|This is a variation of the Little Britches Universe, modern day with Vin, JD and Ezra as children. This is the fifth story in this universe. The others can be found here. Thank you to LaraMee, Winter, Kim, Nancy, Marnie and everyone else for the helpful suggestions and ideas.|
|"JD, stop it!" complained the
grumpy eight-year-old. He was tired, his stomach was upset and his knee was
hurting. He didn't need JD adding to his distress.
"Stop what?" said the five-year-old with mock innocence, continuing to jump up and down and wave his arms between Ezra and the television.
Vin looked up from his spot on the floor where he was coloring in his coloring book with a purple crayon. He looked at JD and sighed, returning to his coloring.
"I said stop it!" Ezra demanded.
"You're not the boss of me!" JD hollered back.
Ezra poked JD with his crutch and the five-year-old retaliated by throwing a pillow at him.
Vin frowned. He didn't like it when JD and Ezra bickered. He was afraid they'd fight so much that he'd lose the only family he had left. Gathering his box of crayons and his coloring book he quietly left the room unnoticed by the combatants.
"Where are you going, Junior?" Buck asked as he met Vin coming down the hall.
Vin looked up at him with sad eyes, shrugging and then tipping his head toward the great room where Ezra and JD were arguing.
"Are they at it again?" Buck asked.
"Thought we sorted that out a couple of hours ago," Buck complained quietly. "I guess I was wrong.
Vin looked away, not wanting to deny or confirm Buck's statement.
"Are they hurting each other physically?"
Vin hesitated. He didn't want to be a tattletale, but he didn't want his brothers to keep fighting either. "Ezra poked JD with his crutch because JD wouldn't quit bugging him," he informed. "JD threw a pillow at him but he missed. That's when I left."
Buck frowned wishing he hadn't assured Chris he could handle all three boys on his own today. What he didn't count on was a rainy summer day with everyone stuck inside the house and tempers that hadn't calmed since Ezra retuned home from his adventure in the "wilderness."
"Why don't you color at the kitchen table?" said Buck. "I'll have a little chat with the boys and then you and I can have some peace and quiet."
Vin sighed. "I don't want them to be in trouble."
"Junior," Buck said softly, "None of this is your fault. Even if you hadn't told me what was going on, I could still hear it for myself. Go on, now," he added giving Vin a gentle nudge toward the kitchen.
Buck walked into the great room unnoticed as war waged between the two boys.
"You're such a brat! Leave me alone!" Ezra growled.
"You can't make me," JD yelled. "I still hate you!"
"John Daniel Dunne!" Buck scolded. Both boys froze knowing they were both in trouble. "Apologize to Ezra."
JD stuck out his lower lip in a pout. He was mad and he wanted Ezra to know it. "Sorry," he said snippily.
"Ezra?" prodded Buck.
"Accepted. I'm sorry I called you a brat." The words were what Buck wanted to hear, but the sincerity was lacking on both parts.
Buck sighed. "All right, this is what we're going to do. We're going to separate for at least 30 minutes and then see if we can't be nice to each other. Got it?"
Two heads nodded.
"JD, you go to my room. Ezra, go to your room. No playing, either of you. I want you to lie down and think about why you're being mean."
"Aww," JD groaned. Ezra just grabbed his crutches and hobbled toward the boys' room without a word.
"Let's go, Little Bit," said Buck.
A few minutes later he joined Vin in the kitchen. The boy was carefully coloring a picture.
"What are you coloring?" Buck asked, hoping to spur some conversation with the too quiet child.
Vin simply pushed the book over so Buck could see it.
"Nice job," said the dark haired man. "Interesting choice of color," he added noting that everything in the picture was purple. At least it was a change from the black that he'd colored everything when they first came to the ranch. It was a wonder there was anything left of the black crayon.
Vin sighed. "I can't find the black one."
"I'm sure it will turn up somewhere," said Buck.
"Yeah," said Vin, "as soon as JD gets it from where he hid it." He pulled the coloring book back in front of him and turned the page to start a new picture.
"JD hid your crayon?"
Vin nodded. He put the purple crayon in the box. He suddenly didn't want to color anymore.
"Why did he do that?" asked Buck.
Vin shrugged. "He wants to make me mad."
Buck frowned. Apparently the dispute wasn't just between JD and Ezra.
