GUYS GONE WILD by Debra M. and Monica M.

Regents Universe

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Beatrice stretched as she shuffled out of her bedroom and into the suite´s sitting room. “Good morning, sweetie,” she greeted Buck once she got over her surprise at seeing him already awake and watching television. But then he and Ezra had been asleep by the time she and Maude returned from their night out, so his being up first was not too surprising.

“Morning, Mom,” he responded with his lazy smile that Beatrice just knew would be the undoing of many a woman. “I already ordered some breakfast if you want some.” He motioned over to the table and the remains of a fairly large breakfast.

She laughed as she scrubbed a hand through the tangles of her dark hair. “No, I think I´ll pass on breakfast this morning.” With a sudden thought she checked the clock on the mantle and saw that it was already 10:30 and that she had slept most of the morning away.

Buck followed her gaze and chuckled. “Looks like old Maude is rubbing off on you.”

Her blue eyes flashed merrily at him. “You say anything like that again to me and I´ll be sure and tell Maude that you called her old.”

“What did you say about my mother?” Ezra asked as he walked into the room with his usual impeccable timing. He had showered again and swallowed a couple of Tylenol for his headache and now felt somewhat close to his normal self. He knew he would have to be if he did not want his mother or Beatrice to suspect that he and Buck had gotten into anything other than playing video games and visiting the hotel pool.

“I said that she´s a wily one and that my mom could learn a thing or two from her,” Buck answered with a laugh and a knowing wink tossed at his mother.

Beatrice rolled her eyes but did not contradict her son. “Good morning, Ezra.”

“Good morning, ma´am,” he answered with a dimpled smile as he took his customary seat on the couch, lounging back on it. “Did you and Mother have a nice night out?”

“Yes, we did, Ezra,” Beatrice replied as she sat down next to Buck. “How about you? You and Buck have fun last night?”

“I never thought that I would say this, but I have truly enjoyed playing the different video games. Some of them are not just mindless run and shoot games but have actual stories to them and truly test problem solving skills.”

“Uh huh,” Beatrice said dismissively. “So just how much did you win off of my son?”

Ezra sat up on the couch, his face a perfect blend of innocence and righteous indignation. “Miss Wilmington, I really must protest that insinuation! What makes you think that I would wager on the outcome of a video game?”

Beatrice did not even deign to answer that question. She only raised her eyebrow at him and inclined her head ever so slightly, holding his gaze until he finally grinned cheekily. She shook her head at him but turned her attention to her son. “I can´t believe that you have not learned not to gamble with him!”

She was surprised at just how flustered Buck appeared at her teasing. He sat up straighter next to her, shrugging as he first glanced up to meet her eyes only to then drop his gaze to the floor. The fact that he could not look at her made Beatrice become instantly suspicious. “Well, you know he´s pretty persuasive,” he said lamely in his own defense.

Looking back over at Ezra, whose dimples remained bright and clear as he grinned unashamedly, Beatrice began to wonder just how much Buck had lost to the younger teen. She turned back to her son who she knew was far easier to read and asked, “Just how much did you lose?”

“Twenty bucks,” he answered quickly.

“Twenty dollars? That´s all?” Beatrice resisted the urge to glance over at the sophomore for confirmation instead she kept her eyes firmly fixed on her son. Buck had never been a good liar, even as a child. And added to that was their own rule to never hide anything from each other. That rule had taken some severe bending when she dealt with her stalker and Buck dealt with his father´s reentry into his life, but that had only shown them that complete forthrightness was the best thing. “I didn´t think Ezra would make any bets for such a small sum,” she commented wanting to see his reaction to that.

Buck´s blue eyes widened with a surprise that he quickly tried to hide. He had simply said the first amount that popped into his head and had forgotten how well his mother had gotten to know Ezra and his other friends.

For his part, Ezra did not like the way Beatrice kept a sharp eye on Buck as she questioned him. Somehow she suspected something. The southerner had enough dealings with suspicious marks to know that she was concentrating on her son because she knew him best and was relying on her ability to read him and get the truth out of him. If Buck were the only one who stood to get into trouble, Ezra would have enjoyed watching things play out. But he also stood to get into trouble and he just could not sit idly by and let that happen. “Sometimes I take wagers that don´t involve money,” he blurted out quickly hoping to distract her.

