Dusty came flying around the corner and slammed right into Spin, knocking the smaller boy over.
"Hey!!" exclaimed Spin. "Watch out!!"
Dusty stopped and reached down to give Spin a hand up. "Sorry, Spin. Did you see Zak come by here?"
Spin scrambled to his feet. "Yes, he had me waiting here with Max and Marty cuz he wanted to ask you if he should leave Max saddled up for your ride to the lake. Then he came tearing out around the corner, just like you, only he didn't knock me on my ass…"
"Sorry, he came around the corner. He was crying. He didn't say anything. He just grabbed Max's reins, hopped on and took off down the trail."
Dusty looked off in the direction of the trail but he couldn't see any sign of Zak.
Spin grabbed Dusty's arm. "What did you do to him?" he asked angrily.
Dusty turned back to Spin. "He saw something that wasn't what he thought it was."
Spin shook his head. "Well, that clears that up."
Dusty looked at Spin. "Spin, I need to find Zak, can I borrow Marty? I don't have time to get Phoenix or another horse."
Spin stared at Dusty, his temper flashing in his green eyes. "I guess so, but you need to promise me something."
"That you won't hurt him."
Spin rolled his eyes. "No, Zak, you big dummy."
Dusty stepped forward and put his hand on Spin's shoulder. "Spin, the last thing I ever want to do is hurt Zak. That's why I need to find him, so I can clear this up."
Spin handed Marty's reins to Dusty.
Dusty smiled at Spin. "Thanks Spin," he said as he mounted up. "Do me one more favor?"
"Geez, now what?"
"Go find Mr. Jones. There's a guy, TJ Oliver, lying on the ground around the corner of the barn. Tell Mr. Jones I'm sorry and I'll explain everything to him after I find Zak."
"Ok," Spin replied. "Just go find Zak."
Dusty dug his heels into Marty's side and the horse took off down the trail.
Dusty rode down the trail. He kept his eyes peeled for any signs Zak might have left. He didn't want to call out for Zak and give him a chance to run farther. He had been searching for Zak for about 15 minutes when he spotted him through some trees. He was in a clearing, sitting on the ground, his head buried in his crossed arms.
Dusty slowed Marty down, not wanting to scare Zak off.
Zak heard a horse approaching and looked in the direction of the noise. He saw Dusty riding towards him on Marty. He leapt to his feet and ran to where Max was quietly grazing. He grabbed Max's reins and started to pull himself up on the saddle.
Dusty saw Zak trying to run. He moved Marty into a canter to get to Zak before he could leave.
"Zak, wait!" Dusty yelled as Zak mounted Max and started to get away.
"Leave me alone!" Zak yelled back.
Dusty rode along side of Zak and Max and bent over to grab the reins out of Zak's hand.
Zak tried to grab the reins back but his arms weren't long enough to reach Dusty.
He glared at Dusty. "Give me my damn reins!"
"No, you're going to get down and listen to me." Dusty jumped off of Marty and walked over to Zak and Max. He reached up to Zak. "Come on, Zak. You need to hear me out."
"No, I don't. I saw you and TJ. If that's what you want then you are welcome to it."
Dusty reached up and grabbed Zak and pulled him off his horse. He held Zak off the ground. Zak kicked and struggled to get loose.
"Let go of me, you big bully," Zak cried.
Realizing he could not get loose, Zak stopped struggling and looked at Dusty with all the rage he could muster. He looked into Dusty's dark eyes, which were filling with tears. Seeing Dusty's emotional state melted Zak's resolve.
"Zak, I don't want TJ," Dusty said, tears streaming down his face. "I want you," he whispered.
Zak looked at Dusty a look of confusion on his face. "Then why were you kissing TJ?"
"I wasn't. I was arguing with TJ and then he started in about you. He was trying to convince me that he was 'better' for me and more fun than you and I should give him another go. Then, he shoved me against the wall and he kissed me. I was trying to push him off of me, but he has at least fifty pounds on me and had me pinned so it wasn't easy. Then I heard and saw you. When I saw you run off, something inside me snapped and my adrenaline just took over and I was able to finally shove TJ off me."
"Then I kneed his balls," Dusty said.
"Good," Zak said, deadly serious. "I hope you popped 'em."
Dusty laughed through his tears. "It's entirely possible; when I left him he was lying on the ground rolling around."
