Castle Roland

Riding Lessons

by Andrew Todd


Chapter 23

Posted: N/A


Zak nearly jumped out of his skin as everyone popped out of their hiding places in the barn.

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ZAK!!" they all hollered.

Zak looked around the barn. Someone had obviously spent a lot of time preparing the barn today. The two horses that were usually in the stalls in this section had been moved and the whole area had been scrubbed and polished. All the stall doors were opened and two of them were set up with buffet tables loaded with food. Some small tables had been set up in the center of the hallway and balloons and streamers were hanging from the rafters. There were lots of people there as well.

Mr. Jones and Zak's mom, Kate, were off to the side with Debbie, Dusty's mom, Lu, and Dusty's grandmother. Joe and his wife, Megan, were there with their little boy, Max, and their new baby, Tyler. Spin and Mattie came running up to him with Nick Murphy and his boyfriend, Noah Ryan, in tow. There were also a few of the kids that had taken lessons over the summer along with their parents and some of the girls that took lessons with Debbie.

Zak was turning bright red and trying not to tear up looking at the people that had gathered for him. He felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around to find Dusty grinning at him.

"Surprised?" Dusty asked.

Zak just nodded his head and jumped up on Dusty wrapping his arms around Dusty's neck and his legs around Dusty's waist. He kissed Dusty on the cheek and whispered, "Thank you. I love you so much," in Dusty's ear.

Dusty and Zak held each other for a few seconds and then Zak slid back to the floor. Zak turned to Mattie and Spin and grabbed his two best friends in a huge bear hug. The three hugged and danced around.

Then Zak walked over to Nick and Noah giving each of his new friends a hug. "Hey, it's great to see you guys here," he said.

"Thanks; Dusty invited us right before you guys left the ranch," Nick answered.

"Well, thanks for coming. But isn't that at long way to come for just a couple hours?"

All five boys standing around Zak were grinning wide.

"What?" Zak asked.

"Once the party's over the six of us are going to hit the trail and spend the weekend camping at the lake," Dusty explained.

Zak lit up. "That's awesome," he said.

Zak and Dusty made the rounds, spending time greeting all the friends who had taken time to help Zak celebrate turning 16.

Zak was talking to a couple of the girls who took lessons with Debbie. At the beginning of the summer they had treated Zak with disdain, partially due to his inexperience in riding and partially due to their jealousy over his relationship with Dusty. But after seeing him ride Jade in the arena and watching him all summer with Onyx, the girls had come to respect Zak and he had become friends with many of them.

Zak felt a tug at the leg of his shorts.

"Zaky…Zaky..." he heard a little voice.

Zak turned around and saw Joe's three-year-old son, Max, standing there. Zak smiled at the little boy. Many people thought that Max was Zak's little brother when they saw them together since Max was blond-haired and blue-eyed like Zak. Whenever he was at the ranch, Max would seek out Zak. Zak would take him on rides around the barnyard or out on the trail. While Max was tiny, nothing thrilled him more than riding double with Zak on Onyx.

"Maxie!!" Zak exclaimed as he scooped up the little boy in his arms.

Max threw his arms around Zak's neck. "Hap Birfday," he said. "I wuv you, Zaky."

"I love you, too, Maxie," Zak laughed as he hugged the little boy. Zak started to tickle Max.

As the little boy squirmed and giggled, he reached over and grabbed Zak's cheeks in both hands. "Stop!!" he said looking very serious.

"Ok," Zak replied trying to look as serious as Max did.

"We ride Oxy now?" Max asked hopefully.

"Not right now, buddy," Zak answered. "Maybe later, ok?"

"Okey." Max looked at Zak. "Down," he ordered. Zak put the little boy down. Max grabbed Zak's hand and started to pull him.

"Max where are we going?" Zak asked trying not to laugh at the very serious little boy.

"Presents," Max said as he kept pulling on Zak.

Zak stopped and picked Max back up. "We'll do the presents in a few minutes, ok?"

Max looked at Zak and nodded with a slight pout on his face. Zak kissed his cheek and whispered in his ear, "You can help me open them, I promise." The little boy lit up at the promise.

Zak carried Max over to where Mr. Jones, Kate, Lu and Gram had congregated.

"Mr. Jones, did you do all this?" Zak asked.