“So tell me, Buck, what other wager did you make with Ezra?” Beatrice queried. Without removing her gaze from Buck´s she raised a warding hand at Ezra to stop him from answering for her son.

Buck shot a worried look over at his friend as his mind went completely blank on what possible wager he could tell his mother they made. Ezra shook his head in dismay knowing that Beatrice had just gotten the answer to the question she had not voiced out loud. Without a doubt she had to know that Buck was hiding something from her and she would do whatever it took to find out what that was. The younger teen expected her to continue the game of cat and mouse, of asking questions that Buck could not answer until she finally broke him down and he admitted his and Ezra´s transgressions.

He was taken by complete surprise when Beatrice instead used the blunt approach and demanded, “You boys did not play video games last night, did you? So what exactly did you do?” Ezra was grateful that she remained focused on Buck because he could see some of the intensity in her blue gaze and feared that even he would not be able to lie under that look.

Buck crumbled beneath it, though he did still try a stalling tactic. “The important thing is that we are both right here and that nothing bad happened.”

Beatrice frowned even as worry took a firm hold of her heart, despite Buck´s words. The fact that he was trying to reassure her meant that at some point in time something bad had to have happened. “The entire story, Buck. Right now from the beginning,” she ordered firmly.

“Miss Wilmington, there really is not that much to tell,” Ezra interrupted.

“I did not ask to hear the story from you.” Beatrice finally switched her look from her son to his friend and Ezra had to swallow hard at her severe gaze. “So if you know what is best for you, Ezra Patrick Standish, you will sit there and listen. You´ll have your chance to tell me your perspective when Buck is done, but not a second before. Do I make myself clear?”

Ezra was actually cowed by her demeanor and sat back in the couch and shut his mouth. He listened as Buck told the whole story from the very beginning. Much to the sophomore´s dismay that meant including the trip to Fort Lauderdale. He listened and hoped that his mother remained in her room. He knew there was no way he could avoid having her learn about everything, but he wanted time to find a way to spin the tale in a way that might lessen her anger.

When Buck finally finished telling everything in detail Beatrice took a moment to soak it all in. She could see now why her son had sought to reassure her at first. She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly reminding herself as she did that they were indeed here in front of her and safe. Buck had not looked at her through much of his telling and now he just hung his head in misery as he waited for her reaction. Coming to a decision she looked over at his partner in crime who still sat on the couch. “Ezra, I know I told you that I would give you a chance to tell your side of the story, but I´ve decided to let you save that for your mother. Right now I think you should go to your room and wait for her there. I´m sure she´s going to want to speak to you in private just like I want to speak to Buck in private right now.”

The fifteen-year-old nodded silently and stood up. He snuck a glance over at his friend who was looking up at him from beneath the thick curls of his hair. They said nothing but each could read the look in the other´s eyes. Ezra knew that Buck was feeling incredibly guilty for letting Beatrice find out about their unauthorized excursions. And Buck was surprised to find a bit of remorse and understanding in Ezra´s eyes. But that was all that they were able to share before the sophomore trudged off to the room they shared to wait for his mother and the punishment she was sure to bring with her. He was not sure who was worse off; at least Buck would know his fate immediately, he now had to wait alone for his mother to wake up and learn what they had done. And Maude Standish was not a morning person even if she woke up at noon.

Once Ezra had left the room, Beatrice stood up and paced, hoping the frenetic motion would help siphon off some of the anger she was feeling. “Do you want an opportunity to plead your case?”

Buck shook his head but also spoke aloud sullenly, "No.”

She stopped and turned to him. “No? You sure?”

“Won´t do me any good, will it?” He finally looked up at her, hope and pleading in his blue eyes.

Beatrice sighed heavily. “Now, Buck?” she questioned wearily.

“What? Now what?” Confusion and worry crossed his face as he was not following her meaning.

She threw her arms up in the arm and resumed her pacing. “Now you start using your brain!”

“Mom!” he protested wanting to defend himself.

“Buck!” she responded in the same tone. She paused again trying to gather herself together. “Do you even know what you did wrong?”

“You want me to make a list?” he asked a little sarcastically despite trying to bite down on his growing anger. He had known that his mother would be upset by his and Ezra´s actions but she seemed to be reacting out of proportion. He would never do anything like it again so he could not understand why she could not just give him his punishment so they could move on.

