"Ok, I gotta try that," Dylan said as he watched Jesse riding Macho around the indoor arena.
After Jesse had introduced Dylan to the little Paso Fino, they had groomed and tacked him and Jesse had been showing Dylan what the gelding could do.
Jesse rode over to where Dylan was waiting and slipped off Macho's back and handed the reins to Dylan.
Dylan popped up on the little horse and listened carefully to Jesse's instructions.
With Jesse's coaching, Dylan moved the Paso through his gaits.
A young man of about seventeen came up and stood next to Jesse. "He looks pretty good," the boy said.
Jesse turned to look at the newcomer. He was about six feet tall; he had medium-length brown hair and dark brown eyes. The boy was very tan and he smiled broadly at Jesse showing sparkling white teeth.
"You must be Jesse," the boy said offering his hand. "I'm Kyle; Abigail told me you were coming today."
"Yep, I'm Jesse and that's Dylan," he replied. "Are you the guy who's been working with Macho?"
Kyle nodded. "Yes, I moved to Ocala a few months ago and came here looking for work and riding time. I've been helping out with a few of the horses, but I spend most of my time with Macho."
"I can understand that; he was one of my favorites when I was living here and I know Danny and CJ love him too."
"He seems to be everyone's favorite."
"Abigail said you wouldn't be here today, that was why she let us take him out."
"I wasn't supposed to be, but it's rare for guys my age to be here--usually it's just girls and older people--so I was curious and Abigail talks about you and Danny and CJ so much I had to meet you guys."
"Abigail just likes to adopt all of us ‘strays'."
Kyle laughed and nodded. "Don't I know it. I moved here with my mom from Clermont; she and my dad just divorced and she is working all the time. I needed to find a job, but wanted to make sure I was working with horses and Abigail took me in right away."
"Have you been riding long?"
"All my life. My dad was raised in Wyoming and he started me riding before I could walk. After he left us, I didn't think I would get much of a chance to keep riding, but finding Abigail changed that."
Dylan rode over and slipped off Macho.
"He's cool," he said excitedly. "He probably goes better for someone who's actually used to those gaits."
"You were doing pretty good," Kyle said. "Especially, if you've never ridden a Paso before."
"Dylan, this is Kyle," Jesse said. "He's the guy who's been riding Macho for Abigail."
Dylan offered his hand to Kyle. "Nice to meet you."
"You, too," Kyle replied. "Do you mind if I take him around?"
"Not at all," Dylan said handing the reins to Kyle. "I know Jesse's ridden him before, but we are both English riders at heart, so I'm curious to see what he can really do."
Kyle sprang up on Macho and spent the next twenty minutes putting him through his paces. When he finished he rode over to where Dylan and Jesse waited.
"That was great!" Dylan exclaimed.
"It sure was," Jesse agreed. "I can do most of the gaits, but you make it look so effortless."
"Thanks," Kyle replied was he dismounted. "He's a great horse. I've been riding gaited horses most of my life, so it comes natural. I've never done anything English, so I'm sure you guys could ride rings around me there."
"Yeah, but like you, that's what we've spent all of our lives doing," Jesse said. "I was riding before I could walk, too. But then again, I grew up in Wellington."
Kyle grinned. "Show Jumping Capital of the World."
Jesse laughed and nodded. "Exactly. No cowboys there."
"That's our little battle at home," Dylan said. "All the guys are cowboys or English riders. There are a couple that can do both, but for the most part, we are one or the other. Jesse and I are the only...uhh..."
Kyle smiled at him. "You're the only couple that both ride the same?" he asked gently.
Dylan nodded shyly.
"Don't worry about it, Dylan," Kyle said. "Like I said, Abigail talks about Danny and CJ and Jesse all the time; it didn't take long to figure out what the score was."
"Are you ok with that?" Dylan asked.
Kyle nodded. "Oh, yeah. I don't have any problem with someone being gay. My cousin is and he's the person I'm closest to in the world. He and I double-date with his boyfriend and my girlfriend all the time."
"That's cool," Jesse said. "We've had some problems, so sometimes we get a little apprehensive. Even though we came out to the world on TV a few months ago."
Jesse quickly told Kyle about the news report on CJ and Danny and the attack on Spin. "So, Dylan and I decided to do an interview and come out. The reporter could tell that we were a couple and most people do as well."
"That took some balls, guys," Kyle said. "Scott, my cousin and his boyfriend, Mark are pretty much out at school, but they are fairly careful still."
"We are too," Dylan said. "But after what happened to Spin, we had to take a stand."
"Did they ever catch the person that stabbed him?"