"No, Zak," Mr. Jones answered. "This was planned entirely by Dusty. He asked if he could do it and I told him to do whatever he wanted to. He enlisted Spin and Mattie to do most of the heavy lifting today."

Zak nodded. "That's why Mattie was so mad at Spin for thinking he was coming with us."

Mr. Jones laughed, "Yep, Spin's little ADD'd ass was having a hard time today, but Mattie seems to have a gift with keeping that boy in line."

Zak laughed and nodded.

Mr. Jones continued, "And Mattie also recruited those two boys, Nick and Noah, to help as well. Nick's brother dropped them off about an hour after you and Dusty left for the lake and they were working all afternoon to get this done for you."

"Well, thanks for everything, Mr. Jones." Zak was getting emotional again. "This summer has been amazing and I've learned so much and made such wonderful friends."

Mr. Jones stepped up and hugged Zak. "Zak it's been my pleasure to have you here. You boys have worked so hard this summer. I hope you're planning to stick around."

"Oh, you couldn't get rid of me at this point," Zak laughed.

As Mr. Jones hugged Zak, a little voice came from between them. "Squished," squeaked Max.

Mr. Jones laughed and stepped back ruffling Max's hair. "Sorry, Max," he said.

Zak walked over to his mom and Lu.

He hugged first his mom and then Lu. "Maxie," he said, "this is my mom and Dusty's mom."

Maxie looked at Kate wide-eyed. "You Zaky's mommy?" he asked.

Kate laughed and nodded, "Yes, I am. Who are you?"

"I Max," the little boy answered proudly.

Kate smiled and took the little boy's hand. "It's nice to meet you, Max. Are you Zak's friend?"

Max beamed and nodded his head furiously. "Zaky is my bestest friend!!" he declared. As if to prove his point he turned and kissed Zak's cheek.

The two moms and Zak laughed.

"So Zak's your best friend, is he?" Kate asked smiling.

Max was very serious. "Yes, he takes me for rides on Oxy."

Kate had a confused look on her face.

"Onyx," Zak mouthed to her.

Kate nodded her understanding.

Zak leaned in and kissed Lu on the cheek. "Thank you for coming, Lu."

Lu kissed Zak back. "I wouldn't have missed it, Zak. It's not every day you turn 16. And even if I wasn't pleased to come, Dusty would have made sure I was here. This was a command performance for everyone," she laughed.

Zak shook his head. "He did way too much already today. Just giving me Loki was enough."

"Loki?" Lu asked.

"My puppy," Zak answered.

"Oh, Ok. You named him Loki?"

"Yup, we thought it was fitting, since Loki is the God of Mischief."

Lu and Kate laughed.

"Where is the puppy?" Kate asked.

Zak looked around and saw Loki lying in one of the empty stalls being guarded by Herc. He nodded in that direction.

"Looks like he's tuckered out and his big brother is watching over him," Zak said.

Zak walked over to Gram; he hugged and kissed her. "Gram, I didn't know you were back."

"Yes, I came back a few days ago. Dustin was very insistent that I be here for your birthday. I'm so happy that I was right about you and my grandson. You belong to each other."

Zak blushed as Gram kissed his cheek.

She handed Zak a small bag.

Maxie squealed. "Ooh, presents," he squeaked.

Gram and Zak laughed at the toddler's excitement.

Zak had Max hold the bag while he removed the tissue paper and pulled out his gift. It was a wooden circle about six inches in circumference. It had what looked like a spider web in the circle. There were feathers and beaded threads hanging from the circle.

"Ooh, pretty," Max cooed.

Zak nodded. "It's beautiful, Gram. But what is it?"

Dusty walked up behind Zak and wrapped his arms around Zak's waist. "It's a dream catcher," he declared. "And unless I miss my guess, Gram made this one herself."

"You know my work, Sweet One."

"Dussy!!" Max interrupted, holding his arms out for Dusty.

Dusty took Max from Zak. "Hey, Maxie. Are you helping Zak?"

Max kissed Dusty's cheek and nodded.

"But what's it for?" Zak asked, bringing attention back to the dream catcher.

Gram looked at Dusty and nodded.

Dusty explained, "You take it and hang it on the wall of your bedroom, right over where your head rests when you sleep. If you have bad dreams or nightmares, the dream catcher will capture them and hold them before they get to you and when the sun hits the web in the morning the light will dispel the dreams and nightmares."