“So you think there´s a list of things that you did wrong?” The anger was gone from her voice, replaced by disappointment, but Buck did not hear the change.

“Don´t you?” he threw back at her, no longer trying to contain his anger. “I mean, isn´t that why you´re going through all this? To make me see all the things that I did wrong, so that I´ll admit to them and promise never to do them again?”

“No, Buck, that is not why we´re going through all this.” Sadness and displeasure colored her voice as she moved to sit next to him on the couch. “You made a lot of bad choices, that´s true. And I wish I could get you to never make bad choices again. But the truth is that we all make them and it doesn´t end once we grow up. If anything it gets even worse sometimes. And those bad choices will have consequences and sometimes those consequences will even feel like punishment. But I´m not going to punish you for your bad choices. I´m going to punish you for what you did wrong. And I want to know that you know exactly what it is that you did wrong.”

“Why don´t you just tell me?” he demanded in irritation.

Beatrice was a little taken aback by his tone and attitude. She had always known that she was fortunate to have a son like Buck, especially being a single parent. He had never been a rebellious troublemaker, though he had always had an independent streak. And he had always seemed extremely sensitive to the fact that it was just him and her. That led to his being a bit protective of her which included his not wanting to cause too much trouble for her with his behavior. That had been especially true when he was a young boy up until his early teens. Now they were spending more time apart and Buck seemed to be trying to test the limitations of his dependence. So she supposed she should get used to not having it as easy as she used to.

“You let yourself be convinced that it was alright to do something that you knew you shouldn´t,” she explained.

Buck sat up straight, turning his body to face her, surprise masking his handsome features. “This isn´t Ezra´s fault,” he declared defensively.

Beatrice felt the odd thrum of pride at her son even as she was feeling angry and upset with him. He was reminding her again of how incredibly loyal he was. She shook her head, “Ezra played a very big part in events, but I´ll leave it up to Maude to handle him. But I think you´re old enough to know that you are responsible for your own actions. So I´m not blaming Ezra even if it was his idea to start off with. No, what I´m saying is that you knew what the two of you were doing was wrong, didn´t you?”

The broad shoulders of her son shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. But…”

“No buts. When the idea first came up you knew you shouldn´t do it, didn´t you?” she pressed.

Buck´s gaze dropped to the floor once again. It took him a while to answer and even then the word was drawn out grudgingly. “Yes.”

“So you knew it was wrong but you did it anyway.”

Again Buck answered with the same grudging yes even though he knew it was not a question.

“That´s what I want you to remember, Buck. That of everything you did during the last couple of days the worst thing you did was not to listen to yourself. That is why you are being punished.”

He sighed heavily as if Beatrice were being completely unfair to him. “So what´s my punishment gonna be?” He was trying hard but some of his surliness still sounded in his voice.

Beatrice sighed inwardly and took a moment to look once more at her son. He was no longer a little boy but was truly on the cusp of manhood. The physical growing pains that had ushered in his tall and lanky frame had now given way to emotional growing pains that would usher in his maturity and independence. She had not been able to do much to ease the ache of his growing pains except reassure him that it was all part of growing up. And now she could not do much to ease the ache of these growing pains except reassure herself that it was all part of his growing up.

“No car,” she stated firmly and with finality.

“You can´t take my car!” his protest was vehement but its effectiveness was lost under the tinge of whininess that touched it.

Folding her arms over her chest she sat back in the couch and regarded him with bemusement raising her eyebrows. “Your car? So you´re paying the car note? You´re paying the insanely high insurance for a teenage boy in a sports car? And you´re paying for gas and maintenance?”

Buck launched himself to his feet, stalking around with impotent anger. “No, I´m not.” He waved his arms around, “But, Mom, it´s my car! What am I supposed to do without it?”

Beatrice´s full lips quirked trying to contain her laughter at his outrage. “You got along just fine without it before. You can get along without it for a month.”

“A month?” Again the whine overpowered the indignation. “But the guys count on me to drive.”

“Chris can drive, so can Josiah, and I´m sure Vin has gotten his license, too. In fact, maybe I´ll offer ‘your´ car to Vin so he can get some valuable driving experience.” She knew it was mean of her to tease but she just could not help it.

