Mattie and Jesse were settling into their third period biology class. They were lab partners and shared a bench in the back of the room.
"Hey, Matt, Spin shown up yet?" Jesse asked with a grin.
Mattie rolled his eyes. "Not that I know of. He was supposed to be here by the middle of second period, but so far I haven't heard from him. You know him--he's probably taking his time and milking this for as much as he can get."
"He wouldn't skip, would he?"
Mattie shook his head. "Oh, no, his parents would kill him. It would be like him to wait till lunch to get here though."
Mattie pulled out his phone. Students were not supposed to have phones on them, but most ignored that rule, silencing them and checking them when teachers were not paying attention.
"That's funny," Mattie said as he checked his texts.
"I got a text from CJ; he says they need all of us to go to the ranch at lunch. He says he's already called the office and we are all excused."
"All of us?"
"That's what it says--you, me, Zak, Ace and Devon."
"What about Dyl and Spin?"
"Well, their parents would have to call them in, I think."
Jesse nodded. He pulled out his phone. "I have the same message from Danny. I wonder what's going on."
"No clue, but we'll know after our next class." Just then their teacher entered the room. She was the same science teacher that was giving Devon such a hard time in Chemistry class. Most of the students disliked her, but she seemed to make proving that Devon cheated in her class a personal mission.
"Mr. Alvarez, Mr. Osterman, please pay attention!!" she said from the front of the classroom. "Do I need to separate you two?!"
Mattie and Jesse looked at each other; they were not making any more commotion than any other student in the room, so why was she suddenly singling them out?
A couple of the other students in class shot them dirty looks, which neither of them understood. She started her lecture and Mattie and Jesse began taking notes.
"Would Dylan Summers please report to the office?" came an announcement over the PA system.
Mattie and Jesse looked at each other. Jesse just shook his head. He couldn't fathom why Dylan would be called to the office.
A few minutes later, they heard, "Would Erik Chen please report to the office?"
"What's going on?" Mattie scribbled in his note book. Jesse read it and shook his head.
About fifteen minutes later, the sound of sirens could be heard coming from very near the school.
Everyone looked up as the sirens got closer.
"Everyone, settle down," the teacher said as she tried to maintain control of the class.
Mattie looked out the window to his side; he tapped Jesse on the arm and nodded towards the window.
They could see several people on the football field, some were standing and a few were kneeling over something he couldn't see.
By this time, all of the students who were on that side of the room were paying more attention to the scene on the field than their teacher.
The teacher eventually gave up trying to conduct her class and was standing by the window observing the action as well.
An ambulance and a police car drove up to the side of the field. There was a fire truck off in the corner. The paramedics jumped out of the ambulance and knelt down next to whatever was on the ground.
"Someone must have gotten hurt in PE," Jesse said to Mattie.
"Then why would the police be here?" Mattie asked.
Jesse shook his head. "I don't know."
They continued to watch the action from the window. The paramedics were busy working on the person laying on the field and the police were talking to several teachers and the principal.
They watched as the paramedics, with help from two firefighters, carefully placed the person on a backboard and strapped him down. As the firefighters stepped away, Jesse and Mattie could see the victim on the backboard. It was too far away to see the person's face, but Mattie immediately saw the shock of red hair.
"Oh, my God!!" Mattie shouted. "That's Spin!!"
Mattie and Jesse both ran from room. The teacher called after them threatening them with detention, but they ignored her shouts.
They ran down the hallway and flew down the stairs. As they rounded the corner, they almost ran right into Zak and Ace.
"What's going on?" Jesse asked breathlessly.
"We were coming to get you guys," Zak said. "I guess you know."
"The ambulance is here for Spin," Ace said. "I was in the office running an errand for my English teacher, and I heard the secretary calling his parents on the phone."
"What happened?" Mattie asked.
"We don't know," Zak answered. "No one will tell us anything. We wanted to get to you before you heard from someone else, Mattie." He wrapped his arm around Mattie. "C'mon, let's go see if we can find something out," he said as he led Mattie down the hallway.
Jesse stood next to Ace. "Did you see Dylan down there?" he asked.
Ace shook his head. "No, I heard them call him and Erik down but that was before I got sent down there. I didn't see either one."
"Did you get a text from your dad or CJ or Danny?"
"Yep, at the beginning of my last class. My dad said we were all excused at lunch and we needed to get to the ranch ASAP. He also said for me to keep an eye on all you guys."