Dylan shook his head. "They probably won't. Spin doesn't remember anything and they covered his head, so unless the guy screws up and says something the police don't think they'll ever catch him."
"That sucks," Kyle spat. "There should be a special corner in hell reserved for people like that."
Dylan and Jesse nodded their agreement.
"Hey, how long are you guys going to be around?"
"We don't know yet," Jesse answered. "Probably at least a week, why?"
"Well, my cousin is out of town for a few days, but I know he'd love to meet you guys. Maybe when he gets back we can all go on a trail ride: you two, Scott and Mark, and me and my girlfriend, Bree."
Dylan nodded. "That sounds like fun, but we'll probably have to play it by ear, since we're not sure what we have to do over the next few days."
"Abigail was pretty vague, but I got the impression you guys were not here for vacation."
Jesse shook his head. He filled Kyle in on his mother and the man who was claiming to be his father and the reason for their trip.
"So this guy, who never was a father to you, wants to take you from your family?" Kyle said, his face getting red. "That fucking sucks!! My dad was a good guy, but his depression and drinking got the better of him and he left us. I love him, but I wouldn't move back with him after what he did, so I can't imagine what it would be like to have to live with someone you don't even know."
"Well, we're not gonna let that happen," Dylan said forcefully.
Kyle smiled. "Good."
Zak smiled as he watched Luka take Onyx through the dressage routine that Danny and Jesse had been working on.
When Jesse had broached the subject of Luka working with Onyx while he and Danny were gone, Zak and Danny had liked the idea, but Luka had been unsure.
Zak had decided it would be best if he and Luka worked alone with Onyx the first time. He wanted Luka to relax and enjoy the smooth black stallion.
Zak had helped Luka to groom and tack Onyx and had then spent about twenty minutes warming him up. Danny had been working with him on his dressage, but he was nowhere near the level that Danny, Jesse and Luka were. He was happy to have any one of them put in the time with Onyx. As much as he loved his horse, he often felt that he was the wrong rider for the work Onyx was intended to do.
After warming Onyx up, Zak had Luka mount up. He told Luka to just take it easy and spend some time getting used to the big horse and letting him get used to Luka.
Zak knew from experience that Luka had a tendency to get intense when he rode. He, Danny and Jesse were much more relaxed, so it took his some time to get Luka to loosen up and let Onyx do what he was capable of.
Zak kept yelling out jokes and catcalls at Luka in an attempt to get him to relax and laugh. At first Luka was annoyed with Zak--he was having a hard time concentrating; but eventually he started to relax and understand what Zak was trying to do.
Once he let himself relax, Luka began to enjoy moving the big horse around the arena. He could see why Danny and Jesse loved using this horse for dressage: his movements were so fluid and he responded to the slightest signal. Everyone had told him what a pain Onyx had been until Zak got here and he was amazed that this was the horse they were talking about.
When he had run the routine a third time with no errors, Luka rode over to Zak and dismounted.
Luka patted Onyx's neck and stroked the black's cheek. "Outstanding, big boy, outstanding." He smiled at Zak. "You've done an amazing job with him, Zak."
Zak shook his head. "No. It's all Danny and Jesse."
"I don't think so," Luka argued. "Danny and Jesse might have the skills, but you have the love and the connection. I've heard what a pain in the ass this guy was before you got here. If you hadn't connected with him and made him feel safe and loved, then he would still be going to waste. It's what he gets from you emotionally that is more important than the training. Even if you were only capable of walking on a hack, he still trusts you and that trust is what makes it possible for Danny, Jesse or me to work with him."
"You really think so?"
"I do. He's different from Dodger or Val; as much as they are Dylan's or Jesse's horses, I'm sure anyone could take them out and ride them whether or not their boys were around; but with Onyx, if I had just gone and taken him without you being here and him feeling safe, it would have been a disaster. Now that he knows me and we've worked together, he should start to trust me, but I would be more comfortable if we did this together for now."
"Sure, that would be cool." Zak grinned. "I learn something every time I watch Danny and Jesse, so I'm sure I can learn some from you too."
The two led Onyx out of the arena and over to the wash racks.
"Thanks, Zak," Luka said as they were removing Onyx's tack.
"Why? I should be thanking you for working with Onyx."
Luka shook his head. "No, I need to thank you all. Everyone has been so great the last few days. I know I can be standoffish and tend to keep to myself, but the way everyone has rallied around me and tried to keep me busy has been more than I deserve."
"No it hasn't," Zak protested. "We all deal with life differently. I was practically a hermit before my mom forced me to work out here last summer. I avoided everyone and everything, I hated any type of confrontation, but now I've got great friends, a brother I never knew and Dusty and the horses. I have a life."