“You wouldn´t dare?” He started off strong and sure but ended with a plaintive, “would you?”

She could not string him along. “No, Buck, no one is going to drive the Mustang but you.”

Satisfied with that answer, the junior went back to his original argument. “But a whole month, Mom? How about two weeks? That´ll be hard enough.”

“This is not a negotiation, Buck. You´ve done the crime, now you´ll do the time.”

“Can´t I serve my time some other way?” he pleaded.

Beatrice shook her head at his persistence. Buck thought he might actually be appealing to her sympathies. But any hope he had was wiped away when her crooked smile suddenly appeared. “You know, that´s a very good idea. I do think you need something to occupy your non-driving time. So not only will you not have the car for a month, but each weekend you are going to do yard work. I´ll find some people, perhaps some elderly people, who need free yard work. You can reflect on how you should always listen to your conscience as you mow lawns and trim hedges.”

Buck threw his head back and winced in dismay. When he looked back down at her, Beatrice simply shook her head again. “No negotiation, Buck, I warned you. If you want to keep it up, we can extend it from one month to two.”

Despite the fact that it would most likely lead to an extension of his punishment, Buck was full prepared to continue arguing the harshness of it all. Fortunately for him, Maude chose to make her late morning appearance at that time. He guiltily glanced over in her direction, mumbled a good morning before unconsciously taking a seat on the couch Ezra usually sat on.

Maude immediately knew something was wrong, but she brought a smile to her face anyway and wished them both a good morning. Beatrice ran a hand through her hair and regretted not having gotten dressed before leaving her room. It made her feel unprepared. But as much as she wanted to take the time to dress she knew she would have to tell Maude everything first. So she stood up and walked over to the other woman.

“Maude, you and I need to talk.”

Before she could continue, Maude again noticed that Ezra was conspicuously absent from the room. She had at first thought it was nothing more than his sleeping in as well. But now she felt a tremble of fear touch her with the thought that something could have happened to her son. “Where´s Ezra?” she asked quickly, too quickly for her tastes as it was so revealing of her feelings.

“He´s in the boys´ room. I told him to wait for you in there. It seems that the boys have gotten into a little bit more than we would have allowed if we had known about it. Let´s go into my room and I´ll tell you everything that I have learned and then you can go speak with Ezra,” Beatrice answered as she shot a glowering look at her own son for putting her into such an awkward position. But Buck was oblivious to the look since he was doing all that he could to avoid looking at either of the women.

“What could they have possibly gotten into?” Maude wondered with a small laugh of disbelief as she followed Beatrice into her room and played the part of a mother who could not believe that her child was anything but a little angel. Inwardly, though, the southern woman was wondering what trouble Ezra had managed to find for himself this time.

After learning the scope of Ezra´s escapades, Maude knocked on his door as she opened it, only giving him the barest courtesy warning before entering. She found him lying on his stomach on his bed, playing a game of solitaire.

He looked up at her in surprise and she could feel him trying to read her, trying to gauge her mood. She shook her head at him and teased, “Don´t you think you´ve had enough of cards for a while?”

He tried a crooked grin as he proffered the portion of cards in his hands up toward her. “Can I interest you in a game a chance? We could put my punishment up as stakes. Whoever wins gets to decide what it will be.”

Maude closed the door behind her and laughed. “Well that´s not quite enough incentive for me. To make it worth my while it would have to be double or nothing.”

Ezra flipped onto his back and sat up as he considered her terms. No one would ever guess it simply from looking at his mother but she was actually quite the accomplished poker player herself. He had learned everything he knew about poker from his uncle Frederick who was incredibly gifted. But Frederick had repeatedly told his nephew that Maude was the true card sharp in the family though he had never exactly explained where she learned and plied her skill. Remembering that his uncle had admitted that he had never won against his mother, Ezra decided that the risk was just too great for now. Some day he hoped to best her, but he doubted that it would be today.

“That´s too rich for my blood,” he declared.

“That´s what I thought.” Maude sat down on the other side of the bed and turned so that she could face her son. “You want to tell me what this was all about?”

Ezra shrugged, uncertain of the meaning of her question. “I saw an opportunity to get into a good poker game, against guys that I´ve beaten repeatedly on the internet. There wasn´t much risk, but the potential for gain was too high to pass up.”

