The disclaimer is and always will be I don’t own ‘em and never made a plug nickel off ‘em. Wish I did. This is a series of stories where Ezra’s a child and the remaining seven are adults. This here is a sequel to my story A Matter of Trust. I thank Wyvern for allowing me to play in this sand box. This ain’t betaed. All the mistakes are mine and mine alone. I know it’s about time I finished this.
Everyone had them.
Just some secrets were worse than others.
Tanner was leaning in a far corner of the saloon watching Ezra, the boy sat at a table with his splinted leg propped up on a chair reading. At least he was pretending to be engrossed in the book. The boy was waiting for Inez to bring his noon meal Chris had stepped out only moments before to tend to urgent business in the jail. He stood in the shadows wondering what secrets the newest edition to their family had. Vin didn’t have to wonder if they were ugly the child bore the scars as proof. The tracker had some dark secrets of his own he was thankful the boy had found his way here into Larabee’s life, knowing all too well how a child alone was treated in the world. He sighed as he shook the feeling off before sidling over to the table taking a seat near the young southerner. Ezra startled a little not hearing the quiet tracker approach.
“Mr. Tanner, are you here for your repast?”
Vin shook his head as he grinned.
“Shore say a mouthful…”
The tracker received a small smile before the boy rephrased his sentence.
”Are you here to eat?”
Vin nodded then smiled as he slouched down further in his chair watching the other patrons as well as those passing on the boardwalk.
“Mr. Larabee had a few dealings at the sheriff’s office…”
Inez interrupted the boy by placing a warm bowl of stew in front of him along with a cold glass of milk and some biscuits. Ezra sorely wished for some hot coffee. The barmaid turned her attentions to the longhaired Texan.
“Yes ma’am same as Ezra and could you bring two cups a coffee…”
The dark haired woman smiled at the two before walking away. The boy stared at the leather-clad man for moment wondering how he knew what he had been thinking. Maude would be disappointed he was losing his touch. Tanner sensing the Ezra’s discomfort spoke up.
“Been having coffee since I’s a littl’un, younger than Mizz Travis’ boy…”
The green eyes continued watching the enigmatic man next to him. These men confused him. As far as he could tell the only wanted to make him comfortable, but that couldn’t be all they wanted. The lawmen didn’t even have children of their own. Mr. Larabee had told him he could stay as long as he wanted. The stoic man had even made room in his own home for the boy. It was easier to believe when he was ill, a comfort he held close. But as his health improved a nagging thought began to worry him. What if like the other people that took him in only cast him out again, even the kindest people had sent him packing at his mother’s whim? There was little he could do to stop it from happening. His leg was mending slowly Nathan had given strict instructions to keep the limb up. The healer assured him it would help with the pain though Ezra refused to take any more pain relieving herbs as soon a his foggy mind cleared. The boy knew he had to remain sharp and alert, he had to be prepared when they eventually did send him away. He cast his eyes back to the same page he had been reading the past half hour.
The tension was obvious the lean man, he knew Vin had felt it too. Words had done little to reassure young Standish. Chris peered into the saloon before he stepped through the door. Jackson warned him that Ezra had to be in a good frame of mind to recover from his injury. Today the hard work would begin. The healer planned on removing the splints and start working on the painful process of strengthening muscles in the newly mended leg. With that thought in mind he walked in the building. Vin had sensed Larabee watching them long before the distracted boy. Ezra jumped a little as Chris sat down, silently cursing himself for not being a guard. The boy sigh inwardly before glancing up at the new arrival as he did the poker face his mother encouraged him to hone slipped into place.
“Was your brief excursion successful, Mr. Larabee?”
“Yep, is your lunch good?”