Dusty laughed. "Well, that's the legend. The other part is that is has to be given as a gift. You can't make or buy one for yourself. It only works when given."

Zak hugged Gram. "Thank you, Gram. I love it."

Gram beamed at her grandson and his boyfriend. The change in Zachary since she had last seen him in May was startling. He exuded a confidence that he had not had before. She was very happy for him and Dustin.

"You are most welcome, Little One."

The party continued on. Max alternated between Dusty's and Zak's arms for most of the evening. Occasionally he would run over and spend a few minutes with Mattie and Spin. All four boys had 'adopted' Max as their little brother.

After the party had been rolling on for about an hour, Dusty whispered into Max's ear and sent him scurrying through the barn.

"Presents!! Presents!!" Max yelled excitedly as he ran from guest to guest. "Presents!! Presents!!"

Everyone got a kick out of the toddler running around gathering guests so Zak could open his presents.

The guests all gathered around while Zak, with 'assistance' from Max, opened his gifts. Most were the standard array of gift cards, DVDs and clothing. Among the last gifts was a huge box. Zak opened the card--it was from Mattie and Spin. He tore open the box and almost fell over. In the box were a brand new English saddle, saddle pads and bridle.

Zak looked up at Mattie and Spin and just shook his head; he was speechless. Mattie and Spin walked over to Zak and took him in a three-way hug.

"We thought it was time you have your own tack," Mattie whispered to Zak.

Zak looked at them. "But it's too much."

Spin answered, "No, you and Dusty are our best friends. You're the glue that holds us together and you deserve this so you can show the world what you can do."

Spin was rarely serious, but this time he was. Zak grabbed him and Mattie in a bone-crushing hug. "Thank you," he gasped. "I love you guys so much."

Zak looked around to show Dusty his new saddle, but couldn't see him.

"Where's Dusty?" he asked no one in particular.

Kate answered. "I think he's outside with another present."

"Outside?" Zak asked. Then everyone heard a car horn. Zak, Mattie and Spin all looked at each other and grinned excitedly. The three made a mad dash for the door.

"Hey!!" Max yelled after them.

Everyone laughed as Spin stopped, turned around, grabbed Max and ran to catch up with Zak and Mattie.

All the guests followed the boys out of the barn.

When the boys came around the corner of the barn, they all stopped at the sight. Dusty was standing next to a brand-new grey Ford Escape. The car had a huge red ribbon on the hood. Zak ran over to the car and took the card that was hanging from the ribbon.

He opened the card. It read: "To the greatest son a mother could ever wish for…All my love, Mom"

Zak looked between the car and the gathered crowd of guests. He saw his mom standing off to the side and ran over to her. He hugged his mom so hard, she thought something might break.

"Thank you so much," Zak exclaimed. "But, what about your car?"

Kate laughed. "Well, seeing as how you need to be able to cart around your new crew," she gestured to Mattie, Spin, Dusty and little Max as she explained, "and probably tow a trailer, I decided that the Camry would never do. So, Dusty and I went car shopping for you."

Zak's eyes filled with tears as he hugged his mom again. "Thank you," he cried. "I love you."

Kate teared up as she returned the hug. "I love you too, Sweetie, and I'm so proud of you."

Zak ran back to his new car, where Dusty, Mattie and Spin waited for him. Spin still had Max in his arms.

Zak launched himself at Dusty and Dusty caught his little boyfriend in his arms.

"I can't believe this day," Zak said as he hugged Dusty.

Dusty put him down and looked into Zak's eyes. "Do you think you could stand one more surprise?" he asked.

Zak went wide-eyed. "Another one?" he asked excitedly.

"Come with me," Dusty instructed as he took Zak's hand and led him towards one of the barns.

This time Mattie, Spin and Max were joined by Nick and Noah in following the boyfriends. Most of the other guests stayed behind to admire Zak's new car and return to the party.

Dusty led Zak and the entourage into Barn 2 and towards a stall at the back of the barn.

He stopped in front of the stall and Zak looked at the horse in the stall in confusion.

"Wait, isn't that Apollo?" he asked.

Dusty nodded. While the other boys waited for Zak to catch on.

"But, what's he doing here?" Zak asked still confused.

Dusty laughed, "We adopted him."

