"What do you mean he's in the hospital?" Zak asked Ace.
"When we got to his house, he was pretty out of it. His mom said he had passed out in the bathroom a few minutes earlier and his fever was really high. His mom wanted to take him to the ER, but he was so out of it, he had a hard time standing or walking. I carried him to his mom's car and Jesse and I followed her to the ER. They've been running tests on him for a while. It looks pretty bad," Ace answered.
"You're kidding. I thought the doctor said it was just an infection or a virus."
"I guess that's what they thought, but since he's getting worse not better they are doing some other tests."
"Where is he now?"
"They took him for a spinal tap."
"What!?!" Zak exclaimed. Mattie and Spin came over to see what was up. Erik was still slowly riding Marty around the arena.
"Yeah, they think it might be meningitis. To find that out, they need to do the spinal tap and test for it. His mom's with him."
"Meningitis?!? How did he get that?"
"Zak, they think that's what it is, but they don't know for sure. That's what the tests are for."
"Ok, how's Jesse doing?"
"He's pretty shaken up. He's not too fond of hospitals with all that he went through with his mom."
"I think Danny's at the house. I'll call him and have him head over there to stay with you guys. I guess they don't want all of us hanging around there."
"Right now, that's probably for the best. I'm good here with Jesse. Danny's probably busy. I'll stay here as late as they'll let us or until we know what exactly is going on. I'll call you back when we know something for sure."
"Ok. I'll let everyone know what's going on."
"Great. Thanks. I'll talk to you later."
Zak hung up and turned to Spin and Mattie. He told them about Dylan and the tests he was going through.
"Shit. I knew he had the headache, but I didn't think it would get this bad," Spin said.
"I know. Hopefully, it's not meningitis and he can come home," Zak said.
As the three talked Erik rode over to them. He stopped Marty and hopped down.
"Hey, Erik," Mattie said. "Sorry we left you hanging there."
Erik smiled. "No problem. I think I'm getting the hang of it."
"You look pretty good out there," Zak said. "Now we just need to get you out on the trail."
"Sure, that sounds like fun."
Zak looked at Spin and Mattie. "Can you guys help Erik get Marty taken care of? I wanna go see if Danny's at the house and let him know about Dylan. Then I can take Spin and Erik home."
Mattie nodded. "Sure."
Ace and Jesse sat in the Emergency Room area. Ace had his arm wrapped around Jesse and Jesse had his head resting on Ace's shoulder.
Both boys were worried about Dylan. It had been about an hour since they had taken him for the spinal tap and no one could tell them anything since they weren't family and they were kids. They knew Dylan's mom would come out and tell them what was happening when she knew something.
Jesse had been really upset when they first got to Dylan's and again when they got to the hospital. The last time he had been in a hospital was the day his mother had died. Ace knew how he felt, since he had been through the same thing, but Ace had had his father to comfort him and help him through. Jesse had not had anyone to help him deal with losing his mother.
Ace had done his best to comfort his friend and Jesse had finally calmed down. Ace thought he had probably fallen asleep since he hadn't moved in a while.
While Ace had come to love all his new friends, he had a special fondness for Dylan and Jesse. It was probably his need to protect that pulled him towards these two. He still didn't know all the details about what Dylan had been through, but Dylan had told him about his depression. He knew more about Jesse's background, since he had lived with Jesse at the ranch house when he first arrived with CJ and Danny. He knew about Jesse's mom, about his friend Seb and the abuse he had suffered at the hands of his step-father. Ace burned with rage that the man had not been made to pay for the pain he inflicted on Jesse. Danny had assured him that it was for the best, since Jesse would have had to testify and go through more pain to prosecute the scumbag.
Ace knew he had a bit of the ‘mother hen' in him--that was probably what drew him to Devon all those years ago. While Devon liked to think of himself as independent, Ace had been his protector for many of the years they were together.
Ace had come to think of Jesse and Dylan as his little brothers. He knew that Devon was starting to feel the same way as well. Devon had come in bound and determined to be moody and unhappy. Ace had set him straight at the airport, but even Devon admitted bringing Dylan and Jesse to the airport had been a great idea. Devon had immediately taken to both boys. Ace and Devon had talked a lot about what both boys had been through and how they were good kids who did not deserve the hand they had been dealt. He knew that Devon had had his own problems with bullies, so when he had told him about Jesse's past (with Jesse's permission) Devon was able to relate to Jesse on a new level.
