Riding Lessons II: Lessons Learned
by Andrew Todd
The weekend before Christmas, the new house was ready for the boys to move in.
The high school boys took Friday off from school since it was only a half day anyway. Most of the house was decorated with new furnishings, so there wasn't much 'moving in' to do, just a lot of organizing.
The interior decorator that CJ and Danny had hired had taken care of the common areas like the kitchen, living room and family room. She had also had her team decorate the house for Christmas.
The boys all spent Friday organizing their own spaces.
The house had seven bedroom suites. CJ and Danny had the largest one on the second floor and had co-opted the adjoining room as Idgie's nursery.
Jesse, Mattie and Spin and Zak and Dusty had their rooms on the second floor as well. Originally, the plan was for Dylan to have a room, but as he and Jesse were now together they would share when Dylan stayed at the house.
Casey and Josh were sharing a room on the third floor and there was an empty room there as well.
Bridget McGuire, the newly hired housekeeper/nanny/security guard, had a room that was off of the kitchen.
The guest house that was also being built in the compound would not be completed until spring. CJ and Danny had pushed the builders and contractors to the breaking point to finish the house before Christmas. They didn't feel at all guilty since they had over-compensated all involved in order to get what they wanted.
Christmas passed quietly. Danny and CJ hosted Dusty and his mother and grandmother, Zak and his mother, and Ace and Sarge. They invited Spin and Dylan and their families, but they all had their own traditions for Christmas day. In an effort to make sure the couples could spend some of the holiday together, CJ and Danny hosted a small family gathering on Christmas Eve. Kate, Lu and Gran spent the night, Lu and Gran shared the spare room and Kate stayed in Idgie's room; CJ and Danny wanted to move his crib into their room for the night, but Kate would not hear of it--since she felt like Idgie was her first grandson, she loved the idea of having him close by.
Most of the gifts that were exchanged for the holiday were equine-themed. Many halters, grooming tools, pieces of tack and riding clothes exchanged hands. The boys' personal horses had been moved into the new barn that had also been completed on schedule.
When they first saw the finished barn, the boys were more impressed with it than the house. The barn was shaped like a cross, like the old barns, but the stalls were double the size and had sliding doors, so that they weren't in anyone's way when being opened and closed.
Danny had a hand in designing the barn. He had the architect build a locker room into the center of the barn for all the boys to change and shower and keep their riding clothes. CJ's input into the barn was the dual purpose of the locker room. When a code was entered on a keypad next to the door, the locker room would double as an impenetrable safe room. There was a hidden closet which held several days' supply of non-perishable food and water.
While they hoped they would never need it, Sarge had convinced CJ it was better to err on the side of caution. In addition to the one in the barn, there were safe rooms on each floor of the new house. Each of the boys was shown the location of the safe rooms and the codes to activate them and warned that they were only to be activated in case of emergency and any 'false alarms' would be met with severe consequences.
CJ had decided that the ranch would be closed from Christmas Eve through the day after Christmas. They would be open on the 27th through the 30th and closed New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
Dylan came over Christmas night after they had spent time with his family. Spin's parents had placed him under 'house arrest' for a few days.
The boys wanted to spend the day after Christmas practicing in the arena that had been built by the new barn. Danny decided that that morning he would start some serious coaching of Zak, Dylan and Jesse as those boys were very interested in participating in some show-jumping competitions in the spring.
Mattie, Dusty and Ace spent the morning cleaning stalls and grooming horses. The hands had been given extra time off for the holidays, Casey and Josh were the only ones around since everyone was on the well-secured compound. Ace and Sarge were living in the old ranch house. Sarge, Josh and Casey took care of the horses in the older barns.
When they had finished cleaning up the barn, Dusty, Mattie and Ace went into the arena to see how practice was going.
"Dammit, Zak!!" they heard Danny yell. "What are you doing?"
"I'm posting, what does it look like I'm doing?" came Zak's curt reply.
"You're on the wrong diagonal," Danny said. "When you start the trot, look down quickly; you need to rise when the outside shoulder is going forward and come down when it's coming back."
Zak stopped Angel and rode over to Danny. "What does it matter?"
Danny laughed, "That is the age-old question, little brother. And the answer is: it just does. I know it seems like a petty thing, but those are the things the equitation judges are going to look for, so you need to be on top of them. Honestly, if you were just riding around for fun, it really doesn't matter, it's not going to change anything, if you're going in a straight line you actually want to alternate diagonals to work both sides; but when you are against a fence you need to be on the correct diagonal.
Zak rolled his eyes and saw Mattie and Dusty laughing by the gate.
"Is it too late to be a cowboy?" he yelled over.
"Considering that you have three horses at your disposal that don't ride that way…yes, it is," Dusty laughed.
Dylan and Jesse were still trotting around the ring on Apollo and Val. They stopped and walked over to Danny.
"Hey, Danny, we're gonna cool them off and put 'em up so we can get ready, ok?" asked Jesse.
"Sure, go ahead, guys," Danny answered.
Dylan and Jesse were going to go to the airport with Ace to pick up his friend, Devon.
Sarge was going to take Ace, but Ace had asked if he could take his two friends with him. He explained to Sarge that he wanted things to get off to a good start for Devon, and taking two friends to meet him might make things more relaxed. Plus, Ace wanted a chance to talk to Devon before his dad got hold of him.
Zak went to follow Jesse and Dylan to the gate.