"That's what I want," Luka said. "I used to think I just wanted to hide from the world and if I built walls I couldn't get hurt, but I think I hurt myself more than anyone else could have."
"I know what you mean, but you don't have to worry now, you have all of us, especially Diego." Zak smiled when Luka blushed. "Hey, Diego's a great guy with a big heart, you could do a helluva lot worse."
"I know. He's been the best through this whole thing. I don't know how I would have survived without him."
"You would have, you're stronger than you think; we all are, but having our friends makes it easier."
Later that afternoon, Mattie, Spin, Zak and Dusty were walking through the mall. Max sat on Dusty's shoulders. The four boys had promised to take the tyke to the newest Disney movie and they had just left the theatre and were heading for the food court.
"Ok, Maxie, what do you feel like eating?" Zak asked.
Zak laughed and shook his head. "Ice cream comes after dinner, Max."
The little boy pouted and then said. "Chik'n."
"Noo!! Not fing'rs!! Nuggets!!"
The four older boys laughed and shook their heads.
"Let's just head over to KFC," Dusty suggested.
"Sounds good," Zak replied.
"We'll meet you guys at a table," Mattie said. "Red wants some pizza, so we're gonna go to Sbarro."
Zak and Dusty nodded as they took Maxie to one side of the food court.
Spin and Mattie walked towards the fast food Italian counter. They quickly ordered and were standing at the register waiting for their meals. Spin had his back to the line as he talked to Mattie.
"We don't want any onions on that," he heard a voice behind him say.
"We don't want no fags around here!!" Spin heard in his head as his insides turned to water.
Mattie watched as Spin turned far paler than usual. Spin reached over and took Mattie's hand and squeezed it until Mattie thought it would break.
"Spin, what's wrong?"
Spin's green eyes watered as he looked at Mattie.
"M-m-Mattie, it's him," Spin whispered.
Spin leaned forward and whispered into Mattie's ear. "It's the guy who jumped me."
Mattie's eyes widened as he looked over Spin's shoulder. There was a group of four boys coming down the line.
"The one who just said, ‘We don't want any onions,'" Spin replied. "I recognized the voice."
Mattie looked over and immediately recognized the good-looking blond boy standing with some friends. "Spin, that's Carter Winslow; he's the Vice President of the Junior Class next year--are you sure?"
"I never saw his face, but as soon as I heard him say that I heard the same voice in my head saying, "We don't want no fags around here."
"Boys, here's your order," the lady behind the counter said as she handed them a tray.
"Thank you," Mattie said as he took the tray in one hand and pulled Spin away with the other. "C'mon, let's go find Zak and Dusty."
They spotted Zak, Dusty and Maxie sitting at a table.
"Look, don't say anything until we get home," Mattie instructed Spin. "We don't want to talk about it in front of Maxie."
As soon as Mattie and Spin sat down it was obvious to Zak and Dusty that something was up. Spin was very quiet which was very unusual. Zak looked at Mattie who just shook his head and looked towards Max. Zak nodded.
After they had dropped Max off at home, Dusty turned to look at Spin and Mattie who were in the back seat of Zak's SUV.
"Ok, who wants to tell us what's going on?"
"Spin thinks he knows who attacked him."
Zak slammed on the brakes and pulled over to the side of the road. He turned to look at Spin. "When did this happen? Who is it? Did you tell anyone else?"
Dusty looked at Zak. "Zak, calm down, let them talk."
"When we were waiting for our food at Sbarro, we were standing at the register talking," Mattie explained. "There were some guys behind us ordering and one of them said something that made Spin remember what his attacker had said. He thinks it's the same voice."
Spin finally looked up. "No, Matt, I know it's the same voice," he said emphatically. "I keep hearing it over and over in my head now. ‘We don't want no fags around.'"
"And you're sure that was the guy who said it?" Dusty asked. "Maybe the voice was just similar and it triggered something."
Spin shook his head. "It was the same voice. I'm positive of it."
"Do you know who it was?" Zak asked.
Mattie nodded. "It was Carter Winslow."
Dusty looked between Mattie and Zak. "I take you both know him?"
Zak nodded. "He's the Vice President of Mattie's class; he's a High Honors student, probably top two or three in his class; he's a shoo-in for National Honor Society this year and he's in the GSA."
"He is?" Mattie asked. "I never saw him at a meeting."
"He joined when we first started, but he was always busy with other stuff so he rarely came to meetings."
"So, this guy, Carter, who's ‘Mr. Perfect', is the guy who beat up and stabbed Spin?" Dusty asked.
"I know it sounds crazy," Spin answered. "But I know it's him."
