Stevie sat in the studio tinkering on the piano. It had been almost a month since Labor Day and since then things had been a whirlwind. He still had a hard time processing it all. One minute he was getting ready to enjoy a day at the beach with Dave and their new friends and the next minute he was in the middle of a science fiction film.
When Benji first spoke to them telepathically, Stevie almost passed out. He was a country boy at heart and was never much for the supernatural or paranormal. He loved his horses and his music; his life was that simple and that was the way he had wanted it.
Benji, Alex and Dyson had briefly explained about Benji's, Alex's and Oliver's abilities and the prophecy. After listening to the incredible story, it became apparent that a day at the beach was not happening. All six boys piled into their cars and drove back to the twins' house. Once there, Damon and Kai spoke to Dave and Stevie at length, assuring them that everything they had been told was true and that the four boys had taken a risk confiding in their new friends.
It was obvious to Kai that Stevie was having difficulties with what was happening. He pulled Stevie aside and asked him to join Kai in the studio.
When they reached the studio, Kai brought Stevie into his office and relayed his history with Damon.
"I know what you're feeling," Kai had said. "It's a little overwhelming."
Stevie laughed. "It's very overwhelming," he countered.
"Agreed." Kai smiled. "Look, I understand if you're freaked out by all this and we'll understand if you don't want to be involved."
"I don't think I have a choice there," Stevie lamented. "Maybe that's what's bothering me the most. Dave's gonna do this whether I want to or not. Even if it wasn't the whole paranormal thing, which is right up his alley, he's in it for the hacking challenge and I'm sure he's getting all excited about the paranormal or whatever-it-is stuff. I just don't know where I fit in."
"That's easy," Kai said quietly. "You ‘fit in' as their friend. That's really all the guys are looking for, people they can trust. Sure they're interested in Dave's computer skills, but if they hadn't liked and trusted you they never would have revealed any of this to you. Look, I know how you're feeling--kinda like the odd man out?"
"I've felt that way for the last nine years," Kai laughed.
Stevie looked at him quizzically. "But, you're their dad," he objected.
"Right, but all this stuff with the powers, that comes from Damon's family," Kai explained. "I was there when Damon had his powers and when he lost them, but I freaked when we found out the twins had powers. That's why I started teaching them music: it was something we could do together and it helped them learn concentration and discipline. You have things to offer. You're a fantastic musician, you enjoy the outdoors and riding, so I know Benji and Oliver will want you to join them at the barn."
"How do we explain Dave and me suddenly coming out here all the time?"
"It's not a big deal. If anyone was to ask, tell them the truth: you met us when Dave and you came out and we became friends," Kai suggested. "You can also tell them you're coming here to work with your mentor."
"Mentor?" Stevie asked looking at Kai.
Kai nodded. "Before the boys even mentioned letting you and Dave in on the family secrets, I had already decided that I wanted you to come and do an internship with me. You have a great deal of talent and I'd love to work with you to nurture it and get you set up."
"You'd do that for me?" Stevie asked sincerely.
Kai grinned. "Of course; I'd be an idiot not to. This industry is tough and I've seen too many talented people get eaten up and spit out. When I started, what helped me was having a mentor, someone who guided me through the mine field and got me safely to the other side. I made a promise to myself that if I ever became successful that I would help out the next generation. Honestly, you're the first person I've come across with the talent and the drive to make it. I've met plenty of people with some level of talent, but they don't want to work to get anywhere, they want it handed to them; and I've met those who have all the drive and determination, but unfortunately, not enough talent."
"Oh, wow," Stevie stammered. "I don't know what to say. I mean, I know you've seen some of what I can do, but…"
"It's not just about what you can do, it's about you as a person," Kai explained. "The determination you've shown in your life and your relationship with Dave. You both come from backgrounds where you could have easily given up, but you fought and worked to move past the troubles and make a life for yourselves. That tells me what kind of person you are and what kind of drive you have."
Kai had been true to his word. He had Stevie working in the studio almost every day after his classes. In just a month, Stevie felt as if he had learned more than in his first year in college.
Some days he would jam with the twins and Oliver, but most days he simply acted as Kai's intern. He figured as an intern he would simply fetch coffee and answer phones, but instead Kai involved him in production meetings, recording sessions and anything else that went on in the studio.
He loved everything about working with Kai in the studio, but his favorite times were spent playing, whether by himself or with the other boys. Benji and Alex had always ‘jammed,' as they called their improvisational sessions, and Stevie liked the freedom and the fun of it, but he was also directing them more towards developing their own style by re-working established songs and putting their own spin on them. He was thrilled to find out that all three boys had the same eclectic taste in music that he had. They would play for hours moving from classic country to current pop to jazz and everything in between.
