“Dodger?” Zak asked, confused at Dylan’s sudden emotional outburst. “Wait. That’s Dodger? Are you sure?”
Dylan couldn’t stop crying, he only nodded at Zak.
Zak wrapped his arms around Dylan and tried to comfort him, but Dylan was beyond comfort; he was crying uncontrollably and shaking. Zak was scared for his friend.
Mr. Carson just stood there watching the two boys. He didn’t know what was going on, but he was concerned for Dylan who seemed to be having an emotional breakdown. He knew that it was hard to be confronted with the evils that men could inflect on other creatures, but he had never seen anyone take it as hard as this boy.
“It’s my fault. It’s my fault,” Dylan kept whispering these words.
Zak kept hugging Dylan and speaking to him softly. “Dylan, what do you mean? How is this your fault?”
“I gave up on him; I let my dad sell him and now he’s here like this!!” Dylan wailed. “It’s all my fault!!”
“Dylan!!” Zak tried to be stern. “Stop it!! It’s not your fault. You didn’t know this was going to happen. You need to pull yourself together so that we can help him.”
Dylan slumped to the ground and just sat there crying. He was inconsolable and Zak didn’t know what to do.
Zak turned to Mr. Carson. “I’m sorry, Mr. Carson. Can you keep an eye on him? I need to call my brother for some help.”
“Sure, Zak. I’ll look after him; you do what you need to do,” Mr. Carson said.
Zak felt badly leaving Dylan on his own, but he needed to get hold of Danny or Dusty.
Zak walked off a little ways so that he had privacy, but he could still see Dylan. He wasn’t going to let Dylan out of his sight.
Zak pulled out his phone and called Danny.
“Hey, Little Brother. How are you doing?” Danny answered cheerfully.
“Danny, where are you guys?” Zak asked.
“We’re at the Johnsons’. You were right, the little Paint is just right for Maxie. They made me ride him around cuz I’m the shortest, but he’s so gentle, Max will love him,” Danny kept going on and on.
“Danny, stop for a second!!” Zak shouted.
“Hey, are you all right?”
“No; listen. Dylan and I were at the ranch and there was a call from the SPCA about a horse they had rescued that they needed someone to come and get. I couldn’t get hold of Dusty, cuz as usual he let his battery go dead and I don’t have CJ’s phone number, so I decided that Dylan and I would come and get the horse.”
“I know, I know, I should have tried harder to find someone, but I thought Dylan could use the adventure and since we are getting into this I thought it would be good to see how they do things.”
“Well, it turns out that the horse they rescued is Dylan’s old horse that his dad had sold last year.”
“That’s not the worst part; something about seeing Dodger has made Dylan fall to pieces. He’s not just a little emotional, like you’d expect, he’s having a complete breakdown. I can’t take care of the horse and him.”
“Ok, let me call CJ. Tell me exactly where you are. I’ll relay it to him and tell him and Dusty to get their asses out there now. The guys are just loading the Paint into the trailer, so we should be leaving here in a few minutes and we should be back at the ranch in about 2 hours, give or take. Let me hang up and call CJ. Ok?”
“Hey, that’s what big brothers are for.” Zak got a warm feeling just hearing Danny’s voice. “Zak?”
“It’s gonna be ok. Just keep an eye on Dylan and hang tight.”
“Ok, call me when you talk to CJ.”
“I’ll call you right back.”
Zak disconnected and thought for a moment. He flipped through the numbers in his phone and found the one he was looking for.
He hit the number and waited for an answer.
“Zak...what’s up? I thought you guys were away for the weekend.”
“We are. Listen I have a problem and I hope you can help me.”
“Sure, what’s up?”
Zak explained to Denise about the horse that was rescued and Dylan’s reaction.
“Oh, my god!!” Denise exclaimed when Zak had finished. “Look, Zak, here’s the thing, I don’t know what happened to Dylan last year, but it was something bad. I’m going to tell you this cuz I trust you and you are the only one who can help him right now. Dylan has depression... really bad... I don’t know what brought it on last year, but he was hospitalized after he tried to kill himself.”
“What!?!” Zak couldn’t believe that the shy gentle boy that he had befriended had done something so desperate. Zak knew that at his lowest he had considered the possibility, but they were only fleeting thoughts that he never seriously considered. “What can I do for him?”
