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Inch Worm

By: Angela B

Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be

Note: Just a shorty

Thanks to NT for the quick betaing

 

Buck tightened the cinch on Lady and gave it a tug out of habit. Looking down at the child that was dwarfed by the big horse, Buck smiled with love. This kid was his and his heart knew it. The finality of it being legal was miles down the road; but here and now, the big man didn’t think about that, he just knew the boy belonged to him. Buck gave the kid a wink and was rewarded only by the glimmer of happiness in the green eyes that looked back at him.

“Ready, pard?” Buck asked.

Ezra simply nodded. His neatly combed hair not moving out of place.

Buck picked Ezra up under the arms and hoisted him up into the saddle. Taking the reins in one hand, Buck climbed up behind Ezra and scooted the kid close to him. The big man was met by the same stiff posture he always felt when he put his arms around the kid.

With only a simply sound, the cowboy got the horse moving towards the open space that surrounded Chris’ house. Buck let out a sigh of contentment. He enjoyed the openness as much as Chris did. The gently swaying of his horse underneath him and the warm sun beaming down began to remove the tension of the week.

Buck leaned out and peered at Ezra’s face. Sadness came over Buck, but with it a determination that some day he would replace that stoic solid face with one of a truly happy child who wasn’t afraid to show it.

Ezra had started seeing the school counselor the same week he had started school. So far there had been no breakthrough, no turning point, no penetration through that tough veneer Ezra wrapped himself so tightly in. While Buck was grateful for the counselor and her participation, he, himself, wanted to be the one to break into Ezra’s world. Buck had talked to the counselor about how he could better help Ezra and the counselor had just told him to keep being who he was and give Ezra all the love and support he had been giving. To Buck, it wasn’t enough. He had gone home and started his own campaign to help his son. He had once seen on the Discovery Channel about how some disabled children were helped by the dolphins at Sea World. Buck had gone to the computer and started Googling animal therapies. He was overwhelmed with the different sites and knowledge he received, so he started over again using more defined terms and only including animals that were around the ranch.

He wasn’t surprised dogs were listed as resources. He knew from his own life that having a dog around made him feel better. It was when he hit on Horse Therapy that Buck thought he had struck gold. There were many things contributed to riding a horse. It seemed to help kids with Cerebral Palsy and other conditions overwhelmingly. It didn’t cure the disease, but he was surprised at the results. Figuring if it could help those kids, maybe horse riding could help get through to Ezra.

Then scrolling on through different sites, he found the one that made him take notice. There it was on paper, figuratively, a statement saying that horse therapy could help emotionally challenged children. Something about the gait and having something to care for, that wouldn’t judge them, helped children come out of their shells and open up. Ezra wasn’t at the stage of some of these children, but Buck’s mind whirled. If riding a horse could help those children, it should easily help Ezra. Buck had read on and found the horse just had to be steady, reliable, gentle and relaxed. Well, that was Lady to a tee.

Buck was in seventh heaven and started thinking about setting up is own therapy lessons with Ezra. A simple lazy walk through the woods ought to do just as much good as riding around in corral, like the kids on the site were shown doing. He already knew he couldn’t push Ezra to come out of his shell, and he knew it would take time. He had a lot of that---the rest of his life in fact. So with that knowledge and a sense of being able to help the child to seek the world outside of himself, Buck had a plan.

Getting Lady headed towards the back part of the ranch, Buck let the reins droop a little. Looking out around his son, he motioned for Ezra to take the reins as he offered, “Here, you take them.”

Ezra had been quite content to just be out all alone with the man. There was so much inside of him that he wanted to tell Buck, to ask, to talk about, but he couldn’t get the words out, couldn’t dare speak them.

He looked up in shock and disbelief as Buck suggested he take the reins of the precious horse. “Sir?” he asked, his eyes wide and his voice trembling.

“You take the reins,” Buck said again, calmly. Shaking the reins loosely in Ezra’s direction.

Licking his lips nervously, Ezra took the leather reins in his small hands. Buck noticed the death-grip on which the small boy latched on to the reins. Smiling, a lilt in his voice, he said, “Here let me show you how to do it more comfortably.”

