Chris brushed at his ear. He was too tired to get up now. He'd already been
up twice with nightmares, first with Vin, then with JD. At least the littlest
guy had sought comfort with Buck. He let his mind relax and settled back.
Chris groaned. Sleep didn't want to let go of him.
The desperate cry made him bolt upright in bed.
The eight year old was standing in his doorway, both arms clenched tightly
to his abdomen, clearly in distress.
"Ezra, what's wrong?" Chris asked as he scrambled out of bed. He reached
Ezra just as the boy crumpled to the floor, crying in pain. Chris picked
him up and carried him to the bed. "What's wrong?" he asked again, fighting
back his own panic. Ezra was drenched with sweat, his body trembling.
"It hurts," the eight-year-old gasped, his words dissolving into sobs.
"Okay, Okay," said Chris, keeping one hand on Ezra and reaching for the cell
phone on the bedside table with the other. He pushed a speed dial button
and waited impatiently for it to be picked up.
"Nathan?" Chris said without giving the man time to answer, "Something's
wrong with Ezra. Get in here, now!"
Chris flipped the phone closed and put it on the table, not having time to
be grateful that Nathan was still living in the bunkhouse while his home
was being repaired after the flood. He sat on the bed and brushed his hand
over Ezra's hair in a futile attempt to calm the writhing child. "Where does
it hurt, son? Can you tell me?" He wasn't sure Ezra could even hear him.
"Hurts," was all Ezra could get out between moans.
Chris didn't want to scare the other boys, but the situation was serious.
Ezra had come to him for help, something the child rarely did. He was in
extreme pain and Chris was helpless to do anything about it. Undoubtedly
they were headed for the hospital.
"Buck!" he yelled. "Buck, get up."
Ezra whimpered and curled into a ball.
"It's okay, son. We're going to help you," Chris soothed. He gently rubbed
Ezra's back offering what little comfort he could.
He leaned closer, trying to hear what Ezra was saying in between moans.
"I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I'm sorry..."
"Shh," Chris said softly. "Nothing to be sorry for. You can't help getting
"Chris?" Buck asked with concern as he hobbled to the door a minute later.
He was able to walk on his protective boot now without the aid of crutches.
JD stood beside him rubbing his fists into tired eyes.
"Ezra's hurting. Get to the door and let Nathan in," Chris ordered without
taking his eyes off Ezra.
Buck moved without question, scooping JD up and carrying him to the door.
The little guy didn't need to see his brother writing in pain. He reached
the back door just as Nathan knocked. He let the medic in and followed him
back to Chris's room. He watched from the doorway as Nathan began his exam.
"Ezra, can you tell me where it hurts?" Nathan asked soothingly.
The eight-year-old simply groaned in response, but it was obvious from the
way his arms were clenched around his abdomen that his belly was the problem.
"Is it your stomach?" Nathan asked.
Ezra nodded, panting in pain.
"Okay, breathe easy," Jackson said. "I'm going to touch your belly and you
tell me when it hurts."
He barely touched the boy, jerking his hand away when Ezra cried out in pain.
"I'm sorry, Ezra. I've got to do this to figure out what's wrong." He resumed
his gentle prodding trying to shut out Ezra's cries of pain.
Buck looked down as Vin wrapped himself around his leg, eyes wide with fear.
The noise had obviously awakened the seven-year-old. Buck shifted JD to the
other hip and put his hand on Vin's shoulder.
At that moment Ezra's little body couldn't handle any more. The boy gasped
as his stomach rebelled. It happened so quickly that neither Chris nor Nathan
had time to grab a wastebasket. As the contents of Ezra's stomach hit the
bedspread, the world seemed to stop.
Chris looked up in fear, meeting Nathan's alarmed eyes. There was blood in
the vomit. A lot of blood.
Ezra gasped in terror at the blood on his hands. He was going to die.
"Hospital, now!" said Nathan. He tried to keep his voice calm, but wasn't
sure he succeeded. The bloody mess had removed his concern about appendicitis,
but indicated something just as serious.
