Title: In the Smile of a Boy
This story is part of the Glimpses of Ben Series.
Six-year-old Ben Fraser sometimes didn't know where he belonged since his mother's death. He knew his father grasped onto him at times like a lifeline that had been thrown to him from a sailing ship. His own little world was for the most part silent and gray and he felt no lifeline thrown his way. His grandmother tried to soothe him as best she could. Since the day she spent holding him while she worked around her kitchen with him pressed and clinging to her shoulder he had begun to respond to her.
Dr. Jacobs, the only doctor for 200 miles, had visited the Fraser cabin quite a bit in the last month. The improvement he saw was slow, but it was there he assured Robert Fraser's parents. Time was still what was needed for the grieving Frasers. Martha Fraser's eyes narrowed in thought for some time after the young man left. "He doesn't quite know what to do, so he says wait," she thought to herself. She decided to let matters take a slightly different turn. She was worried, fearing that if left too long in their grieving both her boys would be lost to her.
After discussing her idea with her husband, she began to push Ben away, leaving him to the comfort he could get from his father. Her husband was skeptical of Martha's idea, but decided anything at this point was worth a try. They were both worried for the sanity of their son and grandson. It was well into the second day after Martha began pushing Ben away a bit that she noticed Robert beginning to pay attention to the small boy when he tried to hang on his grandmother's arm only to be pushed gently away so she could continue making dinner. About the third time Martha pushed the crying child away with a totally breaking heart, Robert rose from his chair and approached his young son. He picked the child up and went out on the front porch with him held under his arm like a sack.
Martha stood with her hands tightly pressed to his lips wanting desperately to listen to what was going on out on the porch. She took a few quiet steps in that direction and halted as she heard Robert's voice singing to the boy. A relieved sigh escaped her as she turned and returned to work.
But no one was ready for the change in Robert that seemed to take place overnight. One morning he woke up, dressed and shaved (which he hadn't done since Caroline's death) and was out in the kitchen before anyone else. He started up the cook stove and put water on to boil. He broke out some bacon from his mother's larder and began to prepare breakfast for his family.
The smell of coffee woke Martha around the time she would normally be rising to get her kitchen filled with breakfast smells. Rising quietly she pulled on her robe and went out into the kitchen. Robert had set the table for them all and was peeling a banana and placing small slices of banana on a bowl of oatmeal. Martha went quickly to her son and saw that he was designing a smiley face of banana pieces on top of the oatmeal.
"Robert Fraser," she said with a smile. "You're going to spoil that boy. Time enough for coddling." Belying the sound of the words she put her arms around her son and hugged him to her. "I'm glad your back."
"It's hard, mother."
"I know son."
"I'm going back to work soon." he stated plainly.
"I know that too."
"Ben's going to need you, you know."
"He needs you more."
"I can't." he said in a simple whisper.
"You need him just as he needs you," she said with a bite to her words.
"Too much, I fear."
"He needs you, not us." His mother turned from him and looked towards the rising morning sun.
"That's as maybe, Mother. But I need to be back at work. I need it." he turned and walked down the hall to the room Ben slept.
Walking quietly into the room, Robert stopped and stood for a moment looking down at the sleeping child. "Caroline, he's so beautiful." He whispered with a look to the room's ceiling. Leaning over he scooped the boy up into his arms and kissed his hair quickly.
"Wake up young man." He said with soft smile.
Ben opened his eyes to find his father's face next to his. He laid his sleepy head back on his father's shoulder as he was carried out to the cabin kitchen. His father set him down at the table in front of the bowl of oatmeal and turned away to talk to his mother as he poured out his coffee.
The smiley face looked up at Ben and he couldn't smile. He watched his father walking around the kitchen and slowly paced up his spoon. If his dad was going to try then so would he.
Spring was in the air several days later as the Fraser family set on the family cabin porch. Ben sat on the steps, his chin balanced on his hands as he watched his grandfather's dogs playing by the shed not far from the cabin. In other times, Ben would have been down there playing too, but not now. Martha was sewing as she rocked in her whicker chair. Robert and his father were playing a game of chess.
"I leave soon, Dad."
"I know son. It's going to be hard on young Ben."
"I know. I'm counting on you and Mother."
"Counting on us to cover your walking away you mean."
"A Mountie is what I am, I need that."
"Course you do."
"Nuff said then."
A car's engine could be heard coming down the forest road. The adult's on the porch stilled their movements, the boy didn't notice. In a very short time Buck Frobisher's car pulled up in front of the cabin. He got of the car and smiled at the family before him. "Things are looking better," he thought.
Martha rose from her rocker and waited for Buck at the top of the porch steps. She gave him a quick hug. "Did you bring it?" she asked.
"Yes, I found what you wanted. It's in a box on the front seat." The tall man leaned to whisper in her ear. "Boy doesn't know?"
"No, he don't and neither does his father."
"Ahhh." Buck smiled. "Who gives Ben the box?"
"You do, please." Martha stated simply as she quietly handed him an envelope. "Thanks for bringing it for me."
"Sure." Buck pocketed the envelope without checking its contents. "Don't you want to give it to him? Or perhaps..." he nodded the Fraser men playing chess.
"No. I want it to come from you. I have my reasons." She looked at him with a determined glint in her eye. If that's what she wanted, he would do it. Few people turned down Martha Fraser; she was hard as granite when she wanted her own way.
