Dylan was laughing so hard his sides were starting to ache. He shakily wiped the tears that were coming from his eyes.
Zak and Danny had been arguing for ten minutes over which of them would be riding the gray Arabian mare, Shimmer. Zak was arguing that since the mare ‘loved’ him he should get to ride her and Danny was pointing out that since Zak had already ridden her the mare deserved to be ridden by a more experienced rider.
Dylan knew that the brothers were acting like fools for his benefit. He appreciated the effort, but if he didn’t stop them he was going to hyperventilate from laughing so hard.
“ALRIGHT!!” Dylan shouted, trying to keep a straight face. “I have a solution,” he said, walking over to Shimmer’s stall. “Since I was supposed to ride her this morning and I am supposed to be the one who’s horse shopping, I’ll ride her.”
Both Danny and Zak gave Dylan exaggerated pouts as they went to find two other horses to ride.
Danny took Baron, the Warmblood that Zak and Dylan were going to try earlier and Zak went to get Gaston, a Halflinger gelding that was on Nick’s shortlist of options for Dylan.
The three chattered as they groomed and tacked the horses.
When they were ready, the three mounted up and headed out onto the trail.
The boys rode three astride though the woods. Dylan and Shimmer were sandwiched between Danny and Baron and Zak and Gaston. They plodded along at a walk, none of them in a hurry to get anywhere in particular. They were quiet for a while, each wondering how to begin the conversation they all knew was coming.
Dylan knew he wanted to tell Zak everything. Of all the boys, he felt the closest to Zak and he thought that he owed Zak an explanation after what happened this morning. He wasn’t sure why Danny was with them. He liked Danny, but he hadn’t spent much time with him. Maybe Zak wanted the moral support.
Danny was trying to figure out how to broach the subject without scaring Dylan off. He didn’t know Dylan well at all, but he felt for the boy since they shared a common malady. He knew that many people didn’t like to talk about their problems, especially something like depression which for many people still carried a bit of a stigma.
Zak was holding his breath. He was stuck between the rock and the hard place. He was the only one there who knew about Danny and Dylan, but he couldn’t say anything, because he didn’t want to speak out of turn. He was just riding along trying to will both of the others to say something.
Finally, after several minutes of intolerable silence, Danny spoke up.
“Dylan, I need to tell you something,” Danny started. “First off, you need to know, Zak hasn’t told me anything other than what happened this morning. But, the first thing I asked him when I got back to the ranch was whether or not you had mentioned having depression or a history of panic attacks.”
Dylan looked from Zak to Danny. To Danny he looked like Bambi caught in the headlights.
Danny pointed up ahead. “Look guys, why don’t we head over to that clearing and have a seat and talk,” he said.
The two younger boys nodded and they rode together to the clearing and dismounted. Each of the boys took a seat in a grassy area. The boys all kept hold of their horses’ reins so the horses could graze but not wander off.
Danny looked at Dylan. The younger boy was looking at the ground.
“Dylan, look at me,” Danny said quietly.
Dylan looked up, his eyes watering. Danny’s heart was breaking for the boy.
“Dylan, the reason I asked Zak about you having depression is because I recognized the reaction you had this morning. I have depression, too.”
Dylan looked up in surprise. “Really?” he whispered.
Danny nodded. “Really. I wasn’t diagnosed until earlier this year. Unfortunately most of us don’t find out we have it until we are too far gone.” Danny went on to tell Dylan about his mother’s death and her revelation about his father and how he had left CJ and his life in Florida when everything became too much. “Everything is better and brighter for me now; I’ve got CJ back, I have my baby brother, here.” He grinned at Zak who smiled back. “Zak’s mom has opened her home to me and CJ and now I have friends in you guys. But, I know that even though things are better and I am on medication it’s still a constant struggle for me.”
Dylan just sat and listened as Danny relayed his story. He knew people in the hospital that had suffered from the same problem as he did, but it was not the same as having someone who was a friend.
“It started last year,” Dylan started quietly. Zak scooted closer to Dylan and took his friend’s hand in his. Dylan smiled shyly at Zak. “I know now that I had some small bouts with it before then. As I talked to the doctors they helped me see some points in my childhood where it had affected me, but I was a generally happy person, so I was able to overcome it.”