"So what did you do?" asked Buck.
"Did you yell at him?"
"No," said Vin, closing the book.
"Did you hit him?"
Vin shook his head. "I didn't do nothin'."
Buck was truly curious now. "Why not?"
Vin looked at him. "Because he wanted me to be mad."
Buck grinned. "So you got back at him by doing nothing?"
The seven-year-old nodded.
"I wish Ezra could learn that move," Buck said softly.
"I wish JD wasn't mad all the time," Vin countered. He sighed again. "I still want the black crayon."
Buck reached over and patted him on the arm, half grateful that the boy couldn't use the black, but also knowing that it was a way for Vin to express the darkness that plagued him since the flood.
"We'll see if maybe one of the guys can pick up some crayons on the way home," said Buck. "Do you want to play a game or something?"
Vin shook his head. "I'm kind'a tired. Would it be okay if I go lay down?"
"Sure, if that's what you want," said Buck. "Oh, wait," he added, "Ezra's in there and he's supposed to be thinking about why he's fighting with JD. Why don't you lay down on Chris's bed?"
"Is it okay?" asked Vin.
"Yeah," said Buck. "Chris won't mind this once."
"Okay," said Vin, slipping off the chair. "Can I leave my stuff here?"
Buck nodded. "Come and get it after you rest."
He watched the boy shuffle down the hall looking like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Buck blew out a sigh. He wanted so much to see Vin smile, to hear all the boys laugh, to watch them run and play like regular little kids. But the flood had taken a heavy emotional toll on each one of them.
Picking up his cell phone, he dialed the office.
"Sheriff Larabee," Chris answered.
"Remind me of this day if I ever say I can handle all three boys on my own again."
"That bad," Buck confirmed. "JD's been angry all day. He and Ezra have argued nonstop since breakfast."
"And Vin?" asked Chris.
"Vin can't find the black crayon."
Chris cursed softly in the phone.
"I'm not too proud to ask for help," Buck said. "I don't know what to do with them. JD and Ezra are starting to get physical."
"Where are they now?" Chris asked.
"JD's in my room, Ezra's in their room, Vin's in your room. He's not in trouble, just wanted to rest."
"Gave them some time to think?"
"Yes," said Buck.
"That's what I would do," Chris affirmed.
"Chris, this is a lot more than a little tiff. They have deeper stuff going on than JD swiping Vin's black crayon and Ezra poking JD with one of his crutches."
"I know," Chris soothed. "I'll see if I can spring Josiah a little early today and have him get their appointments with the counselor pushed forward. How are you doing?"
"I'm just frustrated that I can't fix their problems for them," said Buck.
"I meant your leg," Chris said with a chuckle.
Buck grinned knowing that his best friend was trying to ease his tension. "It hurts," he said truthfully.
"Hang in there for about an hour or so and someone will be there."
"Thanks," Buck said softly. "I really hate to be a bother."
"You sound like Ezra," Chris said. "You just have to remember that you're not at full capacity right now and you need to rest as much as those boys do."
Buck rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. Oh, I gotta go. I'm being paged."
"Back up's on the way," Chris said, offering the only encouragement he could.
"See ya." Buck disconnected and then hobbled down the hall to find out what JD needed.
+ + + + + + +
"Ezra, can I talk to you for a minute?" asked Buck, tapping on the door to the boys' room. He pushed the door open and found the eight-year-old sound asleep on his bed. At that moment JD celebrated his freedom by slamming the bathroom door. Ezra jerked and opened his eyes. He gasped involuntarily when he saw Buck hovering over him.
"It's okay," Buck said. "You can leave the room now."
"Thank you," said Ezra. "I might stay awhile longer. I'm tired."
"Are you okay?" Buck asked with concern.
"Is your knee hurting?" Buck prodded.
Ezra sighed. "Yes, sir."
"Okay," said Buck, "I'll get your pain medicine in a second. Can you do something for me?"
Buck swallowed the lump in his throat at the combination of fear and suspicion he could see in Ezra's face. He wished he knew what put it there and that he could erase that fear forever.
"I know you aren't feeling too good, but could you try really hard to ignore JD when he taunts you?"
"He doesn't make it easy," said Ezra.
"I know, and I'm trying to figure out what's going on with him," said Buck. "I'm not asking you to put up with bad behavior. If he gets physical we want to know it. Just, if you could give him a little extra leeway until we figure this out."