Once the initial shock had worn off, he started to realize that the twins and Oliver were simply normal boys with a little something extra. He was still a little unnerved when one of the twins called him telepathically or moved something without touching it, but he was getting better.
He was more relaxed with Oliver as his gifts worked with animals and Stevie loved watching him with the horses when he would go to the ranch with Benji and Oliver. They had managed to get Alex, Dyson and Dave out a few times so they would be prepared for the Columbus Day weekend trip, but most visits were just the three horsemen.
Stevie turned his focus back to the task at hand. He was working on some new arrangements to try with the twins and Oliver when they got home from school. Tonight was their last ‘jam session' for the week as they would be leaving tomorrow afternoon for their long weekend trip.
Dyson sat in the back of the classroom listening to the teacher drone on about the Civil War.
Even after a month, he was still not used to being in a classroom. He understood the need for him to be there--Kai and Damon would have a hard time explaining a sixteen year-old who wasn't in school--but having already earned a Bachelor's Degree it was beyond boring to be in high school classes.
This was his least favorite class, not just because the teacher was at least ten years past retirement age and dry as dust, but it was also the only period he and Alex did not share a class.
He and Dave had spent a few hours on Labor Day creating his new identity as ‘Dyson Martin'. They had covered all the bases, deceased parents, medical and school records, identification, etc.
When Kai had brought Dyson to school that first day, they had requested that he be placed in Alex's classes. Dyson chuckled to himself at Alex's hurt expression when Dyson told Dave to make the grades on his transcripts ‘average' so he would be placed in the right classes.
"I'm not stupid, you know," Alex had pouted.
"No, you're just lazy," Benji laughed.
Ms. Briggs, the guidance counselor, had been able to get Dyson in all of Alex's classes except for the final period of the day. Alex's American History class was full, so she put Dyson in a different one.
At least when Alex was around, Dyson had someone to ‘talk' to. Since Alex wasn't one for paying attention in class anyways, the two spent most of their classes deep in telepathic conversation.
As he and Alex became closer, the telepathic connection between them was becoming stronger. Dyson's training made him more attuned to Alex's, and Benji's powers, but his emotional connection to Alex created a bond between the two.
He had been trained by his father how to guard his thoughts and Alex was more than a little shocked when he found Dyson was capable of shutting him out. Dyson laughed at the memory. It was the first night after Dyson had started classes and he was going through the motions of completing his homework. He was sitting at the kitchen table with Alex and they were both working on some geometry problems. Dyson had sensed Alex trying to read him.
"Hey!" Alex exclaimed. "How did you do that?" he asked when he sensed Dyson's mind shut him out.
Dyson looked up and grinned. "My father trained me to sense a telepath reading me and how to defend myself. So no cheating."
Alex glared at Dyson. "What's the point of having a boyfriend who graduated college if he's not willing to help me out?"
"I'm more than willing to ‘help' you, Alex, I'm just not gonna do your homework for you," Dyson replied as he went back to his work.
After a moment, Dyson looked back up. "What do you mean ‘boyfriend'?" he asked.
Alex looked at him and grinned. "Well, you are, aren't you?"
Dyson blinked. "I-I-I hadn't really thought about it," he stammered.
Alex walked around the Dyson's chair and placed his hands on his shoulder.
"Calm down, Dice, I'm not proposing marriage or anything," he said quietly as he rubbed Dyson's shoulders. "I like you and I thought you liked me."
"I do," Dyson said reaching back and placing his hand on Alex's. "But this is all new to me; I've been kind of sheltered."
Alex leaned down on kissed Dyson gently on the cheek. Dyson turned towards Alex and their lips met.
"I know," Alex said quietly when they broke the kiss. "I haven't been sheltered, but I've never called anyone my boyfriend, or girlfriend, before." He kneeled down next to Dyson's chair still holding his hand. "Dice, I'm not a virgin--not by any stretch of the imagination, you know that; but what I feel for you is so different from anything I've ever felt. I know it's only been a few days, but I feel like you're the one I've been waiting for. I don't want to rush you into anything. We can go as slow as you want. This isn't about sex or a conquest for me."
Dyson looked deeply into Alex's warm brown eyes. Even without Alex's gifts, he could sense Alex's sincerity.
"I'm not ready for anything physical, but I would be happy to be your ‘boyfriend'."
Alex's eyes widened as he grinned.
"How did you do that?"