Taking the small hands in his, Buck worked to loosen the knotted little fingers from their tight hold. “Loosen your hands a little,” Buck coaxed, as he finally got Ezra’s fingers unattached from their hold. Placing the reins lightly across one small palm, he gently closed the fingers around the leather strips and then placed the other small hand further back up the reins. “You’re doing great.” Buck praised, as Ezra continued to hold the reins in the exact place Buck had put them.

“See there, you are a natural horseman,” the cowboy commended, after a few moments.

Leaning out a bit, so he could see Ezra’s face, he was pleased his words had their effect. Ezra was smiling. Well, it wasn’t a full-fledged smile, more like a grin, but it was good enough for Buck. The sight made the father’s heart swell with happiness.

“Now,” Buck began, “Lady, here, likes to be handled with care just like you are doing and minds very well. So,” the tall man began, “if you want to go left, you say, ‘left’, and pull the reins gently to the left.” Grasping, Ezra’s hands in his, Buck demonstrated his words with a simple example, “It’s the same if you want to go right,” Buck said and then thought of his words, “Except you say, ‘right’, and pull to the right.” Thinking he had probably confused the little boy completely, he was shocked to hear a small, quick giggle escape from the child in front of him.

Wrapping his massive arms around the small frame, Buck couldn’t help but give the kid a squeeze. Releasing his hold, he coaxed, “You try it now.”

Ezra sat stiffer and squeezing his eyes tightly for a second, he opened his eyes and pulled the reins to the left, as he voiced his command no louder than a whisper, “Left.”

Lady, feeling the slight weight of the reins pull to the left automatically followed the command and shifted her aimless direction to the left.

Turning halfway around, Ezra’s eyes were huge as he exclaimed, “She did it!”

Buck smiled down at Ezra, his white teeth showing, and corrected him, “Nope, you did it. You gave the command and she followed.”

Ezra stared at Buck for a moment in awe of the proclamation. Turning back to the front, he wanted to try it again, but was afraid to without Buck giving him the directive.

Guessing from what he would want to do if he had learned something new, Buck said, “Our destination is in your hands now. You make Lady go wherever you want.”

Ezra leaned his head back so far to look up at Buck in surprise and glee that Buck heard the little neck popped. “Whoa there, pard. Your head’s gonna fall off, you lean too far back.”

Ezra, sensing that Buck was teasing him, gave a glimmer of a smile and sat back up straight. He was tentative in the beginning at giving Lady commands, but soon was caught up in the idea. He had control over the horse and where they went. For a child who’d had very little control over anything in his life this was a new awakening.

Leaning out, Buck watched the light appear in his boy’s eyes. He sat behind Ezra with his hands loosely enclosed on Ezra’s waist. He could feel a difference in Ezra’s body, too. It wasn’t as stiff and tight as it had been in the beginning. There was more fluidity to it and the man could feel the tight muscled around the ribcage becoming less strained. Buck smiled. It might not hit a mark on anyone’s goals, but for him it was outstanding. The old song his mother used to sing to him about the inchworm came back to him from out of nowhere. Little by little, he would garner Ezra’s trust and someday be allowed into the child’s world.

Ezra liked the feel of the horse’s gait. The rocking motion strangely reminded him of the times when Mr. Buck would rock him at night. Sitting there with Mr. Buck behind him, the big arms wrapped around him, made Ezra feel a tingle of an emotion he couldn’t verbalize. Maneuvering, Lady around a rock, Ezra smiled inwardly at the horse’s obedience of his command. Ezra couldn’t say what he was feeling, he just knew being here with Buck was a different experience than he had ever had before. Since coming to live with Mr. Buck, he had never been left alone. The man had not even left him with Mr. Larabee for a couple of hours. Not even on a weekend. That revelation in itself was unfamiliar to Ezra, and a bit scary. Maude had never quivered about leaving him on his own. Every afternoon, Ezra would anxiously look at the clock and hope that from between five-fifteen and five-thirty, Mr. Buck would walk up to the gate and take him home. He hadn’t been disappointed, yet. It was getting to the point, Ezra even expected Mr. Buck to show up. He continued to counsel himself against such a thing, but he couldn’t help it. He was beginning to rely on Mr. Buck being there every afternoon. It was a new phenomenon to him. He wanted to depend on Mr. Buck, but too many years had taught him it was unwise to do so. For the past five years, his entire life, Ezra had been groomed to care for himself, after all; Mother did say that if he didn’t look after himself, who would?