"Hey, Zak!!" called Danny. "You're not done yet." Zak turned back to look at him. "I want two laps at a trot on the correct diagonal."
"Oh, man," whined Zak as he kicked Angel to a trot.
After watching Zak make five laps around the ring, and not once complete it on the correct diagonal, Mattie was going just as nuts as Danny.
Mattie walked over to where Danny was again 'instructing' Zak. It was just the three of them left.
"Zak, jump down," Mattie instructed.
Zak slipped off Angel's back.
Mattie put his hand out and Zak handed him his helmet, which Mattie put on and strapped. Mattie then hopped up on Angel.
"Uh, Mattie…" Danny hesitated.
Mattie grinned at Danny. "Don't worry, we'll be fine. If I can handle that bitch, Zephyr, then this little 'Angel' will be fine." He looked at Zak. "Zak, I'm gonna hold her to a very slow trot. Watch my rise and her legs. Tell me when I'm right and when I'm wrong."
Danny stood behind Zak and put his hands on his little brother's shoulders. He kneaded Zak's tense muscles.
"Zak, relax," Danny ordered. "You're still just learning. Everyone else has been doing this much longer than you have. You've taken to it so quickly that we all forget that you still don't have a lot of experience under your belt."
Danny pointed Zak towards where Mattie was starting Angel against the wall. They watched Mattie make several laps around the arena. The first few laps Danny would point out to Zak when Mattie was on the correct or incorrect diagonal. The last few laps, Danny made Zak tell him until Zak was correct each time.
Danny signaled Mattie to come back to the center of the arena.
Mattie stopped next to Zak and hopped down and handed Zak back his helmet.
Mattie grinned at Danny. "Man, if I'd had a horse like her, I might have rethought giving up on show jumping."
"She is something, isn't she?" Danny smiled.
"She sure is," Mattie nodded. "I'll have to give her a try over some jumps one day."
"Sure, you can try her over some jumps and I'll give Ash a try in the ring."
"Deal," Mattie laughed.
"Ok," Zak interjected. "Am I done?"
Mattie and Danny both shook their heads.
"Nope, two laps, correct diagonal," Danny ordered.
Zak popped back up onto Angel and started her off.
After one lap to get himself in rhythm, Zak managed to do his two laps with the correct diagonal.
"Finally!!" laughed Danny. "Now, we are done."
Ace, Dylan and Jesse stood on one side of the security glass waiting for the passengers to disembark from the recently arrived plane.
They all watched as person after person came through the jet way. Ace looked at each new person expectantly and then shook his head.
Finally, after a few moments had passed with no one coming through, there emerged a boy of about sixteen. Jesse and Dylan saw a look of recognition and a grin come to Ace's face. They both did a double take as they looked at the boy a second time.
The boy was about 5'10" and maybe 125 pounds fully dressed and soaking wet. He had on the tightest pair of black 'skinny jeans' that either Jesse or Dylan had ever seen. They looked so uncomfortable that they made Dylan's eyes water. He had on black leather boots that came up to his knees. The boy was wearing a tight black sleeveless t-shirt and carrying a black leather jacket. He had a tattoo on his upper right arm of a hot air balloon with a pink triangle on it and a tattoo on his upper left arm of a rainbow flag. He had a handsome face, but his skin was so pale, he looked as if it had not seen the sun in years. His dark green eyes were each rimmed with black eyeliner. His hair was shoulder-length and stylishly cut. It was naturally jet black, but some locks had been dyed a bright red. Each of his ears was double pierced. In the lower hole was a small hoop and in the upper hole a small diamond.
Ace waved to the boy who looked at him and shrugged.
"Ace, that's Devon?!" asked Dylan.
"Sure is," Ace answered.
"Wait till your dad gets a load of him," Jesse sighed.
Ace nodded. "He does seem to have changed some in the last few years, but that's just the outside; I'm sure he's the same on the inside, where it counts," Ace said.
Jesse and Dylan nodded to agree with Ace, but both had their doubts. Dylan only knew one or two people at school who dressed like that and they were all a bit odd to him. They seemed determined to be outsiders and made no attempts to 'belong'.
"Devon! Over here!" Ace called and waved to his friend as Devon came out of the gate exit.
Devon walked up to the boys with all the enthusiasm of a death-row inmate walking to the gallows.
Ace was smiling big when Devon finally got to where the boys were waiting. He grabbed his friend in a big hug.
"Hey, buddy!!" Ace greeted Devon. "How ya doing? It's so great to have ya here!!"
Devon gave Ace a quick hug and immediately broke contact.
"Devon McDonald…this is Jesse Osterman and Dylan Summers, two friends of mine," Ace said. "Jesse's foster parents are the owners of the ranch my dad manages."
"Nice to meet you, Devon," Jesse said holding out his hand.
"Hey," Devon answered cheerlessly. He took Jesse's hand very quickly and gave Dylan the same treatment.
Dylan and Jesse exchanged a few glances. They had become very fond of Ace in the few months he had been at the ranch and they had a hard time believing that this boy was the same Devon that Ace was always telling them stories about.
It also looked to them like Ace was only seeing his old friend and not the boy who was standing in front of them.
"Dev, do you have the checks for your bags?" Ace asked.
"Right here," Devon mumbled holding out two slips.
Ace grabbed them and handed them to Jesse. "Can you guys go ahead and grab his bags so Devon and I can catch up?"