"We're connected. The same way that Benji and Oliver are or that your dads were."
Alex leaned in and kissed Dyson passionately.
Dyson discretely reached down to adjust himself as the memory of Alex was making him hard.
Alex had been true to his word and had never tried to pressure Dyson into going further than he felt comfortable. They hadn't done much more than kissing and jacking each other off. Dyson had pretty much moved into Alex's room with no objection from Damon or Kai.
Dyson was surprised that he was looking forward to the camping trip this weekend. He had gone riding at the ranch a few times and had enjoyed it, so he was looking forward to some fun days riding in the hills and along the beach. But, more than that, he was looking forward to the nights when he and Alex would be sharing a tent. He knew he felt the same pull to Alex that Alex had felt towards him and he was ready to take the next step in their relationship.
Oliver lay in bed as another wave of nausea passed over him.
He hated missing school, or more to the point, he hated not seeing Benji. The two had been practically inseparable since they had met. This was the first school day they had not seen each other.
He heard footsteps coming up the stairs and quickly closed his eyes and made his breathing as even as possible.
He heard someone enter the room and caught a whiff of his mother's floral perfume. He fought the bile that started its way from his stomach.
He felt his mother's cool hand touch his forehead.
"Tsk, tsk. Poor baby," she said as she placed a cool cloth on his forehead.
He heard her place something on the nightstand and then she left the room quietly closing the door.
He opened his eyes and looked over to the nightstand where she had left a glass of ginger ale for him.
He shook his head. The change in his mother since Benji had ‘cured' her depression and alcoholism had been dramatic to say the least. Oliver had gone from feeling like an orphan to being smothered with love and attention.
"She's driving me around the bloody bend," he had lamented to Benji a week after she had been ‘cured'.
They were in Benji's truck driving to the ranch.
"Have you ever heard the old saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for'?" Benji asked sympathetically.
"I know and I'm thrilled that she's not depressed and not drinking and being a mom again--well, actually more than she's ever been--but she's gone from one extreme to the other. Some days I feel like she's not even going to let me out of her sight," Oliver sighed. "She's started talking about driving me to school. I explained that it's no trouble for you to pick me up and drop me off, but she's insisting."
"She's probably just overcompensating. If she's finally seeing things clearly, she's probably got some guilt going about not being there for you for so long."
"I've talked to her and father about that," Oliver replied. "I told her I love her and I'm just happy that she's better now. I'm just happy to have a mum, I don't need a ‘Supermum'."
"How did she react when you and your dad told her about your powers last night?"
Oliver shrugged. "She took it quite well. I know your dads talking to mine sure helped. He's done some family research, but it's been quite fruitless so far. Mum was more interested in your powers than mine. We explained what you had done to her and that it wasn't intentional."
"Was she mad?"
"No, quite the opposite, she was in tears," Oliver answered. "She wanted to call you right away to thank you, but I told her she could talk to you in person when you dropped me off. She said she should have suspected something since she felt so great all of the sudden, but she was just happy to be free of the black cloud."
"I'm just glad she's not pissed at me."
"No, I think she wants to adopt you," Oliver quipped.
"Too late," Benji laughed. He reached over and took Oliver's hand. "She'll just have to settle for ‘son-in-law'."
"She's cool with that."
"Good, cuz I'm not letting you go," Benji replied as he raised Oliver's hand to his lips and kissed it. "You know, there are all sorts of committees and clubs at school that are always looking for parent volunteers, maybe we could aim your mom at a couple of those."
"It's worth a try," Oliver sighed.
Oliver shook his head and sipped his ginger ale. They had suggested a couple of committees to his mother and she had joined them, but it didn't take up as much of her time as he would have liked.
He prayed that his illness was just a 24-hour flu and he was alright in the morning, because he needed to get away on their trip this weekend. Already his mother had made him stay home most nights this week to offset his being away for three nights. The first week, he and Benji had been together at Benji's house, but when his mother started getting clingy they had taken to alternating.
Neither of his parents minded if Benji stayed over. He had talked to his father, who knew that at their age, if the two were going to be sexually active there was nothing he could do to stop it. Oliver assured him that he and Benji were taking things slowly and neither one was in any hurry to jump into sex.
Charlie sat on the ten meter board and looked down at the calm water in the pool. Practice had been over for almost an hour and he was enjoying the quiet and the solitude.
He had endured stares and glares from Hunter and his friends for the last month, but none of them had said anything to the coach. They didn't have to, the coach was aware that something was up with Charlie.