Danny nodded. “That’s not uncommon. I was the same way. I’ve always had this, but until things went bad for me, I was always able to deal with it.”
“Well, spring of last year, I was riding at a farm that I had been riding at since I was a little kid. I always rode with my best friend, Tanner. We had actually just become boyfriends. We weren’t actually in love, like you guys all are. We just both realized we were gay and that we were crushing on each other and we hooked up because we knew each other so well. All we ever did was kiss and hug, never went any further. We tried to keep it secret. We were always at each other’s houses so there was never any suspicion about us. A couple times we weren’t careful and we’d sneak into an empty stall or tack room at the farm and fool around. We never thought anyone saw us, but we were wrong.”
Dylan took a deep breath and continued. “There was an older boy who rode there named Cody. He was so awesome. He was tall and blond, he was handsome, he was the best rider there. I had a huge crush on him and I was pretty sure Tanner did too. Cody would talk to us every once in a while and give us tips, but this day he offered to coach us for a big competition that was about two weeks away. He told us that he would coach us and the day before the comp he would set up a course and Tanner and I would have a jump-off. The winner would get a ride home.”
Danny shook his head and looked confused.
Dylan grinned shyly. “He rode a Kawasaki Ninja.”
Danny grinned, but Zak had a blank look on his face.
Dylan shook his head. “Zak, you need to get out more.”
Zak shrugged his shoulders.
“Zak, it’s a motorcycle,” Danny explained. “A really cool motorcycle.”
Dylan nodded and then continued. “Right, so Tanner and I would have each sold the other to get a ride on that bike. For the next two weeks, we trained harder than ever. Cody helped us so much. We were both really good riders, but we had a few problems that always seemed to creep up and Cody knew just what to do to help us overcome them. At the end of the two weeks we had our jump-off and I won--barely, but I won.” Dylan stared off silently for a second.
“Dyl, are you ok?” Zak asked as he rubbed Dylan’s arm.
Dylan looked up; his eyes were starting to water. “Yeah, I’m ok.”
“Dylan, we don’t have to do all this now, if it’s too much for you,” Danny offered.
Dylan shook his head. “No. I need to do this. I’ve wanted to tell someone other than my shrink and my parents, but I haven’t been able to get it out. You guys have been so great to me. Especially you, Zak. But, Danny, knowing you understand all this makes it easier for me to talk about it.”
Danny slid over so he was on the other side of Dylan and took Dylan’s other hand in his.
Dylan looked from Danny to Zak and then closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and then slowly exhaled.
“So, I won the jump-off,” he continued. “And then the next day I won the competition. Tanner came in a close second and we were so excited. Monday we went to the farm to ride, like we did every day after school. Cody was waiting for us with our horses all tacked up. He said as a reward for how well we did he was taking us on a trail ride. We both loved to trail ride, but since we practiced so much we rarely got to do it. After the trail ride, Tanner went home and I got my ‘prize’. Cody took me to a neighborhood diner that was popular with the high school kids. He bought me dinner and we had a really good time. Then he said he wanted to take me to his house to show me his ribbons and trophies.”
Dylan paused and took another deep breath. His grip on Zak’s and Danny’s hands tightened.
“We went to his house and he showed me his awards. Then he wanted me to sit on his bed with him. When I did he started to tell me how much he liked me and was glad I had won the jump-off with Tanner. He told me I was ‘cute’ and that threw me off, cuz I never even thought of Cody as gay. I was starting to get uncomfortable. He put his hands on my shoulders and started to massage me.”
Danny was starting to realize where this was heading. He knew that it was important for Dylan to get this out. He reached over and wrapped his free arm around Dylan’s shoulder. Dylan leaned into Danny seeking the older boy’s comfort.
Dylan continued, “After he massaged me for a few minutes I felt him kiss my neck. I asked him what he was doing and he told me he had seen me and Tanner and wanted to show me what a ‘real man’ could do. He turned me around and grabbed my face and kissed me hard. He shoved his tongue in my mouth and I couldn’t breathe so I bit his tongue.”
Zak let out a reflexive giggle. Dylan looked at him with a small smile.
