Castle Roland

Riding Lessons

by Andrew Todd


Chapter 4

Posted: N/A

Dusty watched Zak and Onyx for a few minutes. He couldn't believe that this horse, of all the animals at the ranch, had taken so completely to Zak.

"Come on, Zak, time to head out."

Zak hugged Onyx. "See you tomorrow, Big Boy." As he walked out of the stall, he had a mischievous glint in his eye. "I seem to remember you saying something about a surprise?"

Dusty grinned at him. "Yes, but it's not here. So let's go."

He and Zak walked out to his truck. He got in on the driver's side and unlocked the door for Zak. His truck was a little high and he giggled as he watched Zak struggle to get into it. "Just put your foot right there and pull yourself up."

After two tries, Zak finally was seated in the passenger seat. "Ok, let's go. Wait, where are we going?"

"To my house."

"Cool." Zak was excited to see where Dusty lived.

As they drove through town, they talked about their favorite music and movies and just spent time getting to know each other better. After about 25 minutes they pulled into a long driveway. The house was far off the road with a large fenced-in yard. It was a large two-story house, white with light-blue trim and light-blue shutters.

Zak immediately liked it. "This is your house? How many people live here?"

"It's just me and Mom. Though my Gram is visiting us right now. My mom inherited the house from her parents and she doesn't have the heart to sell it since she grew up here and I've grown up here as well."

Dusty stopped the truck in front of the house and came around to Zak's side to help him out.

Zak was standing at the side of the truck looking around while Dusty retrieved his saddle bags from the bed of the truck. Zak looked up as he heard a loud bark and saw the biggest dog he had ever seen barreling towards them. Dusty looked up and laughed. "Incoming!!" he yelled.

The dog was making a beeline straight for Zak. After his encounter with Ember this morning, Zak was a little better prepared and braced himself for impact. The dog stopped short of Zak and walked towards him. Its head was even with Zak's chest. Suddenly the dog leapt up and placed its front paws on Zak's shoulders. The sudden weight made Zak's knees buckle and down he went. Before he could focus, he felt a huge wet tongue slobbering all over his face.

Dusty just stood there and laughed. "Herc, get down, you big dummy."

Zak raised his hands in front of his face to ward off the enormous dog. Herc, properly chastised by Dusty, backed off and sat down on the lawn.

"You didn't tell me you had horses at your house," Zak joked as he got to his feet.

"Ha, ha. He's not a horse, he's a Great Dane," Dusty replied. "He's usually not that forward. You keep having this effect on the animals around here."

"So, I hear," Zak giggled. "Is he yours?"

Dusty reached down and scratched the big dog's ear. "Yup, had him since he was a puppy. A friend of my mom's is a breeder and she gave him to me after my dad passed away. Along with Phoenix, he's what's gotten me through."

"So, Herc?"

"Short for Hercules. Sorry, I have this thing for mythology."

"No, it fits him. He's so big."

"Yes, but he's really like a big kid; most of the time he doesn't know his own strength."

Zak walked over to where Dusty stood next to the big dog. He put out his hand for Herc to sniff and the dog stuck out his tongue and licked the offered hand. Zak laughed. He knelt down so he was at eye level with the dog and began to stroke his head and neck and talk to him quietly. "Hey, Herc. Nice to meet you. Next time, let's not knock me over, ok? I've had quite enough of landing on my butt today."

Dusty laughed. "Now that he knows you, he'll be worse, not better."

"Oh, great. If this keeps up, I'm going to need padded underwear."

Dusty reached down and took the dog's head in both hands and planted a kiss on his nose. "Ok, you big dummy, go to your house." The dog licked Dusty's face and stood up and trotted off behind the house.

"He doesn't stay in the house?" Zak asked.

"Not during the day," Dusty answered. "Since my mom and I are out all day he stays in the yard. I don't tie him up or anything cuz I've never had a problem with him running away and he's a good watch dog. At night, I bring him in and he sleeps in my room. He tries to sleep in the bed with me, but I've only got a queen-size bed and with him in it, there's no room left for me, so I make him sleep on the floor."

