Devon ran to his room to grab a jacket and started for the front door.
'"Was that Ace?'" Sarge asked as he came out of the living room.
'"Yes. He's pissed at me,'" Devon answered.
'"Can I ask why?'"
'"It's kinda complicated,'" Devon sighed. '"I met this great guy at school, we really hit it off and I think I'm falling in love with him.'"
'"Well, considering that's all stuff that Ace has been wishing for you, I'm sure there is a ‘but' in there somewhere.'"
'"But, this boy, TJ, he's got a ‘past' with the guys here, including Ace.'"
'"A past?'" Sarge asked, and then a look of recognition hit his face and he shook his head. '"Oh, shit, Dev, this isn't the boy that gave Dylan and Jesse such a hard time at the movies last month is it?'"
Devon nodded. '"I'm sorry, Dad. When we met, I didn't know. He was so nice to me, we got to talking and we really hit it off. Once he found out where I live, he told me everything. He's been trying his hardest to change and make things right. I made it clear to him that I won't be with anyone who is a bully or who treats others badly. His home life kinda sucks so he's taken it out on others.'"
'"And that makes it right?'"
'"No, nothing makes what he did or how he acted in the past ‘right'. But he hasn't been that way since we've been together. He's been so great to me.'"
'"How long have you known about his past?'"
'"Since the day after school started.'"
'"And you've kept it a secret all this time?'"
'"We didn't want to say anything until we knew how things were going to go between us. If it wasn't going to work, then why make everyone upset.'"
Sarge nodded. '"That's a valid reason, Dev. So I'm assuming that now things are going well and you wanted to tell Ace.'"
'"Well, I've been putting it off, but Spin caught us today and I don't want him to have to lie to Mattie, so I decided to tell Ace and then I thought he could help me tell the others. I thought it would be easier with him since he's my best friend and he hasn't been here as long and he doesn't have the history with TJ.'"
'"But he did have that incident in December.'"
Devon nodded. '"I know, but I figured it wasn't as big a deal as some of the other stuff TJ has done.'"
Sarge looked at Devon. '"Well, how big a deal it was would be in the eye of the beholder. You know how hard Ace takes any of that bullying stuff and you've seen how close he's become to Jesse and Dylan--he thinks of them as little brothers. So it was a really big deal for him. Maybe for your friend it wasn't. But what he did caused Dylan to have a panic attack. That scared the hell out of Jesse and Ace, since they hadn't seen it happen before. I know you know what it's like to be bullied and picked on, but look at it from Ace's point of view. He's protected you as long as you've known each other and now, you've gone and fallen in love with a guy he only knows as a bully.'"
Devon grimaced. '"But, Dad...'"
Sarge put his hand on Devon's shoulder. '"Devon, I'm not saying either of you is right or wrong, but if you want Ace to support you and accept TJ and help you get the others to accept him, you need to show him the TJ you know. You're gonna have to convince him that TJ is trying and that he has changed.'"
'"But, how do I do that?'"
'"By showing him the boy you are falling in love with.'"
Devon thought for a minute. He hugged Sarge. '"Thanks, Dad. Now do you have any idea where he went?'"
Sarge grinned. '"Well, if he's pissed at you or me there's only one other soul he'd turn to.'"
Devon grinned. '"Bullet.'"
Sarge laughed and nodded as Devon ran out the door and over to the private barn.
The lights in the barn were on when Devon walked in. He walked over to Bullet's stall. He didn't see the black gelding in the stall until he peered through the door. He grinned at the sight. Ace was sitting in the corner of the stall; Bullet was lying in front of him with his big black head in Ace's lap. Ace was stroking Bullet's neck and talking quietly to his horse.
Devon just stood quietly watching Ace and Bullet. The love between the two was just as palpable as that between Ace and Devon. Seeing his friend and his horse made Devon miss his horse, Jazz, for the first time in a long time. He knew it had been a mistake to sell her, but at the time it was the best decision he could make for her. Had he known that he would be moving to the ranch he would have held onto her.
Devon rolled the stall door open. Bullet looked up lazily and seeing his ‘other' boy laid his head back down on Ace's lap. Ace looked up to see Devon standing in the doorway and looked away.
Devon went and sat next to Ace. He ran his hand along Bullet's side and neck.
'"Are you going to talk to me?'" Devon asked.
'"I don't know what to say,'" Ace answered. '"I don't know how you could be in love with someone like that. Do you know what he's done to the guys here? Do you know what he's done to Zak? That he physically assaulted him at school? Do you know that he went after Dylan and Jesse at the movie theatre and caused Dylan to have a panic attack?'"
Devon grinned. '"And you put him in his place.'"
Ace scoffed. '"So if you know, how can you even like him, never mind love him?'"
'"Ace, look at me,'" Devon said quietly. Ace turned to face Devon; he had a few tears in his eyes. '"I met TJ on my first day of school. He's in my art class. We really hit it off. He was sweet and funny and really good-looking. We talked a lot. We both love horses and riding; he told me about his family and how they pressure him to play sports even though he really doesn't enjoy it. I asked him if he would be my model for the project I am doing. The next day he modeled for me and we talked some more. When I mentioned that I lived here, he became upset.'"