As Nathan tried to wipe the mess off Ezra, Chris stepped into a pair of jeans
and grabbed a t-shirt and socks from his drawer. He met Buck's eyes, silently
warning him to take Vin and JD out of the room and away from the situation.
"Come on, guys," said Buck. "Let's go get Chris's coat and keys for him."
Vin stood rooted to the spot, not about to budge.
"Come on Vin," Buck pleaded hoping he wouldn't have to drag the boy away.
He took Vin's hand and pulled gently but insistently. Finally Vin blinked
and allowed himself to be pulled out of the doorway.
Once he started moving, Vin raced down the hallway to get Chris's coat and
the keys to the truck. He had them in hand at the doorway by the time Buck
and JD caught up with him. Chris wasn't far behind, tugging on his cowboy
boots as he hopped down the hall, Nathan bringing up the rear carrying Ezra.
"Thanks, Vin," Chris said as he took the jacket Vin held out for him. He
stopped long enough to squat down, so he was eye level with the boy. "We're
going to take Ezra to the hospital and make sure he's okay."
Vin's eyes darted to Ezra, bundled in a blanket in Nathan's arms.
Chris put his hands on Vin's shoulders drawing his attention back. "I need
you to stay here with Buck and JD. I'll call you from the hospital, Okay?"
"Good," said Chris softly, squeezing Vin's shoulders before he stood. "Call
Josiah," he said, turning his attention to Buck. "Have him call Charlie to
He looked over at Nathan. Jackson nodded his agreement. Charlie flew rescue
chopper for the department. The small clinic in town closed at ten. They'd
have to go to the city hospital to get help for Ezra. And his symptoms were
too acute to endure an almost three hour drive to the city.
"You got it," said Buck. "Hey, Little Bit," he said to JD, "Can you hustle
to my room and get my cell phone?"
JD nodded and trotted down the hall after Buck set him down.
Buck reached over to Ezra and pulled the blanket away from his face, tucking
it under the boy's chin. "You're gonna be fine," he said, stroking Ezra's
cheek gently. He turned his attention to Chris. "Vin will help me hold down
Chris nodded his thanks. He knew that Buck would have his hands full with
two worried little boys, but there wasn't anything he could do. He was Ezra's
guardian and needed to go with the boy to give consent for treatment, and
he needed Nathan to try to help Ezra on the way. "Call Josiah if you need
a hand," he said quietly so only Buck could hear.
"Keys?" Chris asked, turning to Vin. The seven-year-old quickly handed them
over. Chris took a moment to hug him before heading out the door.
JD trotted up to Buck and handed him the cell phone just as Nathan and Ezra
followed Chris outside. He and Buck both heard Vin's hushed "Bye, Ezra" as
the door closed.
"Okay, guys," said Buck. "Let me make this phone call and then we'll clean
He dialed the Sheriff's Office and waited for Josiah to pick up.
"Josiah, it's Buck. We've got a little problem. Ezra's sick." Buck looked
at the two boys. He wasn't going to scare them any more than they already
were. "We need Charlie to meet Nathan and Chris at the clinic."
"It's bad?" asked Josiah.
"Yes," Buck said knowing that Josiah would appreciate his position and not
ask for details with little ears nearby.
"I'll call Charlie right now."
"Thanks, Josiah," said Buck before flipping his phone closed.
He looked at the two little boys and knew that the soiled bedspread in Chris's
room would have to wait. They were scared. Hell, he was scared, but he was
supposed to be the grown up.
+ + + + + + +
Chris glanced in the rearview mirror as he raced down the highway. He wished
he could be back there offering comfort to Ezra, but Nathan had the medical
expertise and it was more important that he help Ezra however he could.
The boy groaned sending another knife into Chris's heart. More than anything
he wanted to ease that pain and hold him until everything was okay. Instead,
he pressed the gas pedal a little harder.
It seemed to take forever to reach the clinic parking lot, and even longer
for the chopper to arrive. In reality only thirty minutes had passed, but
it was thirty minutes too long for a boy who was in extreme pain.