Jesse started to stir. Ace was trying his best to hold it together for his ‘little brothers', but he was worried sick about Dylan. The kid had been through enough and now this. He knew that Dylan was stronger than he thought he was, but a person could only take so much.
Ace looked up and saw Dylan's mother coming towards them. He gently shook Jesse.
"Hey, Jesse," he whispered as he shook the younger boy awake.
"Huh?" Jesse groaned as he stirred.
"Dylan's mom is coming."
Jesse's eyes popped open and he jumped up expectantly. Ace stood up and the two walked towards Mrs. Summers.
"Hey, boys," she said. "We finally heard from the doctors." She grimaced. "Dylan does have meningitis. At this point they don't know if it's bacterial or viral."
"What's the difference?" Ace asked.
"I'm not 100 percent sure. I just know that viral is a lot more common and a lot less dangerous than bacterial. Bacterial is also contagious. At this point, they are waiting for some cultures to come back, which will probably take a day or two. Dylan is going to be admitted to the hospital and placed in quarantine until they know which it is. He shouldn't be here for more than three or four days."
"And then he'll be alright?" Jesse asked
"Well, sweetie, if it's viral, then he should get over it ok, but it will be a long process. The doctor says that he will probably be out for six to eight weeks and it could take even longer for him to fully recover. I guess it's a lot like mono in that it takes a lot out of you."
"What if it's bacterial?" Jesse asked.
"Well, chances are it's not. Bacterial is much more rare. If it is then he will be here longer and the recovery will probably take more time."
"Can I see him?"
Mrs. Summers nodded. "He's been asking for you, Jesse. They are just moving him to a room now. We should be able to see him in about a half an hour or so. Now, you're going to have to wear a gown, gloves and a mask since he's quarantined. I'm going to warn you, this whole thing has taken a lot out of him; even in the last few hours, he's gotten weaker and more tired, but that's a combination of the medication and the meningitis. We won't be able to stay very long--he needs the rest; but I wanted to make sure you got to see him."
Jesse stepped forward and hugged Dylan's mom tight. "Thank you," he said as tears came to his eyes.
Mrs. Summers hugged Jesse back. "No, Jesse, thank you." She looked at Ace. "Thank you both for being there for Dylan. He loves you boys and he's so happy these days. You don't know how much that means to me."
A nurse came to take Mrs. Summers to Dylan's room to help him get settled. She promised she would come back for them in a bit so they could see Dylan.
When Mrs. Summers had left, Jesse turned and grabbed Ace tight. He started sobbing. Ace hugged Jesse and rubbed his back. "Jess, it's gonna be ok. Dylan's strong and he knows we are all here for him. We just have to think positive. When we go into see him, you can't show him that you are scared or worried."
"I know," Jesse sobbed. "I just hate being here so much. The last time..." He buried his head in Ace's chest.
"Hey...Jesse, this is going to be different, you can't think like that. Dylan's going to be ok. It's going to take a while, but he'll be good as new." He held Jesse back and looked him in the eye. "Jesse, I know everything that happened last summer and that makes it hard for you to believe this, but Dylan is going to be ok. You have to believe that for him and for you."
"I know. It's just so hard. I hate being here. I hate that he has to be here."
"No one likes hospitals, but you need to be strong for him, ok?"
Jesse smiled at Ace. "Ok," he said as he hugged Ace. "Thanks for being here with me."
"I wouldn't be anywhere else, little brother."
Ace led Jesse back to the waiting area and the two sat down and waited. After about fifteen minutes, a nurse came out to get them. She had them stop in a little room to don gowns, gloves and masks. When they were dressed, she led them into Dylan's room.
When they entered the room, Ace put his hand on Jesse's shoulder to steady him. Jesse took a deep breath when he saw Dylan.
Dylan lay quietly in the hospital bed. He had an IV running from the crook of his arm. There were several bags hanging there pushing fluids into him. Dylan's mother was sitting in a chair next to the bed.
Dylan's eyes lit up when he saw Ace and, especially, Jesse.
"Hey, guys," Dylan said hoarsely.
Jesse walked over to the bed and took Dylan's hand in his. "Hey," he said quietly. "How are you feeling?"
Dylan smiled weakly. "Better, now that you're here."
Ace walked over and stood behind Jesse with his hands on Jesse's shoulders.
