Dusty knelt next to the convulsing Zak. Thinking quickly he reached into his pocket and pulled out his keychain. His keychain had a long flat metal piece that advertised a local feed supply store. Not wanting Zak to accidentally bite his tongue while he was seizing, Dusty took the keychain and slid it between Zak’s teeth, this way if his teeth clenched he would not bite off his tongue or do any other damage.
Dusty felt helpless watching Zak. He tried to hold him still, but Zak’s small body shook and thrashed.
Spin, Dylan and Tanner came running up to see what the commotion was about. The three younger boys froze as saw Zak convulsing on the ground.
Mattie had immediately hung up on CJ and dialed ‘911’. He was immediately put through to an emergency operator.
A nasal female voice came over the phone. “911, what is the nature of your emergency?”
“My friend is having a seizure.”
“How long has he been having the seizure?”
“About a minute or so--it looks like it’s stopping,” Mattie answered as Zak’s body stopped shaking. He watched Dusty kneel by Zak’s head and rest Zak’s head and shoulders on his thighs. Spin knelt next to Zak and watched for any signs of another seizure.
“Does your friend have a history of seizures?”
“Not that I’m aware of. He was thrown from a horse earlier, but he seemed alright.”
“Son, what’s your address?”
“We’re at the Triple J Ranch on Route 7”
“I’m dispatching paramedics now, they should be there in a few minutes; in the meantime I want you to stay with me and answer some questions.”
“Ok,” Mattie said; he looked over at Dusty. “Dust, the ambulance in on the way.” Dusty nodded in response, but he was too focused on Zak to speak.
“Son, what’s your name?”
“Mattie, I’m Patrice. What’s your friend’s name?”
“How old is Zak?’
“He just turned 16 in August.”
“You said he was thrown from a horse?”
“Do you know if he was unconscious?”
“Hold on.” Mattie turned to Dusty. “Dusty, was he unconscious when he was thrown?” Dusty looked up, but he was too lost to think. Mattie looked at Dylan. Dylan nodded and walked over to Mattie.
“He said he was knocked out, but didn’t know for how long. When we found him he had been awake for a while and had walked a bit of a ways from where he was thrown. He complained of being sore all over and having a headache, but he seemed pretty with-it and rode back with us.”
“Did you get all that, Patrice?” Mattie asked.
“Yes, I did, Mattie, thanks. Here’s what I want you to do.”
“OK, we’re listening.”
“I want you to get some blankets and keep him warm, to keep him from going into shock. I assume he’s lying down.”
“He’s lying on the ground--one of the other guys has his head in his lap, but he’s lying down.”
“Good. Do not let him get up. Just keep him warm and still; if he regains consciousness, keep him still and try to keep him awake.”
“He’s out right now--should be we wake him up?”
“No. Chances are he’s unconscious, so let him be, his brain is trying to recover. Is he running a fever?”
“I don’t know.” Mattie turned to the other boys. “Spin, check his forehead and see if he’s feverish. Tanner can you run into the house and get some blankets to keep him warm?”
Tanner nodded and dashed for the house, while Spin placed the back of his hand on Zak’s forehead.
Spin looked at Mattie. “He’s awful warm, but I don’t know if he has a fever.”
Mattie relayed this information to Patrice, while Tanner returned with the blankets. Tanner and Spin wrapped several blankets around Zak tucking them underneath him.
“Mattie,” Patrice said. “Try to slip a thin piece of wood or metal between Zak’s teeth so if he convulses again he won’t bite his cheek or tongue.”
“Dusty already did that.”
“Good. Just stay on the phone with me. The paramedics are just down the road.”
“Ok,” Mattie replied. “Spin, call Kate and tell her what happened. Tell her we’ll meet her at the hospital. Dylan, do you have CJ’s or Danny’s number?”
“I have Danny’s.”
“Can you call him and let them know what happened? Tell them we’re waiting for the paramedics and we’ll call them as soon as we know anything.”
Dylan and Spin made their calls. Kate would meet them at the Emergency Room. CJ and Danny were ready to come straight back, but Mattie got on the phone and told them to stay put until they knew how things were.
The boys all looked up as they heard the sirens coming down the ranch’s long driveway.