His cries had softened into a combination of panting and moaning, but clearly
it wasn't because he was in any less pain. He simply didn't have the strength
to cry out.
Ezra's eyes widened as he heard the sound of the chopper blades as the craft
landed. He whispered out a protest.
"What?" asked Chris, looking over the back seat to Nathan and Ezra.
Nathan looked up. "He said he doesn't want us to leave Dobie behind."
Chris grimaced. Ezra was disoriented enough that he thought he was back at
the flood being rescued by the chopper. All three boys had been devastated
when the rescuers had left the dog behind.
Chris climbed out of the vehicle and opened the back door, taking Ezra into
"We're not leaving Dobie, Ezra," he said loud enough to be heard over the
chopper. "He's safe at the ranch with Vin and JD."
"Safe?" asked the disoriented boy.
Ezra closed his eyes, too exhausted to fight any longer.
Chris carried him to the waiting chopper and placed him on the gurney in
the back. He reluctantly moved to the front seat so Nathan could climb in
with the boy.
When they all responded they were strapped in, Charlie lifted off and flew
toward the big city.
Buck sat in the recliner with two
boys on his lap. JD had finally dozed off, but Vin was still tense, gripping
Buck's arm tightly around his chest.
"You all right, Junior?" Buck asked softly.
Vin pulled Buck's arm a little tighter to him. He knew Buck was talking to
him. He liked that the dark haired man had given him a nickname. It made
him feel more like he belonged. He blew out a sigh. He just wished that
everything would settle down and they all could feel safe.
"You worried about Ezra?" Buck asked.
Vin nodded a single nod.
"Me, too, but he's headed to the hospital and they'll know what to do to
fix him right up."
Buck felt Vin sigh again. Obviously the little boy didn't believe the words
meant to be a comfort.
"It was pretty scary, wasn't it?" Buck asked.
"But you were very brave."
Vin shook his head.
"Yes, you were," said Buck. "Even though it was scary, you ran and got Chris's
coat and his keys. You were a big help."
"But I couldn't help Ezra." The voice was so soft, it was barely audible.
"But you did," assured Buck. "You helped Chris get him to the hospital faster."
"When will they call?" Vin asked.
Buck looked at the clock on the DVD player. Chris and Nathan had been gone
an hour. With any luck they'd just be landing at the hospital. It would take
some time until they found out what was wrong with Ezra. And then it would
depend on whether Chris waited until a decent hour to call.
"It could be awhile, yet," said Buck. "There is something we could do to
help while we're waiting."
Vin turned his head and looked up at Buck expectantly.
"I need to clean up," said Buck.
"Ewww," said Vin, crinkling his nose in disgust.
Buck chuckled softly. "I agree, but it has to be done. I was thinking maybe
you could keep an eye on JD while I take care of the mess."
"Okay," Vin agreed quickly. He didn't want anything to do with the vomit.
The thought made him shudder. He was afraid if he had to get too close, he
might just add to the mess himself.
"It's a plan, then," said Buck, giving Vin a squeeze before struggling to
stand. He smiled at Vin. "Let's go to my room."
Vin nodded, following Buck as he carried the soundly sleeping JD to his room.
After settling the boys in his bed, Buck first checked their room to see
if Ezra had been sick in there. Finding no evidence, he headed for Chris's
room wishing desperately that someone else, anyone else could do this job.
But he knew the longer he waited the worse it would be. Looking quickly at
the mess and gagging slightly at the smell, he decided that Chris needed
a new bedspread anyway. And a new throw rug beside his bed. There was no
way he was going to be able to attempt to clean them, and it would be a tough
job anyway with the blood.
Holding his breath he grabbed the throw rug and balled it up, tossing it
on the bedspread, then the grabbed the towel Nathan had discarded as well
as Ezra's pajamas. Knowing what clothes meant to the boy, he decided to try
to salvage the pajamas, but everything else he carried outside to the trash.