“When I bit him, he stopped kissing me. Then he hit me right across the face, hard. I was really out of it--not knocked out, but I couldn’t focus. I felt him undo my belt and pull down my pants and underwear. He got off the bed to take his clothes off and I tried to run for it, but I tripped on my pants and fell over. He laughed at me and lifted me up and sat me on the bed. He made me suck his...” Tears were falling from Dylan’s eyes as he tried to continue.
Danny was starting to feel the emotion; he looked over at Zak who was crying as well.
“I thought I was going to puke. He must have realized this cuz he pulled it out of my mouth and picked me up and threw me on the bed so I was lying on my stomach. I felt his hands on my butt and then he stuck his tongue in there. I was trying to get away. I was so out of it, cuz he had hit me second time, I can’t remember when. Then he laid on my back and started whispering in my ear about how much I was going to love what was next. Then I felt the worst pain I had ever felt in my life. It was like my butt was on f-f-fire. I-I-I s-s-screamed, but he w-w-wouldn’t s-s-stop. He-he-he...”
Danny grabbed Dylan and held the boy as he sobbed. Zak moved over closer and rubbed Dylan’s back. All three boys were crying hard at this point.
“Dylan, it’s ok,” Danny whispered. “You’re safe. No one is ever going to hurt you like that again.”
Danny rocked Dylan in his arms for a few minutes until he started to calm some.
“I guess I passed out,” Dylan said. “I think he made me take a shower and then he took me home. He told me if I said anything I’d be sorry. When I got home I just sat in the shower and cried and then went to bed. The next day I played sick and didn’t go back to school for three days. When I finally had to go back, I pushed everyone away, even Tanner. I stopped going to the farm, cuz I didn’t want to see Cody, but more than anything I just wanted to crawl away and hide. School let out and my dad said if I was giving up riding then we had to sell Dodger. Now look what’s happened to him!”
Dylan started to cry again.
“Dylan, CJ found the papers on Dodger,” Zak said to him. “The farm that sold him for you sold him to a good home, but they had some financial problems about six months after they bought him and they’re the ones who sold him to the ranch that was raided. I know it doesn’t change what happened to him, but at least you know that the farm wasn’t at fault. And neither were you.”
Dylan reached over and hugged Zak. It didn’t make the pain any less, but he was grateful to Zak for trying.
Dylan took yet another deep breath. He started to continue.
“Are you sure you’re ok to do this?” Danny asked.
Dylan nodded. “Yes, I’m almost done,” he said. “School got out about six weeks after it happened. I spent the summer holed up in my room. I rarely went out, just slept. I guess my parents thought I was finally becoming a ‘typical’ teenager. When it was close to school starting, she took a day off and we went to the mall. She wanted me to get new clothes for school. I was just going through the motions. I didn’t care about clothes or school or anything. We had lunch at the food court and I went to the bathroom. When I came out of the stall Tanner was standing there. He looked terrible. He pushed me against the wall and started screaming at me. He was pissed that I hadn’t said anything about Cody--Cody had done it to him too. He kept saying it was all my fault. He punched me in the stomach and stormed off.
“There was about a week till school and I was panicked about going back. I couldn’t face Tanner knowing that I was the reason that Cody had attacked him too. The Saturday before school was supposed to start, I was home alone. I was desperate and I got an idea. I went to my parents’ liquor cabinet and pulled out the fullest bottle I could find and then went and got a bottle of sleeping pills my mom had. For about the next hour or so I just drank and swallowed pills. I think I puked once or twice, can’t really remember. Next thing I knew I was in the hospital and then they put me in the mental ward. I was there for about three months. At first, I didn’t want to get better, I just wanted to die. The medication they put me on made me feel a little better some days, but I think I was fighting it. Then Tanner came to see me; he was upset thinking that it was his fault I had tried to kill myself. We talked and we cried. We forgave each other. I was glad we were friends again, but I knew we would never be boyfriends again.
“A few days later, I was feeling pretty good and was in therapy. I was talking a lot about Tanner, when Elaine, my therapist, asked me who Cody was. I guess I had mentioned his name without thinking about it. I started to talk about him and then everything came out. It was the first time I actually said what he did to me...that he raped me...
