"Mama!" Maude winced at the joyful cry of her son as he ran in to her room. It had just been touching dawn when she'd finally made it to bed - one of the downfalls of all-night poker games; it was a man's world after all. Smiling smugly to herself - man's world or not, she was more than a match for it - she silently counted her winnings and planned the gowns and accessories she would be spending them on.
She and Ezra were heading out of this town as soon as possible, the pickings were just too slim here and she wanted more. She deserved more.
"What is it, Ezra?" she snapped waspishly and then bit her lip at the way his hopeful expression transformed into quiet acceptance of the inevitable. Oh, Lord! She'd forgotten again! She'd been too wrapped up in plans and schemes to remember her baby's birthday. How to make this right?
Quickly pasting a smile on her face, Maude patted the coverlet on her bed and said, "Up you come, darlin'." Confusion replaced resignation on Ezra's little face and a small spark of hope began to burn in his green eyes.
Reaching out, she smoothed his tousled hair and she leaned close to whisper conspiratorially in his ear. "I've got a little present for you to play with now, darlin' boy, and then later - after mama has another little nap - we're going to go out on a wonderful shopping trip! After that, we're having a special dinner at a nice restaurant and then a walk in the park. How's that sound?"
A truly genuine smile graced Maude's face at the expression of sheer wonder that appeared on her little boy's face as he breathed, "Really?!"
"Really," said Maude, firmly. "Now then, do you want your present?" At the eager nod Ezra gave her, Maude stifled a laugh. It wasn't an ideal present... but it was the only thing she had in the room. She'd make it sound better than it was and resolve to do better next year.
"Go to mama's dresser and look in the top drawer. You'll find a small box inside. Bring it here to me."
She did laugh, then. Her boy was off the bed and at the dresser in the blink of an eye. Carefully, reverently, he carried the little box back to her - it was one of her older decks of cards - not that Ezra needed to know that.
"Now then, darlin'," said Maude as she opened the box, "You've seen me play with cards before, I know. This is a very special deck. I've had it lots of years. In fact, it's older than you! Now that you're six, I think you are old enough to have them. They are one of my most treasured possessions so I want you to have them now."
Maude watched as slender fingers stroked the top card with fascination. "You've seen me shuffle cards before. Do you want to give it a go?" She watched curiously as Ezra nodded and carefully picked up the cards and her eyebrows rose in surprise at his first attempt. Awkward to be sure, but not bad for a first attempt at manipulating a deck. "Good, Ezra. Now then, if you move your wrist slightly and adjust your grip just a little... all right. Try again."
A flawless basic shuffle.
"Wonderful, darlin'! You're a natural." Maude yawned as Ezra beamed under her praise. "All right then, mama is still a little sleepy. Why don't you play with your new cards and we'll get breakfast in an hour or so."
Much to her surprise, Ezra hugged her before carefully picking up his present and scampering out of her bedroom.
An hour and a half later, she stood unobserved for a moment and watched her son as he stared at the cards in his deck; face up so he could see them. He then pulled the cards together and shuffled them with an almost economical movement of his small hands. He then put the deck down in the floor in front of him and cut it into two piles. Ezra then picked one card off the second smaller pile and smiled, saying, "Heart lady!"
He then turned the card round and laughed in delight at the sight of the Queen of Hearts. Maude watched amazed as he re-shuffled the cards and played his game again. He wasn't always right, but four times out of seven was unbelievable! Especially for a six year old that had never touched a deck of cards before this morning!
Ezra had the gift! My, oh my. The possibilities that this presented. Maude retreated to her room to change for their birthday excursion. This was turning into a remarkable couple of days.