By Andrew Todd
Mattie stood nervously in the doorway.
“Come in, Mattie,” the woman said, smiling at him. Mattie stepped into the room and she shut the door behind him. “I’m Jean Bingham. Would you like to have a seat?” She gestured to several chairs that were in a loose circle around an old coffee table. Mattie sat in a straight-back chair and fidgeted.
Jean sat in a chair opposite Mattie and smiled warmly. “Mattie…Do you prefer Mattie or Mateo or Matt?” she asked.
Mattie stared at her. “Uh, everyone just calls me Mattie,” he answered.
“But, that’s not what I asked.” She grinned. “I asked what you preferred. Often what we are called is dictated by our family. When someone reaches your age, family tends to try to keep us younger by our names.”
“No, Mattie’s ok,” Mattie said. “Spin calls me Matt and once in a while the others do and my parents always call me Mateo, but Mattie’s ok.”
“Should I just call you Doctor?”
Jean grinned. “You can, but that wouldn’t be accurate,” she explained. “I’m not a doctor; I am a licensed clinical social worker.” She noted the confusion on Mattie’s face. “Basically, that means I spent a lot of time in school learning to listen to people. My job is to listen to whatever you want to talk about, maybe ask some questions and maybe help you feel better about things that might be bothering you.”
“You’re gonna tell me what to do?”
“Not necessarily, sometimes I might offer suggestions or mechanisms you might try; these work different for everyone, we are just here to see if we can help you.” She watched Mattie’s eyes dart around the room. “You don’t need to be nervous, Mattie.”
“I know.” He shrugged. “This is just new for me. Where’s Dylan?”
“Dylan’s in the waiting room.”
“I didn’t see him.”
“I have two doors in this office. You enter through that one,” she pointed to the door Mattie came in, “and exit through that one,” she pointed to a second door. “It allows for privacy.”
“Oh,” Mattie said dejectedly. “I thought he would be here with me.”
“He will be, if that’s what you want, but I wanted us to have a few minutes to talk first. I understand from talking to Dylan that you’ve been having a rather trying few weeks or so.”
Mattie nodded. He started to tell Jean about the kidnapping and news report and Spin’s attack. Once he started, it was like the flood gates had opened and he talked for almost twenty minutes without stopping.
Jean looked at him. “Let’s start with the kidnapping,” she said. “How do you feel about that?”
“Dylan could have been hurt or killed and it would have been my fault.”
“No. It would have been the fault of the person who hurt him. What if you hadn’t been there to help Dylan? What if the two of you hadn’t been there to help each other?”
“Because of me, Dylan shot someone,” Mattie protested. “He’s the gentlest person I know and he hates guns and he had to do that.”
“Mattie, Dylan did what he had to to help his friends. In the long run, I think that has helped him.”
“Why don’t we bring Dylan in? That way the three of us can talk.”
Mattie nodded and Jean went to the door and summoned Dylan.
Dylan came in and grinned at Mattie as he walked over and took a seat in a chair next to Mattie.
Jean sat back down. “Dylan, do you mind telling Mattie what you told me about the shooting?”
Dylan looked at Mattie. “At first it freaked me out, that I had done that. But the more I thought about it and talked to Jean and my parents, I realized that it proved to me that I was strong enough to do what needed to be done to protect myself and my friends. Being a part of catching Cody was a first step. As much as I wish the kidnapping and everything hadn’t happened, it showed me that I am stronger than I think I am.”
“Dylan, do you blame Mattie for what happened?”
Dylan looked into Mattie’s eyes and shook his head. “No. Why would I?”
“It was my family that did this,” Mattie replied.
“Mattie, it was one crazy uncle and you had no way of knowing that this would happen. It’s no one’s fault but his. It was frightening, but if you hadn’t been there it would have been worse. You have to stop blaming yourself. Believe me, I know. When I didn’t say anything about Cody and he did it to Tanner, I blamed myself and that guilt drove me to try to kill myself. I know you’re stronger than me, but if you let this bring you down…”
Mattie sat in silence as Dylan’s voice trailed off.
“Mattie, what are you thinking?” Jean asked.
“That Dylan is wrong,” Mattie said quietly. “He says I’m stronger than him and I’m not. He’s one of the strongest people I know--to go through what he did and survive. What happened to us isn’t anywhere near as bad as what Cody did and it’s left me a wreck. I don’t sleep, I think about it all the time. And then Spin gets hurt and I wasn’t there to protect him.”
“Mattie, why do you think you need to protect him?” Jean asked.
“I love him. I can’t lose him.”
“Matt, none of us were there when that happened to Spin. None of us even thought that something like that would happen--why would we? If we had known about the news report then we would have been more aware and more careful. Spin would hate it if you blamed yourself or felt responsible. He loves you more than anything. We can’t change what happened to us or to him, the only thing we can do is help each other to heal and get past it. Spin’s gonna need all of us, but especially you. Zak said he woke up cuz you were there. He knew you were there and he felt you and your love.”