"What the hell is going on?"
Ace wrapped his arm around Jesse's shoulder. "Let's go to the office and see if we can track down Dylan or Erik."
They walked to the office and went in. Ace asked the secretary if Dylan or Erik were there.
"Mr. Chen was excused for the day; his mother came to get him," she answered. "I don't know where Mr. Summers is."
Jesse was getting more and more frustrated.
They heard the office door open and looked up to see Mrs. O'Brien coming in as well as Danny, CJ and Sarge.
"Ace, Jesse, are you boys ok?" Sarge asked.
"We're ok, just confused," Ace answered. "What's goin' on here?"
"Where is my son?" Mrs. O'Brien asked the secretary.
"Ma'am, last I heard the paramedics were getting ready to transport him to the hospital," the secretary answered.
Just then, they heard the sirens start up again.
Mattie and Zak walked into the office.
Mattie had tears streaming down his face; he ran to CJ and hugged his brother tight as he cried. CJ held him and looked at Zak.
"It's bad," Zak said. "We couldn't get too close to where he was, but one of the policemen asked us if we knew Spin; when we said we did he asked us some questions about him and wanted to know why someone might attack him."
"Attack him?" Mrs. O'Brien asked.
"Yes, Ma'am," Zak nodded. "It looks like someone jumped him, put a sack or a bag over his head and beat the hell out of him. The paramedics are sure he has a couple cracked ribs; they also think there might be some internal bleeding. And before whoever did this ran, they also stabbed him in the side. He's lost a lot of blood."
"Oh, my God!!" Mrs. O'Brien cried. "Who would do this to him!?"
The door to the office opened again and this time Zak's mother, Kate, came in.
"Zak, are you ok?" she asked.
Zak nodded. "I'm ok, mom, what are you doing here?"
"The principal called me, since I'm the president of the school board and when he told me what had happened I left work to make sure you were all ok."
Zak and Danny caught her up on Spin's status.
"Then, he's already on his way to the hospital?" Kate asked.
Kate walked over to Spin's mother. "Ginny, why don't I give you a ride to the hospital--you're in no shape to drive."
"Thank you, Kate."
"Let me just check in with CJ and then we'll head out."
Kate pulled CJ and Danny aside. "Do you boys think this has anything to do with that idiotic story on Channel 13 this morning?"
"I think it's too big a coincidence not to," CJ answered.
Danny nodded. "Someone probably saw the story, which basically outed most of the boys. Then they saw Spin and saw an opportunity."
"Ok, you need to get all the boys out of here until we can get to the bottom of this. They're all targets right now, even Ace; he'll be ‘guilty' by association," Kate said furiously.
"We can get Ace, Devon, Zak, Jesse and Mattie, but Dylan, Erik and TJ would need their parents' permission," Danny said.
Ace overheard them. "We don't even know where Dylan is," he said. "He and Erik were called to the office during the last period. I guess Erik's mom had him dismissed, but no one knows where Dylan is."
"I'll find out. Bob, can I talk to you?" Kate said as she saw the principal, Mr. Grant, walk into the office. She grabbed his arm and pulled him into his office and closed the door.
"WHAT!?!?" everyone heard her yell from behind the door.
They continued to hear raised voices for a few minutes and then Kate came storming out of the office.
"He'll be here in a minute," she said, her face red and her voice barely containing her rage. She walked over to CJ and Danny. "I spoke to Colleen; Dylan's leaving here with you guys."
"Where is he?" Danny asked.
"Apparently a ‘concerned' guidance counselor had him pulled out of class and has Dylan sequestered in his office. Bob wasn't even aware of it; he was dealing with some other issues when he was called about Spin. The guidance counselor had Dylan called in."
"He saw the story on TV," Kate seethed. "He apparently thought that Dylan was being victimized and has been questioning him." "Without a parent or guardian present?" CJ asked.
Kate nodded. "Yes, in violation of every school policy. He should have contacted Dylan's parents or at the very least had a second faculty member in there."
The office door opened and Dylan walked in. He was pale and his eyes were red-rimmed under his glasses. When he saw Jesse he ran to him and wrapped his arms around his boyfriend. Jesse held him tight.
"What happened?" Jesse asked quietly.
"Everyone knows," Dylan whispered.