They walked into the house and Dusty led him into the kitchen. Dusty walked over to a very attractive blonde woman in her mid- to late thirties. He wrapped his arms around her to give her a hug and kissed her cheek.

His mom turned around and smiled at Dusty. "Hey, Baby, you're home early."

"Yeah, we're just stopping by real quick."

"We?" she asked and then saw Zak standing in the doorway.

Dusty gestured to Zak. "Mom, this is Zak Myers. He's working with me at the ranch this summer."

Zak stepped up to offer his hand to Dusty's mother. "Nice to meet you, Mrs. Crandall."

"Please, Zak, call me Lu, and it's very nice to meet you, too."

"I pass Zak's house on the way to and from work," Dusty explained. "So I offered to be his ride until he gets his driver's license. But, I have something for him in my room. So we'll go get that and then I'll bring him home."

"Ok, sweetie. Don't forget I'm going out with Jackie tonight, so you're on your own for dinner."

"What about Gram?"

"She had a late lunch and probably is getting ready to settle down for the night."

"Ok, Mom, have fun tonight. Come on, Zak."

Dusty grabbed Zak's hand and led him upstairs. They stopped at the first door they came to. Dusty knocked lightly on the door.

"Come in."

Dusty opened the door. "Hi, Gram. How are you tonight?"

"I'm well. Who is this with you?"

Zak stood in the doorway looking at the tiny Indian woman before him. She was dressed in a black jeans and black sweatshirt, but was wearing several beaded necklaces and bracelets. She looked diminutive, but Zak got the feeling she was a formidable lady.

"Gram this is my friend, Zak. Zak, this is my grandmother, Wilma Running Deer."

"Nice to meet you, ma'am."

The old woman reached out her hand to Zak. "Come here, Little One." Dusty nodded to Zak that it was all right. Zak walked over to Wilma and she took his hand and stared into his eyes.

"Aah," she said, "another Two-Spirit. And another strong aura." She smiled up at Zak. "You take good care of my grandson, Little One."

Zak was tongue-tied. "I will, Mrs. Running Deer."

"You call me Gram, Little One."

"Ok, Gram."

Dusty went over and kissed his grandmother and took Zak's elbow to steer him out of the room. "We've gotta go, Gram. I'll see you later."

"Ok, Sweet One. Make sure you bring the Little One back to visit me."

"Yes, ma'am," Dusty answered as he shut the door.

They walked down the hall and Dusty stopped outside the third door. "I'm sorry; my Gram is very old school Native American."

"It's ok, she seems very nice. But you're going to have to explain that conversation to me."

Dusty opened the door and led Zak into his bedroom. It was very a very large and comfortable room. Dusty, unsurprisingly, had a very western motif in the room, with lots of pictures of horses all over.

"Ok, when she said you were a 'Two-Spirits', it meant she knows you're gay."


"Hold on, that's not a bad thing." Dusty took Zak's hand and led him over to the bed where they sat down. "In many Native American cultures there is a strong belief in spirits or souls. It is believed that every living thing has a spirit. Gay people are embraced, because it is believed that they have a male spirit and a female spirit. It has nothing to do with femininity or masculinity, more to do with someone being in touch with both sides of the world. She knows I'm gay; she was the first one to figure it out, even before I did."

"Ok, but what did she mean by a 'strong aura'."

"She believes that my connection to animals is due to my being a 'Two-Spirit' and having what she calls a 'strong aura'. According to her, 'strong aura' just means that you have a gift, an innate ability. I think when she said another 'strong aura' she was implying that your gift was the same as mine. The connection to the animals. Native American cultures place a lot of importance on animals and the people who can connect with them."

Zak looked up at Dusty. "You are blowing my mind here. I'm going to have to do some research tonight so I get all this."

Dusty smiled. "Don't worry about it. At the end of the day all it really means is that she liked you and approved of you."

"Well, that's cool. But can I ask you another question?"

"Sure, you can ask me anything."