Tears flowed down Dylan’s and Mattie’s faces as Dylan spoke.
Mattie tried to speak, but he just sobbed. Dylan got up and squeezed himself into the chair with Mattie. He wrapped his arm around Mattie and rocked his friend in his arms.
Mattie and Dylan cried in each other’s arms for several minutes. Mattie finally was able to calm himself.
Mattie hugged Dylan tight. “Thank you,” he whispered into Dylan’s ear.
Dylan gently kissed Mattie’s cheek and hugged him and then went back to his chair.
Jean had remained silent while the boys worked through their emotions. “Mattie, how do feel now?” she finally asked.
“Better. I don’t think I’m over it all, but I don’t feel as guilty and alone now.”
“You mentioned you were having trouble sleeping. Has that been going on since Spain?”
Mattie nodded. “I probably get a few hours a night at most. The only one who knows is Dylan. He caught me in the living room once. If Spin’s not with me, I stay in my room.”
“Does Spin being there make it easier for you to sleep?”
“It has. At first, nothing helped, but after a week or so, Spin being there helped me.”
“It made you feel safe?”
Mattie thought for a second. “I guess so. I think it helps to know he’s there.”
“Well, when we went to the rancho, Spin stayed at my parents’. It wasn’t a big deal, but when we were kidnapped, I was scared I’d never see him again.”
“So now when he’s there with you it comforts you and makes you worry less,” Jean observed. “Since Spin was attacked, is your sleep worse?”
“I haven’t really slept,” Mattie admitted.
“Mattie, I think your insomnia has less to do with the kidnapping itself and more to do with your fear of losing Spin or never seeing him again. Given your ages, it’s not realistic to expect the two of you to be together all the time, but what I’d recommend is that you check in with each other in the evenings before you go to bed. Also, let the others in the house know what is going on with you and they can support you. Now, I’m not a doctor and I can’t prescribe medication, nor do I think you need it, but I would recommend you get an over-the-counter sleeping medication to help you sleep. It’s very important that someone your age get enough rest, especially given how active you boys are.”
Mattie nodded as he listened to Jean’s recommendations.
Jean looked at her watch. “Well, we’ve gone a little over our time, but I think it was worth it,” she said. “Mattie, would you like to come back?”
“I’m not sure. I think this was helpful, but I’m not sure I’ll need it again.”
“I understand. Let’s leave it open then. Dylan can tell you, I leave a few slots open each week for last-minute or emergency appointments. If you need to talk, please don’t hesitate to call me.”
Mattie nodded. “I won’t,” he said, standing up. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome,” Jean answered as she opened the door to the waiting room for Mattie and Dylan.
Mattie and Dylan rode in silence. Dylan knew that Mattie was processing everything he had learned over the last hour. He had been there before and knew that it took time.
Mattie turned into the parking lot of a small pizza restaurant the boys liked.
“Hungry?” he asked Dylan as he turned the car off.
It was still early afternoon, as both boys had been dismissed from school early for their appointments.
“Sure.” Dylan grinned.
The boys walked into the restaurant. It was deserted. They grabbed a table and the waitress came right over and took their orders.
“Thanks, Dylan,” Mattie said quietly.
“Mattie, stop thanking me,” Dylan said. “You’re my brother…or uncle…” he laughed. “I’m just glad I could put you with Jean so she could help you.”
“I think she really did,” Mattie said. “But you did too. I meant what I said about you being a stronger person than me. You survived so much worse and look at you. You’re happy. You’re not bitter or angry.”
“I still have my moments. But, knowing Cody is in prison helps a lot. And having Jesse and you guys.”
“But especially Jesse,” Mattie laughed.
“You guys pick on us,” Dylan pouted.
“No, we envy you,” Mattie said seriously.
Just then the waitress brought their order. She placed their drinks in front of them and their large pepperoni and extra-cheese pizza between them.
Both boys dug into the pizza.
“What do you mean?” Dylan asked after a few minutes. “You envy us?”
“We’ve all talked about you guys,” Mattie started. “You guys have something so special, so beyond what the rest of us have.”
“No we don’t,” Dylan protested.
Mattie grinned and nodded. “Dylan, how often are you and Jesse apart?”
“In school and when we are home.”
“You guys meet each other between classes all day and you or he stays at the other’s house almost every night.”
“Why are you picking on us?”
“Dylan, we’re not. I’m not. Look, Spin and I, Zak and Dusty…all of us, we love our partners, but we are content together or apart. We want to be together as much as possible, but if we didn’t have some space we would suffocate. That’s not the case for you guys. You’re a unit. You always know where the other one is and you’re always at your best when you’re together.”
“Zak and Dusty have said that too,” Dylan replied. “I don’t get it, maybe Jesse does.”
“I’m sure you do, you just don’t like to think about it,” Mattie said.