"So, what do we do?" Zak asked. "The police are going to need more than a repressed memory. You never saw your attacker, or at least you haven't remembered seeing him, and there's no physical evidence."
"We'd have to get him to admit it," Mattie said.
"How the hell do we do that?" Zak asked.
"I don't know. We need to get with Ace; he's on the security team and I know he has access to their equipment. He was wiring TJ the last few weeks of school."
"But it won't work using TJ," Zak countered. "Everyone knows about him and Devon now and he and Carter aren't really in the same circles."
"I know; it's gonna be hard to find someone we can trust who no one knows is connected to the ranch."
"What about Diego?" Spin asked.
Mattie shook his head. "I'm sure he'd do it, but it would be too hard to get him in with Carter's crowd. We need to find someone who already has an in. Let's talk to Ace and then we can think on it some more. It's not like Carter's going anyplace and we want to be very careful about this so that whatever happens it sticks."
Zak started the car back up and they drove to the ranch. He pulled into his spot next to Dusty's truck in front of the main rescue barn.
As they were getting out of the car, one of the volunteers was walking towards them.
"Hey, Chris," Dusty called to the newcomer. Chris was about 5'10" with light-brown hair and brown eyes. He was athletic, but not overly muscular.
"Hey, Dusty. I finished up with the afternoon feeding and the stalls, anything else you need done?"
"I don't think so," Dusty replied. "Do you know Zak, Mattie and Spin?"
"I know Zak and Mattie, we've had some classes together," Chris said. "I don't think I've met Spin." He offered his hand to Spin. "How are you? I'm Chris Mackey."
"Hey, Chris, do you know Carter Winslow?" Mattie asked.
Chris nodded. "Yeah, we're on the lacrosse team together. I don't hang out with him too much. He and a couple other guys on the team keep to themselves."
"What do you think of him?"
"He used to be a pretty nice guy and I know he's fairly popular, but I'm starting to think it's gone to his head."
"Why?" Zak asked.
"Well, he and I went to middle school together and he was always a good guy, everyone's friend, but since he got to high school, it's like he's started to believe his own hype. He's always hanging with juniors and seniors and more of the rough guys. I know they hang out with some guys from the community college too."
"Do you think he's capable of doing something...violent?" Mattie asked hesitantly.
"Violent?" Chris replied. "I'm honestly not sure. If it was the kid I knew in middle school, I would say no, but these guys he's hanging with now are bad news and it wouldn't surprise me if they were up to no good. I've overheard them make some kind of offensive remarks before."
"What kind of remarks?" Dusty asked.
"Racist," Chris said.
"Have you ever heard them say anything homophobic?"
"No, but like I said, I don't hang with them, I just happened to overhear them one time."
Dusty looked around the yard where there were several volunteers milling around. He knew most of them, but he was concerned about being overheard.
"Guys, why don't we take this up to the loft," he said. "You never know who might be listening."
Mattie and Zak nodded and led the way up the stairs followed by Spin. Chris looked at Dusty. Dusty nodded and Chris went upstairs and Dusty took up the rear.
When they were inside Dusty's apartment, he said, "Everyone have a seat. Chris, I know we're acting a little weird right now, but we have a reason. Did you hear about what happened to Spin at school?"
"Wait? Was that you?" Chris said to Spin. "I knew that someone had been attacked, but honestly, I didn't know who. I don't watch the news a lot and try not to pay attention to all the gossip at school."
"Yeah, Spin was jumped on the football field; he was beaten and stabbed," Mattie explained. "The reason we were asking questions about Carter is that Spin thinks that he's the one who jumped him."
Chris' eyes widened. "Are you sure? Did you see him?"
Spin shook his head. "No, they put a bag over my head, but the person said something and when we were at the mall this afternoon I heard a voice say something similar and it was the same voice. It's been ringing in my head ever since. I'm sure it's him."
"But you can't prove it," Chris stated. "That's why you guys were asking all those questions."
Mattie nodded. "You know we're all gay right?"
"Sure," Chris replied. "I knew Jesse and that other kid, Dylan?" Everyone nodded. "Dylan. I knew they were together even before they did the interview that everyone was talking about. That took balls. Like I said, I don't watch a lot of the news, but when I heard about that I looked up the interview on the station's website. They were great."
"So you don't have a problem with it?" Zak asked.
"With you guys being gay, no, not at all," Chris answered. "My older brother is gay and I couldn't care less, he's still my hero and my best friend."
"So, if we needed help with this..." Mattie started.
Chris nodded. "I'm in."
Brandon and Erik splashed around in the lake, while Diego and Luka lay on a towel on the shore.