“I guess that was my breakthrough, finally saying that word...finally admitting what he had done to me and that it wasn’t my fault. Eventually, I told my parents. They’ve been very accepting of my being gay, but with the depression and the suicide attempt, my mom watches me like a hawk. I guess that’s why she likes all you guys--I’m getting out of the house and she knows I’m safe. At first I think she was apprehensive, but Denise told her that you guys were the best.” He looked over at Zak. “And she was right.”
“What happened with Cody?” asked Danny. “Doesn’t the therapist have to report him?”
Dylan nodded. “She did. The detectives came to the hospital; they met with me and my parents and Elaine. I had to tell them everything. I left Tanner out of it. He has to make his own decision about telling what happened. I’ve talked to him about it but he’s not ready. Cody ran away the beginning of the summer after all this happened, no one has seen him. But there is an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Since I waited so long to report him and there was no physical evidence, it will be difficult to prosecute, but hopefully when they bust him others will come forward.”
“It really sucks that he’s still out there.” Zak said.
“I know. I keep hoping that he tried this on the wrong person and that person hurt him back.” Dylan smiled. “I think that’s the fantasy that keeps me going some days.”
“So, Dylan, how are you now? How do you feel?” asked Danny, who was still holding Dylan.
Dylan straightened up and sat between the two brothers. “I feel better. It’s a struggle. You know that. Some days are better than others. This week, until today, has been the best. I know I fell apart with that panic attack, but I’ll make sure to keep those meds on me from now on. And on the positive side, I get Dodger back. I wish he wasn’t suffering like he is, but I’m going to spend as much time as it takes to get him healthy and happy again.”
“We all will,” Zak said.
“You know, it might not be a bad idea for us to keep a stash of your pills at the ranch. We could keep them in the office in the barn or in the ranch house,” offered Danny. “That way if something happened and you had forgotten them, we’d have them. The problem with the panic attacks is that you never know when they are going to strike. At least with the depression, you start to feel things coming on; with the panic attacks it just hits you.”
Dylan nodded. He smiled at Danny and leaned over and hugged him. “Thank you, Danny. It’s so great to have someone who understands. My parents and Denise try, but they don’t always get it, you know?”
“Yes, I know,” Danny agreed. “CJ and I are still feeling our way around the subject. I know he’s forgiven me, but I also know I have a lot to make up for. I’m just happy we’re getting a second chance at it.”
The three boys sat for a while longer. They were pretty quiet, just absorbing everything that had happened today.
Finally, Danny stood up and said they needed to head back.
The three mounted up and headed down the trails. Zak led them to the open hills that surrounded the ranch and after giving a mischievous look to Danny and Dylan he had Gaston take off running over the hills. Never ones to shrink from a challenge, Danny and Dylan kicked their mounts into gear and took off after him.
The three spent the afternoon racing around the hills and trails. Dylan was finally starting to relax and feel better after the events of the morning. Zak was noticing a closeness between Danny and Dylan. Another person might have been jealous over the obvious connection between his new friend and his newfound brother, but Zak was just happy that two people who he cared about had each other to get them through some hard times. He knew that as much as he wanted to, he would not be able to ever completely understand what either of them had gone through.
Zak couldn’t imagine ever being so low that he would walk away from Dusty, never mind actually try to take his own life. Zak promised himself that he would always look out for Danny and Dylan and make sure they never again found themselves so desperate that they could find no other escape but to run or hurt themselves.
After they had returned to the barn and put the horses up, Danny went to look for CJ or Dusty to check on Dodger’s status while Zak and Dylan waited in the barn.
Dylan walked over to Zak and grabbed the smaller boy in a huge bear hug. Zak thought he was going to pass out from lack of oxygen. Dylan stepped back and grinned at Zak with a tear in his eye.
“What was that for?” Zak asked.
“To thank you,” Dylan answered. “You knew that Danny could help me, but you didn’t tell him about me. You found a way for him to help me without betraying me. Both of those things mean a lot to me. I needed someone I could trust and now I have both you and Danny.”
Zak smiled at Dylan. “You have all of us, you know. Me and Danny as well as Dusty, CJ, Mattie and even Spin.” He rolled his eyes when he said Spin’s name.