Coming back inside, he took the pajamas and put them in a pan of water to
soak. Then he washed his hands thoroughly before grabbing the cordless phone
and heading to his room. Maybe they'd get a little sleep while waiting for
word from Chris.
Chris stood next to the gurney
in the emergency room holding Ezra's hand and watching the medical personnel
work rapidly around the slightly shocky little boy. The eight-year-old whimpered
"Shh, Ezra," Chris soothed squeezing his hand gently and brushing the side
of the boy's face with his other hand.
Chris closed his eyes for a second and sucked in a breath. He hadn't expected
that plea. He thought Ezra might call for his mother, but they knew nothing
of the boy's father.
"It's Chris, Ezra," he said softly. "The doctors are going to find out what's
wrong and fix you up."
Ezra blinked his eyes lethargically before turning his head slightly and
focusing on Chris.
"Chris?" he asked.
"Yes," Chris confirmed, "It's me."
"Don't leave me."
The hushed words broke Chris's heart. He knew that Maude had left Ezra when
he was in the hospital with pneumonia. From the bits and pieces he'd learned,
Chris had discovered that Maude abandoned Ezra and left the country to avoid
arrest and prosecution. It didn't matter that she didn't want to leave him
and it didn't matter that she had provided for his care afterward. Even though
the little boy tried to convince himself and everyone else that his mother
loved him, the fact was that he had been sick in the hospital and she had
put her own needs before his and left him. And Ezra was afraid it was happening
"I'm not going anywhere Ezra. I'm going to be right here with you until the
doctor says you can go home."
"Ezra," said the doctor, distracting the boy from Chris' promise, "We're
going to give you some medicine in your IV that will make you feel sleepy.
When you wake up, you might have a little bit of a sore throat, but it will
go away quickly. Okay?"
Ezra looked at Chris. The blond nodded his assurance. The eight-year-old
looked back at the man who had introduced himself as Doctor Jeff. "Okay,"
he said meekly.
"We're going to get you feeling better soon," assured Doctor Jeff. "Just
relax and let us take care of everything."
Ezra watched the needle go into his IV port and before he knew it, it was
hard to keep his eyes open. He squeezed Chris's hand tightly and heard the
blond's soft assurance. "I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere." The
eight-year-old gave a slight nod before drifting off.
As the doctor worked, Chris was glad Ezra was sedated and not aware of what
was happening to his body. He found himself cringing in sympathy as a nasal
gastric tube was inserted and they started a lavage, putting water into Ezra's
stomach and sucking it out. It was supposed to determine how much bleeding
there was and help stop it.
The doctor had told him Ezra probably had and an ulcer.
An ulcer! He was just a kid.
"That's looking good," said the doctor, jolting Chris from his thoughts.
"Doc?" he asked.
"It looks like the bleeding is under control," he answered. "We're going
to need to do an endoscope and take a good look at it. We'll biopsy..."
"Biopsy?" Chris asked.
The doctor turned his full attention to Chris knowing that most people associated
biopsy with cancer. "The biopsy will help determine what kind of ulcer he
has and what our treatment will be," he explained.
"I can't believe he's got an ulcer," said Chris. "He's only eight."
"Primary ulcers aren't common in kids, but they do happen. A lot of people
think they are caused by stress, but stress is a contributor, not a cause.
Some ulcers are actually caused by a bacteria called H Pylori. Those we can
treat with antibiotics and the recurrence rate is low."
"And the biopsy will tell what kind of ulcer he has?" asked Chris.
The doctor nodded. "Mr. Larabee, why don't you take a break? Go get some
coffee, something to eat. Ezra's resting comfortably and we can run the tests
before he wakes up."
"I promised I'd stay," said Chris.
"And you will. He won't wake up for several hours," said Doctor Jeff. "I'll
send someone to get you if anything changes."
Chris looked at his watch. It was nearly seven in the morning. He needed
to call Buck and the boys and let them know what was going on. And Nathan!
Chris grimaced. Nathan had been out in the waiting area all this time without
"All right," Chris said. "I'll be in the cafeteria."
