By Andrew Todd
Devon was in his studio finishing a painting of TJ when he heard the doorbell. He knew Sarge and Ace were still out in the barns, so he put down his brush and grabbed a rag to wipe his hands and ran through the house to the door.
He opened the door and grinned when he saw TJ standing there. “Hey, Ba…” He stopped when he saw a woman he assumed was Mrs. Oliver standing beside TJ. “Buddy, how ya doin’?” he said, trying to deepen his voice.
TJ started laughing at Devon’s attempt to sound butch.
“Dev, this is my mom,” TJ said. “She knows.”
“Hello, Mrs. Oliver,” Devon said quietly.
“It’s nice to meet you, Devon,” Mrs. Oliver said, smiling at Devon. “Don’t worry, I won’t bite.”
“Why don’t you both come in,” Devon said as he stepped back into the entryway.
He led his guests into the family room. “Please have a seat.”
Mrs. Oliver sat in the recliner and TJ and Devon sat together on the sofa.
Just as he was about to ask TJ what was up, Devon heard the back door open.
“In the family room!”
Ace and Sarge came in and stopped when they saw they had company.
“Dad, Ace, this is TJ’s mother, Mrs. Oliver,” Devon said as he stood.
Sarge offered her his hand. “Sergeant Major Ernie Evans, Mrs. Oliver, but everyone just calls me Sarge. And this is my son, Ace.”
“Please, just call me Monica,” Mrs. Oliver said. “Sergeant Evans, could I speak to you privately for a moment?”
“Certainly, why don’t we go into the kitchen.”
The two adults left and Ace plopped down in the vacant recliner.
“Ok, do you want to tell me what’s going on?” Ace asked.
“I was just about to ask the same thing,” Devon said looking at TJ.
“Well, I went home tonight planning to tell my parents I was gay and that I was with Devon. I started by asking if they had heard the news story on Channel 13. That’s when I found out that not only had they heard the story, but my father was the source.”
“WHAT?!?” both Devon and Ace yelled.
TJ nodded. “Yup. Apparently, he thought I was spending too much time with an ‘undesirable’ element so he sicced that bitch reporter on them with a bunch of made-up accusations.”
“What did you do?” Devon asked.
TJ grinned. “Told him I was gay and I was in love with you and that the stuff he was trying to do to CJ and Danny wasn’t going to work. He didn’t take it well. He ranted for a while and tried to send me to my room. And then my mom shocked the hell out of me. She basically told my dad to fuck off and then grabbed me and we left.”
“You moved out?” Ace asked.
TJ shrugged. “I guess so. I mean, they haven’t exactly been happy for a while. But I don’t know what the plan was; I took my car and she took hers and then she told me to follow her and we ended up here.”
“Why did she come here?” Devon asked.
TJ shook his head. “Your guess is as good as mine.” Everyone was quiet for a few minutes. “Hey, have you guys heard any more on Spin?” he asked.
“I just saw Mattie out at the barn,” Ace answered. “Spin woke up when he was there earlier with Zak and Dusty. He’s gonna be fine, but he’ll be in the hospital for a few days and it will be a while before he rides.”
“That sucks,” TJ said. “But at least he’ll be ok. Do the police have any idea who did it?”
Ace shook his head. “No, right now Spin doesn’t remember anything and there were no witnesses.”
“There might be a way to find out,” TJ said.
“How?” Devon asked.
“Well, no one knows about us yet,” TJ answered. “A few of the guys on the team asked about me defending you and getting suspended. I just told them that you were a friend from art class and I told them that Ty wasn’t just harassing you, but I was afraid he was going to seriously hurt you and we didn’t need that kind of heat.”
“You told them that?!?!”
TJ grinned. “Yeah. Other than art class, we’ve always kept our distance at school. It’s not easy pretending that you’re not as important to me as you are, but it does make it easier to stomach some of the guys on the team. And it’s made it easier to find out when they are planning something.”
“What do you mean?” Ace asked.
“Well, let’s just say that there have been several nasty things planned for the GSA and certain students that have been thwarted before they could happen.”
“You’ve been spying?” Devon asked.
TJ nodded. “I’ve been playing ‘mole’ for Zak’s mom. It was my idea, but I’ve gone through her cuz I didn’t want anything getting out at school and she was the only person I could trust. I give her the information and she passes it along to the principal.”
“But you didn’t know what they were planning today?”
“No, but this was obviously a heat-of-the-moment thing,” TJ answered. “If there had been a plan, I’m sure I would have heard, but there has been a lot of frustration with certain guys cuz of the crackdown. It may have been my fault that things got this nasty.”
“No, TJ,” Ace interjected. “You’ve probably helped a lot of kids. If these guys couldn’t take a hint and leave well enough alone, that’s not your fault. But, do you think you can find out who did this?”