 

The wildlife around them became thicker and Ezra noticed more different kinds of flowers. He wanted to know about them, but fear kept him from verbalizing it. Adults didn’t like being bothered about such silly things.

Buck could see Ezra nodding his head downward occasionally. Not able to stand the curiosity any longer, Buck finally asked, “Whatcha doin’, Bud.”

Era sat back up and became stiff. He mind raced with panic. He had stopped paying strict attention to Lady. He feared the consequences, not the least of which was ever getting to ride with Buck again.

Buck remained patient. He would prove to Ezra he was open to anything that boy wanted to share with him.

Finally swallowing, Ezra said meekly, “I was looking at the flowers.”

Buck was glad Ezra couldn’t see his face as he contorted into frustration at Ezra’s mother and her ‘upbringing’. Forcing those thoughts away, Buck put a smile on his face and said, “They are right pretty aren’t they? I like the flowers, too.”

Ezra couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Not only were there no repercussions, but Buck thought the flowers were pretty also. Ezra unconsciously let the tension go from his body as it melded back to its former place against the solid man behind him.

Biting his lower lip, Ezra gathered up his courage and asked, “Do you know what they are?”

“Wildflowers,” Buck answered with no further thought to it.

Ezra rode a little further before stating hesitantly, “Mother says all flowers have names.”

Buck nodded to himself. “Well, I reckon she’s right there, but I don’t know their real names. They are just called wildflowers.”

Ezra didn’t have a response to that. He was still getting used to being around and adult who admitted he didn’t know everything. Maude seemed to have had answer for everything. Without ever admitting it, the kid liked being around an adult who didn’t know everything. It made him feel less dumb. Besides, he also knew Buck would probably look it up when they got home. He had before when he didn’t know something. Ezra was caught off guard by Buck’s next statement.

“We could ask Mrs. Nettie. She’d probably know,” Buck suggested.

Ezra wrinkled his nose up and made a face at that suggestion. He didn’t dislike the old woman, but he didn’t necessarily adore her either. He didn’t say much about it around Vin though, because the other boy loved the woman, a lot.

When his suggestion was met by silence, Buck chuckled, imagining the face Ezra was making up front and said, “Or maybe we can look them up on the computer when we get home. How’s that?”

“That sounds good,” Ezra said, evident showing in his voice.

Buck couldn’t help but laugh as he thought back to Ezra’s first meeting with ranch woman.

Nettie was the kind of woman who did what needed doing no matter what kind of job it was. So it was that the first day everyone had showed up at the so-called cabin to help build the framework. There had been a mob of people and Nettie had shown up to help the women do their part, which had been mostly feed the people and keep the ice tea jugs full. Buck, remembering all the good food they had, mentally told himself, those women and their food was what kept most of the men in line and able to do all the work they had accomplished.

 

Nettie had driven up in her old dilapidated truck she drove around her ranch in and stepped out. Vin had gone running like crazy to meet her. Buck had come up behind Ezra and squatting down to his level asked, “You ready to meet Mrs. Nettie?”

Ezra had been staring at the woman and popped off before he could stop himself. “She’s old,” emphasizing the ’old’ part. “How can she still drive?”

Buck had laughed aloud at that and shook his head. Ezra was truly being a five-year-old right at that moment.

When Buck laughed, Ezra realized what he had said and felt shame and a horrible fear creep in. Buck had felt the difference immediately in the little boy. “Well, she is a bit older than the rest of us, but she’s okay,” Buck stated with a laugh.

Ezra continued to stare at the woman as she approached them. He didn’t know why he felt an immediate distance between him and the woman. The little boy never cognitively thought about the way Nettie carried herself as a strong, independent, self-assured woman. Much like Maude.