They finished their lunch and headed back to the ranch.
Zak and Dusty were relaxing on the couch in Dusty’s loft apartment over the rescue barn.
It was a week after Spin’s attack and Dusty had just moved in the previous day. They were enjoying the solitude of the new apartment.
“So when do you start getting horses?” Zak asked.
“It’s not that simple,” Dusty replied. “We’ve informed the local SPCA and animal control offices and they are aware that we are open. It could be days before we get a call or we could get a bunch at once. We’ll never know. Plus, we’re new, so we are not going to be their first contact. For the first few months, we’ll probably get overflow when other rescues are full.”
“Are the volunteers ready?”
“We have a small group to start. When Diego and I went through the signup sheets, we were able to pick out about ten that had some level of experience with horses. Diego’s starting them first, since they will take less time to get up to speed. Then we’ll start with the less-experienced ones.”
“How’s Diego doing?”
“He seems really happy,” Dusty answered. “Him and his shadow.”
Both boys laughed. They all had taken to referring to Brandon as Diego’s shadow. Diego was continuing with Brandon’s lessons and Brandon was always around to help Diego with the volunteers.
“I think Brandon has a crush on Diego,” Zak laughed.
“I’m not sure if it’s a crush or hero-worship,” Dusty replied. “Or a combination of both. I think Diego sees him more as a little brother, though. Brandon just barely turned fourteen and Diego will be seventeen next month.”
“Maybe we should hook Brandon and Erik up,” Zak suggested.
Dusty grinned and shook his head. “Leave them alone,” he ordered, laughing. “Not everyone needs romance. Friendships can be nice too. Erik and Brandon are already friends. If something more develops that’s up to them. Besides, they’re going to have the age thing too.”
Zak shook his head. “Not as much. Erik skipped a grade, so he’s only fifteen. He’ll be sixteen in July.”
“Zak, leave them alone,” Dusty repeated.
Zak pouted before he started laughing. “You’re no fun.”
Dusty rolled his eyes and shook his head. He turned to Zak and was about to kiss him when his phone went off.
“Second Chances Rescue,” he said as he answered. “This is Dusty…two? Sure, I’ll grab a couple guys and we’ll be right over.” He disconnected and hit his speed dial. “Hey, Ace. We got our first call. Two. You, me and Devon should be good. I’ll get the trailer hitched and you guys meet me over here.”
“So you got your first rescues?” Zak asked.
Dusty nodded. “That was animal control. They found two geldings wandering on someone’s property and no one has reported them missing. He said they are a little underfed, but otherwise in pretty good shape.”
“Well, I guess it’s good to start with ones that aren’t as bad off as Dodger was.”
“Not every rescue is going to be physically abused. We’re also a place that people can donate or surrender a horse if they can no longer care for it. It’s stupid that someone would turn them loose to fend for themselves when there are places like ours,” Dusty said.
“So, Devon and Ace are going with you?”
“Well, I guess I’ll drive over and see Spin then,” Zak said.
Spin had been released from the hospital several days earlier, but he was on bed rest, something which was trying his parents’ patience.
“Good idea.” Dusty grinned. “He’s probably driving his parents nuts.”
Zak laughed and nodded. “Yup. Mattie’s over there, but I think Spin’s going stir-crazy.”
Both boys headed down the stairs that ran along the far wall of the barn. Zak kissed Dusty quickly and took off towards the compound to get his SUV.
Dusty got into the Super Cab and backed it up to the trailer. He had just finished hooking up the trailer when Ace and TJ walked up.
“Hey, Ace, TJ, where’s Devon?”
“He’s finishing up his project for the art show,” TJ explained. “So I told him I’d go and help you guys.”
“Ok,” Dusty said. “Let’s go, then.”
Dusty got into the driver’s seat. Ace took the front passenger seat and TJ got into the backseat.
The Animal Control facility was about twenty minutes away. It was a large building surrounded by many fields and paddocks. As the boys exited the trucks they could hear the cacophony of dogs barking and other animals.
Dusty went into the main office, while Ace and TJ stayed by the truck.
Dusty saw a young woman sitting behind a sliding window. He walked up to the window.
The girl reached up and slid the window open. “Can I help you?”
“I’m Dusty Crandall from Second Chances Rescue,” Dusty said. “Mr. Strothers called about a couple of horses.”
“Sure. Let me give him a call.” She picked up her phone and dialed. “Mr. Strothers, the man from the rescue is here for those horses…ok.” She hung up and looked at Dusty. “He’ll be right out.”
A few seconds later a tall man of about forty-five came into the lobby. He offered Dusty his hand. “You must be Dusty. Frank Strothers.”
“Nice to meet you, sir,” Dusty said returning the handshake.
“Let’s go out to the paddock,” Mr. Strothers said as he led Dusty out of a side door. “Like I said, these two were found wandering on someone’s property. They were probably turned loose as no one has tried to claim them or reported them missing. They’re in pretty good shape. They probably weren’t on their own for more than a week or so. They were a bit hungry, but didn’t look starved or abused.”