"Check with Katherine at the desk when you get back. She'll let you know
where we are."
Chris nodded. He brushed his fingers across Ezra's cheek and reluctantly
released the boy's hand. "I'll be back, son," he said softly.
+ + + + + + +
Buck continued running soothing
circles with his hand on Vin's back. The boy had tried his hardest to stay
awake but had finally drifted off around five o'clock. Buck had dozed off
and on since that time, waking at the sounds of restlessness from the
seven-year-old. Each time he would gently rub circles on Vin's back and he
Glancing at the clock he was reminded that no matter how tired he was there
were animals that needed tending. He'd talked to Josiah late last night about
scheduling a replacement for his shift at the Sheriff's Office. Chris and
Nathan had already been scheduled to be off today, which was fortunate because
he was sure that neither man had slept last night. Nettie Wells would be
here shortly and would be able to help him keep tabs on the boys so he could
tend the horses. She'd be surprised they were still in bed, and she'd probably
chastise him for not calling her in the middle of the night to tell her about
JD snorted and rolled over, snuggling up against Buck. The dark-haired man
used his free arm to gently rub the back of the five-year-old's head. JD
sighed and Buck smiled. He'd never dreamed about being a father figure to
anyone, but he wouldn't trade it for anything. Sure Chris was the legal guardian
for all three boys, but a piece of paper didn't change a five-year-old's
heart. JD had claimed him as his own "Buck."
Nathan watched the blond press
the heels of both hands to his temples in a vain attempt to relieve the stress.
It was amazing how quickly the boys had become his boys and
he was feeling the pain any good parent would feel under the circumstances.
It didn't matter that Ezra held him at a distance, or at least tried to.
The eight-year-old wasn't entirely successful at aloofness. Many times the
little boy's need for love won out against his mother's teaching of not trusting
anyone, especially law enforcement.
While Ezra had resisted, little JD had welcomed his new family with open
arms, despite his moments of missing his mother. Vin had linked with Chris
and was gradually opening his heart to the others as well, but there were
still things he would not talk about with anyone. Hopefully that would change
Chris dropped both hands to the table, forming the right into a fist and
pounding the table. "He's just a kid!" he growled in frustration.
"Kids get ulcers, too," Nathan soothed.
"He might have to have surgery."
"Let's not worry about that unless it happens," said Nathan. "There's a good
chance he won't."
"I should have seen it," Chris said with a sigh.
"I should have seen it, too," said Nathan, "but we had no history to compare
it to, Chris." Jackson sighed. He'd been beating himself up all night over
the same thing. "We had no way to know that the picking at his food wasn't
just because he was a finicky eater." Nathan frowned at the thought that
Ezra had been suffering long enough to know which foods aggravated his stomach.
"You're right," said Chris. "You're not to blame either. We both did the
best we could with what we knew."
Nathan looked Chris in the eye and could see the unspoken, "but it wasn't
good enough." He knew that next time they would both look harder, they'd
both push the reluctant boy a little more to reveal his illness and reassure
him that it was safe to do so.
"What are we going to have to do with his diet?" Chris asked.
"It depends on what they find," Nathan replied. "If it's an ulcer caused
by the H pylori bacteria, they'll treat it with antibiotics and he might
need to be on acid blockers for awhile. But, once the bacteria is eradicated,
he'll heal up and may never have a problem with it again. No special diet."
Chris nodded. For now he wouldn't consider any other options. He'd cross
that bridge if they came to it. "I need to call Buck and then get back upstairs."
"Why don't you let me call?" said Nathan.
"I can't. I need to talk to Vin," Chris replied.
Nathan nodded, understanding the boy would be frightened and needed to hear
the truth from Chris. "Do you want me to stay?"
Chris shook his head. "You don't need to." He paused to check his watch.
"Josiah should be getting off soon."
"Yeah," said Nathan. "I was thinking about giving him a call and seeing if
he wouldn't mind taking the extra long way home."