"Do you need us to pick up your school work or anything like that, Dyl?" Ace asked.
"Probably," Dylan answered. "But right now, I don't think I could do any work. Jess..."
"Can you just keep an eye on Dodger for me? Ride him some and keep up with his training."
Jesse nodded. "Sure. I'll work him and I know that Casey will help with him too."
"Don't worry about him. You just concentrate on getting better. We have some competitions to go to this spring."
"You bet. I'm gonna kick this thing's ass so that I'm ready." Dylan grinned.
Jesse leaned over and hugged his boyfriend. "I love you," he whispered in Dylan's ear.
"Me, too," Dylan whispered back.
Ace and Jesse stood there watching Dylan for few more minutes. Dylan kept closing his eyes and was obviously fighting sleep.
"Hey, Dyl," Ace said. "We're gonna get going. Everyone wants a report on how you're doing and you need to get some rest."
Dylan pouted. "Ok. Just leave me here all alone."
Mrs. Summers laughed, "Thanks a lot."
"You know what I mean, Mom."
Mrs. Summers nodded.
Ace laughed, "You need to get your rest so you can get out of this place and back to the ranch. We'll work out some sort of ‘rotation' for visits, cuz I'm sure everyone will want to see you. And I'll make sure we sneak Jesse in here more regularly." He smirked at Dylan.
Dylan grinned and Jesse blushed.
"Good," Dylan said.
Ace leaned over and hugged Dylan and then left the room.
Mrs. Summers followed him out, giving Jesse and Dylan a few moments alone.
Jesse leaned back down and hugged Dylan again.
"Hey," Dylan whispered. "Why are you trembling?"
"It's nothing. I'm ok."
"No, you're not, what's wrong?" Dylan looked into Jesse's eyes. "It's being here, isn't it? It's being in the hospital."
"Why? Cuz you're scared?" Jesse nodded. "Don't be sorry. I know how much you hate these places, so the fact that you're here for me, is just another reason for me to love you."
"I just get scared in here," Jesse admitted.
"Jess, that's alright. The last time you were in a hospital you lost your mom." Dylan reached up and caressed Jesse's mask-covered cheek. "But, listen to me: you're not going to lose me. You have made me happier than I have been in a long time. I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to get over this and get back to the ranch and you and I are going to kick Spin's ass at those shows."
"Well, Zak's just starting and he's done a lot for me, so I can't humiliate him too much."
Both boys laughed.
Jesse gave Dylan a final hug and said goodbye and left the room. Dylan remained in the hospital for four days. The tests came back positive for viral meningitis. Leaving the hospital was only the beginning of his lengthy recovery. By the time he was released his energy was almost nonexistent. He was weak and feverish and often found himself trembling and light-headed. He spent the better part of the next four weeks confined to his bedroom.
Dylan's parents were impressed with Dylan's friends from the ranch, who made sure not a day went by that someone didn't visit Dylan and keep him company. The boys made sure that Jesse had a ride to visit Dylan almost every day and they all took turns accompanying him to make sure Dylan knew he was always in their thoughts.
The biggest surprise for Dylan was the one waiting in his room when he was released from the hospital. Knowing that Dylan would be out of school and on bed rest for at least six weeks or more, CJ and Danny had made a trip to the nearest Best Buy. They had a 46-inch flat-screen television and top of the line Blu-Ray player delivered and installed in Dylan's room. They also purchased a large collection of Blu-Ray discs so that he would have something to keep him occupied during his recovery.
Every Friday night, while Dylan was recovering, Danny or CJ would drop Jesse and Kaya off at Dylan's house so that they could spend the night. Dylan's parents loved Jesse; he was polite, loving and they knew that his presence was helping to speed along Dylan's recovery. They began to think of him as a second son and couldn't think of any boy they would have rather had for their son. At first they had been apprehensive about the big Rottweiler that accompanied Jesse every weekend, but they soon realized the effect the dog and the boy had on their son. Kaya had always been very protective of a select few that she considered ‘hers' and Dylan was at the top of that list with Jesse.
Saturday mornings Dylan's mom would peek into his room and find the two boys spooned together in bed with Kaya lying at the foot of the bed. Being at the ranch and outdoors more had mellowed Kaya out so she was becoming friendlier, though she still maintained her protective stance with Jesse and Dylan. She would follow Dylan's mom downstairs where Mrs. Summers would feed her and let her out so the boys could sleep.
