much older than Billy, had he not died at age five in a way no child ever should. At the opposite end was JD, who despite some harsh turns in his young life, still had a kid inside who shared Billy's delight with the cake, games, and gifts.
Josiah had obtained a pinata, and the others had filled it with treats. Mostly candy, and small toys like penny whistles and marbles. JD was more than happy to direct the festivities, carefully dodging potentially crippling blows from a heavy stick as one blindfolded small boy after another took a mighty swing at the papier-mache covered clay pot.
"Ah, to be young again," Buck sighed as he watched JD pull the pinata rope just high enough for Ethan Potter to brush the underside of the pinata, and then have to sidestep quickly to avoid being clobbered as the boy swung at the air with renewed enthusiasm.
Chris just stared pensively, lost in his own thoughts. So did Vin, who had never had a birthday party that he remembered. Ezra smiled as he watched the children - and the youngest of their group, somewhat abashed that he was enjoying himself. Nathan, too, enjoyed watching the children, but their joy and laughter evoked memories of a time when there was too little to laugh about.
As the men watched the children, Josiah watched the men, studying them, for observe was what he did best. He wondered what thoughts the seemingly commonplace event evoked in these hardened men. For him, it was a bittersweet sense of poignancy that this happy day marked the beginning of the end of Billy's childhood. Mary sensed it, too, Josiah could tell. As she gazed lovingly at her little boy, her eyes seemed to recall the tiny babe she had clutched to her breast, as she no doubt wondered where the time had gone.
Funny thing about children, Josiah thought. Each morning, they awoke looking exactly as they did the day before, but somewhere along the way, the infant becomes the toddler, the toddler the child, the child the youth until one day, not too many years hence, Mary Travis would find herself looking into the eyes of the man who was her son.
Tradition held that seven was the age of reasoning, the age at which a human being was expected to have mastered the difference between right and wrong although both concepts, Josiah had learned, varied with time, and place - and circumstance
Josiah dragged his feet as he slowly made his way through the crowded city street on his way to St. Joseph's Catholic School for Boys. His heart was as grey and overcast as the San Francisco morning. He was going to Hell. He knew it - would have known even if his father hadn't told him.
The sun burned his eyes. God's punishment was what that was. He tried to blink back the stinging tears, but they overflowed, anyway, and he wiped them angrily on his shirtsleeve, and then sucked in a painful breath when his left thumb brushed his cheek. The pain was enough to make him cry, but his father had assured him that it was only a small, insignificant misery compared to the torments of Hell.
Fear of Hell was the only reason he didn't want to die.
He went to the chapel where the other boys would soon gather for morning Mass. He was early, but he thought maybe if he asked God
What right did he have to ask God for anything? He was a sinner. Miserable and worthless and damned.
The tears began to come faster than he could brush them away, so he quit trying.
The little boy froze. He knew that voice. Father Spellman. Josiah was scared, but he knew better than to pretend he didn't hear.
He stood, turned, and bowed his head respectfully. "Good morning, father," he sniffed.
A large, soft hand reached out and lifted his chin upwards. Josiah's red-rimmed blue eyes traveled up the length of the black cassock to the stern face.
"Why are you crying?" Father Spellman asked.
Josiah felt his gut go cold with fear, but to lie to a priest had to be a Really Terrible Sin, so he told the truth. "My my catechism I didn't I couldn't "
He started to cry. He couldn't help it. He was tired and stupid and his thumb hurt and he was going to Hell.
Father Spellman took his left hand and Josiah cried out in pain and quickly pulled it back.
The priest bent down so that he was at eye-level with the boy. "Josiah, what's wrong? Let me see your hand "
Obediently, Josiah held out his hand for the priest to see the small sewing pin wedged under the thumbnail.
"Oh my " Father Spellman said, and then without giving him any warning, quickly pulled the object out.
Josiah let out a yelp, but felt immediate relief from the gnawing pain the pin had caused.
"Feel better?" Father Spellman asked.
"Now, I am betting that a certain little boy was playing in his mother's sewing box where he wasn't supposed to be," the priest smiled.
Josiah quickly shook his head. "Oh no, father I " The boy hung his head, too ashamed to continue.
Father Spellman was a short, portly man, and Josiah was tall for his age - he was only seven and he was taller than most of the nine-year-olds at the school - but even so, the priest lifted him easily, then took a seat in one of the pews.
"Tell me what is troubling you, Josiah, and remember that it's a sin to lie."
What did one more sin matter, Josiah thought. He was going to Hell, anyway.