Rain, Chance, Domingo and Apollo were in the fenced area grazing.
Diego had suggested they take another trail ride, since they basically had Mondays off during the summer. They had had fun the day before, but decided that today they would bring suits.
"So, how are you feeling, my friend?" Diego asked.
Luka smiled at him. "I'm feeling so good right now that I'm starting to feel guilty."
"Well, Winston's only been gone a couple days."
"You don't think you've mourned him enough?"
"I guess. I don't really know. I miss him like hell, but you guys have been so great at getting my mind off of it."
"That is what friends do for one another," Diego said. "No one is going to take Winston's place in your heart, but we can help you to think about other things."
Diego sat up. "You know, I got so caught up in the trail ride and working with Onyx and Dodger and Val that I forgot about going to see the spot where he's buried."
"Would you like to go now?"
Luka jumped up and nodded. "Yes."
Diego stood up and grinned. "Alright, why don't you start getting the horses ready and I will tell Brandon and Erik; they should be fine getting back on their own."
"Ok," Luka replied as he walked off towards the small paddock.
Diego walked to the water's edge. "Brandon!" he called.
Brandon swam over to him and then waded out of the lake.
"I am going to leave with Luka. He would like to see the spot where Winston was buried. Will you and Erik be alright alone?"
"Sure. We're just about ready to get out anyways," Brandon replied. "We can ride back, no problem. I've been out here a few times and Erik's ridden the trails with Rain a lot."
"Very well, I will see you later then."
Brandon nodded and flashed Diego his impish grin as he ran back into the water.
Erik and Brandon bobbed along in the water as they watched Diego and Luka saddle the horses and ride off.
Brandon swam over to Erik and wrapped his arms and legs around the other boy. Erik's feet were touching the bottom of the lake and the water was lapping at his chin. Brandon's warm eyes looked deeply into his.
"Why can't we say anything?" Brandon asked yet again.
‘It just makes me nervous," Erik replied. "My first date ended with me getting outed to my parents and then the boy I had a serious crush on turned out to be a rapist. I'm just scared to get too happy, cuz something always seems to happen."
"Do you think I'm a rapist or a serial killer?"
"Of course not."
"And your parents already know you're gay?"
"And mine know about me and they don't have a problem and all our friends here, gay or straight, will love and support us," Brandon reasoned. "I think they'll be madder if we keep it from them than if we tell them."
"Let's just wait a little while," Erik bargained. "Let's just be sure."
Brandon shrugged. "I am sure, but if you need time, ok," he replied as he kissed Erik. Erik melted into the kiss and wrapped his arms around his wet slippery mate. Both boys held their breath as they slipped under the water still wrapped around each other.
Diego led Luka to a spot under an oak tree. There was fresh dirt over it. They had left the horses to graze a few feet away.
"Here it is," Diego said quietly. "Danny told me he and CJ decided to set aside this meadow just for this purpose."
"It's beautiful here," Luka said breathlessly.
Diego squeezed Luka's hand. "That's one of the reasons they chose this place. With the trees and flowers. They're going to have some stone benches put in so people can come and reflect and visit."
"Thank you for bringing me here," Luka whispered. "Do you mind if I have a minute?"
"Not at all. I will be with the horses if you need me."
Luka nodded as Diego walked away. He sat down under the tree and pulled his knees up under his chin.
A few tears fell as he spoke, "Hey, buddy. I miss you. You got me through so much and taught me so much. I hope that you had as much fun with me as I did with you. I know you'd want me to move on and I'm gonna try. Remember I told you about Diego? He's been so great. He's helped me so much and I think there might be something there. He kissed me. I felt guilty, cuz it was while you were sick, but he's so strong and it's that strength that's getting me through this. Even if I do get another horse, he'll never replace you in my heart. I love you."
He wiped his sleeve across his eyes and stood up. He said a silent prayer over Winston's grave and then walked back to where Diego waited with the horses.
Diego hugged Luka and rubbed his back as Luka cried.
When Luka had composed himself, he gave Diego a final hug and stepped back. "Thank you. I needed this chance to say good-bye to him."
"There is no need to thank me," Diego said softly. "You are my friend and I will always be here for you."
"Friends?" Luka looked at Diego questioningly.
Diego smiled. "More if you want."
"I want," Luka replied as he tilted his head up and kissed Diego.
"Y'all are nuts!!" Ace said bluntly.
He was in Dusty's apartment with Dusty, Zak, Mattie, Spin and Chris. They had just explained to him their plan to catch Spin's assailant.
"If this Carter kid is the one who attacked Spin..."
"He is," Spin stated.
"If he is, this is something for the police," Ace replied.