Zak hesitated for a second. "Well, your grandmother is your father's mother, right?"

"Yes," Dusty nodded and then the light in his head went on. "And you want to know why she has a different last name."

"I was curious."

"That's easy. My dad's last name was 'Running Deer', but my mom kept her name 'Crandall' when they got married. They both decided when I was born that I would use Crandall, because they thought it would make things easier for me in school. Since we aren't on a reservation or in an area with a heavy Native population. They knew how cruel kids could be and didn't want me to be bullied."

"Oh, ok, that makes sense. Now one more question."

"Now what?"

"What are we doing here?"

Dusty laughed. "We're getting your present."

"How can I have a present here, I didn't even know you 12 hours ago."

"Just sit here and close your eyes."

Zak did as he was told and he felt Dusty get off the bed. He heard a door opened and what sounded like someone rummaging around in a closet.

Dusty came back over and sat on the bed and told Zak to open his eyes.

Zak looked at the spot on the bed between them; there sat a pair of leather boots. They looked old, but well taken care of.

"I know, they are old, but I thought they would probably fit you and they'd be more use to you around the ranch than those sneakers."

Zak immediately kicked off his sneakers and pulled on the boots; they fit perfectly. He looked up at Dusty. "Thanks, they are great." He leaned in to hug Dusty tightly and then he lifted his face up and kissed him.

Dusty returned both the hug and the kiss. They began to kiss more passionately. Dusty pushed Zak back onto the bed and let his tongue invade his new friend's mouth. He reached his hand up under Zak's t-shirt and rubbed his chest. Zak buried his face in Dusty's neck and kissed it, sucking on the smooth skin. Then he turned back to Dusty's lips and attacked them with a fervor he didn't think possible. They made out for a few minutes and then Dusty pulled back.

"Slow, slow, that's what we said, right?"

Zak sat up. "Right. Walk first." He reached down and adjusted the painful erection he had.

Dusty stood up. "Ok, let's get you home, you're going to need your rest tonight."

Zak bent over and picked up his sneakers and stood up and walked to the bedroom door. He turned back to Dusty. "I just have one question. How do you happen to have a pair of boots that fit me?"

"Well," answered Dusty, "they were mine when I was 12."

Zak laughed. "I thought it would be something like that."

The boys hustled down the stairs and out to Dusty's truck. When they got to the truck they both laughed at the sight that greeted them. Herc was standing in the bed of the truck.

Dusty shook his finger at the dog. "No, Herc, you are not going for a ride. Get out of there."

The dog just looked at him and walked around the bed of the truck.

Dusty went to the back of the truck and lowered the gate. He waved his hands at the big dog. "C'mon, Herc, get out of there, we don't have time for this."

Herc sat down up by the truck cab and whined at his master.

Dusty just threw up his hands in frustration while Zak continued to laugh at the sight.

Dusty turned to Zak. "What are you laughing at? See, I told you dogs could be a bigger pain in the ass than horses. I don't have to worry about Phoenix jumping in the back of my truck." He just shook his head. "Well, we might as well let him come; he's so stubborn it will take forever to get him out of there."

He closed the gate and walked towards the driver's side door. As he was getting into the truck he yelled back to his remorseless pet. "You better watch your step; if you fall out I'm not stopping for you."

Zak was shocked. "You think he'll fall out?"

Dusty barked out a laugh. "Hell, no. He rides back there all the time. He loves to go for a ride and he's too damn big to sit in the cab with me. He reached behind them and slid opening the window between the cab and bed of the truck. "Just keep an eye on him."

Zak turned to look into the bed of the truck just as Herc was shoving his head through the window. Zak was greeted with a face full of doggy saliva. "Yuck," he said as he wiped his chin with the back of his hand.

Dusty chuckled as he started up the truck.

As they started down the road, Zak gave Dusty directions to his house. After a few minutes, Dusty pulled into a strip-mall parking lot and parked in front of the Walgreens. As soon as they stopped, Herc again stuck his head in the window. Dusty looked at him as he got out of the truck. "You stay here, Herc. Be good." To Zak he said, "I just have to run in and grab something, just wait here for a minute."