“I’m sure I’ll hear something when I get back to school. But, if it was one or two guys and I hear about it, it’s gonna be my word against theirs’.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, since I’m technically part of the security team I have access to certain equipment.” Ace grinned.
TJ smiled back. “Like a wire?”
“Are you guys sure this is safe?” Devon asked warily.
“Sure, Dev,” Ace replied. “I’ll give TJ a wireless mic and an earwig. I’ll wear an earwig, too. That way we’ll both hear any confessions and we’ll have it on tape and I’ll know if he's in trouble.”
“Ok. But you both better be careful,” Devon said. “I can’t lose either one of you.”
Just then Sarge came into the living room.
“Everything ok, Dad?” Ace asked.
“Everything’s good, guys.” Sarge nodded. “TJ, your mom wants to talk to you.”
TJ looked at Devon and shook his head. He stood up and went into the kitchen.
“So what’s up?” Devon asked.
“Well, Mrs. Oliver has been planning to leave Mr. Oliver for a while,” Sarge answered. “She has a sister in California that she’s going to stay with for a while. What’s kept her holding it off, was knowing that TJ wouldn’t want to go and she didn’t want to leave him with his father. Finding out about you, Dev, was just what she needed to know.”
“Yup. She asked me if TJ could stay with us, at least until the end of the summer.”
“What did you say?” Ace asked.
“I agreed,” Sarge said. He saw Devon smiling big. “Hold on, Dev. There are rules. You and Ace are going to have to bunk up and TJ will get your room. I don’t know what you guys have or haven’t done and I don’t want to know, but you’re only seventeen, so I’m not ready to let you bunk up. Ok?”
“Sure, Dad,” Devon answered. “I don’t mind sharing with Ace.”
“You have to ask?” Ace grinned. “He’s in my room most nights anyways.”
“Ok, then,” Sarge laughed. “We’ll figure the rest of it out later. Tomorrow, you guys can move things around. Mrs. Oliver is going to send someone to get TJ’s belongings in the next day or so.”
“Is that what she’s talking to him about?” Devon asked.
Sarge nodded. “Yes. She’s leaving tonight. She hopes to come back at the end of the summer.”
Devon walked over to Sarge and hugged him. “Thanks, Dad.”
Sarge hugged his second ‘son’ back. “Well, I didn’t know what to get you for your birthday,” he laughed.
Danny and CJ sat on a couch in the living room. Across from them a reporter, Kylie Rivers, was being fitted with a microphone. She sat in a chair. There were lights and a camera crew moving all around them.
After a few minutes, Kylie looked at her crew. “So are we all set, guys?”
The camera and sound guys nodded their approval.
“Danny, CJ, are you ready?” she asked.
“As ready as we’ll ever be,” CJ said.
“Guys, I’m 100% behind you, I saw what you do when I was out here last week and the response to the piece I did featuring Dylan was fantastic. As far as I’m concerned this is another chance to bring some positive publicity to the ranch.”
“Thanks,” Danny said.
“Whenever you’re ready, Sid,” Kylie called to her producer.
“Rolling,” came the reply.
Kylie looked at the first camera. “This is Kylie Rivers for WKID news. I’m here today at the recently re-opened Second Chances Ranch and Rescue Center. Or more specifically, I am in the home of CJ Alvarez and Danny James, the owners of the ranch who have had their purpose in purchasing and upgrading the ranch called into question.” She turned to CJ and Danny. “CJ, the ranch was formerly the Triple J Ranch and has been a mainstay in the area for many years. What led you and Danny to purchase the ranch?”
“My family had relocated to the area while I was in college in Florida. After graduation, I wanted to find a place that we could create a business and settle down with our family. Martin Jones, the owner of the Triple J was looking to sell and spend some time traveling.”
“What led you to change the name of the ranch?”
“Well, when we purchased the Triple J we also bought the ranch next door, more than doubling the ranch’s footprint. We decided to keep the old Triple J as it was, offering boarding, lessons, breeding, trail rides and pony rides. The second ranch was razed and we built all new facilities so we could turn it into a rescue. The goal of the rescue is to take in abused, neglected and abandoned horses, rehabilitate them and adopt them to families so they will have a forever home. We wanted a new name that reflected the inclusion of the rescue and after brainstorming, we came up with Second Chances Ranch and Rescue Center.”
“And you’ve upgraded all of the facilities here?”
“Yes, we’ve upgraded all the barns, arenas and buildings on the old Triple J and built all new facilities at the rescue.”
“And you’ve also built this house?”
“Right, the old Triple J had a ranch house, which is now used by the ranch manager and his sons. We decided to build a new house and a barn for our horses on this piece of land that was between the two properties.”