Dylan laughed, “I know, but I’m not ready to tell everyone what happened to me. I’m kinda ok with people knowing about my depression, but the other stuff is hard. I mean, Cody took so much from me. Because of him I stopped riding, and look what happened to Dodger. I lost time with Tanner and almost lost him completely. He took my virginity.”
“Wait a second,” Zak said sternly. “I don’t think he did that.”
“Sure he did. He had sex with me.”
“No, he didn’t. He raped you; that’s not sex, that’s violence.” Zak was shaking with anger. “Some people, ignorant people, may say that you aren’t a virgin, but that’s bullshit. Giving your virginity is not about the physical act, it’s about everything that’s involved. I don’t think of myself as a virgin even though Dusty and I have never done anything more than oral sex. I gave myself to him...my heart, my emotions and my body...I willingly gave myself to him. You weren’t given that option. To me you are still a virgin. You are still innocent. Someday you are going to find a great guy and you are going to give yourself to him body and soul and the way you feel when that happens will show you that what Cody did to you was not love, was not sex.”
Dylan looked at his shoes. “No one’s gonna want me now. I’m damaged goods.”
Zak turned bright red as his rage grew. He was trying his best to maintain his composure. He wanted nothing more than track down this Cody guy and kick his ass--well, he’d probably have to have Dusty hold him down, but that guy needed a butt whooping.
Zak put his hand on Dylan’s shoulder. “Dylan, listen to me and listen good. You are not now nor have you ever been ‘damaged goods’. First of all, no one ever has to know what happened to you. But, if you fall in love and you want to tell that person everything and they can’t accept it then that is their problem not yours. You wouldn’t want to be with that person anyways. You want someone sweet, loving, accepting and cute.” He wiggled his eyebrows at Dylan, making Dylan laugh.
“Damn, I’m jealous of Dusty,” Dylan sighed.
“No you’re not,” Zak said. “You’ll find someone. We’ll all be there helping you to do it.”
Danny walked back into the barn. “Hey, guys. I just talked to CJ; the vet finished his examination of Dodger. He thinks considering what he’s been through he’s in relatively good shape--no permanent damage to his bones or muscles, most of the cuts and bruises are already starting to heal. He gave Dusty some stuff to put on them to help that. His main problem is malnourishment. He’s instructed us to put him on a special diet. Jeff had most of the feeds we need here, so he can start on them right away. When we get home tomorrow, we’ll run to the feed store and get the stuff he needs. Once we get him fattened up he should make a complete recovery...physically.”
“But...” Dylan asked.
“He’s been through a lot, Dylan. He’s very apprehensive about people. They had to sedate him to get him loaded on the trailer and again when the vet came. We’ll probably have to do it tomorrow as well to get him back to the Triple J.”
“Can I see him?” Dylan asked expectantly.
Danny nodded. “Yes, I’m going to take you over to where they have him. I just want you to be prepared. He’s very skittish and angry. You won’t be able to get too close to him, and he looks a lot worse than the vet says he is.”
Danny led Zak and Dylan to a smaller barn that the Murphys used to settle the newer horses in before moving them to ‘general population’. Zak smiled to himself when he thought of how Nick explained everything to him in ‘prison’ terms.
Zak held back as Danny took Dylan’s hand to steady him as they approached Dodger’s stall.
Dodger was very agitated, He was wild-eyed and throwing his head back and forth.
Dylan had tears in his eyes as he looked at his old friend. Dylan remembered how Dodger had carried him through competition after competition never letting him down; he thought of the times that he had confided in his four-legged friend and how Dodger had always made him feel better when things were not going right. He suddenly understood the huge mistake he had made by walking away from Dodger and riding. He realized that Dodger had been a huge reason that he had not had a breakdown sooner.
There were times he would feel stressed or depressed and he would turn to the beautiful Arabian and just spend time stroking him and talking to him; it always calmed him and made him feel more centered. Why hadn’t he thought of that after Cody? He knew that at that point he had been too far gone, but this damn illness and damned Cody had cost him too much already--it wasn’t going to cost him Dodger, too.
Dylan began walking towards the horse. Zak stepped forward to stop him, but Danny held his hand up to stop Zak. Danny’s eyes met Zak’s. Zak looked at him questioningly, but Danny just nodded towards Dylan and nodded.