'"He was upset, because he liked me and I liked him and he knew that he had made himself public enemy number one as far as you guys were concerned. He took me out to eat and he told me everything.'" Ace looked at him like he didn't believe Devon. '"Everything! All about Zak, Dusty, Dylan, Jesse and you. He also told me his reasons why. And before you say anything, I told him there was no excuse for bullying. I told him that I had taken a long time to accept myself and love myself and I would not waste my time on someone who couldn't or wouldn't accept themselves or who would bully people just because they were happy when he was miserable. I told him I had been bullied and I would not tolerate any of my friends or anyone else being treated like that. He agreed and he told me he would do his best to change. I let him know that if he didn't then I wouldn't even try to be with him.'"
Ace rested his head on Bullet's and sighed. '"Dev, I still don't get it. I don't get how someone like you could be with someone like him.'"
'"Ace, I'm not some perfect angel.'"
Ace laughed, '"No shit.'"
Devon grinned. '"None of us are. But you are seeing TJ through the experiences you've had with him. And I get that; but please try to see him through my eyes. I know what he did, but the person who told me all those things and the person who did all those things aren't the same to me. As hard as it is for you to reconcile the way I feel about TJ with the way you feel about TJ, it's just as hard for me. I love you, you know that. And I love the guys here. I didn't think I would and I didn't think I wanted to, but you were right, they are all great guys. I'm not asking anyone to forgive and forget everything that TJ has ever done, but I can't give him up. I feel like I'm in the middle of a war and I'm gonna lose no matter what happens.'"
Ace sighed heavily. '"Dev, you're not going to lose me, ever. I swore that to you when we were eight and I meant it then and mean it now. This is just gonna take some time for me to process. I want you to be happy. I want you to find love. If it's TJ then so be it, but it will take me some time.'"
Devon smiled. He crawled over to Ace and hugged him tight. '"Thanks. I knew I could count on you.'"
Ace hugged Devon back. '"You've always been able to count on me. That's never going to change. Let's just take this slow, ok? Let me get used to it, and then we can figure out how we break it to the others.'"
'"Oh, shit, Dev, please tell me you haven't told anyone else.'"
'"Well, I didn't exactly tell him,'" Devon shrugged. '"I was supposed to give Spin a ride home after school today and I forgot so he came to the art room and caught me and TJ making out.'"
'"Oh, God, you're kidding,'" Ace laughed.
'"No. He thought TJ was attacking me and the little shit jumped him. We had a long talk and I asked him not to say anything. That's why I wanted to tell you tonight, cuz I didn't know how long he would last.
'"Knowing Spin, not long.'"
'"I know; he's not really good with the impulse control is he?'"
'"I told you he was just like you.'" Ace grinned.
'"That's not a bad thing you know,'" Devon mused. '"You should have seen him. He saw a guy that had been a headache for his friends and he thought I was in danger and he didn't hesitate. He jumped on TJ and started whaling on him.'"
'"And how did TJ react?'"
'"He dumped him on the floor and just tried to restrain him and not hurt him,'" Devon answered. '"He knew who he was and that he was my friend. He really is trying to change. He could have kicked Spin's ass if he wanted to.'"
'"Maybe there's hope for him yet.'"
'"Can I ask you a favor?'" Devon asked.
'"You already know the answer to that.'" '"Well, you might not want to agree to this.'"
'"But you can still ask.'"
'"Ok, I was telling you earlier, the project I'm doing is a series of pictures in different mediums of TJ. I'm using paints, charcoal, pencil, and photography, everything I can think of. The centerpiece is going to be a fully painted formal portrait. I'm having him pose in a variety of clothes and uniforms to use all of these pictures to ‘paint' a true portrait of who he is.'"
'"Sounds pretty cool and very labor-intensive. I know it shocked me, but the picture you had in the studio was really good.'"
'"Thanks. It's a lot of work, but I think it's going to turn out amazing.'"
'"So where does this favor come in?'"
'"I didn't say anything about a favor.'"
'"Dev, this is me you're talking to. I know you. ‘Can I ask you something?' is Dev-code for ‘I need a favor'.'"
'"Well, can I borrow Bullet?'"
'"Huh? You can ride him anytime, you know that.'"
'"Not for me.'"
'"For who...oh, come on...you can't be serious.'"
'"I'm not going to take him on a trail ride or anything. TJ really likes riding. He hasn't been able to in a while, and I hope once things get straightened out we can change that. But for one of the pictures, I want him to pose with Bullet. It would only be one afternoon. You know me, I sketch really fast and then do the rest from memory.'"
'"I guess so, but it's not going to go over well with the guys if he's here.'"
'"I know. I was thinking we could plan on a day maybe the week after next and then you could take everyone to a movie or something that afternoon; then the coast would be clear for me to get the work done.'"
'"I guess so. Just have TJ ready to go. I'll plant the idea with the guys about doing something after school, the Friday after next. Maybe go right to the mall for dinner and a movie. Jesse will probably be at Dylan's. I doubt he'll be back to school by then.'"
'"Ok, I'll talk to TJ and we'll make plans for that afternoon.'"
'"I'll text you when we're on our way home and you need to get him out of here. Or else, you're going to have to explain everything to the guys.'"