“He should be on his meds. But if that is Dodger and he’s as bad off as you are saying that may have just triggered more stuff for him. Like I said, he’s never told me what happened to start all this and I haven’t pushed him. He’s been doing so well. How is he right now?”
“Well, he’s stopped crying. He’s just sitting on the ground staring at Dodger. He looks so lost. It’s killing me to watch him.”
“I know. Look, I’m glad you are there; you’re such a sweetheart and just what he needs. Just keep talking to him and try to get him back to your friend’s ranch. I’ll call his mother and see if she wants us to do anything else.”
“Ok. Call me if she has any other ideas. Or just give her my number.”
“Ok, I’ll talk to you in a bit. Thanks for taking care of Dylan.”
“He’s our Dylan now and we take care of ours,” Zak said defensively.
“And that’s why I wanted him to get with you guys. I knew you’d take care of him. I’m gonna go call my aunt. I’ll talk to you later or she will. Thanks for calling me, Zak. Bye.”
As soon as Zak disconnected from Denise, his phone rang again.
“Hey CJ. Did Danny talk to you?”
“Yes, we’re on our way to you right now. Jeff says we should be there in about ten minutes. How is Dylan doing?”
“He’s calmed down some, but he’s still scaring me.”
“Just hold on, we’re almost there.”
“Thanks. Just hurry, ok?”
“Will do, seeya soon.”
When he disconnected from CJ, he noticed a voicemail from Danny. Danny was just checking to make sure Zak had heard from CJ and to let him know that they were on the road.
Zak called Danny’s phone and left a voicemail telling him that CJ was on the way with Dusty and Jeff.
Zak walked over to Dylan and sat beside him. He reached over and put his arm around Dylan’s shoulders and pulled him close. Dylan squeezed himself into Zak’s side.
“How are you doing, Dyl?” Zak asked, the concern obvious in his voice.
Dylan sniffled. “I think I’m ok, now. I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, don’t be sorry. You got a huge shock. I was upset just seeing Dodger; if it had been Onyx or Apollo I probably would have lost it, too.”
Dylan pulled away from Zak and looked at him.
“You know that it’s more than that, right?” Dylan asked as he looked at the ground.
Zak put his fingers under Dylan’s chin and lifted his head. Looking Dylan in the eye, he said. “I spoke to Denise. I didn’t know what else to do. She told me about your illness and about being in the hospital. I’m so sorry you ever went through any of that.” Dylan started to tear up. “Hey, listen to me. I know that some people are scared of things like depression and they treat you differently when they find out you have it, but I’m not one of those people. I know you can’t help it and you are taking medication to deal with it. This is not my secret to tell anyone--it’s between you and me.” Zak wanted desperately to tell Dylan about Danny’s bout with depression, but he didn’t want to betray any confidences.
Dylan hugged Zak tight and rested his head on Zak’s shoulder. “Thanks, Zak,” he whispered. “You’ve been such a good friend to me. I don’t deserve it.”
“Stop that!!” Zak became angry. “I don’t ever want to hear you say you don’t deserve for someone to be nice to you. You are a great guy, who’s got an illness. It’s no different than if you had diabetes or cancer...it’s an illness and it needs to be treated.”
Dylan couldn’t speak. He just sat there holding onto Zak like his life depended on it.
The two boys sat quietly watching Dodger in the makeshift stall.
Zak was shaken from his daydreams by a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and saw Dusty standing there.
“Hey, Babe,” Dusty whispered to him. “How’s he doing?”
“Pretty good,” Zak replied. He lightly shook Dylan. “Hey, Dyl, Dusty and CJ are here.”
Dylan looked over and saw Dusty. Dusty smiled at Dylan and Dylan shyly smiled back.
“Hey, Dylan, feeling better?”
“Yeah, I think so. I’m sorry I’ve messed things up for you guys.”
Dusty knelt down and put his hand on Dylan’s shoulder. “Dylan, you didn’t mess anything up. We were done with our meeting and just heading out when Danny called CJ. Jeff knew right where you guys were, so we came right away. Jeff’s just talking to the man that runs the SPCA.”
“Mr. Carson,” Zak interjected.
“Right. And CJ is around here somewhere.” He looked over his should and saw CJ walking their way. “There he is.”