He didn't know what was happening to him or why he could do these things now, but he found himself trying desperately to keep his newfound abilities a secret. In doing so, he was forcing himself to swim slower and he was messing up his racing times as well as his diving.
When the coach had asked him if anything was wrong, he made up some story about family issues distracting him. The coach looked at him sympathetically, but Charlie knew his sympathy was only going to last until the first meet of the season which was the first weekend in November.
He and Kris had spent several late nights and early mornings at the pool trying to figure out how these new abilities worked.
Last night they had tried again.
"How long was I under that time?" Charlie asked once he caught his breath.
"A little under a minute," Kris replied. He was seated on the edge of the pool, his feet dangling in the water. "Nothing ‘clicked', huh?"
Charlie shook his head as he bobbed on the surface. "Nothing. Other than the time you tried to drown me and when I was hiding from Hunter, nothing's happened."
Kris grinned and slipped into the pool. He slowly swam towards Charlie.
"Well, I could dunk you again," he offered with a laugh.
Charlie shook his head. "Don't you dare!" he ordered. "Last time I almost shot you out of the pool."
Kris stopped, his feet kicking to keep him floating. He was inches from Charlie.
"Don't worry," he said reassuringly. "We'll figure something out."
He reached out and grabbed Charlie's forearm and pulled the smaller boy to him. He wrapped his arms around Charlie's waist and kissed him deeply. Both boys closed their eyes as they enjoyed the kiss. Charlie moved his hand behind Kris's head and pulled him closer.
"Ow!" Kris cried breaking the kiss. He felt the back of his neck. "Did you scratch me?"
"Oh, shit!" Charlie exclaimed looking at his hands. "It's back." His hands were again webbed and his fingers and nails were considerable longer than they usually were.
Kris moved his arms to give Charlie some space.
"See what you can do," he suggested.
"Charlie did a shallow jackknife and headed to the bottom of the pool. When he flipped, Kris noticed that his feet were webbed and longer than before as well.
Kris swam over to the side of pool and pulled himself out. He watched as Charlie stood at the bottom of the pool.
"Can you hear me?" he asked in a normal voice. He grinned as he saw Charlie give him a thumbs up. "How about see me?" Charlie gave him two thumbs up. "Cool. See if you can make the length of the pool without coming up."
Charlie walked across the bottom of the pool until he reached the wall and then he took off for the other end.
Kris timed him on his phone. He was shocked when Charlie touched back at the wall he had started at.
"Shit, Charlie, you did 100 meters in under fifteen seconds," he said excitedly. "I wonder how fast you'd be if you went straight out with no walls. We need to get to a lake or the ocean and see what you can do."
He saw Charlie hold up his index finger and watched stunned as Charlie rose to the surface being pushed by a column of water. The column stopped rising when Charlie was completely out of the water and then it slid across the surface of the pool until Charlie could step onto the pool deck. Once Charlie was standing next to a shocked Kris, the column returned to its liquid form.
"How did…what was…what the…" Kris stammered.
Charlie grinned. "I don't know. It's like something ‘unlocked' inside of me. I don't understand how, but somehow I can control the water."
"Yah, watch this." Charlie closed his eyes and concentrated. When he opened them, Kris saw that again his eyes were completely black.
Kris watched slack-jawed as the water in the pool began ripple. To Kris, it looked like the wind blowing across a lake. The ripples became bigger and bigger until small waves were washing over the boys' feet as they stood.
"How are you doing this?"
"I can't explain it," Charlie said. "It's like I suddenly understood what I could do. I just think about it and it happens." He took Kris's hand in his and led him to the edge of the deck. "Watch."
Charlie held his empty hand over the water.
Kris noticed that Charlie's hand was normal again. He watched mesmerized as the water grew still at their feet.
Charlie tugged at Kris's hand. "C'mon," he said with a grin.
Kris stepped forward, but instead of plunging into the pool like he expected, he found himself standing on the water. He couldn't describe the feeling. It was cool, wet and solid, but not frozen like ice.
Suddenly they started to move. The spot they stood on moved silently over the top of the pool until they were on the other side. Kris almost jumped onto the deck.
Charlie was smiling as he followed his roommate. "Neat, huh?"
Kris nodded nervously.
Charlie stood up on the diving platform and watched the water below. Kris had barely spoken to him since. Physically, he was there, but emotionally he was pulling away. Charlie figured Kris must be scared of him now that Charlie had embraced these new abilities.
He and Kris had become so close over the past weeks. Tomorrow, they were supposed to go camping for the long weekend with Dylan and Jesse. He hoped that Kris was still planning to go and that he would come to realize that Charlie was the same as he always was.