Maude considered his answer and on one level had to admit to being very pleased with his reasoning. Her son was a shrewd entrepreneur but his fledgling talent still needed to be nurtured and developed. He was young and impetuous which meant that he was not seeing all the risks involved in his scams. He had foolishly involved someone in his scheme who had been unable to keep his mouth shut. And then to compound his error, Ezra had allowed his thinking to be addled with alcohol when he needed to remain sharp and focused.

“So how much did you win?” she asked, changing the direction of their conversation briefly to throw him off balance.

Ezra panicked briefly though he tried hard to hide that from his mother. On one hand he wanted to impress her with the amount of money he had won. But on the other hand he feared that she might demand that he turn all his winnings over to her. “I nearly tripled my stake,” he answered vaguely.

Knowing what game he was up to Maude continued her questioning. “So you think you deserve to keep that money?”

“I did earn it!” he shot back immediately.

“Yes, you did. Just like you have now earned your punishment.”

“You´re not going to confiscate it are you?” he asked with a wince, his pale green eyes filled with worry.

“Oh I think I have to, Ezra,” she smiled back at him, an almost predatory smile, but one whose sting was lessened by the touch of sadness in her eyes. Maude always found it difficult when having to punish Ezra. When Dylan Thomas had been alive, she had always left it to him to dole out any reprimands the mischievous little boy had needed. After Dylan´s death Maude had found it hard to punish a child who had just lost his father so tragically and Frederick had been absolutely clueless on how to discipline his nephew. So Ezra had often gotten away with far more than he ever should have. Even now she was unsure on how to proceed but knew that he had to be punished, not just because she felt she had to in order to keep up appearances in front of Beatrice but also because he had drank alcohol and he had to learn that type of behavior was inexcusable. “But don´t think that it will be the extent of your punishment.”

“But that´s bad enough!” He stood up from his bed and moved away from her, sitting back down on Buck´s bed with a pout.

“No, it is not, Ezra Patrick Standish.” Maude´s tone became firm and unrelenting. “That might have been true if all you had done is sneak off to play in a poker game. But you drank, Ezra. You are only fifteen years old, whatever made you think that kind of behavior was acceptable?”

He looked away from her, finding something of interest just over her shoulder and refusing to answer her question.

Maude waited out his silence for several moments before asking again, “What possessed you to get drunk?”

He bristled defensively, “I didn´t mean to get drunk!”

“Well what did you think would happen when you started drinking beers?” She tried to keep a reasonable tone but she simply could not believe his naiveté.

“I didn´t. The other guys were all drinking so I thought I should too. And Uncle Frederick always drank when he was playing poker with the guys. It never affected his ability,” Ezra admitted.

Maude realized then that she had just reminded him that he was only fifteen years old when the truth was that she was the one who needed the reminder. She took a deep breath. “Your uncle was a grown man, Ezra. He was not breaking any laws by drinking alcohol.” She rethought her last statement and clarified it. “Well he wasn´t breaking the legal drinking age law. And even your uncle knew that there were limits to the amount of drinking that he could do. But you´re just a boy, Ezra. You can´t drink. Not just because it´s illegal, but because it´s just too dangerous. What if Buck had not been there to help you?”

She paused then as she felt herself becoming overwrought and her firm control over her emotions began to slip a little. It had been a struggle to keep an impassive face as Beatrice told her the tale of what the boys had gotten into, especially when she was told about how Ezra had gotten drunk. Maude had felt the same sudden constriction of her heart that she had felt when the police had come to the house to inform her of Dylan Thomas´ murder. For an instant she had imagined the worst, that she had lost Ezra as well, and she was not at all certain that she could bear it.

Ezra heard the touch of desperation in his mother´s voice and he felt a multitude of emotions at what it could mean. This entire week he had watched the easy going and loving relationship between Buck and Beatrice and could not deny that he had felt several pangs of jealousy at it. They understood each other and as he had just witnessed did not seem to be able to hide anything from the other. And while he was currently seeing how that could be a bad thing, Ezra could also not deny how he would like to know that closeness with his mother even once. Their relationship was more about redirection and hiding everything from each other. There was a part of him that felt bitter about the fact that Beatrice had told him that Maude needed him to join her on this trip and yet it had taken him getting drunk to get his mother to spend any kind of time alone with him.

