| Vin rubbed his forehead with
the heel of his hand as he tried to finish reading the page. His glasses
helped a lot, but he still tended to get headaches if he read for too long,
especially when he forgot he had his glasses on and looked up to see what
Miss Nettie was writing on the board.
He jumped a little when Nettie gently massaged his shoulders. "How much more
until you finish this section?" she asked.
Vin pulled his glasses off and carefully set them on the table. He rubbed
his eyes with a sigh. "Two more paragraphs."
"JD, how many more problems do you need to do?" she asked.
"Just one more," JD answered, tapping his pencil on the table as he tried
to compute the answer.
"I'm finished, Ma'am," Ezra replied before she could finish her question.
Nettie smiled despite the formality. "Would you read the remaining two paragraphs
aloud? Then I think it's time to take a break."
Ezra stood and moved over next to Vin, picking up Vin's book and reading
the final two paragraphs. Vin kept his eyes closed and listened carefully
to the words. He'd need to remember them later when Miss Nettie asked him
about what he read.
Ezra finished reading and JD called out that he was done. Nettie told the
boys to put away their studies and go play. They were through for the day
and it was just an hour after lunch.
Nettie smiled knowingly as three little boys hurriedly put away their books
and supplies and raced outside. Despite their struggles with life because
of the flood's upheaval, they were little boys and needed to run and play.
They had missed the last couple months of the school year, but had easily
kept pace with their tutoring sessions. Vin had a lot of ground to make up,
but now that his vision problem was discovered, he was progressing well.
Chris and Nettie had agreed to continue the tutoring through the summer,
partly to help Vin get to grade level before school started up in September,
but also to give the boys a routine. Knowing what was going to happen day
in and day out made their adjustment to their new family easier.
But some days were just too hot to sit in a 'classroom' all afternoon. She'd
give them about thirty minutes and then make sure they got some shade and
some water. Boys tended to forget those things.
Chris had called it a day early. The air conditioning wasn't working correctly
in the Sheriff's office, and he wasn't accomplishing anything productive.
It was just too hot. He hoped that the ice cream treats he and Buck had picked
up on the way home would survive in the cool air conditioning of the truck
until they reached the house. Buck had tucked the bag on the floor next to
the cooling vent. They'd throw them in the freezer for a half hour or so
when they got home to give them a chance to firm up a bit before giving them
to the boys.
Chris grinned and Buck chuckled as they rounded the bend in the driveway.
Their family was lounging in the shade of the big oak tree. Nettie was sitting
in a lawn chair, Ezra seated in a chair next to her, both reading books.
Ezra's only concession to the hot weather was shedding his long sleeve shirt
to his undershirt. Vin and JD were sharing one of the lounge chairs. Both
clad only in shorts, Vin was curled on his side, snoozing. JD was draped
off the end of the chair, limp arms and head hanging down in a totally relaxed
state. Obviously a combination of the heat and play had taken its toll.
Sam, Larabee's old Labrador, rose slowly from his place at Ezra's feet. He
stretched and wagged his tail, moseying over to the truck as Chris parked.
Nettie set her book on the table and followed without disturbing the boys.
Ezra looked up from his reading, returned Buck's wave and went back to his
"You didn't have to get up," said Chris. "You looked comfortable."
"We opted for a lazy afternoon," Nettie said.
"Everything go okay?" asked Buck, grabbing the sack of ice cream treats and
heading toward the house.
"It went well. The boys are working hard at their studies," Nettie replied.
"And hard at their play from the looks of it," Buck said with a laugh.
Nettie smiled. "I encouraged them to play inside in the air conditioning,
but boys must be boys. I insisted they rest in the shade, however."
"Couldn't get Ezra out of those long pants?" Chris asked.
"I tried, Chris," she answered. "He claims he doesn't have any shorts and
he refused to wear Vin's second pair. I suggested cutting down the jeans
with the torn knee and he nearly cried."
Chris cursed under his breath. Ezra kept the jeans he had torn when he ran
away and injured his knee. Chris had tried to throw them out, but Ezra had
nearly had a fit. He was stuck on the fact that Chris had spent money on
the jeans and he had ruined them. It was such an issue that Chris had just
backed off and let it be. He figured he could deal with it when Ezra was
more settled. Ezra never wore them - he really couldn't with tear in the
leg, but he wouldn't let them go.