Ezra dipped his head down. He had barely touched the food and he had failed to notice that Inez had brought Mr. Tanner’s meal as well as two cups of steaming black brew. He glanced in Chris’ direction as he grabbed the warm mug sipping down the hot liquid before he tentatively picked up the spoon again and scooped up some of the cooling meal. Ezra had eaten a little more by taking small mouthfuls of stew in between bites of a biscuit. He had reached a point where he could eat no more. Larabee watched as the boy pushed the bowl away and looked up at the older man. The youngster’s appetite had been poor the past week as he worry grew. There wasn’t any point in pushing now.
“It’s okay… if you had your fill it’s time we go see Nate.”
Feeling humiliated as Larabee followed him as he hobbled through the town towards Jackson’s clinic while the town’s folk watched their progress up the street. The boy hated it. He wanted to remain inconspicuous not be paraded through town as he had been lately by these six men. The more he recovered the more often the men toted the boy around to be where they were. It was disconcerting, he knew there were people that cared what happened to him, Mizz Hattie, Mrs. Peterson and the Reilly’s were proof. When they reached the stairs his turbulent thoughts were interrupted when Larabee put a steadying hold on him. The boy propped the crutches up against the wall before allowing the gunslinger to gently heft him up into his arms. Ezra immediately stiffened in the hold, remaining almost rigid as they ascended the stairs. Although he still had the boy in his arms Chris managed to rap on the door and was quickly greeted by the dark healer.
Nathan motioned for Chris to set Ezra on the clinic’s bed.
The man sat in the coach watching the sun disappear behind the clouds the promised rain. He had traveled along way to find the boy. He found out in San Francisco that Maude Standish had boarded her son onto a train. It had taken the questioning eventually threatening people before he found out the youngster’s final destination was to be Four Corners.
The sight of the trembling boy tore at the hardened gunslinger as he watched Nathan massage Ezra’s tightened leg muscles. Chris sat down behind Ezra wrapping his arms around the boy as he pulled the smaller quivering body against his own before grasping the clenched hands into his larger weathered ones. Suddenly the grip tightened as the healer began to painfully flex the ankle joint causing the newly mended bones to move.
“I know this hurts… I’m sorry Ezra but I gotta get yer muscles and joints moving otherwise won’t be easy when ya start walk on it…”
Nathan looked up into the painfully pinched face, before he sighed and returned to his efforts to massage the knots from the long unused limb. After ten minutes of the agonizing manipulation the eleven year-old was slick with sweat.
“Can you try flexing your leg?”
Although a bit dubious Ezra did try, when he did it was stiff and he had a limited range of motion. A smile pulled at his lips when he realized that it wasn’t as painful as he’d thought it would be, a dull ache had replaced the searing pain he felt when Mr. Jackson massaged the appendage. Chris felt some of the tension leave the boy as he did as the healer bid.
Larabee whispered in his ear and watched the brown head nod slightly.
“I’m gonna leave the splints off an’ want him back this evening so we can do this again…”
A shocked Ezra stared wide-eyed at the dark man.
“Doing this will get you walking again…. Chris I’ll show you how to do this.”
Jackson watched the boy’s uncertainty disappear masked by the damnable placid look.
“Ezra, I’m going to wrap your leg again to support it because I want you to try putting a little weight on it but don’t overdo it. Don’t try walking on it ‘til I say so.”
A visibly more relaxed Ezra nodded.
After several days of the painful treatments young Ezra Standish had enough, his mood became surlier as the day worn on and as soon as Chris’ back was turned he was hobbling down the boardwalk again trying to escape his next session but the dark gunslinger intercepted him. The small southerner pitted a fit screaming bloody murder. The antics had become so commonplace that the regular folk ignored the clamor. That is for the exception of a large red haired man who had arrived on an earlier stage who came running towards them. After swinging a meaty fist at the black clad man’s jaw and connecting hard knocking him into the wall of the saloon effectively taking him down. Leaving a dazed Larabee on his back not knowing what had hit him, only it was huge. Lifting the hysterical child into his arms the red haired man jogged to the sheriff’s office.
J.D. was surprised when the large man entered the jail with a weeping Ezra cradled in his arms.