“I’ve heard some of the kids around here refer to this as ‘the compound’.”
Danny laughed. “That’s sort of what we’ve named it. Since this is where we live it is off limits to our customers. The facilities used here are for our family.”
“Now after the grand re-opening this past weekend a local television station ran a story accusing the two of you of using the ranch as a ‘lure’ for and I quote ‘confused young boys’. The implication being that you were sexual predators and the boys who came to the ranch your victims. How do you respond to that?”
“Well, since we’re on television, I won’t say what I really think,” CJ said. “Basically, we’re being attacked because we are a young gay couple and some people have a problem with that. Nothing illegal or inappropriate has ever gone on here and neither Danny nor I have ever touched any child in an inappropriate manner ever, period.
“Now, there are quite a few young men that I’ve met this afternoon and they seem to congregate around the compound. Who are those boys?”
“We have two foster sons, Diego and Jesse, who live here, and my brother Mattie lives here and Danny’s brother Zak often visits. The other boys are friends of our sons and brothers. Most of them have been coming to the ranch since before we bought it. They were here when Mr. Jones owned the property.”
“Are you afraid of these accusations hurting your business?”
“That’s the least of our concerns. Kylie, on my twenty-first birthday I came into a large inheritance left by my grandfather. Neither Danny nor I need to work. We could shut down the ranch tomorrow and just keep the rescue open, but we’re not going to do that. First of all, to do that would give power to the bigots who spread these stories. It would also rob the families of this community of a place that many have come to think of as a second home.”
“Now, the rescue is a 501(C) non-profit organization and you accept charitable donations--are you afraid of losing donations?”
“We’ve actually seen an increase in donations and volunteers since this story came out. People that know us know the truth. We’ve had nothing but positive support from our friends and clients. They know us and they know what kind of people we are.”
“You mentioned your foster sons--aren’t you a little young to be foster parents?”
“Well, we didn’t plan on it,” Danny said. “Jesse, our first foster son, lost his mother last summer and was abused by his step-father and he ran away. We found him at a friend’s farm in Florida. He had nowhere to go and since we didn’t want to see him thrown into the system, we offered to have him come and live with us. And Diego, we met in Spain; his father was his sole parent and he was recently imprisoned. He had no other family so we took him in. We tend to think of ourselves more as big brothers to the boys than parents.”
“Another accusation was that you ‘harbored’ a serial rapist here at the ranch.”
“The man in question was hired here using a false identity; he could have done that anywhere and if you check with the State’s Attorney you’ll find that he did. He was apprehended here before he could commit any crimes, due to the heroism of two of the young men who ride here. One of those boys had been a victim of this man and faced his attacker to save another boy from the same fate.”
“While we won’t disseminate a victim’s name, how do you feel about the fact that he was named in the news story?”
“It was reprehensible,” Danny spat. “This boy was victimized a second time by that station. He was raped by a sixteen-year-old when he was just twelve. He’s come through it and he’s a strong, happy, loving, brave young man. For someone who considers themselves a journalist to give out the name of a fourteen-year-old boy who was brutalized is criminal.”
“I understand that after the story ran, that a young man who works here was brutally attacked at City High School. Do you think that’s related?”
“We’re sure it is,” CJ said angrily. “This libelous story was run yesterday morning and just hours later, Spin, my brother’s best friend, was beaten and stabbed. It’s too much of a coincidence that someone who has been connected to the ranch for as long as he has was a random victim.”
“And how is he?”
“He’s still in the hospital recuperating. He suffered some serious injuries, but his doctors say he’ll make a full recovery.”
“Is there anything you’d like to say to those people out there who haven’t visited the ranch and yet may have seen the story?”
“Yes,” Danny said. “I’d just like them to take a moment and think about how they would feel if their family, their business and their lives were threatened simply because of who they are. Yes, CJ and I are gay and some of the young men who ride and work here are too and some of them are straight and some of them don’t know yet which they are. But none of that matters to us or to them. Second Chances is a place where all are welcome; we are a family and we support one another. CJ and I have never been anything other than honest and supportive of anyone who has come here and that’s the way we will continue to be. We’d invite anyone who wants to come and check out the ranch, the facilities and us.”
“CJ, you used the term ‘libelous’, are you planning to take legal action against the station or anyone else?”
“No. When something like this happens the first reaction is always passionate. Danny and I both wanted blood and then when Spin was attacked and I had to watch my little brother deal with not knowing whether his best friend would live or die, I wanted revenge. I spoke to my lawyers, but in the bright light of day, Danny and I, along with the boys, decided that vengeance solves nothing. If we sued the station or the man who started the rumors all we would be doing is fueling the story and giving it longevity. Sensational news always runs on page one and the retraction always runs on page thirty.”