Chris smiled briefly. The chopper had gotten them here quickly, but it meant
they didn't have a vehicle to get home. His truck was sitting in the clinic
parking lot in Four Corners. He pulled the keys out of his pocket and handed
them to Nathan. "You'll take it back to the ranch?"
Nathan nodded. "And you let us know what's going on and when you'll need
"Yes. Hopefully he won't be stuck here too long." Chris stood, and stretched.
Nathan stood as well and patted Chris on the shoulder. "You make your call,
I'll make mine."
Both men headed towards the courtyard of the hospital to use their phones.
"Why didn't you call me?"
"It was three o'clock, Nettie." Seeing her glare, Buck added, "And...and
we wanted someone who'd actually had a full night of sleep to be here for
the boys today."
She stared at him for a full minute before breaking away. "Get those boys
up. I'll get breakfast started."
Buck knew she hadn't believed his excuse, but she wasn't going to push it
further. "Yes, Ma'am," he said.
The phone rang and he quickly answered. "North Pass Ranch."
"Chris! How is he?" asked Buck as two anxious little boys in pajamas magically
appeared at his side.
"They're doing some tests right now. They think he has an ulcer," said Chris.
"An ulcer!" said Buck in surprise.
"What's an ulcer, Buck?" asked JD.
"Just a minute, Little Bit," said Buck. "Go ahead Chris."
"Josiah's going to come in and pick up Nathan. I'm going to stay here until
Ezra can come home."
When Chris paused too long, Buck knew he was holding back.
"What, Chris?" he asked softly.
"He was afraid I'd leave him here, Buck," Chris said with a catch in his
voice. "I'm not leaving until they let him go home."
"Okay," said Buck in agreement. "Any idea when that will be?"
"Not yet. I'll have to call you later on that. Can I talk to Vin?"
"Sure. Junior, Chris wants to talk to you."
Vin took the phone. "Chris?"
"Hey, kiddo," said Chris. "Ezra's doing okay. The doctors are doing some
tests and then they'll help him feel better."
"When's he coming home?" Vin asked.
"I don't know yet. But I'll call you later today to let you know." He paused
for a moment. "Are you okay?"
"Is that a yes?" asked Chris with a grin figuring that the boy had nodded.
"Yes. Miz Nettie is here."
"Good. Do you think you and Buck can handle the chores for me today?"
"Yep. We can do it."
"Good. Why don't you put JD on?"
"Okay. Call me."
"I will, Vin."
He heard some rustling and then a slightly subdued five-year-old said, "Chris?"
"Hi, JD. How are you doing?"
"I'm okay, where's Ezra?"
"Ezra is sleeping right now. The doctors are doing some tests on him."
"Like a spelling test?" asked JD.
Chris smiled in spite of the situation. "Not exactly. Ezra doesn't have to
do anything for these tests but it helps the doctors know exactly what's
wrong and the best way to make him better."
"When's he coming home?"
"I don't know yet, but I'll watch out for him here and bring him home as
soon as it's okay. Will you keep an eye on things there for me?"
"Yes," said JD, pleased to be trusted with an important job. "Oh! We have
to go. Miz Nettie has breakfast ready."
"Okay, give the phone back to Buck." Chris winced as the phone clattered
on the table before Buck picked up.
"You doing okay, Chris?" asked Buck.
"Honestly? No. He was in pain and I couldn't do a damn thing about it."
"You're there. That's what he needs now," said Buck.
"Nettie won't appreciate you dallying and making her breakfast cold," said
Chris dismissing the subject. "I'll call you as soon as I know anything."
"It's not your fault."
Chris hesitated before answering. "I know. Doesn't make me feel any better."
"He'll be all right."
"I'll call you later," said Chris, ending the call.
"You boys don't seem very hungry,"
said Nettie as she watched all three "boys" toying with their breakfast.
"Sorry," said Buck. "Eat up, boys."
Vin forced himself to eat a bite.
"I'm not hungry without Ezra," said JD.
