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In the end it was pure luck that Josiah learned what Hannah´s plans were for later that night. Pure luck and a bit of snooping on his part. As they sat in the living room, watching television and not talking, her cell phone beeped, announcing a text message. She read it and then leaving her phone on the end table had walked off to take a shower. Josiah remained sitting on the couch even as he heard the shower water start to run. His body moved briefly as if he were getting up from the couch but then remained sitting. The high school senior threw his head back, running his hands through the hair at his temples as he contemplated what he was about to do. He knew it was an invasion of her privacy. He also knew that it should be his father in this moral quandary. But Bernardo Sanchez was not here to look after his youngest child and only daughter. And there were no guarantees that even if he had been that the man would have even noticed what was happening within his own family. So Josiah took it upon himself to do what he had to do for what he hoped was in the best interest of his sister.
Pushing himself off of the couch he walked over to her cell phone and quickly went to her text messages. As he pulled them up he read the latest one first and found what he was looking for. It was a short message stating only Tonight and then gave an address. Memorizing the address, Josiah returned the phone to the main menu and placed it back onto the end table. With a guilty glance to the bathroom where he could still hear the shower running, Josiah then escaped to his room and shut the door behind him.
As he threw himself down on his bed he had to wonder how Ezra managed to do all the sneaky, underhanded things he did without being overwhelmed by guilt. The senior did not think he would even be able to face his sister for a while. But Josiah still felt that he was doing the right thing for his sister´s sake. He feared that she was at the beginning of a downward spiral and the only way he could help her was by finding out what he could about what she was into. He had tried talking to her, tried waiting for her to come to him, but none of that had worked.
Turning on his laptop he did an internet search on the address from the message. He had recognized the general area and then had it confirmed by his search results. This address was in the same warehouse area that Vin, Ezra, and J.D. had gotten into trouble a couple of months ago. As those boys had discovered the rundown and abandoned warehouses were a favorite place of drug dealers to conduct their business. Josiah did not believe that was why his sister had received a message with that particular address. No, he believed that the message was giving her the address to a party, most likely a rave party, an all night party with DJs, alcohol and drug use. Those were often held in warehouses, but the address changed constantly to stay one step ahead of authorities.
Josiah felt an overwhelming sadness and disappointment touch him as he thought about his sister there at a party like that. He still could not see Hannah as anything more than the little sister he had known who had played with her dolls. He realized then that might be part of the problem. He did not want her to grow up, wanted her to always remain the innocent young girl filled with love and laughter. But life did not work that way; everyone succumbed to the influences of the world around them and grew up. Somewhere along the line, Josiah had stopped being an influence on Hannah´s life and her new friends had picked up the slack. They were far too entrenched in her life now for him to be able to simply walk back in and expect her to choose him over them. Instead he would have to try his best to slip back into her life.
Knowing that the rave would be a large gathering of people of various ages, Josiah decided that there would be little risk of Hannah seeing him there. He would go just to learn about the people she now hung out with, to learn who his sister was becoming and to see if there was still a way for him to find a place in her life.
Josiah had thought that he knew what to expect from the party but still he was surprised at the scope of it. He wandered through the various levels of the warehouse, slipping in and out of the dance floors but being careful to not get swept up into their frenzied gyrations. He had been at the party for a couple of hours already and had not seen any sign of Hannah, but he had gotten an eyeful of all kinds of behavior that made him even more fearful about the type of lifestyle that his little sister was falling into.
He told himself that he was trying to not look suspicious when he had a couple of beers, but the truth was that this world was very seductive and Josiah was a bit weak willed. He wished that at least one of his friends had been able to come with him, but they were all out of town. So he was alone here in this world of excess that offered all types of methods to disassociate one´s self from the pains of everyday life. He could understand now the appeal it had for Hannah, but still would not give up the fight of losing her completely to this world. It was not the answer to her problems, which were a reflection of their family´s problems, but only an escape. He had to find a way to make her see that.
Deciding that he had seen enough he began to make his way to the exit, keeping a cautious eye out for any sign of Hannah. His surprise warred only with his shock when he saw someone who had her eyes on him. She smiled at him when his gaze met hers. Josiah wavered at the obvious invitation. Part of him knew he should go home, but more of him wanted to stay. He did not often attract the attention of the opposite sex, especially when he was in the company of his six friends. He was honest with himself and he knew that by a purely aesthetic point of view, he was the least attractive of the seven. It meant that he often faded into the background when he was with them, but not all the time. But it had been awhile since he had a girlfriend, or even a date, so he was loathe to pass up an opportunity, even if he were meeting her in this setting. His decision made, he grinned from ear to ear as he sauntered over to the young woman with the most beckoning look in her blue eyes.