Still, he told the truth. The catechism lesson for that week was to learn the Act of Contrition. You had to know it before you could go to Confession. If you didn't go to Confession, your sins stayed on your soul and you went to Hell. Everyone knew that.
It was a long prayer, and a hard one, not easy like the Hail Mary, and full of words Josiah didn't understand. He'd tried to memorize it, but when his father had quizzed him, he'd forgotten everything.
For hours and hours his father had stood over him, making him read, then recite, and every time, Josiah would get it wrong and they'd have to start all over again. Long into the night they had worked, until Josiah's eyes started to close all by themselves. He wanted to stay awake wanted to learn the prayer but he was a stupid, worthless sinner and he couldnt.
"So then, my father stuck a pin in my finger, and he said that didn't hurt anything like the pain of Hell, and that was where I was going."
Josiah wasn't crying now. He just hung his head in shame.
Father Spellman was quiet for a long, long time. Josiah would have been sure the priest was as disgusted with him as his father was, except for the strong arms that held him in a close embrace that felt somehow safe.
"Josiah? Let me tell you two secrets which your father doesn't know."
Josiah looked up at the priest, whose face was as stern as ever, and scared Josiah a little.
"The first secret is that fathers don't know everything, and sometimes they can be wrong. Now, that doesn't mean you shouldn't respect them, because what does the Fourth Commandment say?" he prodded.
"Honor thy father and thy mother," Josiah replied quickly.
Father Spellman smiled, then continued. "The second secret is this: Little boys don't go to Hell, Josiah. Not because they didn't learn their catechism, not for any reason."
"But if I don't know the prayer "
"If you don't know it now, you will learn it some other time. It is enough that you want to learn it. God is forever Josiah, and He will wait for you. Do you understand?"
Josiah wasn't sure he did, but, he nodded 'yes' anyway.
Father Spellman then stood and repositioned him so that he was stretched out on the pew. He tucked a hymnal under his head for a pillow. Josiah thought that was kind of funny, but, he hadn't slept all night. Not one wink.
"You have a little rest, and then go to your class when you wake up."
Josiah nodded, already almost asleep .
Josiah the man smiled. Father Spellman had done more than take a pin from a little boy's finger. He'd removed a nail from his soul.
God was probably still waiting for Josiah Sanchez to see the light, but Josiah would never stop looking for it.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan watched as JD set up the pinata so that the Billy would get a good, solid whack at it. He supposed it was some unwritten rule that the guest of honor should get to be the one to break it. That was part of the fun.
His childhood as slave hadn't left him with a lot of happy memories. The year he was seven - Billy's age - had been one of the worst of his life. He had been sold to Alabama, along with his father and his three sisters, and every night he had prayed that somehow, some way, Mama would get sold down to be with them. He had missed her so much, even though now, he couldn't picture her face in his mind no matter how hard he tried. He remembered how soft her touch was, even though her hands were calloused and rough from a slave's work. But was she pretty? Homely? Thin? Plump? He didn't remember. It would seem that his fading memories would have made the pain of losing her easier as time went on, but somehow the fact that he was left with nothing from her no picture, no lock of hair, not even the memory of her face had left an ache in his heart that had never gone away.
He watched the Potter children, whose father had been murdered in cold blood just months before. No doubt they still grieved for his loss, but like Billy, who had seen his own father gunned down before his eyes, they had learned already to laugh and smile again. Billy was proof of what a remarkably resilient being a 7-year-old could be, and as bad as that year had been for him, Nathan also recalled it as a time of wonder and great discoveries which gave the promise of hope even to a little slave boy
It was one of those hot July days when even the bugs stayed in the shade and the only folks out and about were them what were too danged dumb to keep out of the heat, like Master Jackson, and those who had no choice, like Nathan and his father who had accompanied the old man on his weekly trip into Wetumpka. It was a long stretch of dusty road between the plantation and the town, but Nathan knew they were near their destination when they passed the black-and-white sign that his daddy had told him said "Wetumpka."
His daddy didn't know how to read, so Nathan figured he was only guessing what the sign said, but, it had a word on it, and the town was Wetumpka, so it was a good guess.
They pulled the wagon up to Wildon's Mercantile. Nathan's daddy would load up supplies while Master Jackson talked with the owner of the store. Nathan was expected to stand nearby to run whatever errands Master Jackson wanted done.
"Come on up to the porch and set a spell," old man Wildon told Master Jackson. "Sure is a hot one."