"He misses his mother," Ezra said guiltily, "And I managed to remind him that she's gone forever."
"Hold on, now," said Buck easing himself down to rest on the foot of Ezra's bed. "We settled that already. You didn't mean to hurt JD and you apologized for hurting him. It's over and done with."
Buck frowned wishing he could figure out what was going on in Ezra's head. The eight-year-old said the right words to appease him, but obviously it wasn't dealt with in Ezra's mind.
"What does that mean?" asked Buck gently.
Buck had never heard two less convincing words.
"Obviously not," he said.
"I'll be extra nice to him," said Ezra flatly.
Buck cursed internally. This was not working. All he wanted was for Ezra just to be a little more lenient with JD, but Ezra appeared to be taking his words as laying the blame on him.
A crash from another room interrupted their discussion. "What now?" Buck said in frustration, grabbing his crutches and making his way down the hallway.
Ezra watched him go feeling a heavier weight of guilt than he had before. JD was acting out and it was all his fault. He wished his mother had never called. No! He didn't really wish that. The eight-year-old rolled over and buried his face in his pillow, hiding his tears.
+ + + + + + +
"What the hell?" said Buck angrily as he looked in the great room. The two-shelf bookcase was tipped over, with all the books and videos strewn across the floor. JD was sitting in the middle of the pile with a book in his hands tearing out the pages one by one. He took the page he had just torn out and ripped it into several pieces.
"What are you doing?" Buck commanded. He had never raised his voice to the boys, but none of them had done anything like this.
"I'm breaking Ezra's book," JD said defiantly as he ripped another piece of the page.
"Give me that," Buck said grabbing the book JD was holding.
"No!" JD yelled, tugging on the book.
Buck was off balance and the mini-tug-of-war made him drop a crutch and put his full weight on his booted ankle. The splint allowed him freedom to remove it for washing, but his ankle definitely wasn't ready to support him. He gasped and quickly took his weight off the foot tripping over some books and falling onto the couch.
JD began to wail thinking he had hurt Buck.
Buck quickly shifted into a seated position on the couch, his ankle throbbing. "JD, come 'ere," he said, fighting back the pain.
"I sorry, Buck. I sorry. I sorry," JD sobbed as he climbed into Buck's arms.
Vin came running in from Chris's room, followed a few seconds later by Ezra on his crutches.
"Shh, JD," soothed Buck knowing that he needed to get the boy calmed down before he could deal with his behavior.
Vin did the first thing that came to mind. He pulled the bookcase upright and started putting things back on the shelves. He tried to fix his brother's troubles and keep the peace.
Ezra looked at the mess and saw his book on top of the pile, pages torn and strewn about. He slid himself down to the floor, laying his crutches beside him. He pulled the ruined book onto his lap and picked up each torn page and tucked it inside the cover. As he picked up pieces, he set books and videos into piles for Vin to put back on the shelf.
When he had all the pieces he could find he looked at the ruined book. It was his favorite book, the one about horses that Mr. Sanchez had purchased for him their first week here. Of all the books, why did JD destroy this one? He looked up at Buck comforting JD - the one who had destroyed his property. He tucked the remains of his book inside his shirt and picked up his crutches, struggling to stand. He felt Vin's arm steadying him.
"Thank you," Ezra said softly before hobbling back to his room.
About that time, Josiah came in through the kitchen. Hearing JD's sobs, he followed the sound to the great room. Vin put the last video on the shelf. "He didn't mean to," the seven-year-old said.
Josiah gently ruffed his hair. "We'll sort this out, son. Where's Ezra?"
"I think he went to our room," Vin said. "JD broke his book."
"I'll go check on him," Josiah said. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Are you okay?"
Josiah patted his shoulder and headed down the hall.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra sat on the bed, his hurt leg stretched out in front of him, his good leg dangling off the side. His book lay on the bed in front of him and he was trying to piece pages back together. When he heard someone he looked up, tears filling his eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said softly.
"Sorry for what, son?" Josiah asked as he came closer.
"It's ruined." He held up a handful of scraps of paper. "I didn't mean for it..." He choked back a sob.
Josiah sat down on the bed and looked at the cover of the book, realizing it was the one he had purchased for Ezra.
"Can we fix it?" the desperate hope in the boy's voice nearly brought tears to Josiah's eyes.