Dave sat in the room in the playhouse that he and Dyson had procured for their computer setup. They had jokingly named it ‘The Cave', as it was a room with no windows and both tended to keep it relatively dark when they were working.
As much as he loved the give and take of ideas that often flowed between Dyson and him when they worked together, he relished the times when he was able to work by himself. He often found himself slipping into the ‘zone' as Stevie called it. When he was in the ‘zone' time the outside world ceased to exist. He could sit at his computer and work on a problem for hours without realizing that even a moment had passed.
He looked at the small clock in the corner of his computer screen and realized he had done it again. He had been working on breaking into the records of a large adoption agency for almost three hours.
It had been almost a week since he had been able to work alone like this. The last time he had been shaken from his trance by Damon's arrival into the ‘cave'.
"Sorry, Dave," Damon said apologetically. "I didn't realize you were in here. I was looking for the boys."
"No, problem," Dave replied. "I think I'm the only one around here. Dyson drove into the city to look for a few things we needed in here and I think Alex went with him; and Benji and Oliver were heading out to the ranch, so of course, Stevie tagged along with them."
"Ok," Damon said. "Just as long as I know where they are. I tend to get a little anxious these days."
Dave nodded. "I can understand that. It must all be a little overwhelming."
"I keep thinking I should be the most adjusted to all this, since I grew up with it," Damon lamented. "And I was, until it went beyond my sons. Now the gravity of the whole thing is always weighing on me."
"Well, there is safety in numbers," Dave offered. "On the positive side, you and Kai know that Benji and Alex aren't alone anymore."
"I do try to think of it that way, but I still worry--a father's prerogative I guess," Damon shrugged. "Anyways, how is your work coming in here? Any luck finding the other boys?"
Dave shook his head. "I think that Dyson thought this would be simpler than it is."
"Well, he figured we'd be hacking into adoption records and looking for boys who were adopted and have the same birthdate as Alex, Benji and Oliver."
"No luck with that?"
"We've had some luck in finding boys with that birthday who are adopted, but we keep ruling them out for one reason or another," Dave replied. "I think we need to broaden the search. After all, not every adoption is legal, plus there are circumstances where a family member may take an orphaned child in and not consider him ‘adopted'."
"I never thought of that and I'll bet Dyson didn't either."
"The whole thing with adoption is guesswork anyways," Dave stated. "I've been going through all the historical records that Dyson transcribed to disc and there is nothing in them about it. It only speaks of ‘The Chosen' being five individuals who will be brought together and gain ‘great power'. We're all assuming because the twins and Oliver were all adopted that the other two are adopted as well. It's an educated guess, but it's still a guess."
"So how are we going to find them?"
"Well, I'm still mainly working on adoption agencies and hospital records, but I've also got some keyword searches going on in the background."
"Searches for what?"
"Incidents that can't be explained--paranormal activity, that sort of thing."
"Are you searching news outlets?"
Dave laughed and nodded. "I am, but I'm also searching a lot of more ‘fringe' type blogs and webpages. Of course, 99% of what they post is B.S., but I still slog through as much as I can."
"Wow, I didn't realize you were doing that much work on this. I hope it's not interfering with your schoolwork or your personal life."
"Not really. All this hacking and research is good practice for me and it's fun. As far as personal life, it's actually never been better. Since Stevie is here almost as much as I am, we're together now more than we were before when we were only seeing each other at night and in passing."
"What about your job at the computer store?"
"Oh, I quit," Dave stated. "It was never a money thing for me, since I have a full scholarship and the apartment is paid for by Stevie's ‘grandfather'; I was working for the experience and this is far better experience than I was getting there."
"I just don't want you guys to feel like we're taking advantage of you," Damon said.
"Advantage?!" Dave shook his head emphatically. "Damon, neither of us has been this happy in a long time. You guys have treated us like family. We're doing things we love. I've never seen Stevie so excited, between his work with Kai and getting to spend time at the ranch. For the longest time, we've both felt like it was us against the world; before that we were both alone and now we feel like we have a family."
Dave smiled at the memory. ‘Family' wasn't a word that brought positive feelings for him until now.
He was shaken out of his reverie by a flash on one of the computer screens. He turned to the screen and read the blog that had popped up.
"Mysterious Fire Destroys Prep School Classroom," the headline read.
Dave skimmed the story. It was yet another story about an ‘unexplained' incident, this time a fire. There were no signs of arson and investigators could not find a direct cause. He put the link in a ‘favorites' folder marked ‘Maybe' to follow-up on later.