"WE?? Adopted him?" Zak asked.

"Yes, I knew how you had fallen in love with him when we were at the ranch. So, I talked with Jeff on the phone and I agreed to adopt him for us. He's officially ours. I know you have Onyx, but he's more suited to dressage and eventing. While Apollo is a better trail horse and hunter/jumper. Plus, Apollo needed a home--what better place than here? So, when Nick and Noah came out today, they brought Apollo with them."

Zak hugged Dusty for what seemed like the millionth time that day. "Thank you," he said again. "You are so good to me and so amazing."

Zak walked over to the stall and patted and scratched Apollo. The big black Arabian remembered Zak and lipped and nuzzled at Zak's hand.

Zak heard another horse neigh in the stall next to Apollo. He looked at the other horse. It was Whisper, the big paint horse that Mattie had ridden at the Dream Makers Ranch.

He looked at Dusty. "Please tell me 'we' didn't adopt two horses."

Dusty laughed, "No, Whisper was adopted by Mattie."

Zak looked at Mattie who was nodding. "Actually, he was adopted by my parents. I told them about the rescue and how much good they were doing there. I told them about Dusty wanting to adopt Apollo for you and they asked me if there was any horse I liked in particular there. I told them about Whisper and they said they'd adopt him. I told them I had Ash, but my brother Carlos is in is his senior year at college and he likes to ride almost as much as me, so they figured it would be good to have an 'extra' horse around for him when he came to visit and when he moves back here after graduation."

Spin stood there still holding Max and rolled his eyes. "Sure," he laughed. "Since I have two horses, you all had to go out and get a couple more to keep up."

All six older boys laughed, while Max just looked at them all. "Down," Max said to Spin, who complied and put the small boy down.

Maxie walked over to where Zak stood at Apollo's stall. "Pretty horsie," Max said as Apollo lowered his head to the small boy. Max patted Apollo's head more gently than most three year olds would.

Zak picked up Max. "Maxie, this is Apollo."

Max reached over and hugged the horse's head. "Hi, 'Pollo," he said. Max turned to look at Zak. "What about Oxy?" he asked.

Zak laughed. "Don't worry, Onyx is still here and we'll still ride him."

"Yay!!" Max yelled.

The boys all laughed at Max. They stayed in the barn for a while, talking and playing with the new additions.

Eventually, Dusty herded them all back to the party. It was getting late and he knew some of the guests would be leaving soon.

When they returned to the party, they saw things were winding down.

Before people started to leave, Mr. Jones walked to the center of the barn. "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen," he started. "Can I have your attention for just a few minutes?"

Everyone stopped talking and crowded around where Mr. Jones stood.

"First, I want to thank everyone for coming tonight to help Zak celebrate his birthday," Mr. Jones began. "Zak and Dusty and Spin and Mattie have become like sons to me. They are some of the best kids I've ever had the pleasure of meeting and they make every day here a pure joy." He signaled for Zak and Dusty to come up beside him. "Before Zak came here, I was planning to do this in December for Dusty's birthday. But with Zak's presence it seemed like we needed to do this now."

Both Dusty and Zak looked at each other questioningly. Each boy shrugged at the other to indicate they did not know what was going on.

"As most of you know, before starting the ranch I was a rather successful businessman," Mr. Jones continued. "I retired early, since business had become boring for me. There's only so much money you can make before you are looking for something more satisfying. I bought this land and started the Triple J, more as a hobby than anything. As time went on, we became more successful and became a gathering place for many of the kids in town. This has been our most successful summer ever and much of the credit for that success goes to these two boys."

Everyone clapped for Dusty and Zak, who stood in the center of everything blushing.

Mr. Jones placed one hand on Zak's shoulder and the other on Dusty's.

"You boys have done so much this summer and made my life so much fuller just by your presence that I had to think of something special for your 'summer bonus'." He reached into his back pocket and pulled out two envelopes which he handed to the boys.

Dusty and Zak looked at the envelopes, Mr. Jones and each other. They both tore open their envelopes at the same time and withdrew what looked like a formal document.

As they each read their documents their eyes got wider and wider.

Both boys turned towards Mr. Jones.

"You're not serious?" Dusty asked.

Mr. Jones chuckled, "As a heart attack."

Dusty handed Zak his papers and grabbed Zak's. Each quickly scanned the other's papers and then they both whooped and hugged each other and Mr. Jones.