Master Jackson agreed, taking off his hat and mopping his brow as he shoved Nathan aside to get to the shady porch.
"Fetch me a cool drink, boy," he said to Nathan.
Nathan's body conditioned by a deftly applied switch responded before his brain did, and he moved to do Master Jackson's bidding before he knew where he was going. This made the Master and old man Wildon both laugh at the sudden look of confusion on the boy's face.
Old man Wildon pointed to a rickety bench just inside the door. "Water barrel's right there, boy, and mind you don't knock nuthin' over."
Nathan moved quickly, but was again thwarted by the sight of not one, but two barrels. He could hear the white men snickering because he couldn't read the words painted on the barrels.
He had two choices. He could go back and ask old man Wildon which barrel had water, or, he could sample the contents, which might get him beat. As he was thinking it over, he heard Master Jackson say, "Now, Wil, ya know my niggers don't know whiskey from water from piss. Ya gotta show 'em everything."
Wildon laughed. "C'mere boy," he said to Nathan.
His face burning with shame, Nathan complied.
"Now, one o' them barrels is water. The other one is whiskey. How 'bout you take a big taste o' the one you think is water."
Nathan was baffled. "But, massah, I don't know which one."
Wildon smiled genially. "I'll tell you what You pick one. But whichever you pick, you gotta drink a big ol' swallow o' whatever's in it."
Nathan didn't like this stupid white man's game. He knew he was being made the fool. But he pointed with confidence at one of the barrels. "That one."
Wildon didn't offer him a tin, but had him cup his hands under the spigot in the barrel.
Even before it touched his lips, Nathan knew it was whisky and not water by its familiar odor. It didn't smell bad at all, but when he gulped it down, he immediately felt an unpleasant burning in his nose and throat. He wanted to spit it out, but he knew that was what Wildon wanted him to do.
His eyes watered while Wildon and Master Jackson laughed. Nathan looked to his father, who wasn't laughing, but knew he couldn't do anything. Wordlessly, he fetched the tin beside the barrels and filled it from the one he hadn't drank from wishing it was piss instead of water.
And as the murkish liquid filled the tin cup, Nathan noticed something. The first letter in the words were the same. That same pointy letter that looked like two arrowheads pointing down. "'Whiskey' .. 'water' ." And he remembered he'd seen that same pointy letter somewhere else the sign that said "Wetumpka."
Whiskey water Wetumpka
His eyes moved to the sign on the store window. "Wildon's" was the name of the store, he knew.
Yep. There it was. That same soft whistly sound, and that same pointy letter.
"BOY! Watch what you're doing!!"
Nathan jumped as the water overflowed the tin. He almost dropped it.
"Sorry, massah Wildon," he said humbly, then handed the tin to Master Jackson, who shoved him aside.
"Go set yerself somewhere out of the way," Master Jackson told him. "And mind you don't make any trouble."
Nathan sat down in a corner of the porch. Whiskey, water, Wetumpka, Wildon He found a rusted nail and an old wooden shingle, then, trying not to attract attention, began to copy the markings on the barrels and the store window. Whiskey. Water. Wildon's Mercantile . Wat-ER mER-can-tile. E-R 'er' and there was that "t" sound in both mercantile and water His eyes looked to see what letters those words had in common. T? The one that looked like the Cross of Jesus? "Wetumpka" had that sound in it, too. He'd have to look at the sign on the way out of town to see if it had a cross in it, too. He was sure it did.
His heart was racing with excitement. He wanted to jump up and shout his discovery.
But he knew the white folk wouldnt like it, and his daddy wouldn't like it that the white folk didn't.
So he kept silent that July afternoon, keeping his smile to himself as they rode out of town and he used his nail and shingle to copy down each letter on the familiar Wetumpka sign as they slowly rode by it.
The cross was there, just like he thought it would be and there was w-A-ter, and Wetumpk-A-. Another pointy letter with a bar in it. Ahh
That was it! All the letters made their own sound. They made their own sound!!! That is how you knew how to say what was written down!
Nathan smiled, but decided for now, he would keep his wonderful secret to himself.
+ + + + + + +
The pinata exploded as Billy gave it a good, solid crack with his stick, scattering candy and gumdrops that were scooped up by eager little hands. Buck Wilmington wasn't watching the children grab the treats, though. He was looking across the dusty street, at a dirty little girl in an equally dirty dress, who was watching the festivities with big, sad eyes, but not daring to come any closer.