Danny came over and put his arm over Dylan's shoulder. "C'mon, guys, we're taking you all home." He looked over at Sarge. "Can you and Ace get Devon?" he asked.
Sarge nodded. "They've sent someone to get him."
Mattie looked at CJ. "I want to go to the hospital," he said.
"I know Mattie, but first we need to go home; there's some stuff we need to tell you guys and we can't do it here. Kate's going to take Spin's mom to the hospital and she'll call us if there is any change."
Kate hugged Mattie. "I will call you as soon as we know anything, ok, Mattie?"
Mattie hugged her back and nodded.
Since most of the boys had their own cars, there was a caravan heading back to the ranch. Danny was driving his truck and CJ was driving Mattie's car; Dylan went with Jesse and Ace was with Zak. TJ had told his parents he had to be excused from classes and they had called the office to give their permission; he was following Devon in his car.
When they got to the ranch, everyone drove straight to the compound. Dusty and Diego were waiting outside the house.
When everyone was out of their cars, CJ said, "Guys, let's go in the house so we can talk."
He led the boys into the dining room and everyone took seats around the table. Bridget had laid out several platters of sandwiches, and bowls of chips and pretzels. She brought out a few bottles of soda and there were glasses at every place.
After everyone had filled their plates, CJ started, "Ok, for anyone who doesn't know, Spin was attacked this morning at school. The Coach found him; he had been beaten pretty badly and stabbed. He's at the hospital now and Kate will call us when she knows something."
"Do they know who did it?" Devon asked.
"No, the police are just starting their investigation, but Spin hasn't gained consciousness and it looks like they put a bag or a sack over his head," Danny answered.
"Why?" Mattie asked his eyes filled with tears. "Why would someone do this to Spin?"
"And why were you guys texting us earlier?" Ace asked. "We got those before we knew about Spin."
"We were afraid something like this might happen and we wanted to get all you boys together to warn you," Sarge said.
"Warn us about what?" Zak asked.
"There was a story on Channel 13 this morning," CJ started. "It should have been about the ‘Grand Re-opening' and the rescue, but instead the reporter made it sound like Danny and I were luring young boys here for salacious reasons."
"Wait, they think you're molesting us?" Jesse asked.
Danny nodded. "The gist of the story was that two young gay men had bought a popular area business and were expanding and refurbishing it as a lure for troubled and confused young boys."
"That's bullshit!!" Dusty spit.
"We all know that, but there's more," Danny said. "They also made it sound like we had been sheltering Cody here and they publically announced what had happened to Dylan, along with showing a picture of him."
Dylan hung his head as tears fell. Jesse wrapped his arms around him. "Is that why that guidance counselor called you in?" Jesse asked.
Dylan nodded. He raised his head and looked around the table. "I got called to the office and couldn't figure out why. When I got there, the Guidance Counselor was waiting for me; he said I had to come to his office. He kept telling me he knew what had happened to me and he knew I was being abused by CJ and Danny. I kept telling him that no one had known about Cody at the ranch and that Danny and CJ had never been anything but friends to any of us, but he kept telling me I was being brainwashed by them and that I was lying for them. No matter what I said he wouldn't stop. He told me that if I didn't tell the truth he would contact Child Services and have me taken from my parents." Dylan sobbed as he told his story.
Danny got up and walked behind Dylan and wrapped his arms around him. "It's ok, Dyl. What that counselor did was wrong and a violation of school policy; if he suspected something, he should have contacted child protective services and your parents. He had no right to question you without an advocate there for you. Kate's going to take care of him."
Dylan continued to sob uncontrollably. Jesse was worried; he looked at Danny who nodded. The two helped Dylan stand up and led him upstairs to Jesse's room.
After Danny, Jesse and Dylan had left, CJ said, "We can only assume that the attack on Spin had something to do with this story."
"What are we going to do?" Zak asked.
"Fight fire, with fire," CJ answered. "First, you guys have been excused from classes for the rest of the week. Your assignments will be forwarded to the office and we'll send one of the guards to pick them up. Next, tomorrow afternoon, we have a reporter from Channel 9 and a camera crew coming to interview us, all of us, as well as a reporter and photographer from The Gazette. We've agreed that they can interview all of us together and one-on-one. You guys can tell them anything you want, since Danny and I know we've done nothing wrong, we have nothing to hide. Next, my lawyers are looking into what actions we can take against that station. We're looking at libel and slander charges, but there's also the fact that they revealed privileged information about a minor and put him in danger."