Zak waited in the truck absently petting the big dog's head and listening to the radio. Dusty seemed to favor country stations; that would take Zak a little getting used to as he preferred classic rock and pop. He took a moment to reflect on the events of the day. He couldn't believe how much had happened to him in a few hours. He had a job that he thought he would really end up liking. He had discovered that he loved riding horses. He made a terrific new friend in Dusty and just maybe a boyfriend. He hoped that he and Dusty would end up as boyfriends, but he was just happy that he had someone that he could share things with and confide in. Even though he had known Dusty less than a day, he trusted him more than he had ever trusted anyone. He knew Dusty would look out for him and protect him and he would do the same for Dusty.

He was drawn out of his reflection by the sound of the truck door opening and Dusty climbing back in. He had a small bag in his hand and he gave it to Zak.

Zak curiously opened the bag and looked inside. "Sunscreen?" He looked up at Dusty.

"Sorry, I didn't think of it sooner. You probably haven't noticed but you're a little pink around the edges. I should have noticed earlier, it was bound to happen with your fair skin. I don't think about it, because I don't burn, I just get darker and darker until my mom tells me I'm brown as a nut. I got you three different SPFs. I want you to use the higher one tomorrow and then as you start to spend more time in the sun, you can change to the lower ones; that way you'll get some color, but not turn into a tomato. I also got you a tube of aloe cream; if you notice that the sunburn is really bothering you, just rub some of the cream on it; it will take the sting out."

Zak looked up at Dusty and had tears in his eyes.

Dusty reached out and took Zak's hand. "What's wrong?"

Zak took a deep breath. He was trying not to cry. "I'm sorry, it's just I was sitting here thinking about how happy I was to have you in my life now and how no matter where things went I knew that you would take care of me and then you do this simple thing for me and prove it."

Dusty moved his hand to caress Zak's cheek and smiled at him. "I told you, no matter what we will always be friends. I'll look out for you always. You deserve to have someone look after you."

Zak lurched forward and grabbed Dusty in a big hug. He was still trying to keep his emotions in check. "Thank you," he whispered in Dusty's ear.

Dusty gently kissed his cheek. "You ok now?" he asked.

Zak smiled up at him, his blue eyes glistening. "I'm better than ok. I'm terrific."

Dusty squeezed his hand. "Good."

As they continued the drive to Zak's house, Zak asked, "Dusty, how did you end up with this huge truck? Most kids our age are lucky to have an old beat-up car to drive around in. What does your mom do?"

Dusty chuckled. "Well, my mom works as a paralegal at a law office. She does well enough to take care of us, but she didn't buy me this truck. I bought it myself."

"How did you manage that? I know Mr. Jones pays better than McDonald's but still this is not a cheap truck."

"Well, I do work almost full-time at the ranch and I do get paid extra for doing the lessons and most of the customers who do trail rides will tip the guides, which we will split this summer. But, remember how I told you about the stud fees that Mr. Jones makes from Onyx?"

Zak nodded.

"Well, we also breed Phoenix. His being a full-blooded mustang makes him in great demand, almost as much as Onyx. A lot of people want to breed him to their mustang mares to keep their horses purebred. Others just want to breed him hoping that the babies take on some of his features. Even though Mr. Jones technically owns Phoenix, he says that the work I've done with him is what has made him much more valuable as a stud, so he splits the stud fees with me. Since we've been breeding him for the last 2 ½ years, I've made enough to buy this truck outright and built up a pretty sizeable bank account as well. My hope is that when I graduate high school, I can maybe start my own ranch or horse training operation."

"That's great. You're so focused on what you want. I wish I could be like that. I never know one day to the next what I want to do with my life."

"Zak, you're just finishing your freshman year of high school, don't put so much pressure on yourself. Eventually you'll figure out what you want to do. You're a smart kid with college in your future, so you have time. I know that college isn't in the cards for me right away, so I've tried to focus more on preparing myself."