You sure about this, Ezra? Buck asked as they waited for a cab.
What´s not to be sure about? the southerner retorted. You got to go see your Girls Gone Wild´ on the beaches and now I´m going to get to play in a poker game. That was the deal. You can not back out of it now.
I keep telling you that I ain´t gonna back out of a deal. Ever! That´s something you can always count on, the older boy´s tone was emphatic.
Buck, just as I was taught to never count on my fingers or toes, I was also taught to never count on anyone else. The words came out of the fifteen year-old that was standing beside him, but Buck would have sworn that they sounded as if they came from someone much older and world weary.
Well that´s just stupid! Whoever taught you that? he demanded.
The same person who taught me how to play poker. And since I have profited considerably from that knowledge, I believe I should give equal weight to all his teachings, came the glib, but touched with defensiveness, response.
His teachings? Who are you talking about? Buck asked with some concern. He hoped that it was not Ezra´s father that they were talking about. Not only would he hate to learn that the man had been teaching his son those kinds of values, but also he would hate to have called his teachings stupid, even though they were.
My uncle Frederick, was the short and evasive response. But while Ezra avoided explaining anything further about his uncle to Buck, the sophomore could not stop his own thoughts from straying down memory lane.
He and his mother had stayed with Uncle Freddie when he was eleven years old and had stayed with him until he turned thirteen. Freddie was a year older than Maude but he had never married or held down a job for longer than a few months. But somehow he always managed to live well. Eleven year old Ezra had found him to always be busy for someone without a job. The longer he stayed with his uncle the more Ezra learned about how there were some jobs´ that did not require someone going to an office everyday. His uncle Freddie was a schemer, a grifter who dabbled in a little bit of everything. To this day, Ezra had no idea what all his uncle got into. All he knew was that one of the things he had gotten into had been over his head since Uncle Freddie now resided in Jessup, Georgia in the Federal Correctional Institution.
But before then, Uncle Freddie had been there for Ezra and Maude when it has seemed no one else was. Things had gone bad continually for them after his father´s death. It was only now that he was older that he could understand that he and Maude had been left almost penniless. Dylan Thomas Standish had not bought any extra life insurance policies and the compensation from his employer had done very little to settle their family debts. But even though Ezra could now understand a little about the reasoning of his mother´s decision to work and go to school, he still could not let go of the hurt that it had caused him. He had rarely seen her or had any opportunity to spend real time with her. And so soon after losing his father, he felt as if she had abandoned him too.
But Uncle Freddie had not let the little boy who stayed with him become sullen and cynical, or at least he had helped stop the slide into bitterness. Ezra would never deny that he had enjoyed the years that he lived with Frederick. He had truly learned so much, like how to play poker and hack into computer systems, as well as a number of other things that Freddie called survival skills´. In fact when Maude determined that they were able to live on their own, Ezra was not so sure he wanted to leave his uncle. But not many months later the young boy learned that he would not have had a choice as Frederick was arrested and incarcerated.
The southerner shook his head as if shaking the memories from his mind. As his mother often told him, there was no sense on dwelling on the past, if you could not learn from it, forget about it.
You sure these guys are just gonna let you in on their poker game? Buck asked as they walked into the hotel lobby and strode over to the bank of elevators.
Ezra grinned at the older boy and Buck barely suppressed a groan at the sight, those Cheshire cat grins never boded very well for him. Don´t tell me, the junior pleaded, you´ve got a plan. He pressed the up button on the elevator.
Of course I have a plan. That´s the most important thing to have in endeavors such as this. Well a plan and enough money to get into the game.
Buck sighed heavily. Alright then, what´s the plan?
The plan is that you will be me
I ain´t playing poker against a bunch of college guys and pretending to be you! Especially if I´m playing with your money!
Ezra rolled his eyes. Believe me, there is no way that I would let you play poker pretending to be me or with my money. First of all, you can not play poker and I would not want my good name sullied by your shamefully inept
Buck threw his hands up in the air in surrender and cut Ezra off. Alright already, I get the point. You don´t plan on my playing the game for you, so what do you plan?
The elevator chimed in announcement of its arrival. With a sweeping gesture of gallantry, Ezra motioned for Buck to step inside first. It´s really quite simple and ingenious, if I do say so myself, the southerner drawled with mock modesty as he followed the older boy into the elevator car. The doors slid shut as Buck rolled his eyes.
The boys exited on the fifteenth floor. Buck was a bit apprehensive about his role in Ezra´s plan but was determined not to stumble in front of the younger boy. Swelling with his infamous bravado, he strode down the hallway smiling to himself as Ezra struggled a bit to keep up with his longer strides without trotting. Buck knocked firmly on hotel room #1517 and stepped back so that he would be visible in the peephole when the occupants used it.