At the end of Dylan's third week out of school, Danny dropped Jesse and Kaya off for their overnight. When Jesse entered the room, he was surprised to see another boy sitting on Dylan's bed. Dylan and the other boy were deep in conversation.
Dylan lit up when he saw Jesse and Kaya.
"Hey, Jesse!!" he called. "I was wondering when you were getting here. Hey, Kaya!!" he happily called to the dog who jumped up beside Dylan on the bed. Dylan reached over and hugged the big dog to him. He had realized that Jesse and Kaya were a package deal and he loved the dog almost as much as he loved Jesse.
Jesse walked over to Dylan's bed and leaned down and kissed Dylan. "Hey, Dyl. How're you feeling?"
"Still tired and achy, but so much better with all my visitors today." Dylan grinned. "Hey, Jess, this is my friend, Tanner; you remember I told you about him?"
Jesse smiled at Tanner. "Hey, Tanner, nice to meet you. Dylan's told me all about you."
Tanner smiled back. "Nice to meet you too, Jesse. Dylan's been filling me in on the two of you since I got here. I'm glad you are taking care of my number one friend here."
"Always," Jesse replied. He turned back to Dylan. "I'm sorry, Dyl, I didn't know you were gonna have company."
"Neither did I," said Dylan. "I guess my mom was talking to Tanner's mom and told her about how sick I had been and Tanner insisted that they come and see me. When he got here, we asked his mom if he could at least stay overnight. It'll be like a slumber party. I've wanted you two to meet. I know we can't do much, since I don't have the energy, but we can watch movies and Mom's gonna order some pizza. I don't have much appetite still, but I know you guys can make up for that." He grinned.
Jesse looked at Dylan curled up with Kaya. He knew that one of the side effects of the meningitis was a lack of hunger. Dylan's mom was practically forcing him to eat something several times a day, but Dylan had probably dropped 7-10 pounds since he became sick.
"Well, maybe the smell of some good pepperoni pizza will bring your hunger back."
Dylan smiled weakly. "Maybe, but right now nothing seems to make me hungry."
"Are you nauseous?" Tanner asked.
Dylan shook his head. "No, just not hungry. I guess that's part of this whole thing."
"Well, eventually, your appetite is gonna come back and then watch out," Jesse laughed. "I see a trip to the Cheesecake Factory in our future."
Dylan nodded. "As soon as I can get sprung, it's a date."
Jesse sat next to Dylan and cuddled up to him. "A date? I like the sound of that," he said as he kissed Dylan's cheek. Dylan blushed. Jesse turned and remembered Tanner was there. "Sorry," he said sheepishly to Tanner.
Tanner laughed. "Don't be. I'm really happy for you guys. Dylan told me you know what he went through and he told me some of what you had been through and it's so great that you guys have found each other. Dyl and I have been friends forever, so I'm never going to be anything but thrilled that he's found some happiness."
Jesse turned back to Dylan. "I think I like this guy," he said, grinning.
All three boys laughed and Kaya barked her agreement.
Downstairs, Danny had stopped for a moment to visit with Dylan's mom, Colleen. They were sitting in the living room.
"Danny, thank you so much for bringing Jesse over here and for everything you have done for Dylan."
"Colleen, you don't need to thank any of us. Dylan is a great kid and seeing him and Jesse connect in the way they have has been great for both of them."
"I know, my husband and I have been saying the same thing. Jesse has been such a blessing for Dylan while he's been sick, but even more than that. It's the first time I've seen Dylan this happy since..."
"He told you?"
Danny nodded. "He told me and Zak, the weekend we went to the rescue ranch and he found Dodger. Zak knew that I suffered from depression and he wanted me to talk to Dylan, to let him know he wasn't alone, but Zak didn't want to betray any confidences. When he described what had happened, I recognized it as a panic attack and asked Dylan about it. He told me and Zak the whole story. I think he might have told Jesse, but honestly, I haven't asked. Zak and I have been careful to keep Dylan's confidence on this."
"Another reason to thank God for you guys."
"I'm just glad we could be there for him; I know he's mentioned to me that it's been easier dealing with his depression now that he knows I suffer from the same thing and he can talk to me about it," Danny said. "Do the doctors have any idea how Dylan got the meningitis?"