"I cannot believe that someone in a position like that would purposely lie and reveal private information," Diego said.
"Welcome to America," CJ sighed. "Freedom of the press is used to cover a multitude of sins, but there are limits. That station is owned by a corporation that is known for their right-wing viewpoints and they are very anti-gay, so I'm sure as soon as they found out the ranch was owned by a gay couple they set out to make that work for their agenda."
"What about Erik?" Zak asked. "His mom came and got him from school--you don't think she saw that story and believed it do you?"
"They're really overprotective," Dusty said. "So if they saw the story that would give them enough reason to put him back into ‘protective custody'."
"Well, if his parents are being protective, at least we know he's safe," CJ said. "Danny and I can talk to his parents once we get all this settled. Brandon's, too, since he's new here. I don't know his parents well enough to know what they'll think or believe. For now, I want everyone to stay close to the compound. If you want to ride or anything, stick to the rings and arena. Please make sure you are at least in pairs and make sure you have your panic buttons on you. All of the guards are on alert and everyone should know where the safe rooms are and how to access them."
Everyone nodded their agreement.
Danny came back into the dining room.
"How's Dylan?" Zak asked.
"He's sleeping," Danny answered. "Jesse and I got him to take the meds he has for the panic attacks. It finally calmed him down and he fell asleep and Jesse's gonna stay with him."
"I am sorry, I do not wish to be nosy, but what happened to Dylan?" Diego asked.
Zak looked at Danny who nodded. Zak got up and went over to Diego. "Why don't you come upstairs with me and Dusty and we'll tell you."
Dusty, Diego and Zak left to go upstairs.
Sarge looked at Ace, Devon and TJ. "Why don't you boys come down to the ranch house with me?" he said. "TJ, how do you want to handle your parents?"
"Well, they're gonna know something is up," TJ said. "I told them there was an emergency and I had to leave school--they may actually care enough to ask me about it when I get home. If they do, I'll handle it."
"Are you sure?" CJ asked.
TJ nodded. "I have to tell them sooner or later."
"Just know if anything goes wrong, you have a place here," Danny said.
TJ looked between Danny and CJ in surprise. "Really??" he asked.
"Of course," CJ said. "No one should be forced to come out, that's something that you should only do when you are ready. If this situation forces your hand, then we are not going to abandon you."
"Wow, I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything," CJ said. "In spite of what that reporter thinks, we take care of our own and you are one of us."
Once everyone had dispersed to their rooms or to the barn, CJ took Mattie to the hospital.
Kate texted them to let them know where she and Spin's mother were; CJ and Mattie found them seated together in a waiting room.
"How is he?" Mattie asked anxiously.
"He just came out of surgery," Mrs. O'Brien said. "He has three cracked ribs, and there was some internal bleeding that they managed to stop. He lost a lot of blood when he was stabbed--they think he was probably laying out there for a half an hour or so before he was found. The doctor said they would have him in recovery in about a half hour."
"Is he going to be ok?"
"Yes, Mattie; the doctor says he was lucky, the knife missed his vital organs and he was found before he lost too much blood. He'll be here for a few days, and it will be a while before he's on a horse, but he's going to be fine."
Mattie slumped down into a chair next to Mrs. O'Brien. Tears flowed down his face. "When can I see him?" he asked.
"It will be a while," Mrs. O'Brien explained. "He's going to be in recovery for a couple hours and then he'll be moved to a regular room. Why don't you guys head home and I'll call you when he's able to have visitors? I'll make sure that the nurses know that you are allowed to see him anytime."
Mattie started to object, but CJ interjected, "That's a good idea, Mattie. If you sit around here, you're just gonna be miserable; back at the ranch at least there are things to keep you busy."
"Ok," Mattie said as he stood up. He leaned over and hugged Spin's mother and then Kate. "I'll be back as soon as I can see him," he said.
Diego lay on his bed with his eyes closed.
Zak and Dusty had told him about what happened to Dylan. He was enraged that someone could take advantage of anyone in that manner, but the fact that it was someone as nice and kind as Dylan made him even angrier.
What also upset him was that Dylan had suffered even more because of his father's actions.
There was a knock at the door.
The door opened a little bit and a small head poked into the room.