Alex swerved between cars on his motorcycle. He had dropped Dyson at home after school and was on his way to the mall to run a few errands for his dads.
He grinned to himself when he thought about how great the last few weeks had been. Finding Dyson was like finding a missing piece of himself.
He knew that Benji was feeling the same way about Oliver which made him even happier. He had at least had a social life, but Benji had always been more of a loner until he met Oliver.
A few days earlier he had been riding on the trail with Oliver, while Benji had stayed behind to help Dyson.
"I have to thank you, Oliver," Alex said.
"For what?" Oliver asked, surprised by Alex's serious tone.
Alex grinned. "For making my baby brother so happy these last few weeks."
Oliver relaxed and laughed. "Well, I wouldn't let him hear you call him your ‘baby brother', but you don't have to thank me. I'm thankful every day that I found him."
"He is my baby brother," Alex replied. "He may only be a few minutes younger and a lot more mature than I am, but I've always felt I had to protect him."
"I don't know; from himself, I guess."
"I don't follow."
"Benji's always been the sensitive one, the quiet one," Alex offered. "Well, not always I guess--when we were little we were probably both holy terrors; but I was the leader most of the time. After we discovered our powers he changed."
"He became more introverted. In a way, I think the first powers we got reflected our personalities or even amplified them," Alex explained. "My powers were more physical--the telekinesis: I could move things, throw things, and I was always loud and outgoing. The telepathy made B more introverted. He could talk to me and our dads, but he had to keep it a secret from everyone else. Plus, I know it was hard for him to block people out. I never realized just how hard until my telepathy kicked in. I'm sixteen and I've had to struggle to block out the noise; he was seven and even though he had my dad to help him, he still found it easier to hide in himself than to be around a lot of people."
"I guess I never thought of that," Oliver said. "Benji's always seemed so happy and open to me."
"That's what I mean when I say ‘thanks'," Alex said. "He's able to be himself with you. You're really the first person outside of the family who's seen him like that and because of the effect you've had on him, he's been able to open up with Stevie and Dave and people at school. I've had more than a few friends ask me about him and the way he's changed."
"Well, if I was able to help him, then I'm glad," Oliver said. "He's the best thing that's ever happened to me and what he did for my mother has been so great for her and my family."
"You love him, don't you?" Alex asked.
Oliver blushed. "Isn't it obvious?"
Alex nodded and grinned. "A person doesn't have to be a mind reader to see it."
"What about Dyson?"
"Do I love him?" Alex thought for a moment. "I think so. I've never felt for anyone what I feel when I'm around him. I told Benji he makes me feel like a virgin."
"Don't you think in a way you are?"
"Benji told me about your ‘social life'," Oliver replied. "But, he also said he thought that most of that was recreational not romantic."
"So for the first time you have met someone you have feelings for, you are listening to your heart and not your cock. You're going through the same thing as Benji and I are."
The blaring horn from a sports car stopped behind him shook Alex from his thoughts.
He revved his bike and zipped down the street.
Oliver had been right: everything about his relationship with Dyson was new to him. He wasn't pursuing a conquest or looking for sex. He realized he was putting Dyson's feelings and needs ahead of his own.
Benji turned his truck down the ranch driveway. He sighed audibly. This was the first time he had come here alone since he had met Oliver. Before Oliver, he would have relished being alone with Arya and spending a long afternoon on the trails. Now he was almost melancholy.
He pulled into his usual spot next to the barn and cut the engine.
He thought back to the other day when he had been trying to work with Dyson on his riding.
Dyson rode around the pen on a palomino quarter horse named Buzz. Buzz was a good beginner horse who had been there and seen that.
"Dice, loosen your wrists and unlock your elbows," Benji instructed from the center of the round pen. "Let your wrists move with his head, don't pull the reins so tight. Keep your heels down and that will make your butt stick to the saddle. Grip with your thighs. Use your weight to turn him, not the reins, they're not handlebars."
Dyson brought the gelding to stop in front of Benji.
"This is fun for you?" he asked.
Benji laughed. "Yes, it's a lot of fun," he answered. "You just need to relax. Riding is a partnership between you and the horse. You're communicating with him through your legs, your seat and your hands."
"I thought you used these things to turn him," Dyson said holding the reins up.
"That's what most people think," Benji explained. "And it's what most people do, but they do it too hard. It's easier to turn him using your weight. In Buzz's case, he neck reins, so if you gently lay the reins on his neck in the direction you want to go, he'll turn. In your case, you're using them like a lot of new riders do: you're using them to balance yourself."
"No, I'm not," Dyson argued.