"Just like when Mattie and Dylan were kidnapped?" Zak asked.
"Y'all know how much shit I caught for that? My dad is still on my ass."
"But, you are part of the security detail and you do have access to the equipment we need," Mattie said. "Look, Ace, we aren't talking about a citizen's arrest here, we are talking about getting him on tape admitting what he did and then turning it over to the police. If we go to them now, there is no evidence. Spin can only identify his voice, that's not going to be enough."
"So you want Chris to cozy up to this kid and his friends, make them think that he is a prejudiced as they are and get them to confess."
"What if they want Chris to prove himself by doing something like what happened to Spin?"
Mattie reflected for a moment. "I hadn't thought of that. But, if they did, chances are they'd target one of us and we could just stage it. In fact, that might be Chris's in. If we staged an argument or fight with one of us and Chris when Carter and his crew are around, that would give Chris a reason to get in with them."
"That might work, but how're you gonna know when they're around?"
"The mall would be the best place to start," Chris offered. "I know they tend to hang out there. We could just hang around and stage something when we see them."
"Chris are you sure you wanna do this?" Ace asked. "This could get dangerous. We're talking about someone that tried to kill Spin. If they find out you're a plant, they could turn on you quick."
"I'm sure," Chris replied. "Like I told the guys, my older brother is gay and he's put up with a ton of shit since he came out. I'm doing this to help him and anyone else these guys might hurt."
"And we figured you could give him a panic button," Zak said. "So that if he got into trouble we could get to him."
"Alright," Ace sighed. "Let me give this some thought and I have to run it by my dad...that's non-negotiable. If he won't sign off on it then it's a no-go."
"Agreed," Mattie said as everyone else nodded.
Tuesday morning, Danny drove the boys to Munroe Regional Medical Center. They checked in at the reception desk and waited for someone to come and get them.
Fifteen minutes later, a woman in a business suit came out to greet them.
"Mr. James?" she asked as she approached Danny and the boys.
Danny stood up. "I'm Daniel James."
"I'm Olivia Stark, would you like to come with me?"
Dylan and Jesse stood up and followed Danny and Ms. Stark through a door and down a long corridor. She led them into a conference room.
"Please gentlemen, have a seat."
"I'm sorry, I thought we were just here for Jesse to have his DNA test," Danny protested. "You didn't mention what you do with the hospital."
Ms. Stark shook her head. "Please have a seat and I will explain."
Danny and the boys sat at one end of the conference table and Ms. Stark took a seat opposite them.
"I don't represent the hospital," Ms. Stark explained. "I represent Mr. Van Edsel."
Danny started to protest, but Ms. Stark raised a hand. "Please, Mr. James, I understand this is unusual, but Mr. Van Edsel is here and he would very much like to have a few minutes to simply speak with Jesse. There has been some confusion in this matter and he would like to get things straightened out. He would have come out to meet you himself, but given the way this has been handled so far, we thought it easier if I brought you in here and then he came to meet you."
"So if I talk to him, he'll stop this?" Jesse asked.
"That's something I think you need to ask him," Ms. Stark said.
Jesse looked from Danny to Dylan. "Danny and Dylan are staying with me," he said forcefully.
Ms. Stark grinned. "We assumed as much. It's probably just as important that they hear this as well."
"Ok," Jesse said quietly. "I'll do it."
"Very well," Ms. Stark said as she stood up. "Let me go get Mr. Van Edsel and we can continue."
Ms. Stark left the room.
She returned a few minutes later followed by Trevor. Danny had spent the last month looking at online photos of the man trying to convince himself that there was no way he could be Jesse's father, but seeing him again in person, he was amazed that he hadn't noticed the resemblance when they met in March. Both shared the same sun-bleached strawberry-blond hair and emerald green eyes. Danny didn't need a DNA test to tell him that this man was indeed Jesse's sire.
"Jesse, good to see you again," Trevor said as he took a seat across the table from Danny, Jesse and Dylan. "You too, Dylan and Mr. James. Thank you for seeing me."
Danny spoke up, "I think we're all curious about what exactly is going on."
"To be honest, you're not the only ones," Trevor replied. "I've been out of the country for the last two months and I left some instructions with my lawyers that they apparently took to an extreme. I returned the night before last to the news that I was apparently suing for custody of my son." Jesse glared at him. "Jesse, I have no doubt that you are my son, but I want to assure you that it was not my intent to cause you or your family any pain or trouble. I had asked my lawyers, or should I say former lawyers, to contact you about the possibility of us meeting and you spending some time at my place in Wellington. I wanted, I still want, the chance to get to know you, but I am not foolish enough to try to pull a sixteen-year-old boy from a home, and people, that he obviously loves."