Colleen shook her head. "No, it's frustrating. It's more common in older people and small children, because they tend to have a more compromised or weak immune system, but I guess it can happen to anyone. I just got so frustrated with one of the doctors at the hospital; he was fixated on Dylan having HIV and that being a reason for his immune system to be weakened. No matter how many times we told him Dylan was negative he would always push it."
"Didn't Dylan have a test after Cody?"
"Yes, he did. Once he told us what happened, he went through the tests every six months for a year and a half to make sure. He had his last test about a month before he got sick, so we know he's negative. He hasn't been sexually active with anyone." She raised her eyes up to look upstairs. "That we know of."
Danny chuckled and shook his head. "No. I've spoken to Jesse about it and they haven't yet. He says they have both decided they aren't ready yet."
Colleen grinned. "I knew I liked that boy. The last thing I want is for Dylan to find himself with a boy who pressures him into something he's not ready for physically or emotionally."
"Well, they both have their own baggage and I think they are doing a good job of helping each other heal," Danny said. "And somehow, I think Kaya has adopted Dylan as hers as well."
"Oh, that's for sure. Every Saturday morning, I find her sleeping at the foot of Dylan's bed or curled up against Jesse on the bed. I let her out so they can sleep, but she goes right back up there and I have to let her back in the room; it's like she can't let them out of her sight."
Danny nodded. "She is very protective of Jesse; I guess she always has been. I'm glad you don't mind him bringing her, cuz she does not like it if he's away for too long. She's getting better, since there are other dogs at the ranch and she seems to be taking to some of the other boys, but she seems to think Jesse, Dylan and Idgie are ‘hers' and she watches over them all the time."
"Well, we don't mind Jesse bringing her; Dylan loves having them here and anything that can brighten up his mood when he has to spend all this time in bed is a good thing."
"I know; hopefully, he can venture out soon. Everyone misses him at the ranch."
"And he misses being there. He asks Jesse about Dodger every day."
"Dodge's doing well; luckily Jesse had been helping Dylan with him, so Jesse's been able to keep up his training." Danny looked at his watch. "Oh, wow, didn't realize it was getting so late. Gotta date with CJ, so I need to get going." He stood up.
Colleen stood up and walked over and gave Danny a hug.
"Thank you again, Danny; you guys have helped to give me back the fun-loving boy that I had before..."
Danny hugged her back. "He's family and we love him."
Erik got out of his mom's car and looked around the ranch. He had decided to come out and see if anyone wanted to ride. He hadn't thought about calling, figuring the guys were always here. They had told him he was welcome anytime.
He turned and saw the new ranch hand, Jamie, coming towards him. Jamie had been hired by CJ while Sarge was in California attending a retirement party for a friend. Sarge had not been happy when he returned to find out that CJ had simply hired the boy without doing any background checks. By the time Sarge returned, Jamie had been working for a week and the boys all liked him, so he had let the breach in security go.
Jamie was eighteen. He had shown up at the ranch one day in mid-January and sought out CJ. He had left home after a disagreement with his parents. Since he was eighteen, he was not a runaway. He had a lot of experience with horses and asked CJ if there was any work available. CJ immediately liked Jamie and offered him a job as a hand. Once he saw how well Jamie did with the horses, he offered to let him teach some lessons to alleviate some of Dusty's workload.
"Hey, Jamie," Erik said. Erik had something of a crush on Jamie. Jamie was about six feet tall with blond hair and blue eyes. He was well-built, not as muscular as Ace, but Erik thought he was perfect. "Do you know where everyone is?"
"Well, Jesse spent the night with a friend. Zak, Dusty, Mattie and Spin are at the mall and Ace and Devon went to a movie."
"Oh, shit. I figured on Saturday they would all be here."
"Normally, they are. But the schedule was light today, so they all went to do their own thing."
"Well, guess I'll head home then."
"Did you want to ride?"
"I wanted to see if anyone was around for a short trail ride."
"I can go with you."
"Sure. My stuff's done for the morning and there are no lessons, so I was just hanging out. Why don't we grab a couple of horses and we can get out of here."
"Sounds great." Erik grinned; maybe this afternoon would be better than he thought.
Jamie took Erik into the main barn and they picked out two of the trail horses and went on a nice long ride. Erik was really enjoying the time he was spending at the ranch. Jamie watched Erik carefully and began offering a few tips to clean up his riding.
As they were riding back to the ranch, Erik asked, "Jamie, why don't I see you at our school?"
