by Andrew Todd
Justin and Brice walked out of the locker room one afternoon after gym class.
“Hey, you wanna come back out to my grandparents’ tomorrow afternoon?” Justin asked. “Bray was pissed that I didn’t bring him that Sunday afternoon and he’s been driving me crazy, so I told him I would take him over after school tomorrow since we don’t have practice.”
“Sure, do you mind if Cody comes too?” Brice asked. “When I told him about going out there, he told me how much he likes horses and riding and that he hadn’t done it in a while. I think it would be fun if we all got together.”
Justin shrugged. “Sure, I guess so. Do you want to meet us there or for me to pick you up at your house?”
“I’ll make sure Cody can go, but it will probably be easier to meet you there. If he’s riding with me, he won’t drive to school and I promised his brother Ty that if that happened I would give him a ride home first so he doesn’t have to ride the bus.”
Justin laughed, “So you have to chauffeur his little brother too?”
Brice laughed, “I can’t call him that with a straight face.”
Justin grinned and nodded. “I know, I don’t know where that kid got that build. Cody looks just like his parents, Ty must get it from some distant relative.”
“I don’t know, I was just shocked the first time I met him. I thought he was older than Cody.”
“I think he’s been taller than Cody since he was in first grade. He’s a great hockey player though.”
“That’s what Cody says. He wasn’t happy that Ty asked me to give him a ride home, but it’s not a big inconvenience and he’s a good kid. Most days Cody drives them to school in his mom’s car, but when he has plans with me, his mom just drops them off. Once Ty can drive, then she’ll let him take the car if Cody’s with me.”
“Well, let me know if he’s coming and I’ll meet you at the house around four tomorrow afternoon.”
“Ok, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Brice said as he walked away. He knew that Justin wasn’t thrilled about Cody going with them, but he thought if he could spend time with both of his friends maybe things would become clearer for him and they might forge some type of friendship.
Brice stopped at his locker and Cody was waiting there for him.
“Justin just asked if we wanted to go to his grandparents’ place tomorrow after school.”
Cody had a skeptical look on his face. “Don’t you mean he asked you?”
“Well, ya, he asked me and I asked if you could come too.”
“Cody, don’t be a dick. You two are my best friends. It would be great if we could all spend some time together and try to have fun. We have that Patriots game coming up in a couple weeks and this would be a chance for us to hang out before that.”
Cody looked at Brice and thought for a moment. “Ok, I guess.” He shrugged.
“Good. He’s bringing his little brother, Bray. I guess Bray was mad Justin didn’t take him with us on Sunday. I asked him if you could come, cuz you told me you liked horses and hadn’t gotten to ride in a while.”
Cody smirked. “Ok, thanks. I guess we might have a good time. Are you driving?”
Brice nodded. “Yes, I’ll drive and we’ll meet him there. Tell Ty to meet us after school at my car.”
“You’re bringing Ty too?!”
Brice laughed. “No, remember he asked me to drive him home if you weren’t driving.”
“Oh, come on, Brice, you don’t have to schlep my brother all over the place.”
“I’m not. I’m giving him a ride home so he doesn’t have to take the bus. It’s not like it’s out of the way or anything. ‘Sides, I like Ty, he’s a good kid. You know, as brothers go you could have done a lot worse.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Cody shrugged. “Coulda ended up with Jack the Ripper.”
Brice rolled his eyes and laughed.
The next day after school, Brice pulled into Justin’s grandparents’ driveway and parked behind Justin’s truck.
Brice had just gotten out of his car when he was attacked by a smaller version of Justin.
Brice reached down and picked up Justin’s little brother, Brayden. Brayden was blond-haired, blue-eyed and tall for his age.
“Hey, buddy, what’s up?”
“We gonna ride the horses.” Brayden grinned as he hugged Brice.
Brayden looked at Brice with his big blue eyes and nodded.
Cody got out of Brice’s car and Brayden looked over at him curiously.
“Who’s that?” he asked Brice.
“That’s my friend, Cody,” Brice answered.
Brice put Brayden down and the little boy walked over to the other side of the car. He stopped in front of Cody and looked up at the older boy.
