The seven boys sat at a large table in a Pizza Hut they had stopped at on the way to Dream Makers Rescue Ranch. They had left as soon as the younger boys had gotten out of school. Given their numbers they had taken two vehicles. CJ, Danny, Mattie and Spin had ridden in CJ’s jeep, while Dusty, Zak and Dylan were riding in the Triple J’s F-250 Super Cab. The Super Cab was also towing an empty trailer that most of the boys thought would be carrying Max’s new horse back to the ranch, but Zak also had plans for Dylan to have a new horse on board before the weekend was over.
They had decided to stop for a bite to eat in the same area they had stopped on their first trip to Lancaster. At first they were going to stop at the same Bob Evans restaurant they had stopped at on that trip, but after thinking it over, they decided that given Mattie and Spin’s use of the men’s room the last time, they would be better off trying a different place. Plus, like most teenage boys, they were all fans of pizza and knew they could get in and out of a pizza place much faster.
After they had all placed their orders, they broke into different conversations, until Zak brought up a subject that had been on all of their minds.
“CJ, what’s the plan for this week and your meeting with your parents?” Zak asked as everyone stopped their conversations.
CJ grinned. “Well, my birthday is Wednesday, so that is the day that my parents are expecting me to meet them at their lawyer’s office to sign the trust documents,” he answered. “I guess I should ‘arrive’ on Tuesday night and then head over to the lawyer’s with them on Wednesday. I was planning for the fireworks to start that day, but there has been a slight change in plans.”
CJ noticed Danny face start to fall. He reached over and grabbed Danny’s hand. CJ brought Danny’s hand to his lips and kissed it.
“Don’t worry, babe,” CJ said to Danny. “They are going to know the truth.”
Danny looked at CJ and smiled.
CJ continued, “I was going to just come out as soon as the papers were signed and my father couldn’t do anything about the trust, but apparently a certain little brother of mine”--he glared at Mattie who grinned shyly and shrugged his shoulders--“decided to convince my mother that I should have a birthday party.”
Mattie nodded. “You only turn twenty-one once,” he declared. “And if you are going to do this, you might as well do it big.” He grinned at his brother.
CJ shook his head. “So I got an e-mail from Mother telling me that they were having a party for me on Friday night. Just family and friends. Apparently it’s a command performance for all.”
Mattie nodded. “Pete and Natalia have been instructed to be here and I convinced Mother that I should have some friends come, since most of the people there will be adults.”
CJ just stared at Mattie. “You really put some planning into this didn’t you?”
Mattie smiled. “Well, you should only have to go through this once. We know it’s probably not going to go well, so I’ll be there and Spin, Dusty, Zak and Dylan are all invited. So you’ll have some support.”
Danny looked up. “What about me?” he asked.
Mattie laughed, “That’s the best part.”
CJ just shook his head. “You know, you are evil sometimes,” he laughed at his brother as he turned to his lover. “He got my mother to instruct me to bring a date.”
Danny just stared at Mattie. “You didn’t.”
“Oh, yes, I did,” Mattie confirmed. “I just suggested that CJ probably had someone special and we should make sure he knew that he could bring this person with him. Mother and Father assume it’s a she, so when you get there with CJ, the cat will be out of the bag. If they think that you are still just his roommate, which is entirely possible since my father is great with denial, then we will set them straight.”
CJ and Danny just stared at Mattie. “Here we go again.” CJ said as he rolled his eyes.
“Yes, I’m not letting you go through this alone,” Mattie declared. “If things go really badly, I’m going to back you up. If that means coming out to Mother and Father, then that is what I’m going to do.”
“Mattie, are you sure?” Danny asked. “Zak is the only family I have and he knows so I have nothing to lose; CJ is legally an adult and he can support himself. If you do this you could lose just about everything.”
Mattie had a determined look on his face. “I’ll have my brother and I’ll have my friends,” he said. “I’ll have the people who know me and love me and support me. If my parents are willing to turn their backs on my brother because of something he has no control over, then I would be a hypocrite to hide the same thing about myself.”
CJ turned to Danny. “Baby, I’ve already had this conversation with him. I can’t get him to change his mind and he’s old enough to make this decision. Just know, if things go the way we expect, he’s our new roommate.”