“So you’ve decided to do nothing?”
“Well, we decided not to sue, because that would keep the story alive and it would take years for a conclusion. As I said, we have resources other people don’t have. I didn’t ask for the inheritance I received and my only goal in using it is to take care of my family and pursue goals that would reflect my grandfather’s values. I had my lawyers seek out the owners of the station. They were very hands-off and accepted a very generous offer we made to purchase the station. As of tomorrow morning, the station manager and the entire news team will be replaced. Eventually, the station’s affiliation with Fox will be terminated as well.”
“So you’re planning a station with a more liberal bent?”
Danny shook his head. “Not at all. We are going to be hands-off as well. The station will be run by a qualified station manager and the news room will be populated with unbiased journalists whose job will be to investigate and report news and facts, not rumors and innuendos. We want to create a community station with programming that serves the whole community and that treats everyone equally.”
“Thank you, guys, it’s been a pleasure talking to you,” Kylie said into the camera. “Now we’re going to go out to the ranch and talk to some of the boys.”
Zak and Dusty stood side by side.
“Just relax guys,” Kylie said. “I’m just going to ask you a few questions and I want you to be as honest as you can.”
Both boys nodded.
Kylie nodded to the camera man who started rolling.
“I’m here with two young men who work and ride at Second Chances--Dustin Crandall and Zachary Myers,” she said into the camera. She turned to the boys. “Dusty, you’re the manager of the rescue, right?”
Dusty nodded. “Right. I’ve been working at the ranch since I was about twelve and when CJ took over and decided he wanted to start a rescue he offered me the chance to manage it.”
“So, you’ve been here for a number of years. Have you seen any change in the way the new owners run things compared to the old owner?”
“The only changes have been the expansion and the upgrades to our facilities. The way Mr. Jones treated us and the way CJ and Danny treat us has been very similar.”
“And how do they treat you?”
“Like family. Mr. Jones was the closest thing I had to a father for the last five years. My dad was killed when I was little and I got into a lot of trouble. Mr. Jones helped straighten me out. He showed me about horses and taught me so much and helped me to like myself again. CJ and Danny do things the same way. They help whoever needs it. They’ve taken in boys with nowhere else to go, but they also open their home to all of us.”
“How do you feel about the accusations that have been leveled against them?”
“I think it’s cowardly. Obviously, someone has it in for them because they’re gay, but they are two of the best people I know. They’ve never done anything inappropriate with any of us and they never would. It’s offensive that someone would make up stories like that.”
“Thank you, Dusty.” Kylie turned to Zak. “Zak, Danny is your brother, right?”
“Yeah, we have different mothers and didn’t even know the other existed until last September, but we’ve become very close.”
“How do you respond to the accusations?”
“It’s really pis…uh, makes me mad,” Zak said turning red. “My brother and CJ are great guys. They took over the ranch and they’ve pushed to make it so much more than it was. Danny decided to stop competing and now he coaches me and some friends and we’ve done really well in competition. Danny is a great brother, but also a great friend and for anyone to accuse him or CJ of something like this is wrong.”
“I understand the boy who was attacked is a close friend of yours.”
“Spin is my best friend. He was the second person I met at the ranch after Dusty and he and I hit it off right away. He is a funny guy who is always there for his friends. I can’t believe that someone would be so cowardly as to attack him like that.”
“Thanks, boys,” Kylie said as the camera man stopped taping. “Is there anyone else we should talk to?”
Jesse and Dylan stood off to the side. Their heads were together and they were whispering between themselves. Jesse kept shaking his head and Dylan kept nodding. Jesse wrapped his arms around Dylan and whispered in his ear. Dylan hugged him back. They broke their embrace and walked over to the news crew and Zak and Dusty.
“Hey, Jesse, Dylan,” Zak said as the two walked up.
“We want to talk,” Jesse said. “Actually, Dylan wants to talk.”
“Talk to me?” Zak asked.
“No, to her,” Jesse answered.
Zak opened his eyes wide. “Dylan are you sure?”
Dylan looked Zak in the eyes and nodded. “I have to, Zak. Everyone already knows, but at least if I talk they’ll know how Danny and CJ have helped me and not think that they were harboring Cody.”
“Dylan, I’d love to talk to you, but I don’t want you to do anything that might cause you further pain. You’ve been through a lot.”
“Thanks. But I really need to do this.”
“I’ll tell you what, let’s go into the house and talk to Danny and CJ,” Kylie offered. “If they think it’s ok, then we’ll do the interview in there. Ok?”
“Sure,” Jesse answered taking Dylan’s hand and leading him to the house.
Zak and Dusty followed.
The producer walked up behind Kylie. “What are you doing?” he hissed. “That kid’s offering a great interview.”