Dylan and Tanner ran out to meet the ambulance and escort the paramedics to Zak.
By the time the paramedics got to him, Zak had started to come around. Dusty had kept him still while they waited.
When the paramedics got to Zak, they had Dusty and the other boys move back while they worked. One of the paramedics took Zak’s blood pressure, pulse and temperature, while the other asked the boys questions about what had happened. Dusty and Mattie spoke for the boys trying to give as much information as possible.
“And right before he collapsed, you say he was talking funny?” the paramedic asked Dusty.
Dusty nodded. “It was almost like he was drunk--slurring his words. He said his he didn’t feel well and then he just started convulsing.”
“And up until that point he had been conscious the whole time he was with you?”
“He was conscious when we found him in the woods, though he had been knocked out--we just don’t know for how long. Then when we got back he went to rest in the office. I don’t know if he was asleep or not in there.”
Zak started to say something.
“Hold on, Zak,” the questioning paramedic said. “Do you know if you lost consciousness other than when the horse threw you?”
“No,” Zak whispered. “I lay on the couch in the office, but I was awake. My head started to hurt really bad and then I went to find Dusty--next thing I knew I was lying here on the ground.”
The paramedic went back to work on Zak, while his partner stayed in contact with the hospital by radio. They started an IV and hooked Zak up to a monitor to watch vital signs.
“Ok, Zak...guys, we’re gonna take him to the hospital to be checked out, but I think he’s probably got a concussion, probably moderate to severe,” the paramedic said. “They’ll run some tests and probably keep you over night for observations. Can you guys drive?”
Dusty nodded. “I have a truck.”
“Good. Because we can’t take anyone but Zak in the ambulance and I think you guys should be there with him. Do his parents know what’s going on?”
“His mom does, she’s gonna meet us there.”
“Good. Let’s get him loaded up and we can get moving.”
Quickly, but gently, the paramedics moved Zak to a gurney and wheeled him over to the ambulance. They loaded him and one of the paramedics stayed with him while the other drove.
Dusty led the boys to Zak’s SUV, since his truck would not hold five of them.
Dusty told Mattie to call Danny and CJ to let them know what was going on, while he called Kate to let her know they were on their way.
Mattie spoke to CJ and made him promise not to come home before Sunday morning. It was getting to be mid-afternoon and it made no sense for them to cancel the last night of their trip. Mattie assured them that Zak would be fine and they would let them know if there were any changes in his condition.
At the hospital, the boys saw Kate waiting; she told them that the ambulance had gotten there with Zak about 10 minutes earlier and he was in an examining room with the doctor. They were going to bring Zak to radiology for a CT scan.
Kate asked Dusty what had happened and Dusty, with his Greek chorus, told Kate about the events of the afternoon.
The boys expected Kate to be angry with them, but she just shook her head and smiled. While she was concerned about Zak, this was the first time she had ever had to take pick him up in the emergency room for ‘being a boy’. He had always been careful in the past, but to Zak ‘careful’ meant not trying anything new and staying inside. Kate was glad that he had torn down the walls that he had built around himself and made so many new friends at the ranch. If she was going to encourage him in this, she knew that she had to accept the occasional mishaps. She knew all the boys were careful and knew what they were doing and she knew that now that CJ and Danny owned the ranch they were going to keep an even closer eye on the boys.
The doctor came out of the examination room after about half an hour. He tried to get Kate alone to give her an update, but she insisted that he tell all the boys, since they were Zak’s family too.
The doctor said that he believed that Zak had suffered a moderate concussion. He was waiting for the results of the CT scan just to rule out any bleeding or further damage.
After another forty-five minute wait, the doctor came back to update Zak’s family and friends.
The doctor confirmed that Zak had indeed suffered a concussion. He said it was a good sign that Zak had not suffered another seizure and that he had been fairly coherent since he had been brought in. The doctor thought that Zak should be fine, but he was going to hold him in the hospital overnight for observation. He also advised that Zak should take it easy for at least a week, and that included no riding for probably two weeks.
The boys groaned collectively; they all knew that even though Zak had been riding for a short amount of time, no riding for two weeks was going to be rough on him.