Danny nodded. “I don’t have a problem with that.” He looked at Mattie. “Mattie, I love you like a brother, just like CJ loves Zak. You are more than welcome to stay with us. I just wanted to make sure you knew exactly what you were getting into. You can’t take this back.”
Mattie looked at his friends and his brother gathered around him. His face was dark and serious. “I know that this is something that can’t be undone. I accept that. I can’t sit by and watch CJ be thrown out and do nothing.”
“Mattie,” Dusty interrupted. “Have you considered that your parents may be more accepting than you are giving them credit for?”
Mattie sighed and looked at CJ. CJ shook his head. “Dusty, as much as we’d both like to think that things won’t take a turn for the worse, we know our parents and we know the way our father feels about homosexuality,” CJ stated. “There are many things he may not like, but could accept--this is not one of them. I’d like to think that he had become enlightened in the years I’ve been away at school, but talking to Mattie the last few days I know that is not the case. I know that some people fear the worst and things turn out well, but I can assure you this is not going to be one of those cases.”
“Spin, what about you?” Danny asked looking at the unusually quiet redheaded wrecking ball.
Spin looked up. “What about me?’ he asked.
“If Mattie comes out publically, how is that going to affect you?”
“I’m good. I already talked to my parents last night.”
“You did!?!” asked Zak. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Spin grinned. “You didn’t ask. Besides it was really a non-event. They suspected something was up between Mattie and me since your birthday weekend. They really don’t care if I’m gay or straight or bi. They love Mattie and they think he’s a ’good influence’ on me.”
“But, beyond your parents, are you ready?” asked CJ.
“For what?” Spin was confused.
“Spin, if Mattie comes out at my party, there will be people there and word will spread. You will most likely be out at school after that. Are you ready for that?”
“Yes,” Spin answered. “CJ, I know everyone thinks I’m...uh...”
“Hyper,” said Zak.
“A spaz,” said Dylan.
“Energetic,” said Dusty.
“Scattered,” said Mattie.
Spin looked at his friends. “Thanks, guys, love you too.”
“Spin, we all love you and accept you, quirks and all,” said Zak.
“And that’s why I’m ready for this,” Spin said defiantly. “I have you guys no matter what. I don’t care what other kids at school think. Do I care if they know how I feel about Mattie? Hell, no. I love him and I’ll shout it from the rooftops if I have to.”
Mattie smiled brightly and leaned over and kissed Spin on the cheek. “My hero,” he said as Spin turned several shades of red.
“Well, I guess that’s settled,” CJ said.
“CJ, are you sure that after you come out nothing can be done to the trusts?” Zak asked.
CJ nodded. “Yes, I’ll have already signed the paperwork, so no matter what my father tries he won’t be able to touch it.”
“But, what about Mattie’s?” Spin asked.
“His is safe too,” CJ answered. “I had my lawyer check the trust documents and there is nothing anyone can do to alter my grandfather’s wishes. The trusts clearly state that we each get our inheritance on our twenty-first birthday and Grandfather was smart enough to not get fancy and try to make demands like marriage or kids or school. All the trust says is that we get the trusts when we turn twenty-one. And just to make sure there is no funny business, my lawyer will be with me on Wednesday at the meeting.”
“How did you find a lawyer so soon?” Mattie asked. “You just moved here.”
CJ nodded towards Dusty and grinned. “Well, your best friend, and my ‘brother-in-law’, has a mom who is a paralegal and she was able to get me in to see her boss.”
“Yep, when CJ started talking about possible problems with his dad and the trust, I asked Mom to speak with Mr. Claridge. He specializes in estate planning, so the trust documents were right up his street,” Dusty said.
“So, do you know how much it’s worth?” Spin asked with his usual tact.
CJ laughed, “Yes, I do, Spin.”
Spin frowned. “But you’re not going to tell us.”
“Spin, it’s none of our business,” Zak interjected.
CJ laughed, “Spin, just know it’s enough for Danny and me to take care of the ranch and the new rescue and keep building.” He nodded to Mattie. In fact, in reviewing the documents with Mr. Claridge I found out some interesting things.”
“What?” asked Mattie.
“Well, we always assumed that Grandfather had set up the trust equally for all four of us since we are his only grandchildren.”
“Right,” agreed Mattie. “Didn’t he?”
“No,” CJ stated. “It appears that Grandfather liked to play favorites and had no problem with anyone knowing.”
Mattie grinned. “But, you and I were his...oh, shit.”