“Hi, Cody. I’m Brayden,” the little boy said as he offered his hand to Cody.
Cody grinned at the little boy and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you, Brayden.”
Brayden took hold of Cody’s hand and led him back to where Brice was standing. He took Brice in his other hand and led the two boys toward the barn.
“C’mon, you guys. Just’s in here.”
The three boys walked into the barn to find Justin talking to an older man.
“Hey, guys,” Justin said as he turned to greet the boys. “This is my grandfather, Joe Cross. Grandpa, this is Brice Mathews and Cody McDonald.”
Both boys shook hands with Mr. Cross.
“Good to meet you boys,” Mr. Cross said. “Cody, is your father Peter McDonald?”
Cody nodded. “Yes, sir, he is.”
“He’s in the Lions Club with me. Tell him I said ‘Hello’.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Brice, I hear you just moved here.”
“Yes, sir, we just moved up from Virginia.”
“Beautiful country down there.”
“It is. But not as beautiful as you’ve got here.”
“Well, I’ll have to agree with you there. New England does have a special beauty all its own,” Mr. Cross nodded. “What does your father do?”
“He’s a lawyer. He moved us up here because he got a job at a Boston firm.”
“He’s making that drive every day?”
Brice laughed, “That was the first thing Justin asked me. He didn’t realize it was going to be so bad, so he spends a lot of his time at the firm’s condo in Boston.”
“So that leaves you alone.”
“It did, but thanks to Cody, I just adopted a dog to keep me company.”
“Grandpa, Brice adopted the pit bull I was telling you about.”
“That’s right,” Mr. Cross nodded looking back at Cody. “You’re the one who rescues the pits,” he said.
Cody nodded. “I guess so. I worked at the shelter and no one ever wanted to adopt the pits so I ended up taking them. My mom drew a line in the sand at three so I had to find someone else to take Milo and Brice was good enough to help out or else Milo would have been put down.”
“Good work, boys. My son, Denny, had a pit when he was younger, before he went into the Marines. They’re good dogs. They get a bad reputation from the assholes that train them to fight, but they are good dogs. You keep up the good work, Cody. If you need someone to take another one, you let me know.”
Cody grinned and nodded. “I will, Mr. Cross.”
“And Brice, you let your dad know that the Lions meet first Tuesday of every month if he’s interested.”
“I will,” Brice said nodding.
“Ok, well, I’ll let you boys have your fun,” Mr. Cross said as he walked towards the barn door. “Brayden, you’re in charge, don’t let these guys run the horses too hard.”
“Ok, Grampa,” Brayden answered with a grin.
Justin laughed and shook his head.
“These guys are set,” Justin said, gesturing to Mo and Saber who were all saddled. “Bray and I are gonna take Mo–which one of you guys wants to go first?”
Brice and Cody looked at each other. “Brice can,” Cody said.
“Are you sure?” Brice asked. He knew Cody was dying to ride.
“Yeah. You guys go ahead and then I’ll go,” Cody nodded. “I’ll just look around some, maybe talk to Mr. Cross some more.”
Justin nodded. “Ok. We’ll just take a walk around the short trail, then when we get back, you can go out with me or Brice.”
“Sounds good,” Cody agreed.
Cody watched as Brice and Justin led the two horses out of the rear door of the barn.
He looked around the barn and then left by the same door the others had used earlier. He just saw the two horses and their riders head into the woods.
Cody looked around. He loved being out in the country like this. He considered where he and his family lived to be ‘in town’, even though they had a few acres and enough room for his dogs to run around; his dream was to have a piece of property like this where he could have as many dogs as he wanted and have horses and any other animals that needed rescuing.
He looked over at the orchard. He started to walk towards the apple trees, when he heard a sound behind him.
He looked over his shoulder and saw a fenced-in area. He assumed that was where the two horses were kept when they were outside, but he was surprised to see a third horse in the corral.
Cody was curious since Brice had mentioned only two horses and Justin had said they could only go two at a time. Maybe this horse was injured or something.
Cody walked towards the paddock and watched the horse run around. He seemed healthy enough. Cody was transfixed by the black horse. He was sleeker and not as heavy as the two that Justin and Brice had ridden off on.