Dusty shook his head. “I can’t believe that people would just turn them loose to fend for themselves.”
“I know, but at least they did it before they were half starved,” Mr. Strothers offered. “I’ve seen them come in when they are skin and bone and then turned out. And when we find the people responsible they tell us that they just couldn’t afford them anymore, but you and I both know that for an animal the size of a horse to be reduced to half its weight it takes a long time.”
They walked over to a small fenced-in area.
“Here they are,” Mr. Strothers said.
Dusty looked at the two geldings. One was obviously an Appaloosa. He was about fifteen hands and very solidly built. The other looked to be a thoroughbred or Warmblood. He was tall, about seventeen hands, and Dusty would guess that he was the younger of the two, but he wouldn’t know for sure until their teeth were checked.
Both horses came right up to Dusty. They were friendly and readily accepted Dusty’s pats and scratches.
“They’re definitely used to people.”
Mr. Strothers nodded. “They haven’t given us any trouble. Been handled by several volunteers. I can’t tell you if they are trained or broken or anything. One of our volunteers remarked that the bigger one seemed to have a great deal of ground training; she thought he might even have some dressage training.”
“Well, we have just the guy to test that theory,” Dusty grinned. “My friend’s brother is a trainer and former competitor and he trains dressage, so he’ll know what training this guy has.”
“Why don’t I run and get the paperwork for you to sign and you can get them loaded up?”
“Sure, I’ll grab my guys and we’ll get going.”
Mr. Strothers ran into the office while Dusty went around to the front of the complex to find Ace and TJ.
TJ was waiting by the truck when Dusty walked up.
“Where’s Ace?” Dusty asked.
TJ grinned and nodded towards the building that all the barking was coming from. “He’s in love,” TJ laughed.
“Oh, shit!!” Dusty shook his head. “That’s one of the reasons I’m keeping Zak out of this, so he doesn’t try to adopt every horse we find.”
“Here he comes.” TJ grinned as Ace came out of the building being led by a large tan dog with a black muzzle.
“ACE!!” Dusty shouted. “What are you doing?!”
Ace grinned as he walked up to his friends. “Well, it’s like this,” he started, purposely over-emphasizing his southern drawl. “I just went to take a look at the puppies and I found this guy. He’s so friendly.”
As Ace spoke the dog jumped up on Dusty, placing his paws on Dusty’s chest. Ace grinned, knowing that the dog lover in Dusty couldn’t resist.
Dusty smiled and ruffled the dog’s ears. He looked at Ace. “What is he, anyways?”
“They think some kind of Golden Retriever/Saint Bernard mix,” Ace answered. “Probably a few more things in there. But he’s got obedience training. I guess he belonged to an older man who passed away and his kids didn’t want him, so they brought him here.”
“You know, if you adopt one every time we come here, Sarge is gonna kill you,” Dusty laughed.
Ace cringed. “I know. This is a one-time deal. I haven’t had a dog since I was really little. Now that we have the space and the time, he’ll be great at the house. Dad won’t mind.”
“You hope,” TJ interjected.
“No, he’ll be ok with one, we’ve talked about it,” Ace said. “I just have to stop at one.”
“What’s his name?” Dusty asked.
“I know, but it fits with his coloring,” Ace laughed.
“Well, load him up in the truck and let’s go get the horses,” Dusty instructed.
Ace opened the back door of the truck and Rusty hopped right in. Ace rolled down the window so there would be air in the truck even though it was not a particularly warm day.
While Ace was getting Rusty settled, Dusty and TJ went around to the trailer. They let down the ramp and Dusty went in and grabbed a couple of halters and leads they had stored. When he came down the ramp, he handed one of the leads to TJ.
TJ followed him back to the paddock area and Ace ran after them to catch up.
“They don’t look too bad,” TJ said as the two horses came up to the fence.
“They’re in good shape,” Dusty said. “Probably be more work just finding out what kind of training they have and what they can do. I had CJ call the vet and he’ll meet us at the ranch to check them out and give us an idea about their ages.” He handed his halter and lead to Ace. “Why don’t you guys bring them out and load them into the trailer and I’ll go sign the paperwork.”
Dusty left Ace and TJ and went back into the office where Mr. Strothers waited for him. He signed all the paperwork and was just walking out the door when he heard a horse’s neigh.
Dusty ran out of the building and towards the truck. TJ was on the ground and Ace was trying to hold onto the thoroughbred’s lead. The horse was rearing and pulling away from Ace.
Dusty grabbed the lead from Ace’s hand. “Shhh,” he whispered to the horse. “You’re alright. You’re good.” The horse stood there shaking as Dusty ran a hand down his neck. “What happened?” he asked.
“We loaded the Appaloosa no problem and then we tried to load this guy and he went nuts. He reared up and knocked TJ down,” Ace explained.