Buck had seen her around, but didn't know who she was. She looked about Billy's age, but one look at her was enough to explain why she hadn't been invited to the party. Mary was careful who Billy played with, and it was clear the little girl did not come from the type of people Mary wanted Billy to know
"My mommy said you're a bastard," Geneva Noles was telling him.
Buck didn't know what that word meant. "So?"
"So, it means you're dirty."
"I am not!" While it was true that he didn't much like taking a bath, his ma made him do it anyway, and she had just about scrubbed his face off before sending him to Benji Cutler's birthday party. "What do you know, anyway?" He moved passed her and went to join the other children who were starting a game of 'pin the tail on the donkey.' Buck loved that game.
He set the present he'd brought for Benji on the table beside the cake. It was a big blue and white marble a shooter. It had cost him 2 whole cents.
As he gave the cake a hungry glance, he noticed Benji's ma talking to someone other mas. One of them was Daisy Beckman's mama. Daisy's family was the richest one in town because her pa owned all the money in the bank. Everyone knew that, even though Daisy never said nothing about it. One of the mothers pointed at him. Buck smiled at Benji's ma, but he didn't like the way some of the women were looking at him, and he knew something bad was going to happen from the look on her face when she started walking towards him.
"Howdy, Mrs. Cutler," he said anyway.
She bent down and put her hands on her knees. "Honey, I'm sorry, but there was a mistake. This party is only for invited guests."
Buck frowned. "But I'm in Benji's class at school. Mrs. Gordon said the whole class was invited." He quickly scanned the guests. Yep, Mrs. Gordon's whole class was just about there.
"Well, you are just a little old for some of these children."
"But, I'm seven, just like Benji," Buck explained, and then pulled himself up to his full height. He was the biggest boy in his class. "I'm just tall fer my age," he said proudly.
Mrs. Cutler sighed. "Buck try to understand, son Some of the parents think it would be better if you didn't play with their children."
"Because you're a bastard," Geneva Noles piped up. She sure seemed to like saying that word. "And because your ma is a whore."
"GENEVA!" Mrs. Cutler snapped. "You mind your tongue or I'll tell your mother to take some soap to that mouth of yours!"
Now, Buck thought she was mad at Geneva, but she turned to him and said "Go home, Buck. You don't belong here."
Buck was about to protest the fact that Geneva was not being asked to leave, but Mrs. Cutler grabbed him by the shoulders, turned him around, and shoved him. Not hard enough to make him fall or anything, but enough so that he got the message.
Buck didn't know what he had done wrong, and he suddenly felt like he had sand in his eyes or something. He wanted to just run on home, but instead he turned back to Mrs. Cutler. "But what did I do?" he asked, and couldn't keep his bottom lip from shaking.
"Ask your mother to explain it to you, son," Mrs. Cutler said.
Buck just stood there, while one by one, children were moved away from him like he had cootie bugs crawling on him or something. They didn't even look at him, except for Daisy's ma, and he couldn't tell what she was thinking. She was a pretty lady, with nice eyes that didn't look mad at him.
Angrily, he grabbed the gift he'd brought and then raced down the street to the big red building near the outskirts of town. He had to run all the way around it, because Clara Jean, who was the boss of everyone, had told him never, ever to come in the front door. He'd done it once, and she'd taken a switch to his bottom.
He went in through the kitchen door and took a seat at the table. He was supposed to wait there until Clara Jean told him it was okay to go talk to his ma. He felt hot tears running down his face, and luckily, he didn't have to wait long.
Orlie, the cook, went and told his ma he was there, and she came in and scooped him up in her arms like she always did when he was sad or sick or tired. She sat him on her lap, even though he was getting so big that his feet almost touched the floor now when she did that.
He told her what had happened. "What's a bastard?" he asked her, sniffling.
She hugged him tighter but didn't answer him. "Geneva Noles said you was a a I don't remember the word."
She ran her fingers through his hair. "Bucky, you are going to hear a lot of people call your mama a lot of names. Some of them won't be so nice, but it don't hurt me none to be called those things, so I don't want it to bother you, either, you hear me? When someone says your mama is this, or your mama is that, you hold your head up, you look 'em in the eye, and you say 'Yes, she is.'"
"But ma ."
"No buts, Bucky think about it. They are saying those things to make you get angry to make you fight. If you don't do either, well, it kinda takes all the fun out of it for 'em."
They sat quietly for awhile, as she held him, rocking him gently. Buck loved that, and he didn't care if he was getting too big for it. But after a few minutes he had to ask, "Ma do they call you those names because you work?"