"If you are my father, why didn't my mother ever tell me?" Jesse asked.
"It's a long story," Trevor sighed. "I married very young. I married for all the wrong reasons. I wasn't in love with my wife, and I was in love with what she could offer me. She came from a wealthy family and the money and influence they had, partnered with the talent and drive I had, were the recipe I needed to succeed in the show jumping world. I had been married about six years when I met your mother. She was older than me, but we connected right away. We began a relationship that lasted about five years. We talked several times about me leaving my wife, but I couldn't give up what I was getting from the marriage. When she finally told me she was expecting, she offered me an all-or-nothing deal. She was almost forty and she felt this was her last chance to have a baby. I wasn't strong enough to walk away from my marriage, so at her request I signed papers relinquishing my parental rights."
"So, you didn't want me," Jesse stated.
Trevor shook his head. "No, I wanted you and your mother, but I wasn't strong enough to walk away from my marriage at that time. We had young children and I was foolish enough to think that staying in a loveless marriage was best for the children."
"I have brothers and sisters?"
"You have two older brothers and an older sister. However, I wouldn't get too excited about meeting them. Their mother and I divorced several years ago and they have decided to have nothing to do with me. A huge regret of mine is that I spent so much time traveling and focusing on my career, that my ex-wife spoiled my children and made them into snobs just like her. I guess that's part of the reason I've been thinking about you so much over the last few years. I tried contacting your mother, but we were never able to connect. When I found out she was sick I became concerned about what would happen to you, but her husband..."
"Ralph," Jesse spit out unable to hide his contempt.
"Yes, Ralph. He always answered and she never got back to me. When I found out she had passed, I had my lawyers try to find you, but they learned you had run away. Since Child Services seals cases involving minors and I was not legally your parent, we had to try other methods to find you. When we found you registered for that show, I called the organizers and offered to appear."
"Why didn't you just tell us who you were?" Danny asked.
"I had it in my head that I was rescuing Jesse," Trevor explained. "I guess part of it was my guilt over not being around. I kept convincing myself that he was in something out of ‘Oliver Twist'. Then when I saw you with your friends...your family...and the boy you obviously love," he looked between Dylan and Jesse, "I knew I was wrong. I didn't say anything, because I didn't want to ruin the day for you and I wanted to try to figure out what to do. I was leaving for a European trip and that's where the wheels fell off so to speak.
"I had asked my personal manager to send you the information about my camp and that I had hoped you would attend--and be assured, the invitation was supposed to be for both of you. When you sent the e-mail about not coming, my manager involved lawyers and had Mr. James and Mr. Alvarez served with those custody papers. Apparently, he thought by ripping you from your family and causing you and your family great distress somehow he was helping me. As soon as I found out what he had done, I fired him and hired Olivia here who has been working with my wife. I decided that since it was too late to stop your trip, I would come here and explain everything myself."
"So you're not gonna take Jesse away?" Dylan asked hesitantly.
"No, Dylan that was never my intention," Trevor explained. "I only wanted a chance to get to know my son. When I saw the two of you together it was quite obvious that you were in love. Olivia found the interview you did online and I must say I was very proud of both of you for being so brave and supportive of one another. I wouldn't dream of taking Jesse from people who obviously care for him so much. I would like Jesse and you to come and spend time with my family and I do intend to take whatever legal measures necessary to make sure that Jesse is recognized as one of my heirs."
"What would that mean?" Jesse asked suspiciously.
"It wouldn't change anything as far as custody or who you live with," Olivia explained. "But, it would allow for Trevor to make you an heir in his will and to make sure you get access to your trust fund."
"Trust fund?" Danny asked.
"Yes, when Jesse's mother told me she was pregnant, she made it clear she did not want any financial support from me, but I went to a lawyer and established a trust fund that would be given to him on his twenty-first birthday," Trevor explained. "Actually, the instruction were that Jesse be informed of the trust on his eighteenth birthday and he have access to enough to cover college and living expenses and then he get the whole trust on his twenty-first birthday."
"So, why would there be a problem with Jesse getting it?"
"My older children," Trevor stated. "Their mother found out about the trust during the divorce. I had it established with my money, so she couldn't touch it that way, but her lawyer had some wording put in the divorce documents that if Jesse was not proven to be my son or if he was not available to claim the trust it would revert to my older children. I didn't think anything of it, because I knew where Jesse was, but after you ran away I was nervous. I wanted you to have the trust and not your older siblings."
"Well, we'll make sure Jesse is taken care of," Danny said.