"You're smart enough to get into college."

"I know I could get in, but right now, I don't want to. After my dad died, I was really lost. I started skipping school and hanging out with the wrong kids. I was pissed at the world and no one could get through to me. When I started working at the ranch I felt like I had found my place in the world, my calling. I finally allowed love and happiness into my world. I've never been a happy student; I just go because it's required. Maybe someday I'll take some college courses, but it will be to help me in my business and not just because everyone expects it."

"How does your mom feel about you not going to college? My mom would chain me up and ship me off if I said I didn't want to go."

Dusty laughed. "Actually, my mom would like me to go, but she understands why I'm not going. Since I started working at the ranch and she's seen me change, she's trusted me to make my own decisions and live my life. When I came out to her, she cried, not because she couldn't accept the fact that I was gay, but because she was concerned for my well-being. I assured her that I was happy with myself and my place in the world."

"Wow, you came out to your mom, just like that?"

"Sure, my mom and I are real close. It must be the same for you and your mom since you lost your dad."

"Well, my mom and I very close, but I don't know if I could come out to her."

"Why not? Does she have something against gays?"

"No, just the opposite, she has some very close friends who are gay and they are at our house all the time. I just feel like I'll be disappointing her and my dad," Zak almost whispered.

"What do you mean your dad?"

"Well, even though I don't even remember my dad, I feel this responsibility to him. I'm his only son. If I'm gay then there are no heirs for my dad. He was an only child too."

Dusty pulled the truck over and looked at Zak. Before he could say anything, the tension was broken by Herc's head once again popping through the window. "Herc, go lie down," Dusty ordered. The dog pulled his head back through the window and lay down in the bed of the truck.

Dusty reached over and took Zak's hand in his. With his other hand he gently grabbed Zak's chin and turned his head to face him. He looked into Zak's sad blue eyes and exhaled. His heart was breaking for his new friend. "Zak, listen to me. I went through feeling the same thing. I thought if I was gay I was letting my dad down. Remember how I told you my grandmother was the first one to figure out I was gay?"

Zak nodded.

"Well, she came to me during one of her visits and told me she knew. I felt so ashamed. I basically told her the same things you just told me. She looked at me and told me she knew my father better than I did and he would be more disappointed if I spent my life miserably trying to live up to some ideal than living my life being true to myself. She told me my dad loved me more than anything and would have been so proud of the man I was becoming. I think your dad would feel the same way."

Dusty saw huge tears falling from Zak's eyes. "Don't you think your dad would want you to be happy? That's all any parent should want for their child. Well, that and not being a serial killer."

Zak laughed at Dusty's joke and then got serious again. "I know what you're saying is right, I'm just so scared of disappointing my mom."

"Look, Zak, you don't have to come out to her tonight, but I think you need to give her more credit. Even if she was homophobic, eventually you would have to tell her for your own peace of mind. But, knowing that she is accepting of her gay friends should make it easier for you."

"There's a big difference between gay friends and a gay child."

"I know, but have you thought that maybe she already knows?"

The very thought panicked Zak. "What do you mean?"

"Well, moms have a tendency to know more about us than we think. My Gram and my mom both had figured me out before I even came out to them. All I was doing was confirming for them what they already know."

"But you don't 'act' gay."

"Zak, what does 'acting' gay mean?" Dusty asked. "Neither of us is mincing around or acting effeminate. I know plenty of guys who act like that who are heterosexual. But with my mom, it was the fact I have never dated a girl or expressed any interest in doing so. There were other things she noticed that I didn't think about. Your mom has probably noticed the same thing."

Zak just sat in silence for a few minutes.

"I guess you're right," he said. "It probably wouldn't be a shock to her to find out I was gay."

"She's your mom and from what you've told me she loves you very much and I'll bet she'll still love you after you come out. Right?"

Zak looked up into Dusty's beautiful black eyes and nodded. Dusty leaned forward and kissed Zak on the forehead. He wrapped his arm around the back of Zak's neck and hugged him.