"Sure. We'll meet you at the truck," Dylan answered as the two walked towards baggage claim.
When Jesse and Dylan had walked off, Ace grabbed Devon around the neck.
He pulled Devon tight and whispered in his ear. "Ok, you little shit who doesn't answer e-mails and is rude to my friends, what the hell have you done with my best friend in the world?"
Devon looked up at Ace his face blank. "What? You don't like the new and improved me?" He grinned.
"Not really, I loved the old you, remember?" Ace answered. "When did you do all this shit?"
"Gradually over the last year or so. Everyone at school knew about me, so it was be out and proud or get the shit kicked out of me."
"Talk about extremes. Last time I saw you, you were afraid of anyone finding out you were gay."
"Well, that didn't last long. Most people were like you--they knew from the time they met me. After you left, I didn't have anyone to confide in…"
"Or protect you."
"I told you I could take care of myself," Devon said defensively.
"Oh, I've heard all about how you 'took care of yourself'," Ace grimaced.
"Your dad gave my dad the skinny when he called about you coming here and then my dad told me; he wanted me to know everything before I made a decision about you coming to live here."
"And yet, here I am."
"Did you think I'd say no??" Ace asked incredulously. "Did you think if I knew of all the shit you've pulled that I would turn my back on you, that I would just let you get shipped off to military school or move to Germany with your parents?"
"Why didn't you?"
Ace grabbed Devon in a huge hug. "Cuz, you're my best friend, my brother, you idiot…I told you years ago, there is nothing you can do that would make me turn my back on you." He released Devon and held him at arm's length and gave him a once-over. "If this is the 'new you' then I'll just accept it. Dad may have a few choice words for it, but he's more concerned with the shit you've pulled and making sure that you don't do any of that shit here."
Devon rolled his eyes.
"Hey, don't you roll your eyes at me. I want you to promise me that you are going to give this a chance. Those guys that I just introduced you to and the others at the ranch, they are great guys, they are accepting and patient and fun and loving…"
"…and all straight guys who love your cowboy ass…"
Ace laughed, "Actually, shithead, I'm the token straight guy in the group, which you would know if you had answered any of the dozen or so e-mails I've sent you over the last few weeks."
"Yes. CJ and Danny, the ranch owners, and Jesse's foster parents, are a couple; Jesse and Dylan are boyfriends; and there are two other couples--Zak and Dusty and Mattie and Spin. They don't know you're gay--well, given the tats I guess Jesse and Dylan do now, but none of them care; all they know is that you are my best friend in the whole world and they are all dying to meet you."
"Sure…" Devon said sarcastically.
Ace sighed. "Dev, I'm really trying here. Just promise me that you will meet everyone halfway and with an open mind. Can you please?"
Devon thought for a moment. "For you and only for you, I'll try," he answered.
"Thanks." Ace smiled. "Now let's see if we can find Jesse and Dylan. We didn't tell them what your luggage looked like."
Devon smiled. "Oh, they'll know it."
Ace and Devon got to the truck in time to see Dylan and Jesse throwing two hot-pink suitcases in the back.
Ace started laughing. "Pink suitcases!? Where the hell in Texas did you find pink suitcases?!?"
"Online," Devon laughed.
They loaded into the Super Cab that CJ had let Ace use that afternoon and headed out.
Ace called his dad to let him know that Devon had arrived and that they were stopping for dinner on the way back.
Zak, Dusty and Mattie lay in a circle on the king-sized bed in Zak and Dusty's room. Cesar, Mattie's mastiff, lay at the foot of the bed and Loki and Herc lay on the bed behind their boys. Actually, at the moment, Dusty was lying on his back and using his Great Dane as a pillow and Loki lay at Zak's side.
In the center of the circle were Idgie and Max. Joe had called Zak and asked if they could watch Max for a few hours so he and Megan could take Tyler to a doctor's appointment. Zak had readily agreed, since they had been riding all morning and it was too cold to be outside any longer.
"So, Max, what did Santa bring you for Christmas?" Zak asked the toddler.
Max lit up. "A firetwuck, a p'lise car, a baby, a cowboy hat, a teddy…"
Zak shook his head. "Wait up, Max. Santa brought you a baby?" he asked. "A baby doll?"
Max giggled and shook his head. "No, Zaky. A baby brudder or a baby sishter…"
"You're getting another baby?" Mattie asked.
Max grinned and nodded. "I gonna be a big brudder…again."
"Wow, they work fast," Dusty mumbled. "Tyler's only what…6-7 months old?"
"So, Maxie, do you want a baby brother or a baby sister?" Zak asked mischievously.
"A brudder!!" Max answered emphatically. "Don't want no girls!!"
All three boys laughed.
"Maybe he does play for our team," Mattie joked.
The three older boys and the toddler spent the afternoon playing games and watching Idgie try to roll over on Zak's bed.
When Joe came to pick up Max, Dusty was the first to broach the subject.
"So, Joe, Max told us that Santa brought him a special present."
Joe looked at his son and laughed, "Oh, did he?"
Max grinned. "I gonna be a big brudder."
Joe nodded. "Yes, you are." He looked at the three boys. "This is the last one, though. I thought it would be with Tyler. I'm good with two, but Megan had her heart set on a..." he looked at Max, "...g-i-r-l, so I told her we'd try one more time."