Kylie turned. “Sid, that kid has been through the worst trauma anyone can suffer and then that story put him through it again and made his personal pain public. I’m not going to interview him unless I am sure he understands the consequences of that interview. This isn’t about ratings or a scoop; it’s about doing the right thing. If he wants to tell his story, then he could do a lot of good, but I want to make sure he’s emotionally ready for that.” She turned back and stomped towards the house.
Danny and CJ were in the living room talking to Mattie when Jesse, Dylan, Zak and Dusty came into the room.
“What’s up?” CJ asked.
“Dylan wants to talk to that reporter,” Jesse said.
“You want to talk about the ranch?” Danny asked.
Jesse shook his head. “No, he wants to talk about Cody and what happened.”
“Dylan, come here,” Danny said. Dylan walked over and sat next to Danny. “Dyl, are you sure about this?” he asked gently.
“I have to, Danny,” Dylan said quietly. “That story made it sound like you and CJ were the reason I was raped and that’s not true. If it weren’t for you guys, I don’t know what would have happened to me.”
“Dylan, you don’t have to do this,” CJ said. “The people who know us aren’t going to believe that crap and the interviews that we’ve done will help convince others. We don’t want you to suffer any more than you already have.”
“Everyone at school already knows; everyone knows what happened since that story was on TV,” Dylan said, tears welling in his eyes. “If I talk to her, then they’ll know what really happened and that you had nothing to do with it.”
“He’s right,” Kylie said from the doorway. “If Dylan tells his story then he could certainly help other boys and it would show that you guys are helping these kids and not hurting them.” She walked over and knelt in front of Dylan. “But, Dylan, I want you to be absolutely sure that this is what you want. It’s not something that you can take back once it’s out.”
Dylan nodded and looked at Jesse, his eyes pleading. Jesse nodded back. “Yes, I want to do this,” he said firmly.
“Ok, but I want you to call your parents and I want their ok for this,” Kylie said. “If they agree, then we’ll do the interview in here and CJ and Danny will be here.”
“But if we’re on camera it might look like we are coercing him,” Danny objected.
“We’ll put Dylan on the couch and you guys can be behind the camera.”
“Can Jesse be with me?” Dylan asked.
Kylie turned to Jesse, the love in his eyes was so recognizable. She turned back to Jesse. “Sure, that’s not a problem.”
Dylan quickly called his mother on his cell phone. At first she objected to Dylan doing the interview, but after she spoke to Danny and he convinced her that Dylan was doing this on his own, she gave her approval under the condition that Danny and CJ be present for the whole interview.
Kylie spoke to Dylan’s mother and told her that she would be as gentle with Dylan as she could.
Colleen appreciated the reporter’s attitude and concern for Dylan; she felt much better about allowing the interview after speaking with her.
For the next half-hour, the living room was chaos. The cameraman and sound guy were getting their equipment set back a second time. Kylie was reviewing her notes. Danny, CJ, Zak and Dusty were off to one corner watching the action, while Dylan and Jesse huddled on the couch.
Bridget busied herself bringing drinks and snacks out. She went back into the kitchen and came back a few minutes later and headed over to where Dylan and Jesse sat. She placed two large glasses in front of them. The two looked up and grinned. While the other boys preferred sodas, Dylan’s weakness was strawberry milkshakes, a ‘habit’ that he had passed on to Jesse.
Dylan picked up his glass and sucked on the straw. “Mmm.” He grinned. “Thanks, Bridget, yours are the best.”
Bridget smiled at Dylan. “Anything for you, Sweetie,” she said as she went back into the kitchen. Bridget was fond of all the boys, but she had a soft spot for Dylan and Jesse.
Kaya lumbered into the living room and headed straight over to Dylan and Jesse. She laid her head on the spot where their knees were touching and they both petted and stroked her.
From the other side of the room, Kylie had been observing Dylan and Jesse. A smile crossed her face as she watched the two boys who were obviously in love. She walked over and sat down next to them. Kaya looked up at the stranger suspiciously.
“It’s ok, Kaya,” Dylan said softly.
“Looks like you two have a guardian,” Kylie said.
Dylan laughed. “She’s actually Jesse’s, but she’s kinda adopted me.”
“She’s beautiful, where did you get her, Jesse?”
“She belonged to a friend of mine who died, so I kind of ‘inherited’ her,” Jesse said quietly. “She only ever listened to Seb and me until we got here.”
“I’m sorry about your friend, Jesse.”
“Can I ask you guys something?” Kylie said. Her eyes shifted to where Dylan’s right knee and Jesse’s left were touching and their hands that rested casually on top of each other.
“S-sure.” Dylan said hesitantly and he moved slightly so that he and Jesse were not touching.