Seconds later Ezra came in the back door carrying two bowls. Seeing everyone
standing in the kitchen he stopped, feeling he had interrupted the adults.
That was never a good thing to do.
"I wanted to get some cold water for Sam and Dobie," he said hesitantly.
Buck reached over and turned on the faucet. "That's a really good idea, Ezra,"
he said reaching for one of the bowls. "You want some water, too? It's pretty
hot out there."
Ezra nodded and handed Buck the second bowl. Buck set them both in the sink,
rinsed and dried his hands, then got a glass for Ezra.
Leave it to Buck to give Chris an opening. "Why don't you put on some shorts?"
Chris asked. "Buck and I were just going to change and join you boys."
"I don't have any," Ezra said accepting the glass of water from Buck and
taking a sip.
"You could borrow a pair of Vin's," Chris answered and then almost choked
at the scowl Ezra shot at Nettie. Ezra knew she'd been talking. "Or we could
run into town and buy you a pair."
"I'm fine," Ezra said.
"Oh, hey," said Buck. "What about that pair of jeans with the hole in the
leg? I bet Nettie could cut those down for you, hem them up really nice,
and then we wouldn't have to buy a new pair."
"That's a great idea," Chris agreed. "What do you think, Ezra?"
Ezra stared at him for a moment then nodded. He didn't really want a pair
of shorts, but if Mr. Larabee was insisting he have some to wear, then making
use of the pants he had already ruined would be the best option. But if Mrs.
Wells took the time to fix them, he'd be obligated to wear them, at least
once, and short pants were not something that he wore.
As Ezra walked down the hall to get the pants, Buck frowned. He had caught
a brief expression on Ezra's face of regret or maybe even remorse. Something
else was going on here. He had given in far too easily. He was trying to
"Be back in a minute," Buck said, following Ezra to the boys' room.
He peeked in before making his presence known. Ezra was digging in the bottom
of his drawer to get to the jeans. When he had extracted them, Buck knocked
on the doorframe.
"May I come in?" he asked.
Ezra was startled, but quickly covered his surprise.
"I found them," he said, holding the pants out toward Buck.
Buck's smile countered his inner grimace. Ezra knew exactly where those pants
were. He had them safely tucked in the bottom of the drawer. Safely? That
thought made him pause. Was Ezra keeping the jeans for a reason?
"How do you feel about having them cut off?" Buck asked.
Ezra examined the long tear in the knee and fingered the slight bloodstains
that didn't come out. "It would give the most use," he said with a hint of
"That's not what I asked," Buck said, then softened when Ezra looked up in
fear. "Do you want them cut off?"
"I don't care what Chris wants," Buck said cutting him off. "What does Ezra
P. Standish want?"
Ezra looked at him with worried eyes. He didn't know the right answer.
Buck was quiet for a moment before stepping forward and sitting on Ezra's
bunk. He patted on the bed hoping the boy would accept the invitation.
Ezra sat down beside him, arms wrapped around the jeans, but he avoided looking
"Would you rather not cut them off?" Buck asked softly.
Ezra nodded then shook his head.
"You don't want to?"
"It's okay if Mr. Larabee wants to. It's his money."
"But?" Buck prompted. He could see that Ezra wanted to say something, but
he wasn't sure the boy would be able to get it out. Ezra could talk circles
around people, but when it came to something that he felt deeply, he was
at a loss for words.
"Here," Ezra said, shoving the pants into Buck's hands, but his body language
contradicted his action. He wanted to keep them.
"No," said Buck. "I don't think we're going to do anything with these. We
can get you a pair of shorts without cutting these down."
Ezra looked relieved for a moment, but then he frowned.
"And before you say it, shorts aren't that expensive, and Chris doesn't mind
buying what you need."
Ezra sighed and looked at Buck. "It would be sensible to cut these off and
Buck nodded. "Maybe so, but sometimes sensible isn't the thing to do. Sometimes
we have to follow our hearts, and my heart is telling me that these are important
to you and that you should keep them just as they are."
Ezra chewed on his lower lip. "Do you think Mr. Larabee would mind?" he asked
Buck shook his head. "Not if it's important to you."
" Ezra paused, struggling to find the words to explain something
that he didn't really understand himself. "It's just
well, they were
and I ran away, but I didn't mean to
and I fell and
"And you were hurt."
Ezra nodded. "You see? That's just it. I ruined them. I did it all wrong,
and Mr. Larabee
He didn't throw them away. He said he wanted me."