'"No problem.'" Devon grinned. '"Thanks, Ace.'"
Ace grinned. '"You know I can't say no to you, shithead.'"
Ace stood up and offered Devon a hand up. Both boys brushed the hay and shavings off themselves.
Bullet lumbered to his feet. He shook himself and the guys laughed as they had to brush themselves off a second time.
Devon looked at his watch and then out the barn window. '"Look at how bright that moon is,'" he said as he turned and grinned at Ace.
Ace grinned back. '"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?'"
Devon nodded. '"But this time we keep our clothes on--it's too damn cold out there.'"
Both boys laughed.
Devon ran to get Bullet's bridle, while Ace led the gelding out into the barnyard.
A few minutes later, several of the boys in the main house were watching out their windows as Bullet galloped towards the trail carrying the two friends.
Jesse's sixteenth birthday was the second Tuesday in February. Danny was more excited about the date than even Jesse.
Danny had wanted to throw Jesse a ‘Sweet Sixteen' party, since it was his first birthday as part of their family, but Jesse had insisted that any parties be put off until Dylan was well enough to attend.
While Dylan seemed to be gaining strength, he was still very tired and more than likely would be out of school at least three to four more weeks.
Since Spin and Dylan shared many of the same classes, Spin had taken it on himself to collect Dylan's school work during the week and pass it along to Jesse to bring to Dylan every Friday. Spin would catch a ride to Dylan's on Sunday nights to go over his assignments and pick up any finished work to return to school.
Everyone was suitably impressed with Spin's diligence in making sure that Dylan was up on all his classes, so he wouldn't be in danger of not graduating to the sophomore class in the fall.
Since they were ‘banned' from having a party for Jesse, Danny and CJ instead hosted a family dinner for him on the night of his birthday. In addition to Danny, CJ, Zak, Dusty, Spin and Mattie; Sarge, Ace, Devon, Erik, Jamie, Josh and Casey were invited to the dinner. The boys were all instructed that any presents were to wait until the party. Earlier that afternoon, Danny had taken Jesse to the Department of Motor Vehicles so he could take his driver's test. Jesse had passed with flying colors and was now in possession of his driver's license.
Everyone at his birthday dinner congratulated Jesse on getting his driver's license.
Even though it was the heart of winter, Danny had hired a caterer to create a true ‘Taste of Florida' dinner.
Jesse was elated by the meal and Danny and CJ, having lived in Florida, loved it. The others were apprehensive at first, but in the end all enjoyed the meal of conch chowder, conch fritters, orange-glazed chicken and key lime pie.
When the meal was finished, the servers wheeled out a huge cake in the shape of a Chevy Camaro.
After everyone had finished singing ‘Happy Birthday' to Jesse, Danny ran and turned on the stereo before Jesse could blow out his candles. The song ‘Sixteen Candles' came over the speakers. Everyone laughed and sang along as Jesse blew out his candles.
'"That's a cool cake,'" CJ said as everyone admired the pastry. '"Danny, what did you use for the model?'" he asked with a grin.
All the boys were watching Jesse cut the cake oblivious to what was happening.
'"Model?'" Danny asked with a glint in his eye. '"I used Jesse's car.'"
Hearing that Jesse stopped as he was slicing the cake. He looked up to see all eyes on him.
'"My what?'" he said as he dropped the knife.
'"Your car,'" Danny said with a grin. '"Why don't you go look outside.'"
Jesse's feet didn't hit the ground as he ran to the front door. He bolted outside and stopped in front of a brand new silver Camaro.
He turned around to see everyone had followed him out. Danny and CJ stood right behind him. Jesse jumped into CJ's arms and hugged him hard and then dropped down and grabbed Danny. He hugged Danny even harder. Then he pulled CJ to them and hugged both his ‘dads' as hard as he could.
'"Thank you,'" he whispered over and over again. '"It's awesome, but you di...'"
Danny whispered in his ear, '"Don't you even think about saying we didn't have to or you don't deserve it. Yes, we did and yes, you do. We love you, Jesse. I know we're more like your big brothers than your dads but we want you to know how much we, and everyone here, love you. I'm sorry Dylan's not here, cuz I know how important he is to you, to all of us. But, once he's recovered, we are going to have a big party to celebrate your birthday and Dylan's escape.'"
Jesse looked between CJ and Danny with tears in his eyes. '"You guys will never know how much I love you, how much I love living here and being with everyone. You saved me,'" he said as he hugged them again.
'"Ok, no more tears,'" CJ ordered as he dangled the keys in front of Jesse. '"I think you need to take it for a test drive.'"
Jesse's eyes lit up. He pulled out his phone and hit speed dial. '"Hey, Dyl...are you up?...good...I'm on my way over to show you something...be there in a few...me, too...'"
'"Ok, let's go,'" he called over to the crowd.
In a group that large there are friendships and relationships that develop between different people. When Jesse called out ‘Let's go' everyone knew who he was talking to. Mattie, Ace and Zak poured into the car and Jesse jumped into the driver's seat and started it up.
He rolled down the window. '"We'll be right back. Everyone have some cake while we're gone.'"