Benji grinned. "Yes, you are. Here, hop down and I'll show you."
Dyson dismounted and handed the reins to Benji. Benji took them and mounted.
"Stand in the middle and just watch me," Benji instructed as he moved Buzz into a walk around the pen. "You're doing this." He raised his hands with the reins and moved them all over in lots of directions. "This makes you think you are balanced and confuses the horse. In all honesty, you don't even need the reins." He looped the reins around the saddle horn and squeezed his calves to move the horse into a canter.
Dyson watched as horse and rider cantered around the pen.
Benji was relaxed and his body moved with the horse. He never touched the reins or the saddle horn as he rode. After a few laps, Benji picked up the reins and brought the horse to a stop.
"I hope I don't have to do that," Dyson said shaking his head.
Benji slipped off the horse and grinned. "No, I was just trying to show you that you don't need the reins. In some disciplines you would actually need them--like in dressage, you make sure the horse is on the bit, so you need your hands and the reins; but for this horse and the way we're riding, you really don't."
"I don't think I'll ever get this."
"Sure you will," Benji replied. "You're doing better after just a few times than Alex did. I've been dragging him out here for years and he still is pretty much a novice."
"He doesn't like it?"
Benji shrugged. "I think for the longest time he just came out to keep me company. Most of the time I was fine by myself, but he would worry about me being alone and feel guilty and then come out here with me."
"I can't imagine Alex feeling guilty," Dyson said.
"I don't know if ‘guilty' is the right word. I would just pick up feelings from him. He would always be worried about me and think he had to take care of me," Benji explained. "It was him being the ‘big brother'."
"You would read him?"
Benji shook his head. "Not on purpose, but when I first found my powers, it was hard to turn off, especially when it came to Alex. Not only is he my twin, so we're connected that way, but he's so outgoing he almost radiates his feelings. That was one of the hardest things to control. Learning to block out the noise was hard, but feelings and emotions are harder to block out."
"So Alex was your protector?" Dyson asked.
"You know Alex, he's such an extrovert, he can't imagine anyone choosing to be by themselves. He would think I was hiding from the world and maybe sometimes I was. The peace and quiet out here was something I yearned for, especially after spending eight hours at school blocking everything out. Most days he'd let me come alone, cuz he had lacrosse or soccer practice or something with friends, but then I'd get that vibe from him, that he was feeling like he was neglecting me and he'd volunteer to come with me."
"What about his ‘dates'?" Dyson queried.
Benji grinned and shook his head. "Nope. I'm not telling tales on my brother."
Dyson laughed. "Don't worry; he's been quite honest with me about his past activities. I was just curious what your take was."
Benji nodded. "Like I said, he's always been very outgoing, always been the center of attention. I don't think it's something he tries for, it just happens. He has a strong personality. I think at first the sex thing was a challenge, like most boys our age."
"But not you?"
Benji shook his head. "Not me. But for Alex, I've always thought a big part of it was him trying to find a connection. There was never an emotional component to it, at least as far as I could tell. At least until you came along."
"What's the matter?" Benji asked quietly. "Are you afraid that it's not real?"
"No, I know it's real. I guess I'm just a little nervous," Dyson answered. "I never even thought about a relationship until I met Alex. I mean, I knew I was gay, but I never thought about it, I was too busy working with my father and studying. I guess this is just one area that I feel completely inadequate."
"Why? Because A's a walking hormone?" Benji chuckled.
Dyson grinned. "In a way. He's so experienced and I'm decidedly not. He's been great about taking things slow, but I get this feeling that I won't measure up."
Benji put his hand on Dyson's shoulder. "Dice, just the fact that Alex wasn't trying to jump you on day one should tell you something. I can tell you, honestly, Alex loves you. I don't know if he even realizes how much at this point, but like I said, I am keyed into his emotions and I can feel it coming off him in waves. Remember, the relationship thing is new for him, too."
"I know you're right," Dyson shrugged. "I just have to trust in it I guess."
"That you do," Benji said as he handed Dyson Buzz's reins. "Now get back up there. We only have a few days before the camping trip."
Benji jumped when someone tapped on his truck window. He turned to see Dale standing there smiling at him.
Kris sat on a bale of hay in the corner of the barn. He had just finished a lesson with Jesse and it hadn't gone well.
"Kris, where is your head at today?" Jesse sighed as Kris came to a stop in front of him. "You're too tense. He's not on the bit; when you were cantering you were on the wrong lead twice, your circles were more like ovals and you're rushing through your pirouettes."