“Hey, buddy,” Dylan whispered. “Hey, Dodge. It’s me. Don’t you remember me?”
Dylan stepped closer and closer to the stall. He moved quietly and slowly so as not to spook the gelding.
Upon hearing Dylan’s voice, Dodger stopped pacing in his stall and walked to the stall door and craned his head.
Dylan reached out and gently touched Dodger’s cheek. Dodger inhaled and took in the scent of this boy. He recognized the scent and tried to further stretch his neck to reach him.
Dylan stepped closer and began to stroke and pet Dodger’s cheek and neck. Dodger visibly relaxed as he recognized Dylan. Dylan opened the stall door and stepped inside. He reached up and wrapped his arms around Dodger’s neck and hugged him. The horse pulled his chin against Dylan’s back, pulling the boy closer.
Danny stepped back to where Zak was standing. The two brothers took in the happy sight of their teary-eyed friend being reunited with his horse.
“You knew this would happen?” Zak whispered to Danny.
“I hoped.” Danny smiled, a few tears leaking out of his eyes. “Dodger was abused by strangers, by people who never cared for him or loved him, people he didn’t know. I thought if anyone could get through to him it would be the boy who loved him. Horses aren’t stupid; they know who the good guys are and who loves them.”
Zak reached over and hugged his brother. “I’m so glad you’re here,” he whispered.
Danny hugged his little brother back. “Me, too.”
Later that night as they were all about to turn in there was a bit of an argument in the common room. Not wanting Dylan to sleep alone on the couch both Danny and Zak had each insisted that he join them and their significant other in their bedrooms.
Dylan tried to convince them that he was fine alone, but no one was going to let him be alone after the day he had had. Mattie and Spin offered as well, but Zak and Danny argued the strongest and the loudest.
“Look, Dylan,” argued Zak. “Either way, you’re spending the night in one of the bedrooms. Dusty and I are fine sharing with you.”
“Zak, I appreciate the offer, but you and Dusty don’t get to spend that much time together as it is,” Dylan replied. “How often do you get the chance to spend the night together with no parents around?”
“Dylan, it’s ok, we’ll be fine; it’s not like we’re the human horndog over there,” Zak answered gesturing to Spin.
“Hey!!” interjected Mattie. “I love my horndog.” He grabbed hold of Spin and sweetly kissed his cheek while Spin blushed uncontrollably.
“Zak, Dylan,” CJ stepped in. “Look, it makes more sense for Dylan to come in with us.” He nodded to Dusty and Zak. “That way you two can have some time together and,” he nodded to Dylan, “you won’t be alone.”
Zak and Dylan both started to object. CJ just raised his hands. “No, it’s decided. Now everyone needs to hit the hay, cuz we need to get out of here early tomorrow.”
With some minor grumbling from his boyfriend, Dusty dragged Zak off to bed. The others followed.
The group left early the next morning.
Danny drove the Super Cab with Zak, Dusty and Dylan towing the trailer containing Dodger. Deciding it would be better to take the horses separately, CJ drove his Jeep with Mattie and Spin; they borrowed a trailer from the Murphys to carry Scout to the Triple J.
CJ drove straight through to the Triple J. Once he arrived he had Mattie and Spin unload Scout and they unhooked the trailer. CJ left the two younger boys to get Scout settled while he ran to the feed store to get the feed and other supplies they would need for Dodger.
CJ instructed Mattie and Spin to get a stall ready for Dodger once they had Scout taken care of. He suggested they find a spot for Dodger that was somewhat isolated, at least until he was used to his surroundings. Right now the only human he would have anything to do with was Dylan.
Danny made several stops on the way back. They knew that Dodger was still pretty weak, so they made stops about every 20-30 minutes to check on him. Several times they had to talk Dylan out of riding in the trailer with Dodger. Danny finally put his foot down; it was too dangerous and if Dodger was to collapse or lose his balance or just spook it would be very dangerous for Dylan.
It took the boys with Dodger about two extra hours to get to the Triple J.
By the time they got there, Spin and Mattie were gone. Spin’s dad had picked them up and was dropping Mattie at home so he could go to mass.
CJ showed Dylan where they had set up a stall for Dodger. Dylan ran back to the trailer and slowly backed his friend out and led him into his new home.