Danny said, '"Hold on a second.'" He ran into the house and came out a few minutes later. He went around to the passenger door and handed Ace a bag. '"Here's some of the treats from dinner for Dylan. Maybe this stuff will bring his appetite back.'"
Jesse backed up and pulled out of the driveway.
As everyone watched the Camaro drive off CJ turned to Devon, Dusty and Spin. '"How did you guys get left behind?'"
'"Cuz you bought him a little sports car,'" Spin said sarcastically.
Dusty smacked him on the back of the head. '"We know the score. We all love Jesse, just like we all love each other, but Jesse is closest to those three. We knew exactly who he was taking on his first ride.'"
'"And you're ok with that?'" CJ asked.
'"Why wouldn't we be?'" Dusty answered. '"We're all close, but we have people that we are closer to for whatever reasons. We all hang out together all the time, so it's not like anyone is being pushed aside. If it had been Ace, he would have taken Dev, Jesse and Dyl; if it had been me, I would have taken Zak, Mattie and Spin. It's not playing favorites, it's just the people that for whatever reason we feel closest to.'"
Spin and Devon nodded. They all went back into the house to enjoy the cake while they waited for the others to return.
Jesse pulled into Dylan's driveway. Before he had even turned the Camaro off, Dylan came flying out of the front door. He had on sweats and sneakers and his parka.
Dylan ran around to the driver's side of the car and pulled open the door.
Jesse jumped out of the car and Dylan grabbed him in a hug.
'"It's awesome!!'" Dylan cried.
'"What are you doing out here?'" Jesse reprimanded Dylan. '"I wanted you to see it from your window; I don't want you getting sicker.'"
'"I'm ok--I promised my parents I would only come out for a minute. But I knew that you were gonna get a car and I wanted to see it close up.'" Dylan hugged Jesse even tighter. '"It's so cool, we are gonna have so much fun.'"
'"Not if you get sicker,'" Jesse said as he grabbed Dylan's hand and led him to the house. Mattie, Ace and Zak followed the two into the house.
Once they were inside, Jesse said, '"We're not staying long, I just wanted you to see the car and Danny wanted you to have some of my birthday dinner.'" He took the bag from Ace. '"Hopefully, this will get your appetite going.'"
Dylan took the bag and peeked inside. '"Smells good. Maybe I'll try some later. But I need you to come upstairs with me.'" He turned to his other friends. '"Can you guys just wait here for a minute?'"
The three boys laughed and nodded. Zak led them into the living room where Dylan's parents were and they sat down and visited with Mr. and Mrs. Summers.
Dylan took Jesse's hand and led him up the stairs and into his bedroom.
He left Jesse in the middle of the room and went over to his dresser. He had his iPod hooked up to some speakers. He hit play on the iPod and music filled the room.
Jesse listened for a second and laughed. For the second time that night he was listening to The Crests' ‘Sixteen Candles'.
Dylan took Jesse's hand in his and led him to the center of the room. He wrapped his arms around his boyfriend and began to sway to the music. Jesse held Dylan tight while the two danced in the middle of Dylan's messy bedroom.
Jesse was having trouble holding back his emotions. He thought about where he had been six months ago. Losing Seb and his mom in a matter of days and being beaten by Roger, his stepfather. Spending almost two months on the run, before being found by Danny. He had thought his life was over, that no one would ever love him. He was starting to think he didn't deserve love. Now he had two dads who showered him with affection, friends who treated him better than he had ever imagined and a boyfriend who he loved so much. He couldn't believe how lucky he was.
Dylan had closed his eyes as he swayed to the music. He opened them to look into Jesse's eyes. He saw the huge tears welling in Jesse's eyes.
Dylan hugged Jesse tight. '"I know,'" he cooed. '"I feel it too. We both think we don't deserve to be this happy, but we do. We both survived and now we have our friends, our families and each other. You make me so happy every day. I love you so much.'"
Jesse looked into Dylan's big green eyes. The emotion that swept over him was something he couldn't describe. He had loved Seb for so long, he never even looked at another boy. Even when he thought Seb was straight, he still held the candle for his friend. When he had first met Dylan and started to have feelings for him, he felt like he was betraying Seb in some way. But he realized that not finding happiness and someone to share it with would be the biggest betrayal of Seb's memory.
The song stopped and Jesse started to pull away, but Dylan held him tighter.
Dylan smiled brightly. '"Nope, one more dance.'"
The next song came on and Dylan started to sing along to Dylan.
'"You're sixteen, you're beautiful and you're mine,'" Dylan sang along to Ringo Starr's ‘You're Sixteen'. '"You walked out of my dreams, into my arms, now you're my angel divine.'"
Jesse started laughing and grabbed Dylan as hard as he could. He nuzzled Dylan's neck. It tickled Dylan so he had a hard time singing.
Jesse licked his way up Dylan's neck and placed his lips gently to Dylan's. The two kissed until they were breathless.
'"Oh, God. I love you,'" Jesse whispered.
'"Me, too,'" Dylan replied and he embraced Jesse.
The two had a habit of never answering an ‘I love you' with anything other than ‘me, too'.
Dylan fell back on his bed pulling Jesse with him.
'"Oh, man,'" he sighed. '"That took a lot out of me. I think I moved more in the last half hour than I have in the last month.'"