Buck smiled although he felt like crying inside. He knew Ezra didn't realize
what he had just said. It wasn't the jeans that Chris hadn't thrown away.
He hadn't thrown Ezra away. He'd cared. He wanted Ezra. He wasn't sending
him away for damaging his clothes or doing the wrong thing. Maybe Ezra couldn't
put it into words, or maybe he didn't completely understand it, but to Ezra
those damaged jeans were a symbol of Chris's commitment and affection for
"I think you should put these back in a safe place," Buck said. There was
no way Chris or Nettie would cut them off once they understood the symbol
they had become to Ezra. All this time they had thought Ezra's issue with
the jeans was guilt. "We'll figure out something else for getting you a pair
Ezra gratefully took the pants and put them safely back in the drawer.
"Would you go out and round up Vin and JD?" Buck asked. "We brought home
ice cream treats."
Ezra grinned slightly and hurried out the door.
Chris raised an eyebrow in question as Ezra scurried through the kitchen
and out the back door. Buck, following at a more sedate pace, stopped and
leaned against the counter.
"We can't cut off the jeans," Buck said softly. "They've become a symbol
to Ezra that you want to keep him. He did everything wrong and you wanted
to keep him anyway."
Chris cursed under his breath.
Nettie smiled and patted his shoulder in support. "It's a good sign, Chris,"
she said. "He's holding on to the hope that he can trust you."
Chris nodded. "I just wish he didn't have to struggle to trust someone."
A commotion outside grabbed their attention. A slight crashing noise and
the barking of a dog were soon followed by giggling of boys, telling the
adults it wasn't a major crisis. Looking out the window they could see the
lawn chair Vin and JD had been sharing was overturned and Vin, JD and Dobie
were tangled up in a pile of arms and legs. Ezra stood a few feet away, hands
on his hips, shaking his head. Sam sat at his side letting out a howl.
Nettie laughed. "Dobie must have tried to get on the chair with the boys
again," she said. "He's already dumped them off twice today."
Chris and Buck chuckled, watching the boys trying to untangle themselves.
Two heads suddenly shot up and looked directly at Ezra.
"Ezra must have just mentioned the ice cream," Buck said with another chuckle.
It was amazing how fast the boys untangled themselves with the proper incentive.
In seconds the three boys were racing toward the house.
The back door slapped shut and three boys skidded to a stop in front of Buck
and Chris, with Ezra trying to look blasé about the whole thing.
"You boys want something?" Buck teased.
"Ezra said you got ice cream!" JD blurted out.
"He did, huh? Well, I don't remember. Did we buy ice cream, Chris?" Buck
"Please?" JD asked.
Chris joined in the teasing. "I remember stopping somewhere on the way home,
but I think I just bought gas." He winked at Vin and the boy smiled.
"I did see you bring in a sack," said Nettie.
"Yeah, see?" said JD. "You did get ice cream."
The way JD was looking up with pleading eyes made Buck think of a baby bird
calling for his next meal.
"Well, I guess we'd better look in the freezer," he said opening the door.
Seeing Ezra roll his eyes, he gave the older boy a wink.
"There it is! There it is!" JD chirped, hopping up and down.
"Well, lookee here," said Buck, pulling the sack out of the freezer. "I think
He opened the sack and pulled out three small plastic individual serving
cartons of ice cream. "We were going to get cones, but they wouldn't have
lasted the trip home." He pulled 3 spoons out of the bag and set them on
the counter next to the containers. "Hope that's okay," he added.
JD nodded eagerly. He liked the crunchy cone, but he liked the ice cream
best. "Can we take it outside?"
"Sure," said Buck, handing a carton and a spoon to JD. The five year old
started toward the door, then stopped and turned around.
"Thank you!" he called with a big smile.
"You're welcome," Buck said, handing the next carton to Vin.
"Thanks," said Vin.
Buck nodded in reply. He handed the third carton to Ezra. Ezra frowned slightly
and looked at Nettie and then back at the ice cream. "Is this the last one?"
he asked quietly.
"I think I'd prefer a glass of ice tea," Nettie said smoothly, alleviating
his concern that the adults didn't have any ice cream. "How about you gentlemen?"
"Sounds great," said Chris.
"Me, too," said Buck.
Nettie smiled at Ezra and nodded toward the door.
"Thank you," he said before joining the other boys out back.