"Well, I left home when I turned eighteen. Since then I've been moving around. CJ was able to get me into the GED program at the Vocational Center where Dusty goes. With any luck by the end of the summer I'll have my GED."
"Why did you leave home?"
"Well, let's just say my parents and I didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things and it was just easier to move out than put up with their shit."
"I'm sorry about that. My parents were giving me grief after Christmas but things seem to be getting better."
"So, where did you learn to ride?"
"My mom started me when I was really little. I used to do a lot of hunter/jumper shows. That's the one thing I regret is leaving my horse behind."
"You had your own horse?"
"Yep; he was great, had him since I was thirteen. He was my buddy and we won a lot of classes together, but when I left, I had no way to bring him with me. So I had to leave him. If I know my dad, he probably sold him the day after I left."
"Man that sucks. Maybe someday you'll be able to find him."
"That would be nice, but I doubt it."
After that afternoon trail ride, Erik and Jamie started to spend more and more time together when Erik would visit the ranch. Jamie started teaching Erik in his spare time and Erik was developing a hard crush on Jamie.
Over the first month of the semester, Devon and TJ had settled into a routine.
They spent the majority of their school day avoiding each other. Both wanted to see where this relationship was headed before they took the leap to go public. Devon knew that once his friends knew about TJ there would be a lot of explaining to do. TJ knew that he would take a lot of heat from his ‘friends', and that there was no way to hide what his relationship with Devon was once they went public. Devon wore his sexuality on his sleeve, literally, as TJ found out the first time Devon wore one of his sleeveless t-shirts and he saw the tattoos Devon had.
Once last period came, things were different. Within the confines of the art room, Devon and TJ were a couple and everyone in there knew it. They didn't worry about anyone saying anything, because all of the kids in that class seemed to see themselves as ‘misfits' and were happy that two of their number had found each other.
Devon and TJ stayed after school three or four days a week to work on their projects. Devon had TJ model for him several more times. But, most days they would just each work on their individual projects. Since TJ was a photographer, most of his work was done on his laptop, but he would keep Devon company and watch him work on the various portraits of TJ that he was creating.
Devon was doing some work at the studio at the ranch house, but he avoided working on the face part of the portraits, in case anyone saw them. He knew that they couldn't hide forever and things were starting to gel with him and TJ, so the day was coming when he had to tell his friends what was going on.
He had thought that Ace would be the first person he would speak to. It was only natural--Ace was his oldest friend and Ace also had the most forgiving nature. If Ace couldn't accept TJ, then he didn't know what he would do.
Everything was going relatively smoothly, so Devon should have known the universe would conspire to kick him in the ass.
One day during the first week of February, Spin came looking for Devon.
"Hey, Devon, can you do me a favor?"
"Sure, what do ya need?"
Spin hemmed and hawed.
Devon laughed, "Detention? Again?"
Spin nodded. "Yep, I swear the coach hates me."
"I think he probably hates your mouth. That's what usually gets you in trouble. I know from experience. Ask Ace sometime how much time I clocked in to detention when we were in junior high."
"Oh, yeah. At least once a week if not more," Devon said, nodding. "What did you need from me though?"
"Well, both of my parents have meetings at work tonight, so they basically told me I had to either wait here till six when they could come and get me or find my own way home and I know you stay after most nights."
"Sure, no problem. I'm staying after to work on my art projects anyways. What time is detention over?"
"Ok, why don't you meet me at my car at 3:45?"
"Great. Thanks a lot."
Devon grinned. "No problem."
That afternoon in art class, everyone was working on their individual projects. TJ had brought some formal clothes to change into so that Devon could do some more sketches. TJ went to change right before class ended. Devon was being very secretive about the project, so he would have TJ model when he was sure it was just the two of them.
As would usually happen when TJ was modeling for him, Devon became very distracted and lost track of time. He completely forgot that he had offered to drive Spin home.
Miss Crenshaw had gotten in the habit of letting Devon and TJ stay alone in the art room after school if she had meetings or appointments. They were the only two who stayed regularly and they always left things organized and cleaned up after they finished their work.
Devon was getting hot and bothered watching TJ pose in his dress clothes. He gradually had removed some articles of clothing until he was standing bare-chested in just his dress slacks. He was barefoot and Devon had rolled up the cuffs of his slacks just slightly to give a very casual ‘after the party' look.