“It’s ok, Dylan,” Kylie said gently. “I’ve been watching you guys and it’s obvious that you are very close. I was curious about how out you guys are.”
“Well, my parents know,” Dylan said. “They love Jesse. Everyone at the ranch knows. I don’t know about school. We’re in different grades so we don’t have many classes together.”
“The reason I’m asking is that you guys radiate love.” Dylan and Jesse blushed. “That’s a good thing, guys. But I don’t want you to make things uncomfortable for yourselves by inadvertently outing yourselves.”
Dylan leaned into Jesse and whispered in his ear. They carried on an almost silent conversation for several minutes.
“What if we wanted to?” Dylan asked curiously.
“Wanted to what?”
“Come out?” Jesse answered.
“You mean now, in the interview?”
Both boys nodded.
“Boys, let me honest. I would like nothing more. You guys are adorable together and I think seeing two boys who are ‘real’ boys and as committed and in love as you obviously are would show a lot of people that being gay is not something to be ashamed of and you could help lots of young people. But, I want you to be sure. Your friend was already attacked at school and those people only thought he was gay. If you do this it’s permanent, you can’t take it back and you would be putting a target on your backs.”
“We know,” Dylan said. “But, we can help more people by being out and showing them that we are not ashamed and that we are normal. We have friends at school who will have our backs. Spin got jumped because none of us knew about that damn story and he was alone. This time we’ll be ready.”
Kylie thought a moment. “I’m willing to do this, but I think you need to talk to CJ and Danny since this will affect them, as well. A big point of that story was to make people think they were ‘recruiting’ boys and ‘turning’ them gay.”
“But, if we tell the truth about how we ended up here and ended up together, then it will show that’s not the case,” Jesse protested.
“To a rational person, yes,” Kylie said. “Unfortunately, rational is not a word we use to describe the average Channel 13 viewer.”
“But, those people won’t be watching this story anyways,” Dylan said. “And they’re going to believe what they want. If we tell the truth, more people are going to believe us than will believe those lies.”
“With you two, they just might.” Kylie grinned. “Why don’t you guys go and talk to CJ and Danny?”
Dylan and Jesse nodded and stood up and walked over to where Danny, CJ, Zak and Dusty stood with Kaya staying between them.
Kylie watched as Dylan and Jesse spoke.
“Absolutely NOT!!” she heard Danny shout.
Danny took Dylan and Jesse by the arms and led them out of the room, followed by the others.
Danny dragged Dylan and Jesse into the kitchen.
“Danny, stop,” Jesse said pulling his arm free.
“Are you guys nuts?!” Danny yelled. “After what happened to Spin, you want to out yourselves on television?”
CJ walked behind Danny and placed his hands on Danny’s shoulders. “Hun, take a deep breath.”
“CJ, you can’t think this is a good idea.”
“I think it’s their choice,” CJ answered. “They’re old enough to know what they’re doing.”
“But they’re kids,” Danny protested. “What if something happens?”
Dylan walked up and took Danny’s hand. “Danny, I know you love us. You’ve done so much for both of us and we understand why you’re against this. But Spin got attacked because we didn’t know about the story and he was alone. We’re not going to be alone. We have our friends and our family. We need to do this, to show people that we aren’t scared or ashamed.”
Jesse wrapped his arm around Dylan’s shoulder. “Danny, we’re doing this.”
Danny wrapped his arms around both boys and hugged them tight. “I love you guys,” he whispered. “If anything ever happened to either of you, I don’t know what I’d do.” He released them and placed a hand on each of their cheeks and looked them in the eyes. “Dylan, you need to call your parents and let them know, ok?”
Dylan nodded. He took Jesse’s hand and led him out of the kitchen.
Danny slumped into a chair at the kitchen table. He laid his head on the table. CJ sat next to him and rubbed his neck.
Zak and Dusty sat down on the other side of the table.
Danny sat up and looked at his brother. “How do you guys feel about this?” he asked.
“Danny, it’s not exactly gonna shock many people,” Zak said. “I mean, none of us has ever ‘officially’ come out, except maybe Devon, but it’s not like we’ve ever hidden it either. I refer to Dusty as my boyfriend all the time. And as far as Dylan and Jesse go, anyone who looks at them together and doesn’t see it is blind.”
Danny chuckled. “You’re right, they are so gone.”
Dusty grinned. “Oh, yeah. They need each other in a way that we don’t.”
“What do you mean?” CJ asked. “We all love our partners.”
“He didn’t say we didn’t love each other,” Zak answered. “He said they needed each other. We--me and Dusty, you and Danny, Mattie and Spin, Devon and TJ--we all have our own interests separate from each other; we can all go off and do our own thing. It doesn’t mean we love each other any less. But Dylan and Jesse have been through so much, they need each other. Don’t you see it? Sometimes I don’t think they even realize it.”