'"Are you ok?'" Jesse asked, the concern in his voice evident.
Dylan smiled at Jesse. '"I'm fine. I'm just tired. That's the worst thing about this. Physically, I'm getting better every day. I don't feel as sick as I did and the headaches are nowhere near as bad, but I get so tired all the time.'"
'"The doctor told you it would be like that. Even when he finally lets you go back to school, he said it could still be six months or more before you are a hundred percent.'"
'"Man, this sucks!!' Dylan shouted. '"I never thought I'd say this...but I want to go back to school. I'm going stir-crazy in here.'"
'"Well, if you don't overdo it, maybe the doctor will let you go back to school soon. Another couple of weeks.'"
Dylan rolled over and latched onto Jesse. '"I hope so. I'm gonna go nuts if I'm here anymore. And I wanna ride in that new car. Next year you can teach me to drive it.'"
'"Sure,'" Jesse said. '"But that's a while off, so for now, I'll just have to be your chauffeur,'" he laughed.
'"I'm so glad you came over,'" Dylan sighed. '"Even if it's just for a few minutes, I couldn't stand the thought of not seeing you on your birthday.'"
Jesse stood up and pulled Dylan to him. He hugged Dylan. '"I know. I would have figured a way to get over here, even if they hadn't given me the car. As much as I love the car, just being with you today is the best birthday present ever.'" He kissed Dylan gently. '"Where did you get those songs though? They're not your usual music.'" He giggled.
Dylan grinned. '"Zak. You know how he loves oldies. He gave me a bunch to listen to and I wanted to dance with you to those two on your sixteenth birthday.'"
'"Well, I'll always remember this birthday and getting to dance with you.'" Jesse smiled as he gazed into Dylan's eyes. '"But we gotta go now and you need some rest.'"
Dylan laid his head on Jesse's shoulder. '"Ok. But come and see me tomorrow after school. Hey, you can take me to my doctor's appointment. Instead of my mom.'"
Jesse nodded. '"If she'll let me, sure. I'll pick you up after school.'"
'"I'll be ready,'" Dylan agreed as he walked Jesse down the stairs.
Zak, Mattie and Ace were waiting for them with Dylan's parents. Mr. and Mrs. Summers both commented on Jesse's new car and wished him a happy birthday. Then the boys took off for home.
Ace, Devon, Zak and Jesse all pulled into the school parking lot at the same time. Spin was with Zak and Mattie was with Jesse. They had all driven their own cars since they had divergent plans after school.
Ace had talked Mattie, Spin, Zak and Dusty into going to the mall in Hollis to see a movie and grab a bite to eat.
Jesse was going to Dylan's for their Friday night sleepover. He had dropped off Kaya at Dylan's on his way to school so that he wouldn't have to run home and get her.
Devon, as far as everyone knew, was staying after school to work on his project. In reality, he and TJ were heading to the ranch so that Devon could do his sketches of TJ with Bullet. Ace would call Devon when they left the restaurant so that they had time to clear out before everyone returned.
The guys all huddled together in the parking lot before heading into school.
'"Hey, Dev, you sure you don't wanna go with us?'" Zak asked.
'"Yeah,'" nodded Mattie. '"You stay after school almost every day. It's not too often we get a chance to go out like this.'"
'"Thanks, guys, but I'm kinda on a deadline for this project so I need to put in the time while I can,'" Devon answered. '"I promise, next time I'll go. Who knows, maybe by then I'll even have a date.'" Spin and Ace both looked at Devon knowingly. Spin didn't say anything; he just stomped off towards the school.
The younger boys headed off after Spin, while Ace and Devon hung back.
'"Dev, this better be over soon, cuz Spin looks like he is gonna blow,'" Ace said.
Devon nodded. '"I know. Let's get through today and then we can figure out a way to get it out there without anyone getting too pissed off.'"
Ace shook his head. '"That may be wishful thinking, you know. I want to be positive for you, but this isn't gonna be easy, not by a long stretch.'"
'"I know, but all I can do is try.'"
'"What happens if it doesn't work? What happens if the guys can't accept TJ?'"
'"I don't know, Ace, I just don't know. I love the guys and the ranch, but I love TJ too. It's like having to decide between my love and my family and I don't know if I can do it.'"
'"Well, like you said, let's get through today and then we'll see what happens.'"
Devon nodded and the two entered the school and headed to their first class.
After school, Zak, Ace, Mattie and Spin met up in the parking lot. Dusty was waiting for them next to Zak's SUV. Danny had dropped him off so that they wouldn't have a third car. The plan was for everyone to spend the night at the ranch so they wouldn't have to worry about dropping anyone off after dinner.
Spin had to wait for Jesse to give him Dylan's homework assignments.
Ace told Mattie, Zak and Dusty to go ahead since there was a store at the mall they wanted to check out. He'd wait and drive himself and Spin over
Spin and Ace waited for Jesse, who appeared to be running behind.
Finally, Jesse came running out of the school.
'"About time!'" Spin hollered when Jesse was close to where they were waiting.
Jesse stopped in front of them. He was out of breath from running. '"S-s-sorry...'" he panted. He took a second to catch his breath. '"Sorry, I had to check with my biology teacher about an assignment and he was running behind.'"