“TJ, you good?” Dusty asked.
“I’m alright,” TJ replied as he stood up and brushed himself off.
Dusty looked back to the gelding. He stroked the horse’s neck and spoke to him softly. He slowly started to lead the horse to the trailer. As they got close to the ramp, the horse began to pull back again.
“Whoa,” Dusty said as he led the horse away from the trailer. He thought for a moment.
Mr. Strothers came out of the office. “Everything alright?”
“How did you get them here?” Dusty asked.
“The owner of the property they were found on brought them in.”
“In a trailer?”
“No, they’re just about a half mile down the road so he and his son led them here.”
“Well, this guy doesn’t like the trailer.” Dusty walked the horse around the yard; every time he got closer to the trailer the animal would become nervous. “Ace, c’mere.”
Ace stepped over next to Dusty. “What’s up?”
“I want to try something,” Dusty said softly. He slowly handed the lead to Ace. The horse fidgeted a bit, but Ace stroked his neck and he calmed down. Dusty pulled his shirt over his head.
“What are you doing?” Ace laughed.
“Well, he’ll let me lead him, but it’s when he sees the trailer that he starts to freak,” Dusty explained as he slowly placed the shirt over the horse’s eyes and tucked it into the halter. “So let’s see if he’ll get on it if he can’t see it.”
He took the lead back from Ace and talked softly to the gelding. He led him around the parking lot for a few minutes turning him back and forth so that the gelding wouldn’t know where he was going. As he led the horse around, Dusty also sped him up thinking that if he got the horse moving quickly enough he would be in the trailer before he realized.
Dusty nodded to Ace and TJ. Ace was stationed at the ramp to shut it as soon as Dusty got the horse in and TJ was by the front door to let Dusty out.
Dusty kept the horse moving and kept himself loose and relaxed. He turned quickly and led the horse up the ramp and into the trailer. He snapped the halter into the cross ties and slipped out through the door while Ace shut the ramp. He grabbed his shirt from the halter. The horse stood there calmly and Dusty shook his head.
“Must be something about the ramp or the going into the trailer, cuz he’s fine in there,” Dusty said as they got into the truck. Ace was in the backseat with Rusty.
CJ, Danny, Dylan and Jesse were waiting with vet when they pulled into the rescue yard.
Dusty and TJ climbed out of the truck, but everyone grinned as Ace came out of the backseat followed by his new friend.
“Ace, you were supposed to pick up horses,” CJ laughed.
“We’re a rescue; where is it written that we just have to rescue the horses?” Ace protested.
Rusty ran around the yard checking things out. He ran up to Jesse and Dylan who both knelt down to pet the new dog.
Ace introduced everyone as Dusty and TJ unloaded the horses.
When Dylan and Jesse laid eyes on the larger of the two horses, they both forgot about their new canine friend.
Both boys walked over to where Dusty stood holding the gelding.
“Wow!!” Dylan whispered. “He’s gorgeous.” He ran his hands along the horse’s neck and side.
Jesse took the lead from Dusty and he and Dylan walked the horse around.
Dusty went over to CJ and Danny.
“Well, I guess you don’t have to worry about who to assign to that guy,” Danny laughed.
The plan was to assign new horses to a team of two to work with and evaluate them.
Dusty nodded. “I kinda figured they’d end up with him anyways,” he said. “The director of the animal control office told me they thought he had a lot of training including some dressage.”
“Really?” asked Danny. “Well, once we get him checked out and settled, we’ll have to check that out.”
“What are you going to do with the Appaloosa?” CJ asked.
“I thought I’d assign him to Diego and Brandon,” Dusty said. “They make a good team and Brandon is coming along under Diego’s instruction.”
“Sounds good,” CJ agreed. “He looks pretty sound--maybe we’ve found Brandon’s horse.”
Devon was just putting the finishing touches on his final piece when he heard the front door open and close.
“Hey, Dev!!” he heard Ace holler.
TJ poked his head in the door to Devon’s studio. “Hey, hot stuff, you need to come out here for a minute,” he laughed.
Devon shook his head and set his brushes down and followed TJ out into the kitchen.
Ace stood there with a huge brown dog.
“What the hell is that?!?” Devon exclaimed.
Ace and TJ laughed. “That’s our new roommate,” Ace answered. “Devon, this is Rusty.”
“Does your dad know you brought that home?”
“He does now,” Sarge said from behind them.
Ace turned to see his father standing in the doorway. “Hey, Dad.” He grinned.
“Hey, Ace, I thought you guys went for a couple of horses.”
“And we did--the vet’s with them now,” Ace explained. “But I went to check out the pups while Dusty was getting things taken care of and this guy was there and if he didn’t get adopted soon he would get put down. He’s so sweet, Dad. And I haven’t had a dog since Canyon when I was little. There are three of us here to take care of him and there’s so much room on the ranch and the other dogs.”