The pair had waited and watched as Vin dragged the woman towards them. When Nettie finally arrived, Buck stood and said, “Nettie, I want you to meet Ezra, my son.”

Nettie had heard quite a bit about the new boy. First, from her grandson, Vin and then the more interesting details from Chris. She had pinned him down and had interrogated him quite thoroughly. She now knew quite a bit about the little child in front of her with the scrutinizing eyes and the serious face.

“Please to meet you, Ezra,” Nettie claimed. She did a little scrutinizing herself and came up with the notion that the boy didn’t think much of her.

“Please to meet you, too,” Ezra said stoically. He still wasn’t sure what to make of the woman in front of him.

Vin had piped in then and announced, “She can be your grandmother, too!”

Nettie saw the refusal in the green eyes immediately. Before things could get too out of control, she said, “Why don’t we let him get to know me before we take that big of a leap, okay, sweetie?” Nettie consoled as she gave Vin a warm hug.

“Okay,” Vin agreed happily. He didn’t think twice about the reason why Ezra seemed less thrilled about his grandmother than he did. To Vin, Ezra was just being Ezra.

Throughout the day, Nettie tried to keep the boys out of the men’s way by giving them little chores and asking for their help in getting out, and then putting up, the food. She also gave them suggestions on how to play and where.

By the time Buck put his little boy to bed that night, Ezra was worn out by the long day. Ezra was half-asleep by the time Buck began singing to him. Innocently, Buck had asked, “So how did you like Nettie?”

Ezra had turned over and unconsciously snuggled up to Buck’s warm body. “Mother would have called her and ‘old biddy’ and she is too bossy!” the child mumbled as he drifted to sleep.

Buck had reigned in his need to chuckle at the apt description. Nettie wasn’t afraid to order to people around that was for sure.

Now, as the man rode along with little boy, Buck began having his doubts at having Nettie as a baby-sitter for Ezra. It just didn’t seem fair to stick the child with a grownup he didn’t bond with. Buck set the thought aside for the time being. Right now it was important to just be with Ezra. Suddenly, he spotted a flower; he did know the name of. “Hey, I know that flower!” Buck exclaimed happily.

“You do?” Ezra asked in a rush.

Buck’s happiness diminished a little at both the easy way Ezra became so excited and the reason he knew the name of the flower. Regaining his eagerness to teach the child something, he said, “The one with the white pedals and the purplish/blue leaves are called Columbines.”

Ezra peered down at the small flowers and said, “Those are pretty.”

“Yeah, they are,” Buck confirmed.

The cowboy smiled in memory as he recalled the times when Chris, Sarah and he would ride over this land and Sarah would get down and walk through the meadow gathering flowers. She would take them home and make small bouquets throughout the house giving the home a nice smell. Of course, there was the other reason he could remember that particular flower, too, but his shut that out of his mind.

“And there is another Columbine,” Buck said, pointing to a yellow flower with pinkish leaves.

“But they don’t look alike,” Ezra stated, confused.

“Yeah,” Buck started, “Flowers are little confusing. Like people, I guess. We don’t all look the same either,”

Ezra nodded at the wisdom.

“Did you know the Columbine is our State Flower?” Buck asked, feeling like he finally had a topic to get Ezra talking.

Ezra shook his head. “Colorado has a flower?” Then thinking about it a moment, he asked, “You mean they only grow right here?” his interest piquing. How fun to think that the state flower only grew right here on this land that belonged to Mr. Larabee.

“Yes, we have a state flower, but they don’t grow just right here. They grow anywhere they are planted as long as the soil is right.”

“Oh,” Ezra said, sounding disappointed.

Feeling Ezra’s disappointment, Buck searched frantically for something more interesting to say. “Hey,” he said brightly, “Do you know that Colorado also has a state tree, a flag, and a bird?”

Ezra sat up from his dejected mood. “We do?”

“Yep. You want to know what they are?” Buck asked, trying to sound enticing.

“Yes, sir,” Ezra said.

“Well, if I remember right, our state bird is a….a…ah some kind of bird,” Buck stuttered.