Managing to swallow that bitterness, Ezra realized that this was the opportunity that he had been looking for. And for once he changed the subject suddenly not as a means of misdirection, but because he did not think that he would have another chance to talk to his mother in this manner. “I´m sorry,” he apologized and he truly meant the words. “You´re right, Mother, I didn´t think about the consequences of my actions. And I did not plan for every contingency as I should have.”

It was Maude´s turn to regard her son with surprise as she tried to find what angle he was trying to play. “Ezra, I´m not going to grant you any leniency simply because you have apologized and are attempting to show remorse for your wrongdoing.”

He shook his head as he stood up and moved to the end of his own bed and sat down so that he was closer to Maude. “I know. I just wanted to let you know that.” He spoke quietly, trying to express more with his eyes, knowing that she would be staring deep into them trying to find any hint of guile.

Her eyes narrowed with confusion, but Ezra did not give her a chance to speak. “And I want you to let me know how things are with you and your husband.” He could not call the man his stepfather and still found the name Robert Carlisle III distasteful.

Maude drew her head back at the suddenness of the question. “Whatever do you mean?” she managed to question.

While he hated to divulge what he had been told in confidence, Ezra felt it was necessary to let his mother know that his concern stemmed from an outside source as well as his own observations. “Miss Wilmington told me that she felt I should accompany you on this trip because you had expressed to her that things were not going well in your marriage and that you might need the comforting presence of your son. She said that there were difficulties of some nature.” He paused unsure of how to continue and what her reaction would be.

Maude raised her fingers to her lips and blinked her eyes rapidly as she gazed upon her son, the truly and deeply concerned young man, who in his awkward adolescent way was attempting to offer her a shoulder to lean on.

She did not trust herself to speak and Ezra mistook her silence to be some sign of guilt, though he had never seen the emotion on his mother before. “Or did you make all that up in order to finagle a trip out of Miss Wilmington?”

His mother laughed then, a strange almost choked kind of laugh that was accented by an odd mixture of pride and merriment in her eyes as she shook her head in wonderment. “What if I told you that it was a mixture of both?” she finally asked.

He blinked at her as he considered her question. “I would still want to know what difficulties you were having. And then I would also want to know why you felt the need to wheedle the trip out of Miss Wilmington. And I would want you to be honest with me for once.”

Maude decided that she would let his last comment pass for now, but it was also something that she would not forget and would have to find out from him at another time why he felt that way. Right now she stood up and moved to the end of the bed and sat down next to him, taking one of his hands into her own. “I believe that Robert and I are experiencing difficulties simply because we are two people who are not exactly compatible.”

“Didn´t you know that before you married him?”

She nodded, unable to deny his accusation. “I suppose I did.”

“Then why did you marry him?” he demanded somewhat angrily. Ezra had never understood it and had never liked the idea.

Maude went a little on the defensive. “I did what I thought was right for both of us at that time.”

“What about me? Did you think about what was right for me?” The pale green eyes that just could not seem to meet her eyes completely were full of hurt and pain.

“That´s who I meant by both of us, Ezra,” Maude quickly reassured, though she was again hurt by his quick leap to assume that she had not. “You and I. Not Robert and me.”

“And how was your marriage to Mr. Carlisle III supposed to be beneficial to me?”

She sighed and looked away from him for a moment. She could not understand how things had moved from Ezra being concerned about her to now being angry with her. Though she kept reminding herself of his age she really had no experience with the true mercurial nature of teenager temperaments. She rarely had dealings with other mothers and even more rarely discussed the behavior of their children. The only exception was Beatrice and because of Maude´s limited experience she had no way of knowing that Beatrice´s relationship with her son was unique.

“Don´t you understand that when we lost your father we lost everything?”

Ezra nodded reflexively but he stopped listening to her as she began to categorize the extensive nature of their financial losses and how she had hoped a union with Robert would give them some stability to build upon. She told him that she had never seen the marriage as one that would last very long, but one that would provide her the groundwork from which to build her own security that she could then share with Ezra. Instead the teenager was thinking that while the loss of his father had been a crushing blow to him as a young boy that he had not thought of it as losing everything since he still had his mother. He was hurt in a place deep inside in a way more terrible than he had been with the death of Dylan Thomas Standish. He had been too young at ten to realize that what he had wanted most desperately after news of his father´s death was for Maude to take him into her arms and reassure him that everything would be alright because they still had each other and that was what mattered most. But she had never done that, still was not doing it. Instead she was repeating what she had always said; that she would find a way to get them back to where they had been, but with more independence and security.