“Realize what?” CJ asked.
“They’re practically the same person,” Zak laughed. “They’re just connected in a way that I don’t think many people are. It’s special.”
“You’re right.” CJ nodded. “I guess I never thought about it since they’ve been together since Jesse got here, but they are connected.”
“That’s why I was suspicious when they told us that Dylan had gone with Mattie in Spain. He never goes anywhere without Jesse, except home and classes at school.”
“You’re right, that should have been a red flag for us,” Danny said.
“I asked Jesse at the time, but he thought maybe because he and Ace had been out with Diego and Dylan had slept in Mattie had convinced him to go.”
“Makes sense,” Danny said. “Well, let’s go see what’s going on.”
The four went back into the living room, where they saw Dylan and Jesse talking to Kylie.
“Dylan, did you talk to your mom?” Danny asked.
Dylan nodded. “Yep, she wasn’t excited about it, but she’s ok with it,” he said.
“Danny, I understand your apprehension,” Kylie said. “Just know that I am going to handle this as gently as I can for these two. I think this is going to be good for them and they’ll help other kids their age who may be going through the same things.”
“Thanks, Kylie, I appreciate that,” Danny answered.
“Ok, let’s get rolling,” Kylie said.
Danny, CJ, Dusty and Zak went back to their corner of the living room.
Dylan and Jesse sat together on the couch and Kaya resumed her spot between them. Kylie sat opposite them.
“Ready when you are, Sid,” Kylie said.
Kylie turned to the camera. “This is Kylie Rivers for WKID. I’m here with two young men who work and ride and live at the Second Chances Ranch and Rescue Center. One of these boys was victimized by the report that ran Monday on another station and asked that he have a chance to set the record straight. Dylan Summers is fourteen, almost fifteen, years old and has been coming to Second Chances for almost a year. Jesse Osterman just turned sixteen and he has been living with Danny James and CJ Alvarez as their foster son since November.”
She turned to the boys. “Dylan, let’s start with you. Yesterday, Channel 13’s report publically revealed that you had been attacked by another young man and implied that Danny and CJ somehow helped hide this individual. Is that the truth?”
“Yes and No,” Dylan said. “When I was twelve, and living in another town, I was raped by an older boy that I knew from a stable I rode at. I blamed myself and I went into a deep depression; later I found out that this boy raped my best friend as well and that pushed me to try and kill myself. I was hospitalized, diagnosed with Severe Depression Disorder and eventually found my way out of it. Last summer, I moved here with my parents, and my cousin, Denise introduced me to some boys that rode here. I had given up on riding, but they helped me remember how much I loved it and they gave me back something special.”
“What about your attacker being ‘sheltered’ by CJ and Danny?”
“That’s a lie,” Dylan said forcefully. “In January, I contracted meningitis and I was stuck in bed for almost six weeks. During that time, CJ hired a new ranch hand. The only people who even knew what had happened to me were Danny, Jesse and Danny’s brother Zak. No one had any reason to suspect this hand, since he was using a fake name and ID. Jesse was showing me pictures of his birthday dinner and I saw a picture of Cody, the boy who raped me. We immediately rushed to the ranch and with the help of a friend we stopped him from attacking another boy. But, he NEVER was able to attack anyone while he was here. To say that CJ and Danny helped him or protected him is a complete lie.”
“How did you feel about the report yesterday?”
“At first I was upset. My friends have known since Cody was arrested what happened. They’ve helped me adjust and deal with the fear and guilt that comes with it, but it’s not right for someone to think they have the right to broadcast my past on television without my permission.”
“So why did you want to talk today?”
“I wanted to set the record straight as far as Danny and CJ go and I wanted to show other people that might have gone through the same thing that you can get through it and that they are not alone.”
“Thank you, Dylan,” Kylie said. “Jesse. You are one of two foster sons of CJ and Danny, right?”
“Well, I think technically, I’m a foster and Diego is a ward or they’re his guardians or something. It’s complicated. He came back with us from Spain and CJ and Danny are his guardians, but he’s still my brother.”
“And how did you come to be their foster son?”
“Well, I was born in Wellington, Florida…”
“Which, if I’m not mistaken, is horse country,” Kylie interjected.
“Right. My mom was a trainer and I was riding before I could walk.”
“And your father?”
Jesse looked down and Dylan instinctively took his hand. “I never knew my father. It was always just my mom and me.”
“It’s ok. My mom was great and because of her job I came to realize how much I love horses. Anyways, last spring, my mom got married and within a few weeks found out she had terminal cancer. For the next few months she was in and out of the hospital and her husband started hitting me. I never said anything cuz she had enough to worry about. I had a friend, Seb, who had been my best friend since fourth grade. He had gone away for the summer and I was just trying to hang on until he got back. It was a day or so after he was supposed to be back and I hadn’t heard from him, so I went to his house and his brother told me…” tears started to fall from Jesse’s eyes. He took a deep breath.