Devon grabbed the camera he was using for the photography portion of his project and began to snap several pictures of TJ.
After he got what he needed he walked over to TJ and wrapped his arms around the bigger boy's waist. TJ leaned down and kissed Devon deeply.
Meanwhile, Spin had been waiting at Devon's car for about fifteen minutes. Thinking that Devon had forgotten about him, Spin went back into the school to the art room.
In the art room, TJ had laid Devon back on one of the tables and was hungrily kissing his boyfriend. The two were lost in their passions, when the door the art room opened.
Spin walked in unnoticed by the other two boys. What he saw in front on him was not two young lovers swept away by romance; what he saw was his new friend being attacked by the school bully.
Spin ran across the room and leapt onto TJ's back. He pummeled the bigger boy with his fists.
"Get off him, you asshole!!" Spin screamed as he continued to try to pull TJ away from Devon.
TJ stood up. Spin was about four inches shorter and at least fifty pounds lighter than TJ. TJ didn't want to hurt the little twerp, but he was pissed. He shook Spin off his back and grabbed his wrists before he could continue his attack.
Devon jumped off the table and grabbed TJ around the waist.
"TJ, don't hurt him," Devon said. "He doesn't know."
"I'm trying not to hurt him," TJ replied. "But he's not making it easy on me."
"Spin, stop!!" Devon yelled. "You don't understand."
Spin stopped. "What's to understand? I've seen this asshole in action; I know what he was doing to you. Let's get out of here and then report this son of a bitch."
Devon let go of TJ and walked around to Spin. He gently took TJ's hands from around Spin's wrists. Spin made a move like he was going to take a swing at TJ and Devon grabbed his arm. He turned Spin around so that he was looking into his eyes.
"Spin, stop," he said gently, but firmly. "He wasn't hurting me." Devon saw the confusion in Spin's eyes. "He's my boyfriend."
Spin pulled loose from Devon and stepped back. "Your BOYFRIEND?!?" he screamed. "Are you fuckin' nuts?! Do you know what this asshole has done to Zak and Dylan and Jesse and Dusty!?! Do you know what kind of a prick he really is?!"
Devon nodded his head and took Spin by the wrist. "C'mon, we need to get out of here so we can talk." He looked over at TJ. "Teej, can you close everything up?"
TJ nodded. ‘Yeah, I'll take care of it."
"Ok, I'll call you later," Devon said as he led Spin out of the room.
The two boys didn't speak as they walked to Devon's car. Once they were in the car and buckled up, Devon started it up and pulled out of the school parking lot.
He wasn't sure where to go. He needed to make Spin understand and didn't want to have this confrontation at the ranch.
He saw an abandoned strip mall with an empty parking lot and pulled in there.
He left the car running so they would have heat. He turned off the radio and turned to Spin.
"Spin," he said. Spin looked out the window. "Spin! Look at me!"
Spin turned and glowered at Devon, his green eyes burning with anger.
"Spin, I know about TJ's past. I didn't when we first met, but as soon as he knew where I lived and who my friends were he told me. He told me everything. I'm not happy about the things he's done, but he's trying to change." Spin started to protest. "Wait, let me finish. Has he done anything to anybody since the beginning of the semester?"
Spin thought for a moment and shook his head. "Not that I know of..."
"No, he hasn't. Spin, I'm not trying to excuse his past behavior, but he has some issues at home just like a lot of us do and we all react differently to those issues. I've done things I'm not proud of and I know you've done things you'd rather have back. Our friends and the people we care about have forgiven us. I know it's probably too much to ask anyone to forget the things that TJ has done, but I hope people can recognize that he's trying to change and give him a chance."
Spin shook his head. "I just don't get it. He's such an asshole."
"He was. He's really trying to change. When he told me what he had been like and what he had done, I was pissed. I've been bullied and I've seen kids do desperate things to escape bullies and I told him that I could not and would not be with someone who did that."
"But, if he's ‘changed' so much, how come you guys are hiding out in the art room?"
"Spin, look at your reaction. And you don't have the history with TJ that Zak and Dusty do. And I guess he had a run-in with Ace last month over Dylan and Jesse. We didn't want to get in the middle of something with my friends unless we knew this was going somewhere. So we've been spending time together in art class and after school. We've taken it slow so we can get to know each other. I know it's hard to understand, but I don't have the history with him that you guys have. We met on my first day. We started talking and I really liked him and he seemed to like me. He never tried to hide his past from me. When I mentioned that I lived at the Triple J, he immediately told me about his history with you guys. I could have walked away, and if I didn't believe him when he told me he was trying to change, I would have. We've spent a lot of time together the last month and I really like him, Spin, I think I might be in love with him."