“Ok, Ace,” Sarge laughed. “Just so long as you guys are taking care of him.”
“Wait, how did I get dragged into this?” Devon asked.
TJ hugged him from behind. “What’s the matter, you don’t like dogs?”
“Not really,” Devon answered.
“You’re fine with the Danes and Kaya and Cesar,” TJ replied.
“Right, but they don’t live here and I don’t have to hang around with them.”
“Oh, shit, Dev, I forgot…Chopper…” Ace said.
“Chopper?” TJ asked.
Devon sank into one of the kitchen chairs and nodded.
“When we were kids--what was it, second grade?” Ace asked.
“Second grade,” Ace continued. “Devon’s next door neighbor was this hillbilly shithead…I mean even for Texas he was out there. He had this mean mutt named Chopper. That damn thing would make a run at Devon almost every day. Even then, Dev was pretty quick so he usually escaped, but one day Chopper got a head start and got Dev before he could get to his front door.”
“Got you?” TJ asked looking at Devon.
Devon nodded and rolled up his left pants leg. TJ could see several faint scars around Devon’s ankle and calf.
“Shit. That dog did that?”
“Yup. Luckily a neighbor saw it and smashed that mutt in the head with a shovel before he could do worse damage,” Ace answered. “Of course that thing was like ‘Cujo’ and wouldn’t die. The dog’s owner actually threatened to sue the neighbor who saved Dev, and Dev’s parents. Then the police came and seized Chopper. He was ruled a danger since Devon was not the only person he went after.”
TJ rubbed Devon’s shoulders. “Sorry, babe,” he said. “If Rusty bothers you that much I’m sure the guys at the main house would take him or he could sleep in the barn.” He looked at Ace.
Ace nodded his head warily. “Sure. I’m sorry, Dev I wasn’t thinking.”
Devon looked up at Ace. “It’s ok,” he said. “I know you were trying to do something good.”
Rusty walked over to Devon and jumped up placing his paws on Devon’s knees. Devon paled and tried to slip away. Rusty leaned forward and licked Devon’s face.
“Eww,” Devon moaned. He pushed the dog down. He slipped his hand under the dog’s floppy ear and scratched. “OK, you can stay,” he relented. “Just not in our room,” he said looking at Ace.
Ace nodded. “No problem, we can set up a bed for him in the pantry.”
Spin’s mom opened the front door just as Zak was about to knock.
“Oh, thank God!!” Mrs. O’Brien exclaimed.
Zak grinned. “Not the model patient, huh?”
“He’s driving his father and I crazy,” Mrs. O’Brien laughed. “Poor Mattie has been here a few hours and I think even he is at his breaking point.”
“I know what it was like after my concussion when I couldn’t ride or really do anything,” Zak said. “I can only imagine what bed rest is like for someone with as much energy as Spin.”
Mrs. O’Brien nodded. “We go to see the doctor tomorrow. Hopefully, he’ll at least be able to go to school and to the ranch. He probably won’t be able to ride for a while, but at least he can get out.”
“That should make him a little more bearable,” Zak agreed.
Zak went upstairs to Spin’s room. He was just about to knock when the door flew open and Mattie rushed out looking exasperated.
“Hey, Mattie,” Zak said.
“Hey, Zak,” Mattie answered. “You wanna keep his majesty company while I get him a drink?” he grumbled.
Zak took Mattie aside and spoke quietly. “Mattie, take a break. I’ll talk to him.”
Mattie nodded and went downstairs.
Zak knocked lightly on Spin’s door.
Zak opened the door and poked his head in. “Who do you think you’re yelling at?” he asked.
“Zak, don’t give me any shit. I’m sick and tired of being cooped up in here.”
Zak walked in and shut the door; he walked over and sat on Spin’s bed.
“Spin, you need to knock it off,” he said seriously. “I know being here sucks, especially for you, but you’re taking it out on the wrong people. Mattie and your parents are the last people you should be giving grief to. They’ve been there for you through all this and they’re here for you now.”
Spin started to say something and Zak glared at him. He stopped and thought for a moment. He hung his head. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m just frustrated being stuck here and I’m pissed that I can’t remember anything,” he said quietly. “I’m scared, Zak. I’m never scared. I was never scared to go to school or be out of my house, but the thought of going back to school is scaring the shit out of me.”
“Spin that’s normal,” Zak replied. “What happened is scary. If you weren’t at least a little frightened to go back, then I’d worry more about you. But you’re going to be ok. We’re all watching each other’s backs. Not just me, Mattie, Ace, Devon, Dylan, Jesse, and TJ, but Luka, Erik and Brandon. Plus, there are a bunch of kids from the GSA that are watching out for everyone too. As long as we all make sure we’re not alone, we’ll all be good.”
“But, there can’t be someone with us all the time,” Spin protested.