This horse was built for speed, a corvette where the other horses were pickup trucks. Cody chuckled silently at his analogy.
He stood at the fence and watched the horse. The horse stopped in the middle of the paddock and turned and locked eyes with Cody.
The horse stared at Cody and Cody grinned and held his hand out. The horse slowly walked over to Cody and stretched his neck out. Cody scratched at the horse’s cheek and the horse blew warm air out of his nostrils. Cody laughed as the horse licked at his palm.
The horse came closer and hung his head over the fence. Cody petted the horse’s neck and chin. The horse seemed very friendly and affectionate to him.
He saw a halter hanging from the gate and walked over and grabbed it and opened the gate. The horse followed him to the gate and Cody slipped the halter over horse’s head and led him out of the paddock. He figured there was a reason that Justin hadn’t let them ride this horse, but it shouldn’t hurt to take him out and groom him. He had nothing to do and the horse seemed lonely.
Cody spoke quietly to the horse as he walked towards the barn.
There were crossties on the outside of the barn. Since it was such a nice day, Cody decided to bring the horse there instead of inside the barn. He clipped the horse into the ties and ran inside the barn to grab some brushes.
The horse stood stock still while Cody ran a curry comb over his coat. The sharp tool loosened the dirt and shedding hair. He grabbed a stiff brush and hummed and talked to the horse while he brushed him. Cody lost track of time as he groomed the horse. He hadn’t realized how in need of the care the horse had been, but when he stepped back and looked at the horse, he saw how much different he looked.
The horse’s black coat shined. To Cody he was probably the most beautiful horse he had ever seen.
Cody ran his hands along the horse’s coat. The horse leaned into Cody’s hand like he was craving the touch. Cody was lost in his own world as he stroked the horse.
“Cody, what are you doing?”
Cody started and turned quickly. Justin was standing there watching him.
“Hey, Justin,” Cody smiled. “I saw this guy in the paddock and he seemed lonely. I figured that he must be injured or something since no one was riding him, so I took him out and was just grooming him.”
Justin’s eyes popped out. “How did you catch him?”
“Catch him?” Cody shook his head. “I didn’t. He came right up to me. I was standing at the fence watching him and he came over to me. He seemed kinda lonely so I slipped the halter on him and brought him over here.”
Cody nodded. “Yeah. Hey, where’s Brice?”
“He’s still with Bray. Bray didn’t want to come back, so I rode back to switch with you.” Justin kept looking from Cody to the horse. “So let me get this straight. Jet came over to you and let you put a halter on him and put him in the crossties and groom him? He didn’t run away from you, bite at you, kick at you or anything?”
Cody laughed, “Are you kidding? He’s a pussycat. He’s been a sweetheart.” Cody ran his hand over the horse’s muzzle. “Jet?” he whispered. “Perfect.” He turned back to Justin. “So why are you so surprised?”
“Jet was my uncle’s horse. My uncle was killed in Afghanistan a few years back. Since then no one has been able to get near him, never mind ride him. When he left my uncle asked me to take care of him, but he seemed to sense when he died and he’s never been the same. This is as calm as I’ve seen him in years.”
“I’m sorry to hear about your uncle.” Cody said. “I’m sorry if I overstepped.”
Justin stepped forward and placed a hand on Cody’s shoulder. “No, Cody, you didn’t overstep. I was just telling Brice the other day that I thought Jet was just waiting for someone to come along and connect with him the way Denny did.”
Justin grinned and nodded. “Denny and Jet were like one when they rode. I’m a decent rider and Jet always took good care of me, but when Denny died, it was like Jet thought he was alone, he didn’t have anyone. He didn’t want me, he wasn’t mine. So for the last few years he’s just run loose, making a menace of himself and scaring anyone crazy enough to try to get near him. We have to drug him just to be able to get a vet or farrier near him.”
Cody looked from Justin to Jet and shook his head. “Doesn’t seem like the horse you’ve been describing is the horse here.”