Everyone else in the room looked at the three curiously.

Mr. Jones addressed the crowd, "It seems like my choice for a 'bonus' was right on for these two." He pointed to the barn doors and yelled, "Mattie, Spin come on in."

Everyone looked towards the door where Mattie and Spin were leading Onyx and Phoenix into the barn. Mattie walked forward with Onyx who was wearing a large red bow around his neck. Spin followed with Phoenix who had a blue bow around his neck.

By this point, Dusty and Zak were both crying uncontrollably. They each hugged Mr. Jones and then ran to their horses. In their excitement, they each dropped the papers that Mr. Jones had given them.

The papers that stated that Onyx was now owned by Master Zachary Myers and Phoenix was now the sole property of Master Dustin Crandall.

All the party guests cheered as Dusty and Zak hugged Onyx and Phoenix who were finally their horses.

Both boys led the horses outside and set up an impromptu greeting line to say goodbye to the party guests. Most of the smaller kids and their parents were the first to leave along with their parents. The kids, who took lessons with Dusty and Spin, were all thrilled that Zak had gotten his horse, not realizing that Zak had actually become owner of two horses today.

The girls, who were students of Debbie, left as a group, all stopping to kiss Zak on the cheek and offer him a last 'Happy Birthday.'

Soon, it was just the 'immediate' family that was left. Kate, Lu and Gram were the next to leave all giving Zak and Dusty hugs and kisses--they were so happy for them.

Zak and Dusty led their horses back to their stalls and put them up for the night.

When they returned to the site of the party, they found Spin, Mattie, Nick, Noah, Debbie, Joe, Megan and Mr. Jones all finishing the clean-up.

Dusty and Zak walked over to Mr. Jones.

"Mr. Jones," started Zak. "We can't thank you enough for what you did. It's like a dream come true for both of us, but what about the money you've been making from the stud fees?"

Mr. Jones laughed, "Guys, my goal here was never to get into the stud business; this ranch was supposed to be a hobby for me and it's just kept growing. Part of the reason I got into the breeding part in the first place is because of the work that Dusty did with Phoenix. If he hadn't trained him so well, no one would have come looking to breed their mares to him. Onyx, I ended up with more to protect him than anything and Ash, well I know I said the plan was to breed, but it was more a similar situation to Onyx. He was being mistreated and I wanted to protect him. But protecting him is now Mattie's job."

Dusty looked at Mattie who was grinning. "Mattie's job?"

Mattie nodded. "My parents bought Ash from Mr. Jones yesterday. He is all mine. That's why Whisper is for my brother. Cuz I already have my horse."

Dusty was concerned. "I guess I still don't understand, Mr. Jones. What's happening to the ranch?"

"Dusty, nothing is happening to the ranch. My original plan in opening this place up was to have a safe place for kids to go to after school and on weekends," Mr. Jones explained. "You were the first youngster to come here and you have changed so much from that angry young man that came here all those years ago. And you've helped Zak come along and now, Mattie and Spin are part of the family. This is all I've wanted. I don't need the money from breeding Onyx and Phoenix and Ash. You boys have done all the work with those horses, and I believe he that does the work, should reap the rewards."

Zak spoke up, "Mr. Jones, we owe you, not the other way around. You've given us all so much just by taking us all on and letting us have a place where we belong."

"Zak, you boys don't owe me anything. You thank me every day in the way you act, all the hard work you do here and the way you treat each other and all the folks who come out here. Why do you guys think business has been so good this summer? It's because word has gotten around. Spin and Dusty are great instructors, the kids love them; and you and Mattie make the trail rides so fun for folks they come back week after week. So, as far as I'm concerned, you boys more than earned your 'bonuses'."

Zak went over and hugged Mr. Jones, followed by Dusty, Mattie and Spin. All four boys thanked Mr. Jones profusely for his generosity.

"Well, boys," said Mr. Jones. "It's getting late; I'm gonna head back to the house and if you're planning to go to the lake you need to head out."

Dusty turned to the others. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm wiped out. Why don't we just camp here in the barn tonight and head out to the lake in the morning."

All the boys agreed that was the best plan of action.

"There are some sleeping bags and blankets in the office," said Dusty. "Mattie, do you and Spin want to take Nick and Noah and grab them?"