Ezra looked around at Buck with a quizzical look on his face.

Buck laughed. “Well, duh!” He said, mocking a slap to the forehead. Then it came to him. “A Lark,” Buck stalled. “A specific lark, but I just went blank again on it,” Buck laughed. “Sometimes, I can’t remember everything.”

Ezra smiled at the silly remark. He liked it when Mr. Buck joked with him.

“But, I do know that our flower is the Columbine. Rocky Mountain Columbine to be exact,” Buck said, trying to sound professional tourist guide. “Our state tree is the Colorado Blue Mountain Spruce and…and”, having no other knowledge he could report off the top of the head, he stammered to a stop.

They rode along in silence for a while enjoying the beauty that surrounded them. Buck’s mind drifted back to the peaceful time when it was just Sarah, Chris and him. They had spent many hours out hour riding the land. As his memory traveled back, so did the memory of Sarah talking about the different flora that grew out here. Sarah loved nature, and like Ezra, she wanted to know what she was seeing.

As they passed a long a willowy red flower that somewhat resembled a weed the name came rushing back. “A Fireweed,” he said softly.

“Sir?” Ezra asked quietly, not sure if Buck was talking to him or not.

“Those long red weed looking flowers, they are called Fireweeds,” Buck explained.

Looking further about him, he pointed to a cluster of yellow, red and white flowers. “And those are called Paintbrushes.”

Ezra nodded his head. He understood that. The flowers did look like they had been painted with vibrant colors.

“And those way over there,” Buck said, pointing to some far off flowers, “I think those are…uh….Primroses. I think,” he added carefully.

“They’re beautiful,” Ezra said in awe as he really gathered in the colors and sight before him.

“Hey do you know what those trees are over there are?” Buck asked, pointing the white barked trees off to the side.

“Aspens!” Ezra said, his voice showing his excitement in knowing something about the trees.

“You are right!” Buck congratulated the little boy. “You are one smart cookie.”

“I am not a cookie,” Ezra said slight peeved and puzzled as to why Mr. Buck would call him a cookie.

Buck smiled. “It’s just a saying, kiddo. I just meant you were smart,” he explained.

“Ohh,” Ezra said. “Thank you,” he added quietly.

Buck couldn’t resist rubbing the kid’s hair. Leaning over to whisper in the small ear, he said, “I love you.”

Ezra got that same giddy feeling he always got when Buck told him that. He had known Maude had always loved him, but she had never said the words. Buck didn’t seem to have any problems saying them at all and it made the small boy’s tummy do happy flops.

Ezra didn’t want to lose the contact and special connection they seemed to have going. Tentatively, he asked, “Which flower is your favorite?”

Buck thought about that question. “You know, Ezra, I don’t know. I like them all,” he said. “I like some of the smells better than others,” he added.

Even though Ezra didn’t say anything immediately, Buck could tell from the body language coming from the small boy in front of him that Ezra was listening intently.

“Is there a flower you like?” Buck asked, trying to engage the child in more conversation.

Not knowing the names of many flowers, Ezra named one he knew. “I like roses. I like them when they are yellow.”

“I like yellow roses, too,” Buck said, trying for a connection.

“They smell pretty, too,” Ezra said, shifting a little taller, happy that Mr. Buck liked roses.

“Yes they do,” Buck agreed.

Ezra thought about it a minute before asking, “What do Columbines smell like?” Biting his lip, he hoped for the reaction he wanted, Mr. Buck to give.

“Why don’t we stop and take a rest for awhile and you can see for yourself,” Buck replied, gathering Ezra’s hands in his and pulling the horse to a stop.

Once the horse was stopped, Buck grabbed Ezra by the arms, lifted him to the ground and then dismounted. Taking the reins loosely in one hand, he began walking. Ezra fell in step.

“Which flower should we try first?” Buck asked.

Ezra headed first to the yellow Columbines. Looking for permission, he waited until Buck nodded before picking the flower. The smell was hard to describe. It smelled differently than any flower that had ever come from the flower shop. It had an outdoor smell as well as a sweet smell. Ezra smiled as he sniffed again. The whole outdoors had a smell that Ezra couldn’t describe.