“Hey, guys,” CJ said as he walked up. “How are we doing?”
“Pretty good now,” Zak answered. “I think I need to get Dylan back to the ranch so he can rest.”
“No, I wanna make sure that Dodger is all set.”
CJ reached out his hand to Dylan and helped him off the ground, while Dusty did the same for Zak.
“Dylan, you’ve had a nasty shock today,” CJ said. “We’re gonna get Dodger taken care of, but we need to take care of you too. Jeff and I got the trailer unhooked from my Jeep and hooked up to his truck. I want Dusty to take you and Zak back and Jeff and I will be along with Dodger. There’s some paperwork that I have to fill out before we can move him.”
Dylan looked at CJ. “Why do you have to do paperwork?”
CJ grinned. “Cuz we are taking him with us when we leave tomorrow. Dodger will be the first rescue for our new facility.”
Tears came to Dylan’s eyes as he ran forward and hugged CJ. “Thank you, CJ!!” Dylan cried.
CJ hugged him back. “Don’t thank me; this is what the rescue is all about. You guys are going to have a lot of work to get Dodger back in shape.”
“I’ll do anything,” Dylan promised. “I can’t believe this happened to him.”
“Well, we can look into the how and why later; right now, I want you to go with Zak and Dusty and I’ll see you later, ok?”
Dylan nodded and grinned at CJ. “Ok.”
Zak and Dusty led Dylan back to where the cars were parked.
Zak and Dylan got into the back seat while Dusty got behind the wheel and drove them back to the ranch.
At the ranch, the three went to the bunkhouse and Zak and Dusty insisted that Dylan lie down in their room.
“No,” Dylan protested. “I don’t want to kick you guys out.”
“Dylan, you’re not kicking us out,” Dusty replied. “You need to get some rest and you’re not going to get any lying on the couch out there. So get in the bed.”
Zak looked at Dylan and nodded. “What he said; now move.”
Dylan stripped down to his underwear and crawled into the bed.
“Do you need anything?” Zak asked.
“I have a pill case in my duffel bag; can you bring it to me?”
“Sure,” Zak replied as he walked out to the common room.
Zak’s phone rang; he didn’t recognize the number.
“Hello, is this Zak?”
“Yes, who’s this please?”
“Zak, this is Colleen Summers, Dylan’s mom.”
“Oh, hi, Mrs. Summers. I take it you spoke to Denise.”
“Yes, I did; how is Dylan?”
“Well, we just got back to my friend’s ranch that we are staying at and we just made him lie down in one of the bedrooms; my boyfriend Dusty is in there with him, I just came out to get some pills for him.”
“I was afraid of that.”
“Afraid of what?” Zak was suddenly nervous that he had outed himself and Dusty to Dylan’s mother. He didn’t know for sure if Dylan was out to his parents.
“Dylan feels so good most of the time, that he forgets to bring his anti-anxiety meds with him when he goes out. I know he takes his anti-depressants every day; but he only takes the anxiety medication as needed and when he feels good, he never thinks to bring it just in case.”
“Oh, ok. Well, I have it for him now.”
“You sound relieved, Zak; did you think I meant something else?”
“Well, I was afraid that I had outed Dusty and me to you and that that might be a problem.”
“Actually, Zak, I know all about you and Dusty and Mattie and Spin and CJ and Danny. This week I don’t think a sentence has come out of Dylan’s mouth that didn’t have something to do with you boys. Dylan’s been out to his dad and me for a little bit now and we have no problems with him being gay. Nor do we have any problems with you boys being friends with Dylan. In fact, I can’t thank you boys enough for everything you’ve done for him. He’s had a tough time the last year or so and meeting you boys has finally put a smile back on his face.”
“Well, we really like Dylan, Mrs. Summers. He fits in great with us.”
“That’s so nice to hear. Now, I know that Denise told you about Dylan’s depression...”
“Yes. She said she didn’t know what caused it and while I told Dylan that she told me, I also told him that it wasn’t my place to talk about it to anyone else nor would I push him to tell me what happened to him. I was worried about him though.”
“Before the incident this morning?”
“Yes, when I came out this morning, he was having a nightmare and talking in his sleep. When I woke him up, he said he couldn’t remember his dream, but I had a feeling he could.”
