Another Year Older
(Little Ezra - Old West)

by MAC

Disclaimer: I don't own them, or the show they rode in on. I wrote this for fun, and no profit is made from it.
Archive: My usual, others please ask.
Summary: Ezra has a birthday party.
Author's Note: This story takes place exactly one year after Ezra's arrival in Four Corners and abandonment by Maude.
Completed: 30 April 2004
Feedback: welcomes comments

Back to: Gloria's Glorious Chapeau

Ezra poked at the fat glob of candle wax. It was soft and plumped inward, like a down pillow, the edges bursting and streaming off short new skirts of the paraffin. Chin resting on thin wrist, he rolled his eyes to the side to stare again at the remains of the tall cake. Three layers! Boysenberry jam and thick cream in between. Warm, buttery sugar frosting that tasted of malt and vanilla sticks. Of course, there was not much left of the vast structure. A ruined shell listing to the side, with a drift of moist egg-yellow cake crumbs that lay strewn across the large plate.

Momentarily distracted, Ezra wondered at the size of the plate. Mrs. Travis claimed it was her serving plate, but it seemed unduly large for serving anything Ezra could envision gracing its wide, shallow depression. Unless, of course, one recalled The Cake. Vividly, Ezra's mind painted the picture of the cake. Somehow, Miss Inez, Mrs. Potter, and Mrs. Travis had conspired to create the gigantic confection. He thought of the large buildings he'd seen in cities and decided it had compared favorably in size. A tiny grin flitted across his face. Ezra's sea-washed eyes rolled back toward where Chris, Buck, and the others were playing out a hand of cards. Without him. He stifled a sigh.

His thoughts returned to The Cake. It really did deserve capitalizing, he adjudged. His eyes returned to the melted remains of the lone standing candle. Buck had plucked it from the cake before it was cut.

"One to count on!" he'd said with a wink and a smile, fingers tickling Ezra's ribs.

Ezra smiled again in memory. He studied the tiny candle stub. He knew candles could be made that thin and delicate, but hadn't expected to see any in this small western town. So, now he was a year older. A Four-Corners-year-older. A minute shrug lifted his shoulders. He laced his fingers and shifted his chin from wrist to the nest of woven digits, letting his head wobble as he squinted at the pile of presents just beyond the candle.

That had been a very tasty cake. A tiny bit of pink tongue emerged to lick any trace of sweetness from his lips. He longed to scoop up some more of the frosting that stood stiffly in a ragged ruffle around the hollow of the former cake. Ezra knew better than to behave in such an uncouth fashion in a public place, but he did wish he could taste just a bit more of that icing. It was his first cake. At least, the first he could remember. First official one, he chided himself. He'd had such cakes before. When it suited Mamon's plans to have such a celebration, there'd been a cake. Of course there'd been a cake. Sometimes this might occur more than once in a single revolution of the earth about the sun. Not that it mattered. Nor any of those cakes. Not like The Cake.

He wasn't altogether certain of a birth day, or, his ear tips reddened at the memory of this stuttered confession, even of a year. Mr. Chris had forced it out of him. Well, forced was a bit dramatic, but Mr. Chris had a way of letting him know that the *not* telling would hurt Mr. Chris. And Ezra simply could not hurt Mr. Chris. Ever. I would protect him with my life! I would throw my puny body in front of his to shield him from a miscreant's foul attack! These vivid thoughts arrived with a strange heart-clenching rush of emotion. Ezra had confessed that he really didn't know the day, the year. He remembered the look of disbelief, then anger on Mr. Chris' face. Ezra'd shrunk back from that look and it disappeared so fast that he still wondered if he'd really seen it. Mr. Chris had looked sad then. Said that in that case, he and Ezra would settle on a day for Ezra. "EzraDay" they'd called it. Ezra rather liked the idea that he finally had his very own, special day. One he could celebrate every year, count as the official changing of the annals.

A year or two, what did it matter? He was small. Was he now six and a child prodigy? Was he now seven and precocious? Eight and gifted? Nine and talented? His memories went back at least five years, he calculated. Beyond that? Mamon refused to stick to one story for his day of birth or the year of its sanctity. Whatever story fit the current stratagem, that's all that mattered. He'd never really questioned it. Well, not seriously. Once. Once, he'd asked. He remembered all too well her response.

"Ezra, it doesn't matter, son." She'd turned back to her dressing table, where she was brushing out her blonde strands of hair. To the mirror, she added, "Age is in the eye of the beholder, my darling boy." And that had ended his first and last direct enquiry into the date and situation of his birth.