Kris was riding Samson, one of two black Arabians that had been donated to the school a few days after Kris arrived. Samson and Sabre, his half-brother, were both dressage trained, so Jesse had asked Kris to work with them, since he was the only student Jesse had with the appropriate training.
"I'm sorry, Jess," Kris said as he dismounted. "I'm just too distracted right now."
"It's…" Kris hesitated as he too off his helmet and gloves.
"Did you guys have a fight?"
"No, nothing like that," Kris shrugged. "It probably would have been easier if we had, then I would know how to act."
"It can't be that bad," Jesse assured him. "Can you talk about it?"
"Uhh..something happened," Kris said hesitantly. "Nothing that was Charlie's fault. It just caught me by surprise and I think I probably reacted wrong."
"Did you say something you shouldn't have?"
"No, actually, I didn't say anything at all."
"And you haven't talked about it since?"
Kris shook his head. "No, it was last night and we haven't had a chance to talk about it."
"You're afraid you hurt his feelings?"
"I'm not sure what I'm afraid of," Kris answered. "I don't want to hurt him or for him to think I don't care. It's just complicated."
"Maybe it's not." Jesse grinned. "Maybe you're just making it more complicated than it needs to be."
Kris shook his head glumly and turned to re-mount Samson.
Jesse reached up and placed his hand on Kris's shoulder and turned him back around.
"Look, Kris, I know we've only known each other for a few weeks, but I know you're a good guy with a good heart," Jesse said sincerely. "Charlie, I've known longer and I've never known him to hold a grudge or be angry. I also know that he really likes you and I kinda think you feel the same way."
Kris nodded shyly. "I do."
"Then just talk to him, be honest about what you're feeling. That's the only thing that can help any relationship."
"But, what if…"
Jesse shook his head. "No. Don't start the ‘what if' game. Your mind can create a million different outcomes and none of them will be right. You can sit here and think up every negative possibility and I can counter with a positive one. Until you talk to him, neither of us will know."
Kris leaned back against the barn wall. He knew Jesse was right, Charlie was the sweetest person he had ever met and he would never hold a grudge, but it killed him to think that he might have scared or hurt Charlie with his reaction at the pool last night.
He closed his eyes and tried to push the negative thoughts out of his head. Everything had been going so well since he came to Lancaster and Charlie was the best of it all.
He sighed and inhaled deeply. A sharp smell hit his nose. He sat up and his eyes snapped open.
He inhaled deeply a second time. He knew it; he was smelling smoke and it was close.
He stood up and walked quickly down the aisle between the stalls. He looked all over for any signs of smoke or fire. The farther along he went the stronger the smell got. When he reached Sabre's and Samson's stalls the two geldings were loud and moving about nervously.
Then he saw the smoke coming out from under the door of the feed room next to the two new horses' stalls.
"Shit! Fire! Fire!" he called, hoping that someone else was around.
He ran to open Samson's stall. He slipped a halter on the black and led him out of the barn and put him in the nearest paddock. He pulled out his cell phone and called 911.
When he returned to get Sabre he saw that one wall of gelding's stall was burning. The terrified horse was standing on the other side of the stall.
"Sabre, it's ok," Kris said as calmly as he could. He saw the flames going up the wall and saw the panic in the horse's eyes.
Not thinking of his own safety, Kris grabbed a halter and pulled open the stall door.
"Shh, that's a good boy," he cooed as he approached the horse. "It's gonna be fine." He calmly stroked the horse's neck and spoke softly to him. He slipped the halter on the horse and tried to lead him out of the stall.
Sabre reared at the sight of the flames and pulled away from Kris.
Kris stripped off his shirt and slowly approached the horse again. He took hold of the halter and draped his shirt over Sabre's eyes.
He slowly led the horse across the stall. They were almost to the stall door when the shirt slipped and the horse bolted pushing Kris against the burning wall.
Unable to stop himself, Kris braced for the searing heat. Instead, when his body hit the wall, he felt only gentle warmth. The flames licked his bare back and arms, but he felt no pain. Kris felt a pull as the flames engulfed him. His breeches and chaps were smoldering. His mind whirled as he realized his skin was not burning.
He stepped away from the wall and like metal shavings to a magnet, the flames followed him until the only thing alight was Kris.
Suddenly he knew what he could do. He concentrated on the flames and watched as they slowly extinguished themselves.
He stood in the smoky and blackened stall, his flesh red from the heat of the flames. Patches of his breeches and chaps were charred and burned through.
He held his hands out in front of himself and closed his eyes. He concentrated and when he opened his eyes there were flames dancing in the palms of his hands.
"What the hell is happening to me?" he thought.