"Hey, Diego," Brandon said as he came into the room and shut the door behind him. "What are you doing in here? I thought you'd be in the barn waiting for me."
Diego sat up on his bed. "I did not think you would be coming today."
"Did your parents not see that news story on the television?"
Brandon rolled his eyes. "Oh, that. They didn't see it, but they heard about it. Some guy my mom works with told her about it and told her that I was going to be victimized by CJ and Danny. She and my dad hate that station and told that guy he didn't know what he was talking about. She told him that this was a great place and that she would let me come here anytime I wanted and she said the same thing to me. I had to have her come and give me a lift out here since everyone left early."
"Your parents really think that way?"
"Sure. They know I love it here and that you've been showing me a lot of cool stuff and they know that I trust you and Danny and CJ and everyone else here. They trust me when I tell them about people."
"I am glad that they have not made you stop coming here," Diego said. "I fear that Erik's parents may not have the same reaction." "Why do you think that?"
"Erik's mother came and took him out of school this morning."
"He had a doctor's appointment this afternoon."
"How do you know?"
"He told me on Saturday at the party. We got to talking and I told him I'd see him at lunch today and he told me he was leaving early for an appointment."
"So his mother did not take him out of school because of the news?"
Brandon shook his head. "No. In fact I saw him between periods this morning and his mom had seen it and started to believe it and Erik set her straight. He told her that he was coming to the ranch and that he felt more comfortable here than anyplace."
Diego jumped off the bed and grabbed Brandon's hand. "Come with me," he said as he dragged Brandon from the room.
Diego let go of Brandon's hand as they ran down the stairs and out the front door. Both boys ran to the barn. They stopped at the barn door and walked in so they didn't spook any of the horses. They found Zak, Dusty and Danny in the tack room.
"Diego, what are you grinning at?" Dusty asked.
"I have some good news, my friends," Diego said.
"Well, we could sure use some of that," Danny said looking up from the saddle he was polishing.
"Tell them, Brandon," Diego requested.
Brandon grinned. "Diego said you guys thought that Erik's mom pulled him outta school cuz of that idiotic story on the news."
"Right," Zak replied.
"Wrong. He had a doctor's appointment; his mom came to get him for that."
"How do you know that?" Dusty asked.
"He told me on Saturday when I said I'd see him at lunch."
"So his mom wasn't being overprotective," Danny said.
Well, she did see the news story and was going to try to keep him from coming here and he told her that the story was bull and no one here ever tried anything with him, well except that Cody guy. He told her that you guys made him feel more included than he ever had and that he wouldn't stop coming here."
"Well, that is good news." Dusty grinned. "Thanks, Brandon. I'm glad Erik stood up for himself; I know he really likes coming here and he's done some great work with Rain."
"What about your parents, Brandon?" Danny asked.
"Mine don't believe a thing that's said on that station," Brandon laughed. "My parents are happy that I love it here and that Diego is teaching me so much and that I've made so many new friends. They trust me and I told them that there is no way anyone here would do anything to hurt me."
"Well, maybe the truth will help us through this," Danny said.
Dusty and Zak drove Mattie back to the hospital after Spin's mother called to tell them he was in a room. Mattie wanted to drive himself, but CJ felt he was too emotional to drive safely.
Mattie poked his head into the room and Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien came out to see them.
"How is he?" Mattie asked anxiously.
"He's still out," Mr. O'Brien said. "The doctors don't think he'll wake up until the morning. They have him on some strong pain medication, so he's comfortable, but that's probably also keeping him under."
"Is it ok if we see him?"
"Of course, Mattie," Mrs. O'Brien said. "There's no face he'd rather see when he wakes up than yours."
"We're going to go down to the cafeteria to get some food; you boys stay as long as you'd like," Mr. O'Brien said.
Mrs. O'Brien hugged all three boys before she followed Mr. O'Brien down the corridor.
Zak and Dusty both put a hand on Mattie's shoulder as he took the doorknob in his hand. Mattie took a deep breath and walked into the room.
Tears came to Mattie's eyes as he saw Spin lying on the hospital bed. He was hooked up to all sorts of wires and tubes and machines were buzzing and beeping. There was a small tube under his nose and an IV tube on the back of his hand.
Mattie started shaking. Dusty grabbed him and pulled him out of the room.
"Matt, you have to get a hold of yourself," Dusty said as he hugged Mattie. "Spin can hear you and you want to be as positive and upbeat as you can."