He didn't know what his ma's work was about, but, he did know that nobody else's ma was a 'working girl' so maybe that wasn't a good thing to be.
"I 'spose they do, Bucky."
"Lord'a' mercy would you look at this!" Orlie interrupted from the other side of the kitchen. "C'mere Francie, you gotta see this," she said to Buck's ma.
Buck and his ma looked at each other and decided they should go see what Orlie was gawking at. Together, they peeked into the parlor where they could see someone standing at the front door.
"That's Daisy Beckman's ma!" Buck said when he recognized the woman.
"What do you suppose she wants?" Buck's ma asked.
"Probably looking for her man," Orlie laughed.
"You hush, Orlie! You're talkin' about decent folk. Her husband ain't never set foot in this place and you know it!"
"Well, what's she want then?"
Clara Jean was walking towards them, with that big scowl on her face she always had. Buck thought if Clara Jean ever smiled, her face would crack.
"She wants to see the boy," Clara Jean told Buck's ma, and pointed at him.
Buck's mother pulled him close. "Why?"
"Ask her yerself, doll. I ain't got the time for nonsense."
Buck's mother walked with him to the door. Mrs. Beckman extended her hand. "Mrs Wilmington?" she said.
Buck hadn't ever heard his ma called that, and he figured it must be wrong because his ma said, "It's just Francie, ma'am," as she took Mrs. Beckman's hand.
"My daughter and I would like to invite Master Buck over for afternoon tea."
"I don't like tea," Buck said, and was quickly corrected by a stern nudge from his mother.
Mrs. Beckman just laughed. "How about lemonade and cookies then?" she asked him.
"Mrs. Beckman " his ma began. "Are you sure I mean, people will talk "
"Miss Francie, my husband, as you know, owns more than half of this town. I assure you that whatever anyone might have to say will be of little consequence."
"I got a big swing and a hobby horse!" a little voice piped up. It was Daisy. "You can play with them if you want."
"What about Benji's birthday party?" Buck asked.
"I don't like Benji. His hair smells like bacon," Daisy made a face.
Buck was glad his ma liked to put rose water in his hair, even if it did smell kind of sissy. "Can I go, ma?" he asked.
His ma looked down at him and stroked his hair, but she spoke to Mrs. Beckman, "Thank you," she said.
Mrs. Beckman smiled and nodded. Later, Buck's mom would tell him she was a true lady. It would be years before he understood what that meant, but eventually, he knew.
He was shaken from his reverie when he noticed Mrs. Travis had crossed the street. He held his breath as she approached the ragged little girl with the sad eyes, letting it out only when he saw the elegant and graceful woman reach out and take a grubby little hand in her own, and lead the child to the others.
Yup. A true lady.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra had watched tow-headed Willie Lahr gather up the pinata candy hand-over-fist. He was about 12, older than the other children, so it hardly seemed fair when he managed to grab more than anyone else. But, once the fun of collecting the confections was over, the boy began to carefully mete out the candy he'd collected to some of the smaller children who had managed to pick up little or nothing with their small hands.
Sometimes, Ezra reflected, being the best wasn't the best to be
HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME
"Pugnacious p-u-g-n-a-c-i-o-u-s," Ezra's opponent spelled out the word and Ezra waited for his turn. It was just the two of them, again.
Ezra stared at the competition in abject annoyance. Chester Hoyt was a Negro, and this was the only school he ever went to that let a Negro go to school with white folks. The very idea was absurd. His uncle Percival had said so.
Chester thought he was so smart, but Ezra was smarter than him. They were both in 4th grade, but Chester was nine and Ezra was only seven and was supposed to be in 2nd grade, but he was too smart for all that baby stuff. So there.
The prize for winning the spell down was a shiny, gold spelling medal that hung from a blue velvet ribbon. It had a clasp on it so the winner could wear it on his lapel and everyone would know he was the best speller in 4th grade. Ezra wanted it, and he was going to have it.
Mr. Beauchamp, the headmaster, looked at him and give him the next word - "perspicacity"
Easy! "p-e-r-s-p-a-c-a-c-i-t-y" Ezra spelled out.
"I'm sorry, Master Standish, that's incorrect."
Ezra clenched his fists in anger. The spell-down was 2 rounds out of three. So far, he had won a round, and so had Chester. If Chester could spell "perspicacity" and the next word, he'd win. It wasn't fair!
"p-e-r-s-p-i-c-a-c-i-t-y," Chester rattled off the letters. Ezra hated him. Who did he think he was?