"I don't doubt that. But this is something I need to do; I know money doesn't make up for me not being there, but right now, Jesse is my only child that shares my passion for riding and based on what I've seen, he has a bright future--Dylan as well. I want Jesse to have his trust since that will help him along, but I also want to be available as a mentor or advisor if you'll let me."
"As long as I don't have to leave my family," Jesse replied. "And especially, if I don't have to leave Dylan."
"No, Jesse, you are going to stay with your family and if you do come to visit, Dylan or any other members of your family are more than welcome to come with you."
Jesse smiled. "Thank you."
"I have a question," Dylan piped up.
"You keep referring to Jesse's brothers and sister as your ‘older' children, but I get the feeling you're leaving something out."
"You are very perceptive, Dylan. There is something else I need to tell you and something that I hope Jesse can help me with."
"So you do want something from me," Jesse accused Trevor.
"Not in the way you think," Trevor said hurriedly. "Let me explain. After I left my wife and kids, I tried to contact your mother. It had been too long for us and we both knew those feelings weren't there anymore. You were doing well with her and I didn't want to upset your life. Then I met Julia, we fell in love and were married as soon as my divorce was final. And soon after we found out she was pregnant."
"So I have a little brother or sister?" Jesse asked.
"Yes, you have a little brother, his name is Cole and he's a very precocious five-year-old."
"Cool." Jesse grinned. "Can I meet him?"
"Yes. They are in Wellington, but they would like very much to meet you."
"You said you needed something from Jesse?" Dylan asked.
Trevor smiled. "I can see why Jesse loves you Dylan, you're on top of things. Yes, before Julia and Cole come in I have to explain something. About six months ago we found out that Cole has leukemia. He's been in and out of treatment ever since. Right now the doctors think his best hope is a bone marrow transplant. Julia and I and most members of our families have been tested and none of us are compatible. We've also put his name on the national registry, but that could take too long."
"What about your other children?" Danny asked.
"They are as vindictive and spiteful as their mother," Trevor replied. "None of them would consent to being tested."
"So, you want me to be tested?" Jesse asked.
"Why didn't you ask me back in March?"
"That's why I've been away for the last couple months. We took Cole to Europe to pursue some alternative and experimental treatments, but nothing has worked," Trevor answered. "That's part of the reason behind this lawsuit fiasco, my business manager and lawyers were supposed to be handling my affairs so I could concentrate on Cole."
Jesse looked at Danny.
"It's up to you, Jess," Danny said.
Jesse turned to Dylan. The two put their heads together. They whispered between them. Then Jesse turned back to Trevor. He was holding Dylan's hand in his.
"We'll both get tested," Jesse said.
"That would be great boys, but Dylan's a minor," Trevor said.
"And I have a medical power of attorney for him," Danny interjected. "As long as I get an ok from his parents, I will consent to the blood test."
"Thank you," Trevor said. "Thank you so much."
Olivia stood up. "I'll call the lab and see if they can take you now," she said as she walked over to a wall phone.
Danny took out his cell phone and called Dylan's mother. He explained the situation and put Dylan on. Colleen gave her consent for Dylan to be tested. It was a long shot that he would be a match, but she knew that he was doing it to show his solidarity with Jesse.
"They're going to send someone up to take you guys to the lab," Olivia said as she walked back to the table.
Trevor walked around to where Dylan and Jesse sat. He put his hands on the boy's shoulders. "I know that you guys have had a rough time with this custody stuff and I'm so sorry about that. Thank you so much for doing this."
"Even if you were going to fight Danny and CJ, I'd still get tested," Jesse said. "I couldn't live with myself if I could help someone and I didn't, especially if he's my brother."
"Thank you all the same," Trevor said. "I don't know how long you boys were planning to stay in Florida, but I know Julia and Cole would love to meet you and I'd like the chance to spend time with both of you boys. Of course, Mr. James, you are welcome too."
"Please, call me Danny. I was only planning to stay a few days, but it's up to the boys if they would like to stay longer," Danny replied. "I purchased open-ended tickets since we didn't know how long things might go, but as long as there isn't going to be a custody issue or fight, I need to head back home."
Jesse looked at Dylan who nodded. "If it's ok, we'd like to visit so I can meet my brother."
Trevor smiled. "That would be great. I'm sure Cole will be excited. He's always asking for a big brother, but my older children won't even acknowledge him. I'll tell you what, why don't you finish your visit here and then when Danny flies home, just let me know and I will send a car to take you to Wellington."
"Cool." Jesse smiled, truly relaxing for the first time in days. "How soon will we know about the blood tests?"
"The lab said a few days." Olivia answered.
"Well, let's cross our fingers that one of us is a match," Jesse said.