“I’m pretty sure he could. Look, Zak, I appreciate everything you are doing for Dylan, just give him some time. I know he wants to confide in you guys, especially you and Mattie, but he is still scared. Just let him know that you’ll stick by him--he’ll come around.”
“Well, I told him that the depression didn’t matter to me and that I didn’t see him any differently.”
“I’m sure he appreciated that.”
“Well, I’m going to get him these pills before he falls asleep.”
“Ok, I’ll let you go then. Are you boys still planning to come back tomorrow?”
“Well, we were going to come back early tomorrow since Mattie’s parents told him he could go to Mass tomorrow evening, but we’ll just play it by ear. We came in two cars, so if someone has to bring Dylan back we can. We’ll be bringing back Dodger, too.”
“Oh, that’s good. Denise told me what had happened to him and I’m going to have my husband call Dylan’s old farm and find out how they let this happen. Well, I’m going to let you go now, Zak. Thank you so much for watching out for Dylan.”
“You’re welcome, Mrs. Summers; bye.”
Zak disconnected and brought the pill case into Dylan. Dylan was lying in the bed with Dusty perched on the side talking to him. Zak handed Dylan the pill case and ran into the bathroom to get a glass of water.
Zak set the glass of water on the nightstand and watched as Dylan shook out two small pills. He picked up the glass of water and swallowed the pills with a sip of water.
Dylan lay back and closed his eyes.
Within a few minutes he was asleep.
Zak nodded towards the door and Dusty followed him out. Zak slumped down on the couch and Dusty sat beside him. Dusty reached over and put his arm around Zak’s shoulder.
“Rough day, huh?” Dusty asked as Zak cuddled up against him.
“Crazy,” Zak sighed. “One minute everything is going fine and we’re about to go on a ride and then the phone rings and everything spirals out of control. I thought I was gonna lose him for a minute there. I’ve never seen anyone change that quick. It’s like he was there with me joking around one minute and he was hanging off a cliff the next.”
“Did he say anything about why?”
“Well, after I called Danny, I called Denise and she told me some...”
“About his depression?”
“Did he tell you?”
“I sorta guessed and he sorta just told me while I was waiting for you. What took you so long anyways?”
“His mom called me. Denise had talked to her and she wanted to check on Dylan. I told her everything. She was concerned cuz those pills I got him, he’s supposed to have on him all the time--they are for anxiety. So if he had had them he could have taken them at the SPCA. I guess when he feels good he doesn’t think he needs them.”
“I can understand that.”
“I can’t; why wouldn’t you keep the medication that could help you on you all the time?”
“Think about it, Zak; it’s not like he has diabetes and needs to carry insulin, or migraines and needs to carry pain meds... his problem is mental.” Zak started to object. “I’m not saying it’s any less major than those other problems, but there is a stigma for people who have mental illnesses. I can understand Dylan wanting to just be ‘normal’.”
“I guess so,” Zak conceded. “But, if he’s going to hang with us, he needs to have those pills on him.”
“I agree, but his parents and his doctors are going to have to make that case. We’re his friends; we need to support him not give him ultimatums.”
“I know, I just...” Zak started.
“You want to tell Danny about Dylan and Dylan about Danny so they can help each other, but you don’t want to violate any confidences.”
Zak looked over at Dusty’s grinning face. “How did you...”
“Babe, I know how you think and it’s a good idea, but you need to respect their confidences. Though given what Danny’s been through, he may just see the same symptoms in Dylan and reach out to him.”
“I thought of that. I hope that’s the case, cuz I hate to see either of them hurting.”
Dusty leaned over and kissed Zak on the cheek. One of the things he loved most about Zak was his compassion for others, especially for his friends. For someone who hadn’t had a lot of friends, Zak was loyal to a fault and would do anything for them. Dusty worried that Zak might someday be taken advantage of, but he couldn’t and wouldn’t try to change him.
The two just sat on the couch taking in the peace and quiet.
The front door opened and CJ walked in.
“Hey, guys,” CJ said. “How’s Dylan?”
“He’s sleeping in our room,” Zak replied.
“Good. Jeff and I just got Dodger settled in a stall. He’s in rough shape, but Jeff thinks he’ll be ok to make the trip tomorrow; we just won’t make any stops on the way back.”