Zak grinned for a moment and then frowned. "Why?"
"Why would you want me when you can have someone like TJ?" Zak asked. "He's a jock, good looking, really well built. I'm just some shy little nerd." He looked down at his feet.
Dusty reached out and grabbed Zak's shoulders. "Listen to me, Zak. I had TJ and I don't want him. If I wanted someone who only appealed to me physically, I could go after any number of people. I don't want anyone but you. You're beautiful; you're kind, loving, and compassionate. You need to start seeing yourself the way I see you." Dusty paused and steeled himself. "I love you," he declared.
Zak looked up into Dusty's eyes. It was his turn for more tears. "You do?" he whispered.
"Of course I do. I think I have from the moment I first saw you. I didn't want to rush you into anything. I was afraid of one of us, or both of us, being hurt."
"I love you, too," Zak said in a low voice.
Dusty smiled down at Zak and took him in his arms and kissed him passionately. The boys stood in the clearing kissing and caressing each other, lost in the throes of young love.
Suddenly, Dusty stopped and pulled back. "Shit!! We have to get back."
Zak looked at him curiously. "Why?"
"Well, first I have to explain to Mr. Jones what happened, but we also need to stop TJ and his mom."
"Stop them from what?"
Dusty hesitated a moment. "The real reason TJ is at the ranch. Apparently, he didn't give up on riding and training when he left here, he just went somewhere else to train."
"So what?" Zak asked, confused.
"His trainer has him convinced he is a 'super-rider' now and he needs a new horse. Or in this case 'his' old horse."
"His old horse?" Zak thought a moment and then the reality hit him. "Onyx?!?!"
Dusty nodded. "That's what we were arguing about. I kept telling him Mr. Jones would not sell Onyx. He kept pushing and trying to convince me that everything had a price. He also kept referring to Onyx as 'his' horse. I finally told him that Onyx was not his or Mr. Jones', that he was yours."
Zak's blue eyes widened. "You told him Onyx was mine?" he asked surprised.
Dusty grinned at Zak. "Well, he is isn't he?"
Zak's face broke into the biggest smile and tears came to his eyes. He couldn't speak. He just jumped into Dusty's arms and hugged him as hard as he could. Dusty held Zak while Zak continued to hug him and cover his face and neck with kisses.
Finally, he put Zak down. "Ok, we have to get back. I wouldn't put it past Mrs. Oliver to try to convince Mr. Jones that I 'assaulted' her son and use that to try to get Onyx back."
"Let's go then." Zak ran over to Max.
"Wait," Dusty called after Zak.
Zak stopped and turned back to Dusty. "What?"
"Can you ride Marty back and I'll take Max?"
"Marty's a good horse, but he's too small for me; I feel like I'm on a pony ride."
Zak giggled at Dusty and led Max back to where Dusty and Marty were. He handed Max's reins to Dusty and took Marty's. Both boys mounted their horses.
Zak looked over at Dusty. "Better?" he asked.
Dusty smiled at Zak. "Much."
Zak turned serious. "Then let's go." And he dug his heels into Marty's side and took off up the trail.
Dusty and Max followed suit as the boys raced back to the ranch.
Spin was pacing back and forth outside the barn. He had been waiting with Mr. Jones, but Mr. Jones had asked him to wait outside to tell the boys to come see him. Spin figured he had maybe driven Mr. Jones a little crazy. He couldn't help it; Zak was his best friend and he was worried about him. He really liked Dusty too, but if he hurt Zak, he was gonna knock out some of Dusty's teeth, or at least give it a try.
Spin heard the sound of hoof beats and looked up to see Dusty and Zak riding towards the barn. He grinned and waved at them. Both boys waved back and came to a stop in front of him.
Zak and Dusty climbed down from the horses. Spin launched himself at Zak and grabbed him in a big hug. "Are you all right?" Spin asked.
Dusty looked at the two boys and shot Zak a puzzled look. Zak almost imperceptibly shook his head, so Dusty wouldn't say anything to Spin. "Yes, I'm good now," he answered.
"Mr. Jones wants to see you guys as soon as you get back," Spin told the other boys.
"Ok," Dusty replied. "Can you stay here with Max for a few minutes?"
Spin eyed him suspiciously. "You're not going to come out and knock me on my ass again are you?"