Buck went back to his car and brought a fair sized box back to the porch. He set it down next to Ben and sat on the other side of it. Soft scratching sounds rocked the box. Ben let his eyes slide to the box but didn't move his body or head. He turned his eyes away only to look again when the sounds coming from the box became louder.
Buck watched the boy's tongue lick his lip as he tried to remain impassive to the box. Maybe Martha is right he thought. "Hi Ben." Ben was by no means a frail boy, but right now he looked fragile and Buck sucked in his breath as he noted the haunted look in the boy's eyes as the child finally looked up at him.
One single word Buck thought in sadness remembering the chattering boy that used to be Ben. "Hmm your dad and I have to return to duty soon. I can't take care of what's in this box. I thought maybe you'd be the right person. Could you do that for me?"
Ben looked at the box and then at Buck, with a puzzled look on his face. "What about Julie?"
Ok, three words more Buck thought. "Julie's a might young for this job."
"Oh." The boy's blue eyes settled on the box, as it seemed to rock back and forth on the porch.
"Yea, I already talked to your Grandma, and she says it's ok with her if you do this for me."
Buck glanced up at Martha and shrugged his shoulders. He sure didn't know how to get the boy to open the box. Matters were taken out of his hand when the box began furiously shaking and inching dangerously close to the edge of the top step actually hitting Ben in the elbow.
The boy had no choice but to look at the box now. He scowled at the boxes intrusion into his personal space. He looked inquiringly up at Buck who gave him a smile and a nod. The box wasn't sealed but was closed in onto itself by interlocking the lid sides. Ben reached carefully over and pulled by sliding his fingers into an opening. Something wet touched his fingers as he pulled. He felt sharp pricks on his fingers as the lid opened.
Inside the box was a 10-week-old puppy. Its parentage was certainly easily discerned as one of the husky breeds. The puppy was black and silver with one blue and one brown eye. One ear flopped over his face, the other erect. Ben looked inside then looked away to put his head on his chin again. The puppy cocked its little head and jumped against the side of the box. It was plainly irritated to be ignored. Sharp little yaps were soon ringing over the porch.
"Ben. Aren't you even going to look at the puppy?" Martha knelt down by the box. "Yes, I can see how this puppy would be too much Julie. This puppy would drive her kitten crazy." She smiled as walked away. "Come in for coffee and pie." Martha said as she entered the cabin door.
Turning back to the puppy Ben sighed. "I'll take care of him sir."
"Well, see that you do." Buck smiled a bit. "He needs walking, brushing, food, water. I'd like to see him leash trained when I come back. I'm not sure if he'll make the team but if you give him a good start he has a chance." Buck watched closely but Ben didn't stir.
Buck rose and followed the adults into the cabin where Martha was busy getting out coffee cups.
The four adults sat down awkwardly at the table, each one trying not to pay attention to what may or may not be happening outside.
The puppy finally knocked over the box and tumbled down the first step to land by Ben's feet. The box continued rolling off the porch. Ben rose and leaned over to retrieve the box, his face low to the ground. The puppy took this as a challenge and bounced off the porch steps to attack the boy by licking his face. Ben pushed the puppy away as he reached for the box one more time. The puppy gave a fierce yap and jumped at Ben grabbing a piece of Ben's hair with it's teeth as it stood on it's hind feet before bouncing away from Ben. The puppy was roundly built in shape but well able to bounce away from the 6 year old. It sat with a puppy grin, tongue lolling out of the side of its mouth.
Ben stood up with the box in his hand his eyes watching the puppy. He took the box and set it back up on the porch. Planting himself back on the top step, Ben watched the puppy stare at him. Ben was used to older dogs. Both his father and grandfather kept sled teams. He cocked his head and tried to imagine the puppy as an adult dog. The young puppy began waddling around the area in front of the Fraser's cabin; it's little black nose to the ground. Giving a puppy yawn the little thing plopped in the grass and began rolling around content to be free of its traveling box.
Picking up the box from the steps Ben went down the steps and approached the puppy. When Ben was two steps away from the puppy, it growled and flipped to his podgy feet. As he walked Ben's shoelaces flopped on his shoes, a clear invitation to the puppy to attack his feet. With a ferocious growl the puppy landed on Ben's feet tripping the boy and bringing him down to the ground. The puppy tenaciously grabbed onto the laces of Ben's left shoe and pulled with all its might, actually shaking Ben's foot. The boy was astonished at the strength in the little puppy and watched fascinated as it pulled and tugged and dragged on his shoe. Slowly Ben began to let a small smile curve it's way on his face.
Buck had risen from the table to look out the door, the suspense more than he could take. He watched Ben letting the puppy haul away at his shoe. When the boy began to smile, he turned away from the door and approached Martha. "He's smiling."
Martha burst into tears and put her hands over her eyes. The men in the room watched her, nervously wondering if they should do something for her. It wasn't many minutes before she daubed at her eyes with her napkin and smiled brightly at her husband. She nodded her head to Buck, but said not a word to them as she lifted her cup and took a sip of hot coffee.
Later that night, after Ben had gone to sleep, his father entered the boy's bedroom with the box, which held a sleeping puppy in it. Gently he set the box down and laid an old rag inside next to the puppy and set up clock on the floor next to the box. He watched his son sleep for a moment then tiptoed quietly out.