“Ezra? What the hell happened?”
The panicked boy didn’t recognize his surroundings and continued to struggle.
“Better put him down mister…”
The boy was very gently placed in a straight back chair. The youthful sheriff ignored the man instead focusing on the boy.
For some reason a gentle voice cut through the frenzied thoughts and Ezra blinked twice as he calmed down. Larabee had just slammed the door open.
Was all that Dunne managed to say before Chris spitting out an angry command stormed in.
“Step away from him…”
Josiah had slipped in the door behind the furious lawman, grabbing the enraged man in a tight bear like squeeze.
“Brother… I believe there is a misunderstanding here...”
“That man was hurting the boy…” shot back the large red headed man.
“He hit me and grabbed the boy…” Chris spewed out at the same time struggling against Josiah’s hold on him.
The giant ex-preacher stepped in between the pair a seething men.
“Chris Larabee meet Shamus Reilly, father to a family that has once taken in Ezra. Shamus Reilly meet Chris Larabee… Ezra’s guardian.”
Ezra’s head popped up at the mention of Shamus Reilly and his face started to redden.
“Now brothers there is the need for some clarification, hopefully when everyone has said their piece it will explain everything and I suggest that’s a conversation we have in the church… Now Ezra I think we best get this straightened out before these fools have another go.”
Rumbled the large man as released Chris, before he gently swept the boy up and carried him out with the other men following closely behind him.
Their party had grown by several members before they had reached the doors of the church. Buck, Nathan and Vin had rushed over to find out what was going on. Sanchez motioned for everyone to take a seat before he set Ezra down in the pew next to him. Both Reilly and Larabee’s anger had ebbed away.
“Chris, Mr. Reilly came to the church to enquire about Ezra…”
Larabee opened his mouth but didn’t utter a word when graced by an irritated glare from the former preacher.
“Wait ‘til I’m finished…”
A quick look in Reilly’s direction squashed any protest coming from him.
“I said this before but you two fool weren’t listening Chris Larabee was appointed Ezra’s guardian by his mother… The boy fell off a horse shortly after his arrival and busted his leg…. Ezra doesn’t like the treatments his has to go through to get walking again… I believe what you saw earlier was Chris trying to bring the stubborn child for another session….”
Ezra’s face flushed red. He hated the ‘sessions’ but now he had caused a lot more trouble than he intended when he protested.
“Mr. Reilly came a long way to make sure Ezra was okay… he hadn’t heard from him in some time and was worried something had happened to him. His family had taken care of Ezra for a time over the summer. All this was a misunderstanding.”
The boy’s head nodded in response but he still hadn’t looked up to face either man he feared he disappointed instead he stared down at his leg that begun to throb in earnest. The unintentionally rough treatment had jarred the limb sending shooting pains up the leg, he didn’t notice Chris squat down in front f him until he felt a gentle hand lift his chin.
The concern was evident in the older man’s face.
“Yeah… leg hurts a bit…”
Was the quiet answer he got from Ezra, he smiled slightly at the admission.
“I bet it does… I think if it’s all right with you I’d like to continue this reunion at the restaurant…”
Larabee turned around and smiled at Shamus for the first time since his arrival.
“Chris, lemme look at his leg fer a minute…”
Nathan, who had been quietly standing to the side while misunderstanding was cleared up, motioned for the gunslinger to move out of the way before he knelt in front of Ezra and prodded the healing leg. He noticed the boy wince a few times but felt he hadn’t done any harm to the limb.
“You’ll be okay, jist need to keep it up for a bit to ease the ache I’m sure you have.”
Jackson patted Ezra on the knee before he stood up. J.D. had a stupid grin as he laughed. Everyone turned around and stared at him.
Buck slapped his hat off.
“What’d you do that for?”
“Whatcha laughing for?”
“Hate to see what would happen to anyone who tried to harm Ezra if this is what we do to those that helped ‘im.”