Spin asked the doctor if Zak could at least come to the ranch. The doctor said that he would need to lay low for a few days, but if he was feeling up to it by med-week, it would be alright as long as he did nothing strenuous or risky. He could visit with the horses, but he should be kept calm and keep his activity to a minimum. If anyone noticed Zak exhibit any signs of fatigue, headaches, or anything out of the ordinary, they were to immediately let Kate know about it.
Since it would be a while until Zak was settled into his room, Dusty told the guys he would ferry them back to the ranch and then come back to stay with Zak as long as they would let him.
Dylan asked if Dusty could drop him and Tanner off at his house. They could spend the night there and then Dylan’s parents could drive Tanner home the next day, which would give Dylan a chance to see his old town and say hi to Tanner’s family and would get Dusty off the hook for driving Tanner home.
Dusty drove Mattie and Spin to the ranch with Dylan and Tanner, so that Dylan and Tanner could pick up their bags and then Dusty would drop them off.
When they got to the ranch, they saw a familiar H2 parked by the barn, with a horse trailer attached to it.
Dusty parked next to the H2 and all the boys climbed out of the SUV.
Sarge and Ace came out of the barn.
“Hey, there you guys are,” Ace said as he walked up to the boys and gave Dusty, Dylan, Mattie and Spin hugs and high-fives. “We were starting to think you all had moved or something.”
“We weren’t expecting you till tomorrow,” Dusty answered as he shook Sarge’s hand.
“We made good time and it didn’t make sense to stay in a hotel for another night, just to get here a day later,” Sarge said.
“No, this is actually good,” Dusty said as he explained what had happened to Zak. “So, I’m gonna go drop off Dylan and Tanner.” He nodded to Tanner. “I’m sorry; Sarge, Ace, this is Tanner, Dylan’s friend.” Tanner nodded to both the new arrivals. “And then I’m going to see how late they’ll let me stay at the hospital. Since you guys are here, I’ll feel better about leaving Mattie and Spin alone and they’ll have help for the evening feedings.”
“Sure,” replied Ace. “We can help out with that no problem. I just need to know where I need to put Bullet.”
“He isn’t still in the trailer, is he?” Spin asked.
Ace laughed, “No. If I left him in there one second longer than necessary, he’d kick a hole in it. He’s over in the paddock over there.” He pointed. “C’mon, I’ll introduce you.”
The boys followed Ace over to the paddock. There was a thickly muscled, black quarter horse gelding with a white blaze on his face and four white socks standing by the fence.
“Hey, Bullet, buddy,” Ace cooed as he walked over to his horse and patted his neck.
“So, guys, this is Bullet,” Ace announced.
One by one the guys walked up to the horse and let him smell them and check them out. They all thought that Bullet would make an excellent addition to their personal ‘herd’, as would Ace.
Dusty told Dylan and Tanner to get their stuff so he could get them home and get back to the hospital.
Zak spent two very unpleasant nights in the hospital and was sent home on Monday. He stayed out of school Monday and Tuesday, but was allowed to return to school and the ranch on Wednesday.
Zak was not happy about the ‘no riding’ rule and made life miserable for everyone until Dusty laid down the law and told him to knock it off. It could have been any of them and they’d have to suffer through it. It was only a couple of weeks and he would have to man-up and deal with it.
Since he couldn’t ride, Zak called Joe and volunteered to take Max each afternoon. He thought this would keep him from going nuts not being able to ride. But, Joe thought he was a whole different kind of nuts wanting to take Max every day for two weeks. Dusty and Danny both called Joe and told him that there would be plenty of backup there if Zak got overtired or didn’t feel well, but having Max to look after would distract Zak for the time he was banned from the saddle.
Max proved to be the distraction that Zak needed. Zak decided that if he couldn’t ride then he would work on Max’s blossoming riding ‘career’. Every afternoon, he and Max would groom and tack Scout and then Zak would bring them into the arena. He would lead Scout around the ring to warm the horse and rider up. Then he would switch to a lounge line and stand in the center of the ring, while the horse walked in a circle around him carrying his small charge.
Zak was pleased with their choice of Scout for Max. Max loved the little Paint horse and the feeling appeared to be mutual. Scout was a steady mount for Max to learn on. Zak soon had the two trotting and cantering in circles around him.