After dinner while Buck and Ezra were cleaning up the dishes, the rest of
the family retired to the back porch to enjoy the cool evening breeze. JD
was sprawled on Josiah's lap reading a book to him. Nathan was sitting in
a lawn chair, his feet up on the porch rail. Chris and Vin were sitting on
Chris watched as Vin played with the hem of his shorts, and then held up
his leg as if examining his shin.
"Did you hurt yourself?" Chris asked quietly.
"Nope," Vin said nonchalantly looking at his other leg.
"Did it upset you that Ezra wouldn't wear your shorts?"
Vin put his leg down and looked at Chris. "Nope. Ezra don't wear shorts,"
he said matter-of-factly.
Vin shook his head. "Aunt Rachel said Ezra won't wear 'em."
Vin examined his legs again, this time standing and bending over to look
at his knees.
"Vin?" said Chris.
The seven-year-old looked at him. "Do I got chicken legs?"
"What?" asked Chris, surprised by the turn in conversation.
"Aunt Rachel said Ezra wouldn't wear shorts because someone said he had chicken
legs." Vin peered at his knees again. "But Ezra said his mom didn't think
they were 'propriate. I don't think my legs look like chicken's legs and
Ezra's legs look mostly like mine."
"You have normal, growing, little boy legs," Chris assured, "and so does
"So does Ezra what?" asked Buck as he and Ezra joined them on the porch.
"Hey, Buck, could you grab the blue photo album off the bottom shelf?" Chris
asked, diverting attention from the conversation.
Ezra frowned. They were talking about him and he didn't know why.
Chris patted on the step, indicating Ezra should join them. Ezra cautiously
moved forward. Something was up and he didn't like being out of the loop.
"Here you are," said Buck, returning to the porch and handing Chris the photo
Chris flipped through the book as Ezra tentatively sat beside him. Vin stood
up and peered over Chris's shoulder.
"Here," said Chris with a grin. "Take a look at that."
Both boys looked at the picture of the little blond haired boy, with skinny
legs, wearing a pair of plaid shorts.
Vin couldn't help but giggle at the picture. "Is that you?"
"Yep," said Chris.
Buck took a look at the picture. "Woo-hee. Look at those legs! They look
just like mine when I was that age. I had skinny legs, and those goofy shorts
we had back then just made them look skinnier. Short little shorts with wide
bottoms made my legs look like toothpicks."
"I had the same problem," Nathan volunteered. "Went to Catholic school for
awhile. Had this bigger kid that always said I had chicken legs when I was
wearing my short pants. Funny thing was his legs were as skinny as mine."
"What did you do?" asked Buck.
Nathan shrugged. "Nothing. I kept right on wearing those shorts. They were
cut just above the knee, looked nice, but most of all, they kept me cooler.
I decided not to let someone else's opinion tell me what I should think.
I knew he was just being mean."
He glanced over at Ezra and could see he was listening. Suddenly the boy
stood, excused himself claiming he wanted a glass of water, and hurried inside.
The men exchanged glances. Something was wrong. Chris started to get up,
but Buck motioned that he would take care of it, and followed Ezra inside.
Ezra hadn't gone far. He'd gotten to the kitchen sink and was wiping at his
eyes, trying to hide that he might cry.
"Ezra? Are you all right?" Buck asked.
"She isn't mean!" Ezra said defensively. "She's not."
Buck felt like he'd missed half the conversation, but had to assume Ezra
was defending his mother. He sighed internally. Maude must have been the
one who told Ezra he looked bad in shorts.
"Who's not mean?" he asked simply to confirm his thinking.
Ezra looked up, realizing he had said more than he wanted to.
"You know," Buck said, "when I was having trouble with some big kid at school
who was giving me a hard time about skinny legs and shorts, my mom got really
angry. At the kid, not me. But you know what she did?"
Ezra shook his head.
"She wouldn't let me wear shorts to school for the rest of the school year."
Buck paused a moment, remembering his mother and her tender loving care.
"It wasn't because she thought I looked bad in them. It was because she didn't
want me to be hurt."
Ezra's eyes widened slightly and Buck could see he was considering that
possibility with his own Mother. Buck wasn't sure that was Maude's motivation,
but right now Ezra needed to know there was nothing wrong with his legs,
nothing wrong with wearing shorts, and no one was saying that his mother
"Is you mother like that?" Buck asked.