Max shook his head hard. "No, Daddy, no girls!!!"
The boys all laughed as Max kept shaking his head and insisting that 'his' baby be a boy, like 'Itchie' and 'Tywer'.
Dusty, Zak and Mattie all waved goodbye to Max as Joe loaded him in the car and drove off.
Mattie took Idgie to the baby's room to lay him down and Zak and Dusty decided to go watch a movie in their room.
CJ came into the nursery waving a letter in his hand.
"Mattie!!" he called. "Mattie!! You've got to see this!"
Mattie had just finished putting Idgie down.
"Will you keep your voice down?" he whispered.
Mattie shooed CJ out of the room and they went downstairs to the living room.
"Now, what is so urgent?" Mattie asked.
CJ grinned and handed him the paper.
"What's this?" Mattie asked.
"You know how I told you we needed to research Ash's lineage?"
"Well, I went ahead and did it, since you kept putting it off. When Mr. Jones bought Ash, he didn't really pay attention to the papers or anything; Ash was in bad place and Mr. Jones basically bought him to get him out of that place, same as he did with Onyx. He had Onyx's papers cuz Mrs. Oliver had them when she brought Onyx over."
"So, what did you find out?"
"Ash is a direct descendent of Conquistador…"
Mattie grinned. "Grandfather's Conquistador?"
"YES!!" Mattie yelled as he hugged CJ. "That means we can keep the line going!!"
Mattie was dancing around the room when Danny, Dusty and Zak all came in.
"What's going on?" Zak asked.
CJ told them about Ash.
"So, Ash is a direct descendant of one of your grandfather's horses?" Danny asked.
"Not just any of my grandfather's horses," Mattie exclaimed. "Conquistador was one of his first stallions--one of the stallions he started with years ago. If we can get a couple of mares we could restart the line."
"Whoa, Mattie," CJ laughed. "Slow down."
"What, don't you want to?"
"Yes, I do, but we're just starting here and we're already up to our eyeballs in new projects. We need to get the rescue up and running and then we can focus on a breeding program."
Mattie's face fell. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
"Look, when we go to Spain in March, we'll try to see if we can find any mares. In the time it will take them to clear quarantine and get them over here, then we should be in a better place to start."
Mattie beamed. "Awesome!!" He started running upstairs. "I'm gonna call Spin and let him know."
Ace and Devon sat across from Dylan and Jesse in a booth at a Perkins restaurant the boys had stopped at on their way home from the airport.
Dylan and Jesse were in stitches listening to Ace regale them of his and Devon's adventures and misadventures growing up in Texas.
"So, for our thirteenth birthdays, which are only a few days apart, our dads decided that they were finally going to get us our own horses. Up till that point we had ridden whatever horses were available at the ranch. They take us to this ranch that breeds quarter horses and Dev and I and my dad spend all day riding and trying a bunch of different horses, while Dev's father just sits there and watches. He was a city boy and didn't know one end of the horse from the other, right Dev?"
Devon grinned and nodded. "That's for sure. I think the only reason he went that day was guilt over being away for so long and horses were the only thing that kept me from being shut up inside drawing all day."
Ace continued. "So that was the day I got Bullet. He was exactly what I wanted: big, black, fast. And Devon got the prettiest little palomino mare you ever saw: Jazz. Of course, she was a stubborn little thing, too. I didn't realize how stubborn until about a week after we got them." Ace and Devon both laughed at the memory. "Bullet was about a hand or so taller than Jazz and I wanted Devon to give him a try. Dev wasn't much for racing or timed events, but I wanted him to give Bullet a try round the ring. So he finally did and I stood there with Jazz watching Devon and Bullet circle the ring; they were doing great. So, I decided that I should try Jazz. I've been riding a lot longer than Dev, right? So shouldn't be a problem, right?" He grinned. "So I throw the reins over her head, stick my foot in the stirrup and hop up on her. My ass barely touched the leather and I was airborne. Landed right on my ass."
The four boys were all laughing loudly.
"That was when we learned that Jazz was a one-man horse," Ace laughed. "Eventually, she would let me ride her, begrudgingly, but she was all Dev's."
"So, Devon, is your dad having Jazz shipped up here for you?" Dylan asked.
Devon's face fell. "No. I sold her about a year back."
"Why?" asked Jesse. "I'm sorry; I know it's none of our business, I'm just curious."
"Well, after Ace left, at first Jazz was really my only friend. I spent every day at the ranch and we were on the trails all the time. But it wasn't the same. Ace was the reason I had started riding and it was something we had always shared. Eventually, it was just too hard to go out there. For several months I would go out only once or twice a week and then I just stopped. Well, my dad started on me, cuz it's not cheap to board a horse. He wanted me to sell her if I wasn't going to ride her. I was torn; I loved her, but I knew she was going to waste just sitting there waiting for me. One day the owner of the ranch where we boarded called me. A lady from Dallas had come to visit some friends and had seen Jazz; she had been looking for a palomino mare to breed and wanted to know if she was for sale. I knew the people she was friends with and she had a big spread in Dallas, and I knew Jazz would be happy there, so I went ahead and let the lady buy her."
Ace wrapped his arm around Devon's shoulder. "You miss her, don't you?"
Devon nodded. "A lot. But I've gone up to Dallas to visit her a few times. The place is huge and she's happy. She had her first baby last summer. A beautiful palomino colt. He looked just like her."