Buck kneeled down beside Ezra and said, “Let’s see,”

Ezra held out the flower for Buck to smell. Taking a whiff, the smell bought back even more memories of Sarah filling each room in the house with little bouquets and making the house smelling like the mountains. It was a warm, happy memory.

“Hmm, that smells good,” Buck said, watching Ezra nod in agreement.

“So now which one?” Buck prodded.

For the next half-hour, Ezra gathered small samples of different flowers, gathering more courage to leave Mr. Buck’s side and walk off a ways to look at the different flora. Each time, he picked a flower, he bought it back to his guardian for his opinion. Mr. Buck never failed to appreciate the offer.

Ezra was looking at one type of flower when a butterfly landed on a pedal. Buck knew something was up when Ezra stood straight up and turned towards him with a beaming looking on his face. “What’s up, pal?” Buck asked, as he started towards the tyke.

“A butterfly,” Ezra mouthed, afraid to speak to loud and make the species leave.

Buck ground tied Lady where she was and walked quietly over to Ezra. Stopping next to the boy, he squatted down next to the boy and watched his son studying in wonder at the butterfly. Finally, it flew off and Ezra turned his big eyes to Buck. “Did you see that?” he asked, not hiding his excitement.

“I sure did. That was pretty neat, huh?” Buck asked.

Ezra could only nod.

Buck could see the little wheel inside Ezra’s head spinning. “Should we see if we can find some more?” Buck suggested.

Ezra’s eyes got bigger along with his smile and Buck’s heart soared. He would spend half the day out looking for butterflies and insects if the made his boy happy.

It was only the rumbling of his stomach and the sound of a smaller tummy that made Buck stop their search an hour later. He hadn’t planned on being gone for so long and therefore hadn’t packed anything to munch on. Stopping next to Ezra, who was enthralled in watching a ladybug crawl along a stem, Buck said, “I don’t know about you, but all this has made me quite hungry. How about we call it quits and go find us some grub?”

Ezra was hungry, but he also didn’t want this day to end. He was enjoying spending time out here with Buck. Seeing the crestfallen look on Ezra’s face, Buck quickly added, “We can do this again soon, okay.”

“Okay,” he said, looking at the flowers he had gathered in his hands.

He started to let them fall to the ground when Mr. Buck stopped him and said, “We can take those home and put them in a vase in your room. That way we can remember what we did today.”

Ezra nodded with relief. After putting the flowers in the saddlebag, Buck grabbed the small arms, pretended to toss Ezra up into the saddle, and then mounted up behind him. “Shall we run her a bit?” Buck asked.

Ezra just nodded and held tightly to the saddle horn. He liked it when the horse ran, but it also jostled him quite fiercely. Ezra felt one of Buck’s strong arm snake around him and tighten its grip on him, and then with a little encouragement, Lady was racing across the open field.

The wind whipped his hair and his teeth rattled a little, but Ezra liked the flying freedom the racing horse gave him. Right before entering the area around the house, Buck slowed Lady down to a walk and ambled her towards the barn. Getting off first, Buck left Ezra up in the saddle and led Lady in and up to her stall. Lifting Ezra out of the saddle, Buck held his son in his arms. The mussed hair, the wind-teared eyes and the relaxed features on the boy’s face gave Buck a reason to suddenly squeeze Ezra into a hug. There was no reciprocation, but he didn’t mind; one day there would be. Setting the boy down on the ground, Buck looked down at him. “We are definitely going to do this again, soon,” Buck said.

“Okay,” Ezra replied with a small grin. It wasn’t much, but it was the closest Ezra had gotten to saying he would like something, he’d ever come to. Buck knew he had found a way to his son’s world.

After unsaddling Lady and putting her away, Buck reached into the cloth saddlebag and pulled out the flowers. Handing them to Ezra, he couldn’t help the smile that blossomed on his face. Clasping a hand on a small shoulder and guiding Ezra out of the barn, he said, “I had a very great day today.”

Ezra couldn’t say the words that popped into his mind, but the smile on face said all he needed too.