“I´m sorry, Mother,” he interrupted her.

Again she looked at him in surprise as he spoke the words so quietly. Something was different with him, but she could not quite place what had happened. Those eyes of his that were always so expressive despite his best efforts now seemed flat and empty, much harder for her to read. Maude knew immediately that there had been a turning point in their relationship she just was not sure that it had been in the direction that she wanted it to go.

“I´m sorry that I haven´t been thinking like you. That I haven´t seen what you have been trying to give to me, what you´ve been trying to teach me.” Again his words were spoken quietly and almost unemotionally. But hidden beneath them on a level that Maude could not hear was a layer of resignation. Ezra had realized that his mother related to things in terms of financial standings. He had always suspected that after his father´s death, but the child in him had always refused to accept it, had always believed that she would accept him just as he was, as his father had done. Dylan Thomas had stressed that Ezra should always give his best out on the playing field, but that he should also focus on having a good time and learn the basics of baseball. His father had told him that as he progressed through the various levels of Little League play the competition would become fiercer and there would be plenty of time to focus on that aspect of the games. Maude had not given him that period of learning and adjustment. He thought it was because she was not as loving and understanding as his father had been. But she had not had the liberty of time after her husband´s death. She had simply had to act quickly or watch as both she and her son floundered. She had done what she had thought best at the time, but Ezra simply could not see or understand that.

“I only want what is best for us, Ezra. You do understand that, don´t you?” she asked, still trying to reconnect to him in the way that they had been earlier.

“Yes, I understand what you believe is best for us,” he responded. He understood what it was but he did not understood why it was. But he knew that discussing that with his mother would be futile. So he told her what she wanted to hear. He could even accept her belief on the surface, after all he could see how wealth and power could give people the ability to do what they wanted. But deep down in his heart, Ezra could not deny her belief also felt wrong. Of his six friends at Regents only half of them had any real wealth, but no one would know that from Buck´s behavior, Nathan´s parents lived a very charitable life and instilled those values in their son, and J.D. would probably exchange his father´s wealth for a chance to relive his happiness with his mother. And yet each of them lived a rich kind of life that Ezra knew Maude would never understand. Even he had trouble comprehending it sometimes. But he could not deny his desire to learn from them and experience life from their varied points of view.

Thinking about his friends reminded Ezra of another question he needed to ask his mother. “Do you plan on leaving your husband any time soon?”

Maude sighed and released his hand from her own. That tenuous connection she had felt with him was gone. She had never realized how much she had wanted something like that for them and now she had no idea of how to get it back. So she did what she had learned to do after her husband´s murder; she shrugged it off and moved on. “No, Ezra, I do not. There are still several things that I must get in order before I even begin the process of a divorce from a man like Robert Carlisle III. So you do not have to worry that I will be removing you from your precious Regents school and your friends.”

Ezra was glad to hear that the situation was not so bad that she needed to leave it immediately. At the same time, though, he was even happier to know that he would be allowed to finish out the year at Regents. It already seemed like it was such a short time before the school year would end and Chris and Josiah would graduate. “Thank you, Mother,” he stated evenly but allowing warmth to creep back into his eyes.

“Like I said, Ezra, I do want to do what is best for both of us. And while I am still not entirely convinced that your attending that particular school is best for you, I do know that it and your friends are important to you. But just remember that our deal was only for this year.”

“Yes, ma´am,” he quickly answered. “I do remember that but I am still thankful that you are giving it to me against your better judgment.” Then on impulse he stood and hugged his mother.

It was a quick hug, the type one might give an aunt who has given you an exceedingly nice present and you feel obligated to show some form of physical affection and thank you. But to Maude none of that mattered; it was a hug from her son and she cherished it for the rare gift that it was. But when he stood back away from her, they both struggled with the suddenly awkward silence between them.

Maude broke it by returning to the original subject that had brought her into his room. “Now then, I do still expect you to turn over every dollar that you used in last night´s poker game and that includes your original stake.”