Ezra considered the small mound of items that sat upon the table across from him. Items suitable for a child. Small toys, sweets, a thin book of fables with woodcut illustrations, a small lariat, and a shiny pocketknife. He did appreciate the gifts, the message they sent more important than the substance. He had observed other children at such celebrations in the past, usually a cousin. Each child had savored the occasion, surfeit with candy and cake, sarsaparilla and lemonade, toys and tempting devices of amusement. He recalled his own quiet envy at such spoils and special treatment. Now he was the recipient and he found himself numb. The party had been very entertaining, all of his grownup friends had been there and wished him well. Encouraged him to blow out the candles, seven. Ezra mused. Is that how old Mr. Chris decided I am? Or was there another meaning? His eyes traveled back to where six men sat playing cards nearby. At his request, no other children had been present for the event, not even Billy Travis. He knew that the adults were a bit unsure about this, perhaps unhappy, but he'd known he did not want to share this day with anyone except his --- his --- his family. The smile was back, but this time only to warm his ivy green eyes.

He curled his fingers, letting the knuckles prod his chin. It had been a very fine cake. Seven candles had been just right. A warm, firm weight pressed on his back. Once, he would have startled. Jumped straight up, ducked to the side, skidded away. He cocked his head back and tipped it to the side, slyly catching Mr. Chris in his side vision. Chris had sat himself down on the spindly chair at Ezra's side. The hand not rubbing Ezra's back reached out and a long finger swiped up some of the stiffening sugar frosting. Ezra rolled his head back over further to the side so he could watch Mr. Chris. Chris stuck that lump of sweet in his mouth and smiled down on Ezra.

"Still tastes good."

Ezra unwound his fingers and with great daring stretched out his arm to capture a small sticky bit of the icing. Eyes round in the audacity of his own act, Ezra kept them glued to Chris' face as Ezra licked his small finger meticulously clean. Mr. Chris just smiled back at him. Like they were sharing a secret.

And then, Mr. Chris did something that shook Ezra's world. He handed Ezra a brand new deck of playing cards. "For you. One final present."

Ezra caught his breath and carefully plucked the sleek box from his friend's hand. He looked up at Chris, eyebrows raised.

"I've got a bag of beans here," the tall gunman added, dropping the small sack on the table with a rattle of the dried pods within. "You are *not* gonna play for money, Ezra."

Ezra sat up. Alert. "Play?" He stole a glance down at the now open box on his lap and the cards, dancing there. He didn't even remember opening the card box or sliding the pasteboards out, but they were shuffling between his hands now in that automatic movement that eased his nerves. He looked back up into hazel eyes that made him think of comfort and something that he wasn't yet ready to name. "Play?" he asked again, cautiously.

Playing cards was forbidden. To Ezra. Since ever so early in his stay in this tiny town, when Mr. Chris found him here in this very saloon, dealing five card stud to a table of cowboys, his friends amongst them. Ezra had obeyed publicly and kept his hands in practice, his game sharp, privately. He did have to be ready for Mamon upon her return.

And now? Play? He turned to look over at the rest of the men. They weren't playing cards now, just sitting there, watching him, smiling. Ezra twisted all the way around in his seat, small bony hands gripping the wooden, spindle-top chair rung tightly. "With all of you?"

"Yeah." Chris slid a hand through the soft reddish brown hair that lay so tidily upon Ezra's head. "Thought you might like to play a hand or two, seeing as you're a year older now and all."

"For beans?" Ezra's nose scrunched up as he looked askance at the lumpish sack now behind him on the table.

Chris nodded.

Ezra considered the proposition. He could play poker again! No money, of course. Mamon would scornfully decry such a notion, profit must always be turned. Ezra's eyes dropped back down to the cards in his hands that fanned out as if of their own volition. He could play poker with his friends and with Chris.

Buck was right, Chris Larabee thought, as he watched the little face flush with pleasure and excitement, the large green eyes taking on a glow. This means a lot to him. Chris' heart ached for the little boy in front of him, a boy who'd never had a boyhood, who stared at a cake in stunned surprise, who didn't know how to blow out the candles, who fingered his new toys with puzzled appreciation, and who watched his friends' antics with just a touch of hesitant reserve still. And who now came to life at the thought of joining an adult game of gambling. How do you give such a child back his childhood? Chris decided that for today, it would be enough to just give him something he clearly and truly wanted.

Leaning in close to the dear little man's face, Chris Larabee murmured a repetition of the chorus that had been shouted earlier that afternoon, "Happy Birthday, Ezra."

Ezra, In Between Index On to: All The King's Men

If you enjoyed this story, we're sure that MAC would love to hear from you.


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