Shamus was laughing as he regaled by the six men with Ezra’s misadventures. The proud family man briefly told them how Ezra came into their care. Reilly didn’t elaborate when he sensed the boy’s discomfort over the incident. It wasn’t until the young southerner’s head began to slowly bob up and down after dessert. Exhaustion had finally caught up with him as the boy began to list slightly until he was leaning heavily into Chris, who made no attempt to move him. The man had spent the long evening talking with these men long after Ezra had fallen asleep at the table in the restaurant eventually revealing how Ezra came to be in their care. Eventually the others said their good nights leaving Chris, with a sleeping Ezra draped across a few chairs alone with Shamus.
“…Ezra was very sick by the time he got to our farm. That Uncle of his ‘bout whipped the hide off of him…Mrs. Peterson brought him out… some folks were desperate to get the boy away from his uncle… would you believe his mother said we would take him in we hadn’t had a chance to yes and he was at our door step.”
Chris angry but held it in check. It wasn’t an easy thing because all the villains had escaped punishment. Ezra had endured more than he thought or even suspected. The boy had said little about his life prior to his arrival in Four Corners what he had said wasn’t revealing. His stomach turned as Shamus Reilly continued.
“He stayed with us for most of the summer before his mother sent word to send him along to San Francisco with our town’s preacher aboard the stage… There was accident… the stagecoach crashed killing everyone except the boy… I got a telegram from him saying he was okay and continuing on to see his Mother and week later I got another saying he had arrived…I didn’t hear from him so I had business in the city so I tried that fancy hotel the mother was at said she went off to Paris alone…. ”
“Ezra hasn’t said anything …”
“He wouldn’t, not his way…”
Chris ran his hand over the brown head that rested in his lap.
“I suppose it isn’t…”
“I’m glad he’s okay.”
The hardened gunslinger gazed down at Ezra. How many secrets did he have? Far too many for an eleven year-old.
Larabee gave Shamus a rare smile.
Shamus Reilly had known he couldn’t stay long soon after his arrival. He had spent most of his time away from his home searching for the boy. Maggie would need him to return soon, although the elder boys were there was the harvest to think of. But he could rest easier that the lad his family had come to love was in good hands. Now it was time to say goodbye, Chris had promised to bring Ezra out early enough to do so but he was late. Ten minutes had gone by before the lawman showed. The pair’s progress was slowed by Ezra’s insistence he could cover the distance unaided. Shamus shook his head at the sight. The youngin’ was stubborn and he was glad to see that streak, it meant the boy was getting comfortable.
“Now laddie, my Maggie will expect a letter from you. The young ones miss ya too… especially Wee Michael…”
An unexpected embrace from the normally reserved young lad stunned the large red-haired man into a sudden silence. A hand gently ran through Ezra’s hair then patted his back. After a moment the boy looked up with tearful eyes.
“If you ever need us….”
Ezra nodded mutely. Larabee quietly stepped forward, reached out and shook Reilly’s hand. The boy slowly broke his hold on Shamus but didn’t move away. Chris rested a hand loosely on the youngster’s shoulder. While he did Ezra shifted slightly on his crutches to alleviate the dull ache that had settling in his leg.
“Don’t worry Ezra is welcome to stay here as long as he wants.”
“Wasn’t worried at all Mr. Larabee. It’ll give my woman some peace to know the lad is alright.”
“Appreciate you coming here…”
The farmer nodded then stepped aboard the stage. He waved to Ezra as the coach pulled away on its way out of town. The young southern stood there on the boardwalk long after the stagecoach disappeared from sight.
Chris asked the quiet Ezra who didn’t reply unable to trust his voice instead just nodded. Larabee kept a supportive hand under the boy’s elbow as he slowly limped across the wooden planks with the assistance of his crutches towards the restaurant and the promise of a satisfying meal. Both souls that had walked away had painful secrets and both were slowly learning to overcome them together.