"Ok, let's get you home before your mom sends out the National Guard."

He pulled the truck back out onto the street and they continued on.

As they turned onto his street, Zak pointed out his house. It was a bit smaller than Dusty's house, but the perfect size for two. It was two stories, brown with white trim and shutters.

"Wait," Zak said.

Dusty stopped the truck at the house before Zak's. "What?"

"I wanna play a joke on my mom."

"What kind of joke?"

"Well, even though today turned out great and I am really looking forward to this summer, she did force this whole thing on me and she must be punished."

Dusty looked at Zak. "What did you have in mind?"

"Can I borrow Herc?" Zak asked, barely able to contain himself.

Dusty knew what Zak was going to do to his poor mom. "Man, you are more evil than I suspected."

Zak just laughed. "Can I?"

"Sure, he'll go with you." Dusty reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a nylon leash. "Here, just attach this to his collar. I'll give you a few minutes to give your mom a heart attack and then I'll come get him."

"Ok, cool." Zak started to get out of the truck.

"Wait," Dusty said as he reached behind the seat. He handed Zak a straw cowboy hat that was turned up on both sides. "Put this on, then you'll really be a cowboy."

Zak's eyes lit up and he put on the cowboy hat.

"Perfect," Dusty laughed.

Dusty just sat in the truck grinning, while Zak walked to the back of the truck and lowered the gate. Herc came right up to him. "Come on, Herc. You're gonna help me get a little payback." The dog leapt down onto the sidewalk and Zak snapped the leash onto his collar. He started walking down the sidewalk and stopped in front of the truck and turned and gave Dusty a thumbs-up sign.

Dusty just shook his head. He couldn't believe the hot little cowboy walking down the street was the same shy quiet boy he had met just this morning. He watched Zak's tight little ass as he walked down the street to his house. He felt himself starting to get hard and looked down at his bulging crotch. "No," he said. "We're going to take this slow. I really like him and don't want to do anything to hurt him or scare him off." He lightly slapped his cloth-covered dick. "Behave yourself."

He looked up to see Zak and Herc approaching the house. He wished he could be a fly on the wall for this.

Zak led the dog up the front steps and into the house. From the front hallway he hollered, "Mom!! I'm home."

"I'm in the kitchen, Hon."

"Ok," he answered. Looking down at Herc he whispered, "Showtime."

He walked to the kitchen entryway with Herc. His mom had her back to him while she washed up some dishes in the sink.

"Hey, Mom."

His mom grabbed a dish towel to wipe her hands and turned to greet her son. "Zak, how was your d…" She was speechless when she saw her son standing before her. The first thing she saw was the way he was dressed in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. Then she saw the enormous dog standing next to him. The animal was almost as tall as her son.

"What the hell is that?!?" she practically screamed.

Zak was trying to stay serious. "Mom, meet Hercules, but we call him Herc. He's a Great Dane."

"And what's he doing in my kitchen?"

"I'm dog-sitting him for a friend. He's going to be staying with us for the summer."

"Oh, he is?"

"Yes, you don't mind do you? You wanted me to make some new friends and this is one of them; the guy who owns him is going away for a few months and I offered to watch him." Zak was loving this, his mom was getting paler and paler.

"Sure, honey, but are you going to have time to take care of him when you have to work and are at school?"

"Oh, sure. He's used to staying in the yard during the day. He can do his business out there and he usually doesn't bark too loud."

As if on cue Herc let out with the loudest bark he could manage. Zak was about to bust; he couldn't have planned it any better.

Just as he was about to let his mother out of her misery, there was a knock on the door.

"Oh, I'll get it. Here you hold Herc's leash." Zak handed the leash to his dumbfounded mother and ran to the front door.

When he opened the door and saw Dusty he was laughing so hard tears were rolling down his face.

Dusty just shook his head at him and grinned. "You are one vicious little dude."

Zak tried to catch his breath. "Come on, let's go save my mom."

Zak grabbed Dusty's hand and led him into the kitchen where his mom was standing in the center of the room holding Herc's leash and trying to figure out what she was going to do with this dog.