"But how could someone do that to him?" Mattie moaned. "He's never hurt anyone. He didn't deserve this."
"Mattie, no one deserves this," Zak said as he stood beside Mattie and Dusty. "Spin's my best friend and it hurts me like hell to see him like that. I can only imagine how you feel, but we need to be positive for him. The cops will find who did this."
"They better," Mattie said, the bile in his voice apparent. "If they can't, I'll find them myself and I'll hurt them in ways they never imagined."
Zak placed his hand on Mattie's back. "Mattie, I know you hurt and you're angry, but you have to be strong and be better than the person who did this to Spin. You're the best of us, you're the peacemaker, the guy who knows how to fight, but never does. If you become something you're not because of this, then the bad guys win."
"I know, but it's Spin."
Dusty released Mattie and took Mattie's face in his hands. "Mattie, look at me." Mattie's eyes met Dusty's. "You're going to be strong for Spin the way he was strong for you in Spain. We're all here for you both like we always are, but he's going to look to you, he's going to get his strength and his willpower from you. Can you do this?"
Mattie wiped his eyes and nodded. "I'm sorry guys. I love him and I can't stand to see him like that."
"We understand; we'd all feel the same way," Zak said quietly. "I feel helpless seeing Spin like that; I can't imagine what I would feel if it was Dusty in there."
Mattie hugged his friends tight. "Thanks." He brushed his sleeve across his face one last time. "I'm going to go in alone, ok?"
Dusty and Zak nodded.
"We'll be right here if you need us," Dusty said as they watched Mattie walk back into the room.
Mattie looked at Spin and felt the tears start again. He couldn't stop them. Seeing his love, the boy who was always so full of life and mischief lying so still was almost more than he could take. He steeled himself and walked over to the bed.
He reached down and took Spin's hand in both of his. It was warm and still.
He just stood there and held Spin's hand. He didn't want to speak until he knew he could control his voice. The tears began to stop.
He took a deep breath and spoke.
"Hey, Spin," he said quietly. "It's me, Mattie. I hope you can hear me. I'm really sorry this happened to you. But, we're gonna get you through this. Me, Zak, Dusty and everyone else, we're all here for you. I guess I should probably be enjoying the peace and quiet." Mattie took another deep breath; he felt the tears well up again and when he tried to speak there was a hitch in his voice. "I love you," he whispered almost inaudibly.
He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer. He felt a pressure on his fingers. He opened his eyes and saw Spin's eyes flutter open.
"Spin, can you hear me?" Mattie said quietly.
"Hey, Mattie..." Spin whispered, his voice hoarse.
Mattie leaned down and kissed Spin. "Hold on," he said as he ran to the door. He pulled the door open and stuck his head out. He looked around and saw Dusty and Zak standing in the corridor. "Dusty! Get a nurse, he's awake! Zak! Go get his parents!" Dusty and Zak grinned at Mattie and each took off in different directions.
Mattie went back into the room.
Spin's eyes were closed again. Mattie picked up Spin's hand and squeezed it. Spin squeezed his back.
"Are you still awake?" Mattie whispered.
"Yeah, I'm just so tired," Spin said slowly.
"That's ok, you're going to be really sleepy."
"Where am I?"
"You're in the hospital."
Spin's eyes opened. "Why am I in the hospital?"
"You had an accident," Mattie said cautiously. "Do you remember anything?"
"I was coming from the dentist and decided to cut across the football field," Spin said quietly. "I heard a noise or something behind me. Then I'm lying here talking to you. What happened to me?"
"Spin, I want to relax and rest. Dusty and Zak went to get the doctor and your mom and dad--they'll explain everything to you."
"No, tell me what happened, Matt," Spin said "Tell me now!!"
Mattie was worried that Spin was becoming agitated. "Ok, I'll tell you, but you have to calm down. Alright?"
Spin nodded slowly and his eyes closed again.
Mattie took a deep breath and let it out. "We don't know all the details, but it looks like someone jumped you on the football field. They beat you up pretty good. You have some cracked ribs and there was some internal bleeding. You had surgery earlier today."
"My side hurts." Mattie felt the tears start again. "Yeah, they stabbed you too," he said. "The doctor said they didn't get any major organs, but you lost a lot of blood before the coach found you."
"Why?" Spin whispered.