"Well, we'll get you up and riding again," Ace declared. "Then we'll see about getting you a horse."
"Ace, I don't need a horse of my own, not if you have them there to ride already."
Dylan and Jesse laughed.
"What's so funny?" Devon asked.
Ace shook his head. "You haven't met Zak yet. He's gonna make sure you have your own horse and he's gonna play matchmaker."
"Matchmaker?" Dev gulped.
The other three boys all nodded.
"Yessir," Ace laughed. "Zak loves to play matchmaker; doesn't care if you are gay or straight, just wants you hooked up and happy. He's not pleased with me, cuz he can't seem to find me 'the right girl'."
"Oh, great…" Devon sighed.
"Don't worry," Ace laughed. "He means well, he just likes to see all his friends happy. He's a good guy, you're gonna love him."
"Devon, can I ask you a question?" Dylan asked.
"Hurt?" Devon grinned.
"Yeah, did they?"
"Yup, they did. As you can see I'm not the most muscular person, so there's not a lot of padding between the skin and the bone, so it hurt. The guy who did them said that if I had a bit more muscle they wouldn't have hurt as much. But once it's done, there's no pain or anything."
"Your dad must have been thrilled with those," Ace said.
Devon smirked. "He was not pleased with me," he said in a very deep, mocking voice. "I'm not sure what he was more pissed about, the ink or what they meant." He shrugged. "Oh, well, he couldn't do anything about 'em."
"What made you get them?" Jesse asked.
"Well, I think of them as art and I am really into all kinds of art. Plus, it wasn't like it was a secret that I was gay. So I decided that I might as well embrace it and let everyone know that I wasn't ashamed of it."
"Cool." Jesse nodded.
"'Sides these aren't the ones that actually set the old man off."
"Wait." Ace looked at Devon. "You have another one?"
"I'm afraid to ask." Ace rolled his eyes. "Where?"
Devon grinned. "Get your mind out of the gutter. On my back."
"Can we see?" Dylan asked.
"Sure," Devon nodded. He looked around quickly. The restaurant was pretty deserted so he turned in his seat and lifted his t-shirt up so that the other boys could see the two tattoos on his lower back. On either side of his spine were two horses facing each other and rearing. A black and a palomino.
"Wow!!" Jesse gasped. "I like those."
Devon pulled his shirt down and turned back around.
"That was Bullet and Jazz, wasn't it?" Ace asked.
Devon nodded. "I did the art work myself. It was my way of remembering them and you. It took a couple trips to the tattoo place to get those done."
"Now, those two I like," Ace said. "I might have to get you to design one for me. Of course, we'll have to wait until I'm eighteen, cuz my dad will never sign off on it before then."
"Just do what I did, get a fake ID," Devon responded.
Ace rolled his eyes. "Please tell me you didn't bring it with you."
"Nope. Dad confiscated it and the new one I got after that."
Ace laughed and shook his head. "Man, you are incorrigible."
"That's what my dad said." Devon grinned.
"Well, on the art front, I have some cool news for you," Ace said.
"Well, Zak's mom is president of the school board, so she was able to pull some strings and get you in most of my classes." Ace grinned. "Except, where we all have phys ed as our last class of the day, she got you into the art class."
Devon eyes lit up. "Really, art instead of gym…you know the way to my heart."
"Oh, it gets even better," Ace said. "I went and saw Miss Crenshaw, the art teacher, and I showed her some of your work."
"Where did you get my work?"
"I had some of the pictures you gave me over the years and I had some digitals you had sent me."
"Ace, those are so old."
"I know and I told her that, but she said if you were that good that long ago, she was dyin' to see how good you were now."
"Yup. She's got some connection with a local gallery and she's gonna talk to you about showing your work. Did you bring any?"
"Not on the plane, are you kidding?" Devon laughed. "I made my dad take me to the FedEx Store this morning and had it all shipped overnight. Cost a shitload of money, but I wasn't going to let the airlines destroy it all."
"So, it should be here tomorrow?"
"Should be there by three."
"Cool. We can get you all set up then."
"Set up where?"
"There's a small garage attached to the ranch house that Dad and I live in. No one's actually stored a car in there in years. The guys helped me clean it out and paint it so you could use it as a studio. It's heated since it's attached to the house. It's got great light too."
"You did that for me?"
"Of course I did it for you, shithead; you know I'd do anything for you."
Devon slid over and wrapped his arms around Ace and hugged him tight. For the first time in a long time, he felt like things might finally be alright.
Ace dropped Dylan and Jesse off at the main house. It was late and Devon was falling asleep in the car, so he told them to tell everyone he would bring Devon over in the morning to meet them.
When they got to the old ranch house, Ace told Devon to go inside, he wanted to check on Bullet back at the new barn and then he would bring in Devon's suitcases.
Sarge was waiting inside.
"Devon!!" He grinned when he saw his 'second' son. When he got a good look at Devon he did a double take. "Son, what the hell have you done to yourself?"
"Hey, Dad." Devon smiled as he hugged Sarge. He and Ace had always referred to each other's fathers as 'dad'. "What, you don't like it?"
"I didn't say that, Dev. It's just a bit of a shock. The last time I saw you, you were…uhh…"
"No, I don't think you were ever a nerd," Sarge laughed. "You just looked more average. Now, the hair, the earrings, the clothes…you've changed a lot."