“Actually, there can.” Zak grinned. “My mom talked to the principal and we even get an escort to the boys’ room.” He laughed when Spin’s eyes went wide. “Yup, since they were only able to get you cuz you were alone, we have a ‘buddy system’. There are members of the GSA walking the halls when they have study hall and they will escort anyone who is alone to the rest rooms. They’ll stay outside and make sure the student is safe. It also functions as a deterrent for kids roaming the halls and smoking and stuff like that.”
“Is it really working?”
Zak nodded. “Yup. They’ve only been doing it a few days, but so far so good. Plus, you have Dylan and Brandon in your classes, so they’ll go to and from with you, too.”
Mattie came back into the room carrying a large glass of soda. He handed it to Spin. “Here you go.”
Spin placed the glass on the nightstand. He took Mattie hand. “Thanks, Matt. I’m sorry I’m being such a pain in the ass,” he said sincerely.
Mattie grinned and leaned down to gently hug Spin, being careful of his ribs. “No problem,” he whispered. “You might be a pain the ass, but you’re my pain in the ass.”
Spin smiled and kissed Mattie. “I love you.”
“Love you, too, Red.”
Brandon directed the Appaloosa in the round pen while Diego watched them.
The vet had given both horses a clean bill of health. He had estimated the Appaloosa to be about fifteen years old and the thoroughbred around eight.
“Try to bring him up to a trot,” Diego instructed.
Brandon kissed at the gelding and he went into a nice easy trot.
“Very good,” Diego said. “He has obviously had some training. Try a canter.”
Brandon again signaled the horse and he slipped into a slow canter.
“He doesn’t canter too fast,” Brandon said.
“Actually, that is a lope,” Diego explained. “It is a slower canter, something that many western horses do. If you signal him again, he should move faster which would be a canter.”
Brandon kissed again and watched as the Appaloosa picked up his speed.
After having the horse canter for several laps, Brandon brought him back down through the transitions and then had him stop.
Brandon walked over to the horse and stroked his neck. “Good boy,” he cooed.
Diego walked over from the gate where he had been observing. “Excellent,” he said. “He has definitely had some western training. His gaits are very good and he responds very nicely to your signals. We shall see how he does with a rider tomorrow.”
“You’re gonna ride him?” Brandon asked. “Cool.”
Diego shook his head. “No, my friend. You are going to ride him.”
Brandon’s face lit up as a huge smile took up most of his face.
After the vet had left, Jesse and Dylan spent the rest of the afternoon in the arena working with their new charge.
They had longed him and noted his gaits and smooth transitions.
Dylan was tacking up the gelding, so they could evaluate his performance under saddle.
Since Jesse was more experienced with dressage, they decided that he would take the first ride.
Jesse strapped on his helmet and led the horse to the mounting block. The horse shied as Jesse tried to climb up the steps of the block. He walked down and led the horse around again. After several tries it became apparent that the horse was frightened of the block.
“That might be one of the reasons someone was willing to just dump him,” Jesse reflected. “He had a problem with the trailer and now with the mounting block. Even if he has great training, if someone didn’t have the patience to work him through these fears, he wouldn’t be much good as a show horse.”
Dylan walked over to Jesse and the gelding. “Do you want me to hold him at the block or give you a leg up?” he asked.
“Leg up,” Jesse answered. “There’s no way he’s never been ridden, not with the stuff he’s been showing us, so he’s probably just got a problem with the block. Let’s try to make this as easy for him as possible. We can work on the things he’s spooking at later.”
Dylan nodded and laced his fingers; he leaned down and Jesse placed his foot in Dylan’s hands and Dylan boosted him up. Jesse landed lightly in the saddle. The gelding side-stepped and danced a bit.
“Shhh. Easy, boy,” Jesse said softly as he stroked the gelding’s neck. The horse settled and Jesse had him stand still for a few moments, all the while stroking his neck and side.
“You good?” Dylan asked.
Jesse grinned at him and nodded.
Dylan walked over to stand by the outside wall.
Jesse started the gelding at a walk around the edge of the arena. About halfway around, Jesse started laughing.
“What’s so funny, Jess?”
“He wants to go so bad. It’s all I can do to keep him at the walk.”
“Open him up then,” Dylan laughed.
Jesse gave the gelding a slight nudge and he moved from a walk into a slow easy trot. After circling the arena, Jesse nudged the horse again and instead of stepping into a canter, he moved into a faster trot.
“Oh, wow!” Jesse exclaimed. “Do you see this? He’s got a two-speed trot. That first one is so slow and easy, you don’t even need to post and this one is smooth. I’m gonna see what his canter is like.”
Jesse kissed at the horse and gave him a slight squeeze with his calves. The horse moved into a canter that was so smooth, Jesse felt like he was in a rocking chair.
Jesse circled the arena in both directions twice and then stopped in front of Dylan.
“Man, this guy is awesome,” Jesse said excitedly. “He’s definitely dressage-trained, that canter is so easy and smooth. Let me try some dressage moves with him and then you can give him a try.”