"Sure," Mattie answered. The four boys took off.

"So, where are we gonna sleep?" asked Zak.

"Well, all the stalls are cleaned out, so we can use those or the six of us can just camp in the middle of the hall here," Dusty answered.

"Me, too," a small voice announced.

Both turned to see Max standing in the doorway of the barn.

"Maxie, you want to camp out too?" Zak asked.

"Yes, Zaky," Max answered.

"Where's your dad?" Dusty asked.

Joe came around the corner. "Right here guys. Look you don't have to do this."

Zak interrupted, "Joe, we're fine with Max staying with us as long as you are."

"You're sure?"

Dusty replied, "Of course; Maxie's like a little brother for us, we all love him and we'd love it if he stayed."

Max heard the answer. "YAY!!" he exclaimed as he ran to Dusty and Zak. He hugged both boys and leapt into Zak's arms. Max turned back to Joe and said, "I staying, Daddy, you can go home now."

Joe and the boys laughed.

Joe walked over and took Maxie from Zak. "Max, you're going to be a good boy and do everything Zak and Dusty tell you, right?"

"Yes, Daddy," the little boy agreed. "I stay with Dussy & Zaky."

"Ok." Joe gave Max a hug and a kiss and handed him back to Zak. "I'll be back for him in the morning." Joe left to take Megan and Tyler home.

Zak and Dusty stood waiting for the other boys to return when Herc and Loki came around to investigate.

When Max saw the two dogs he started to squirm in Zak's arms. "Down," he said to Zak.

Zak put the little boy down between to the two Danes. Max went over to Herc, who he knew.

"Hi, Herky," he said as he tried to wrap his arms around the big dog's neck, which was difficult since Herc stood about a head taller than Max. Undeterred, Max turned to Loki. "Puppy!!" he called as he walked up to Loki. This one was smaller so Max was able to hug the puppy around the neck.

"Gently, Max," Zak warned, not sure how Loki would be with the toddler. "His name is Loki."

"Hi, 'oki," Max said as he released his strangle hold on the puppy. Loki licked up the side of Max's face and the little boy laughed a child's laugh of joy.

Dusty and Zak stood of to the side watching the two youngsters interact.

"If this keeps up, you may need to call Jackie and get one for Maxie," Zak said to Dusty.

"Oh, I'm sure Joe would just love that," Dusty laughed. "Two boys under four and a Great Dane puppy--Megan would divorce him for sure."

Just then Spin, Mattie, Nick and Noah came back loaded down with blankets and sleeping bags.

"Maxie!!" Spin greeted. "Are you gonna camp out with us?"

Max beamed. "Yes, 'Pin, I sleepin' with the big boys." The 'big boys' all laughed.

Max walked over to Nick and Noah, Loki hot on his trail.

"Who you guys?" Max asked.

"Max, this is Nick and Noah," introduced Mattie. "They live on another horse ranch."

"You have horsies, too?"

Nick nodded. "That's right; my family has a lot of horses."

"Ooh, I wanna horsie when I get big," Max declared.

Nick kneeled down to Max's level. "Well, when you are a big boy, you come see me and we'll see what we can do."

"I a big boy now."

Zak interjected, "Maxie, you know you need to get bigger."

"I know, Zaky," answered a dejected Max.

Max walked over to Noah. He raised his hands up to the tall boy. "Up," he ordered.

Having younger siblings, Noah was used to a toddler's demands and he picked Max up. Max ran his fingers through Noah's hair. He turned to Zak.

"Zaky," Max declared. "He has ornge hair, like 'Pin."

The boys all laughed.

"No, Maxie," Zak corrected. "He has red hair."

Max got a confused look on his face. He looked at Noah again and then looked over at Spin and shook his head. "It ornge," he confirmed.

All the boys knew better than to argue with a three-year-old so they all just laughed and nodded.

Mattie and Spin started spreading out the blankets and sleeping bags. It was still quite warm overnight, so they would not need covering. They were more concerned with having something to lie on.

The boys then stripped down to their jockeys.

Max just looked around. "Ooh, you guys all in your unnerpants."

"Yes, Maxie," said Zak. "None of us wear pajamas. We just sleep in our underwear."

"Ok," Max said as he unzipped his pants and pulled them down, flashing his Batman underwear to everyone. He looked over at Spin. "'Pin, why you unnerpants red?"