"We all miss him, Little Bit," said Buck, "But he'll be home as soon possible
and he'd want us to do everything we normally do until he's back."
"What if he doesn't come back?" asked JD.
Vin's fork clattered on the table as he dropped it. Clearly JD's fear was
his as well.
"I wished he'd go away," said JD as big tears rolled down his cheeks.
"Aw, JD," said Buck, "C'mere." He opened his arms and the little brunette
ran to him. Buck hugged him and pulled him onto his lap. "You, too, Vin."
Vin moved without comment and willingly let Buck hug him, too. Nettie stood
behind Buck and rested her hand on his shoulder in support.
He let JD cry for a bit, and then spoke. "JD? Can you look at me, Little
Slowly the little boy looked at him. "I's sorry, Buck."
"I know you are," said Buck, "but wishing people away doesn't make them go."
"Not even on a bird-day candle?" asked JD seriously.
Buck shook his head, "Not even on a birthday candle."
"How 'bout a star?" asked JD.
"Nope," said Buck. "Not even a star. Nothing you wished made Ezra get sick."
"But I was mad at him," said JD.
Buck gave both boys a squeeze and then relaxed his grip a little. "Sometimes
we get mad, and maybe we don't even know why..."
"I know why," said JD. "I's mad because Ezra made us go play when we wasn't
supposed to and then Mama went away."
Vin tensed noticeably and Buck held him a little tighter.
"So you think Ezra wanted your Mama to go away?" asked Buck. "Do you think
he didn't love her? Do you think he did it on purpose?"
"No!" protested JD. "Ezra's my brother!"
"So are you mad because he wanted to play?" Buck continued. "Don't you like
"No. Yes..." JD growled in frustration.
"So you don't think Ezra wanted your Mama to go away, and you aren't mad
at him for going to play," Buck summed up. "So you aren't really mad at Ezra.
You're mad at..."
"Mama," JD sobbed, "I don't want Mama to go away."
Buck held him tighter again and kissed him on top of the head. "You're not
mad at your Mama either, Little Bit. You're mad that the flood made her go
away. It wasn't her fault. It wasn't Ezra's fault. It's not Vin's fault and
it's not your fault. It's nobody's fault. It just happened. It was an accident."
He looked down at Vin as the boy clutched his arm tighter to his chest. "The
flood came and took away someone you love very much. It's okay to be sad.
It's even okay to be mad about it. But it's not okay to hurt someone else,
Both boys nodded.
"I know you're worried about Ezra, but he's going to be fine," said Buck.
"And we have horses and dogs that need our attention because they can't feed
and water themselves, right?"
Nettie squeezed his shoulder. He had done a great job. "That's right," she
said, "And you all need to eat to have the energy to take care of them."
"Right," said Buck. "So how about if we all wipe our tears and then eat a
Both boys nodded. JD slid off quickly and returned to his chair. Vin lingered,
seeking a little more comfort from Buck.
Buck whispered in his ear, "It's not your fault."
Vin nodded and sighed as Buck squeezed him tight.
Buck glanced in the rearview mirror
at his sleeping passengers before turning his attention back to the road.
When Chris called early afternoon to say the doctors were releasing Ezra,
there had been a brief debate about who would drive into the city to pick
them up. Josiah and Nathan were catching up on much needed sleep, having
been up all night. Nettie had volunteered, but Buck didn't want her making
the nearly six-hour round trip to the city and back. Fortunately, his injured
leg was his left, and the truck was an automatic, so he only needed his right
foot to drive.
Ezra snorted, waking himself up. Buck glanced back watching the boy search
his surroundings trying to gain his bearings. He felt like shouting for joy
when he saw Ezra look at where Chris's hand rested on his, then look at Chris
and smile. The boy rarely showed any kind of acceptance of his new home,
but his smile was a dead giveaway. Through the trauma of the last 24 hours,
Ezra had bonded with Chris. It wouldn't necessarily be smooth sailing, but
the trust and dependence had deepened.
Ezra glanced at him and their eyes caught in the mirror. "How are you feeling?"
