Characters: Ezra Standish, Maude Standish, Original Characters
Notes: PG, Magnificent Seven, many thanks to strangevisitor7 for the beta. Other Charlotte stories may be found here.
Summary: All Ezra wants for Christmas is his mother.
Though it had snowed most of the day, the skies had cleared shortly after the sun had set. Now, the light of the moon and stars made the freshly fallen snow gleam like silver, making for a spectacular Christmas Eve. The sounds of conversation and good cheer echoed in the night, accompanied by the happy laughter of children as they played in the snow.
Christmas Eve services at St. Paul’s had just ended, and Charlotte stood outside the imposing Greek Revival style Episcopal church chatting with friends and neighbours. The church was only a few blocks from her home, so she and Ezra had walked; Charlotte had wanted her servants to have most of the evening to themselves.
“Cousin Charlotte, may we please go home and build a snowman in the yard?” Ezra asked from where he’d been playing with other children from the church. Sarah Beth McKinnon, standing close to him, clasped her mittened hands together, looking hopefully at her parents for permission.
The adults looked at each other smiling, and then back at their children. Obviously the youngsters had energy to burn and anything that aided in making sure they didn’t rise at the crack of dawn Christmas morning was welcome. “You may,” Ambrose McKinnon, the girl’s father, told the two. “Sarah Beth, make sure that you stay with Ezra, and don’t go wandering off by yourself.”
“I will, papa!” She looked up at the boy at her side with shining eyes. “Ezra’ll look out for me; he always does.”
Ezra straightening his shoulders, patted the little girl’s shoulder. “Of course I shall, Sarah Beth. I am a gentleman, and a gentleman must always put the welfare of a lady first.” If it were possible, Sarah Beth’s eyes gleamed even brighter at Ezra’s words.
There were quiet chuckles heard from the gathered adults, and Charlotte and the McKinnons did their best to keep a straight face.
“Off you go then,” Charlotte told them. “We shall follow behind, but at a more sedate pace.” She smiled at the two children.
“A much more sedate pace,” Lila McKinnon agreed with a matching smile.
“We shall see you at home then, Cousin Charlotte, Mr. and Mrs. McKinnon,” Ezra took his leave formally with a little bow. Turning to his companion, he extended his arm. “Shall we, Miss McKinnon?”
Sarah Beth dropped her head shyly, bobbing a little curtsy before taking Ezra’s proffered arm, putting her hand in the crook of his elbow. “Let’s, Master Standish,” she replied softly.
The two children made it as far as the road, walking together in a dignified fashion. Then a shared giggle was heard as they launched themselves off practically at a run, hand in hand.
Charlotte felt nothing but quiet joy in that moment. At times like these, it was almost as if she were being given a glimpse into the man Ezra would become. And this night, she was certain he would be a fine man indeed.
A half hour later, Charlotte and the McKinnons reached their destination. In Charlotte’s yard, there was little evidence of the snowman that the two children had wanted to construct. “Probably wheedled hot cocoa from Mrs. Holcombe instead,” she told the McKinnons with a chuckle.
Then the front door was flung open, and Ezra practically tumbled down the steps, Sarah Beth close behind. “Cousin Charlotte! Cousin Charlotte!” he shouted as he ran down the path towards her. “Mother’s here!”
She froze for a moment at the boy’s news, and Lila McKinnon squeezed her shoulder in empathy, knowing full well the mixed feelings her friend was experiencing at the unexpected arrival of Maude Standish.
Steadying herself, she put her arms around Ezra as he threw himself against her. “There, you see? Wishes do come true, dearest.”
The McKinnons had taken their leave and Charlotte was left with no choice but to mount the steps to her front door.
Livy was waiting as Charlotte and Ezra entered the foyer, quickly removing her mistress’s coat and hat, and collecting her gloves and reticule. Her eyes were full of sympathy.
“Ezra, why don’t you go with Livy to the kitchen and see about refreshments for us all? I am sure your mother and I would appreciate a hot drink.”
He nodded, smiling broadly. “All right, Cousin Charlotte.”
“Come along then, young sir,” Livy said, hustling the boy ahead of her down the hall towards the kitchen.