Zak coughed out a laugh. "What?"
Dusty just looked at the two of them. "Never mind, I'll tell you later. Let's go check in with Mr. Jones. Spin, are TJ and his mother in there too?"
Spin shook his head. "Nope, they left as soon as you took off. His mom was pitching a fit cuz you 'attacked her baby', but TJ seemed to not want to blame you."
Dusty gave Zak a knowing look and grinned. "Let's go, Zak. We'll be right back, Spin."
Dusty and Zak entered the barn and headed towards the office.
Mr. Jones saw them waiting in the doorway. He grinned at the boys. "C'mon in, guys," he said.
Dusty and Zak both were staring at their shoes as they walked into the office.
"Are you guys ok?" Mr. Jones asked.
"Yeah," replied Dusty. "We're good, now."
"Good. What exactly happened Dusty?"
Dusty launched into a Reader's Digest version of his conversation/argument with TJ. He skimmed over TJ's kissing him and just said that TJ had backed him into the wall and he had kneed him to get away from him.
Mr. Jones burst out laughing. "Well, his mama was none too happy about that. But, TJ just begged her to drop it. I kinda thought he maybe did something he didn't want her to know about."
Dusty nodded. "Sorta," he agreed.
Mr. Jones knew that Dusty was trying to be discreet; he also knew that TJ and Dusty had been involved when TJ had ridden here, so he thought he knew what had actually happened.
Zak spoke up. "What about Onyx?" he asked nervously.
"I told that Mrs. Oliver that he was not for sale," answered Mr. Jones. "She kept telling me TJ had to have 'his' horse back. I told her in no uncertain terms that Onyx was not TJ's horse and though I may hold the bill of sale on him, he's Zak's horse."
Zak just stood there stunned. "You told her Onyx was mine?"
"Zak, Onyx is just as much yours as Phoenix is Dusty's. I'm not foolish enough to not acknowledge that. I make pretty good money on stud fees for Onyx. But, if you and Dusty, but especially you, can work the kind of magic on him that Dusty worked on Phoenix, then more people are going to want to breed him. It's a win-win for me. Plus, anyone can see that horse loves you…and that horse has never loved anyone."
Zak just grinned at Mr. Jones. "Thank you."
"No, Zak, thank you. That hard-headed animal has been a pain in the ass for all of us. If you hadn't come along, I might have been tempted to sell him back to Mrs. Oliver, even knowing that she and that idiot son of hers have no business owning any horses. But, you finally got through to that knucklehead. Dusty tells me he's going to work with the both of you and try to get Onyx back in shape to be ridden again."
Zak looked at Dusty and smiled. "Yes, he promised to help me train Onyx, but only on our own time."
"Zak, anytime you have to spend with Onyx is ok with me. The more training you do with him the more valuable he is for the ranch." Mr. Jones looked at the clock on the wall. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm ready to get out of here. Joe already finished the evening feedings. I had Spin help him, cuz the little shit was driving me crazy waiting for you guys. He needs an off switch."
Dusty and Zak both laughed and nodded at Mr. Jones observation.
"So, you two get out of here. And like I said, Dusty, I don't want to see either of you till Sunday."
"Yes, sir," they both answered and took off out of the office.
The boys exited the barn laughing and went to find Spin. Spin had put Max in the crossties, but not removed his tack as he did not know if Zak was going to ride him to the lake. Spin was busy with Marty in the shower stall. He was just finishing squeegeeing Marty and was getting ready to put him back in his stall.
"Hey, guys," Spin greeted the boys. "I didn't know what you wanted to do with Max."
Zak thought about it. "Dusty, should we leave him here and take Bob or Zephyr?"
"He probably needs the rest after being on the trails so long. Too bad, because he'd get a rest out at the lake. Why don't you take care of him and I'll get Bob and Phoenix. Zephyr's a bitch in the water and we want to be able to swim."
"Swim?" Spin perked up. "You guys take the horses swimming?"
Zak grinned at him. "Sure, we do. Haven't you been swimming with Marty?"
Spin shook his head. "No, I never even thought of that. He'd probably like that."
Dusty looked at Zak and raised his eyebrows and moved his eyes towards Spin. Zak nodded his head.
"Hey, Spin," Dusty said. "Why don't you ride out to the lake tomorrow afternoon and you can come swimming with us."