"We don't know," Mattie said. He hated lying to Spin, but he didn't want to upset him more. He leaned down and gently hugged Spin. "But, you're going to fine. We're all here for you and we love you."
The door opened and Dusty came in followed by a nurse.
"Well, Mr. O'Brien, I see you're back with us," the nurse said cheerfully. "The doctor didn't think you'd wake up until tomorrow, so your friends must have worked some magic on you." She smiled at Mattie, who was still holding Spin's hand.
The nurse went to the opposite side of the bed. She had a tablet in her hand and was recording Spin's vital signs. "Everything looks good as far as your heart and your blood pressure. How do you feel?"
"Tired," Spin said quietly.
The nurse grinned. "That's to be expected," she explained. "You are getting some heavy duty pain meds in your IV and those are going to keep you drowsy for a few days." She looked at Mattie. "I'm going to get him some ice chips," she said. "You can give him some--I'm sure his throat is rather dry. Once the doctor examines him then we'll know if he can have fluids." She took the pitcher off the nightstand and left the room.
The door opened and Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien came in followed by Zak and the nurse. The nurse handed the pitcher to Mattie. Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien went to the opposite side of the bed from Mattie.
Mrs. O'Brien was crying. "Hey, Sweetie," she said quietly, as she kissed his cheek.
"Mom," Spin whined. "Don't call me that."
"Sorry, Spin, but you have us a bit of scare," his father said.
"I know, Mattie told me." Everyone looked at Mattie who looked at his feet. "Don't get mad at him, I made him tell me," he said around the ice chips Mattie was giving him. "I don't remember much about it."
"That's the trauma, son," his father explained. "Your memory may come back in a few days or it may not, but as long you are here with us, that's all we care about."
Just then the doctor came in.
"Well, Mr. O'Brien, you seem to be pretty popular tonight," he said. "Do you folks mind clearing the room for a few minutes so that I can examine him? I'll let you know as soon as I'm done."
Mattie, Zak, Dusty and Mr. And Mrs. O'Brien all exited the room.
Mattie looked at Spin's parents. "I'm sorry," he said.
"For what, Mattie?" Mr. O'Brien asked.
"For telling him what happened. I didn't want to, but he was getting upset."
Mrs. O'Brien walked over and hugged Mattie tight. "Mattie, I know my son better than just about anyone and I know how stubborn he is. You didn't do anything wrong. In fact, it was probably you being there that woke him up in the first place."
"Of course; he loves you, Mattie. When you and Spin first told us you were together, we were worried because you're both so young and we didn't want either of you to get hurt, but watching you together we know how much you both love each other and how committed you are. You're like a second son to us and we love you so much," Mrs. O'Brien said as she hugged Mattie again. She turned and hugged Zak and Dusty. "And you boys, we love you all, you've done so much for Spin and made him feel like he belongs, we can't thank you enough for that."
"He does belong, he's family," Zak said as Dusty nodded his agreement.
"Did you tell him why he was attacked?" Mr. O'Brien asked.
Mattie shook his head. "I told him we didn't know. I didn't want to lie to him, but I thought it might be too much."
"You're right," Mr. O'Brien said. "We can tell him later. Hopefully, he'll sleep most of the next few days and won't see anything on TV."
The doctor came out of Spin's room and walked up to them.
"How is he?" Mattie asked anxiously.
"He's fallen back to sleep, which is to be expected. Given the pain medication he's on and the trauma he's suffered, rest is the best thing for him," the doctor explained. "But, I don't foresee any complications, he should make a full recovery. Right now, he seems to be concerned that he can't remember what happened to him. I tried to explain that sometimes memory loss is our mind's way of protecting us. His memory will probably come back when his subconscious thinks he can handle it. He didn't suffer any head injury, so there's no reason he shouldn't remember in the fullness of time."
"How long until he can come home?" Mrs. O'Brien asked.
"At this point, probably three or four days," the doctor answered. "We want to watch for possible infection and keep him on the IV for a few days."
"Can I go back in?" Mattie asked.
"You can, but he will probably not wake up again until the morning. I'm going to have the nurses check on him every hour just to make sure he's not in any pain or discomfort."
"Thank you, Doctor," Mr. O'Brien said as Mattie went into Spin's room followed by Zak and Dusty.
Mattie picked up Spin's hand and held it. Dusty stepped behind him and placed his hand on Mattie's shoulder.