“Exactly; you and I were his favorites because we were the only ones who expressed any interest in the estancia and spent any time with him when we were older and had the choice. You were always his favorite; apparently I was a close second.”
Mattie rolled his eyes at his brother’s attempt at being humble. He knew that he and CJ were their grandfather’s favorites, but he never favored one of them over the other.
“So, wait, how badly did he skew this?” Mattie asked.
“Well, all things being equal it should have been a 25% stake for each of us.”
“It ended up being more like 5% for Natalia, 10% for Pete, 40% for me and 45% for you.”
Mattie went pale. “Why aren’t our shares equal?” he demanded.
“Probably because you were younger and he wanted to make sure that any debt you took on for school was taken care of or because you were his favorite.” CJ grinned to Mattie’s chagrin. “But there’s more to it than that.”
“What else?” Mattie asked hesitantly.
CJ chuckled. “Well, it seems there were some addendums to the original will that Father and dear Uncle Sebastian did not pay attention to.”
“The original trust was only supposed to contain the proceeds from Grandfather’s stocks, bank accounts, etc. The estancia was supposed to be kept going and turned over to you and I when we were of age, since we were the only children or grandchildren who had ever expressed any interest in continuing this part of his legacy.”
“Then why was your uncle allowed to sell it all?” Zak asked.
“He wasn’t supposed to, obviously, but as the executor of grandfather’s estate he was allowed to liquidate everything. But, apparently he was in such a hurry to do it, that he missed the small print.”
“Small print?” Mattie grinned.
“Oh, yeah. The small print that said that if for any reason the estancia or the stock was sold then all proceeds were to be added to our trusts--no ifs, ands or buts.”
“So, you mean all the money that Uncle Sebastian made from selling everything of Grandfather’s is ours?” asked Mattie.
“Yes,” nodded CJ. “Every last cent has to be accounted for and paid to us with interest.”
Mattie was furious. “But we know damn well that he’s been running through that money like water for the last few years.”
“Right,” agreed CJ. “This is why the moment that I sign my trust papers, my lawyer is going to order a complete audit of the trust and if you end up under my guardianship, he’ll order the same thing for yours. If dear Uncle Sebastian can’t account for every cent that is supposed to be there he’ll be doing time for fraud and misappropriation.”
“Man, you guys really don’t like your uncle, do you?” Dylan asked. Everyone turned in shock, the newest member of the group was so quiet most of them had forgotten he was there.
“No,” spat Mattie. “He’s a bastard. He’s always been a mean prick, but if he sold off the estancia when it was supposed to go to CJ and me...”
Mattie was sitting between CJ and Spin, who both reached over and grabbed one of his hands at the same time. Both knew how much Mattie had loved his grandfather and how much he wanted to continue the legacy his grandfather had built.
Spin reached over and rubbed Mattie’s back. “It’s ok, Mat; you and CJ are going to build the ranch here into something that your grandfather would have been proud of and we are all going to be a part of it.”
Every once in a while, Spin would get hit with a moment of maturity and shock his friends. This was one of those moments. He surprised them all by being a calming influence on the obviously upset Mattie.
CJ had had his doubts about his brother and his boyfriend over the past week. He liked Spin, a lot, but he felt that there was a maturity chasm between the two. What Spin was showing him right now went a long way to alleviate some of his doubts.
The conversation ventured back into the chaos that it had been before the topic of CJ’s and Mattie’s futures arose.
After finishing dinner, the boys piled back into the vehicle to continue their journey.
Dusty noticed Dylan almost immediately fall asleep in the back seat of the truck. He gestured to Zak who slid across the seat and nestled against Dusty.
“Are you ok?” Dusty asked. “You seemed kinda quiet after we talked about CJ’s party.”
“I guess so,” Zak answered. “I’ve just got all these mixed emotions right now. I thought this would be an easy week--start school, watch Max a few afternoons and spend my time at the ranch. Instead, CJ arrives bringing Angel, then Danny shows up and I have an instant brother, now this whole thing with Mattie and CJ’s parents. It’s really depressing that they are so convinced that this is going to go badly.”
“I know,” said Dusty. “But you were convinced that your mom wouldn’t accept you and look how that turned out.”