“I know that Dylan will appreciate that. I don’t know what happened, but he feels so guilty about Dodger,” Zak said.
CJ shook his head. “He shouldn’t. He had nothing to do with that. In fact, when I was still at the SPCA they brought in some paperwork they had found at the farm they raided. Those people just got Dodger about nine months ago. That’s why he was in a little better shape than the horses they had to put down. They bought him from the people who had bought him from Dylan’s parents. So, the farm that sold him for Dylan did do their job right; unfortunately the family that bought him first had financial problems and they had to sell him about six months after purchasing him.”
“Well, that should take some of the stress off of Dylan. I know he’ll still be upset that Dodger was hurt at all, but at least he’ll have some peace of mind when he knows that the people the farm sold him to did not do this to Dodger,” Zak said.
The door opened again and all three looked over as Danny came into the bunkhouse. He walked over to CJ and gave him a kiss and then sat down on the couch next to Zak and hugged his little brother.
“Hey, bud, how’s Dylan doing?”
“He’s asleep; I think everything just got to him.”
“You know, Zak, I was thinking about this as I was driving back. Has Dylan mentioned ever having been diagnosed with depression or panic attacks?”
Dusty squeezed Zak’s shoulder; Zak looked at Dusty and grinned then turned to Danny.
“I can’t really talk about what he told me in confidence, but I think it would be cool if you were able to talk to him.”
Danny smiled at Zak. His little brother was one smart cookie. “I think when he wakes up maybe I’ll see if he’s up for a ride. In fact, why don’t the three of us plan on one and then we can talk.”
Zak leaned into Danny and hugged him. They had only known each other for less than a week and he already didn’t know what he would do without his brother.
“Sounds like a plan,” Zak said.
“Good.” Danny stood up. “Why don’t you make sure that Dylan is still out and then we can go check out Maxie’s new ride?”
Zak grinned. He snuck in to the bedroom to check on Dylan. Dylan was sleeping soundly, so Zak thought it would be ok to leave him alone for a bit. He left a note for him on the night stand in case he woke up.
Zak went back out to the common room and the four boys left for the barn.
They found Mattie and Nick sitting on the top rail of the arena watching Spin canter around the ring on a small Paint horse.
Zak laughed. “Spin what the hell are you doing? You just traded up to a big horse, now you want a pony?”
“Actually, he is a horse,” Mattie informed Zak. “He’s just tall enough to be considered a horse. Spin wanted to give him a go; we had Danny riding him at the Johnsons’ since he’s the smallest one.” He looked between Zak and Danny. “Well, the smallest one that was with us,” he teased.
Zak flipped Mattie off as the others laughed.
Spin rode the small horse over to where the boys were all waiting.
“Zak, you gotta try this little guy. He’s awesome. Maxie is gonna love him.”
Zak entered the ring and walked up to the Paint. “Hey, buddy,” he said to the little horse. “What’s his name?” he asked Spin as Spin dismounted.
Spin, Mattie and Nick laughed.
“Guess,” said Danny who was grinning.
Zak was not getting the joke. CJ and Dusty looked at the Paint and thought for a minute and they both got it and started laughing.
“Zak, didn’t you ever watch the Lone Ranger?” laughed Dusty.
“What?” Zak was stymied.
All together, Danny, Mattie, Spin and Nick yelled. “SCOUT!!”
Zak shook his head. “I don’t get it.”
Dusty rolled his eyes. “How did I end up with a boyfriend who doesn’t know the name of Tonto’s horse?”
Zak was still lost, so he took the reins from Spin and mounted the Paint.
“C’mon, Scout,” he said to the horse. “Obviously, I’m missing the joke.”
As he rode off, the others laughed even louder. Dusty knew he was going to pay for this later, but it was worth the laugh.
Everyone watched as Zak moved the Paint around the ring. He walked, trotted and cantered. Zak loved the little horse; he was going to be perfect for Maxie.
After Zak had finished his ‘test drive’, he handed the Paint off to Nick and Mattie who volunteered to cool him down and get him taken care of in a stall; Spin went off with the two other boys.
“Where’s Dodger?” Zak asked CJ.
“C’mon,” CJ replied. “You might as well see him before Dylan wakes up.”