She saw Zak enter with another boy and they were both laughing hysterically.

She then realized that she had been had. "Zachary Allen Myers!!" she bellowed. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"

Zak put on his most innocent face. "Moi?"

"You little shit, what is going on?"

"Mom, this is my co-worker and new friend, Dusty Crandall. Dusty this is my mom, Kate Myers."

Dusty offered his hand to the small blonde lady. "Nice to meet you, Mrs. Myers."

Kate took his hand and shook it. "Nice to meet you too, Dusty, please call me Kate." She looked from Herc to Dusty. "Please tell me this animal is yours."

Dusty just nodded as he and Zak broke up into laughter again.

Zak finally caught his breath. "I'm sorry, Mom. I couldn't resist. The look on your face was priceless. Herc is Dusty's dog and he let me borrow him for a few minutes, but he'll be taking him home."

Kate breathed a sigh of relief, "Oh, thank God." Both boys started laughing again. "Not that he doesn't seem like a perfectly nice dog, but he's so big!"

Kate finally joined the boys with laughter of her own. She handed the leash to Dusty and walked over and hugged her mischievous son. "So, can I assume you had a good day?"

"I had a great day," Zack started excitedly. "Dusty took me on a trail ride through the woods to a lake and then he spent the afternoon teaching how to ride a horse. I'm pretty good at it if I do say so myself."

Kate looked questioningly at Dusty.

Dusty nodded. "Yes, he's a natural on horseback. And the animals love him."

"Well, sweetie, I'm glad your day was better than you were expecting."

"Oh, it was awesome, we are going to have a blast this summer."

Kate looked into her son's eyes and placed her hand flat on his forehead. "Ok, who are you and what have you done with my son the bookworm?"

Zak rolled his eyes. "It's me right here, Mom. I just had a lot of fun, mostly because of Dusty."

Kate saw a look pass between Zak and Dusty. They probably weren't even aware of it, but she knew that look as she had had it herself when she met Zak's father. The look of young love. She had long suspected that Zak was probably gay. She was ok with it as long as he didn't get hurt. Hopefully, her son's new friend wouldn't hurt him.

She looked at Dusty. "So, Dusty, we were just going to sit down to dinner. Would you like to join us?"

Zak looked at Dusty with pleading eyes.

"I'd love to, but my mom is going out tonight and we don't like to leave my Gram alone for too long--she gets up to too much mischief. Plus, I need to get this beast home and fed."

"Ok, another time then. I'm so happy that Zak has made a new friend. I just want you to know you are welcome here anytime."

"Thank you, Mrs. Myers." She shot him a look. "I mean, Kate." He looked at Zak. "Well, I've got to get going. I'll pick you up at 6:30, ok?"

Zak groaned at the mention of the hour. "Ok," he moaned.

Dusty and Kate laughed.

Dusty looked at him. "I told you. You're going have to get used to the early hours."

"I know. It's just hard."

"It'll get easier as you do it more."

Dusty walked out of the kitchen and towards the front door. Zak ran out of the kitchen after him. He caught Dusty as he entered the entry way. "Hey, do you want your hat back?"

"No, you keep it, you're going to need it out in the sun."

"Cool. Thanks."

"No problem. I'll see you tomorrow," Dusty said as he walked out the door and down the step.

Zak poked his head out of the door and when Dusty turned he kissed him on the lips. Dusty just stood there shocked that Zak would do that in his front yard.

Zak just smiled at him. "Seeya," he said as he went back into the house.

Dusty led Herc back to where he had left his truck, loaded him into the back and took off for home.

Zak went back into the kitchen where his mom had just finished putting supper on the table. Kate was shocked by the change in her son. This boy who most meals would barely say two words was rambling on non-stop about all the things he had done today. He talked about Dusty with such reverence that there was no doubt in her mind that Zak had, at the least, a strong crush on the older boy. She saw that Dusty was a very nice boy, she only hoped that her son would not get hurt.

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