Spin's green eyes lit up. "Really?" he asked excitedly. "Are you sure? I don't want to bust in on your weekend."
Dusty put his hand on Spin's shoulder. "You won't be, we have all weekend and we are going to swim anyways. You're our friend, so you should come and spend some time having fun with us."
"Great!!" Spin grinned. "I'll have my mom drop me off after lunch and then ride out to meet you. Thanks."
"No, thank you, Spin," Dusty replied.
"For being such a good friend to Zak. When you thought I had hurt him you were going to stick up for him."
Zak looked between Dusty and Spin. "Really?" he asked.
Spin nodded. "I was gonna bust his ass, or die trying," he said. "Of course, it would probably have been the 'die trying'."
All three boys laughed.
Spin grabbed Marty's lead rope and started to lead him away. "Well, my mom's gonna be here any minute, so I need to get Marty taken care of. I'll see you guys tomorrow," he said as he headed for the barn.
"Seeya, Spin," both boys said.
Dusty laughed and shook his head. "That kid is something else."
Zak looked at him. "Was he really going to fight you?"
"Probably; he was very mad when he thought I had hurt you and he made me promise that I wouldn't hurt you. When I told him that that was the last thing I wanted he seemed to believe me."
Zak looked down and kicked at the dirt. "I need to tell you something."
"Sure, Zak, you can tell me anything."
"Spin says he loves me." He looked shyly at Dusty.
"Of course, he does, you guys have become really good friends."
Zak shook his head. "No, Dusty, he says he in love with me."
"But, I thought he was the Casanova of the junior high."
"Apparently, he's just been putting on an act, but he says he's gay. He kissed me."
"He did? What did you do?"
"Well, it was really quick and then when he pulled back he was very upset. He was afraid I would be mad at him."
"But you weren't?"
"No, I told him I was flattered and I loved him as a friend and then he asked me if I loved you and I told him that I did. That was the first time I had said it out loud."
Dusty smiled big at Zak. "We'll just have to find Spin a boyfriend, because you are so taken."
Zak laughed, "I told him that with his personality he should have no problem when he gets to the high school."
"I'm sure his dance card will be full," Dusty laughed.
"I am glad you asked him to come out and swim tomorrow. I know you were planning for it to be just you and me this weekend."
"Zak, we have all weekend. Spin's a good kid and he's your friend. It'll be fun to have him with us for a little while," Dusty said. "Ok, I'm going to get Bob and Phoenix ready, you take care of Max."
Zak quickly got Max's tack off and put away and then gave him a good rinsing off. When he finished he brought Max to his stall and put him up for the night. He stood at the stall door petting the horse and feeding him carrots for a few minutes. "Well, buddy, looks like you get the weekend off too." He gave Max a final pat on his neck. "I'll see you in a few days."
Zak came out of the barn to find Dusty standing there with Phoenix and Bob. Both horses had only their hackamores on.
Zak groaned. "Bareback?" he asked.
Dusty laughed and nodded. "It's so much easier this way."
"Not on my balls," Zak replied.
Dusty laughed harder. He knew that Zak was just trying to be funny, since they rode bareback almost every time they went to the lake by themselves.
"Let's get going before it gets dark," Dusty said to Zak.
Zak nodded and walked over to Bob. Dusty handed him Bob's reins and gave Zak a leg up onto the big Appaloosa.
Dusty hopped up on Phoenix and the horses trotted off towards the trail.
As the horses leisurely walked down the trail towards the lake, Zak spoke up. "Dusty, I need to tell you something else," he said quietly.
"Oh, man, Zak. It better be something good this time. I've had enough not good for today. I wanted this weekend to be great."
"I think you'll think it's good news."
"Ok, what is it?"
"I talked to my mom last night."
"I told her I was gay and that I thought I might have feelings for you."
Dusty turned and stared at Zak. "And what did she say?"
Zak had huge tears in his eyes. He was struggling not to cry. "She said that she already knew and she didn't care. She would always love me."
Dusty smiled at Zak. "See, I told you."
"That's not all."
"What else? Don't keep me in suspense."
"She said she was happy that I had met you and that she thought you were a great guy."
Zak grinned, still tearing up a little. "Yeah, isn't it great?"
"It sure is."
The boys continued their ride to the lake just basking in their young love.