Charlotte smoothed down her skirts in a nervous gesture mentally girding herself. Placing a hesitant hand on the doorknob to the sitting room, she closed her eyes briefly. She was already missing the little boy that meant so much to her, knowing that Maude had come to take him away again. Every time it happened, it was harder than the last. She thought her heart would surely break, feeling as if it were being constricted by a band of iron, anticipating the loss that was to come.
One last deep breath before she pushed open the door. “Maude,” she greeted the blonde woman standing by the fireplace. “You have been missed.”
“Charlotte!” Maude turned, holding out her arms as Charlotte approached. The two women embraced.
“Please.” Charlotte gestured a hand at a chair by the fireplace, sitting in its twin across the hearth. “Ezra is so happy you’re here,” she told her.
Maude sat on the edge of her chair. “Where has my darlin’ boy gotten off too?”
“He’s fetching hot drinks for us all. I thought you might be chilled after your journey.”
“Such a fine little gentleman he is,” she said proudly.
“He is indeed,” Charlotte agreed.
“Thank you, dear cousin, for your care of him these last weeks.”
“It is always my great pleasure, well you know, Maude.”
Maude gave her a sly smile. “You always have been a soft touch where children are concerned, Charlotte. But I am sure you will pleased to have your quiet, settled life back again. Ezra and I will leave tonight. We’ll catch the last train from Richmond, and then your time shall be your own once more.”
Charlotte’s heart fell as the other woman’s words registered. She shot out of her chair, too upset to even bother to try and remain calm. “Tonight? You can not be serious, Maude! It’s Christmas!”
“And why should that matter?” Maude sounded long-suffering.
“Do you honestly have to ask me that?” she demanded.
“Really, Charlotte, you are so sentimental.” Maude tugged at her sleeve, straightening the cuff, a disapproving look on her face.
“You are not taking that child away tonight!” Charlotte’s ice blue eyes sparked with outrage.
“Nonsense! He is my son, something you seem intent on forgetting,” Maude replied angrily.
“Believe me, I never forget that.” Charlotte fought to keep the pain she felt from her words. “You owe me, Maude! I have never asked for anything from you, ever!” She stalked over to where Maude sat, locking eyes with her. “I am calling in the marker tonight!”
Maude pushed out of the chair. “So much for your platitudes about love freely given! You keep a ledger, just like everyone else does!” she accused.
“And what choice do you give me?” she practically shouted. Charlotte turned away, suddenly unbearably tired. “What choice, Maude?” she whispered. Near to tears, she sank onto the settee, burying her face in her hands. “All these years, I have kept my heart and my home open to you, but it is never enough, not for you.”
Maude didn’t reply, taking a seat once more, staring at her hands which were clasped in her lap.
Not looking up, Charlotte asked, “Do you want me to beg, Maude? Because I will if that is what it takes.”
The other woman was on her feet again, pacing back and forth. “Why must you be so difficult, Charlotte?”
Laughing mirthlessly, Charlotte asked her own question, “Is spending the holidays here with me so distasteful that you would rather take Ezra and skulk away like a thief in the night?”
Maude paused in her pacing. “You can’t think that.” She sounded surprised. “It is not you, Charlotte, it has never been you.”
“I know, dearest Maude, I know.” She reached out her hands. Maude hesitated before stepping closer and taking them in her own. “You have to live your own life; but can you not find it in your heart to share a small portion of it with me?”
Maude didn’t resist as Charlotte drew her down to sit next to her. The woman was like a half-feral cat; craving warmth and affection, but always with the fear in her soul that that affection could be cruelly snatched away.
“If it means so much to you,” the confidence woman finally relented.
“It does, dear cousin.” Charlotte kissed her cheek. “And if it makes it go down any easier, I shall take you with me to the governor’s New Year’s party,” she cajoled. “Think of the opportunities for plying your ‘God given gifts’.”
“A party at the governor’s?” Maude’s eyes lit up. “Well, why on earth didn’t you say so, darling?”
She shook her head and laughed. “I even have a lovely gold satin gown that you can wear.”
“Goodness, you look dreadful in gold!” Maude told her with a sniff. “Surely you realize that?”
“I do, but you, on the other hand, look exquisite.”
It took a few moments for what Charlotte was telling her to sink in. At the look of uncertainty in Maude’s eyes, Charlotte put an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. “Maybe Ezra wasn’t the only one who hoped you would be home Christmas.”