Dylan nodded as Jesse walked the gelding back into the center of the arena.
Dylan watched as Jesse spent the next twenty minutes moving the gelding through a series of dressage moves. Jesse had the horse doing harder and harder moves as the time went on.
“Wow!!” Dylan heard from behind him.
He turned to see Luka standing there fixated on Jesse and the gelding. “Hey, Luka.”
“Hey, Dyl. Where did you guys get the new horse?”
“He’s a rescue; Dusty picked him up this morning at animal control.”
“He’s a rescue!! Why would someone throw away a horse like that?”
Dylan shook his head. “They may not have been able to afford him, or they might not have wanted to take the time to work with him and train him.”
“Train him?” Luka asked. “He’s incredible. The moves Jesse has him doing are perfect.”
Jesse rode up. “But, he does have a few ‘issues’,” he said. “He’s very nervous and spooky. He has a problem with the mounting block and loading in a trailer and I’m sure we’ll find other stuff, but those are things we can work on to get him over.”
“He’ll be really valuable when you’re through.”
“But, he won’t be sold,” Dylan stated.
“Why not? Keeping him for yourselves?”
“We haven’t thought that far ahead,” Dylan answered. “But, we can’t keep them all. What I meant by him not being sold is that the purpose of the rescue is to rehabilitate and then adopt out the horses.”
“So someone can adopt him cheap and then sell him for a lot of money?”
“Nope, the contracts we use for the adoption state that if the adopter is unable to keep the horse, they have to return him, they cannot sell him or anything. That way we can make sure they stay safe.”
“Luka, how do you not know any of this?” Dylan asked. “Steph got her horse at a rescue.”
“I know, but I wasn’t with her and I’ve never paid much attention to where she came from or the whole rescue thing,” Luka said. “Honestly, I always thought the horses that were rescued were starved, or beat up and barely trained.”
Jesse slid down from the gelding’s back. “No, there are a lot of horses that are simply abandoned since people think owning one is like owning a puppy. They don’t realize the cost and commitment.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Luka replied. The gelding stretched his neck and Luka scratched his cheek. “What’s his name?”
Dylan looked at Jesse and both shrugged.
“We haven’t given him one yet,” Dylan answered.
“How about Dancer?” Luka suggested.
“Why Dancer?” Dylan asked.
“Because when he moves he looks like he’s dancing across the arena,” Luka answered.
Jesse grinned and looked at Dylan who shrugged and nodded. “Dancer it is,” Jesse said.
The next morning, Diego found Brandon with the Appaloosa in the rescue barn.
“You are earlier than normal, Brandon,” Diego said.
Brandon blushed. “I couldn’t sleep last night.”
“And why is that?”
“I guess I was excited to get a chance to ride this guy.”
“I think first we need to find a name for ‘this guy’.”
“How about Chance?” Brandon offered.
“I like that,” Diego answered.
Brandon grinned and stroked the horse’s cheek. “Do you like that, Chance?” The horse bobbed his head up and down as if he was nodding and both boys laughed.
“So are you ready to see how he handles a rider?” Diego asked.
The two quickly got Chance tacked up and led him out to the round pen.
Diego had Brandon let Chance walk around the wall of the pen to get used to the saddle and the surroundings.
Brandon stood quietly in the middle of the pen. He cued Chance to trot, canter and then back to a trot. “Walk,” he said as Chance slowed himself and walked around the pen. “Turn in,” he said. Chance slowed and turned himself so he was facing Brandon. Brandon walked over and hugged the horse’s neck. “Good boy.”
“Excellent, Brandon,” Diego said. “He definitely has some training.”
Brandon turned and grinned at Diego. “He’s great, isn’t he?”
“Can I ride him now?”
“Yes,” Diego answered as he walked to where Brandon and Chance waited. He helped Brandon check to make cure the cinch was tight enough and then he boosted Brandon up onto Chance’s back.
Diego stepped back and watched the horse and rider.
“He doesn’t seem to mind,” Brandon said.
“He’s been ridden before,” Diego agreed. “Just walk him around and I will cue you through your transitions.”
Brandon started to gather his reins.
“Brandon, try to use your legs and keep the reins loose,” Diego instructed. “He is most likely western trained, so we can see how he holds his head and how he responds to lead changes.”
Brandon nodded and nudged Chance into a walk. After warming up in the round pen and seeing how responsive the Appaloosa was, Diego led Brandon and Chance out to the arena.
Brandon spent the next forty minutes riding around the arena transitioning from gait to gait.
Dusty walked out of the barn and saw Brandon riding and Diego coaching him from a spot on the fence. He walked over and climbed the fence and sat next to Diego.
“He really moves,” Dusty said. “And Brandon’s becoming a good little rider.”
“I think he has fallen in love,” Diego said.
Dusty laughed. “I was sure he would. We’ll keep an eye on them, but I think CJ was right. I think Brandon has found his horse.”