"What do you want me to do?"
Devon smiled. "Just give him a chance. Think of all the trouble you get into. I know it's not necessarily the same. You haven't gone out of your way to hurt anyone, but you do get into it and your friends forgive you and accept you. That's all I want for TJ. I know it's a tall order, but I'm hopeful. And for now, please don't say anything about us."
"Even to Mattie?"
"Please. It won't be for long, maybe another week or so. I want to talk to Ace myself and then I'll figure something out."
"Ok, I won't say anything, but if Mattie finds out, you need to tell him you swore me to secrecy so he knows I didn't lie to him."
Knowing he had a little wiggle room to get things in order, Devon drove Spin home.
Later that night, Devon knocked on Ace's bedroom door.
"Come in," Ace called.
Devon opened the door and poked his head in. "Hey, Ace, you got a minute?"
Ace grinned. "For you, always."
Ace was lying on his bed propped up against some pillows watching TV. He sat up against the headboard. He was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of old sweatpants.
Devon knew at that moment that he was in love with TJ. Never before had he seen Ace dressed like this and not immediately sprung a painful hard-on. But here he stood looking at the long-time object of his affections and he was soft as a down pillow. The only thoughts he was having were about how he could get Ace to accept his relationship with TJ.
Ace grinned at Devon and spread his legs, Devon sat in his ‘usual' place between Ace's legs, leaning back against Ace's chest. Even though they were both almost seventeen, they still fell into this comfortable position that they had used since they were kids. They would always sit like this when they were watching TV or just talking.
Devon didn't know how TJ would feel about this, but he couldn't explain to anyone why there was such comfort for him to be lying here with Ace's arms around him. Devon knew he was no longer ‘in love' with Ace, but he would always love him. Ace was his brother, his confidante, his oldest and best friend. For the longest time, Ace had been his world.
Devon felt panic begin to creep up his chest. He worried about how Ace would react to the news of his romance. Would Ace turn his back on him? Ace had always supported him; he hadn't even abandoned him when he knew what Devon had been up to at their old school. But, this was different. He was falling in love with a boy that had brought nothing but pain and misery and abuse to his friends. Was he wrong to even try? TJ was trying so hard to prove to Devon that he had changed, but it was Devon who stood to lose if his friends could not accept TJ.
"For someone who wanted to talk, you're awfully quiet," Ace laughed as he wrapped thickly muscled arms around Devon's thin chest.
"I need to tell you something and I'm not sure how."
Ace put his chin on Devon's shoulder and whispered in his ear. "You know you can tell me anything."
"I know," Devon said. "But you aren't going to like this."
"Then just spit it out and we'll deal with it."
"I met someone."
"Someone...you mean, like a boyfriend?"
Ace squeezed Devon to him tight and kissed the back of his head. "That's great, Dev!! I knew you'd find someone. Do you really like him?"
"I do. We met in my art class. He's so handsome and sweet and kind and we get along great. We've been spending lots of time together. He's actually been modeling for me. I'm doing a whole series of pieces on him for my project."
"That's really cool. I'm so happy for you. Do you have any of the pieces?"
"Yeah, I have some I just finished in my studio."
Ace let go of Devon and jumped up. "Let's go check them out."
Before Devon could say anything to stop him, Ace was out the bedroom door and heading to the garage/studio.
Devon chased after Ace. In his hurry to catch Ace, he smashed his toe into the doorjamb. Pain shot through his foot and he stopped for a moment. Pushing through the pain in his foot he ran through the kitchen and out the door that led to his studio.
"Ace, wai..." Devon's plea died in his throat.
Ace was standing looking at a painting that Devon had just finished that afternoon. It was the only one that showed TJ's face.
Ace just stared at the picture and then turned to Devon. Devon had only seen that pained expression one other time on Ace's face. It was the day that Ace had found out about his mother's cancer.
Ace looked one last time at the painting and then walked out of the garage and back to the kitchen. He didn't even look at Devon as he left.
Devon ran over and covered the painting back up and walked back into the kitchen. He came into the kitchen just in time to hear the front door slam as Ace stormed out of the house.