"Mattie, he's going to be ok," Dusty reassured Mattie.
"I know," Mattie whispered. "I can't help thinking what would have happened if I lost him."
"You didn't, though. He's gonna be fine."
TJ stood outside his father's study. His parents were arguing again. It seemed to be getting worse over the last few months.
He would have liked to have waited for a better time, but he knew if he waited until his father was in a receptive mood, he would never come out.
He walked into the study. His father was sitting his old leather recliner and his mother was pacing the floor. His father held a half-full tumbler of scotch in one hand and a cigar in the other. TJ wondered how many times that glass had been filled tonight.
"Dad. Mom," TJ said.
Both parents looked up.
"TJ, finally you're home," his mother said. "We were starting to worry about you."
TJ knew that his mother might worry about his lateness, but his father never did.
"Can I talk to you both?" TJ asked.
"Of course, dear." His mother smiled at him. "You can talk to us anytime."
His father just glared at him and nodded his head as he sipped the amber liquid from his glass.
"I don't know if you saw it, but there was a news story today about the old Triple J Ranch. The guys who bought it re-opened it this weekend and re-named it ‘Second Chances'. They've started a rescue for abused horses and they are doing some great work."
"That's wonderful, dear," his mother said.
"It is, but the news story today made it sound like CJ and Danny, the owners, were using the ranch to lure young boys to the ranch so they could molest and abuse them or try to turn them gay." "Why would anyone make such a charge?" his mother asked.
"Probably because a concerned citizen spoke to that reporter," Mr. Oliver said as he puffed on his cigar.
TJ stared at his father. "Dad, you didn't have anything to do with that story did you?"
"I certainly did," his father answered. "You've been spending far too much time at that place. It's an unhealthy environment for a strong young man like you. Those people are running a safe haven for homosexuals and they are confusing young boys."
"No, Dad, they aren't confusing anyone. They are creating a safe place where kids can go and be themselves. They don't judge and they don't care if the kids there are gay, straight or confused. They are just trying to make everyone feel safe."
"You should feel safe in your home," his father said glaring at TJ.
"Yes, I should," TJ said glaring back. "But, I don't. You always want me to be exactly like my brothers, play sports, be the big man on campus, but you've never cared about what I wanted."
"You're too young to know what you want."
"No!! I'm not!!" TJ raged. "I want to be a photographer, maybe a teacher or a coach, so I can help kids see that sportsmanship and fair play are more important than just winning all the time. I want to spend time with my friends at the ranch and I want to be with Devon."
"Devon?" his mother asked. "Who's that?"
"Devon is my boyfriend," TJ said. "I'm gay and I'm in love with him."
His father stood up and stared at him, his face turning red. "You most certainly are not gay." He turned to his wife. "Do you see what consorting with those people has done to him? What your coddling of him has made him? Now he thinks he's a homosexual."
"No, Dad. I don't ‘think' I'm a homosexual, I am a homosexual and I always have been. I've just been afraid to say anything. I've hidden it and I've been so full of self-hatred that I've taken my anger out on others; then I met Devon and he is so open, so honest, so sure of himself. He helped me to understand that I can accept who I am and that I deserve to be loved."
"I can't listen to anymore of this," his father said as he paced the room. "Go to your room. We'll discuss this in the morning, when you are more reasonable."
"When I'm more reasonable?" TJ laughed. "I'm completely reasonable right now, you're the one who is slandering two of the best people I've ever met. Do you know that because of that story, a boy was beaten and stabbed at school and almost died? Did you?"
"If he was one of those people then he got what he deserved."
"Warren!!" Mrs. Oliver shouted. "I won't listen to this anymore. TJ is here telling us something important and you are ranting like a madman. You should be ashamed of yourself."
"Are you crazy?!" Mr. Oliver raged. "Look what those people are doing, look what they've done to our son, they've turned him from a strong, sports-minded young man, into a FAG!!"
Mrs. Oliver stormed over to her husband and slapped him across the face. "Enough!! I've put up with you and the way you do things for too many years. I'm not going to let you run TJ's life the way you run his brothers'." She walked over to TJ and took his hand. "Come on, TJ, we're leaving," she said as she led TJ out of the study.
"If you leave, don't plan to come back!" Mr. Oliver ranted from his study.
"Exactly my plan, dear," Mrs. Oliver replied as she and TJ walked out of the house.