'"No harm, no foul,'" Ace said.
Jesse collected all Dylan's work from Spin and threw it into his car.
Ace and Spin left in Ace's truck and Jesse got in his car and headed to Dylan's.
When they were on their way Ace said, '"Thanks, Spin.'"
'"For not blabbing about Devon and TJ.'"
'"He told you?'"
'"He told me a couple of weeks ago. He said that you had caught him and that he asked you not to say anything yet,'" Ace said. '"I know that's probably been hard for you.'"
Spin nodded. '"I feel like I'm lying, not saying anything. And I might do a lot of things I'm not supposed to, but I am not a liar.'"
'"Spin, no one thinks you are a liar. A friend asked you not to discuss his personal life. At best it's a sin of omission, it's not a lie. The only way it would be a lie would be if someone asked you directly about TJ and Devon and you then lied and Devon would not expect you to do that, none of us would. As long as TJ is not a danger to Devon, then he has a right to his privacy.'"
'"Are you sure he's not a danger?'"
'"No, I'm not. Not in the least. But Devon is. Devon loves him, Spin. There's nothing any of us can do to change that. I've talked to him quite a bit about this. I know it's gonna be fireworks when the shit hits the fan, but Devon's a big boy and sink or swim, he has to make his own decision on this.'"
'"I guess. It's just that I like Devon and I don't want to see him get hurt.'"
'"Neither do I. Devon's always been a good judge of character--maybe he sees something in TJ the rest of us don't.'"
'"I hope so.'"
Ace started laughing. '"Did you really jump TJ?'"
Spin nodded. '"Damn straight, nobody fucks with my friends!!'"
'"'Guess it's a good thing that you haven't started your self-defense training with Josh and Casey yet.'"
'"Yup, cuz then I'm gonna kick ass.'"
Ace shook his head. '"Listen to me carefully, Spin. The stuff they are going to teach you is for defense, not offense. You only use it to protect yourself or others...you don't go looking for trouble.'"
'"Ok, but no one better mess with us.'"
Ace laughed at shook his head. '"Has anyone ever told you that you're incorrigible.'"
Spin grinned. '"More than you could ever imagine.'"
When Jesse got to Dylan's, he let himself in to the house and went upstairs to Dylan's room.
He knocked on the door.
Jesse opened the door.
Dylan was sitting at his desk with Kaya laying at his feet. He was dressed in sweats and a t-shirt.
'"Hey, what are you knocking for?'" Dylan asked.
Jesse walked up behind Dylan and hugged him. '"Just being polite.'"
'"Well, knock it off,'" Dylan laughed. '"You've practically lived here for the last few weekends. You come into the house on your own, so you can certainly come into the bedroom without knocking.'"
'"Ok,'" Jesse laughed. '"You seem to have a bit of energy today.'"
'"I actually feel good for the first time in a long time. I do have some energy.'"
'"That's great. When do you go to the doctor?'"
'"Monday I go and hopefully I'll get back to school by the following Monday.'"
'"Then we need to make sure you are all caught up on your schoolwork.'"
'"Later,'" Dylan said as he stood up to face Jesse. '"I told you I finally have my energy back...'" He giggled.
Dylan wrapped his arms around Jesse's neck and drew him closer.
Dylan kissed and licked at Jesse's neck. His hands traveled from Jesse's waist up his back.
'"They're gone,'" he whispered in Jesse's ear.
'"Who's gone?'" Jesse asked.
'"My parents,'" Dylan said, grinning. '"My mom was picking dad up at work and they are going to dinner and a movie; they won't be back till late.'"
Jesse looked over at the door, as if he was expecting Dylan's parents to come charging through any minute. '"Are you sure?'"
Dylan nodded. ‘Positive.'" Dylan took hold of the hem of Jesse's t-shirt and pulled it over Jesse's head. He looked at Jesse's slim muscular chest and inhaled deeply. He bent down to kiss Jesse's chest.
Before Dylan's tongue could start on his chest, Jesse took Dylan's face gently in his hands and lifted it so they were staring into each other's eyes.
'"Dylan, are you sure?'" Jesse asked.
Dylan knew the meaning of this question. He nodded. '"More sure than I've ever been,'" he gasped. '"Jess, I love you. So much it hurts. I never thought I would ever feel this way after...'" His eyes drifted and then his focus went back to Jesse. '"But, I do. I'm not ready for all of it, but I want to be with you. I know I'm not ...'" His eyes drifted again.
Jesse took Dylan's chin in his hand and moved his head so they were eye to eye again. '"Not what?'" he asked. '"A virgin?'"
Dylan nodded as a few tears came to his eyes.
Jesse pulled Dylan to him. '"Dylan, I know Zak told you this, but maybe hearing it from me will make it more clear. You are a virgin. Just like I am. You were Cody's victim and what he did to you was not love, not sex, not your choice. I want to be with you in the worst way. I love you so much. I thought I was betraying Seb, but I realized that he would want this for me more than anything. All he ever wanted was for me to be happy and I have never been happier than this in my life. But, listen to me. When we finally do this, it's going to be for all the right reasons. It's going to be when we are both in the right place physically and mentally. We are going to give ourselves to each other and it is going to be beautiful. We will lose our virginity together.'"