“But, let’s face it. A lot of that was the usual everyone hates the gay kids stuff. I knew my mom had nothing against gays and that she loved me and nothing could change that. I was just scared to take that final step. Mattie and CJ know their dad. I understand why they are doing what they are doing, I’m just glad we are all going to be there for them. I’m worried about Danny, too.”
“Why? I thought you guys were getting along great.”
“Oh, we are. I love him. It’s like we’ve known each other our whole lives. We are so alike it’s scary.”
“Kinda blows that whole nurture versus nature argument out of the water.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, there are people who say that sexuality, as well as other traits, are learned. They say you are not born gay, you are ‘made’ gay by your environment.”
“That’s bullshit,” spat Zak. “Why would we choose to be something that most people hate?”
“Right,” said Dusty. “You know we were born this way and I know we were born this way, but it’s easier for people who hate us, especially those who can’t reconcile their religious belief that God hates fags with the fact that if you believe in God and if we were born gay, then God made us gay. You and Danny growing up separately, but both being gay, having similar personalities, having a connection to the horses...you have to have been born that way.”
“I guess so,” reflected Zak. “But, right now, I’m worried about Danny, cuz of the stress this whole thing could put on him. I know he says he’s better and his doctor at home has him on anti-depressants, but I’m scared that a really bad scene with Mr. Alvarez could push him over the edge.”
“Don’t worry,” comforted Dusty. “We’ll all be there for him. It won’t be like before; we won’t let him ever think he is alone. He’ll know that he has support all around him. If he looks like he’s sliding, then we’ll grab hold of him and prop him up.”
Zak grinned and snuggled tighter to Dusty. He leaned in and kissed Dusty’s cheek. “I knew there was a reason I loved you,” he whispered in Dusty’s ear.
In the back seat, Dylan leaned against his seat with his eyes closed. He had been awake and listening to Zak and Dusty’s conversation.
A few tears leaked out of Dylan’s eyes as he thought about where he had been a few short months ago.
Listening to Dusty and Zak talk about how much they would support Danny and CJ and Mattie, made him wish that he had friends like that when things had been their darkest.
He wept silently as his mind traveled back to that night. He couldn’t go back to those feelings; he wondered if he could trust his new friends. He hoped so, but the last time he had trusted someone it had blown up in his face and he was still cautious. Denise seemed to think these were the guys to help him. But he was still holding his cards close. He knew the guys had so much going on right now with CJ and Danny and the problem with Mattie’s dad. His stuff could wait.
In CJ’s Jeep, the conversation had turned from CJ’s party and the potential aftermath to the plans for the ranch.
“So, CJ, when will the sale for the ranch go through?” asked Mattie.
“As far as Mr. Jones is concerned the place is ours. He’s planning to move his stuff out this weekend. So, Danny and I can start moving in anytime,” CJ answered. “The sale won’t go through for a month or so at least. The lawyers have to go through everything to make sure they are earning their fees. But, we’ll be running things as soon as we get back. Not much will change right away. Between Danny and me and you guys, we should be able to keep things going as they have been. We’ll start expanding slowly. The sale for the ranch next door will actually go through first. The lady that owns that property, Mrs. Greer, has been in an assisted-living facility for over a year. Her family has been trying to sell, but she was adamant that whoever takes over the property not try to subdivide or develop it, so that kinda hamstrung them. So, when I was talking to Mr. Jones about all the plans I had, he suggested taking on that property as well.”
“So how much land are we going to be looking at?” Danny asked.
“More than I thought when I started talking to Mr. Jones,” Danny laughed. “Each property sits on about 1000 acres plus they’ve been sharing access to a lot of the trails. There are miles of trails and apparently Mr. Jones’s property line extends to a good part of the lake that the guys like to camp at. We have all the space we’ll ever need to make every dream, every fantasy, every wild idea we ever had come true.”
"Isn’t the other ranch kinda run down?” Spin interjected.
“More than kinda. Apparently, Mrs. Greer’s kids did not have much interest in helping her maintain things since her husband passed a few years ago. The barn is a total loss and the house has been deserted for over a year. But, that’s ok. The land is the main thing.”
“But what about the rescue?” asked Mattie.
“I’ve already got some people working on it. I have an architect and some construction folks who specialize in equine facilities looking over both properties. What we’re probably going to do is flatten everything on the Greer place and build new. On the Triple J, everything has been maintained well; we just want to enhance and expand some of the facilities.”
“How?” asked Mattie and Spin simultaneously.