By the time Zak was permitted to ride again, Max’s confidence on his little horse was very strong and he could ride the trails along with the big boys without having to be led.
Ace and Sarge also proved to be welcome additions to the family.
Ace started right in helping at the ranch. He had no problem mucking stalls, helping with feedings or doing anything else that needed to get done. CJ put him in rotation to lead trail rides with Zak and Dylan. Since Zak couldn’t ride the first week he was there, Ace immediately became familiar with the trails and guiding the rides. Ace was especially good with the small children and CJ spoke to him about maybe getting some ponies to do pony rides and lessons for smaller kids. Ace was all for the idea and it immediately became his project at the ranch.
Ace started school the first Monday after Zak’s accident. While he was another student, he was also charged with keeping an eye on the other boys, especially Mattie.
In an effort cause as little disruption as possible in the event of an emergency, each of the boys--Mattie, Spin, Zak, Dylan and Ace--was issued a ‘panic button’. This was a small device that looked like a key fob for a car alarm system. It had two buttons on it. One was for a distress call to be used when you needed help. The other was a ‘911’ button which was only to be used in the case of a life or death emergency. This button sent a signal to local law enforcement, Sarge, CJ and Ace. The distress call only went to Sarge or Ace. Both signals also ran to the security team that Sarge had quickly put in place.
Sarge had hired a team of ten young men and women who would officially be ranch hands, but whose real purpose was to guard the ranch and those at it. The ten were paired into teams of two. They each worked rotating eight-hour shifts so there were teams on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
At Sarge’s suggestion, CJ had added a ‘bunkhouse’ to the new buildings under construction. The bunkhouse was actually the security nerve center for the ranch. It contained living quarters for the ten ‘ranch hands’ as well as for other security personnel who manned the cameras and surveillance equipment. The guards worked out of a large room at one end of the bunkhouse. It was a huge room filled with computer and surveillance equipment. All those who worked at the ranch knew of its existence, but access was limited to the guards, Sarge and CJ.
Since they needed the bunkhouse very quickly and since most of the equipment in it was highly sensitive, CJ had Doug Marshall, his father’s head of security, work with Sarge to put the construction in the hands of people who could put it up fast and right and keep it all quiet. CJ was astonished that the bunkhouse was livable in a matter of weeks.
Sarge and Ace would be living in the old ranch house as soon as CJ and Danny’s new house was finished, but until then, Sarge insisted on living in the bunkhouse with his team. He let Ace stay at the ranch house since he and Mattie and the rest of the boys had become such good friends.
The week before Halloween, CJ and Danny flew to Florida. They had simply told the boys that they had to finish closing up their old apartment and wanted to see some old friends.
They flew into Orlando International Airport and rented a car to drive to Ocala.
They first drove to the farm they used to teach at; the owner, Abigail, was beside herself to see both young men emerge from the Mustang convertible.
“Danny!!” she yelled as she ran over to the boys. “Where have you been?” She looked between the two boys. “I see you found each other again,” she said to CJ.
CJ grinned and nodded.
Abigail led the boys to her house and had them in for lunch. She made them tell the whole story of Danny’s disappearance and how he had ended up on his father’s doorstep only to find CJ was staying there as well. They also told her about their brothers and their friends and boyfriends, as well as their purchase and expansion of the Triple J.
“My, my, you boys have been busy,” she said in her motherly way. “I’m just so happy things have worked out for you two. I miss having you around here. I have other instructors and other boarders, but you two were always so special to me.”
“Thank you, Abigail,” Danny said. “This place was so much like home for me the last few years. I saw us being here forever, but then things went haywire and now I can’t imagine us being any other place. Finding CJ and then finding Zak, my brother, and the other boys has been so overwhelming. But I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Abigail reached over and took Danny’s hand. “Danny, I’m so glad that everything has worked out for your two. You’ll have to bring your brothers down here sometime for a visit.”
Danny and CJ both nodded and thanked Abigail for the invitation.
“Now, I know you boys didn’t come all the way down here just to drop in on an old lady, so what are you really here for?”
CJ thought for a moment. “We’re actually here to see Sam?”
“Sam...Samantha Carter?” Abigail asked.
CJ nodded. “Yes. I know she’s still in classes at the college, but I have some personal business to discuss with her.”