A few tears fell from Dylan's eyes as he listened to Jesse. '"But, not tonight...'"
Jesse shook his head. '"No, not tonight. If we do this tonight, then it's just physical. You still aren't ready yet. And I don't think I am either.'" He saw the disappointment in Dylan's eyes. '"Dyl, look at me.'" Dylan looked into Jesse's eyes. '"This is about the journey, not the destination. We are going to be together for a long time. When we do this it's not gonna be cuz your parents are out and we have a few hours to ourselves. It's gonna be cuz everything is right and we have all the time we need to explore and love each other.'"
Dylan grabbed Jesse tight. '"I love you,'" he whispered.
'"Me, too,'" Jesse replied as he hugged Dylan back. '"Me, too.'"
Devon pulled into his usual parking spot in front of the ranch house. TJ pulled in alongside him.
Devon led TJ into the house and through the kitchen to the garage/studio.
'"Nice,'" TJ whistled as he looked around. '"You have a really nice setup here.'"
'"It was all Ace,'" Devon said. '"He knew how important this was to me, so his dad let him take over the garage and he did all the clean-up and setup before I got here. Then CJ sent us to Michaels and another art supply shop and told us to get whatever I needed. He was so generous. At first I wondered why, but Ace explained that he and Danny are like that with everyone they think of as family. I was shocked at first--they hadn't even met me and they were calling me family; but that's how everyone here has made me feel. Probably more than my ‘real' family.'"
'"You're lucky then,'" TJ said. '"They are encouraging you to be the best at what you like instead of trying to cram a square peg into a round hole.'"
Devon walked over to TJ and wrapped his arms around him.
'"Have you talked to your parents, yet?'" Devon asked.
'"No.'" TJ shook his head. '"I'm afraid to. Telling my dad I don't want to play football my senior year will piss him off to no end; telling him I'm gay and here's my artist boyfriend...will probably kill him.'" TJ rolled his eyes. '"And my mother will get so over-dramatic and play her ‘Do you know what I went through to have you' act. It's gonna be all about her.'"
'"I'm sorry,'" Devon said. '"It's not like you have to do anything now. But it is your senior year and you only get one, so you should be able to do what you want. If you want to play football, then I will be out there every Saturday night being your personal cheerleader, but if you don't then you shouldn't.'"
'"You make it sound so easy.'"
'"Easy? Very little is ‘easy', but if you want it bad enough then you fight for it. That's why you have friends, ‘real' friends who will support you even when it's not easy.'"
TJ bent down and kissed Devon. '"What did I do to deserve you?'" he asked.
Devon returned the kiss and grinned. '"I ask myself that all the time,'" he laughed.
Devon looked at the garment bag that TJ had brought in with him. '"What did you bring to wear?'" he asked excitedly.
TJ unzipped the bag and showed Devon the two outfits he had asked TJ to bring. One was a full hunter/jumper show outfit and the other was a western ensemble--jeans and button-down western shirt. TJ also had a separate bag that held his tall boots and western boots as well as his helmet.
'"Perfect,'" Devon said excitedly. '"C'mon, let's get you in the more formal stuff first. Then we'll do the western clothes. Bullet is definitely a western horse so he'll be perfect for those pictures, but we need a horse for the English stuff.'"
TJ could see the wheels turning in Devon's head. '"No, Dev.'"
Devon looked at TJ; he was puzzled. '"No, what?'"
'"You can't use that horse.'"
'"What horse?'" Suddenly Devon understood. '"Onyx?'" TJ nodded. '"Oh, don't worry. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind. First of all, Zak and Dusty would kill both of us and second, I'm not going anywhere near that horse without Zak around. He's pretty cool when Zak's here, but when he's not, look out. No, no way would I use him. I was thinking one of the Arabians. Probably, Apollo. He's Zak's too, but he's very mellow and he doesn't have a history with you, so Zak shouldn't freak out completely. Besides you aren't gonna ride him. We'll get you dressed up and then just tack up Apollo and you'll hold him, like you just finished an event.'"
'"Ok, that's sounds good,'" TJ agreed. '"So where do you want me to change?'"
'"You can use my room.'" Devon gave TJ directions to his bedroom and then told him that he should come to the new arena when he was ready.
In the meantime, Devon went to get Apollo tacked up for the modeling session.
Devon was just finishing tacking up Apollo, when he heard a noise behind him. He turned expecting to see TJ. '"About time you...'" He stopped when he saw Jamie standing behind him. '"Hey, Jamie. I thought I was alone in here.'"
'"Hey, Devon,'" Jamie said. '"Everyone else is out. Sarge gave most of the guys the night off, but I told them that I'd take care of the evening feedings in here. Then Erik and I are going to take a couple of horses out on the trail. I told him I'd take care of the feedings and he's getting the horses ready.'"
'"Oh, ok.'" Devon nodded. '"You weren't planning on taking Apollo were you?'"
Jamie shook his head. '"No. We usually use the trail horses, since Erik is still learning. I'm just gonna finish up here real quick and then meet him over at the main barn.'"
'"That's cool,'" Devon said. '"I've just got a friend here who's gonna model for an art project. We're gonna use Apollo and Bullet, but we'll probably be done before you get back.'"