“We’re going to add a new indoor ring with better air conditioning and heating, build several new rings outside, improve the lighting around the arenas and probably build at least two more barns.”
“Two more?” asked Danny.
“Well, at the Triple J, we want to add at least two more barns. Since we’re making breeding an active part of the operation, we need a separate barn for that. That one will be smaller but be a place for the mares to give birth and be with the newborns until they are weaned. The other new barn is going to be ‘our’ barn.”
Mattie grinned. “What do you mean ‘our’ barn?”
“Since we have our personal horses, or at least most of us do,” CJ started, realizing he and Dylan were the only ‘horseless’ members of the group, “I thought it would be good to build a new barn for us to house our personal horses. That way the other barns will be for boarders, sale horses and the ones we use for trail rides and such. It will give us a place that is off limits to visitors and customers. I’ve got the architect working on that one first. I’ve given him instructions that it has to be big, cuz seeing you guys at work I have a feeling we’re going to fill that sucker up.”
Mattie, Spin and Danny all laughed knowing that CJ was correct.
“Now, what about the rescue?” asked Spin.
“Well, I’ve got the designers doing some initial work on it, but since I’ve put Dusty in charge, I want him to have a significant input into what we build. Obviously we’ll build some new barns, arenas, round pens, etc. I want to pick Mr. Murphy’s brain this weekend and see what special facilities we’ll need.”
“So this could take a while to get completed?” Danny sighed.
CJ reached over and took Danny’s hand in his. “Baby, money talks. Most of these projects will be started by mid-October and we should be all set by early summer at the latest.”
“They can work through the winter?”
“They will for what I’m paying them. They’ll have the framework for the new buildings up before the first snowflake flies and then they can work on the insides when it’s too bad outside,” CJ said. “However, I do have one project I want to put you in charge of.”
Danny’s curiosity was piqued. “What’s that?”
“I want you to work with the architect who’s designing our house.”
“House?” Danny asked. “I thought the ranch had a ranch house.”
CJ grinned. “It does, but it was built for a single older man, not a young couple.” He glanced at Mattie and Spin in the backseat. “Or several young couples.” Mattie and Spin perked up. “I’m going to have the ranch house that’s there torn down--actually that is where the private barn is going. There’s a beautiful piece of land smack between the two ranches. We’re going to build a nice big ranch house that will be the center of the new ranch. But you have more of an eye for that sort of thing than I do, so your job is to work with the architect and build us our dream house.”
Danny looked at CJ. CJ could see the tears forming in Danny’s eyes. CJ reached over and used his thumb to wipe a tear from Danny’s eye. CJ smiled at his lover. “You need to make sure we have plenty of bedrooms, for our brothers and their others and then for kids.”
“KIDS?!?!” Mattie exclaimed .
CJ laughed. “We always talked about adopting kids. Not something we are going to do tomorrow, but I only want to have to go through building a new house once, so we need to make sure it can handle everything.”
Hearing CJ talk about their future made Danny’s heart soar. CJ had gone out of his way all week to assure Danny that he was forgiven and that they were solid. Danny still had his doubts. But hearing CJ talk about their future, the ranch, the house and their kids made him finally start to let go of the nagging doubts that had been picking away at his self-confidence since he returned.
CJ pulled the Jeep up behind the Super Cab which was stopped in front of the large gate of the Dream Makers Ranch. He watched as Dusty leaned out the window and pressed the button on the squawk box.
Dusty pulled the Super Cab through the gate and proceeded down the road to the ranch. CJ followed closely.
When they got to the main buildings Dusty parked off to the side of the main barn and CJ pulled in next to him.
Nick was waiting for the boys as they poured out of the cars. Zak ran over and hugged his friend. Nick quickly greeted Dusty, Mattie and Spin and was introduced to Danny, CJ and Dylan.
Since it was already dark, everyone decided to turn in for the night and get an early start in the morning. Nick led everyone to the bunkhouse. Nick would be staying at the main house this weekend since the bunkhouse was full to capacity.
Danny and CJ, Mattie and Spin and Dusty and Zak paired up in their rooms. Mattie and Spin and Dusty and Zak all offered to let Dylan bunk in with them, but he didn’t want to be a fifth wheel, so he opted for the couch in the common room.
Nick made sure all his guests were settled in for the night and then he left for the main house, promising to be over first thing in the morning.