“Well, it is, or was,” Justin said. “This is what he was like when Denny was still alive. He would follow Denny around like a puppy dog. I used to ride with them all the time, but Mo and Sabre can’t keep up with Jet when he pours on the speed. When I started riding Jet after Denny left for the army, I think Jet started to miss him then. I’d ride him all the time, but I as much as I’d let him open up, I still held back some and he knew that. I think he was just tolerating me until Denny got back.” Justin got a faraway look in his sky-blue eyes. “He actually started acting up a few days before we got the news about Denny. It was like he knew when it happened, even though we hadn’t found out yet.”
Cody watched Justin as he gently ran his hand along Jet’s neck and under his mane. The look in Justin’s eyes conveyed the love he had for Jet and for his lost uncle. For the first time in all the years Cody had known Justin he felt a connection to him. He was starting to see what Brice saw in the ‘Quarterback’.
“I’m sorry, Justin,” Cody said quietly.
Justin turned and looked Cody in the eye. His eyes brimmed with tears. He shook his head. “No, Cody, don’t be sorry. Don’t you get it? Jet’s been waiting for someone, someone who connects with him like Denny did, and that’s you.”
“Sure. It’s probably Denny watching down on us,” Justin said his eyes briefly rose to the heavens.
“What do you mean?”
Justin grinned. “Look, you and I have known each other all our lives, but we’ve never been friends. But, we’re both friends with Brice. Maybe this is my uncle trying to find a way to bring you and I together so that we become friends and don’t make things so hard for Brice.”
“Hard?” Cody choked, thinking of the double meaning of that statement.
Justin nodded. “I know that whenever he mentions you I get a little defensive and I imagine you probably have the same reaction. It’s not personal, we’ve just each been conditioned to see each other a certain way. Brice hasn’t been so he sees us as we really are and not as everyone in school sees us. We both like spending time with him and we need to find a way to be friends so the three of us can have fun.”
Cody smiled. “I guess you’re right. Neither of us wants to lose a friend like Brice just because we have these differences between us.”
“I think that’s what Denny and Jet are trying to solve.”
“You lost me again,” Cody laughed.
Justin grinned. “Jet likes you. He’s let you get closer to him than anyone has since Denny. I love to come out here to my grandparents’ and ride. I started bringing Brice out, cuz most of my friends aren’t really into it–they’d rather go to the mall than hangout outdoors.”
“Idiots,” Cody whispered under his breath.
Justin laughed loud. “That’s what I always say. It’s nice to go to the mall every once in a while, but I’d rather come out here and ride or swim in the river or just hang out.” Cody nodded in agreement. “You’re like that too. I know you have a thing for the animals, I’ve always known that, but I never realized how committed you were. I think Jet sees that in you. If you and Brice are going to come out here with me, we need three horses. Now if Jet is as taken with you as I think he is, we have three.”
“Wait a second.” Cody held up his hand. “I like Jet, he’s gorgeous and a really nice horse, but you’ve spent the last ten minutes telling me how mean he’s been and you want me to ride him?!”
Justin nodded. “I think you might be the only one who can,” he said hopefully. “Don’t tell me there’s not a part of you that’s dying to ride this guy.”
Cody stared at the ground and then looked up with a grin on his face.
Justin laughed, “I knew it. Let me get his tack and then we can see if he’ll let you saddle him.”
Justin walked off to the tack room while Cody stayed and tried to digest the last few minutes. He had known Justin his whole life and this was probably the longest conversation they had ever had. He was excited and apprehensive about the thought of riding Jet, but his feelings were equally confused with regard to Justin. Justin was right about one thing: both boys needed to find a way to get along and become friends if only for Brice’s sake.
Justin came back with the tack and directed Cody in saddling and bridling Jet. Justin didn’t want to mess things up by trying to get hands on; he truly believed that Jet was connecting with Cody and he wanted to see that bond grow. He loved Jet, who had been a huge part of his childhood and because the horse had been very important to his uncle. If Cody’s connection to Jet could bring the horse back to them, then Justin was going to do everything he could to encourage it.
When Jet was tacked up, Justin had Cody lead him out to the paddock.
“I really don’t think he’s gonna give you any trouble, but just to be sure, I want to you to take him around the paddock a few times. That way if he does try something, you and he will be safe,” Justin instructed.
Cody led Jet into the paddock and Justin closed the gate.