"That's correct," Mr. Beauchamp said. He looked through the speller for the next word.
-Make it a real hard one Ezra was thinking.
"Hmmmmm . Let's see ah here's one 'pulchritude'."
Ezra looked on with satisfaction as Chester's face fell. Although, truth be told, Ezra had no idea how to spell that word, either.
Chester hesitated a long, long time, like maybe he was going to give up. Then, the unthinkable happened .
"p-u-l-c-h-r-i-t-u-d-e." Chester was not so confident this time, but Ezra knew immediately from the look on Mr. Beauchamp's face that he'd gotten it right. Mr. Beauchamp wasn't pleased. He didn't like Chester, either.
Mr. Beauchamp peered over his glasses at Chester. "How did you know that word?" he asked him, his voice stern.
"It's in the Bible, sir," Chester replied. "I can spell most words that are in the Bible."
"Indeed," Mr. Beauchamp said, tapping his pencil against his knee. "Well, I think since you boys are both so good, we ought to make it more of a contest. Instead of 2 of three, it will be best of 5."
The rest of the class groaned, because they would all be forced to participate in the next two rounds, even though Ezra knew that they knew that only Chester had prayer of beating him.
Sure enough, two rounds later, it was Chester and Ezra, again. Ezra had won round 4, so they were tied 2-2.
Ezra's word was 'reticent' and he stomped his foot on the floor when Mr. Beauchamp told him he'd spelled it wrong.
"That will do, Master Standish," Mr. Beauchamp scolded him.
But, if Chester got it right, and then spelled the next word
"r-e-t-i-c-e-n-t," Chester spelled the word easily.
Mr. Beauchamp looked over his glasses again, but didn't say anything. He looked through the speller until he found a new word.
Smiling, he said, "Rhythm."
Ezra had no idea how to spell that, but the letters just rolled right out of Chester's mouth, "r-h-y-t-h-m."
Mr. Beauchamp slammed the speller closed. Ezra thought he was going to declare Chester the winner, but instead he said, "My, my, this has been so exciting, I think we might have to continue tomorrow."
Chester looked confused. Ezra was confused But if Mr. Beauchamp wasn't declaring a winner, then he still had a chance
And so it happened that the spelldown continued onto the next day. Mysteriously, Mr. Beauchamp kept changing the rules, so the contest was still going on the next afternoon, even though by this time, Chester had won 10 rounds and Ezra had won only 4. Then, mystifyingly, Mr. Beauchamp declared all previous rounds be scratched, and decided that whoever won round 15 would get the spelling medal.
Ezra had already begun to accept the annoying possibility that Chester was a better speller than he was, but now, Mr. Beauchamp was saying all the other rounds didn't count. Ezra only had to win this one and the spelling medal would be his. Something about that didn't seem quite right, but Mr. Beauchamp was a teacher, so he should know how to pick the best speller.
The round went as all the others had, with everyone in the class eliminated except for Ezra and Chester.
Mr. Beauchamp gave Chester his word; 'idylls.'
Ezra's heart began to pound in his chest. He knew that word. His Uncle Percival had a book called "Idylls of the King."
"I-d-o-l-s?" Chester spelled it like it was a question.
"That is incorrect," Mr. Beauchamp said, then nodded at Ezra.
Ezra spelled the word easily, and waited for nervously for the next one. He knew it would be really hard .
Ezra looked at Mr. Beauchamp, confused. Surely that wasn't his word.
"That's not fair!" Chester protested, and got a ruler across his knuckles for his trouble.
The blow even made Ezra wince. Uncertain what Mr. Beauchamp was up to, he hesitantly spelled out "p-a-p-e-r."
Mr. Beauchamp rose to his feet and shook Ezra's hand. "Congratulations, Master Standish," he smiled and then pinned the medal to Ezra's lapel. Then he lead the class in a round of applause for the Champion Speller.
Ezra wanted that medal, and he beamed with pride. Chester returned to his desk at the back of the class with tears in his eyes. Ezra didn't care. He was the best. He had the medal to prove it.
So why didn't it feel good?
Ashamed though he was to admit it, a dozen years would pass before Ezra would understand what had really happened that day between two small boys with intelligence well beyond their years, and a teacher who could only see fit to acknowledge those gifts in one of them.
After a short time, the medal had tarnished and revealed itself to be brass, not gold. He'd never worn it, although he still had it. A reminder not of the five rounds he'd won in that spell down, but of the ten he had lost. A reminder that sometimes - no matter what his mother said - winning wasn't everything.
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