He considered arguing but knew that the odds were against him this time. So he went to the dresser drawer and removed the now neat stack of money that he had counted carefully first thing this morning. Without a word he handed it all over to her. Maude managed to hide her surprise at the amount of money that it was as she stood up and accepted it from him. As she started for the door, she said, “I hope you are also aware that there will be more to your punishment than just this. I will let you know exactly what that is when I think of it.”

Ezra sighed heavily and dropped his gaze to the floor. He had hoped that Maude might have forgotten her promise to add to his punishment.

“I have to make sure that you have learned that drinking alcohol is completely unacceptable at your age,” she added as she saw his reaction and wanted to let him know exactly why he had to be further punished.

“Mother, I can assure you that I will not drink that foul beverage ever again,” he affirmed with conviction.

“I want a little more assurance than just your word, Ezra. I´m sure you can understand that. So I believe a little more punishment will serve as an excellent reminder of why you do not want to drink again.” With that said, she walked over to the door. “Now let´s go back and join the Wilmingtons and hope that we can salvage the end of our vacation.”

Again Ezra sighed heavily as he followed his mother out into the main room. It took a double take for him to recognize his friend since he had never seen Buck looking so very morose. And while that did bother him, what troubled him even more was the look of disappointment that filled Beatrice´s face. Without any thought, Ezra walked over to her.

“Miss Wilmington I would like to express my utmost regret in involving your son in my misdeeds. And I would like to state for the record that it was indeed my idea and my suggestion that led to Buck´s behavior. I realize that you have no reason to grant any request that I might ask, but I am pleading with you to be lenient with Buck since his motives were truly to keep me out of trouble and not for his own benefit.” When he finished speaking, Ezra had to blink back his own surprise at his words. Like everyone else in the room he could not believe that he had just assumed all responsibility.

Buck and Beatrice would later try to decide which of them was more shocked at Ezra´s little speech. Buck´s first thought had been that Maude had put her son up to it, but he had seen her face as Ezra spoke and she had been just as surprised as the rest of them. And if anything Buck would have sworn that she looked horrified as her son claimed culpability.

Beatrice smiled sweetly as she shook her head sadly. “I admire the fact that you realize your share of responsibility, but that does not lessen Buck´s own wrongdoing. His punishment has already been decided. So despite your plea for leniency he is going to have to spend the next month without his car and spending the weekends doing some yard work.” She did feel a bit of regret when she saw Ezra shoot a look of dismay and apology to her son at her words. Despite his mischievous nature, he really was a good friend to Buck in his own way.

Maude for her part was fuming inside as she listened to Ezra try to take full responsibility. Her anger was fueled by fear and regret that she had never really explained to Ezra how his uncle Frederick had come to be incarcerated. Her brother had told Maude that one of his associates had been arrested for something that Frederick had done. And while he had no reason to fear that the man would snitch on him, Freddy had admitted to her that his conscience troubled him. And so he told Maude that he was going to turn himself in. She had pleaded with her brother not to do it, had told him that she and Ezra needed him more than ever. But Frederick had told her that he would not be able to live with himself if he did not do what was right and so Maude had lost another important man in her life. She was determined that she would not lose Ezra and so she knew she had to train him to put his best interests ahead of everyone else´s.

Wanting to begin his education right now, Maude stated, “I had been trying to think of a suitable punishment for Ezra, Beatrice, and it sounds like you have just the thing. After all, since they committed the crime together, I believe they can serve their punishment together. Ezra, you can do that yard work right alongside Buck.”

The sophomore turned to his mother with a mixture of outrage and dismay in his green eyes. But he saw the look in his mother´s eyes and knew that now was not the time to debate her on this issue. He turned back to Buck who shrugged just as helplessly.

Beatrice knew that the boys would probably sulk for the rest of the weekend but she was going to do her best to see that did not ruin the remaining time for her and Maude. “How about we go out today together? Do a little shopping and have a nice lunch and dinner?”

Ezra and Buck again exchanged looks as they both realized that this was an opportunity that they should not pass up. Their only other option was to stay in the hotel room and do nothing while their mothers enjoyed their last day in Florida and neither one of them wanted to do that. So Ezra spoke for both of them, “That sounds like a great idea, Miss Wilmington.”

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