CJ led Dusty, Zak and Danny to one of the smaller barns the Murphys had. There were very few horses in this one. CJ explained that this barn served as a ‘quarantine’ or ‘triage’ area for the horses when they first arrived. Since Dodger had just been rescued, Jeff had called their vet to come and give him a thorough examination to determine the extent of his injuries and to create a plan of treatment.
The vet was due to come out within the hour. Jeff and CJ would stay with Dodger while the vet did his examination.
Zak and Danny said they were going back to the bunkhouse to check on Dylan and if he was up to it they were going to take him out riding. Dusty opted to stay with CJ and wait for the vet. Since he would be the one responsible for the rescue, he wanted to see everything that the Murphys did for a new horse.
Zak and Danny returned to the bunkhouse and Zak went into the bedroom to find the bed empty. He panicked for a moment until he heard the toilet flush. Dylan came out of the bathroom still dressed in just his jockeys.
“Hey, Dyl, how are you feeling?” Zak asked.
“Better, thanks. Just a little groggy, but that medicine always does that to me.”
“I talked to your mother for a few minutes. She wanted to make sure you were ok.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I told her that you scared the hell out of me,” Zak said grinning at a scared Dylan. “No, I told her you had a bit of a reaction, but you were resting and doing better.”
Dylan smiled weakly. “Thanks.”
“She did tell me that the medication that I was getting for you was something that you were supposed to be carrying on you and it could have helped you out there.”
Dylan nodded. “I’m sorry. It’s such a pain to have to carry that stuff when I’m having a good time.”
“Look, Dylan, I’m only going to say this once, and since I promised Dusty I wouldn’t nag, I’m going to say it in the nicest possible way. You need to make sure that you have that stuff on you. I understand it’s a pain, but we’d rather have you take it and keep having fun than have everything grind to a halt and have to take care of you.” Zak reached over and put his hand on Dylan’s shoulder. “If you lose it like today and we do everything we can to help you, we don’t mind that, but knowing that we could have prevented or shortened your suffering pisses me off. If you were diabetic and you didn’t have your insulin you could die. You need to think of the medication that way; it can save your life.”
Dylan grabbed Zak and hugged him. “I know, I know. My mom gives me the lecture all the time. I’ll carry it with me from now on, I promise.”
“Good. I just want you healthy and happy, that’s all.” Zak stepped back and looked Dylan up and down.
“Wow, you always wear such baggy clothes; I didn’t realize you were in such great shape.” Dylan’s whole body blushed at Zak’s compliment. “We need to find you a boyfriend. Too bad Nick’s got it so bad for Noah, we could probably at least get you hooked up.”
Zak noticed Dylan blanch at the thought.
“Relax, I’m just kidding. At least about the hook-up; we do need to find you a boyfriend, but someone that will move at your pace.”
“Do you and Dusty...” Dylan asked shyly.
“Do we have sex?”
“Yes. We make love. Well, some people would say we haven’t because we’ve never done any anal, at least nothing more than a finger.” Zak saw Dylan swoon. “Sorry, TMI. But as far as I am concerned, if you’ve had an orgasm with another person, you’ve had sex.”
Even though he had asked the question, Zak noticed that Dylan was getting uncomfortable.
“Ok, you need to get dressed,” Zak announced. “Danny and I are taking you on a trail ride to get some of those cobwebs out of your head.”
“I want to see Dodger.”
“When we get back. Right now, he’s with Jeff, CJ and Dusty. There’s a vet coming to check him out.” Zak saw Dylan’s stricken look. “Don’t worry, he’s doing good. The vet exam is standard procedure for every rescue--that way they know exactly what they have to do to help him. Jeff thinks that even though he is in rough shape, he’ll be ok for us to take him back to the Triple J tomorrow.”
Dylan smiled weakly. “That’s great.”
Dylan picked up the clothes he had been wearing earlier and started to get dressed. When he was ready, he and Zak went into the common room where Danny was waiting for them.
“Hey, Dylan, how are you doing?”
Dylan was getting sick of the question, but he knew that these guys were only asking because they cared.
“I’m better,” Dylan answered. “Zak said we’re going on a trail ride.”
“No. Zak and I thought we’d get in some private time with you, ok?”
“Sure, I guess so.”
“Good. Let’s go.”
The three left the bunkhouse and headed to the main barn.