"I guess I have, but it's still me underneath," Devon said. "I guess this was all part of finding myself."
Sarge put his arm around Dev's shoulder and led him into the kitchen.
"Have a seat, Dev," Sarge requested as he sat opposite Devon. "You got a little lost without Ace there, didn't you?"
"More than a little, Dad." Devon grimaced. "He wasn't just my best friend, he was my only friend, he was my brother. When he left--when you both left--it was just so hard."
"I know, Dev. Listen, this is a fresh start for you. I'm happy you're here and Ace is thrilled you're here. Did you get a chance to meet the guys?"
"Only Jesse and Dylan, cuz they came with Ace. They seemed like nice guys."
"Dev, these are some of the nicest kids you're ever gonna meet. Danny and CJ--my bosses, the fellas who own the ranch--are always there for you if I'm not around. They don't judge and they don't preach. They're good guys and I want you to get to know them. I know you probably have questions or issues with being…uhh…"
"Yes, gay…I'll answer anything I can, but Danny and CJ are a great resource for you. All the guys up at the main house are gay, and I know they'll all help you in any way they can." Sarge smiled. "Look, Devon. I want this to work, for you and for Ace. You're here with a clean slate, so whatever happened in Texas is in the past, but I need to you to keep your nose clean here. Ok?"
"I'll try my best, Dad." Devon sighed. "I know this is my last chance with my dad and I'd rather spend the next year and half with you guys than in Germany or a military school."
"Trying is all I'm asking for," Sarge nodded. "You're a teenager; perfection is not in the cards."
Devon grinned and then wiped his hands across his sweaty brow.
"Dev, why don't you take that jacket off, it's warm in here."
"Ahh, ok, just…ahh…" Devon hesitated and then shrugged his jacket off.
Sarge caught a glimpse of both of Devon's tattooed arms. He shook his head and laughed. "I bet your dad was thrilled with those."
Devon laughed, "Not so much, but these were the two that he yelled the most about." He stood up, turned around and raised his shirt. Sarge whistled when he saw the horse tattoos that adorned Devon's lower back.
"Wow, Devon, those are really good," Sarge said.
Devon pulled down his shirt and sat back down. "Really?? You really like them?"
"Devon, I'm career military, tattoos are something I am very used to seeing and I have a couple. I don't have a problem with any of yours because they all have meaning for you, especially the horses. You drew those didn't you?" Devon nodded. "Bullet and Jazz. Those are very special. My only problem with the tattoos is your age. I know you understand the permanence of them, and I imagine Ace, if he's seen the horses, has already asked you to design one for him." Devon laughed and nodded. "But, I'm gonna tell him and I'm warning you, if I see one mark on that boy before he's eighteen, there is going to be hell to pay. Understand?" Devon nodded and grinned.
Devon got up and walked around the table and hugged Sarge hard. "Thanks, Dad," he said as a few tears fell from his eyes.
Sarge hugged him back. "You're welcome, Son."
Ace came in just then dragging Devon's hot pink luggage.
"Hey, Dad," he said.
"Hey, Ace. Nice luggage."
Ace laughed, "Yep, sure is pretty, ain't it?"
Devon just grinned. "If you guys are finished picking on me, can you show me where you want me?"
"Sure," Ace answered. "Let me show you this first." He led Devon to the side door from the kitchen into the garage.
"Cool space," Devon whistled. "It will be perfect."
"CJ wants me to take you to Michael's or wherever you need to go to get supplies and get this space into shape for you."
"Cuz you need it." Ace grinned. "That's just the way he is."
Devon shook his head. "I don't get it, he doesn't even know me."
"He's knows you're my best friend and how important you are to me. He knows that you are a fantastic artist and that you need a space to work and grow and create," Ace explained. "Look, we don't really talk about it, but Mattie and CJ's grandfather left them a lot of money. A lot. Mattie's is in a trust until he hits twenty-one, but CJ just got his. The first thing he did was buy the ranch and the one next door. He has lots of ideas for the ranch, but his one constant is to have a safe place for family. And to him, we are family. We don't take advantage of his generosity and we all bust our asses working around here, but it's fun and everyone is great."
"It almost seems too good to be true," Devon said.
"It's not. It's good, yes, but it's true too. Wait till you meet everyone tomorrow; they'll love you."
"Ace, look at me. I'm not going to fit in here."
"Dev, it's not about fitting in, it's about being accepted for who you are. That's what these guys do. They accept everyone for what they are, warts and all. They don't judge. There may be a raised eyebrow about the tats or the earrings, but they are not going to judge you or make you feel unwelcome. I guarantee it."
Devon just looked at Ace, his expression showing his doubt.
"C'mon, let's get you settled in your room, it's been a long day," Ace said as he went back to the kitchen.
Ace took Devon's bags and led him down the hallway to his bedroom. He showed Devon where everything was and wished him a good night.
Ace was just drifting off to sleep when he heard his bedroom door open.
He felt the covers being lifted and a shift of the bed as someone got in the bed.
Ace felt a pair of hands wrap around his chest and someone, he knew who, snuggle up against him.
"Mmm, hmm," Devon sighed.
"What are you doing?"
Ace rolled over so he was facing Devon.
"Dev, listen to me," Ace said. "I love you and I don't have a problem with you sleeping here with me…sleeping…that's it. Nothing is going to happen here."