“Seb’s brother told him that Seb had been killed in a fight,” Dylan finished. “Seb was a peacemaker and some bullies were picking on a couple of kids and he tried to help and was shot.”
“Jesse are you ok?” Kylie asked.
Jesse nodded. “Yes, I’m sorry. It still hurts when I think of him.”
“You don’t need to apologize.”
“The day of Seb’s funeral I came home and my mom’s husband told me she wasn’t going to make it and he was going to be my guardian. He came after me and I ran into my room. He broke the door down and started beating me. I fell on the floor and saw an old trophy under the bed. I grabbed it and swung and he went down. I thought I had killed him and I ran from the apartment. I ran to the hospital, I saw my mom one last time--she wasn’t awake. And then I left. Seb’s parents had wanted me to help take care of his dog, Kaya.” He glanced at Kaya sitting between him and Dylan. “So I took her and I ran.”
“You ran away?”
Jesse nodded. “I was on the run for about six weeks, when Danny found me camped out near the farm of a friend of his. He took me in, fed me, helped and offered to be my foster dad. Then we came here and I met Dylan and my life has been great since.”
“I think most people watching you and Dylan will see that you are more than friends.”
“Yes, ma’am. Dylan’s my boyfriend. We connected the second we met and we’ve been together ever since.”
“There are some people that will say that you are ‘confused’ or you were ‘recruited’ by Danny and CJ. How do you boys respond to that?”
“It’s wrong,” Jesse said trying to remain calm. “It’s also insulting. Danny and CJ were in the middle of stuff of their own and just starting a new business when they found me; lots of people would have called the police and sent me to a group home or an orphanage. Instead, they took me in, gave me a home, friends and a family. They never even knew I was gay. They wouldn’t have cared either way. I was confused when they found me. I was confused about how my mother could have married a man that was so violent. I was confused about why my best friend, at the time, my only friend was taken from me. I was confused about where I was going to go and if I would survive another night; if I was going to eat; if I was going to be robbed or worse. The only thing I was not confused about was the fact that I was gay. I’ve known that since I was eleven. Probably even before that.”
“Jesse’s right,” Dylan interjected. “There are people who will think that being raped made me gay, or being friends with CJ and Danny made me gay. Nothing made me gay. I’ve knew I was gay a long time before I was attacked. He didn’t target me because I was gay, he went after me cuz I was smaller and weaker and he knew I couldn’t fight him off. It’s really insulting that people think we’re so stupid or naïve that we would tell the world we were gay if we weren’t or that Danny and CJ would try to ‘recruit’ us. Do they think that being gay makes life easier for us? People hate us the same way they hate people for the color of their skin and just like that, we can’t help the way we are. One of our closest friends was beaten and stabbed yesterday, just because of that stupid story. Just because someone thought he was gay. He didn’t do anything to deserve that. He’s a sweet, funny guy who makes us laugh all the time and someone thought that because he might be gay that was reason enough to try to kill him. And people think there is something wrong with US?!?!”
“I don’t understand the people who think that we are running a ‘recruitment drive’,” Jesse said. “We have friends who are gay and straight, some aren’t even sure yet. It doesn’t matter to us and it sure doesn’t matter to CJ and Danny. The only person who should be concerned with who I love is the person I love; it’s no one else’s business and it’s certainly not a good reason to hate me or my friends and family.”
Kylie smiled at both of the boys. “Thank you, Dylan and Jesse, for taking the time to talk to me.” She turned back to the camera. “This is Kylie Rivers reporting.”
“You guys were amazing,” Kylie gushed.
“Really?” Dylan asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Danny said as he rushed over to them. “You guys made your case in a way very few people could have. We’re so proud of both of you.”
Dylan and Jesse jumped up and hugged Danny and then found themselves passed between CJ, Dusty, Zak and Mattie, who had come in just as the interview was starting.
“I’m gonna call Spin’s mom and make sure Spin sees this tonight.” Mattie beamed. “You guys were awesome.”
By the next morning, the story had been broadcast and re-broadcast on WKID during every newscast. Kylie called CJ to tell him that they had received an unprecedented number of calls asking where they could send donations for the rescue and complimenting the story, especially Dylan and Jesse’s part in it.
He punched the pause button on the remote and threw it across the room.
He stared at the still image of the two boys. He had gone after the wrong one. He was sure the red-head was a fag and needed to be dealt with, but these two sitting there holding hands and flaunting their relationship--they were two that needed dealing with.
And he was going to see that they were taken care of.