Cody spoke softly to the black horse and checked the girth to make sure it was tight enough. He threw the reins over Jet’s head and walked over to his side. He slipped his left foot into the stirrup and swung himself up.
Justin held his breath as Cody swung himself up. Jet didn’t move a muscle. This was the horse he remembered from his childhood, not the braying bucking beast of the past few years.
Cody gathered the reins and started Jet around the paddock at a walk. After a few laps moved the horse into a trot and finally he was cantering around the paddock.
Justin watched as Cody and Jet circled the paddock. He jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Justin, what the hell are you two doing?” his grandfather asked as he spun Justin around.
“Grandpa, look,” Justin gestured to Cody and Jet. “Cody was waiting for us to come back and he saw Jet; he thought he was injured since Brice had told him we only had two horses. So he took Jet into the barn to groom him and make himself busy. I found him in the barn, but Jet was acting like his old self. I let Cody saddle him to see how he would do with a rider. I don’t know if he’ll let just anyone ride him, but he seems to have connected with Cody.”
Joe watched the boy and his youngest son’s horse gallop around the paddock. He was torn. The horse had been nothing but an albatross since Denny’s death, but his wife and Justin had fought him every time he had wanted to sell Jet. Now, here was that same horse with another carefree young man riding him.
“I know you mean well Justin, but do you realize what could have happened to Cody?”
“Grandpa, I know you don’t trust Jet, but I’ve always said he was waiting for someone. I guess that someone was Cody. Look at him, he hasn’t had that look about him since Denny left. Even when I would ride him, he didn’t have the same energy and go that he had with Denny. He has it with Cody. Maybe he senses how much like Denny Cody is. You know Denny would have loved Cody–someone who takes in strays, who wants to rescue the pits. You know that’s exactly like Denny.”
Joe looked from his grandson to Cody and Jet. He shook his head. “All right, Justin. I can see that something is different about Jet, so you go ahead and you take Cody out with you, but keep an eye on him. I still don’t trust that horse, and I don’t want anything happening to that boy.”
With that, Joe turned and walked back towards the horse. He turned every few steps to watch Cody and Jet in the paddock. As he watched the two, he could see Jet and Denny a few years earlier doing the same thing. He knew that Denny had loved that horse almost more than anything. The only thing he had loved more was Justin. If this boy could bring Jet back, then he would be saving Jet and Justin. Maybe Justin was right, maybe Denny was watching over him.
After cantering around the paddock a while longer, Cody rode over to where Justin was waiting at the fence.
Cody slid down and offered the reins to Justin.
“Want to give him a try?” Cody asked.
“I’d love to, but not right now,” Justin answered. “Let’s let him get used to you and get used to being out in the world again. I’ll have my chance, but first I want to make sure he’s good with you since he seems to think you’re his new ‘boy’.”
Cody grinned. “I’m just glad I could help, but he’s your horse or your grandfather’s… so you need to get him used to you again.”
Justin shook his head. “Cody, you’ve spent your life taking in strays and trying to save all these animals. Look at what you did with Milo and Brice. Now, you’re doing it again. At the end of the day, Jet is probably yours just like he was Denny’s.” Cody started to rebut. “No, hold on; let’s just take this a little at a time. Let’s ride out and find Brice and Bray. I know he’ll be happy if the two of us are hanging out together,” Justin grinned and Cody nodded.
Justin walked over to where he had left Mo and Cody opened the gate of the paddock and led Jet out. He mounted up and rode over to where Justin was waiting.
Justin smiled at Cody. “Tell me that it doesn’t feel great.”
Cody laughed his easy laugh. “I cannot tell a lie. It’s better than great–it’s awesome. He has so much in the tank, I’m dying to see what he can do if I give him his head.”
“Well, let’s see then,” Justin replied. “Mo won’t be able to keep up once Jet gets going, but if we keep it between a trot and a canter till we find Brice, he should be good.”
“Ok.” Cody grinned and he kissed at Jet and took for the trail with Justin and Mo following.
Brice and Brayden were riding Sabre down a portion of the trail that ran along the river. Brice was letting Brayden direct the horse since he figured the five-year-old had more time in the saddle than he did and he was more familiar with their surroundings. Sabre was a calm and gentle horse and Brice trusted him not to take off so he was daydreaming as they meandered down the trail.