Buck asked softly.
"Tired," said Ezra with a yawn that he didn't quite cover.
"Well, you just lay back and get some more rest. We've got about an hour
before we get home."
Ezra sighed and leaned back against the seat.
"You'll need your rest. Vin and JD are pretty eager to see you."
Ezra frowned. "They're scared?"
"Yes," Buck answered in an even tone. "We all were, but you're going to be
Chris opened his eyes and squeezed Ezra's hand. "Nothing to be sorry about,
"All right," said Chris. "You get some more rest."
The little boy didn't need any convincing. His body was demanding that he
sleep. He closed his eyes and was soon dozing.
Nettie was preparing a late dinner
for Ezra's return. With some help from Vin and JD, who had more computer
experience than she did, Nettie researched what food would be easiest for
Ezra to tolerate. She explained to the two boys that certain kinds of foods,
like pizza, orange juice and tomatoes could bother Ezra's stomach.
The boys helped her choose macaroni and cheese as something that Ezra would
like and could probably tolerate. JD said it was Ezra's favorite and Vin
confirmed that Ezra did in fact like it. He also suggested applesauce, which
was another of Ezra's favorites.
Nettie tried to keep them occupied, but the later it got, the more they were
running to the front window to see if the truck was coming yet.
The phone rang and both boys turned anxiously toward Nettie as she answered.
She spoke briefly with the caller and then put the phone back in its cradle.
"That was Buck. He said they're at the end of the driveway," she informed
"But that's a long way," said JD.
Nettie smiled and picked him up. "It is for little legs, but for a big truck,
it goes quickly." She gave him a hug and put him down so he could run back
to the couch and watch out the window with Vin.
It wasn't long before she heard, "I see them! They're home!"
She opened the door for the boys, instructing them to wait on the porch.
She stood there with them watching the trio exit the truck. It seemed that
Ezra either wouldn't wake up or was too tired to walk. Chris reached into
the truck and freed Ezra from the seatbelt. When they stepped away from the
Truck, Ezra was sitting on Chris's hip with his arms around his neck and
his head tucked under Chris's chin.
Nettie smiled. She was certain that the two boys holding her hands had no
idea of the significance of Ezra holding on to Chris, but it brought tears
to her eyes.
"Ezra! Hi, Ezra!" called JD.
Ezra lifted his head and looked at them and then let it rest again on Chris's
"Hi, guys," said Chris as they stepped up on the porch. "Ezra's a little
tired, but he's okay."
"Did it hurt, Ezra?" asked JD.
Ezra yawned and shook his head. He'd been asleep for the whole treatment
procedure. He looked down when he felt someone touch his leg. Vin was looking
up at him.
He let go of Chris's neck with one hand and reached toward Vin. They clasped
hands. JD let go of Nettie and reached for Ezra as well.
Sensing he wanted to be put down, Chris eased Ezra to his feet so both boys
could hug him.
"I'm glad you're okay, Ezra," said JD. "We made a special dinner that won't
hurt your tummy."
Ezra blushed a bit, embarrassed that they had to make different food for
"It's mac and cheeeeeeeeeese," said JD with a goofy grin as if he was mugging
for a camera.
"And applesauce for dessert," Vin added.
"I like Macaroni and Cheese," said Chris. "And applesauce."
"Me, too," said Buck. Both men had noticed Ezra's discomfort and wanted to
ease his mind.
"Well, it's ready, boys," said Nettie, "so let's eat."
Chris hunkered down next to Ezra as Vin and JD started to go inside. "That
okay with you?"
Ezra nodded and without thinking he reached out wrapping his arms around
Chris's neck, letting him carry him again.
When Ezra was stronger, he'd probably refuse the closeness, but for now it
was an obvious sign of a huge step forward in trust.
Chris hoped there'd be no more 'midnight runs' to the hospital, but the
likelihood was that with three boys - and Buck - around, there would be more.
Hugging Ezra a little tighter, he stepped inside the house, hoping that if
there were more trips that each one would continue to bring his family closer