'"Sounds good,'" Jamie said. '"If I don't see you later, have a good evening.'"
'"You, too.'" Devon watched as Jamie walked away. He didn't know what it was but there was something about that guy that bugged him. He knew that Ace wasn't too keen on him either, but most of the guys liked him and as far as they knew he hadn't done anything wrong, so they just left it.
Devon finished getting Apollo ready and led him to the arena. TJ was just getting there. Devon had TJ lead Apollo over to one of the rails and stand to the side of the horse, holding him by the reins.
Devon sketched furiously for about a half hour and had TJ move into several poses. For the English poses, he didn't actually want TJ on the horse, he was just using Apollo as a prop.
When Devon had everything he wanted, he sent TJ back to change and he took Apollo to the barn.
Devon quickly took Apollo's tack off, brushed him down and put him up.
He then went to get Bullet.
He groomed the black horse until his coat shined. He put Bullet's bridle on him, but decided against a saddle.
He led Bullet outside and waited for TJ to return.
The sun was just starting to set. As he waited for TJ he scanned the horizon looking for the light view he wanted. He saw it at the start of one of the trails they often used.
He turned when he heard someone coming. TJ was walking towards him. His breath caught in his throat. He'd had a thing for cowboys as long as he had known Ace. And living in Texas had only fed that desire. But seeing the boy he loved coming towards him all decked out in his ‘cowboy finest' sent the blood rushing through his veins.
TJ stopped in front of Devon. '"What?'" he asked curiously as he looked at Devon.
'"God, you make a hot cowboy,'" Devon declared.
TJ laughed nervously, '"If you say so.'"
'"I do say so,'" Devon said. '"Let's move, or I'm gonna lose the light.'"
Devon led Bullet to the spot he had chosen at the entrance to the trail. There were several pine trees there and you could just see the setting sun glowing through the trees. It looked like the woods were on fire.
He had TJ mount Bullet and ride him around in a circle just to get the horse used to him. Devon decided that with the fading light, he would use the camera to shoot as much as possible and then sketch and draw later from the photographs.
Devon turned from boyfriend into director in the blink of an eye. He had TJ ride Bullet around stopping in different settings and poses. He made TJ remove his shirt at one point so he could get some ‘end of day' and casual shots. That didn't last long since the temperature was plummeting as the sun set.
After thirty furious minutes, Devon finally told TJ he thought he had what he needed.
Devon handed TJ his jacket since it was getting very cold. He dropped his camera in his jacket pocket and reached up. TJ grabbed his hand and Devon swung up behind him.
Devon knew how much TJ had missed riding, so he just enjoyed the time the two of them took riding back to the barn.
Jesse and Dylan lay on Dylan's bed with Kaya lying between them. Both boys had a hand on Kaya's back, their fingers interlaced. They had just finished watching a movie on Dylan's television.
'"Oh.'" Jesse sat up quickly. Both Kaya and Dylan jumped at the unexpected movement. '"I almost forgot. I never showed you the pictures from my birthday dinner.'"
Jesse ran over to his backpack and dug out his phone.
He flipped through the pictures on the phone and found the first one from the dinner. He sat next to Dylan and handed him the phone.
Dylan started flipping through the pictures as Jesse watched over his shoulder.
One of the pictures caught Dylan's attention. He stared at it for a moment and then paled visibly.
Jesse noticed as Dylan paled and then stiffened. '"Dyl, what's wrong?'" he asked.
Dylan handed the phone back to Jesse. '"I need you to e-mail that picture to me,'" he said as he jumped off the bed and ran over to his desk.
'"Jesse, please, just e-mail it to me, as big as it can be,'" Dylan begged.
'"Ok,'" Jesse replied as he did as Dylan asked.
Dylan booted up his computer and pulled up his e-mail. He saw the mail from Jesse. He moved his cursor over the highlighted text and stopped.
Jesse walked over and placed his hands on Dylan's shoulders. He could feel the tension that was taking over Dylan's muscles.
'"Dylan, what's wrong?'" he asked.
Dylan said nothing as he clicked the e-mail open and then opened the picture.
He increased the size of the picture until he could clearly see what he was looking for.
'"Jesse, who is that?'" he asked as the face filled the computer screen.
Jesse looked at the picture. '"That's Jamie,'" he answered. '"Oh, that's right. He started the same week you got sick, so you haven't met him. CJ caught hell from Sarge for hiring him without a background check. But he's a really nice guy. I think he and Erik have a thing going.'"
'"Erik?'" Dylan asked.
'"Yeah, Erik Chen. You might not remember, you met him the first day of the semester. Zak brought him to have lunch with us, but you were pretty out of it.'"
Dylan dug through his foggy memories. He remembered a slight Asian boy that had come to lunch with Zak one day.
Dylan took a deep breath as the fear and dread took hold of him. He reached into his drawer and grabbed his Lorazepam. He fished out a pill and placed it in his mouth and took a swig of water to wash it down.
'"Dylan, you're scaring me,'" Jesse said. '"What is wrong?'"
Dylan turned to Jesse with tears in his eyes. '"That boy in the picture...his name is not ‘Jamie'...it's Cody...he's the boy who raped me.'"