“Personal business?” Abigail let the words hang for a moment. “You know she’s...expecting, right?”
Abigail looked between the two boys and the realization hit her.
“Oh, CJ...are you sure?”
CJ shook his head. “No, I’m not sure of anything. But I guess there is a good chance so I need to know.”
“You know she’s planning to give the baby up, right?”
“Yes, my dad’s security guys did some background on her.” He saw disapproval in Abigail’s eyes. “Without my knowledge. Apparently they’ve been watching me for years without me knowing about it and they actually knew what happened between me and Sam when I don’t even have a clear recollection of the event.” CJ paused and thought for a moment. “Do you know why she’s giving the baby up?”
“I’m not sure. I haven’t spoken to her in about six months. She worked here for a bit after she found out she was pregnant. I was as supportive as I could be, but a few of the mothers got their panties in a twist over her being single and pregnant. Most didn’t care--she was a fine instructor--but the vocal minority had to get their say in. I asked her to stay on, but she was sick and tired of the criticism. She spoke of giving the baby up at the time, because she didn’t think she was in a place to be a mother. She’s still friends with Jo, and Jo still teaches here, so she keeps me up to date on things.”
“Do you know when she is due?”
“According to Jo, any day now.”
All three sat at the table doing quick math and figuring out that it was entirely possible that CJ was the baby’s father.
“Well, Abigail, I want to catch up with her today, so we best get going, we need to check in at the Inn.” CJ said as he stood up.
“What do mean, the Inn?” Abigail asked. “Why don’t you just stay here with me?”
“Oh, Abigail, we don’t want to put you out,” Danny protested.
“Danny, I’m an old woman who lives alone in this huge old house. You are two of my favorite people and I don’t know when I’ll see you again, so I’d be more than a little upset with you two if you weren’t my guests while you are down here.”
“Well, it would be nice to stay someplace familiar and spend more time with you,” Danny replied and looked at CJ who nodded. “We’d love to.”
“Good. You boys can have the master suite on the second floor; my knees don’t take the stairs well anymore so you’ll have privacy while you’re here,” Abigail said. “And since you’re here anyways...”
Danny laughed. “I knew it...you have a job for me?”
Abigail grinned. “Danny, no one has the way with these horses that you do. I have a new gelding that’s giving everyone else fits. Would you mind taking a look at him and see if he’s worth the time and the effort or if he’s a lost cause.”
“Now, Abigail, you know I don’t believe in lost causes when it comes to horses.” He looked at CJ and grinned. “Or people.”
“I know, dear,” Abigail smiled.
“I’ll take a look at him while CJ goes to see Sam,” Danny agreed. “Though if you think I’m a ‘miracle worker’ with horses, you should see my brother’s boyfriend, Dusty...he’s quite the horse whisperer. Zak’s getting pretty good too, and Mattie, CJ’s brother.”
“Your brother’s ‘boyfriend’?”
CJ and Danny laughed. “Yep, my brother and CJ’s brother are both gay, too,” Danny confirmed. “According to Mattie and Zak, Zak and I are living proof of the ‘Nature vs. Nurture’ argument.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“Well, there are many people who hold to the belief that homosexuality is a choice and we are not born this way. No matter how much we argue against that belief they cling to it. But Zak and I share a father, we were raised separately in entirely different environments, but we share so much in common; we both love horses--actually we both seem to have a connection to them; we are both very introverted--personality-wise we are very similar; and we are both gay.”
“Actually, Abigail, he is underselling the horse connection between these two,” CJ added. “When I first arrived, I had Angel with me and you know what she’s like when Danny’s not around.” Abigail nodded. “Well, she started acting up, until she saw Zak. Now remember at this point I had no idea that Zak was Danny’s brother; she went right to him, he jumped up on her and took off down the driveway. She would follow Zak around just like she did with Danny. I should have known then that something was up.”
Abigail grinned. “Well, since you are the only ‘Whisperer’ I have here, Danny, I’d appreciate your help with this new horse.”
CJ went to car and brought in the suitcase that he and Danny were sharing since they had only planned to stay a night or two, and put it in the master suite. He went back downstairs and kissed Danny goodbye and left to meet with Sam.