Spin's face turned the same color as his hair and his jockeys. "Uh, cuz I like them, Maxie."

Max nodded his head. "I like them,too," he stated. "But I like my Batman's best."

"Maxie, do you need to go to the potty before we go to bed?" Zak asked.

Max nodded and offered his hand to Zak, who led him off to the office.

Dusty just shook his head. "Out of the mouths of babes," he said.

"He's gonna be a handful in a few years, just like…" Mattie declared as he moved his eyes in Spin's direction.

"Hey!!" protested Spin. "I resent that; besides, he's a handful now."

All the boys grinned and nodded in agreement.

When Zak and Max returned, the boys decided it was time to go to bed. They paired up on the sleeping bags and blankets. Max and Loki managed to snuggle in between Dusty and Zak. Herc curled up at their feet. The other boys spooned with their partners and everyone quickly fell into a peaceful slumber.

Max and Loki, as youngsters are wont to do, decided that by 6 am everyone had slept just about enough. The toddler and the puppy had made the rounds during the night, snuggling at least once with each pair of boys before ending up right where they had started--between Dusty and Zak.

"Zaky…Zaky…" Max whispered as he tapped Zak's forehead. When Zak didn't respond quick enough, he took his finger and rolled up Zak's eyelid. He got right up close to Zak's one open eye. "Zaky…wake up…gotta go potty."

Dusty was starting to wake up and heard the magic word. Wanting to avoid an accident and the chance that his not-so-early-rising boyfriend might actually kill a toddler, he grabbed Max and ran to the office.

Max giggled the whole way. "Dussy, don't squeeze," he warned. "I gonna pee."

Dusty held Max lightly around his waist and out at arm's length in case there was an accident.

While Dusty took care of Max, the other boys were waking up, thanks to some help from Loki and Herc.

Max came running down the hallway.

"Zaky!!" he shouted excitedly. "Wanna ride Oxy, NOW!!"

Dusty came running up behind Max, shaking his head. "Zak, he says you promised," he said, rolling his eyes.

Max stood right in front of Zak, who was still trying to wake up. The little boy nodded his head and grabbed Zak's face in his little hands. "You pwomised."

Zak sighed; he looked into Max's pleading eyes and then up at Dusty's mischievous ones.

"Babe, help me here," he pleaded to Dusty.

Dusty walked over to Zak and helped him up and took him off to the side. Mattie came over and distracted Max.

"Zak, why don't we call Joe and tell him we are taking Maxie with us for the day."

"I thought we were camping?"

"We have the next three days. Nick and Noah have to be back on Sunday morning and Mattie has to as well so he can go to Mass. But we don't have anything to do until Monday morning. So, let's take Max for the day, then one of us will bring him back this afternoon and we'll still have two days for ourselves."

Zak beamed. "That's a great idea. Everyone loves having Maxie around and he can get his ride in and swim and I'm sure Joe won't mind us running him ragged for the day."

Dusty laughed, "That's for sure."

"Why don't you call Joe?" Zak asked. "And I'll take Maxie and get Onyx ready. Mattie, Spin, Nick and Noah can do stalls and then we can all ride out to the lake. Oh, but…"

"But what?"

"Well, I wasn't going to take Onyx; I was going to take Apollo."

"So, we'll take both."


"Sure, Nick and Noah each need a horse. You take Onyx with Maxie, Nick and Noah can take Apollo and Whisper. It will work out good cuz they already know the horses."

"Perfect," Zak agreed and he wrapped his arms around his native boyfriend and kissed him.

"Oooh," they heard. They turned and saw Max staring at them.

"You doing Mommy and Daddy kisses," the toddler declared.

"That's because he's my boyfriend, Maxie," Zak explained.

"Ok," Max replied as he ran off to play with the dogs.

Dusty just shrugged and grinned wishing adults and classmates were as easy to convince as a three-year-old.

Dusty called Joe, who thought the six boys were outnumbered by his three-year-old, but was nevertheless excited to have day with his wife and new baby. He told Dusty he would be at the ranch to pick up Max at 6, if they could last that long.

Zak went over and explained to the other boys what the plan was. The four took off to take care of the feeding and stall cleaning, while Zak went and found Max playing with Loki and Herc.