Who are you? he was questioned gruffly through the door.
Wild Bill holding aces and eights, Buck responded exactly as Ezra had instructed him. At least this time he managed to do it without snorting at the fact that they were actually using codes to gain entry into the game. But it served its purpose of letting the man at the door know that he was an invited guest and the unique phrase identified him to them as Eddie´, the alias Ezra used when playing internet poker.
Who´s the kid with you? You know the rules, Eddie. No guests, the man behind the door stated, leaving the door shut.
Buck turned around as if he had no idea that there was someone standing next to him. Oh him, he said dismissively. Look, he´s my kid brother. I got stuck with him tonight. Don´t worry, he won´t be a problem. He´s got his GameBoy so he´ll just sit in a corner and play it all night.
He don´t look like your brother, the skepticism was thick through the door.
The tall junior laughed out loud at that. Why would I want to claim him if I didn´t have to? He laughed all the harder when he caught the indignant flash in Ezra´s eyes and the scowl that crossed his face.
But even Ezra could not argue with the results of Buck´s words as the door opened allowing them inside the hotel room. The older teenager walked in first, his eyes sweeping over the room, trying to get a feel for the other players in this game. His quick count was of eight guys, not including the one at the door, all in their early twenties, most of them looking like they had not seen the outdoors in quite some time and they did not miss it. The quarterback was not too surprised since he had finally gotten Ezra to explain to him just who these friends of his were. He learned that they were a group of online poker players. A group of them had been going to Florida for Spring Break and had sent out the idea for a few of them to get together and play a real game of poker. Ezra had not planned on being part of it but when the opportunity came up he was not going to let it slip by.
The hotel room had been rearranged with the bed pushed up against the outside wall and the small dinette table pulled forward into the center of the room. Mismatched folding chairs had been brought in from somewhere, providing the very tight seating around the table. The sound on the television was low but there was no mistaking the beginning of the movie The Matrix. Scattered across the bed and the hotel dresser were several laptops opened up to various websites for their owners´ perusal once they took a break from poker. Buck sighed inwardly as he realized that he was about to have to spend the night with a bunch of poker playing, computer geeks.
Your little brother can sit over there, the doorman pointed to a relatively empty corner on the bed, but he better not touch anything. And you can get in on the next hand.
Buck started to speak, to clear up the misunderstanding, but Ezra was already smoothly stepping in. Actually, he drawled self assuredly, I will be the one playing this evening.
Conversation stopped as all pairs of eyes assessed the young, cocky teenager in their midst. A few mouths fell open as if to protest, but then their eyes took in the taller, more muscular teen standing almost protectively behind him, and they all thought better of it. Instead one of the older ones among them, an averagely built man with close-cropped, dark hair already showing signs of early baldness, and thick-framed glasses stood up and walked over to stand in front of both teenagers. You´re Eddie? he asked incredulously.
In the flesh, Ezra grinned back. And who might you be?
Jax, the man replied, the shorthand for his screen name jaxrwild.
I know that name well. So are you prepared to lose as much real money to me as you usually do?
Jax ignored the jibe and asked, So you have enough money to get in the game?
Ezra laughed, Would I even be here if I didn´t?
Good point, Jax conceded. Glancing back up at Buck he asked, What about your friend?
Buck started to answer for himself but Ezra again was too fast for him. My associate doesn´t play poker. In fact, I´m sure, he tossed the older teen a meaningful look, he would prefer to find his entertainment down by the pool.
The older teen reluctantly nodded when Jax turned to him for confirmation on that subject. Yeah, l think I´ll go see what´s going on at the pool. It´s got to be more fun than sitting up here watching you guys play poker all night.
Suit yourself, Jax shrugged. He turned around, effectively dismissing Buck from his consideration, as he returned to the table. He motioned Ezra towards the table, Grab a seat, Eddie.
You sure you don´t want me stay? Buck whispered to the southerner before he went to claim his seat at the table.
I´m sure, Buck, Ezra stated. You´ll be so bored up here that you´ll be nothing but a distraction and a pest to me.
The older boy sighed, knowing that he could not push the point since he had made a deal with Ezra and did not want to go back on it. Alright, but I´m coming back up from time to time, just to check on things. His tone stated that there would be no argument on this point.
Shaking his head but not wanting to argue in front of these people, Ezra accepted Buck´s stipulation. Fine. Now would you please just go? I have money to win.
See you guys later, Buck called to the room at large as he backed up to the door. He gave Ezra one last look imploring him to be careful before he turned and exited. He was no sooner on the other side of the door then he heard the safety lock reapplied from the inside. Trusting that Ezra could take care of himself, the junior distracted himself with thoughts of the lovely young ladies waiting for him downstairs at the pool.
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