"Ace, I missed you. It's not like we never…"
Ace shook his head. "Devon that was one time. I've always wondered if it was a mistake. We were both young and I thought I was doing something to help you, but maybe I didn't. After what Dad told me, I think I made a mistake."
"No, Ace. You didn't. You did what you did out of love. It hurt when you left, but it would have hurt either way," Devon said. "I'll be honest; if we hadn't had sex, maybe it would have been easier to deal with you leaving, but it gave me something to hold on to when things got rough. The stuff I did in school and with other guys--that was just a way of surviving."
"Well, it's kinda hard to beat up the fag when he's blowing you and your friends on a daily basis."
"It's cool. It wasn't so bad. Some of those jocks are awful hot. And a few of them were actually nice guys who held off the real bullies. It started almost right away. One of the guys after gym class made a joke about me being gay; it's not like it was ever a secret. I cornered him later in the locker room and offered to blow him. He had a big dick and a big mouth…and soon, I was doing half the football team. It made me stronger, I think. I knew who I was and what I was. I accepted my place. Over time, I became what they wanted me to be--that 'out queer'."
Ace wrapped his arms around Devon and squeezed him tight. "Dev, I'm so sorry; you never should have had to go through that."
"It's ok. I survived. The part that pissed me off was every time we got caught, I was always the one who got suspended, the jocks always got off scot free."
"That's just not right. But, Dev, what about at the base?"
"The base?" Devon thought for a second. "Oh, shit. That wasn't sex. My dad and the General seemed to think I was servicing half the base. Actually, I met a guy there one day. He was just eighteen and fresh out of basic and he was so lost. We started talking and we became friends. He's gay. He liked me. We kissed once, but that was it. I would have gone further, but Gray didn't want to put either of us in jeopardy since with the age difference it would have been statutory rape."
"Is he still there?"
"He got deployed in October. He's in Afghanistan. We still write. I love him as a friend, but I don't think we are in love."
"He was just someone you needed and who needed you."
Devon smiled. "Exactly, but now I have you back and that's what I need."
"Devon, I feel the same way about you, but we're not gonna do that," Ace said emphatically.
"I don't want to do that," Devon said as he snuggled back into Ace.
"No. That was one of the best nights, if not the best night of my life," Devon smiled. "That's really the only time I've ever had sex with someone who loved me, but it was a one-time deal--I knew that then and I know that now. I could let myself have sex with you again and again, but that would just be sex and it would spoil the memory of that perfect night. I love you, Ace. I always will. I'm sure there is a part of me that will always be 'in love' with you. But I have accepted that we are always going to be friends and brothers and not lovers."
Devon burrowed into Ace's arms and the two quickly fell asleep.
The next morning, Ace got up early to help with the feedings. When he came back, Devon was just coming out of his room.
Ace laughed when he saw Devon coming down the hall.
Devon stopped. "What?" He was dressed in a red oversized sweatshirt and red converse high-tops. He was also wearing another pair of 'skinny jeans'.
"Man, how in the hell do you get into those jeans?" Ace laughed. "It hurts just looking at them."
Devon grinned. "They're comfortable for me."
"Can you ride in them?"
Devon squatted and stretched. "Well, I can move and bend, so I guess I can ride."
"Do you have boots?" Ace asked pointing at Devon's high-tops.
"Just the ones I had on yesterday."
"Well, maybe one of the guys has a pair you can borrow until we can get to the store and get you some."
"Are we riding today?"
Ace grinned. "Buddy, we ride just about every day. But first, we're gonna go up to the main house and get you introduced to everyone."
Ace and Devon left the ranch house and hopped into Ace's truck and Ace drove them to the main house.
Ace led Devon into the house; CJ and Danny had told him not to bother knocking since he was 'family'.
The house was quiet.
Ace led Devon into the kitchen. Danny was at the table with Idgie, and Bridget, the new housekeeper was fixing breakfast.
"Hey, Ace," Danny said.
"'Morning, Danny," Ace replied. "Danny, this is my friend, Devon McDonald. Dev, this is Danny James and that's Bridget McGuire. You want to be really nice to her, cuz without her we're all back to take-out."
Bridget laughed. She was a short stocky woman of about fifty. She had been career military until her retirement. The boys had taken to her quickly as she was cheerful and a great cook.
"Hey, Devon," Danny said. "Nice to finally meet you. Ace has been telling us about you for weeks and Jesse and Dylan were filling us in about you last night."
Devon blushed deep red. "Really?"
Danny laughed, "Don't worry. They liked you. Of course, they both worship Ace, so if you're his friend they were gonna like you anyways."
Ace walked over to Danny and put his hands out. "Can I?' he asked.
Danny nodded and handed Idgie up to Ace. Ace walked back over to Devon.
"And this is Idgie," Ace said to Devon.
Danny and Ace laughed.
"His name is Aaron James Alvarez," Danny said. "He's named after Zak's and my dad, but we didn't want him to be a junior or call him 'AJ'--we thought that would be too confusing with CJ and AJ. Jesse was with us when he was born and he would always call him 'Smidgen' cuz he was so tiny and somehow we shortened that to 'Idgie'."
"You wanna hold him?" Ace asked Devon.
"Uhh…" Devon paused.
"Don't worry," Danny said. "You won't break him. He's used to all the boys juggling him around."
"And once Zak and Mattie get down here you won't get another chance," Ace laughed.