Ezra nodded, wanting to believe that she had banned shorts in order to protect
"Well, kiddo, it's going to be awfully hot for the next couple of months,"
said Buck. "If you want, I could get you a nice pair of shorts. They have
some like Nate was talking about, that come just above your knees. We could
even get you some uniform socks to go with them if you'd like. And maybe
you could just wear them around the ranch? Nobody here thinks your legs are
too skinny. Hell, we all had skinny legs. It's just part of growing up. So
what do you say?"
Ezra hesitantly nodded.
"Hey, I even saw online that Ralph Lauren has shorts," said Buck. "Why don't
we go have a look and get an idea of what you like? Then I could pick some
up for you when I'm down in the city tomorrow."
Ezra nodded and the two made their way to the computer to do some looking.
Two days later Ezra was sitting on the steps of the back porch watching JD
and Vin playing in the sprinkler and the "Slip & Slide" in the yard.
Ezra was wearing the new forest green shorts Buck had purchased. He was wearing
sandals, opting not to wear the socks this time.
"Come on, Kid. Engage," Buck whispered from the kitchen window, hoping that
Ezra would join Vin and JD in their splashing and sliding on the bright yellow
"He will," said Nettie. "It just has to be in his time."
Before she could say more, Chris was out the back door and sitting down on
the steps next to Ezra.
"That water looks mighty refreshing," he commented.
Ezra nodded but didn't speak.
"Why don't you join them? I'm sure they won't mind," Chris said. "They want
you to play with them."
"My new shorts will get wet," Ezra said.
Chris smiled. "They'll dry. Getting them wet won't hurt them."
At that moment Buck startled both of them, jumping over them with a roar
and jumping onto the "Slip & Slide" sheet with Vin and JD. JD squealed
and ran, Vin close on his heels. Buck let the water spray him for a moment,
roared again and began to chase the boys.
Ezra grinned when Buck caught JD and turned him upside down, hollering that
he had to find the other one.
"Chris? Telephone," said Nettie, calling him from the screen door.
"I'll be back," he said to Ezra.
Ezra sat alone on the steps for a few moments. Buck's chase had taken the
boys around the house into the front yard. Chris and Miss Nettie were inside.
The water did look awfully inviting.
He leaned forward, trying to peer around the house to see if the others were
coming back. He turned and looked back at the door. No sign of anyone.
He would get wet, but Mr. Larabee was right, he would dry. And it would feel
nice to get cooled off.
"Look at that," Chris said softly as he peeked out the kitchen window. There
hadn't been any phone call. It was Nettie's way of getting him to move away
so Ezra could decide. Now Ezra was standing in the spray of the sprinkler,
Nettie smiled. "He just needed to try on his own terms," she said.
"It's hard to believe that something so simple is such a big deal," Chris
"It is a big deal, Chris," Nettie said. "You made it safe for
him to play. You told him it was okay. Buck and the boys showed him it was
okay. He's standing there getting soaked because he trusts you."
The moment was seemingly broken when JD came racing across the backyard and
jumped into the puddle of water on the opposite side of the sprinkler from
Ezra. Ezra took a step back, but Vin moved in beside Ezra and took his hand
as if it were the most natural thing in the world. He tugged on Ezra's hand
and pulled him as he jumped over the sprinkler, forcing Ezra to jump to avoid
falling. Though they couldn't hear the laughter, they could tell Vin was
laughing as he turned and tugged Ezra back over the sprinkler. After a couple
more times of pulling Ezra across with him, Vin let go and the boys started
following each other, apparently trying to see who could jump the farthest.
The wet plastic sheet made their landing zone slippery and soon they were
Buck turned to the window, giving Chris and Nettie a thumbs-up before he
joined the game with the boys.
"I think you had better go show them who's the best jumper, Christopher,"
Nettie said fondly.
Chris gave Nettie a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you, Nettie."
Nettie watched from the window with a smile, as the blond slipped out the
back door and stepped out of his comfort zone. He joined the game, out-distancing
Buck's jump on his first try, and making a magnificent slide across the yard.
The boys squealed with laughter and jumped and slid behind Chris. Even Ezra's
laughter rang across the yard when seeing his reluctance to slide, Buck grabbed
him and jumped and slid with Ezra on his lap.
"You've done a good thing here, Lord," Nettie said softly. "Thank you for
bringing my boys together." She hummed a tune as she opened the refrigerator
and started dinner.
Next: No Place Like Home