“What’s up, Bray?”
“Is Cody your boyfriend?”
“Umm, what do you mean?” Brice wasn’t sure this was a conversation he wanted to have with a five-year-old, especially the five-year-old brother of his potential boyfriend.
“Well, I know that Justin wants you to be his boyfriend,” the younger boy said. “And right now, you aren’t… at least that’s what Justin said. So I figgered Cody must be your boyfriend.”
“Actually, Bray, I don’t have a boyfriend right now.” Brice decided that since Brayden knew about him and Justin, he might as well be honest. “I had a boyfriend before I moved here and he lied to me. That hurt me, so I’m a little careful about finding a new boyfriend.”
“But, don’t you like Justin?”
“Of course, I like Justin. I love Justin; he’s one of my best friends. And Cody is too. Right now, I’m just not sure I want a boyfriend. I just like being friends with them.”
“But you want to be boyfriends with both of them. Don’t you?”
“Out of the mouths of babes,” Brice thought to himself. “Well, Bray, I like boys, which you obviously know, and I like both Cody and Justin. But they are both my friends and I don’t want to hurt one of them by being boyfriends with the other.”
“Why can’t you all be boyfriends?”
“Because that’s not the way it works.”
“Why not? If you all love each other, why can’t you all be boyfriends?”
Brice thought for a moment and realized that ‘Because’ was not an answer that would satisfy Brayden’s curiosity nor did he have a better answer. “Do you ask Justin questions like this?” Brice said as he tickled Brayden.
Brayden giggled and nodded. “Stop!!” he panted. “Justin says I’m a walking question mark,” the little boy laughed.
Brice laughed. He could hear Justin calling his little brother that.
Brice reached out and took the reins in his hands as he heard hoof beats pounding towards them. He brought Sabre to a stop, just as Cody and Justin came tearing around the bend on Jet and Mo.
They each slowed their horse down and walked towards Brice and Bray. Both of his friends were laughing and obviously having a grand old time.
Brice felt a twinge of jealousy as he watched his two friends interact. It was like they had a secret from him. His better half tamped down the green-eyed monster. He realized this was what he had been wanting–for Cody and Justin to become friends or at least to tolerate each other so that they could all spend time together. Seeing this plan come to fruition though caused Brice pause. He wondered if pushing Cody and Justin together when he could not make up his mind between the two of them was a good or a bad idea.
Once he shook the feelings of jealousy and apprehension, Brice realized the other thing that was bothering him about this picture.
“Cody, what are you doing on that horse?” he asked. He was concerned since Justin had gone to great lengths to tell him how dangerous Jet had become.
Cody and Justin laughed as they told Brice about how Cody and Jet had seemingly bonded and the horse was back to his old self.
“I guess Denny is watching over us,” Justin said. “He knew we needed another horse if we were all going to hang out and he knew that Jet needed someone.”
Brice was still apprehensive. “Are you sure it’s safe?”
Cody nodded. “Brice, Jet’s awesome,” he said as he patted the horse’s neck. “You should have seen us racing Justin. Of course, it wasn’t exactly a fair race. Mo just doesn’t have the speed that Jet does.”
Justin laughed. “No, he doesn’t, but he’s a good boy and he takes care of me and Bray,” he said as he stroked the horse’s neck. “Right, Bray?”
The little boy nodded. “Don’t pick on Mo,” he scowled at Cody. “He’s my buddy.”
Cody laughed, “I’m not picking on him. He’s a good guy. He’s just not built for racing, like Jet here is.”
The boys spent the rest of the afternoon riding around. They stopped by the river’s edge to give the horses a rest and talked and joked.
Brice was torn as he watched Cody and Justin interact. He had wanted them to become friends and see each other the way he saw them, but at the same time he was afraid that if they had more in common than he had with either one, they might become more interested in each other. He knew it was wrong to feel that way, since he was the one who had been unable to make up his mind between the two.
As they sat on the river’s edge, Bray’s words rang in Brice’s head.
“Why can’t you all be boyfriends?”
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