Danny nodded. "That's for sure. I barely get a chance with him when those two are around. They spent the whole afternoon yesterday holed up with Dusty and Max in Zak's room. I think they were trying to get Idgie to roll over on the bed."
"So, do ya wanna?" Ace asked again.
"I guess so," Devon answered apprehensively.
Ace handed the baby to Devon, showing him how to hold him close and support his head and neck. Devon held Idgie tight. It was the first time he had ever held a baby and he was fascinated by the tiny person.
The three boys sat around talking while Bridget prepared breakfast.
Devon crinkled his nose and looked over at Danny. "Uh, Danny, I think, uh…"
Danny and Ace laughed.
"Time for a change?" Danny asked.
Devon scrunched his face and nodded.
"Here, I'll take him," Bridget said. "As soon as the others get down here I can finish up with breakfast," she said as she carried Idgie upstairs.
"So, Devon, Dylan and Jesse said you have some interesting tattoos," Danny said.
Ace nodded. "Show him the good ones," he instructed.
Devon grinned and stood up. He turned and raised his sweatshirt up so Danny could see the two horses tattooed on his back.
"Wow!!" came a voice from the entryway.
Ace, Devon and Danny looked over and saw Zak, Dusty, Mattie and CJ standing in the entryway.
"Those are great!" Mattie exclaimed as he walked towards Devon.
CJ put his hand on Mattie's shoulder. "Don't even think about it," he told Mattie.
"Aww…" Mattie whined. "Don't you think they're cool?"
"I think the art work is fabulous, but you are too young for ink. When you are eighteen and Mother and Father can't kill me for it, then you can get all the tattoos you want."
Ace stood up. "Guys, this is my friend, Devon McDonald. Devon, this is CJ Alvarez, Idgie and Jesse's other daddy; Zak Myers, Danny's brother; Mattie Alvarez, CJ's brother; and Dusty Crandall, Zak's boyfriend." He paused while everyone said hi to Devon. "Where's Spin?"
Mattie chuckled. "He's still at home, paying off his debt to society."
"Did you ever find out what he did this time?" Ace asked grinning.
"He wouldn't tell me," Mattie laughed. "But whatever he did, he's on house arrest until tomorrow."
"Well, Dev, you'll meet Mattie's boyfriend, Spin, tomorrow then. I think you two will get along famously. He's got a mouth on him, too."
"Too?" CJ asked.
"Oh, yeah," Ace laughed as he started to tell stories of his and Devon's childhood and the problems Devon's temper and sharp tongue would get them into.
Bridget came back down as everyone was getting acquainted and went about finishing breakfast.
Dylan and Jesse showed up just as breakfast was starting.
After breakfast, everyone went their separate ways.
Dusty and Mattie went to the old ranch for lessons. Zak went with them to lead a trail ride. Danny and CJ headed into town to run some errands. Ace wanted to give Devon a tour of the barns and head out for a trail ride. Dylan and Jesse decided they would go with them.
Ace thought Jesse or Dylan might wear the same-sized shoe as Devon so he asked if one of them had an extra pair of boots to lend him. Jesse had several pairs and brought Devon upstairs to try them on. They found a pair that fit him and went back downstairs and out to the barn to meet Ace and Dylan.
Devon was impressed with the new barn. He had spent enough time in stables and at ranches to know that everything there was state of the art.
Ace, Dylan and Jesse introduced Devon to the horses. Devon smiled big when they got to Bullet. Devon walked up the big quarter horse and wrapped his arms around the gelding's neck.
"How are you, you big goof?" he asked as he hugged Bullet.
Bullet rested his head on Devon's shoulder and Devon hugged him.
"What say we get 'em saddled up and head out?" Ace said.
"Who are we gonna put Devon on?" Dylan asked.
"I think Dev's gonna take Bullet."
Devon looked over at Ace. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. It's been awhile for you and you know Bullet and he knows you, so you'll be good," Ace said. He looked at Dylan and Jesse. "I'll take Whisper. You guys go get Dodger and Val and we'll meet you outside."
Dylan and Jesse went to get their horses, while Ace showed Devon where the tack and grooming supplies were for Bullet.
Within thirty minutes the four boys were heading out on the trail.
Dylan and Jesse raced out in front. Dodger and Val loved the freedom of the trails, since they spent most of their time working in the rings, so the two boys let them have their heads and thunder down the trail.
Ace held back with Devon. He knew it had been awhile since Devon had ridden and he wanted to give him a chance to acclimate.
"How you doing, Dev?" Ace asked when they were a ways down the trail.
Devon turned to him and Ace saw a few tears in his eyes.
"You ok?" Ace asked.
Devon nodded. "I'm better than ok. It's been so long since I've ridden, I didn't realize how much I missed it. I let myself think that it was something that I did so that I could spend time with you when we were growing up."
"But, you really did love it," Ace finished.
"This old boy still got his mojo?" Devon grinned.
"Oh, yeah…" Ace laughed.
Devon kicked Bullet into a gallop and took off down the trail with Ace and Whisper in hot pursuit.
The remainder of the holiday break went by quickly.
New Year's Eve the boys had a 'family' party at the house. Since none of them were big partiers, they simply stayed in and watched movies. Bridget put out a big buffet for them to munch on all afternoon and evening.
As they rang in the New Year, they all reflected on the changes they had been through during the past year. Their new friendships, romances and lives.
All went to sleep that night curious as to what changes and challenges the new year would bring.
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