He watched unobserved, while Max got Herc to lay down and the toddler climbed onto the big dog's back like he was a horse. Herc slowly rose to his feet and walked around with the small boy clinging to his back.

Zak had pulled out his phone and was madly snapping pictures and a short video to post later.

Zak waved Dusty over and pointed to the scene. Dusty laughed. Danes were known for their mellow demeanor in spite of their size. Herc was going out of his way to protect his small passenger, while Loki ran alongside the two.

Zak snuck up on Herc and grabbed Max.

"Hey!!" protested Max. "I ridin' Herky."

"Oh, ok." Zak put the little boy back down. "I thought you wanted to ride Onyx." Zak turned to walk away.

Max, hearing the 'magic word,' ran after Zak as fast as his stubby legs could carry him.

"Wait, Zaky, wait," he yelled after Zak. "I ride Oxy."

Zak turned around and grinned. "Well come on then," he said to Max as the little boy caught up.

Zak scooped Max up and carried him off to find Onyx.

Zak let Max 'help' him feed Onyx and clean out his stall. In reality, the now calm horse stood placidly next to Max as Max held his lead rope. Zak trusted Onyx to watch after Max, while he cleaned out the stall.

Just as he was finishing, Dusty walked up. "Hey," Dusty said. "The guys are gonna finish things up so we can take off for the lake. They'll meet us there later."

"Ok," Zak answered. "Let me just grab his bridle."

Max stood by 'holding' Onyx while Zak grabbed his bridle and put it on the horse. Zak picked up Max and placed him on Onyx's back then led the horse out of the barn to wait for Dusty.

Dusty came around the corner with Phoenix, gave Zak a leg up, and then hopped onto Phoenix's back. Dusty called to Herc, knowing that he would stay with the boys and Loki would follow Herc.

Meanwhile, Mattie and Spin, having finished Barn 3 were heading into Barn 2 to see how Nick and Noah were doing.

They looked around and didn't see the boys so they assumed they were done. Mattie, being a perfectionist, insisted on checking the stalls.

The last hall hadn't been finished, so Mattie and Spin went to the feed room to get grain and hay for the horses. Mattie opened the door, took two steps in and stopped short. Spin, not paying attention as usual, walked right into Mattie.

"What the hell, Mattie!" Spin exclaimed. He looked over Mattie's shoulder and saw Noah standing against the back wall shirtless with his shorts around his ankles as Nick lovingly sucked Noah's oversized cock.

"Madre de Dios, que es enorme," whispered Mattie.

"I don't know what you said, but I think I agree," replied Spin in his usually loud voice.

Noah looked up and spotted the two in the doorway just as his orgasm was hitting. He grunted loudly, unable to stop. He came spurt after spurt in Nick's mouth. Nick swallowed as quickly as he could trying his best to not lose a drop.

When Noah's spasms subsided, Nick, unaware of the audience they now had, started kissing his way up Noah's flat stomach and chest.

"Babe," Noah stage whispered, trying to catch Nick's attention. "Hun, get up," he said through clenched teeth as he reached down and grabbed Nick and pulled him to his feet.

"That was so great," Nick cooed as he rested his head against Noah's chest.

"It sure was," interjected the ever-so-tactful Spin.

"Wha--?" blurted Nick as he spun around.

Nick and Noah both stood there turning bright red. Luckily for Nick, he was dressed so only his face was visible. Noah, however, was bright red from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.

"Sorry, guys," Mattie said quickly as he turned to leave the room and give the other boys some privacy.

Mattie walked into Spin who was glued to the spot, his eyes locked onto Noah's appendage. Mattie cuffed Spin on the side of the head, grabbed his arm and dragged him out.

Mattie and Spin were just finishing the main barn, when Nick and Noah came in.

Mattie looked over to them. "I'm so sorry about that, guys."

Nick shook his head. "No, Mattie, we're sorry. It's just that until we got here yesterday we hadn't seen each other for a few days and that was the first time we had a moment. We couldn't help ourselves."

Spin walked up to Noah who was still quite red. "Hey Noah," Spin started. "How…ah…big is that thing, anyways?"

Mattie rolled his eyes and Nick giggled, while Noah just turned another shade of red. "I don't know Spin; who the hell measures their dick, anyways?"

Mattie grabbed his impish boyfriend and led him away cursing the little redhead out in Spanish.

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