"We can get a new one," said Josiah.
"I don't want a new one!" Ezra protested. "I want this one." The hated tears rolled down his cheeks. "You bought me this one."
Josiah reached out and drew the boy into a hug. He didn't concern himself whether Ezra would protest or not, the eight-year-old was hurt and lonely and needed physical contact and comfort.
Years of training kept him from responding that it was just a book. Obviously to Ezra it represented much more than a book. From the amount of scraps he'd seen, there was little hope that they could mend it, but he knew Ezra needed to try. He'd come to acceptance after he tried everything possible.
"Why'd he pick this book?" asked Ezra, sniffing. "He wanted to hurt me?"
"It's possible," said Josiah.
"He hates me. I said I'm sorry and he still hates me. He says it's my fault that Buck is hurt."
"Yes," Ezra argued. "If I didn't run away then Buck wouldn't have tried to find me and wouldn't have stepped in the hole in the dark. He's right. It IS my fault."
"Why did I say Aunt Rachel is dead? I just wanted Mother to listen and then I made JD cry. I made Vin stop talking."
"Shh," Josiah said pulling the boy's head against his chest. "You didn't mean to hurt JD or Vin. You said it yourself, you were just trying to get your mother to listen."
Ezra got very quiet, settling into Josiah's strong but soothing embrace.
"Yes, son?" Josiah answered.
"Does JD hate me because I have a mother and he doesn't?"
The question had startling insight into what his "little brother" was going through.
"I think that is part of the reason JD is so upset, but he doesn't hate you Ezra," Josiah explained. "He misses his mother and doesn't want to believe she will never come back. And he's little enough that he doesn't know how to express that."
"He's only five."
"And you're only eight. You're not expected to be a grown-up." He bent his head lower to see Ezra's expression. "JD doesn't known how to deal with his emotions so right now he's striking out at everything and everyone. He's miserable and wants everyone else to be miserable, too. That doesn't excuse his actions though. Just like the rest of us, he's responsible for what he does."
"But he's only five."
"You knew right and wrong when you were five. JD does, too. We need to correct him when he behaves badly, but we also have to help him figure out why he's doing bad things and help him find good ways to express himself."
"Are you going to help JD?" Ezra asked.
Josiah nodded. "We all are."
"But I don't know what to do," the eight-year-old responded.
"Well, we can try to be extra understanding," said Josiah.
"Be extra nice when he's mean?" asked Ezra. "That's what Mr. Wilmington said."
"It doesn't mean what he is doing is right," assured Josiah, "Just that we have to help him figure it out."
Both Ezra and Josiah were quiet for a few minutes. Though he would never admit it, Ezra was enjoying the comfort and didn't want it to end.
"How are you doing?" Josiah asked.
"I miss Aunt Rachel," Ezra admitted, "and Mother."
Josiah waited in silence for a few minutes hoping that Ezra would continue, but apparently the subject was closed for now. "How about physically?"
Ezra still didn't want to complain, but his knee was hurting and Buck hadn't given him his pills before JD knocked over the bookcase. "My knee hurts some," he said.
"Is it about time for your pain pill?" asked Josiah.
Ezra nodded. "Mr. Wilmington was going to get it for me, but then JD..."
"Okay. Sit tight and I'll go get it for you," said Josiah as he stood and left the room.
Ezra looked sadly at the remains of his book. He carefully pieced together a page that matched. Then he picked through the smaller pieces trying to find the ones that fit the remaining gap on the page.
"Here you go," said Josiah as he returned.
Ezra laid the pieces in his lap and took the pill and the glass of water Josiah held out for him. When he finished Josiah took the cup and set it on the dresser. He held out a large zip lock bag.
"Let's put your book and the pieces in here for now so we don't lose them. I'll get some archival tape from the bookstore tomorrow. It's a special kind of tape for books we want to keep a long time. We'll see how much of it we can put back together, all right?"
Ezra nodded, smiling briefly as Josiah held open the bag and he slipped the book inside. He zipped it closed and handed it to Ezra who promptly tucked it under his pillow.
"I need to go talk to Buck and JD now," Josiah said. "Are you all right?"
Ezra nodded. "I'm just going to lay here for awhile. The pill makes me sleepy."
"Okay," said Josiah. "We'll work on that book tomorrow."